Friday, January 23, 2015


Leviathan” is the fourth film from Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev and it is another absolute stellar piece of work. A daring attack on the corruption embedded within Russian politics, this is a tale that is small at heart, but whose ideas are grand.

Set in a small coastal town somewhere in Russia, Nikolay and his wife Lilya live on a property by the water, built on the land that has belonged in Nikolay's family for generations. Each generation passes ownership onto the next, and Nikolay has lived there all of his life. When “Leviathan” begins though, we find out that Nikolay is in a bitter battle against the town's mayor, who wants the land for his own purposes. Up against the corrupt judicial system of the town, it appears Nikolay does not have a chance at keeping what is rightfully his especially when he is told that his final appeal has been denied. Just as everything seems lost, in walks Dmitriy, one of Nikolay's old buddies from his army days, who also happens to currently work as a lawyer in Moscow. Dmitriy brings with him a dossier of dirt on the man threatening his friend, and the two soon decide that since all lawful attempts at bringing this matter to a close have failed that they have to take a different tact. It isn't long before Dmitriy makes the Mayor aware of the information they have attained, and begins to blackmail him in an attempt to benefit his friends. While initially it appears the tables have been turned on the Mayor, unfortunately Dmitriy's arrival is the catalyst for a continuing number of devastating misfortunes that befall Nikolay, who by the end of it all would wish that all he had to worry about was just the loss of his land.

As usual for a film from Andrei Zvyagintsev, “Leviathan” comes across as an angry piece of art. It comes across loud and clear, that he is not at all happy with the corruption that exists in today's Russia, and this is the primary focus of the film. Here he looks at all forms of corruption, not just those of a political nature, as he also examines the corruption of friendship, the corruption of a marriage, the corruption of one's self and their morals, and a corruption of the soul. Zvyagintsev also overtly criticises the Church (as an institution) and those that are willing to commit atrocities in God's name. In my opinion, he is not at all attacking religion nor people with faith, as he represents these people as everyday people attempting to live as best they can. Rather it is the hypocrisy of the Church and the actions that they are apart of, all under the guise of God's ultimate plan, as well as the unhealthy relationship between the country's politics and religion, which has been created in an attempt to hold onto power for as long as possible.

While that may sound like quite strong and heady stuff for a film, it has been beautifully woven into this tale of an everyman just trying to keep his land. Whilst every part of the film is impeccably put together, it is the performances from the whole cast that make “Leviathan” the powerful experience it is. There is not a performance out of place, but the four leads are just outstanding. Aleksey Serebryakov as Nikolay covers almost every emotion possible and never puts a foot wrong. It is his character that evolves the most throughout the film, and Serebryakov portrays him as someone who is very extroverted with his emotions; the audience always knows how he is feeling, and yet this lack of subtlety is never a negative as we witness this man feeling the highest of highs, as well as the despairing look of a man when he knows that he is defeated. Vladimir Vdovichenkov as Nikolay's lawyer friend Dmitriy initially comes across as the most noble of characters, there only to help out a friend in need, and he also brings an air of arrogance to his character. He always feels in control and that he has every step worked out to the nth degree, but this facade slowly begins to crumble when he is first challenged, and then when it appears that the reason he is helping his friend may not be as innocent as first thought. In regards to the Mayor, Roman Madyanov is sufficiently slimy in the role, and I thought he was just fantastic in a brief scene when he antagonises Nikolay whilst drunk. In my review for “Elena” (Zvyagintsev's previous film), I mentioned how blown away I was by Elena Lyadova's performance even though she was only in a few scenes. Well Zvyagintsev has cast Lyadova in the key role of Nikolay's wife, Lilya, and once again she steals the film. She is just mesmerising whenever she is on screen, and yet her performance is completely different from the one she gave in “Elena”. This is a much more internal performance, as she relies less on dialogue, rather she shows everything through the emotions on her face. This is not a glamorous role at all, as she always looks tired, withdrawn and it is obvious that the whole ordeal has taken its toll on her. Eventually we also learn that Lilya is also carrying around an enormous amount of guilt, although I will not reveal why she feels this way.

Like all of Andrei Zvyagintsev's films, “Leviathan” is impeccably shot. His compositions always seem to be perfect, as if that is the only place the camera could have gone. Shot by his long-time cinematographer, Mikhail Krichman, the duo have come up with a muted colour scheme this time with bursts of blue from time to time. Whilst the images within “Leviathan” are not as obviously beautiful as those in “Elena”, there is no doubt when you are watching the film that you are in the hands of a visual master, but one who prefers the images to enhance the storytelling rather than overpower it.

So what of the title itself? The word “Leviathan” conjures images of mythical monsters but alas none are present within the film itself. Rather the “leviathan” of the film is the overwhelming power of corruption, so the title is an allegorical one as opposed to a literal one. However, the recurring image of a dead whale's skeleton that lives on the beach near the house also reminds the viewer of the mythical beast. The other mention of a leviathan in the film has to do with the Book of Job, that is referenced a number of times, sometimes directly (like when Nikolay meets with the local priest), or the fact that Nikolay suffers a downward struggle through life just like Job himself.

Overall, “Leviathan” is another fantastic film from one of the greatest directors currently working in the medium today. Whilst the film may be a tad long, with it losing momentum briefly before the friends embark on a picnic to celebrate a birthday, it is always entertaining, and intelligently made. Zvyagintsev has made an angry piece in regards to today's Russia and the corruption he believes that is destroying it. At the end of the day, it appears that he is saying no matter how hard you try, a normal individual can never come out on top in a corrupt society, which is quite the damning thought.

4 Stars.

Monday, January 12, 2015


Just like every other year that has gone before it, there are a plethora of new releases that I am looking forward to seeing in 2015. Within the next few weeks, 2014's big releases all finally get released in Australia so I will finally catch up with such films as “Inherent Vice”, “Big Eyes”, “Into The Woods”, “Birdman”, “Wild”, and “American Sniper”, so there is no point in listing these titles. I believe that 2015 has the potential to be the biggest money making year in history for the simple fact that there are a lot of “massive” movies being released such as “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, “The Avengers: Age of Ultron”, “Jurassic World”, and “Terminator Genisys”. Amazingly none of these make the short list for my most anticipated films of 2015. With the exception of one title, my list consists of relatively smaller type films. However, lets start with that big one on my list:

I must admit that I never thought I would have a James Bond film as one of my most anticipated films of any year, no matter how much I enjoy the franchise. However the previous Bond film, “Skyfall”, was such a great film and arguably the best of the entire franchise that there is a curiosity to see if they can keep the momentum going with this latest entry. They have a damned good chance though with “Skyfall” director Sam Mendes returning for “Spectre” and even the most casual Bond fan understands how important Spectre is to the franchise. The casting of Christoph Waltz as the film's villain and Monica Bellucci and Lea Seydoux as the Bond girls just adds to the excitement of the new film. The only sad note is that cinematographer Roger Deakins is not returning this time around but Hoyte Van Hoytema is a good choice as replacement.

This is the latest film from director Jeff Nichols who many times I have described as the best and most important new American director of the past decade. Being as “Midnight Special” will be his fourth feature, it may be wrong to still be calling Nichols a new director. Accomplished director would be a more apt label because his previous three films, “Shotgun Stories”, “Take Shelter” and “Mud” have all been fantastic. Little is known about his latest film except that it is a chase film that revolves around a father and son being on the run after the dad learns his son has special powers. This is quite a departure from the reality based films he has previously made, but Nichols says that the film is similar in tone to John Carpenter's “Starman”. He once again has cast Michael Shannon in a role, with Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, and Adam Driver filling out the cast.

It has been six years since Alejandro Amenabar's last film (the little seen, “Agora”) and a massive fourteen years since he tackled a genre project (his superior ghost story, “The Others”). “Regression” changes all that because, while little is known about the film, it has been revealed that the film is a thriller. Other than that, the only details in regards to plot that have been released are that it is about a father who is accused of a crime that he has no memory of committing. Emma Watson and Ethan Hawke are the stars of “Regression” with David Thewlis filling a role of a professor.

This is the latest film from the now prolific Terrence Malick and just from judging from the trailer, it appears that he is tackling new ground with “Knight Of Cups”. The film also looks quite sexy which is something I never thought I would say or hear about a Malick film. Apparently like all of the films on this list, still not much is known about this film or which actors made the final cut but we wont have to wait too long because the film premieres at the Berlin Film Festival in February. What we do know is that Emmanuel Lubezki is back on cinematography duties (and judging from the trailer, the images are as beautiful as anything he has shot for Malick) and Jack Fisk is again doing production design. Christian Bale is definitely the star of the film, with Natalie Portman, and Cate Blanchett confirmed as making the final cut. The title of the film refers to the “Knight Of Cups” tarot card, but what that has to do with the film no one knows yet.

Ok, so Guillermo Del Toro's last film, “Pacific Rim” really sucked, but to be honest, I never thought it was going to be that great to begin with. However his latest film, “Crimson Peak”, is his first foray into horror since 1997's “Mimic” and the director himself has stated that this is his first English language Spanish film. What he means by this is that “Crimson Peak” will be told in the style and tone of his smaller Spanish films, but obviously in English. What makes me really excited about the film though (besides the casting of Jessica Chastain) is that it is actually an old school gothic horror film that is mixed with some good old fashioned romance. I can already imagine the atmosphere of this film and the house. From the IMDB comes this synopsis of the film: “In the aftermath of a family tragedy, an aspiring author is torn between love for her childhood friend and the temptation of a mysterious outsider. Trying to escape the ghosts of her past, she is swept away to a house that breathes, bleeds...and remembers”. Sounds great and so up my alley too. Aside from the aforementioned Jessica Chastain, the other members of the cast are Tom Hiddleston, his “Only Lovers Left Alive” castmate Mia Wasikowska and Charlie Hunnam (who is the only one I'm worried about, because he was terrible in “Pacific Rim”). This is also the first time since 2002's “Blade II” that Del Toro isn't working with his regular cinematographer Guillermo Navarro, so it will be interesting to see if that will have an effect on the film. Either way October cant come soon enough to find out.

This should come as no surprise because whenever Quentin Tarantino has a new film out, it will normally be my most anticipated of the year, and “The Hateful Eight” is my most anticipated film of 2015. This will be Tarantino's second western in a row although this one is apparently set for the majority in one location. The plot line on IMDB reads as such: “In post-Civil War Wyoming, bounty hunters try to find shelter during a blizzard but get involved in a plot of betrayal and deception”. Sounds intriguing. It is well known that the script for this movie leaked onto the internet long ago, but I have no interest in reading it because as always I want to know as little as possible when going into a Tarantino film. Unsurprisingly he has an amazing cast the likes of Bruce Dern, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Michael Madsen, Channing Tatum and he finally reunites with Tim Roth for their first collaboration since “Pulp Fiction”. Robert Richardson returns as cinematographer but the big news about “The Hateful Eight” is that Tarantino is shooting on 70mm film. The only downside is that the film is not due out in the States until mid-November so it is a bit of a wait, but I'm sure it will be worth it.

Well, that is it. My enormous round up of the year that was 2014 is finally over. Hopefully you enjoyed reading it and got something out of it, but how about we go back to watching some new films now?

Sunday, January 11, 2015




Anyone who has been following this blog would know that I have three favourite directors: Brian De Palma, David Lynch and Martin Scorsese. Whenever any of these masters comes out with a new film it is an event to me, however when “The Wolf Of Wall Street” was originally announced I wasn't as enthused as I normally am for a new Scorsese project. First off, the film that eventually came to be was nothing like I thought it was going to be. I had no idea about the book it was based on so just the words “wall street” turned me off because the last thing I wanted was to sit for two hours watching arrogant guys working on the stockmarket; it just sounded a bore. However as I know now, “The Wolf Of Wall Street” is nothing like that, in fact it is almost the opposite as we watch Jordan Belfort and his friends party to excess after manipulating the stock markets to make themselves some of the richest men in America. These guys suddenly think themselves untouchable and due to how rich they are, feel they can do anything. Everything they do is done to excess because everything they have they take for granted and means nothing; soon life itself means little; all it is about is having a good time and making money (no matter who you hurt doing so). While a lot of critics complained that Scorsese glorified Belfort and his friend's drug and sex fuelled exploits, I think they are missing the point. Scorsese needs to show just how fun these parties and the like are, so you get an understanding of why these men became addicted to such a lifestyle, but make no mistake about it, “The Wolf Of Wall Street” is a morality tale about the dangers of excess, which is shown very simply by how much of a tool these guys ultimately look like. At the end of the day, the film is about the rise and fall of a man who thought himself bigger and more important than anyone around him; it just happens that a lot of his exploits are hilarious as much as they are irresponsible. Quickly, on the acting front DiCaprio shines in the very showy part of Jordan Belfort, and he is ably assisted by Jonah Hill in one of his dramatic roles. The film has a wonderful cast but it has two very impressive cameo roles from Matthew McConaughey and Jean Dujardin. For a film that is three hours long, it moves at a cracking pace and is always entertaining. It is hard to believe that this film was directed by a man who is aged 72 because it feels like the work of a young filmmaker, but at this late in the game, are we really surprised that Scorsese has the ability to do anything he chooses?


This is the second of my doppelganger thrillers to make this list but although at first they seem similar, the two films couldn't be more different, not least because “The Double” also works well as a very dark comedy (and it is very funny). What is interesting is that when I saw both “Enemy” and “The Double” (within a week of each other), I originally thought “Enemy” would be higher on this list but as the year has gone on, “The Double” has just stayed with me that much more. The thing that impresses me most is the design of the film. It is just so precise and of its own world. Although the film is set in the future, everything looks as though it has come from the past with gadgets run by gears and metal as opposed to everything being smooth and digital. It gives the film a great texture. Director Richard Ayoade along with his design team create a world that is bereft of colour with a lot of greys and browns used with the odd splash of blue whenever Mia Wasikowska is on screen. With the use of deep, dark shadows, it creates an almost “black and white” colour film. What “The Double” is about is having a lack of identity as if nobody sees you and the comedy of the film comes from the fact that when our main character's (Simon) exact double shows up, no-one notices. At least not Simon, they all notice his double (James) because he is the exact opposite to him in that he is confident, charismatic and very outgoing. Simon sees what little life he has slipping away which ends up causing him to fight to survive and come out of his shell. The further the film goes along, the darker (thematically) it gets and the one film I kept on being reminded of while watching “The Double” was Roman Polanski's “The Tenant” which is one of my all time favourites. Like Jake Gyllenhaal in “Enemy”, Jesse Eisenberg does a fantastic job with differentiating between Simon and James, with Simon being very twitchy and nervous all the time, whilst James always has an air of confidence around him to the point of arrogance. One final note about “The Double” (although I really have heaps more to say about the film) was that I thought it was a nice touch that Ayode cast all of his cast members from his previous film “Submarine” in the small, bit parts of this film.


If for nothing else, “Wadjda” is a stunningly achievement for the fact that it is the first film to ever be made in Saudi Arabia and it was by a female director. Considering how restrictive society is for females there, it is almost unbelievable how this film got made. Director Haifaa Al Mansour was not allowed to speak to the male cast members directly and when shooting scenes outside in public she had to direct from inside a darkened van parked on the street. It is seriously a miracle that the film even got made, but for it to be a film of such class and beauty is something else entirely. What makes “Wadjda” so great a film is its simplicity; it is about a young girl named Wadjda who wants to buy herself a bicycle, but under the guise of this simplicity, Al Mansour is able to give insight into what it is like to be a female living in Saudi Arabia. Do not fret though, this isn't a political piece where Al Mansour has some agenda she is trying to get across, rather she is just honestly portraying what life as a female is like in her country. The film is also quite funny at times although I would never call it a comedy. The fact that Wadjda herself is such a cheeky girl, you cannot help but laugh at her when she is defying her mother or talking back to her. She is just so damned cute and Waad Mohammed is perfectly cast in the role. She also has fantastic chemistry with her screen mother played by Reem Abdullah and it is this chemistry that makes the scenes between mother and daughter the highlights of the film. The interesting thing about the (unnamed) mother character is the difference in her and her actions from when she is in her own house compared to when she is outside in public and it is a real eye-opener in regards to the repression of women in Saudi Arabia. I'm not sure if I am getting across just how fun this film really is, but although “Wadjda” is a beautiful and happy film, it is not without its sadness too, with most of these scenes having to do with the mother. I implore you to check out “Wadjda” because it is just a great crowd pleaser. Click here to read my original review.


This was the only Iranian film that I saw at MIFF this year and unsurprisingly it blew me away. I do not know what it is about me and Iranian cinema but I am always impressed by what I see. However what made “Fish & Cat” unlike any other Iranian film (or of any country) is that this 140 minute film is shot in one long continuous take. No doubt this is an impressive feat, but it doesn't stop there, because within this single take, we are witness to a number of flashbacks and scenes that are told multiple times but each time from someone else's point of view. It is extraordinary how the film comes together and the logistics and rehearsal to make this whole thing work must have been a headache for all involved, and yet for the audience, it is all seamless. To be totally honest, I was so caught up in the style of the storytelling and bedazzled by it all, that I'm not entirely sure that the plot of the film warrants how high it has found itself on this list. Frankly I do not care because “Fish & Cat” is all about technique and I was spellbound by it all. Seriously my mouth was agape a number of times during this film, stunned by what I was witnessing. The story of the film is relatively simple as it is about a group of friends who travel down to a lake to participate in a yearly kite flying contest. Neighbouring the camp on the lake is a small restaurant who has a bad habit of serving meat of the human variety, and the scary part is that its three cooks are currently out in the woods looking for some fresh meat. What is interesting is that the film is based on real events which is pretty shocking. While the film itself goes for 140 minutes, the time-span of the actual events in the film would probably only last fifty minutes at most, but we are constantly revisiting the same scenes over and over again. It might sound repetitive and boring but it is the total opposite as you are totally focused by it all as you learn more and more about what is happening each time you witness the scene from another point of view. And do not forget that this is all in one take; simply stunning.


This is the second time that Jake Gyllenhaal has made it onto this list in a starring role, and the film is one that just came out of nowhere for me. Until about a month before its release I knew nothing about the film and then it started getting rave reviews and it was released in Australia soon after. I immediately checked it out and fell in love with the film and its sleazy main character, Lou Bloom. The film is a satire about today's sad state of journalism and about the increasingly blurring of the line between news and entertainment. The fact that if there is blood or gore in a story a news service will run it in an attempt for ratings. Gyllenhaal is yet again superb as Bloom and couldn't be more different from the other recent roles he has played. What I love about Gyllenhaal is that when he creates a character he builds them from the ground up starting with their body language. With Lou Bloom he creates a character that barely blinks which is very disconcerting because you just feel the man's gaze on you at all times. He also plays this man as someone very charismatic, which is important because he is a man who does deplorable things in an attempt to advance his position in work and life, but he still needs to be someone the audience and the other characters of the film relate to and gravitate towards. Make no mistake, Lou Bloom is a disturbed man, and while initially it appears like he is just professionally motivated, things begin to turn when he starts to participate in the news rather than just observing them, to the point of withholding information from the police of crimes he has caught on film. What I really liked about “Nightcrawler” is that it is a film that continues to build until it reaches a fever pitch for its finale, which may be the films only downside because I knew exactly how it was going to end well before the end, therefore I guess it is predictable. Still it is a minor quibble of a fantastic film. I must quickly make mention of Robert Elswit's seedy night-time photography that gave L.A a very dark and desperate look to it, and I thought it was fantastic to see Rene Russo in a substantial role again (and she is very good too).


This was actually the very first film that I saw in 2014, which is a testament to just how good a film it must be that I still remember it when it comes time to doing this list. “12 Years A Slave” is the incredible true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man from New York that is kidnapped and sold into slavery where he spends the next twelve years of his life under a number of different owners. Originally I expected this film to be very heavy and a bit of a slog to get through, and although it deals with a lot of confronting themes and unflinchingly so, I found the whole thing to be beautifully made mainly due to Chiwetel Ejiofor's sensitive portrayal of Solomon himself. He is a proud man who refuses to give up this pride and self respect just because he is now considered a slave. It really is a stunningly powerful performance, full of nuance and emotion; you cannot take your eyes off of him. Equally as strong but in a much uglier role is Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps who plays Solomon's longest owner in the film. Most of the film's confronting scenes involve the Fassbender character who fully commits to these scenes to expose their true ugliness including a very painful scene of him whipping Patsey, a young female slave who is played by Lupita Nyong├│. From a content point of view it is a terribly painful scene, but from a filmmaking perspective it is the film's most exciting moment because it is all told in one long continuous shot that has been masterfully achieved by cinematographer Sean Bobbitt (whose work, unsurprisingly, is brilliant throughout the entire film). The thing that surprised me most though was Hans Zimmer's score. For a film like this, I was expecting something very large and sweeping in an attempt to manipulate your emotions, something done with a full orchestra and everything. While I know little about music, it appears that what I got was something quite different and a lot darker to compliment the horrific images on screen. For me personally, I thought it added a great deal to the film. While there is plenty more to say about this equally disturbing and emotionally beautiful film, here is not the place, so I will end by saying that director Steve McQueen has created yet another stunning achievement with “12 Years A Slave” that rivals his previous film “Shame” in brilliance. Unsurprisingly I look forward to whatever may be McQueen's next film.


The best action film for at least a decade!” is how I summed up “The Raid” in my best-of list of 2012 (where it came in at #5 on that list) and I stand by that comment, except it has only taken two years for that statement to become obsolete as “The Raid 2” betters the earlier film in every department possible making it not just the best action film for at least a decade, but one of the best action films ever made. If the first film didn't prove it, the second film certainly has shown us that director Gareth Evans is clearly the new master of action films. Unlike his contemporaries, he painstakingly works out every moment of each action scene and doesn't finish shooting them until he is absolutely satisfied with the results. We are not just talking one or two takes here, we are talking well past thirty if that is what is needed. Regardless, the proof is on the screen because the action in this movie is just insane and very inventive. Evans and his star Iko Uwais have combined to create some of the most awe-inspiring action ever captured for a film and what I particularly like is that each action scene is different from the one that came before it. There isn't that sameness which can sometimes make an action film boring. Here we have a large number of fights, be it one on many, one on one, one on two, weapons or just open hands; they are all spectacular and I haven't even mentioned the vehicular madness yet. The original film was a claustrophobic experience with the entire film taking place in a multi-storey building that the cops cannot escape from. For the sequel, Evans opens everything up, letting the story breathe and introducing a number of new characters into the story. Apart from the fights, this sequel is bigger in every way possible not least of all with its extended running time of two and a half hours, but Evans proves he has quite the cinematic eye by perfectly choreographing a scene of dialogue just as excitingly as one of his action scenes. He understands when to move the camera and more importantly how, and is able to create a tangible world for his characters to inhabit. If there is a criticism of the film, it is that with all the new characters, it gets a little confusing just who is who and their exact function in the plot, but this is a minor quibble of a fantastically kinetic motion picture. If you are not impressed by the final fifteen minutes of this film then you are unable to be impressed; it is truly outstanding in its complexity. Click here to read my original review.


Oh my god! Is Jim Jarmusch the coolest guy in the world? He is a true original and makes films like no other, and that is something to be thankful for in this cookie-cutter age of cinema. He always creates such engaging and interesting characters that are so easy to fall in love with even when they are not doing much on-screen which, if we are being honest, is often in a Jarmusch film. I especially love it when Jarmusch ventures into genre filmmaking which he has done with his latest film “Only Lovers Left Alive”, which happens to be a vampire film – one of the coolest vampire films ever. The film is about Adam and Eve, vampires deeply in love and that have been together for centuries, and yet live countries apart. Adam lives in Old Detroit, whilst Eve lives in Morocco. After a conversation with Adam over the internet, where he bemoans about the state of the world and of human kind, Eve understands that he is in suffering from one of his depression moods and decides to leave her abode in Morocco and reunite with her husband in an attempt to show him just how good life can be again. As soon as Eve arrives in Detroit and the pair are together once more, Adam starts to pick up and begins to have fun with his loved one, but all this is threatened when Eve's sister Ava shows up for an uninvited visit. From the opening frame, I was in love with this film. It grabbed me right from the get-go and even though it moves at a snails pace that some might find disconcerting, I was entranced for the entire two hour running time. All of Jarmusch's films look amazing, but this is especially true of “Only Lovers Left Alive” as the production design here is so detailed that it just gives the whole universe that the film exists in, a lived in quality to it. It doesn't feel fake; you believe that Adam would live in a place like he does, and the same with Eve. Being a Jarmusch film, music also plays a big part of the film, particularly here because Adam is actually a famous musician. All the performances in this film are pitch perfect (I'm really becoming a Tilda Swinton fan these days), but I have to single out Mia Wasikowska's energetic and playful performance as Ava. She plays her as a naughty little kid who has no responsibility for any of her actions. She just does what she wants without thinking. Whenever Ava is front and center, Wasikowska just lights up the screen; it is unlike any role she has done before. My final thought on this film is if you ever wondered what a Jim Jarmusch vampire film would be like, check out “Only Lovers Left Alive” because it is everything you imagined it would be, and it is fantastic. For a brief while I actually thought it was my favourite film from this original artist (until I saw “Dead Man” on the big screen again, and it took back top spot) but it easily comes in at number two; yes folks, it is that good. Click here to read my original review.


After my disappointment with his previous film, “Moonrise Kingdom”, I was afraid that my love affair with Wes Anderson's films may be over because what I reacted against most was his (over) stylisations within that film which is an Anderson trademark. Thankfully it appears that my reaction to “Moonrise Kingdom” must have been an anomaly because he has followed that film up with his best yet, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” which also has to be his most stylised film to date and I loved every second of it. The film, as per my original review, is “set in the early 1930’s in the fictional European country of Zubrowka, where we are witness to the many adventures of the famed concierge of The Grand Budapest Hotel, Gustave H. and his trusted lobby boy, Zero. The oddball couple find themselves mixed up in a story involving a murder mystery, an art theft, a jailbreak and a battle of wills in regards to a family fortune, all against the backdrop of impending war”. The best thing about the film is the character of Gustave H. who is hilariously played by Ralph Fiennes. Often considered a stuffy actor of period films, Fiennes shines with the comedy of this film and makes the famed concierge Anderson's greatest character yet. The rest of the cast is filled by a who's who of Hollywood with bit roles going to the likes of Owen Wilson, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Saoirse Ronan, Jude Law, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton (again), Adrien Brody, and Willem Dafoe, just to name a few. All of them are excellent as is Anderson behind the camera himself. He seems to be in total control of the film at all times expertly handling the difficult tone of nostalgia and melancholy (whilst creating a comedy). As you would expect the film is packed to the gills in the visual department, with each set filled with the tiniest details but I loved the fact that Anderson appeared to be celebrating the artifice of filmmaking reminiscent of the film's time period. He uses a number of techniques such as matte paintings and extensions, to the use of miniatures, and even a bit of stop motion animation. It all comes together beautifully though. Speaking of beautiful, as usual Robert Yeoman's cinematography is precise and beautifully composed and I must say I was happy to see Anderson's use of the colour yellow finally being taken over by another colour, this time with pink. It is well known that the film is actually in three different aspect ratios depending on the time period of the story, but the majority of the film is shot in the 1.33 Academy ratio, which works very well for Anderson's detailed heavy images. The only negative I have for this film is I think it has one too many framing devices; with the third one too cute for its own good. Other than that “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a fantastically funny film and one that is very easy to re-visit over and over again, and the best part is it gets better with each viewing. Click here to read my original review.


So here we are finally. My favourite film of 2014 was none other than Gerard Johnstone's “Housebound”, a brilliant horror/comedy that came out of nowhere from New Zealand. Those that have been following this blog may know that I really do not like comedy in my horror films. It just rarely works and nobody understands how to get the balance right between the horror and comedy with most people overdoing the comedy totally which undercuts the horror. “Housebound” is the perfect example of a horror/comedy done right. The whole thing is hilarious and scary when it is meant to be either and the reason why it works so well is because it doesn't rely on gags, the situations the character's find themselves in are funny but they are played totally straight. We, the audience, are the ones laughing not the characters, which is important to the film's success. The other great thing about “Housebound” is that it defies conventions; you just never know where this film is going which is so great for a viewer. It is awesome not knowing what will happen next, or guessing the ending five minutes into the film. The plot of the film is about an immature twenty something girl, Kylie, who is sentenced to house arrest at her mum's house for six months after a bungled robbery attempt. Whilst living and trapped in this house, strange things start happening and it isn't long before Kylie starts believing that the house may be haunted and just what does the creepy next door neighbour have to do with all of this? One of the most incredible things about this film is that Kylie is such a selfish, bratty bitch, and yet through the performance from Morgana O'Reilly in this role, you can't help but fall in love with her and you are with her for every second. She is just brilliant particularly with her “I don't give a fuck” stare that she gives all the time. A lot of the comedy comes from Kylie's mother, Miriam, who is the nagging kind of mother that you would hate to be trapped in a house with for six months. She could talk the leg off a chair and yet nothing she says is at all interesting; it's just noise. Still, again, you really find yourself loving her. Actually come to think of it, that is true of all the characters. When it comes down to the horror part of the film, this is also expertly handled but Johnstone does an amazing job of changing the type of horror film you are thinking you are watching regularly. At first the film comes across as a ghost story, and while I am not going to give away any secrets of the film, lets just say that by the time “Housebound” is over, it is a completely different type of horror being explored. While there are a couple of gory scenes particularly one moment at the end, the majority of the horror is done via suspense including a great segment on the roof of the house near the finale. Just like “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, “Housebound” is a film that gets better with each viewing and it is just so easy to watch. It was the film I watched more than any other in 2014 and I have recommended the film to so many people since. That is why “Housebound” is my favourite film of 2014, and I cannot wait to see what Gerard Johnstone does next.

Well there you have it, that was my  round-up of the year that was 2014.  Hopefully you got some enjoyment out of it, but before I finish, lets have a brief look at the upcoming year and my most anticipated films of 2015. 

Friday, January 9, 2015


Let's get onto the good stuff finally.  I am not going to do any honorable mentions, this is it, my top 20 of 2014, and while the title of this list states that these are the "best" films of 2014, that is not really the case, these are my "favourite" films of 2014.  Alright, enough talk, lets begin with my:



The art-house darling of 2014 and the winner of this years Palm D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, “Winter Sleep” is yet another fantastic achievement from Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan. With his latest film, Ceylan gives up on his usual visual signatures of the gorgeous Turkish landscapes (although not entirely), and instead helms a film that takes place mainly indoors of a hotel that our main character, Aydin, runs in central Anatolia with his much younger wife Nihal. Residing with the pair is Aydin's sister Necla who is attempting to recover from her divorce, but with everyone living in close proximity with one another, politeness begins to break down and their true animosities towards each other come to the surface. This is just the bare bones of the plot of this amazing film as there is a lot more going on here which you would expect from a film that runs well over three hours. This is not an easy film to ingest, and certainly wont be for everyone, with the majority of the drama being played out over long scenes of intense and complex dialogue. The pace of the film is very deliberate, but those unfamiliar with Ceylan's style my find it all too slow. Performances are all stellar and as you would expect, and visually “Winter Sleep” is a sight to behold. It is true that it is an exhausting experience but one that rewards the viewers who give the film a chance richly.


At the time that I saw “It Follows” at MIFF, I was unaware that it had been little screened elsewhere in the world, and it is only just now that real buzz for this film has begun in earnest. This was a horror film that I knew nothing about going in and it turned out to be such a creepy little gem. The film is about a teenage girl named Jay, played by Maika Monroe (who is also in “The Guest”), who after a sexual encounter with a boy, starts to be followed by a mysterious and insidious force of some kind that's only intent is to kill her. I'm not sure that description does the film justice at how scary it is. While the force is an obvious metaphor for a sexually transmitted disease, what makes the film so creepy is that the thing that is following Jay could be any person at all. It just walks in a straight line and continues following her. It may be hard to explain in words, but visually it is terrifying. Imagine the image of a nice elderly woman just going for a walk, and then morph that image into thinking that that innocent walk the old lady is taking is an attempt to kill Jay. Again, I do not think I am doing this film justice, but believe me, this will be one of the most talked about horror films of 2015. Its original and terrific.


David Michod's previous film, “Animal Kingdom”, is one of my all time favourites and was my number two film in its year of release. To say that I had big expectations on “The Rover” would be a massive understatement and while I do not think it was quite as good as “Animal Kingdom”, I think that it was great enough to confirm what was already thought; David Michod is going to be a force in cinema for a very long time. “The Rover” is a much different film to its predecessor; it is much more quiet and insular and it is not until the film's final scene that we find out exactly what the movie is all about. The actual reveal is unexpected and actually turns the film on its head, because while the film is contained in these massive outback landscapes, the point of the film is something very small. Unlike “Animal Kingdom” this film is presented at a very slow pace and is incredibly violent, however it is never boring, nor does the violence come across as gratuitous. Our “hero” has a single purpose, which is to retrieve his stolen car, and nothing or no-one will stop him from achieving this goal. Because of this myopic vision, “The Rover” is a very intense experience and one that continues to build until its finale where all of that intensity if finally allowed to be expelled. From a cinematic point of view, “The Rover” is stellar in every department with the Australian outback never looking more desolate and beautiful than it does here, and the film is littered with stunning acting performances with none better than the star of the film, Guy Pearce. This is an intense role because his character bottles everything up inside; he is like a ticking timebomb and he lets his actions do the talking. Seriously I doubt Pearce has been better than he is here, and he is amply assisted by Robert Pattinson who plays the brother of the person who stole our hero's car. Due to the fact that this is not the apocalyptic thriller everyone was expecting from “The Rover”, the film is seriously undervalued, but believe me it is well worth anyone's time to check out. 


This is such a silly little film but man, I loved ever second of it. I am a big fan of director, Lucky McKee and his work, but I must admit that even I was unsure about this film when it was announced as his latest project. McKee actually co-directs with Chris Siverston and the film is a remake of a film the two of them made together back in 2001 (shot on video). I have not seen the original, so cannot comment on how they compare but what I can say is that “All Cheerleaders Die” is just a rippingly fun horror film. Sure, it is gory at times, but overall this is a film that does not take itself too seriously at all. Coming from the directors of such dark films as “May”, “The Woman” and “The Lost”, it is nice to see that they have an ability to make a film that is just fun and to make it just as entertaining as their other films. The premise of this film is so dumb but McKee and Siverston treat it seriously which is the key to the film's success; if they played the film for laughs it wouldn't have worked but because they do the opposite the situations the girls find themselves in is hilarious. “All Cheerleaders Die” is about a group of cheerleaders (duh!) who die in an automobile accident caused by the jocks of the highschool. Brought back to life by some mysterious gemstones and the local wicca girl, the girls head out for revenge against the guys that killed them. Where a lot of the comedy comes from is that each girl feels everything the other girls do via the gemstones implanted in them, be it pain, sorrow or ecstasy. Anyway, like I said, the film sounds dumb but it was one of the most fun times I have had watching a film all year.


This was originally one of my most anticipated films for 2013 but thanks to the Weinstein Brothers idiocy, this film was not released outside of Asia until well into 2014, thankfully though in the directors desired version (which did not look like it was going to be the case at one time). Being as the film was directed by one of the geniuses of South Korean cinema, Bong Joon-Ho, it came as no surprise that “Snowpiercer” was an absolutely brilliant film. This man has yet to come close to making a bad film. It is everything you would expect from the director of such hits as “Memories Of Murder”, “The Host”, and “Mother”; it is smart, original, visual stunning and entertaining as all heck. While the film is filled with subtext about class warfare, abuse of the environment, and dictatorships, (particularly about the danger of when a single message is constantly drummed into a human being, how those said humans will end up ultimately believing and conforming to said idea) Bong Joon-Ho is smart enough to never let these ideas bog the film down. Rather he has also created one of the finest action films of the year. Click here to read my original review.


Having just written about this exact film in my “Most Underrated” film of 2014 section, I am not sure there is much more I can add. This is an emotionally rich film about a single mother suffering from debilitating depression and an escaped convict looking for a place to hide, who come together over the course of a Labor Day Weekend. To say that the time they spend together changes their lives forever would be a massive understatement. Each has what the other needs and together they open their eyes once more and believe in life and love again and by the end of the film, they both are ready to face the world head-on. The film is about many things, not least the fact that before you can make plans for the future you must come to terms with your past, and it also looks at just how much influence one person can have on another's life in such a short period of time. It's such a beautiful film. 


Next to Jeff Nichols, it is my opinion that Jim Mickle is the most important new director to come out of the United States in the past ten years. With each film he continues to get better and better, and “Cold In July” is his best film yet. Sadly though it is the kind of film that you really cannot talk about because the enjoyment you receive from it is in discovering all of its twists. What little I can say about it is that it is a crime thriller, and a superior one at that. The film begins when Richard (Michael C. Hall) accidentally kills an intruder in his home during an attempted robbery. Shaken and disturbed by the incident, it isn't long before Richard learns that the person he killed was the son of a dangerous criminal, and worse he has just gotten out of jail on parole. The first thing the man does once out of jail is look for Richard to take revenge for his son's death, but things are not what they first seem. To give away any more about this film would be itself criminal but what I will say is that from where the film begins, you would never guess where it ends. The film does not have a bad performance in it with Michael C. Hall exceptional as Richard (making you completely forget about his “Dexter” character), Sam Shepard intimidating as the ex-con, and a scene-stealing flamboyant performance from Don Johnson who plays a suave aging bounty hunter. Cinematically, Mickle continues to be at the top of his game following on from where he left off with “We Are What We Are”. The film is gorgeously shot with classic compositions and I was also very impressed by the detailed period design of the film (it is set in the 1980's). I love “Cold In July” and all its surprises and look forward to whatever Jim Mickle commits himself to next.


The first of two doppelganger thrillers that are on this list, Denis Villeneuve's “Enemy” is a glorious mind-fuck of a film. It is a film that has smartly been left up to the interpretation of each individual viewer. Nothing is over explained, but little clues are left throughout the film to help work out exactly what is going on. Visual motifs such as spiders, keys, high heels are constantly highlighted in the film but it is up to the viewer to work out what each means or represents. This is the kind of cinema I love, because it makes the film forever rewatchable as each time you look at it, you seem to notice another piece of the puzzle. For now I will say that I have my own theory as to what is going on that involves a past infidelity, and a current temptation which is causing our main character to have a mental breakdown of sorts. However, I must stress, this could be totally wrong and the doppelgangers of Adam and Anthony may indeed be two totally different people. The plot, as per my original review of the film, is “about a university teacher, Adam, who one day by chance, happens to notice his exact double in a movie he is watching on dvd. This revelation seems to shake Adam up, and he becomes obsessed with meeting the actor, Anthony, at first on just a curiosity level. When the two boys finally meet and realise that they are indeed exact doubles of one another (with matching scars to boot), it sets into motion a series of events that sees Adam and Anthony start to infiltrate the lives of the other, with their unsuspecting wife/girlfriend being pawns in their games of duplicity”. Jake Gyllenhaal plays both Adam and Anthony and he does a fantastic job of differentiating the two so you always know who is who, mainly through the use of body language. While this is the second collaboration between Gyllenhaal and director Villeneuve to be released, it was actually shot before the earlier released “Prisoners”. It is obvious that these two have fantastic chemistry together and I sincerely hope they work together again in the near future.


We finally make it to the prerequisite Coen Brother's title on this list. While I always love whatever the Coen Brothers dish up, lately I have found myself gravitating more towards their “smaller” films (like “A Serious Man”) as opposed to their bigger budget stuff (“True Grit”). Their latest film, “Inside Llewyn Davis” is what I would consider another of their small films and it is simply fantastic. The film is about the folk singing scene in the early sixties and as you would expect from these perfectionists, the period detail within the film is spot on. What makes this film so delightful is its melancholic tone, and yet despite this tone, the film is quite uplifting and funny at times, with Llewyn Davis very endearing despite his view and outlook on the world. Oscar Isaac is superb as the title character truly getting across his love of music and his constant tiredness of being rejected. As much as he loves his art, the constant failure is wearing him down and as such he is the kind of person that is hard to be around due to his glass half empty mentality. He is a character that also lacks any sort of adult responsibility and makes no apologies for who he is. One amusing character trait is the fact that Davis is always carrying his neighbours cat who he was in charge of looking after before locking himself out of the apartment. Within moments of deep sadness, there are these almost slapstick scenes involving the cat which work beautifully in the film. Other supporting actors in the film are Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake and Garrett Hedlund who are all pitch perfect. The songs are great, the look of the film is stunning (the Coen's regular DP Roger Deakins was unavailable to shoot this film, so Bruno Delbonnel ably filled his shoes creating a different looking Coen Brothers film that is no less beautiful); “Inside Llewyn Davis” is just a great film.


Out of all of the plots of all of the films on this list, “Grand Piano” probably has the most ridiculous (with “All Cheerleaders Die” a close second), but the reason this film makes the list and so high on the list, all has to do with technique. Eugenio Mira's direction on “Grand Piano”is a tour de force, as he makes a potentially silly film into one of the best thrillers of the year. As per the IMDB synopsis, the film goes something like this: “ During his comeback performance, a pianist who suffers from stage fright finds a note "play one note wrong, and you die". The notes continue on his sheet music and he is instructed to play the most perfect performance of his life or his wife will be murdered in retaliation. He is about to find out the true definition of stage fright. The greatest compliment I can give both Mira and “Grand Piano” is that the film actually felt like a Brian De Palma film. What I loved about Mira's direction is that he used every cinematic trick in the book to build suspense including a couple of terrific set pieces. The way his is able to make a seemingly boring act like playing the piano, so interestingly cinematic is testament to his talents, as is his ability to create such a tense atmosphere around a guy sitting in front of a piano for the majority of the film. Where the film gets really hokey is when we learn why the sniper wants the pianist to play the perfect performance of his life; it is just plain dumb, but again Mira makes it work when there is no way in hell it should of. Elijah Wood once again comes across as believable as the pianist but also as someone in well over his head. While John Cusack is fine in his role, he is relatively underused here. I know I may get some raised eyebrows for this decision, but I absolutely love “Grand Piano” and am not at all ashamed to add it to this list. Click here to read my original review.