A lot of festival release dates for 2013 to challenge official release dates for the following year. So films such as Under the Skin, Only Lovers Left Alive, and The Immigrant will have to wait their turn even though I personally watched them in 2014. Still, there’s no doubt in my mind that the Dardenne brothers’ latest project, Two Days, One Night, would top the list with or without the other title inclusions. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about this working class drama. In fact, it could easily have fit the mold of say Italian neorealism sixty years ago or the British Kitchen Sink realism fifteen years after that. But the filmmaking duo simply did what it is they do best, tell a good story about rank and file proletariats, lower class families worried about making ends meet. In an era when either box office numbers and/or new technological feats appear to be the primary motivation for movie attendance, it’s refreshing to get back to the grass roots level of filmmaking, the elbow grease effort of telling a good ol’ fashioned story as plain and direct as possible and hope to hook audiences that way. You take a premise regarding a factory worker having only one weekend to ask her colleagues to give up their bonus or she’ll lose her job, and what do you get? A multi-layered film where every single character faces a moral dilemma. And so Two Days, One Night beats out a couple of other more formally complex efforts (Inherent Vice and The Grand Budapest Hotel) by directors that have attained a status of mastery in contemporary cinema.
1. Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)
2. Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson)
3. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)
4. Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev)
5. ’71 (Yann Demange)
6. Force Majeure (Ruben Östlund)
7. Boyhood (Richard Linklater)
8. Mr. Turner (Mike Leigh)
9. A Most Violent Year (J.C. Chandor)
10. Love is Strange (Ira Sachs)
Leviathan is a hell of a slow burn you come to realize is everything its acclaim lives up to days, possibly weeks after when you least expect it. At the other end of the spectrum, ’71 is a taut action driven war picture that runs at a machine gun pace once a shockingly graphic gun shot gets the chase going. Force Majeure takes the prize for the year’s most ingenious comedy (I could seriously watch this movie over and over and not once feel its humor fade). And Mr. Turner is as introspective and languid in its pacing as a walk in an art gallery, which isn’t necessarily a critique towards the film.
Those that got a lot of attention but didn’t make the cut include Damien Chazele’s Whiplash, which I think is brilliant in its hyped-up audacity but left me feeling like that was all it had going for it. Jean-Luc Godard had his 3-D extravaganza Goodbye to Language, and Dan Gilroy creeped the hell out of Los Angelenos with his seething and unstable protagonist in Nightcrawler. Add Tommy Lee Jones’ under the radar western The Homesman, David Michôd’s post-apocalyptic The Rover, and Ava DuVernay’s gorgeously photographed civil rights drama Selma, and you’ve got yourself a strong list of alternatives.
Then there are films like Birdman, Gone Girl, Timbuktu, and Interstellar, which for one reason or another I couldn’t warm up to. And while we’re at it with Interstellar, some of the best summer blockbusters to come out of Hollywood in the year include the surprisingly stellar Edge of Tomorrow and James Gunn’s pop track sci-fi adventure Guardians of the Galaxy, with a role for Batista that beyond thrilled the inner WWE child in me. Sadly, no Batista bomb though.
Next Week (or whenever I can just get around to it): 1948. Where are your badges?