Intercut’s Best of 2014
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)
There’s a moment in the middle on Birdman when the camera hangs on an empty hallway. It’s a short respite amongst the long, flowing dialogue and scene changes cemented by characters just odd enough to be real, and it shows the uncanny attention paid to structure, cadence, and attention to the audiences needs that runs through this film. See it for the camera work, the tie-ins with Keaton’s Batman, the soundtrack, but just make sure you see it.
Boyhood (Richard Linklater)
Linklater’s long gestating “12-year project” had the potential to be an overreaching experiment in which the unorthodox filmmaking process overtook whatever the film was supposed to be about. By allowing the years themselves to become his subject, Linklater sidesteps this concern. In addition to the obvious aging of the actors, he constantly reminds the audience of the relentless onslaught of time through changing technology and cultural touchstones. Nowhere is Linklater’s theme more effectively communicated than a shot near the beginning of the film when Mason (Ellar Coltrane) wasn’t able to say goodbye to a friend before his family moved. As the car drives away from the house, Mason catches only a glimpse of his friend before he’s quickly obscured by the overgrowth on the side of the road.
Enemy (Denis Villeneuve)
What’s better than one Jake Gyllenhaal? Two Jake Gyllenhaals! Laden with psychosexuality, transformation and deformity, Denis Villeneuve’s brilliant doppleganger film continues in the footsteps of Canada’s iconic filmmaker, David Cronenberg. Further, Toronto, with its ubiquitous traffic and urban moonscape, has never been used better. In the future, Enemy will be regarded as one of Canada’s best films.
Foxcatcher (Bennett Miller)
Any concern that a bit of Carrell would peek through his makeup and distract from Foxcatcher’s engaging story is completely unfounded. Within moments of watching you’ll slip effortlessly into suspended disbelief as Tatum and Ruffalo adopt a gorilla-ish gait to become their characters, and Carrell becomes artistically wooden for his depiction of John DuPont. The tragedy in the movie’s finale will quickly turn to triumph as you walk away from the movie, impressed with these actors’ transformations.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)
This film is Anderson’s argument for the preservation of an older way of life. In some ways it is a celebration but he doesn’t ignore the myopia and resentment which lie beneath the surface of nostalgia. Anderson makes a compelling case against his detractors: treasuring the past is not simply acceptable but noble.
Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard)
Story of a love affair in 3D wherein a dog (“Roxy”) eventually becomes the central subject of the mise-en-scene while simultaneously remapping the formal potentials of 3D cinema. If there is one film in 2014 that justifies the existence and experience of seeing a movie in the cinema, Goodbye to Language is that movie.
Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski)
Unfortunately, the wonderful story took a backseat in this viewing experience because of the beautifully distracting cinematography, specifically the composition of the 4:3 frame. A few major films have used the 4:3 format recently, most notably The Grand Budapest Hotel by Wes Anderson. While Anderson used the 4:3 frame for its relative height, emphasizing the mountains and tall buildings, Ryszard Lenczewski collaborating wtih Pawlikowski makes the frame massive and places the actors in the bottommost portion of it, even deep into the corners of the image.
The Immigrant (James Gray)
Despite his Jewish upbringing, Gray’s new film is extremely Catholic, not just in the straightforward Christ imagery of Emil (Jeremy Renner) or Ewa’s (Marion Cotillard) devout background, but in all of the characters’ desires to be forgiven. In the final scene, Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix) performs the ultimate righteous act, atoning for his sins by providing Ewa an escape. The final shot shows Ewa and Bruno walking away from each other and their past sins, forgiven not by each other, but in the eyes of God.
Interstellar (Christopher Nolan)
Interstellar is the speculative third film to Peter Hyams’ 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984) and another spiritual successor to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). From nuclear war to our own biological destruction of our planet; from unknowable aliens to our unknowable future selves; from black monoliths to black holes. We should expect more from science fiction films, and this great entry into the genre has the potential to inspire future great films in this genre.
Jealousy (Philippe Garrel)
Garrel’s most recent work is an intimate look into the family and relationship dynamics of a home broken by divorce and the father’s subsequent romance with another woman. The most fascinating aspect is the way Garrel uses the child actor/character as the most mature, stable, and sensible person in the story.
Journey to the West (Tsai Ming-Liang)
A film about movement and bodies that juxtaposes a monk’s journey with our bustling and pointless urban lifestyle. Journey to the West dialectically uses the monk’s slow pace to make a film about speed.
Listen Up Philip (Alex Ross Perry)
Some books read like a movie. This movie watches like a book. You’re taken through the minutiae of each character’s background through narration, but the focus changes to different characters as the story unfolds into a series of vignettes. It’s not a story that shows the audience something outstanding — unless you count the inability of some people to change. It’s a look into the relationships of flawed people, and the humour, love and loneliness that intersects.
The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji (Takashi Miike)
Seeing this movie will either be the wildest time at the cinema or the most irritating if it doesn’t work for you. The Mole Song is something so weird, unconventional, and inexplicable that it compels extreme reactions. The Mole Song, without spoiling too much, is about an uncover cop that is so inept at police work and at the same time too moral for it that his superiors send him on a suicide mission into the most dangerous yakuza clan in Japan to stop the illegal distribution of drugs for the sake of the children. Extreme violence and hilarity ensues.
The One I Love (Charlie McDowell)
This film is an excellent example of successful low-budget filmmaking. The One I Love has only three characters and like Enemy, it plays with the notion of doppleganger/alter-egos. McDowell uses one location and gets a lot of mileage out of it, another great example to inspire low-budget filmmakers working today.
Our Subhi directed (Hong Sang-soo)
Hong’s new movie traces, in the most casual way possible, a complex matrix of male-desire that focuses on the titular character. Filmed in a series of static two-shots until the three men come together in the end in a three-shot. Hong’s deceptively simple filmmaking style perfectly aligns content and form.
Selma directed (Ava DuVernay)
Like Spielberg’s Lincoln (2012), rather than attempt to summarize an entire life, Selma focuses on Martin Luther King’s (David Oyelowo) efforts to pass a single piece of legislation. DuVernay doesn’t let King be the sole focus of her film. From President Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) and sympathetic white clergymen to less heralded civil rights leaders like Diane Nash (Tessa Thompson) and the actual citizens of Selma, no one who had a hand in getting the Voting Rights Act enforced is willfully left out. This film shows that civil rights aren’t achieved by the will of one man but by community mandate.
True Detective (season one) (Cary Joji Fukunaga)
In True Detective, a long-form narrative in the vein of The Sopranos, portrays a nihilistic picture of humanity painted by McConaughey’s Rust Cohle. This film is about as close as we get in popular culture to philosophy. True Detective invites us to ponder our own existence with questions like is being human beautiful, disgusting, or beautiful in its all of its disgustingness?
Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer)
Kubrickesque is the best way to describe this film, not only for its sustained, tense tone but because it’s not for those who aren’t willing to put in the effort to be engrossed. The dark ambiance and implied story hover over scenes that are narrated by the slightest of facial expressions. Nothing’s given to the audience in this film, but it’s well worth it to sit with the lights off, turn off your phone, and earn this experience.
We Are the Best! (Lukas Moodyson)
The beginning of a friendship is often fragile. Opposing tastes and worldviews often crush these potential relationships in their infancy. This film’s three young heroines have disagreements over their band’s sound, hair, boys, and religion. We learn that the core of any good friendship or creative endeavour is the willingness to challenge our friend’s preconceived notions about art, society, and ourselves.
Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)
Whiplash poses an important question about how we grow as a society: What are we willing to sacrifice, and suffer through, to achieve greatness? Jazz critics have mocked the film’s watered down approach to the musical genre, and purists may be distracted by scenes where it becomes very apparent that the music in the film wasn’t recorded live off the floor, it’s the overarching struggle staged in a largely untouched setting (post-secondary music education) that makes the movie stand out among this year’s best.
Contributors: Timothy May, Caleb Caswell, Curtis Alexander, and Cody Lang