Birdman, the latest effort from distinctive director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárittu, is a particularly bold film. Not only is it very technically impressive, but it deals with risky themes like the differentiation between pop culture and art and the inherent impotence of critics, which when handled poorly can make a film look self-conscious and above reproach. Luckily for both the movie and the audience, Birdman negotiates these incredibly complex and substantial themes deftly and with a sense of scope and proportion, touching on modern pop-culture, egomania, self-delusion, and the fundamental purpose of art; no small order for a film so immediately accessible. Beautifully written and performed, with a striking and unique soundtrack alongside genuinely breath-taking cinematography, Birdman is a strong contender for the best film of 2014.
Alan Turing was never going to be an easy subject to put into a single film, seeing as both he and his story were so varied and fascinating. Not only was he one of the single greatest contributors to the Allied victory in World War 2, he also invented computer science and, in a shameful and tragic twist, eventually killed himself after being horrifically persecuted for his homosexuality. Thankfully, The Imitation Game and its leading man, Benedict Cumberbatch, do a superb job of bringing this tale to life in a touching, nuanced, and exciting film. In a year positively teeming with Oscar-bait biopics, The Imitation Game is a definite highlight. (more…)
After violent protests broke out after irregularities in the 2009 Iranian election, journalist Maziar Bahari faced a choice: risk his life and career by videotaping totalitarian abuse, or drop his camera and run. He chose to release the footage. When I first heard the premise of Jon Stewart’s directorial debut, I couldn’t think of a more compelling personality to deftly negotiate its weighty subject material with a sense of scope and a light, often comedic, touch. Based on Then They Came for Me, Bahari’s memoir on his 118-day imprisonment in notorious Evin Prison, what elevates Rosewater isn’t strict adherence to documenting past events, but its ability to capture the essence of one man’s experience and expand it beyond its physical and temporal boundaries. Bahari himself has explained that though the film is not true to the letter of his experience in Evin, it captures a higher truth of imprisonment. This crafted, whittled-down truth drives Rosewater in way that only fiction can.
Common wisdom asserts that the streets of LA after dark are not places you want to be. Violent crime runs rampant, the cops are too busy to help you, and, if you’re particularly unlucky, you’ll find your personal hell being recorded and sold by an emotionless ‘stringer’ – the freelance purveyors of real-life tragedies. It’s this third element of Los Angeles’ murky underworld which is tackled by Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler, a supremely confident, thrilling and well-performed tale of one man’s desperate struggle to stay employed, at any cost. It’s one of the year’s best films, a surprise made all the more impressive when you remember that it is Gilroy’s first directorial effort and that his last two scripts were the lacklustre Real Steel and Bourne Legacy. (more…)
By the time it screened at the London Film Festival, Whiplash was already one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year. The reviews from Sundance, where it won both the Jury and Audience prizes, were overwhelmingly positive, with 4 or 5 stars being pretty much guaranteed with each individual critique. Happily, I can say that Whiplash deserves all of these plaudits, and it received a standing ovation in London. It’s one of the most exciting, entertaining and well-edited films of 2014, with an excellent script brought to life by mesmerising performances from Miles Teller and JK Simmons. I have not yet seen enough of the big awards films (Birdman, Inherent Vice, Imitation Game etc) to proclaim any film my best of 2014, but Whiplash is most definitely a front-runner. (more…)
Kill Me Three Times thinks it knows what makes a dark comedy: liminal locale, ruthless characters, and a catchy theme. What it doesn’t understand, however, is that bashing the audience across the skull with self-conscious zaniness is neither dark nor comedic. The whole film fails to engage with any suspension of disbelief, a direct result of its profoundly slapdash and inconsistent tone. Even Simon Pegg as snarky assassin Charlie Wolfe doesn’t bring the film much joy, adding another mediocre non-Cornetto title to his name.
Let’s be honest here: space is pretty dang awesome. If we had the technology, we would boldly go where no man has gone before; whether it be in a galaxy far, far away or on some distant forbidden planet. For a director with such a hit streak as Nolan’s, his first proper science fiction exploit comes with high expectations to say the least. While there may be some turbulence along the ride, I am confident in writing that Interstellar blasts off into the science-fiction world marvellously in what is one of the director’s most emotionally striking films yet.
Mike Leigh’s biopic Mr Turner is something of a gorgeous gargoyle. Much like Timothy Spall’s portrayal, the film dances between the binaries of a Dickensian period piece: sure there’s the sense of class and quaint Britishness we love in these types of films, but there’s also this breath of fresh air when all the warts of Turner and his time are exposed to see. I’ve seen similar British biographical films before, which, while enjoyable for the most part, all share a sense of idealising their figures. You can’t help but see them as a bit too picturesque to be all true. Leigh may also paint Turner’s life as beautifully as the artist’s own landscapes, but he isn’t afraid to show the blemishes in the portrait.