Journey to the West (Tsai, 2014, N/A)
Tsai's evocative observation of a monk's snail-paced trek through the streets of Marseille is closer to a museum exhibition than a cinema experience. It subverts the attention of the audience from the subject of its gaze to those who gaze at him, thus quite literally turning him into an art piece. It is at times mesmerizing and resplendent.
House of Sand and Fog (Perelman, 2003, B-)
A lot is left to be desired in the film's characterizations, the overbearing allegories in the screenplay and the hokey directorial choices. Still, House of Sand and Fog is one of the few American films about Iranian characters that neither exoticizes nor patronizes nor demonizes them, instead giving them a fair shot as personalities whose actions can be contextualized on an equal footing. Kingsley and Connelly give stellar performances, too.
Obvious Child (Robespierre, 2014, B+)
Though the film is about abortion, Donna's character is by no means about that. There is an ocean of depth in the way Donna is written and in Jenny Slate's brilliant, touching performance. A sweet, small-scale gem that achieves far more than expected with sharp humor and astute observations on friendship, blooming romances and career pitfalls.
The Sleepwalker (Fastvold, 2014, C) (review forthcoming)
"In attempting to subvert our expectations of the genre, The Sleepwalker concerns itself with formal details and momentary pleasures that cannot mask the film’s regrettable lack of thematic depth."
Rosewater (Stewart, 2014, C+)
Insufferably patronizing and frankly lifeless and boring for the most part, Stewart's directorial debut exhibit's little of the man's political understanding on television. Rosewater eschews the nuances of Iranian society in favour of simplified politics.
Bob's Burgers Season 3 (Bouchard, 2012-13, A)
The genius of the show is that while every character's trait remains entertainingly consistent, they never loses the ability to surprise. Uproariously funny and frequently moving and resonant.
Stranger by the Lake (Guiraudie, 2014, B-)
The erotic charge between Franck and Michel is never convincing or evident enough to warrant the connection between them, or maybe I'm too boring to understand the appeal of risky sex with a murderer. Guiraudie's successful with certain suspenseful sequences in the film - Michel and Franck's first swim together, Henri's final scene, the ending - so it's a shame that the whole can't match the force of its individual parts.
Not Without My Daughter (Gilbert, 1991, F)
A repugnant, odious, atrocious pile of shit.
Listen Up Philip (2014, Perry, A-)
Perry's warm close-ups find layers of emotion in insignificant moments that lesser films tend to gloss over. Elizabeth Moss's performance is a work of measured, sublime introspection. It's the second half of the film, where the audience spend the most time with her character as she rebounds from a break-up with the titular Jason Schwartzman that Listen Up Philip demonstrates the depth and shrewdness of its observation on relationships and individual identity. The final third of the film redirects our attention, not so much justifying the insufferable behaviour of Philip but bringing to lights the challenging elements of his personality that others tend to miss. All of this is delivered through Perry's characteristically sardonic dialogue and Robert Greene's jewel cut pacing.
Interstellar (Nolan, 2014, C-)
It borders on parody that the plot of Interstellar hinges on an equation that solves the universe. Nowhere has Nolan's inability to find the spiritual, the sublime, in the middle of all the expositions and plot twists been as painfully evident as here, when the fate of the world is reduced to a mathematical equation. Interstellar might as well be filmed directly from a first draft, not just because the atrocious dialogue (Lazarus!) and the over-explaining is really tedious, but also because several subplots and characters can be cut to rein the film in below its wild three hour running time. Nolan has the technical and artistic capability to create truly sensational cinema, but the convoluted nature of his script (and frankly, its stupidity) really undermine him. Matthew McConaughey does one of his best works, however, keeping his character down to earth, for lack of a better term, amidst the grandiosity. A warm, touching and uncharacteristically lived in performance that makes itself felt even through Zimmer's loud screeching.
Full Metal Jacket (Kubrick, 1987, A)
The devastating mental toll of war on those unfortunate enough to experience it. The duality of man. The cinema's most meticulous, intelligent filmmaker.
Bloodsport (Arnold, 1988, B+)
Cheesy, implausible and over the top, with exaggerated acting, poorly structured plotting and ostentatious one-liners to be butchered by weak acting, but... it's a heck of a lot of fun; the type of film that quite literally kicks ass.
Citizenfour (Poitras, 2014, A-)
Sensational filmmaking. Citizenfour is a riveting experience; not history being told, but history being captured as it is made. Precise, funny, enraging and absolutely vital, this is one of the year's best films.
Emptying the Skies (Kass/Kass, 2014, C+) (review)
The type of documentary film that coasts on its moving subject matter without challenging its audience. This is an informative, functional re-telling of Jonathan Franzen report about the brutal killing of migratory birds in Europe.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (Innaritu, 2014, B-)
It's an entertaining film and hence, I imagine, a rewatchable one. There's never a dull moment and it's paced with a precision that Innaritu has not shown since his debut feature. But it's also a very uneven film, partly because it never settles a consistent tone, but also because certain elements undermine the experience. Lubezki's cinematography is distractingly showy and mistakes theatricality for conveying the experience of the theatre. Keaton's performance is rather lifeless. He's cartoonish in the big moments and dull in the smaller ones. Norton, Ryan and Riseborough all do very strong work and the innovative score is effective, but the philosophizing becomes tedious (even though the film never does). There are a lot of ideas at play here but quite what Innaritu is saying about them isn't clear. It feels as though Birdman has its head so far up its own ass and is so self-aware of its meta coolness that it forgets there is an emotional truth to be found in this story. Still, that undefinable, unquantifiable element was there: I had tons of fun watching this!
Tangna (Naderi, 1972, C+)
There are issues with the film's rhythm – pacing has always been my biggest challenge with Naderi's cinema – and its formal and thematic repetition borders on poverty porn, but it is an otherwise very confrontational study of lower class Iranian life in the years leading up to the revolution, discussing crime, rape and moral bankruptcy in ways few films dared, or were allowed, to do.
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (Sargent, 1974, A-)
This is everything the modern Hollywood action thriller isn't: measured, resonant, politically thoughtful and socially conscious, superbly-paced without suffocating the audience with its style.
2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968, A)
There is little that has not been written about this monumental work, but seeing it on the big screen on 70mm projection, I was inspired and overwhelmed by its majestic design and thematic depth more so than before. This is cinema itself.
The Overnighters (Moss, 2014, B-) (review)
"The Overnighters is painful to watch, in significant part
because despite the large cast of characters that it considers, it never
loses touch with them as individuals. They are not a disenfranchised
mass, and the film isn’t a political rhetoric about caring for the poor.
They are human beings with lives and stories and pains that transcend
beyond their misfortunes and Moss’s greatest accomplishment is that he
conveys that in spite of the limited time he spends with each person."
Nightcrawler (Gilroy, 2014, B+/A-)
Anchored by an astonishing performance by Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler is a relentlessly entertaining, beautifully stylized film about the corporate greed and rhetoric that defines American capitalism, infused with a satirical look at the mechanics (and agendas) of the American media, though this latter aspect of the film is more obvious and less original.
That Obscure Object of Desire (Bunuel, 1977, A) (thoughts)
"That all these ideas [about politics and sexuality] come
together so seamlessly to create a timeless commentary on the clash of
the old order with the modern world is no surprise: this is the work of
two artists [Bunuel and Carriere] who had come to a perfect understanding without compromising
each other's wild creativity, working together in complete harmony."
The Phantom of Liberty (Bunuel, 1974, B-)
An episodic, dream-like structure lent to a story with a bigger thematic reach than it can successfully harness. The episodes intermittently feel incoherent, though as individual pieces, they retain Bunuel's trademark mastery of structured chaos.