What's your film of the year?
I 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.