What a year in film! Some bona fide modern cult/classics indeed!
I must reiterate that I no longer use the term “Best Of”. It’s been an academic dilemma of mine for awhile, and in the last two years I arrived at the firm conclusion that despite having been a published film critic for more than twenty years, I cannot comfortably spout what I think are the year’s best movies, or even what I think are the greatest in their respective genres. I can only offer my favourites, and trust that my informed and educated opinion carries the appropriate weight.
I also have to take into account the release date of a movie, or to be more specific, when it was available for me to see it. There are a lot of movies screened each year, some enjoy theatrical seasons, others have select screenings at film festivals, and the rest are shunted directly into the domestic straight-to-video market. There are many movies that I don’t get to see in the calendar year, for whatever reason, with a couple that I’m sure would’ve been real contenders, Inherent Vice, The Dark Horse, and Birdman, I’m looking at you.
My criteria for selection is based on what I saw in Sydney during the year, whether it was during its theatrical run, at one of the many local film festivals, or at home on BD/DVD/online screener.
So, here then are the twelve movies that tickled my dark fancy. In some kind of order? Perhaps.
Exuding a dark sensuality this is a ferociously brooding piece of Euro-Asia styled cinema, and one of the most impressive debut features I’ve seen in a long time. Operating within its own nefarious underworld, the dark corners of a New York seldom seen, it’s a kind of tenebrous adult fable with a stunning central performance from Ashley C. Williams.
This small, morality tale has more stings than a fierce wasp. A black eye comedy as perverse as it is entertaining, as clever as it is simplistic. It slaps your funny bone and kicks yer ass into the middle of next week. Boom! Whack! Thunk! Crack! Vulgar and gruesome, it’s the most reckless, hilarious, twisted night you’ve had in a long time. Pass the tequila.
A drama that burns with the quiet ferocity of crawling lava, it’s a tale of wretched revenge soaked in sadness, mired in melancholy, a tragedy of errors, Murphy’s Law incarnate. A stripped-back, slow-burn thriller from Hell, mesmerising and powerful in its simplicity, as gripping as a wrestler’s handshake, and packing a serious visceral punch.
The first movie that comes the closest to capturing the look and vibe of French adult-orientated science fiction/fantasy comic-strip magazine Metal Hurlant (Heavy Metal), the vivid cyberpunk and steampunk designs, the Chris Foss-inspired spacecraft, the sassy sex appeal, the menace and the misfits. James Gunn has whipped out a fancy-dancy, interstellarockin’ phantasy for the adolescent in us all.
There is a remarkable astuteness to Spike Jonze’s portrait. Artificial intelligence is not to be taken lightly, and whilst Her floats on a poetic cyber-feather, there is an inherent sadness that, like an emotional weight, steadily brings it down to earth. A crowning achievement in terms of direction, a brilliant study of love’s fondness and love’s fickleness, but quite simply, a wonderful tale of melancholy.
One of those great horror movies that spends much of its time building character and vibe, edging its story arc along, tugging the tension threads, tightening the thriller element. It exudes a 70s and 80s vibe, and a deliciously twisted one at that. The occult and naïveté, the oh-so blackly comic tone, the body-horror, the nightmarish craving for perfection, all converging on a tinsel stage of black magic realism.
One of the most fascinating and inspiring documentaries in a long time, it is the story of Mexican director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s attempt to make the ultimate science fiction movie from what is often regarded as the ultimate science fiction novel. One can’t help but feel utterly inspired about the creative process, despite how utterly disappointing it is that his extraordinary vision never came to cinematic fruition.
J.C. Chandor directs with a mighty hand, never once over-stepping into anything other than serving the action as simply and effectively as possible. There’s a rare European grace and lack of pretension that exudes from this tale of one man’s increasingly desperate plight. Robert Redford is the sole actor and is amazing. He barely utters a word the entire film.
Featuring a superbly nuanced performance from Gyllenhaal, this is an elusive and elliptical portrait of infidelity, deceit, corruption, and betrayal. The excellent screenplay by Javier Gullon takes the basic elements of the novel The Double by José Saramago and twists them into a parable of fear and desire, a creeping nightmare bathed in jaundiced daylight.
A pitch-black comedy aimed squarely at high-fiving those who have been bullied at school and slapping the mugs of those who bully, a satire that steps into docu-drama territory, one foot in the truth, one foot in the fiction, the reality is rendered askew. This is the freshest, most original, and dangerously entertaining, low-budget indie flick in several years.
Jake Gyllenhaal is fast becoming the Sean Penn of his generation. In the last couple of years his movie choices and subsequent performances have defined him as an intense, charismatic talent. The pitch-black satire of this reportage study of corrupt morals and damaged ethics is as right now as yesterday’s news. As compelling as it is dangerous, this sly snake slides with supreme confidence.
A thoroughly gripping, visually stunning, powerful drama-thriller that slaps you around, and yet, ultimately embraces you in an apocalyptic gesture of doomed romance. It’s one of the most affecting Aussie releases of the past few years, a vivid, captivating, nihilistic drama, at once sensual and sweaty, urgent and uncompromising. It takes no prisoners.