Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen
Starring: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill
In recent years Joel and Ethan Coen have largely put comedy to one side to focus on existential explorations in more serious films like Inside Llewyn Davis and A Serious Man. While this has resulted in some great work, with Hail, Caesar! it is exciting to see the brothers return to the mode which brought us the likes of Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski and O Brother, Where Art Thou. Unfortunately, this farce set in the golden age of studio Hollywood does not end up reaching those heights.
Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is Head of Physical Production at Capitol Pictures. His job is to solve problems, to keep their productions on track and their stars in line. His number one priority is chaperoning their latest prestige picture, a Ben-Hur like swords and sandals biblical epic called ‘Hail, Caesar!: A Tale of the Christ,’ safely through production. But things threaten to be derailed when Capitol Picture’s biggest star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) vanishes, kidnapped by a group describing themselves as “The Future” and demanding $100,000 in ransom. 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.
Bright and early on 16th of January the President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, was joined by actor Chris Hemsworth to announce the nominations for the 86th Academy Award to be held on 2nd March. A full list of the nominees can be found here. While there was plenty that we saw coming, as usual the Academy did throw us a few curve balls. This year has been heralded as quite a good year for Hollywood in a critical sense. While some years you would struggle to find five worthy nominees in each category, this year there seemed to be an abundance. As a result most of the surprises have come in the form of omissions rather than inclusions. Here are my picks for the five biggest…
1) The near complete shutout of Inside Llewyn Davis
The Coen brothers have become Academy favourites in recent years and their latest film, Inside Llewyn Davis, has been a critical darling and was expected to be a serious contender. As such, it was a surprise to see it miss out on a Best Picture nomination. This is made all the more significant by the fact the Academy chose only to nominate nine films when there are ten spots available. So it didn’t miss out in favour of something else. It was simply not chosen. Not only did it miss out on a spot in the main category, it was almost completely frozen out, missing out on nominations in the directing, screenwriting and lead acting categories where it would have been considered a chance. In only receiving two nominations (for cinematography and sound editing) Inside Llewyn Davis probably trumped Saving Mr. Banks as the big loser out of the nomination announcements.
2) No Best Actor nod for Tom Hanks
Probably the biggest individual surprise omission was Tom Hanks missing out on a nomination for his performance in the title role of Captain Phillips. A two-time Best Actor winner, Hanks’ was considered by many to be the frontrunner in this category. A win would have put him alongside Daniel Day Lewis as the only men to win three Best Actor Oscars. But as it is that will have to wait for another year.
3) No Best Actor nod for Robert Redford
Robert Redford is a bone fide Hollywood legend but has never won the coveted gold statue. His performance in JC Chandor’s All is Lost, where he played the sole character in the picture, was simply remarkable and left many thinking it put him in the mix for Best Actor – in situations like this the Academy has been known to give someone an award almost as a pseudo-lifetime achievement award. But Redford failed to receive a nomination, with the suggestion being that the film’s distribution company, Roadside Attractions, didn’t campaign as hard as they could have.
4) Blackfish misses out on a Best Documentary nod
Surprises don’t tend to get noticed as much in the documentary categories simply because not as many people have seen them. But in this case, plenty of people have seen Blackfish. The doco exposing the unacceptable living conditions and treatment of the performing Orcas living in Seaworld parks was well received critically and commercially and would have been expecting a nomination.
5) David O. Russell does it again
I don’t know if you can really call this a surprise, but it is definitely historically notable. For the second consecutive year a David O. Russell film has managed to score nominations for Best Picture, Director and Screenplay and all four acting categories. It has only happened 13 times in 86 Oscars ceremonies, so to do it twice, let alone in consecutive years, is impressive to say the least. It seems if you want to get nominated for an Oscar your best bet is to get yourself in a David O. Russell film.
By Duncan McLean