This is the special Silver Screen episode, an appropriate way for me to end the year. In the past month, I haven’t been able to avoid perusing other people’s seemingly authoritative lists of the ‘best films of the year’/ ‘worst films of the year’. While these lists can become rather tedious and even pretentious, I am still curious enough to check them out. I certainly don’t always agree – but that is half the fun. I should also keep lists of all those tasty-sounding films that I haven’t yet seen and wish to check out in the new year when I get a chance. As with book reviews, I know I should keep notes, but I am rather haphazard in my personal must read/must view list-making ventures. However I have managed to list some such films for the record in this blog.
Cinema is Dead…Long Live Cinema!
Strangely enough, I work with some people who seem to be quite pleased that cinema is doomed and in decline – at least that is their viewpoint, which I do not share. I neither see nor experience their fatalistic version of death and diminishment when I go to the cinema, nor when I attend festivals, nor when I read about the multitude of world film festivals, the making of independent films, studio films, transnational co-productions, blockbusters, art house films, genre films, documentaries…and watch achingly exquisite feature films from unfamiliar places and cultures, such as Corn Island (at BAPFF this year). Of course there have been great advances in technology this century, and one can view and interact with moving images on multiple platforms. But cinema is continually reinventing itself and filmmakers still want to make that special feature film or documentary for the big screen.
Please don’t talk to your friend or check/answer your mobile phone anywhere near me..!
Hopefully North Korean hackers (or two boys from Idaho?) won’t shut down the cinema exhibition experience. Regarding the irritation of being near inconsiderate people (talking to friend, checking mobile phone constantly..) in the cinema, I have become more restrained with my ‘shushing’ lately, since a person was murdered in the US in the middle of an altercation. The ‘shusher’ or the ‘sushee’ just might have murder on her/his mind! See this link…
My top films: more or less in order (very difficult to rank)
On a more peaceful note, my top 5 feature films seen this year are as follows: the towering Winter Sleep, the throbbingly beautiful Ida, no frame spared; the wondrous genre surprise of the year Under the Skin; the superb craftsmanship of Boyhood; the exciting, flawless, soaring Birdman.
At the Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival, I saw the famous Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s multi-award-winning film Winter Sleep, which makes it to top of my top 5 of the year, though in a way all five are first. I loved Ceylan’s last film, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, which I personally think was more sweeping, more layered and more profound than Winter Sleep, although I don’t want to split hairs over these two undoubted masterpieces
The next 10 viewed in 2014: Human Capital; The Drop; Her; Black Coal, Thin Ice; Blue is the Warmest Colour; Stranger by the Lake; The Grand Budapest Hotel; Gloria; The Dallas Buyers’ Club; Tattoo (this is a very powerful, stylish German film from 2002, by director Robert Schwentke, which screened at the German Film Festival this year).
Other favourites from film festivals this year
I attended several festivals such as MIFF (Melbourne), BAPFF (Brisbane) and IFFA (Iranian festival). Many films screened there have lingered, long after viewing them. For example, the curious yet very engaging Icelandic film Of Horses and Men; Corn Island – the beautiful Georgian/German/French/Czech/Kazakstani/Hungarian film of haunting long silences and powerful visuals; Hope, a visceral, gut-wrenching French film made in northern Africa about desperate refugees trying to cross the Sahara safely, dreaming of a new life in Europe; the revealing Iranian film I’m Not Angry, which had a knock-out performance by the leading actor – Bella and I are still haunted and disturbed by the ending of this film; the impressive Iranian film Snow which depicted a once respectable middle-class family, slowly but surely disintegrating at every level of their existence.
There are of course a number of superior feature films I have missed but which I want to see very soon, if possible – Two Days One Night; Locke; Whiplash; Force Majeure; Mommy; Tom at the Farm; Leviathan
Top documentary films this year:
The best doco for me in 2014 was Sacro Gra, Winner, Golden Lion, Venice Film Festival. This film was the first documentary ever to win this much-sought-after prize. I saw this extraordinary production at the Italian Film Festival. A close second was Gore Vidal – the United States of Amnesia – a wonderfully probing portrait of an intriguing, charismatic writer and towering public intellectual. Then there was 20,000 Days on Earth, the earthy, revealing, riveting film about Nick Cave; and Regarding Susan Sontag. While this film may not have given the whole picture of this fascinating multilayered woman, another towering public intellectual of her time, it was absorbing and well worth seeing, in order to work out the placement of more of the jigsaw puzzle pieces of her fascinating, complicated personality and life history. Another doco treat was The Search for Weng Weng; this very entertaining film chronicles an amazing journey by local Brisbane filmmaker Andrew Leavold to find an unlikely star of Filipino cinema. Finally I rate Trespassing Bergman, in which a number of eminent filmmakers such as Michael Haneke and Claire Denis make a respectful pilgrimage to Ingmar Bergman’s home on his remote island, while others discuss the ways Bergman exploded their minds and influenced their own filmic creativity. Along with some great archival footage, this is just my kind of special film festival treat! Thanks MIFF.
Another superior doco to see asap: The Salt of the Earth
Top Oz films seen this year:
Predestination; My Mistress; Felony
Other Oz films to see as soon as I can: The Babadook; 52 Tuesdays; Tracks; Charlie’s Country
Most underrated Australian film of the year: My Mistress. Many others agree with me about this great first feature by Stephen Lance. Margaret and David were very petty and inexplicably erratic in relation to this Queensland film.
A right royal regal cinema
Once again I return to the Regal at Graceville (another poor pic below, but you get the idea). I am definitely thankful for such not-so-small mercies here in Brisbane. While Palace Centro and the Barracks, along with the Dendy, are programming more and more mainstream, ‘safe’ films in their standard lineups, the steadfast, dare I say visionary, Regal manager takes on some stunning international films that would otherwise not be released here in Brisbane, except at festivals, if we are lucky.
While it is great that the Palace cinema chain does have a series of festivals featuring different nations’ films through the year (e.g. French, Italian, Spanish, German, Russian, British etc), often it is not possible to attend a particular screening, and many a great film can slip away. If there is no commercial release it is a struggle to catch that film at a later date. I will never forget the words of one Director of the (then) Australian Film Institute – she said rather rudely, over a few drinks – “Helen, if you want rotary clothes hoists, stay in Brisbane; if you want to see films, move to Sydney or Melbourne.” I do go to Sydney and Melbourne film festivals whenever I can, but since those doomsday words, I have, along with other devotees, tried to do my bit to actively improve film culture in Brisbane – not an easy task over the years, but often very satisfying. Long live Cinema…!