TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT

Directed by Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne

It’s an admirable skill, being able to create tension and drama out of realistic and domestic situations, a craft the Dardenne brothers have continued to perfect with each film. The film doesn’t waste anytime setting up backstory or character: straight-away we’re launched into the dramatic situation of our protagonist (played brilliantly by Marion Cotillard), as she has to find the courage to fight for herself and her family. It’s a film that presents us with real, moral complexities: a film where everybody has something to lose. The Dardenne brothers have created something incredibly broad and complex out of something which would only seem to be a minor detail in the fabric of our lives. I hope they continue to do so.

A-

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INTERSTELLAR

Directed by Christopher Nolan

With Interstellar, Christopher Nolan once again delivers a cinematic experience like no other. A sprawlingly ambitious epic, Interstellar is a piece of work that evolves through its many acts, paying homage to the traditional filmmaking of a bygone era, whilst maintaining his signature tendency towards visual spectacle. The characters of his film didn’t quite get to evolve as much as everything else did, but finding faults really cannot diminish from the sheer ability and imagination of the director.

A

PRIDE

Directed by Matthew Warcus

I always wonder how screenwriters go about turning a real-life story into a feature film: mostly in the difficulties deciding where to take liberty with the truth in order to strengthen narrative. A relatively by-the-numbers account of a true story, Pride still bolsters a keen eye for period detail, and a strong cast having a great time on screen. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite manage to elevate itself higher than delivering a story that we’ve seen before.

C+

Master and Commander: The Far side of the World (and the Box-Office)

Every week we’re sold different ads and promos for new films coming out, at a blinding, furious rate. The market these days is so highly saturated that it’s become almost a hassle to choose what to watch. It’s rough when an entire feature length film has to grab your attention and tell you it’s worth watching, using only a one-sheet poster and a two-minute trailer. Yes, they exist to create hype, but when another hundred films are utilising these exact same tools that same season, so much can go amiss when the marketing team handling the promotion miss the mark.

This was the case for films such as Dazed and Confused (billed as a “stoner comedy” thanks to an awful poster, much to the dismay of the director) and Master and Commander, whose entire promotional foundation was built upon a static image which gives the most generic impression of the film’s plot, being a “Stormy Russell Crowe historical naval drama”. Eleven years after its release, I finally got around to watching the Peter Weir-directed film through recommendation and discovered not just a wet, screaming Russell Crowe on a boat, but a beautifully photographed film with nuanced storytelling and real human pathos. It’s a film that unravels before your eyes, that doesn’t focus necessarily on naval war, but rather the psychology of comradeship and unity, a result of duty to both country and fellow man. It isn’t a film that exists to examine history, but to tell personal stories with just as many quiet moments as there are loud.

While a critical success, Master and Commander didn’t quite achieve as highly at the box-office as it probably deserved (it was out-grossed by Scary Movie 3 that same year). Unfortunately, this is the way the industry continues to operate, which means that many films like Dazed and Confused and Master & Commander may someday not even make it into production in the first place. But at least these films that currently do exist can still be seen and appreciated, thanks to the power of simple word-of-mouth.

BIRDMAN or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu

It feels so unworthy to describe Birdman as just a film: it’s more of a pure, cinematic experience, with masters of the craft behind the wheel. Within ten minutes, you know that the filmmakers knew exactly what they were trying to do from the get go, and they absolutely knocked it out of the park. The script is sharp, self-referential and incredibly intelligent, the performances are hypnotising and outrageous, and the cinematography has to be among of the most impressive of the last century. Don’t even get me started on the soundtrack. There’s no way I can even begin to describe the plot of the film and possibly do it any justice. Just please watch it. And tell your friends.

A+

THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA

Directed by Isao Takahata

Sometimes, you watch a film and you’ll continue through your day like it never happened. Sometimes, you’ll watch a film and it’ll completely cleanse you of all the pain and hurt you’ve ever felt in your life, just for a moment. Princess Kaguya is one of those films. Like a moving watercolour, the film is beguiling in the way it moves, sounds and feels. It’s a film that sings to the heart and the soul. I hope every person, young and old, has time in their lives to watch it. It’s a film that makes you appreciate the world and all of it’s beautiful imperfections. Apparently, it took Isao Takahata and his team about eight years to finish Princess Kaguya. Was it worth it? Holy shit yes.

A+

GONE GIRL

Directed by David Fincher

David Fincher continues his streak of showing us people that are simply far too smart and manipulative for their own good. Meticulous and cunning like the characters, the film creeps along, slowing dripping information and throwing red herrings all over the place. In the end I feel like Gone Girl was like a jigsaw puzzle that had all the right pieces, but in the end, left you feeling kind of empty and lonely when all was said and done. It could been because the film did feel very long and drawn out, and there isn’t really anyone to root for. But then again, maybe I shouldn’t do puzzles by myself.

B-

WHIPLASH

Directed by Damien Chazelle

From the first scene of Whiplash, my eyes, chest, ears and every other fibre of my being was glued to the screen. Whiplash was one of the most surprisingly visceral movie-going experiences I have ever had. The film has such high-octane, kinetic energy, that just bounces from scene to scene, ramming all of the senses into oblivion. It embraces the universal pressure of trying to be the best version of yourself there can be, to the people that are – and shows that it’s a place of torture that ultimately, we inflict on ourselves. The director of the film, Damien Chazelle, is still less than thirty years old. And I couldn’t be more jealous for that reason. He is the J.K. Simmons to my Miles Teller.

A+

THE SKELETON TWINS

Directed by Craig Johnson

Nine times out of ten, we want to see our main characters succeed. We want them to be happy, to find love and themselves, just as we’d hope the same for us. It doesn’t hurt that the two main characters of Skeleton Twins are Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, two of the most loveable people in the entire world. What they and the filmmakers give us however, are two people who couldn’t possibly feel more isolated and unhappy. It’s in the moments when these characters find a glimpse of connection and joy when the film utterly triumphs. They aren’t extraordinary human beings, but they feel extreme highs and lows, just as we do. This is a film that reaches out to us, and I was more than happy to reach back.

B+

LOCKE

Directed by Steven Knight

I admire the bravery of the filmmakers, shooting the entire film within the confines of a moving car: low-budget filmmaking is still alive. Tom Hardy convincingly plays a man torn between his own morals, learning the hard way that you can never please everybody. Ultimately, it was a bit difficult to relate to Locke as the film went on, other than having that feeling of, “Damn, I’d really hate to be in his position.” A clever film, but one that just falls a bit shy of becoming a fully engaging experience.

B-