Wednesday 18 February 2015

"I fell in love with him the way you fall asleep: Slowly, and then all at once."- MY FAVOURITE 25 FILMS OF 2014

          I saw 132 2014 films which is probably the most I have ever seen of any year. My first 2014 film was Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and the last one was The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her, which also gives you a sort of idea of the range of the films from last year. It had everything and I mostly loved all of it. I mean, if you go through my Letterboxd list, I honestly only really dislike the last 15-20 movies. So, it has definitely been a task choosing my top 25. I wish I could have gone with a smaller number but it wasn't possible because of the caliber of these films.

         One thing I noticed about my list is that most of the films are either bleak as hell or full of exhuberance and humour. In fact, the higher one goes on the list, the more fun my choices become. I think I chose heart over matter this time but I don't regret anything. I like films that make me happy. These films did. So without further adieu, these are my picks:

The Double
I am a crazy Submarine fangirl so I was super excited to see what Richard Ayoade does next and The Double didn't disappoint. One of the most unique looking and sounding films of last year, it also features a spectacular Jesse Eisenberg performance (or two). Plus, it has Fight Club-esque elements so, obviously, I was pleased.

Starred Up
I don't know how else to put it but to say that this film explores emotions through violence. It actually made me cry at the end which I wasn't expecting at all. It's very gritty and scary but there is a sensitive side to it as well. It also has fantastic acting all around and it has put my man, Jack O'Connell, in the well-deserved spotlight.

Force Majeure
Many of the films in my list have to do with expectations put on people based on their gender. Starred Up was one, Force Majeure is another. This is a very darkly funny look at the male ego and what happens when a man doesn't react the way he is required to. It is also a gorgeous film and has the best crying scene that I have ever watched on film.

Only Lovers Left Alive
Oh it's just so cool and romantic and dreamy. The cast is perfect. Even smaller roles like that of Mia Wasikowska and Jeffrey Wright stick with you long after the film is over. Also, it made vampires awesome again.

The Babadook
I feel that the best horror movies are rooted in something real and emotional and The Babadook has that. It's a film about a mother's anxiety and guilt about her troubled son and their complicated past and all of this manifests in the form of the dreaded Babadook. It is also very cleverly made, my favourite thing about it being the Babadook book itself.

Rajkumar Hirani is my favourite Indian filmmaker and PK once again proved this. Tackling religion in a country like India is one of the most difficult things one can do, but then also managing to make a wholly entertaining film with lots of heart in it- that needs to be lauded.

I had no idea what Locke was going to be about when I started watching it. Turns out, it is also about the male ego- the way one man, because of his past, has envisioned his life and during this car journey, everything he has ever built is put at stake and it is up to him to come to terms with this situation. It's riveting in terms of its story, acting (a phenomenal Tom Hardy is our sole hero) and the way the whole thing executed.

One of my favourite things about Selma was its focus. I haven't seen many biopics that are centred like that, especially not in 2014. It is a story about one event and how it affects everyone connected to it and how that has repercussions not only in the time of when the film is set but even till now. It is a fantastically well-made film and one that is painfully relevant in the intolerant and oftentimes inhumane world we live in.

This was originally going to be my favourite shot of 2014 not because it is some cinematographic gem (why I had to leave it out of my best shots list in the end :() but because it is one of the most beautiful moments in the cinema of last year. In it, a person comes out to a friend and then they just continue preparing bread for sandwiches because their relationship is based on something beyond sexual preferences and there is total acceptance of that between them. The film is full of these tiny but significant moments of human kindness and friendship and it is, therefore, simply a joy to watch.

I still feel terrible about not watching it in the theatre because I am fairly certain it would have been higher in my list if I had. Still, this film is a spectacle to watch and not simply because of the way it is shot but also due to its story, themes and acting. It is also very funny which I didn't expect it to be at all.

Speaking of funny, there were so many moments of uncomfortable laughter during this film. But I couldn't help myself! It is a very clever film that gives us one of the most compelling monsters of our time in the form of Louis Bloom. It boasts of a game-changing performance by Jake Gyllenhaal and it totally makes the viewers complicit in the dirtiness that the film portrays. I enjoyed the hell out of it.

Under the Skin
I really expected the film to go over my head and me hating it as a result. Instead, I loved it. The striking visuals and eerily fantastic score aside, this film subverts one's ideas about sexual predators, by literally putting the woman on the front seat. It is also about the beauty of this world and how it is perceived by an outsider. A wholly unnerving work of art that does get under one's skin and stays there.

The Grand Budapest Hotel
This is the Wes Anderson film that even Wes Anderson haters like. And I love him so of course I cherish this film. It is as beautiful as it is funny. I do think it loses its footing a bit which is why it's not higher up on this list but on the whole, it makes one wistful for a place and time that probably never existed until Anderson made it real for us.

I have a thing for films about religion and Calvary had me hooked from its legendary first line itself (for those who don't know, it's "I first tasted semen when I was 7 years old." This is said during confession in a church- I know, right?). It is a bleak film that gives us a week-long look into a modern-day priest's life and the people and circumstances that he has to deal with while also trying to keep his faith alive. Of course, it has the McDonagh humour there too and a truly excellent ensemble lead by the one and only Brendan Gleeson, who gives his best performance to date in it.

One of the first 2014 films I fell madly in love with and which remained in my top 10 until very recently. It is a very fun film about a simple Indian girl who goes on her honeymoon alone, which is where she finds herself. Much like English Vinglish from a couple of years back, this film also tackles the issue of the Indian woman's emancipation though on a broader scale. The film takes very smart decisions with the course of its heroine's adventures and I sincerely hope this is the start of a new trend in Bollywood.

The Lego Movie
I really do feel that this is one of the most intelligent films of last year. It is full of contradictions that work almost miraculously. It is about a commercial product but it satirizes corporations. It makes fun of the "Chosen One" trope but it also pays homage to it. It is about creativity as much as it is about following rules. Most shocking of all, it has a fun Batman! Mind = Blown.

This is the film which finally replaced Queen and that too upon rewatch. As much as the shock factor is responsible for the impact the film has on the first watch, knowing about it makes it even richer upon subsequent viewings. It is a very dark movie that explores questions about humanity and tyranny but also a really thrilling one where we never know what to expect. It has a truly tragic hero and one of the most fun villains of last year. The train itself is a marvel (no pun intended), through which we see some of the most spectacular sets and visuals of last year.

Two Days, One Night
This is a movie that couldn't be more different than its predecessor in its setting and themes but is also something of a thriller. Of course it takes place in a very realistic backdrop and the conflict that drives the film seems very trivial but the amazing thing about the film is how it manages to give it its due importance because that's how real life is. It's the small things that matter and even those stand for something bigger like individual versus community, as shown in the movie. Added to that, we have the always sensational Marion Cotillard delivering yet another superb performance that elevates the film even more.

Nymphomaniac, vol. 1
I chose not to consider Nymphomaniac as one big movie because to me, the first part can exist almost completely on its own. I mean, it does have my second most favourite ending of the year (#1 ending is coming next) and I don't particularly think of it as a cliffhanger but rather as another instance of Lars von Trier's twisted humour. 
Nymphomaniac, vol. 1 is the most entertaining von Trier film that I have seen and it's one of the most enjoyable films of last year for me. I found most of it hilarious, from the way numbers and angles appear on screen to Seligman's academic approach to everything Joe says to Joe's deadpan delivery, especially during the penis catalogue, to obviously the Mrs. H incident and so on. There are also moments of sheer beauty in this film and even the darker parts have an emotional resonance to them and are not for shock value (which, unfortunately, most of vol. 2 is). I think the movie is a very interesting exploration of a young girl's sexuality and I appreciate the way it is tackled. If only von Trier had not, well, von-Triered the second part, the whole story could have been so much richer.

I just love how confident this film is. Nothing in it is out of place. It is a precise, stylish, gut-wrenching look at the beginnings of an artist and the ruthless teacher who gets him to that place. I have spoken/written enough about its ending. I love it to bits. In its entirety, however, there are other films I love more but it is definitely a game-changing movie for me because it has completely transformed the way I look at films now.

Obvious Child
I just feel like gushing every time I talk about this film. An abortion romcom that never makes light of its issues but still manages to be incredibly funny and real and lovely. The writing, the characters, Jenny Slate's wonderful lead performance- all of it is on point. And of course, I have a soft spot for romcoms and any film which tries to find new directions in the genre, which Obvious Child does remarkably, has all my love.

Gone Girl
(That btw is the funniest moment of the film for me.)
Gone Girl is just so many things- it's a murder mystery, an investigation into the lies that make a marriage, a satire about media, a look into societal expectations of what makes a "cool girl" and a "good guy" and how it tears it apart, a Hitchcockian thriller and so on. I basically think Fincher is God and in this film, he has teamed up someone with an equally twisted mind and sense of humour- Gillian Flynn. Both of them together, along with one of the best casts of the year, have given us this beautiful pulp masterpiece. I'm not even going to start with how great Rosamund Pike is in it because I'll never stop. It's just an excellent film that keeps on giving.

This film is the most alive movie I have ever seen. It is very hard to write about it because I don't have anything to compare it to. Sure, the plot isn't something very unique and Xavier Dolan himself has tackled many of its issues in his earlier films, but the film is bursting at its seams with energy and life. Even in the quieter moments, it gets to you because you are so involved with what you are seeing. And what you are seeing are these beautiful, flawed people who love each other but are also constantly hurting each other and it's just so immersive that you're left devastated by the end. Plus, there's the cinematography and the music and the acting and gosh, everything! Just like Whiplash but on a bigger scale, I will never look at movies and what they can achieve the same way again after having watched Mommy.

Guardians of the Galaxy
As much as I love the space epic elements and all the fighting and cool shit in it, the ultimate reason why this film is so high up is its humour. It is precisely the kind of humour I love. AND there are like so many types within that! There's deadpan, sarcastic, plain fucking rude etcetera. Also, the humour has a place within the story of the film just like its amazing soundtrack does. As much as the film sticks to the Marvel formula, it also deviates from it in the ballsiest of ways and it actually references it IN the movie itself and I have mad respect for all of that. Finally, it is friendship that saves the galaxy. If that doesn't make you feel things, you're basically the grass that Rocket is made to kick.

We Are the Best!
This film gives me ALL OF THE FEELS!
I have, again, spoken a lot about it on the podcast, but to give a gist of it, (I'm going to go into deep stream-of-consciousness mode now) the story of these three 13 year old Swedish girls from the 80s reminded me of my own teenage which took place in mid-2000s in Dubai and though the settings couldn't be more different, the fact is that this film is a celebration of female friendship at that age and I know what that feels like. I'm sure even guys can relate to it- when you have your own group of misfits and those moments when you feel like even more of a misfit but your friends are always there for you. And this is the age when adolescence is just starting and it's confusing and fun and the film captures all of that!

It may be set 30 years in the past but it takes place very much as the girls are living it. Therefore, it feels immediate and spontaneous, just like the song the make up. And oh god, that song was when the film had completely won me over because I WAS THAT GIRL! (In that I hated and still hate sports). There were numerous other places I connected completely with this film and even when I didn't, I had such a blast watching these three awesome girls find their way through punk and friendship.

This film is infectious with its warmth and sense of fun and I just love it with all my heart.

        And with that, I can finally and fully close the book on 2014. I don't know when we'll get a film year like that again or if I'll be able to watch so many films from one single year any time soon. It was definitely a transformative year for me as a cinephile and yeah, I loved it :)

My other Best of 2014 lists include:
Everything Else (i.e., Sexiest Characters, Favourite Characters, Ensembles, Objects and Quotes)

What were your favorite films of 2014?

Tuesday 17 February 2015

“Do I look like a double fucking rainbow to you?!”- MY FAVOURITE PERFORMANCES OF 2014

         There were a ridiculous number of great performances in 2014. It has honestly broken my heart to leave some of them out of this list (especially looking at you, Rose Byrne and Antoine-Olivier Pilon). I do like how this list has more women than men proving yet again why I loved last year so much from a cinephile's point-of-view. So without further adieu, these are my 25-ish ('cuz there are actually 31- you'll see) favourite performances of 2014:

Patricia Arquette in Boyhood
The number of times I had to remind myself that this is an actor acting and not a real person was insane. Though it is supposed to be Mason's story, I was most interested in what was happening to Arquette's character, partly because of the story and mostly because of her fantastically layered performance. 

Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything
I know Redmayne is probably walking away with the Oscar for his performance in this movie *shudders* but I honestly believe the only awards-worthy work was done in the film by Jones. She was the heart and strength of the film for me. Her work is very subtle yet completely heartbreaking.

Jesse Eisenberg in The Double
Eisenberg is known to play the vulnerable nerd or the cocky asshole. In The Double, he plays both. However, it does not seem like he's relying only on his strengths because it is the moments of quiet desperation and simmering anger in between these two personas that constitute some of the best acting of last year and they are the reason why he's here on this list.

Andy Serkis and Toby Kebbell in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
I don't want to sound like a broken record by saying how good Serkis is because it's just a fact. This is arguably his best work. It's Kebbell who was more astonishing. He brought such terrifying viciousness to the character of Koba and almost outshined even a seasoned artist like Serkis through his performance.

Stacy Martin in Nymphomaniac
I'm still trying to wrap my head around the fact that this was Martin's first film. She's not here only for her bravery but also for completely being this very unique woman, embodying her aloofness, her horror over losing her ability to feel pleasure, her pain over her father's condition, her dry humour and so on. Can't wait to see what else Martin does.

Tilda Swinton in Snowpiercer
Apparently the role of Mason was meant to be played by a man. Needless to say, no man or woman could have done what Swinton did with the role. Taking inspiration from the likes of Margaret Thatcher and Adolf Hitler, Swinton flawlessly turns into this living, breathing political cartoon who is a riot every time she's on screen.

Keira Knightley in Begin Again
Around the same time last year, when I saw Last Night for the podcast, I was first made aware of how good Knightley can be in modern roles. I always thought she's best suited for period films but it's the present day which brings a relaxed, confident air to her performances and I think her work in Begin Again is her best to date. From her singing to her effortless chemistry with everyone around her, she shines the most here.

Anne Dorval in Mommy
There are just so many shades to Die. She's loud, angry, sexy, confused, vulnerable, bitter, loving, sad and the list goes on, and Dorval portrays all of these. It's a complicated role and a complicated performance. Much like the film, she is on the edge of being overly-dramatic but she never goes overboard and in fact makes Die someone painfully and beautifully human.

Michael Keaton in Birdman
Keaton is someone I only associated with his Batman films and even in those, other actors outshone him completely. Therefore, I was very pleasantly surprised to see that he can do a role like this. The movie is basically in his character's head and a lot of it is totally nuts but Keaton makes it all believable. His frustration, his self-doubts, the pain caused by the various relationships he has, the madness and confusion of his inner and outer lives, the quieter moments of resignation and sadness- it's a truly fantastic performance and one I hope he wins an Oscar for.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw in Beyond the Lights and Belle
God, where did she come from? She's awesome! And she couldn't have played two more different roles in one year, BOTH of which she was excellent at. On one hand, she was this Rihanna-esque rising music star battling with insecurity and on the other, she was a mixed-race 18th century English woman slowly gaining confidence and understanding of the world around her. I prefer the first a little bit more because it could have been such a one-note, predictable performance but instead Mbatha-Raw found such raw and genuinely emotional places to take it to. The same could be said of her performance in Belle as well. Truly, a revelation.

James McAvoy in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby
He's been so overlooked in people's best performances list and I don't understand why. Chastain had the more showy role of the two and she delivers completely (more on that later) but, like fellow and similarly ignored Scotsman, Ewan McGregor, McAvoy here is the quieter yet stable counterpoint to her performance and he is just as heart-rendering, if not more, at the end.

Julianne Moore in Maps to the Stars
I love her whole performance but it's really the scene in the toilet that made me put her here. How can someone be so absurd and normal at the same time? I dunno, ask Moore. She's done it before with Boogie Nights (one of the greatest performances of all time) and she did it again here. I am completely, 100% going to pretend it is her performance here that she's actually winning her Oscar for.

Jessica Chastain in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby
I would have put her performance in A Most Violent Year here too but her complete work over the two Eleanor Rigby movies has totally wiped it off my mind. This is the best she's ever been. Like Die earlier, Chastain's Eleanor also goes through a gamut of emotions but she's so much harder to read. There is a resistance to show how she feels but the beautiful thing about Chastain's work here is that you can see that as well. Since the films are named after Eleanor, she's more or less the axis around which both the stories turn and Chastain is able to portray that. Of course, she is tremendous in Her but even in Him, where she is playing a colder, more aloof version of Eleanor, she makes her presence felt throughout the film.

Tabu in Haider
Tabu showed in Haider why she's considered one of the best actors of Indian cinema. Sure, the film is about Haider (who is based on Hamlet), but it is Tabu's Ghazala who steals the show. I must give props to the director Vishal Bharadwaj as well for creating a character like her, a middle-aged mother who is completely driven by her passions no matter how unorthodox they may be, a rarity anywhere but especially in Bollywood. However, it would all have been for nought if Tabu hadn't given such a daring and unforgettable performance in that role.

Jenny Slate in Obvious Child
Kinda like Moore, Slate fully won me over at one point in her performance- it is when the *SPOILERS BUT NOT REALLY* abortion is finally taking place and the close-up is on Slate's face. It starts out as funny because she looks stoned almost but then her eyes well up and tears stream down the side of her face and you feel so much for this woman. Of course, there is a sadness in the film but there is also life and happiness and Slate embodies both those parts so well. It is a very sweet performance.

Jack O'Connell in Starred Up, Unbroken and '71
I have been raving about O'Connell everywhere on the internet. I have been a fan since his Skins days but I too was amazed by the caliber of performances he's given this year. Of course, Starred Up has his best performance. He's almost like an animal. His physical acting is only matched by his raw, emotional sensitivity. As for Unbroken, I think he really elevated the film as much as he could. He has such charisma. Finally, in '71, the whole film is so gritty and intense and O'Connell is a major reason for that.

J.K. Simmons in Whiplash
I almost just want to write that I will never see Juno the same way again and leave it at that. There's such vehemence in this performance. It blows one away until they're left quivering, even more so because, just like with the Miles Tellers' character in the movie, we are constantly taken in and manipulated by it and we are surprised at every turn.

Brendon Gleeson in Calvary
Remember what I wrote about McAvoy earlier- just take that and like multiply it a thousand times and that's how appalled I am at everyone for not giving this performance its due attention. There is such inner turmoil in Father James' life that Gleeson is able to portray. He is supposed to be stoic because he's a priest but we feel the anger, the sadness, the frustration of this man who is still, after all, just a man. It is a finely tuned and deeply human performance.

Edward Norton in Birdman
Norton in Birdman reminded me why it is I fell in love with him in the first place. He is totally unpredictable. Every time I thought I had this character figured out, he went and did something completely opposite to what I was expecting and Norton not only performs the different facets of this character's personality brilliantly, but also those tiny moments of when he's transitioning from one to another. 

Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night and The Immigrant
Similar to Arquette, watching Cotillard in Two Days, One Night was a constant series of "Oh crap, she's acting here!" She became Sandra so completely that it was baffling to think that this is not a someone who really exists whose life we are following and who we are witnessing actually go through clinical depression. Cotillard is completely immersed in her role. She is very good in The Immigrant as well, delivering a nuanced and oftentimes surprising performance 

Tom Hardy in Locke
Seriously, when was the last time you were interested in listening to someone talk about concrete? I'm gonna go with never (no offence meant to anyone who works with concrete and reads this blog). But listening to Hardy talk about it, I was completely riveted, enthralled, spellbound, rapt! Locke was sold as the movie with Tom Hardy in a car and it's an excellent movie mostly because of the Tom Hardy part. I love one-man movies because it must be so difficult to act on your own and not having someone to react to, and Hardy faces this challenge head on. He explores so many sides to this character in such a short movie with such a constricted setting. It's a masterclass in acting.

Essie Davis in The Babadook
Of all the performances in this list, I have a feeling I will grow to love this one the most over the years. I was already more impressed with it when I rewatched the film. The way Davis goes from meek and tired to ferocious and unhinged over the course of the film is just staggering. It's not just her face or her physicality but also her voice that changes. There is such control in this performance. It is definitely going to go down as one of the best roles in horror history.

Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel
Like Leo last year, seeing an established "dramatic" actor tackle a funny role has brought me great joy. Obviously, Fiennes already gave us a taste of comedic chops in In Bruges, but he's just spectacular in The Grand Budapest Hotel. From his proper mannerisms to the delectable way words just flow from his mouth, to the fact that though this is a comedy performance, there is such a poignant undercurrent that runs through it that Fiennes brings out in the way he acts and speaks, it is simply a delight to watch him in this role.

Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler and Enemy
At one point during Nightcrawler, I remember thinking to myself "THIS guy played Bubble Boy." It is mental to think about how far Gyllenhaal has come as an actor. Though I thought his work in Nightcrawler was better than both his roles in Enemy, the fact that one actor in one year has managed to give these absolutely crazy yet disturbingly believable performances, all of which are so varied and complex in their own ways, needs to be lauded by one and all. I am fully on board with whatever Gyllenhaal tackles next.

Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl
And then there was one. And what a performance at that!
More than anything else, it is Pike's voice as the real Amy that has stuck with me. As incredible as it is to watch her transformation from pretty waif into psychotic mastermind on screen, the fact that she manages to even lace her voice with that creeping madness is what blows my mind. It gets under your skin.
Though of course, it is the expression her eyes too that can be so innocent in the first scene and completely predatorial in the last that makes her performance the best of the year.
Plus, I can't leave out talking about how multi-layered her work is. She is funny, ethereal, terrifying, manipulative and so much more. She did something I didn't think was possible- outdo the book Amy. I don't remember the last time the cinematic portrayal of a literary character not only matched my expectations, which in itself is rare, but also brought out sides and depths that weren't in the book.
Basically- Amazing Rosamund is amazing.

What were your favourite performances of 2014?

Also in Best of 2014: