We asked Keyframe critics and a few key others about their year in film, broadly. What we got were a wide selection of responses on best moments, stupefying trends and a few ideas of what they’d love to see more of in the year 2015.
Comic book movies are getting smarter, which is a good trend because we’re getting more of them, like it or not.
Even though they are getting smarter, making more comic book movies is a step in the wrong direction for a cinema should grow up, not enter a second childhood.
Monument Film: I recently attended a São Paulo screening of works by the great Austrian filmmaker Peter Kubelka, with the eighty-year-old Kubelka himself in attendance. He presented five of his films, all of which are dense and focused 16mm works that range in length from one minute to thirteen. He would speak a bit about how he came to make a film, then screen it for us, then speak some more and show another one.
The movies are metric, rhythm-based works filled with electric charm and good cheer. Kubelka has built each one with concentration upon the goal of answering his own questions about what makes cinema—material, celluloid-based cinema in particular—a unique art.
At evening’s end, he performed his installation Monument Film, a simultaneous and overlapping projection of 1960’s Arnulf Rainer and its negative partner, 2012’s Antiphon. For seven minutes, the room seemed to explode pleasurably with white light and crackling noise. Kubelka was asked afterwards where he thought that he was in his filmmaking practice, and he replied with great calm that in all likelihood, he was finished. He also said that he believed that analogue film would have its day again, as neither the need for it nor the taste for it would ever go away.
Various: That of film funding and programming bodies prioritizing films that deal broadly with disgrace, misery and suffering over films discussing mundane problems. The critical and commercial success of Boyhood offers a nice example of the value that can be given to that second kind of filmmaking.
Various: Older filmmakers staying active and sharp. Many exciting new films were premiered this year by filmmakers over eighty, including Jean-Luc Godard (Goodbye to Language), Ken Jacobs (Canopy and The Guests), Manoel de Oliveira (The Old Man of Belem), the late Alain Resnais (who passed away soon after Life of Riley’s premiere), Jean-Marie Straub (À Propos de Venise, Kommunisten, and La guerre d’Algérie), Paul Vecchiali (White Nights on the Pier), and Frederick Wiseman (National Gallery), among others. We are blessed to have their works.
1. “Stereoscopic split & return,” Goodbye to Language
2. “Through the wormhole,” Interstellar
3. “Stepsiblings: no time for goodbye,” Boyhood
4. “Tidal tragedy,” Under the Skin
5. “Ice cream,” Manakamana
6. “Safety last,” Don’t Go Breaking My Heart 2
7. “First rehearsal,” We Are the Best!
8. “Finale,” The Immigrant
9. “Bloody bed,” Gone Girl
10. “Picnic table,” Night Moves
1. Film projectors returning to booths.
2. Independent film labs and microcinemas keeping film processing and projecting alive.
1. The near-disappearance of projected film at most film festivals.
2. The promised death of 70mm IMAX after Interstellar‘s run ends
3. The continued disappearance of foreign-language films from commercial (even arthouse) cinema screens.
Julianne Moore forgetting the person she’d just been introduced to in Still Alice.
The students complaining about Tyler Perry and Quentin Tarantino movies in Dear White People.
Geniuses as movie heroes (The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything)
CGI-creations, e.g., the raccoon “Superhero” in Guardians of the Galaxy
The final scene between Phoenix and Brolin in Inherent Vice
Why Don’t You Play in Hell? (Sion Sono, Japan, 2013): When Nikaido Fumi’s character Muto Mitsuko asks “Did I kick ass?” So much is said beyond that film in that one line but plot spoilers keep me from elaborating.
Grigris (Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, Chad, 2013): Souleymane Démé’s dance practice scene, simply a joy to watch.
Big Hero 6 (Don Hall & Chris Williams, USA, 2014): All the train transit in San Fransokyo that had my wife and I saying, “If only that were what San Francisco’s mass transit system was like.” If only…
Grigris (Mahamet-Saleh Haroun, Chad, 2013) & shorts Midnight Sun (Kang Ji-sook, South Korea, 2014) and Hole (Martin Edralin, Canada, 2014)
The best trend from 2014 was the collection of commentaries challenging “Cripface,” a term used by many critics of the default practice of casting non-disabled actors for roles where characters have a disability. I contributed in a tiny way to this movement with a piece I did for Keyframe in early February, but there are much more powerful voices than mine contributing to this topic. The critique didn’t start this year, for many have discussed this in the past, but the issue seemed to find prominent space this year with several articles. There was Scott Jordan Harris’ piece in RogerEbert.com laying down the gauntlet that roles for characters with disabilities should be fully reserved for actors with such disabilities. There was Lennard Davis’ “clarion call” at Huffington Post calling for non-disabled actors to take responsibility and turn down roles for characters with disabilities so they can be taken up by actors with those disabilities. There was Christopher Shinn’s powerful “Disability Is Not Just a Metaphor” in The Atlantic. There was actor Mat Fraser’s interview at The AV Club where he puts it succinctly: “We know we’re not allowed to play ourselves in contemporary dramas, because apparently those are reserved for able-bodied actors who want to get Oscars.” And there were many more commentaries, especially on Twitter if you search for #Cripface. Since short films are often signs of stories to come, the two shorts I mentioned at the beginning here, Midnight Sun (Kang Ji-sook, South Korea, 2014) and Hole (Martin Edralin, Canada, 2014), pose hope for future casting calls. They have refused to cripface, but feature actors with disabilities in roles about characters with disabilities. And then there was the amazing film from Chad, Grigris (Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, Chad, 2013). Here’s hoping those 3 great films are further fuel for cripface to be an aspect of cinema’s past we see less of in cinema’s future.
Joaquin Phoenix’s reaction to an off-screen photograph in Inherent
Jefferson Starship mime in The Skeleton Twins
School bullies dealt with in The Guest
Father has revelation looking in videocamera in Like Father, Like Son
Dad confronts Nazis in The Dance of Reality
Kindergarten in Snowpiercer
The band’s first/only song in We Are Mari Pepa
Church bombing in Selma
Lorelei Linklater tortures little brother with “Oops! I Did It Again” in Boyhood
Trophy room “celebration” in Foxcatcher
Inherent Vice: Joaquin Phoenix & Katherine Waterston share an idyllic moment in search of a place from their past (set to Neil Young’s “Journey Through the Past”).
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night: Sheila Vand and Arash Marandi seduce each other (set to White Lies’ “Death”).
Nymphomaniac: Uma Thurman unhinged.
Love Is Strange: Charlie Tahan in the stairwell alone and crying with his skateboard.
Hide Your Smiling Faces: The boys on a bicycle on the open road.
1. Under the Skin: horror on the beach, and corporeal implosions in the viscous underneath
2. Nymphomaniac: the dead plant in the sadist’s waiting room
3. Stranger by the Lake: Michel’s mustache
3. Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets: the nurse from Atlanta professing her devotion to Jarvis Cocker in the freezing cold outside the concert hall
4. Interstellar: Cooper behind the bookcase
Rep house and festival programmers continuing to believe in the value of auteur retrospectives (Carax! Bertolucci!), only-in-a-theater happenings (Warhol‘s dual-projected Chelsea Girls, Charlie Chaplin lookalike contest with ridiculously adorable cane-twirling tykes) and what-the-hell double bills (The Bad Seed/Village of the Damned). And hey, all of these took place at the one and only Castro Theatre, still unparalleled as a home-away-from-home for cineastes the world over (and for this guy, lucky to live a hop, skip and jump away).
Goodbyes: Alain Resnais, Philip Seymour Hoffman and celluloid
Year of the Doppelgänger: Coherence, The Double, Enemy, The Face of Love, The Identical, The Lookalike, The Man on Her Mind, The One I Love: We don’t even know who we are anymore!
…there’s that scene in Two Days, One Night in which an act of contrition seems to fully, painfully manifest in Sandra’s (Marion Cotillard) co-worker Timur (Timur Magomedgadzhiev, a Brussels stage performer) to rather empathic effect, his head bowing into wood with a beseeching thunk…
Hybrid cinema as unforced means rather than willful end: Witness the woven looms of fictive and documental threads in Manakamana, Boyhood, A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness, Stop the Pounding Heart, Actress…..
The tendency to enlist and encourage film as a consensual object. That and too much cinematographically dappled light: substantively dubious.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson): When the older, more wistful Zero remarks of his flamboyant boss and mentor, Gustave H., “To be frank, I think his world had vanished long before he even entered it. But I must say, he maintained the illusion with grace.” Melancholy and nostalgia pervade every frame of Anderson’s best feature till date, but it is in this observation by its protagonist that the mixture of sadness and admiration reaches its zenith.
Maidan (Sergei Loznitsa): Towards the end of Sergei Loznitsa’s rigorous and unrelenting documentary about the protests in Ukraine’s capital at the turn of the year, there is a heartbreaking mastershot of the public set to the Ukrainian folk song, “Plyve kacha po tysyni,” sung as a dirge. As tears break out on the faces of the people on screen, Loznitsa’s camera doesn’t let up. It’s as intimate a glimpse into a people than any other scene in cinema this year.
Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako): Sissako’s film transcends the brutality and pain of the events it contains by a sense of understanding and compassion that frames every frame. He knows when just showing us something for a few seconds can leave us shocked for hours after. He utilizes this minimalism best when he has to depict a woman getting stoned by the Islamic fundamentalists who have taken over the town. The understated manner of the portrayal makes it harsher. Something this inhumane shouldn’t be considered so normal.
Winter Sleep (Nuri Bilge Ceylan): Few filmmakers in the world know how to exploit the majesty and awe of the big screen as well as Turkish genius, Nuri Bilge Ceylan. His latest film, which finally won him that long-awaited Palme D’Or, has one scene with a few horses galloping in the ravishing Anatolian steppes. In a film full of suffocating and draining conversations, this feels like a much-needed breather, and Ceylan knows how to make it look gorgeous.
Two Days, One Night (The Dardennes): Marion Cotillard has one of the most infectious smiles in the world, and the toughness of what her character has to go through in the new drama from the Dardennes Brothers makes one ache to see that smile for a bit. And when it finally arrives, because of something as irreverent as the choice of music in the car, it works its charm within a second.
The Lego Movie (Phil Lord, Chris Miller): This movie has one of the smartest takes yet seen on The Caped Crusader, one that acknowledges why people might find him cool while sending up the people who find him this cool. The approach is best summed up when he plays his rap song to some other characters. Typing the lyrics of the thing would be tantamount to spoiling the joy, and it’s Will Arnett’s amazingly gruff rendition that gives the song the hilarity and memorability it has.
Interstellar (Christopher Nolan): The backlash to Matthew McConaughey’s renaissance has begun, and some moments in True Detective make it seem well earned. (Good acting = no one being able to understand what you are saying.) However, in Christopher Nolan’s paean to space exploration,the newly-minted Oscar winner displays the full breadth of his acting prowess when his character watches a series of videos shot by his children over the years. Hoyte van Hoytema’s camera clues in on his face, which rapidly breaks down. McConaughey owns this scene, helping the sentimentality attain a semblance of genuinity.
1. Alan Partridge Alpha Papa: Alan resorts to the tuck-under.
2. Winter Sleep: Nihal musters the courage to explicate the subtle bullying strategies of husband Aydin.
3. Alan Partridge Alpha Papa: Michael throws himself off the pier.
4. Happy Christmas: Kendrick’s shift from defensive jokiness to genuine hurt when her character’s plans for Christmas Eve nooky fall flat.
5. Story of My Death: Casanova laughs himself delirious.
6. Alan Partridge Alpha Papa: Alan interrupts his own good Samaritanism to continue a sing-a-long to the radio.
7. Blue Ruin: Knife in the tire.
8. Stray Dogs: A cabbage is kissed, hugged, smothered and eaten.
9. Stray Dogs: The final cut to black.
10. Mr. Turner: Turner arrives at an exhibition, greets Constable, reigns supreme.
Wordlessness, humorlessness, colorlessness, miserablism. Where’s the conflict, the vigor, the nuance, the criticism…?
Scarlett Johansson dragging a guy’s body on the rocky shore.
Anything involving the use of cell phones or computers.
Jake Gyllenhaal in every moment of Nightcrawler
From my not-yet-distributed: Maps to the Stars: Havana (Julianne Moore) walking out of the car where she’s just had sex with Jerome (Robert Pattinson), wiping her crotch with a towel;
A Little Death (undistributed film from Josh Lawson), translating a sex-call into sign language.
2014 was a year of great onscreen duos in many different genres (Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston (Only Lover Left Alive); Agata Trzebuchowska and Agata Kulesza (Ida); Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader (Skeleton Twins); Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy (The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby), John Lithgow/Alfred Molina (Love Is Strange)
Tom Hardy getting cast more often 🙂
Trying to revive the dead without a fresh concept (hence, creating e.g. I, Frankenstein. Ouch)
The bar scene in Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch), Black Rebel Motorcycle Club blaring
Long takes, Birdman, Boyhood, Stations of the Cross, Free Fall, Louie, True Detective,
James Franco: The Sound and the Fury, Palo Alto, The Interview
Boyhood: I didn’t think Richard Linklater could top his one-for-the-ages ending in Before Sunset, but boy oh boy did he ever with this one.
Force Majeure: The scene by the pool set to that Euroclub song.
Inherent Vice: Everything.
Actress: The cut from Brandy Burre at night, partying with her friends, to the next morning, alone on the couch, hungover and reeling.
Under the Skin: Mica Levi’s score.
FILM JOURNALISM NEEDS TO STOP CHASING HITS AND WRITING ABOUT CASTING RUMORS AND SUPERHERO MOVIES THAT WON’T BE COMING OUT FOR SEVERAL YEARS—PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STOPPPP THISSSS RIGHTTTTT NOWWWWW!!!!!