January was a vacuum, consuming time before our eyes before vanishing without much left behind except a bundle of Oscar nominations, a couple outstanding indies buried under mediocre studio fare, and so much homework to do! So now that we’re all getting incredibly busy again, naturally now is the time for the film year to actually kick in. As such we have your more-than-basic guide to the month’s most compelling film offerings. Some will be lesser than others, you can be assured, but here are 10 films you should at least give a chance.
Top 10 Films to See
I’m most pretty agreeable about this year’s Documentary nominees, all of which justify their being there in one way or another. Tim’s Vermeer is not that kind of doc, nor is it meant to be. It’s something of a personal project for director Teller and narrator Penn Jillette, both of whom were friends with the eponymous Tim Jenison as he worked painstakingly on his eponymous Vermeer. The film debates the line between art and invention, inciting a degree of controversy about the implications of Tim’s discovery about Vermeer’s paintings. The film may have done better with a more aptly artful representations, but if there’s anything Penn and Teller can do, it’s entertain even as we’re desiring more from our cinema. Tim’s Vermeer is not cinema, but it is very good entertainment with a side order of artistic contemplation.
Berlin Film Festival is starting up, so you know what that means! Time to finally see the films of last year’s Berlin Film Festival! Two prize winners at last year’s festival arrive this month, with Denis Cote’s Vic + Flo Saw a Bear winning the Alfred Bauer Prize for a film that “opens new perspectives on cinematic art”. Past winners have been Leos Carax’s Mauvais Sang, Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet and Miguel Gomes’ Tabu, so it’s not in bad company, but it’s certainly in bold company. Whether that boldness is endearing, astonishing or irritating here will soon be seen. A mystery film surrounding two lesbian ex-cons rebuilding their life in Quebec, it certainly looks like black is the warmest color of Vic + Flo, a cold film likely worth checking out.
Most of this month’s studio films look more like middle-fingers than entertainment. Vampire Academy, Endless Love and 3 Days to Kill are on their way to receive their fair share of groans, but the most blundering action properties look rather giddily appetizing in their blundering and plundering. I had my eye on Jose Padilha’s RoboCop remake with skepticism and a fairly morbid outlook. “It’s got a great cast, but it’ll probably waste that,” I’d say to myself. Seeing the trailers, I haven’t totally convinced myself otherwise, but I can’t believe a cast including Michael Keaton, Gary Oldman and Jennifer Ehle wouldn’t seize the ridiculousness of its premise, not to mention its look. If the film even elaborates remotely on the ethics of its setup, it’ll have done more than expected.
No, I don’t have any remote obsession with Liam Neeson, besides his intense homoeroticism in Schindler’s List, and his lone-man-against-the-odds winter releases feel like a rather effective career stunt. Indeed everything that gets me excited about Non-Stop is its inherent stunt value, particularly as it reteams Neeson with Jaume Collet-Serra, who’s managed some ludicrous twists with a surprising sense of showmanship in Orphan and Unknown. His latest pits Neeson as an air marshal aboard an international flight when an anonymous hijacker turns his life, the passengers and the plane upside down. All that, and it’s the first post-12 Years a Slave film from Lupita Nyong’o, so you’re obligated to see it if you’re rooting for her continued success.
I dismissed this film very quickly upon seeing it at New York Film Festival. You may choose to trust my initial opinion more than me, because there were aspects of it I found quite honestly thrilling and intense. Focusing on its eponymous Palestinian freedom fighter who lands in prison, it subverts the idea that Omar will snitch on his comrades and instead becomes a tricky, trickling noir tale. Matters of loyalty are thrown up in the air while matters of morality are tucked scathingly below-the-surface. I’d still argue its fixation on a banal romance irritates more than seduces, but the twists and turns of its brief, sprinting saga intrigue up to its enthralling punctuation note of a finale. Of the films that made it through the obstacle course nomination process for Foreign Language Film, Omar is one of the simplest, but also likely the sexiest. Looking forward to seeing lead Adam Bakri in other work… or would just rather look at Adam Bakri in anything… or nothing… er, see Omar.
A note on the film festival mindset: Sometimes you have the chance to easily see something you won’t get another chance to see for months, but you lazily decide against it. Admittedly a four-hour documentary about the Holocaust is something most would understand skipping out on, if not skip out on themselves. Given that director Claude Lanzmann has spent even longer ruminating on the holocaust with Shoah, his legendary 9-hour film on the subject, I suppose four was the least I could offer him. Here he focuses on just one individual, Benjamin Murmelstein, the last President of the Jewish Council in the Theresienstadtghetto in Czechoslovakia. It’s an aspect of holocaust history that many are likely unaware of, but, like nearly every aspect of the holocaust, deserves to be brought to light. Hard to argue a more apt man to tell the story than Lanzmann.
As far as cinematic acid trips go, this one is quite unabashed. British director Ben Wheatley’s already had a grim comic timing about his first few films, more broodingly in Kill List; quite gleefully in Sightseers. A Field in England finally brings him down the period rabbit hole, but without the burden of historically accurate sets. It’s all set across the endless eponymous field as its foolish protagonists find themselves at the mercy of a psychedelic-possessed antagonist. To elaborate further is somewhat impossible given how effectively loopy Wheatley goes with this. He really gets the chance to put all his mind-trip tools to use, sending us on dizzying montages of rapidly edited, mirror-screened psychedelics. My only complaint might be a difficulty to fathom its underlying themes, but they’re hardly a necessity to be driven insane by this thoroughly bonkers bit of entertainment.
Had it been seen by the entire gang here at Film Misery, I have little doubt that The Wind Rises would’ve triumphed the Film Misery awards’ Animated Feature category. At the start of the season, too, I expected Hayao Miyazaki’s supposed swan song to cruise to a fitting Oscar win. Then Frozen surprised us by being the most delightful of last year’s sordid arrangement of CG-animation, but that shouldn’t stunt The Wind Rises from building an ardent following among domestic viewers. It ranks well as one of Miyazaki’s most beautifully realized films visually, but is easily his most thought-provoking film morally and ethically. Here he handles his regular themes of natural beauty, love of art and anti-war motivations and tackles them more difficultly than before. For many that will escalate the work to extraordinary heights. In any case, it’s a work I’m eager for my friends on and off the site to finally behold.
Given the fact I’ve already seen the majority of films here, of course I’m personally most anticipating something I haven’t seen. That it’s a movie based on an unabashed material brand is something less predictable, but then, so are Chris Miller and Phil Lord, the manic minds behind Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street. Even less than Transformers, there’s very little plot to build a Lego movie around, but from all I’ve heard and seen of the film, it’s all about building something enthusiastically out of nothing. I’m also just totally bewildered by the unique design of the film, fusing photorealistic CG-animation and computer-engineered stop-motion for something that looks frankly impossible. How it will come out onscreen, I have no clue, but I get the feeling this movie is more than the sum of its parts (*wink*).
Not even two months through the year and I’m already keeping tabs on favorites for my Best of 2014 list. Child’s Pose finally hits theaters after winning the Golden Bear at last year’s Berlin Film Festival, and it’s far from an safe choice by the jury. Not that the festival that’s awarded Caesar Must Die, A Separation or Magnolia with their top prizes has ever played it safe. By all accounts they made the right choice, the Romanian film focusing on an upper-class woman rigging the system to get her careless son off the hook for running over a child. Its intricate moral and social network is exceeded only by its complex statements on family ties overstepped and abused. It’d be an apt double-bill with Andrei Zvyagintsev’s Elena, but it plays as the enticing inverse of that film’s core narrative.
- The Monuments Men (February 7th)
- Vampire Academy (February 7th)
- About Last Night (February 14th)
- Endless Love (February 14th)
- Winter’s Tale (February 14th)
- Jimmy P. (February 14th)
- 3 Days to Kill (February 21st)
- Pompeii (February 21st)
- Son of God (February 28th)
- Welcome to Yesterday (February 28th)