Director: John Michael McDonagh
Starring: Alexander Skarsgård, Michael Pena, Theo James, Tessa Thompson, Paul Reiser
With his third film, War on Everyone, writer-director John Michael McDonagh steps away from his customary Irish setting, and from his burgeoning collaboration with veteran actor Brendan Gleeson, to offer us a dark and violent satire which gives an outsider’s view of American police justice.
Terry Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård) and Bob Bolano (Michael Pena) are ethically questionable detectives. Scratch that. They are entirely unethical detectives. Terry became a cop because “you get to shoot people for no reason.” Bob is returning from suspension after assaulting a fellow police officer. Both use blackmail and violence to make sure no criminal in their jurisdiction gets away without giving them a kickback. The duo get word of a planned racetrack heist, and are keen to get in on the action. But when the heist ends in a bloodbath, it becomes apparent that the man behind it is not their usual caliber of perp. As their investigation proceeds to uncover a child pornography ring, the question becomes how much can this bad cop-bad cop pair be confronted with before their latent morality supersedes their self-interest? Continue reading
1. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)
Wes Anderson has for two decades now been the most distinctive cinematic voice in America, and this 1930s-style caper film is the most complete realisation yet of his aesthetic. Anderson first-timer Ralph Fiennes is not known for comedy, but he is tremendous here in leading an all-star cast. In a time when so many comedies are built around rambling improvisation it, there is something really striking about the meticulously crafted nature of The Grand Budapest Hotel. With a Russian Doll structure, the film is beautifully designed and precisely shot. A real treasure.
2. Calvary (John Michael McDonagh)
Irish director John Michael McDonagh managed to one-up his brilliant debut feature, The Guard, with this poignant, powerful and yet still very funny film about a rural Irish priest who receives a death threat in the confessional. What starts as a black comedy transitions into a quite profound modern passion play, with Brendan Gleeson delivering what is for mine the year’s best performance as Father James Lavelle, a good man who must bear the sins of the institution that he represents, an institutation that has failed both the wider community and himself.
3. Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)
Where so often movies about music focus on passion, soul, creativity and love for the art, Damien Chazelle’s debut feature chooses to explore the determination, single-minded obsession and dangerous perfectionism that goes into the pursuit of greatness. This emotionally and psychologically brutal film features a powerful and controversial depiction of the student mentor relationship as a determined young drummer is brought to the brink by a borderline psychotic conductor. JK Simmons is surely a short price favourite to walk away with a Best Supporting Actor Oscar early next year.
4. Boyhood (Richard Linklater)
There has never been a film quite like Boyhood. Writer-director Richard Linklater shot the film over a twelve year period, following the same boy (Ellar Coltrane) as he grew from a six year old into a young adult. Incredibly ambitious and effectively executed, the film manages to not only explore the evolving family dynamic as this family grows up together, but also to navigate the cultural and political changes the world experienced over the twelve years of production. Managing to be at the same time epic in scope and incredibly intimate, Boyhood is a truly unique cinematic experience.
5. Guardians of the Galaxy (James Gunn)
How hot are Marvel Studios right now? In what looked like a questionable step following the success of The Avengers, they announced they would be bringing a minor comic book about a motley crew of space adventurers that includes, among others, a talking raccoon and a walking tree, and they have turned it into the most exciting, fun and fresh blockbuster in decades. Rather than repeating the formula of The Avengers, James Gunn has gave Guardians of the Galaxy a completely different style and tone. This 1980s style sci-fi adventure is Marvel’s funniest film and has made a legitimate movie star out of Christ Pratt.
While it lacked the mainstream potential of True Grit and No Country for Old Men, Inside Llewyn Davis saw the Coen brothers in top form. This character study of a neurotic, arrogant but undeniably talented folk musician offered significant insight into the mind of an artist while poking gentle fun at the earnestness of the Greenwich Village folk music scene. Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography is stunning, with its muted colour palate of greys, greens and browns making the film feel almost black-and-white. The soundtrack, arranged by T-Bone Burnett is outstanding.
7. Locke (Steven Knight)
One man in a car making phone calls. Who’d have thought that could be the basis of the year’s best thriller? Steven Knight’s variation on the one-man play breaks with formula and bravely rethinks how to tell a story on screen. Carried by a compelling performance from Tom Hardy – one of the few actors in the world who can carry a film on their own for ninety minutes – this minimalist piece of filmmaking reimagines the very nature of what is cinematic.
8) Chef (John Favreau)
Jon Favreau got back to his indie roots in 2014 with his passion project Chef, the food porn film of the year. With its simple story, Chef is a completely endearing celebration of food, cooking, creativity, passion and family, with many critics seeing more than a hint of autobiography in chef Casper’s quest to rediscover his creative spark. Vibrant and alive with the Cuban inspired flavours of the food and the music, Chef is a joyous film and not to be seen on an empty stomach.
9) What We Do in the Shadows (Jermaine Clement & Taika Waititi)
With What We Do in the Shadows Kiwi duo Taika Waititi and Jermaine Clement take a subject matter, vampires, with which popular culture is teetering on the edge of overload, and a form, the mockumentary, that is every bit as tired and combine them to create a vibrant, original and downright funny movie. Juxtaposing the extraordinary with the mundane, the film follows a trio of vampire flatmates living in Wellington. The New Zealand sense of humour brings a slightly different sensibility to the film than we’d get from an American or British equivalent.
This year saw two films in which Scarlett Johansson got a bit cerebral. While Lucy was among the year’s worst films, Under the Skin was among its best. This odd film sees Johansson driving around Glasgow and the Scottish highlands, picking up men and then… well it’s best not to give away too much. A most peculiar and entrancing film, when you get to the end of Under the Skin you won’t quite know what you’ve seen but you’ll know you’ve seen something.
The Next Best (alphabetical): The Dark Horse (James Napier Robertson), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Matt Reeves), Frozen (Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee), The Lego Movie (Phil Lord & Christopher Miller), Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy), The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese)
The Worst Movie of the Year:
I, Frankenstein (Stuart Beattie)
200 years after being brought to life, Frankenstein’s monster finds himself in the middle of an ongoing war between demons and gargoyles for… You know what? It’s not worth going on. This diabolical film which recasts Frankenstein’s monster as an action hero is utter nonsense and would have Mary Shelley rolling in her grave.
by Duncan McLean
What were your best and worst films of the year? Post in the comments section and let us know.
Director: John Michael McDonagh
Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Aiden Gillen, Dylan Moran, M. Emmett Walsh
Three years after his debut film The Guard became the most successful Irish film of all time at the domestic box office and earned rave reviews around the world, director John Michael McDonagh and his star Brendan Gleeson are back with Calvary. The second part of the director’s “Glorified Suicide Trilogy,” Calvary is a very different, but every part as brilliant, film. More serious and thought provoking, it none the less demonstrates the same wicked humour, gift for dialogue and strong sense of place that made The Guard a success.
Father James Lavelle, a good man, serves as the priest of a small County Sligo parish on the west coast of Ireland. One day, while hearing confession, one of his parishioners confides that he was sexually assaulted by a priest for a number of years in his childhood. With the priest in question having long since died, the victim has decided that he will gain retribution by killing Father James. The Father is to become the victim precisely because he is innocent. “There’s no point killing a bad priest. But killing a good one? That’d be a shock.” The unidentified man gives Father James a week to get his house in order, and they are to meet the following Sunday on the beach.
From the moment that Father James receives his threat, in the very first scene of the film, he knows who it is that has delivered it. He is, after all, a good priest who knows the voices of his parishioners. But in a clever decision by the filmmaker, this information is kept from us. The film then, on one level, becomes a reversal of the traditional whodunit – a who-is-going-to-do-it. However, with the priest already knowing the identity, his week is not spent investigating the threat. That is our concern, not his. So while we watch those around him carefully, looking for clues as to the identity of the would-be murderer, Father James continues performing his role as one trying to provide spiritual assistance and guidance to his small, detached community.
His is not the easiest flock to tend to. The Father – played brilliantly by Gleeson – is confronted by a spiteful and confrontational community, and saddened by their complete indifference to matters of faith. One of his parishioners takes perverse pleasure from flaunting her adultery, with another of his parishioners, before him. Her husband, while possibly beating her, has no problem with the unfaithfulness. An atheist doctor goads him whenever he is called upon to visit someone dying in hospital. The local publican vents his financial frustrations on the Father as a representative of the wealthy Catholic Church. The film provides insight into the life of a priest in a society that no longer values or respects his contribution.
Recent years have seen a number of films exploring narratives surrounding the past crimes and abuses of power by the Catholic Church and attacking the institution (consider last year’s Philomena for example). Calvary takes a different approach to the issue. McDonagh’s film explores the impact of these revelations on the church’s place in the community. It does not attempt to defend the perpetrators of those crimes, or the institution that protected them, but rather invites us to consider the plight of those remaining good people whose efforts to do good works in the world are hindered by being forced to bear the burdens of an institution that has failed them.
Calvary features the same dark humour which made The Guard so brilliant, but here it is in service of a more serious story. At some point during its narrative, Calvary transitions from being a black comedy to a quite profound modern passion play. Father James becomes the symbolic innocent who must bear the sins of others, in this case the sins of the institution that he represents. The week that we count down marks his own walk to Calvary, as he endures the torment and ridicule of those around him.
While at times still very funny, Calvary ends up being a poignant and powerful film. At a time when most movies tend to opt for the simple and straight forward, it is encouraging to see a thoughtful film which has something to say. It also confirms McDonagh and Gleeson as a collaboration very much worth keeping an eye on.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen Calvary? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.