2014 END-OF-YEAR CRAMFEST CAPSULES, PART V (THE FINAL CHAPTER)

imagesWednesday, December 3

Unbroken (Dir.: Angelina Jolie; GRADE: C) Reviewed for the SN&R on 12/25/14.

The Congress (Dir.: Ari Folman; GRADE: B+) Expansive philosophical head-trip from Waltz with Bashir director Folman deals with issues of performance and perception, and the impermanence of artistic identity in a disposable culture.  The film never fully wrangles its disparate ideas, and the casting of Wright seems like a bit of a compromise, but it is fully successful as a visual, aural, cerebral, and emotional experience.

Thursday, December 4

The Great Invisible (Dir.: Margaret Brown; GRADE: B-) Moderately successful documentary about the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil leak, and its lingering effects on the Gulf communities.  Brown is insightful while maintaining a light enough touch, but the finished product feels a tad flimsy, and an engaging personal story never emerges.

indemxCoherence (Dir.: James Ward Byrkit; GRADE: B+) A fascinating and unexpectedly profound low-budget puzzle movie that plays like Primer crossbred with one of Woody Allen’s high-concept comedies.  The better, gutsier version of The One I Love.

Friday, December 5

Manakamana (Dir.: Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez; GRADE: B-) Alternately enchanting and sadistically boring documentary is a series of static, seemingly hidden-camera shots from inside the same high-speed mountain tram in the Himalayas.  Minuscule moments of human frailty and a yearning for interaction are all we have to grasp on to here, perhaps the inevitable byproduct of a world where a 3-day hike has become a 10-minte ride.

Red Army (Dir.: Gabe Polsky; GRADE: C+) Slick but skin-deep documentary about the dominant Russian ice hockey teams of the late-Soviet era.  The film is not particularly rewarding as a personal story (the interviewees come off as emotionally uninvested), and it only occasionally succeeds as a look at the connections between international sports and Cold War politics. Reviewed for the SN&R on March 19, 2015.

Saturday, December 6

indexzzI spent this day rewatching some of the films I had slated for my top 10 listUnder the Skin, Mr. Turner, We Are the Best!, and Listen Up Philip.  All of them met or exceeded the quality of their original viewings – the biggest second-watch revelation was that, divorced of the first-watch shock value, the self-destructive misanthropy of Listen Up Philip seemed less funny and more painful.

Sunday, December 7

Leviathan (Dir.: Andrei Zvyagintsev; GRADE: B-) ***DO NOT OPEN UNTIL FEBRUARY 2015***

Nightcrawler (Dir.: Dan Gilroy; GRADE: B+) One of a handful of films that I went out-of-pocket for in order to ensure that I got caught up before deadline (Mistaken for Strangers and Starred Up were the other two).  A genuinely creepy and soul-rattling work from first-time director Gilroy, helped immeasurably by a gaunt and ghoulish Gyllenhaal, as well as cinematographer Robert Elswit’s dark-night-of-the-dead-soul images.  There are a few times when you can feel Gilroy the screenwriter working Gilroy the director like a puppet, but for the most part this is a cohesive and highly cinematic satiric thriller, almost as if Travis Bickle were the star of Network.

Starred Up (Dir.: David Mackenzie; GRADE: B) Muddled but captivating prison drama about an extremely violent young man (Jack O’Connell of Unbroken) promoted to the same adult prison as his lifer father (Ben Mendelsohn).  I only understood 2 out of every 3 words, but Mackenzie (Young Adam) engages in some powerful visual storytelling, and O’Connell is an impressive screen presence.  He is even better in a better film set for release next year – Yann Demange’s Mill Valley Film Festival standout ’71.

Monday, December 8

indexSelma (Dir.: Ava Duvernay; GRADE: B) Reviewed for the SN&R on 1/8/15.

The Gambler (Dir.: Rupert Wyatt; GRADE: C) Reviewed for the SN&R on 12/25/14.

Tuesday, December 9

Into the Woods (Dir.: Rob Marshall; GRADE: C) Reviewed for the SN&R on 12/25/14.

And that’s it!  I had to have my ballot filled out by the time I went to bed on Wednesday the 10th, so that evening was spent finalizing my selections, meaning the 9th was my cutoff date. The second round of voting occurred on Friday the 12th, and I was in San Francisco on the 13th and the 14th. My deadline for the SN&R piece was Monday the 15th, so if I didn’t see a film by December 9, it was “out of competition.”  That still left 195 films “in competition,” but inevitably, there are key films that I missed.  In no particular order, here are the movies that I most regret not seeing before awards/best-of deadline:

indexNorte, the End of History; Big Eyes; Borgman; Goodbye to Language; Winter Sleep; Tales of the Grim Sleeper; Why Don’t You Play in Hell?; John Wick; Jersey Boys; The Drop; Stray Dogs; The Tale of the Princess Kaguya; Closed CurtainThe Interview; Actress; The Strange Little CatThe Dance of Reality; National Gallery; Song of the Sea; 20,000 Days on Earth; Tracks; Beyond the Lights; Salt of the Earth; Violette; Stand Clear of the Closing DoorsVic + Flo Saw a Bear; Ilo Ilo; The Trip to Italy; The Case Against 8; The Last of the Unjust

And that’s not even a complete list.  While I feel that I did a thorough job catching up with 2014 releases, and I’m very satisfied with the quality of my top 10 list, it is certainly possible that an even better top 10 could have been pulled just from that list of unseen titles.  It’s really quite humbling, and an important reminder that no matter how much we think we know, there is always so much left to learn.

Onward to 2015!