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What's your film of the year?

screenerI was delighted to be asked to write the level one course, Film Culture. I have been fortunate to have worked for the last forty years in film and television. I am also one of the members of BAFTA who gets to vote at this time of year for my favourite film, performers and special award categories. I am also a member of the chapter who vote for best film not in the English language. So, deciding what is my ‘Film of the Year’ is a very serious matter, requiring me to remind myself of what I have seen and enjoyed in 2014 as well as catching up on films missed, attending special screenings and watching dozens of screener DVDs and downloads sent to me by film distributors in December and January.
So, what is on my shortlist for 2014? I don’t think this year has been a vintage for English language films particularly. There have been many films I have found OK, and one or two I really liked, but too much of Hollywood’s output has, in my view, been examples of the triumph of style over content, with a very uneven and mixed bag from the UK. The blockbuster seems to rule and the quality of the script seems to be in inverse proportion to the budget. Yet, when it comes to fine scripting and a wonderful use of the English language there has been no American film to better David Dobkin’s, The Judge, with wonderful central performances by Robert Downey Junior and veteran Robert Duval and an original screenplay by Nick Schenk and Bill Dubuque. An element of the course concerns the Rite of Passage of which the genre of the coming of age movie is a part. Richard Linklater wrote and directed Boyhood, a genuine tour-de-force and definitely on my short list.  A fine Irish film is Calvary written and directed by John Michael McDonaugh, with a riveting performance by Brendan Gleeson. Calvary too is a film about a rite of passage and both give the viewer a potent and challenging insight into and comment upon prevailing social dynamics in contemporary Ireland.
Yet, for me, it has been films in other languages that have given me most pleasure and insight this year. My current favourite is We Are the Best – a film I have included as essential viewing for the course – Another rite of passage but with a wonderful insight into the minds of teenage Scandinavian girls. A great period piece too with magic performances and great mis-en-scene.
However, when it comes to the ultimate cultural experience of cinema-going it is a film from 1968, re-released with a new digital print, that put the rest in the shade. Recently I saw Christopher Nolan’s squillion dollar sci-fi-fest, Interstellar on Imax. For the best part of three hours I was bombarded with unbelievable CGI, a thunderous soundtrack with inaudible dialogue spouting from a fatuous script and numerous references – almost an homage – to Kubrick’s masterpiece, 2001 – A Space Odyssey. A week later I sat in a packed cinema to watch Kubrick’s unforgettable take on Arthur C. Clark’s great book. An entirely analogue experience. OK, so the apes didn’t look so ape-like when they hopped about, but the pacing of the scenes in space, the sheer genius of the cinematography and the elegance of the design, magnificent score and long periods of absolute silence , coupled with Hardy Amis’s costumes and a storyline with as many interpretations as there have been audiences made the three hours I spent watching the film the most enjoyable in 2014. The social and cultural mores of 60’s USA – made complete with decorative stewardesses, places the film squarely in the time it was made. Yet the model work, the use of matts to place scenes within the models, the rotating camera and sets and above all the extraordinary chemical processes used in the final scenes stand the test of time and are in no way eclipsed by the digital production universe that is Interstellar.
I have lots of films to watch before year end, before I cast my votes but it is a re-release that currently takes pole position as my favourite film of 2014.

Posted by author: Adam
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25 thoughts on “What's your film of the year?

  • I really enjoyed Boyhood (I also admit to my inner teenager having enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy) and Nightcrawler which was very disturbing, but for me I think the stand out film was Under the Skin. After watching Interstellar I went back and watched 2001 and Contact.

  • This has been a good year for films about art and artists with Mike Leigh’s Mr Turner attracting critical acclaim and large audiences and Randall Wright’s documentary on Hockney. And next year looks as if it will continue in a similar vein with a documentary on the National Gallery.
    However my film of the year is Bruno Dumont’s Camille Claudel 1915. The film covers three days of the sculptor’s life while she was incarcerated in her asylum by her younger brother, Paul, and stars Juliette Binoche in a role which is far from her usual ‘embodiment of sexy melancholy’.
    In a heart rending scene, while on a walk outside the asylum Camille picks up a clod of earth and shapes it into a figure with her hand before discarding it in despair. An irrepressible urge to create confronts the realities of institutionalisation. While we are left in no doubts about Dumont’s sympathies, Paul Caudel is not presented as religious maniac but as a creature of his time. Camille is a victim of patriarchy, not individual malice.
    Under the Skin didn’t really do it for me, I think largely because I had previously read the book which is outstanding. My favourite English language film this year has to be Only Lovers Left Alive with Tilda Swinton and Tom Huddleston as vampires tiring of eternity. Stylish and absorbing.

  • I haven’t seen too much at the cinema, but I’d be surprised if The Imitation Game didn’t feature in most round-ups of the year. Smart, not over-long, and beautiful put together and acted. It glosses over some detail, but that’s inevitable, and I suspect that Turing didn’t break the Official Secrets Act in a police interrogation room. Recommended.

  • I might be in a better place to answer this question in a years time when I have caught up a bit – three young children severely impact attending the cinema as much as I would like. (Although The Lego Movie, Box Trolls and Paddington are all worth a mention….!)
    Many films mentioned here I am looking forward to seeing particularly Boyhood and Under the Skin. Frank was the stand out film for me – it takes the old cliché of genius and madness being wedded together and turns it into something funny, moving and most definitely memorable. Truly audacious also that Michael Fassbender spends most of the film with his head covered by a papier mache mask.
    Does Twelve Years a Slave count as this year? For me Steve McQueen is the most interesting director working at the minute – can’t wait to see what he does next.

  • I’m with you, mmillmore – my regular cinema companion has just turned four-years-old, so, with the exception of Wright’s Hockney documentary (well worth watching) most of the films I’ve seen have been for a junior audience. Boxtrolls is indeed wonderful. Michael Bay’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (12A rated :-/ woops) not so much!
    But another blast from my childhood was Lego Movie, which I also enjoyed immensely. Certainly, nostalgia had a part to play here, however, the animation was superb, the script was very funny at times, and the resolution of the narrative was unpredicatable and actualy quite moving. And an ‘awesome’ song too!
    Paddington Bear will not dissapoint (adults at least); fantastic cast… very witty script… leave the kids at home!

    • I watched ‘We are the best’ yesterday and I really loved it too. And I have put Camille Claudel on my watch-list.
      Like Jesse and Michael, my cinema companions are my 6 and 3 years old kids, and all the movies I watched were in German which I don’t really understand…
      Dependent on DVD release, I am now waiting to watch the good movies home.
      It is not a movie, but “True Detective” really made it for me last year too.

      • I’m no great fan of the ‘movies’, so probably shouldn’t be joining this discussion; but well done, Stephanie, for bringing up ‘True Detective’. As you say, not a movie but one of the ‘new’ genre of ‘made-for-tv’ series, it is something that should, I suggest, appeal to those who love the ‘movies’; superbly written, acted and shot, in my view.

        • True Detective has been quite the talking point in the OCA offices this year. Marco Bohr makes some interesting observations on the visual style here in case you haven’t already seen it.

        • I do find the admission of not being a great fan of the movies rather like me saying I’m not a great fan of breathing in and then out! One doesn’t have to be passionate about film but not to engage in the moving image generally – although it is OK to be a fan of the moving image on television – begs a bigger question of what is our relationship both subjectively and objectively with the moving image – a cornerstone of the study of film culture, and, in my opinion, the all-embracing subject of visual culture.
          True Detective I agree, has been a recent high-point in television drama. There is much debate about how much more interesting TV drama is than most movies these days and how the USA is teaching us Brits a lot about how to make great television- something one would heave thought inconceivable a few years ago. True Detective has as its key protagonists two great movie stars and there is much to reflect upon how stars of the silver screen are lining up to be on telly – again, something that would have been considered unthinkable a few years ago.
          If there is one documentary released in 2014 I would suggest everyone watches it is Andre Singer’s remarkable Night Will Fall. It gets my vote in the face of a strong showing this year. Mike Leigh tutored me in directing actors at the LFS back in the day and I am a great fan, but in my view Turner is not up there amongst his best work. A wonderful set of performances as always, but structurally frustrating for me. No doubt the film will do well in the award season, but there is much better faire on my list. Boyhood will take a lot of beating, I am glad so many of you like Only Lovers Left Alive. Tilda Swinton is one of our finest actors. I adored the film and have included it in the course because it has a script with so much to say about relationships and our world. If you haven’t seen it go get the DVD NOW!!

        • Perhaps loose use of language on my part re ‘no great fan’, Adam – more an admission that I’m definitely not as engaged or as knowledgeable as many; so less well-placed to recommend.

          • I would like to beg the question, since when has knowledge or understanding ever stopped anyone from having an opinion about most things – especially cinema! One of the most compelling aspects of Film Culture is that we all have opinions about movies because the moving image is endemic in our lives; I would argue, more so than for any other visual medium and alongside popular music. I am no music scholar but I love listening to most music, especially contemporary, classical and ‘serious’ music. There is no doubt that having a greater understanding of composers, their lives and the times in which they worked helps objectively in appreciating their work, but frankly, the only thing that matters is that the music speaks to me in some way. Is it or should it be any different for film?

  • The attraction of television drama seems to overwhelm any desire to get out to the cinema for me, but even so I haven’t found many new “films” that compelling this year. I have found the longer form such as the acclaimed and brilliant True Detective much more attractive. However I do like to view these serials in my time, maybe two or three at a sitting, as I feel that the immersive experience more engaging. A mention for those other dramas such as Happy Valley, Line of Duty although I know that some stage I will start Breaking Bad.
    I had higher hopes of the two Dispicable Me’s as I sat with grandson earlier in the year,quite disappointed.

      • I liked Night Crawler a lot, especially as Rene Russo is my ultimate fantasy Hollywood star – and a terrific actor as was confirmed by her great performance. The film was a class act with fantastic cinematography and editing. i liked the music a lot too. The film had a lot to say about how news gathering can operate – I have witnessed this myself in my early days in television when I worked as a sound man for news, and also the sinister power of the motivational ‘expert’ with the language to make everything utterly incomprehensible! But, in the white heat of picking an award winner genuine originality will always win over even a very good film like Night Crawler, which is why Boyhood and Birdman are going to be hard to beat in my opinion.

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