It’s that time of year once again when the votes are being tabulated and the hundreds upon hundreds of movies that were released in the calendar year are being boiled down to simply the best of the by god best for the year that was 2014.
Voting under the rules of the Cinematic Appreciation Society of Toronto (or CAST for short) any movie that played theatrically during the calendar year in the city of Toronto as a part of a festival run or just a regular release qualifies for yearend voting.
With hundreds released in our city each and every year the challenge to boil it down to a mere 25 gets harder and harder each and every year. Falling just short of the list are movies like “The Imitation Game”, “Listen Up Philip”, “Blue Ruin”, “The Square”, “Obvious Child”, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”, “Guardians of the Galaxy”, “Stranger By The Lake”, “Night Moves”, “Rich Hill”, “The Possibilities are Endless”, “Life Itself”, “We Are The Best”, “Tom a la Ferme” “The Immigrant”, “Ida”, “The F Word”, “The Trip to Italy”, “Enemy”, “Rhymes for Young Ghouls”, “The Lego Movie”, “The Gambler”, “Adieu au Language”, “Song of the Sea”, “How To Train Your Dragon 2”, “Cold In July” & “Love Is Strange” just to name a few.
However the runner up’s is not why you are here, so it’s time to get down to brass tacks and kick off the countdown of the best that 2014 had to offer.
#25. ‘John Wick’
Proof positive that you can never, and I mean EVER judge a book by its cover. We meet John Wick grieving for his recently deceased widow who passed away after a battle with an extended illness (Bridget Moynahan) who gives him a brand new puppy as her dying gift to him as a symbol to keep loving something and carry on in life without her. But fate is a cruel mistress as only days after her funeral a chance encounter with some very bad gangsters who have an eye on his car, leave him beaten up and his dog dead. Inconsolable with rage, these men have no idea who they messed with as the entire underworld is going to war because John Wick is back in town with a taste for revenge.
Rarely does a story about a man and his dog get to be so incredibly bad ass. From first time directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch along with an incredibly tight script from Derek Kolstad, we get a lean and mean action thriller that gets down to the nitty gritty.
Keanu Reeves absolutely kills it here as his reunion with Stahelski who he worked with on the Matrix trilogy gives us some of the more crisp and intense action that screens have seen in years. He gets to take the anti-hero to some emotionally guttural places, while Michael Nyquist just chews the scenery alongside of him as the Russian mobster who wronged him. Along with some fun supporting turns this is easily the most efficient and maybe even effective movie of the year.
It’s out of most theatres now, but catch it on Blu-Ray in February as it is one hell of a fun action ride.
#24. ‘Top Five’
After seven years away from the writer/director’s chair, Chris Rock returns with this tale of a comedic actor who is desperate to make it and be accepted as a serious actor getting interviewed about his life on what just might be the busiest day of his entire career as he has a big movie opening, and his fiancée convinced him to get married on reality TV that very weekend.
Undoubtedly minded from experiences in his own life, Chris Rock came through here in a big way for a movie that ended up being one of the more talked about at the end of the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s a crisp, funny and vibrant comedy that speaks on so many levels about not only the trappings of fame but actively trying to avoid what made you famous in the first place.
Rock handles director, writer and star duties with absolute ease in what might be one of his easier comedic performances, if only because he is playing a variation of himself and his gets to verbally joust with the fantastic Rosario Dawson throughout the movie there is a palpable energy between the two that you can’t help but get drawn into. It speaks to the base nature of celebrity and how easy it is too lose focus, with a plethora of fantastic cameos that will have you laughing non-stop.
Easily one of the feel good movies of the year as writer/director Jon Favreau gets back to basics in a story that reminds us why it is important to do what you love whenever possible.
After Chef Carl Caspar (Favreau) loses his job at one of the more prestigious restaurants in the country after getting into a Twitter war with an influential critic, he decides to get back to basics. Buying and renovating a food truck with his best friend (John Leguizamo) and his son who he feels estranged from after his divorce they drive cross country, recapturing his love of preparing good food, for good people.
Bring an appetite to this one, as this is a fun but meaningful romp that manages to hit all the right notes from beginning to end. Favreau gets back to his roots and calls on a bunch of his friends to do it with him as he keeps the action movie with a fun, heartfelt story with an infectious soundtrack and enough beautiful food that you can smell it coming off the screen.
Favreau is his ever likable self as Caspar and with a massive ensemble that features that likes of Scarlett Johannson, Robert Downey Jr, Nick Cannavalle, John Leguizamo, Oliver Platt, Sofia Vergara and Dustin Hoffman, you’ll hard pressed not to have fun with this movie which is now available on DVD, Blu-Ray, On Demand and Digital Download from all major providers.
#22. ‘The One I Love’
The romantic comedy gets some necessary life breathed into it in ways that most people would never expect with “The One I Love”.
On the brink of getting a divorce, Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elizabeth Moss) get out of town for the weekend in a last ditch attempt to salvage their marriage. What begins as romantic and idyllic soon spirals into the surreal when they discover something that forces them to examine themselves and their future together.
To say any more would ruin the twists and turns that this little indie gem has to offer. Director Charlie McDowell successfully turns a country cottage into another world and a razor sharp script from Justin Lader keeps us guessing until the reveal finally happens.
Both Duplass and Moss come through with great performances that really break down and look at the very nature of a relationship and they make it fascinating and a lot of fun to watch unfold as they get angry, happy, sad and confused often in a similar breath capturing the essence of relationships quite well.
“The One I Love” is now available on DVD and Digital Download from all major providers.
#21. ‘Palo Alto’
The James Franco movie that you didn’t see this year…no not “The Interview”, but “Palo Alto” which is based on a book written by Franco himself is a self assured coming of age story and a very good debut feature from a director with a very solid lineage in the business.
The debut from writer/director Gia Coppola mixes the sublime and the relatable as we follow April (Emma Roberts) as she is torn between an illicit flirtation that may have gone too far with her soccer coach (James Franco) and unrequited crush on the misunderstood bad boy of her school Teddy (Jack Kilmer) while their friend Fred (Nat Wolff) seduces Emily (Zoe Levin) a loner who uses her promiscuity the sustain any kind of emotional validation in herself. As one high school party seemingly transitions into another will these characters brimming with emotion be able to deal with it all or spiral out of control?
With a distinct, hazy style, writer/director Gia Coppola makes this coming of age story in the suburbs of California her very own as she shoots it all with a great deal of purpose and we buy into the struggles of all of these characters.
Emma Roberts delivers with what might be one of the better performances of her career and goes toe to toe with Franco at every turn as he actually manages to slip into the back ground and Nat Wolff is strong in support while Jack Kilmer (son of Val) in his debut feature proves that he just might have a future in this business just like his old man.
Let another movie that no one has seen, but it deserves an audience as it operates as a proving ground for the youth of Hollywood and shows how the future is actually pretty bright and it is now available to catch up with on DVD.
#20. ‘Under The Skin’
Sometimes it just takes a simple and powerful presence to hold the attention of the audience and especially in the realm of science fiction where it takes a bold vision to try something different.
From Director Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast) is the story of a mysterious woman (Scarlett Johannson) who is trolling the streets of Scotland and seducing lonely men seemingly at random. It seems too good to be true for the men, but little do they know that she has a secret and the more she discovers herself and feels comfortable in her own skin, the more this unique creature is in genuine danger.
It’s a steamy psychological mind bender as Glazer crafts a dark and mysterious world for this creature to navigate her way through. He creates tension through such simple devices while giving it all a stunning visual flare with an otherworldly musical score that makes you feel uncomfortable and seduced all at the same time.
Scarlet Johannson was a perfect as the eponymous woman. She doesn’t have a ton of dialogue but she honestly doesn’t need to as she becomes more and more aware of the power that she has over the men that fall into her snare. It’s a great a very self aware performance in a genre and narrative that requires us to take a few leaps along the way, but we never lose her because quite frankly we never want to.
It won’t be a movie for everyone, but it is that kind of understated science fiction that will have people talking long after the movie is over and you can now catch up with it on DVD, Blu-Ray, Digital Download and even on Canadian Netflix.
#19. Jodoworsky’s Dune
There were a handful of high profile documentaries about movies this year but this one took the cake. “Jodoworsky’s Dune” tells the ambitious tale of writer/director Alejandro Jodoworsky trying (and failing) to mount Frank Herbert’s novel “Dune” at a time before “Star Wars” and could have easily changed the popular movie landscape had it ever been made.
In what feels like a cathartic exercise, Jodoworsky with great passion and fervor tells the story of what just might be the greatest movie never made. Director Frank Pavich captures the joie de vivre of the moment but also in the retelling as Jodoworsky makes for such an incredibly passionate subject that you just cannot look away. Him telling the story of how the movie was made is almost as exciting as the movie that he was trying to make could have been.
It’s a testament to the power of imagination and filmmaking as those countless ambitious projects that forever go unmade, need to keep getting tried in order for us to have fantastic stories like this one which is now available on DVD, Blu-Ray, Digital Download and Canadian Netflix.
#18. ‘A Most Wanted Man’
The culmination of a great spy thriller and a masterful performance from a virtuoso of acting that we lost far too soon, easily makes for one of the best movies of the year.
Adapted from the works of John le Carre and inspired by true events, this film tracks German intelligence agent Gunter Bachmann and the impossible mystery that he has to solve. Is the half-Chechen, half-Russian Muslim who just illegally entered the country a victim of persecution seeking asylum, or an extremist looking to plan a terrorist attack?
A subtle, nuanced and incredibly smart look at geo politics and the nature of catching terrorists in a post 9/11 landscape. Director Anton Corbijin knows how to let a shot linger and shoots the city with a certain quiet elegance that comes out in the story. It’s never supposed to feel forced or obvious and it doesn’t because it never talks down to its audience as it throws some big ideas at the screen and doesn’t over explain them at any time.
Philip Seymour Hoffman delivers a brilliant performance as the haggard Gunter who has to navigate politics while just trying to get the job done the best way that he possibly can. The film has a great ensemble as the likes of Robin Wright stand in his way while Canada’s own Rachel McAdams, Willem Defoe, Nina Hoss and Daniel Bruhl all come in strong in helping Hoffman bow out on an exceptionally strong note.
“A Most Wanted Man” is now available on DVD, Blu-Ray, On Demand and Digital Download from all major retailers and providers.
#17. ‘Force Majeure’
Family drama comes in all shapes and sizes and in the isolated setting of a family vacation it gets even worse.
It’s a fascinating story about an affluent family that heads to the French Alps together to have some fun and spend some time together. It all takes a turn for the worse when they’re dining on rooftop patio at the base of the mountain and it looks like an avalanche is heading straight for them. While Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) shields her kids and is screaming for her husband, Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) is running for his life. Then the unexpected happens, it was just a false alarm, and while most people are laughing it off, this family has been shaken to its very core, illuminating larger issues about the state of their relationships as they both have very different takes on what happened and they both have to deal with what they learned that day.
This is a movie that takes us on whirlwind of emotion and human weakness as writer/director Ruben Östlund takes us into this fascinating psychological experiment that almost tears and upper class family apart. Beautifully shot at a ski resort he successfully creates a genuine sense of isolation that keeps us on the edge of our seat as we see our protagonist grapple with the emotions of being human and not putting on a front, especially when something scary happens in a matter of seconds and you simply react rather than think.
It’s easily one of the best foreign efforts that I have seen all year and is still playing in a few theatres before it hits all forms of home entertainment in February.
#16. ‘Beyond The Lights’
I’ll admit it, I’m a sucker for a good love story. However when it also makes some fairly relevant and important social statements, it makes it that much more unfortunate when it gets missed by the general public.
Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) with her power house voice and sexy body has been groomed from a very young age and is on the verge of conquering the pop music universe she should be on top of the world. However she soon finds herself on a hotel balcony ledge ready to give it all up when she is saved by LAPD officer Kaz Nicol (Nate Parker) who is on the fast track to a life in public office. Two very different lives, but a lot of very similar pressures, and they find themselves being drawn to one another with the natural desire to drop their public facades and be true to themselves.
“Beyond The Lights” is that kind of movie that surprises you as it presents itself as one thing but when you get just below the surface we are rewarded with an emotional rich and multilayered love story that works in concert quite well with its moments of scathing commentary on the music business today and its hypersexual portrayal of women and general lack of artistry.
Featuring a star making performance from Gugu Mbatha-Raw, she commands the screen as the rising yet exploited starlet who has not only amazing presence but also great chemistry with her co-star Nate Parker.
Not only is it an important movie to catch up with as someone finally takes a stance on exploitation and the lack of artistry in some elements of the music industry but it is also hands down the love story of the year.
One of the most emotionally stunning and beautiful films of the year that was also the most divisive as people couldn’t decide if they loved it or absolutely adored it and left the theatre crying afterwards.
Quite simply the life of a young man (Ellar Coltrane) told at various intervals throughout his life from ages 5-18.
A technical marvel and impressive feat as writer/director Richard Linklater shot this over the course of several summer. It resonates incredibly well as we have all lived a similar life to our protagonist in some shape or form. With Linklater regulars like Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette in the roles of the parents this movie plays like a slice of life as we see a young man developing and becoming a man. It’s a subtle but beautiful affair that is more than worth checking out.
“Boyhood” is still in select theatres, but it hits DVD/BD on Tuesday January 6th and is available now on iTunes via Digital Download.
They just don’t get more electric then this as we view one young man’s singular drive which is both inspiring and horrifying at the exact same time.
Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller) is a young jazz drummer attending one of the more prestigious and cutthroat musical academies in the entire country. The competition is tough and not everyone succeeds or even finishes the program for that matter as it is a school and a profession that demands the unequivocal best from its students. Enter Terrence Fischer (J.K. Simmons) a respected jazz maestro who conducts with an iron fist pushing his musicians farther than they could have imagined. As the paths of both these men collide, neither could have expected how their lives would have changed in pursuit of doing what they both believe a lot of people have stop trying to do. Be better then what they are, no matter what the cost and how they get there.
A film that simply bristles with tension and an incredible character study of two men driven beyond all sanity and reason to be the best. Technically, a second feature for writer/director Damien Chazelle but the material has the self assured and confident nature of someone who had been telling stories for years. Miles Teller solidifies himself as more then the college age comedy type and delivers a driven performance as Andrew Neyman who wants simply nothing more than to be the very best. Opposite him is JK Simmons who as the maniacal teacher pushing people far beyond their limits in search of perfection is magnetic to watch, as their on screen chemistry and verbal duel are a lot of fun to watch in a movie that has one of the more electric conclusions that this critic has ever seen.
“Whiplash” is still playing in select theatres in and around Toronto.
With all due respect and reverence to everyone from the Marvel universe, none of them had the action movie of the year.
Global warming is no longer a myth and the planet has been frozen to the core for the past 17 years, with the remaining survivors locked into a speeding train named the Snowpiercer as humanity clings to its last bit of hope with the people surviving inside its steel walls. With the affluent and powerful living in the front of the car, the tail section is a slum and a ghetto where people are cold, hungry and only have their wits and their cunning in order to keep them alive. For 17 trips around this track, this has been the status quo that has remained, but there is a revolution brewing and a charismatic young leader (Chris Evans) spear heads a revolution to move his people to the front of the train, but along the way he learns more about the mysterious creator at the head of the train and the place that he has called home for half of his entire life and wonders if there will ever be a world off of that train that they can return to.
Rarely do geo-politics, environmental issues and straight up action go hand in hand, but with his English language debut, writer/director Bong Joon-Ho crafts a unique, dystopian world that ropes us in with visuals that are inspired with shades of Gilliam, Marker and Tartovsky while keeping mainstream audiences engaged with a strong narrative and some damn good action sequences.
The cast led by Chris Evans handles the action and the serious dystopian nature of the story quite well and Joon-Ho gives them both equal weight in a perfect balance throughout that makes for one of the more unique must see movies of the year.
“Snowpiercer” is now available on DVD, Blu-Ray, On Demand and Digital Download from all major providers.
Some people will do anything to find that right job and “Nightcrawler” is a stylish yet upsetting look into the underbelly of news journalism in the 24 hour news cycle.
We meet Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) a driven young man who is desperate for a job, when one night he stumbles upon the business of L.A. crime journalism where freelance camera crews tape all the car wrecks, carjackings, assaults, stabbings and murders that the streets offer up. Lou muscles his way into this high octane, cut throat world where human pain and suffering translates into some pretty serious dollars. With the help of Nina (Rene Russo) a veteran news director holding on to the last remnants of her career, Lou begins to blur the lines as he slowly starts to manipulate the story and transitions from observer to participant in order to find the best story possible, no matter what the cost.
In the shining lights of the LA nightlife, long-time screenwriter Dan Gilroy makes his directorial debut in the vein of the early days of director Michael Mann with a slick and stunning affair that wraps you in neon and occasionally a little bit of blood as it comes off with a very self assured and stylish look. Anchored by an amazing performance from Jake Gyllenhaal as the sociopathic Lou Bloom is just fantastic to watch unfold as he leans into it pretty hard and makes it his own.
The bigger the screen you can see this on the better, as it is still playing in theatres around town but it will be available on DVD and Blu-Ray in the first quarter of 2015.
#11. ‘The Overnighters’
It’s never an easy thing when people are desperate as things can happen that you would never possibly expect.
In the tiny town of Williston, North Dakota, thousands of unemployed have flocked there in hopes of some honest work and a paycheck thanks to the recent oil boom but the town just doesn’t have the infrastructure to accommodate the bus loads that are coming in town each and every day. Pastor Jay Reinke opens the doors of his church to these Overnighters for as long as they need, but charity comes at a price far more than anyone in this small town ever expected.
A unique and powerful cinematic experience that demands to be seen as we see this small town and the people that he is helping ultimately turn on Pastor Reinke with a twist at the end which no one would ever expect. Writer/Director Jesse Moss wraps us up in this story of the American Dream and ends up dropping us as an audience for a fall with a subject that most documentary filmmakers would die for. It never comes down to an issue of religion, it comes down to right and wrong and as we see it on display in this small town the only thing you’ll be able to do is pick your jaw up off of the floor.
Hands down, the documentary of the year.
#10. ‘The Tale of Princess Kaguya’
With all due respect to the Lego based, Boxtroll, Baymax, Dragon 2 lobbies, the best animated film was what just might be the swan song of a cinematic master or even be the hand drawn dream that it actually was.
An old bamboo cutter finds a tiny young girl growing inside a stalk. He takes her home to raise as his own with his wife, and much to their amazement she grows rapidly into a young woman who enthralls all those around her. When the man finds more reeds magically filled with reams of silk and gold, he moves her to the city, intent on making her the princess that he believes her to be. However, there’s a price to pay, and they all have to accept a punishment that no one anticipated.
It’s still unsure exactly if this will be one of the last films to come out of Studio Ghibli, but the tone here certainly comes across as a swan song as director, with studio co-founder Isao Takahata delivering a lush, hand drawn fairytale that moves at its own leisurely pace.
A hand drawn dream that feels like it is being drawn as we watch it and it is such a thoughtful and warm experience that you won’t be able to help but get sucked into its genuine charm and magic.
“The Tale of Princess Kaguya” will be available on DVD & Blu-Ray in Feb. 2015.
“Wild” is a simple but emotionally powerful effort as both star and director deliver what just might be the best work of their entire careers.
This is the story of Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) and after the death of her mother and best friend (Laura Dern) she heads into a downward spiral of self destructive behaviour that includes heroin addiction, infidelity that destroys her marriage. Haunted by memories of her mother who was always her biggest supporter, she decides that she has to make a change. So with no training and no experience she decides to set herself on a journey to walk herself back into the woman that her mother believed that she could be.
A simple story to be sure, but one filled to the brim with thick layers of raw and emotional substance as both Reese Witherspoon and Director Jean-Marc Vallee suck us into this tale of the human condition that demands to be appreciated on so many levels.
Vallee shoots the film very big but making sure to never lose the genuinely intimate moments that go on throughout, and Reese Witherspoon delivers a performance that is visceral in how it captures every single moment that this character is going through perfectly.
See it big and let it wash over you, it’s worth it and then some as it is still playing in theatres everywhere.
#8. ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’
Even movies that were working the festival circuit well over a year ago, can still resonate and even more so now.
“Only Lovers Left Alive” brings us to a reclusive rock star Adam (Tom Hiddleston) who happens to be a centuries old vampire. His nocturnal isolation is constantly disturbed by adoring fans preventing him from simply playing and recording his music resulting in a depression that is producing far too many funeral marches. Eve (Tilda Swinton) is his lady love and travels halfway across the globe to be by his side to shake him out of his funk on the outskirts of Detroit. However fans are the least of their problems when Eve’s irascible sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) tracks them down and disturbs their peaceful existence.
While somewhat of a shift in tone for writer/director Jim Jarmusch this is very certainly his best outing since 1999’s Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai. Capturing a distinct and very deliberate tone with his characters, the film is not in any rush to get anywhere, but it really isn’t supposed to be with characters that have been alive for hundreds if not thousands of years. Shot in a glamorous and hazy glow, Jarmusch crafts this hazy rock and roll world that is simply a wash with music from this vibrant soundtrack. It is a hypnotic visual journey and Jarmusch with some wonderfully dense dialogue in this well written script guides the likes of Hiddleston and Swinton delivering some of the best performances of their careers as our guides and you’ll want to get swept along for the ride as they grapple with and relish in the realities of their situation.
Finally a vampire movie for people who don’t want them to sparkle. “Only Lovers Left Alive” is now available on DVD, Blu-Ray, On Demand, Digital Download and Canadian Netflix for anyone who wants to give it a shot, which quite frankly should be everyone.
#7. ‘Inherent Vice’
In order to have longevity and staying power in this business, it is important to at least make an effort to keep things fresh and different. With “Inherent Vice”, writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson does that and then some in a time when peace and love gave way to some healthy paranoia.
It’s just another day for private eye Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) when his ex-old lady Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston) arrives on his door step with a crazy story about her billionaire land developer boyfriend who she is in love with and his wife and lover who are plotting to throw him in the loony bin. He takes the case out of love, a word that is thrown about all too often in the swinging sixties but when Shasta goes missing and hippie hating cop Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornson (Josh Brolin) is on his case about people turning up dead in his general vicinity, Doc is getting a little more paranoid then he should be as too many things are starting to come together in this story and he just wants to make sure that he doesn’t end up dead.
Yet another turn in the epic story telling career of Paul Thomas Anderson as he provides us a story based on the work of Thomas Pynchon that it just doesn’t matter where the hell we end up as an audience because we will undoubtedly be enjoying the ride.
Meticulously shot and exhibited on 70mm it goes without saying how much warmth and atmosphere that film dirt and reel burns can give to a movie. He uses the scope of the medium to its fullest extent as he crafts shots that you just couldn’t see anywhere else in his trademark bravado style. Joaquin Phoenix heads up a wonderful ensemble as the slightly paranoid, slightly adrift in life PI and Josh Brolin is gleefully fantastic opposite as the hard edge cop who is just as on edge as Phoenix is and they play off of each brilliantly.
You may not understand it all on first watch, but to be honest you aren’t supposed to because “Inherent Vice” provides new layers every time you watch it and it is in theatres now in Toronto in 70mm before going wide everywhere on Jan. 9th.
#6. ‘The Babadook’
Thank goodness for the festival circuit, because sometimes you can find a movie that just knocks your socks clean off your entire body.
In “The Babadook”, single mother Ameila (Essie Davis) is just at a lost, now 6 years after the violent death of her husband she is just unable to discipline or control her 6 year old son who is getting harder and harder to love as they days go on and he gets worse and worse. It’s all because Samuel has a recurring nightmare of a monster coming to kill them both, and when a disturbing story book called The Babadook he’s convinced that is the monster that is after him. The more he spirals out of control the more she is genuinely afraid for her son’s safety who she fears to be mentally ill but when sinister imagery starts to reveal itself all around the house with an impending sense of dread creeping in, she starts to realize that her son isn’t that crazy after all, he’s just scared out of his mind because they aren’t alone in the house and they never have been.
A film that sold out so fast at the Toronto After Dark film festival this fall that they added a second screening which subsequently sold out makes you wonder why this amazing feature debut still has not been scheduled for a release north of the border and has only hit limited screens in US along with VOD services.
“The Babadook” is easily one of the more atmospheric, emotionally layered and downright scary horror movies that has graced screens across the globe in the past 30 years. Writer/Director Jennifer Kent crafts an amazing affair that has us gripped from minute one and she announces herself and the global stage and a storytelling talent that we just need to see more from, no matter the genre or the project.
Star Essie Davis was note perfect throughout and helped to create an atmosphere of genuine terror, something that is often missed and overlooked in some horror movies these days.
Sadly “The Babadook” is not available anywhere north of the border quite yet, but keep your eyes and ears peeled if you see a screening anywhere near you, don’t walk but run to it to make the hair on the back of your neck stand up and get some genuine Goosebumps at the movies.
Even at the best of times, life can be a pretty tenuous thing and while movies have tackled similar themes before rarely have then been so simply and so beautifully. “Locke” puts us in the driver’s seat as an everyday man has to deal with an unfortunate situation that he has created and bear witness to his entire life crumbling around him.
Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) is a dedicated family man and successful construction manager no different than anyone else, the kind of guy you could see as your next door neighbour or the best friend that you go have a pint with. However his idyllic life gets upended when he receives a phone call on the eve of the biggest challenge of his career that sets in motion a series of events that threaten his careful cultivated existence.
It’s such a simple film, but that is truly where the magic of it all happens because with one lonely man on one lonely highway, “Locke” simply couldn’t have worked any other way and it all makes for an incredibly gripping piece of cinema. Writer/Director Steven Knight takes such a simple story but makes it a beautiful and stunning piece of storytelling that we can’t look away from thanks to some beautiful photography while faced with the challenges of shooting on the highway at night. Anchored by the fantastic Tom Hardy, the question isn’t when he’s going to start raking in the awards but how many will there be by the time he is all done. He takes the soul of this man and dresses him down bear while helpless behind the wheel and holding to his principles and what remains of his life as best as he can.
No worries if you missed it theatres because “Locke” is now available on DVD, Blu-Ray, On Demand and Digital Download from all major providers.
#4. ‘Gone Girl’
There’s nothing wrong with some deliciously trashy nonsense, especially when it is done so very, very well.
“Gone Girl” begins on an innocuous and happy occasion, a wedding anniversary. It’s the fifth one for , Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and his beautiful wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike). It begins like any day should, but Nick becomes increasingly suspicious on this special day, because his wife quite frankly has disappeared into thin air. He reports her missing and makes impassioned public pleas for his wife’s return to no avail. No one knows what happened and under pressure from the police and a growing media frenzy, Nick’s portrait of a blissful union begins to crumble and people just aren’t sure what to think about the whole situation as more facts come to light at an alarming rate. He’s acting weird and is under a great deal of stress, which is raising doubts everywhere. Soon his lies, deceits and strange behavior have everyone asking the same dark and upsetting question that they never thought they would have to ask. Is this man a victim of a crime, or did Nick Dunne kill his wife?
A high energy, viciously funny and darkly grim cinematic experience, “Gone Girl” is the kind of movie that is a kin to the early classics of Brian DePalma as it is trashy, slutty, over the top in most conceivable ways and it just doesn’t give a damn. Rarely does the big screen get such delicious nonsense, it is a juicy pulp narrative with a capital P. Director David Fincher leans into the material with absolute ease and with writer Gillian Flynn adapting her own book for the screen ensures that we don’t miss out on any of the juicy bits. Ben Affleck is quite good as Nick Dunne who is just a little more in the dark then he should be and Rosamund Pike comes in with what could be an award winning performance as Amy Dunne.
The less I say, the better but “Gone Girl” is a master class in some grade A trashy narrative fun that demands to be seen to be believed. The film is still playing in select theatres but it hits DVD and Blu-Ray on Jan 13th and can be purchased as a Digital Download right now.
#3. ‘Dear White People’
It can take a debut feature from a writer/director who hasn’t been jaded by the filmmaking system to make one of the more biting social satires in recent memory.
A student and a biracial woman at the prestigious Winchester University, Samantha White (Tessa Thompson) and her campus radio show, “Dear White People, stands as the bastion of black culture in a very white university. Sam becomes president of the all-black residential hall Parker/Armstrong, whose existence is facing extinction in the name of diversification. At the same time, TV reality show “Black Face/White Place” who is at the university looking for ideas smells gold in Sam’s story and decides to follow it, rejecting the proposal of fellow black student Coco Conners (Teyonah Parris) who pitched her show “Doing Time at an Ivy League”. The clamor over Sam’s rise also becomes a career-defining opportunity for black misfit Lionel Higgins (Tyler James Williams) when he is asked to join the school’s lily-white newspaper staff to cover the controversy, even though he secretly knows little about black culture and isn’t telling a whole lot of people that he is gay as well.
It’s the kind of film that isn’t afraid to ask some tough questions, but also knows full well that there aren’t any easy answers as issues of race still need to be talked about to this day. Writer/Director Justin Simien doesn’t shy away from anything and with a deft sense of biting wit and topical humor makes us shine a mirror at college life and deals with real issues in a way that never seems preachy or like we as an audience are being talked down to.
With strong breakout performances from both Tessa Thompson and Tyler James Williams this is the kind of film that deserves to be talked about and often as Simien makes a bold statement not only on race relations but on his ability as a storyteller that has forced many people to stand up and take notice.
“Dear White People” isn’t in theatres up here anymore but it will be available on DVD and Blu-Ray in Feb. 2015.
#2. The Grand Budapest Hotel
It is pretty easy to forget that genuine magic of why we enjoy congregating together in a darkened hall to watch images on a screen. Quite simply it is to revel and delight in the magic and delightful joie de vivre that the medium can bring to audiences. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” has that kind of magic and more pouring out of the screen for us to lap up and enjoy.
This story recounts the adventures of M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa (Tony Revelori), the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend. The story involves the theft and recovery of a priceless Renaissance painting, the struggle for true love and the battle for an enormous family fortune; all against the back-drop of a suddenly and dramatically changing continent.
A truly unique experience, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” survives and even thrives thanks to Wes Anderson’s unique eye and ability to craft a fantastic tale of pure whimsy and fun that still has a unique sense of history and real world gravitas to it all at the same time.
Inspired by the works of Austrian novelist and playwright Stefan Zweig, writer/director Wes Anderson crafts this lovely confection like a pastry as the sweetness and light are undeniable but we are still well aware of the consequences of eating this delicious treat the entire time it is in our mouth. The script and narrative are effortless as Anderson’s trademark wit is simply running rampant throughout the entire story and with the great Ralph Fiennes anchoring a massive ensemble it is just a warm and hilarious romp that you just can’t get away from.
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” is now available on DVD, Blu-Ray, On Demand, Digital Download and Canadian Netflix now.
When an artist can do a complete 180 and not get pigeonholed into one specific genre, that’s when people take notice. “Calvary” is that kind of film.
Father James (Brendan Glesson) might be a little too rough around the edges for a small town parish preacher, but at his core he is a good man, however even they can be shaken to their foundations. When a mysterious member of his parish makes some unsettling accusations and dangerous threats his entire existence begins to unravel. Even in the face of these challenges he continues to help his troubled daughter (Kelly Reilly) and is there for the members of his church to help them with their problems which range from morally ambiguous to flat out frightening. All the while he can’t help but shake the feeling that the world is turning on him and wonders if he can avoid what in his heart he knows is coming for him.
A dark, and I mean DARK film that could end up shaking some people a little more than they had every expected but writer/director John Michael McDonough turns “Calvary” into a fascinating mediation on beliefs structures and there importance and/or overreliance in modern society.
Set in the rural countryside of Ireland, John Michael McDonough paints a very stark and stunning portrait. It feels gray and grim from the very beginning and puts us on edge as our hero and main subject has his life threatened inside a confessional booth. At every turn as Father James does his rounds and talks to the people of the town we just feel like that they are trying to expel him at every turn. It’s a statement on religion itself, looked upon as a misguided cure all in a rural community that was brought up believing the tenants of the Catholic church and after years and years of soul shattering crimes that range from corruption to the covering up of acts of abuse McDonough has this town turn on this one priest in a stunning and captivating slow burn that was anchored by a great leading performance by the always wonderful Brendan Gleeson.
It’s far from a happy film, but “Calvary” does what the art form is supposed to do in the first place. Encourage conversation and make us think about life.
It’s not in theatres any more but it is available on DVD and Digital Download from retailers everywhere.