And here are the other 5 movies in my list – with other films good enough to be mentioned.
It was just one small innocent lie, but, once people start to believe it, it topples one man’s life upside down, and his life becomes a living purgatory as a result. Through the unjust ordeal of its ordinary hero, Danish movie “The Hunt” delves into a dark side of human nature involving misguided conviction and savage mob mentality, and its story is both maddening and engrossing to observe.
Except some problems, the life of Lucas(Mads Mikkelsen) has been nice and comfortable. Recently moving back to his hometown, he always has his friends and his family members near him, and we see them enjoying their deer hunt season together during the opening scene. In the kindergarten where he works, he is popular with his boys, and, though he has a custody problem with his wife, he has a good relationship with his son, and he is currently in the relationship with one of his co-workers.
The trouble in question begins with an innocent misbehavior of a girl in the kindergarten, Klara(Annika Wedderkopp). Because of her little crush on Lucas, she comes to utter a disturbing lie about him, and Lucas’ life is quickly crumbled as more people believe Klara’s lie. With the stoic but harrowing performance by Mads Mikkelsen at the center, the director Thomas Vinterberg chillingly shows us how much our minds can be susceptible to suggestion and blindfolded by resulting bias, and we are horrified by its familiar story of the group cruelty against one helpless individual. We eventually get a small consolation in the end, but he is still a marked man, and there is always somebody willing to remind him of that.
Nearly stripped of every expected convention, “All Is Lost” is so pure and simple that it does not look like an interesting movie at first. There is no back story or flashback for its lone hero, and its reticent aging hero is simply named “Our Man” in the end credit. We can only guess vaguely his personal motive for solitary sail during the tranquil opening scene while listening to his words from what may be his last letter, and he remains all alone by himself with no particular desire to talk with anyone including himself.
The movie shows us his 8 days of desperate but stubborn struggle to survive and to be rescued. When his yacht is around 1500 nautical miles from the Strait of Malacca, Our Man(Robert Redford) is awakened to find that the yacht has crashed with a floating metal cargo container which was probably fallen from one of those big cargo ships sailing around the Indian Ocean. He tries to take care of this serious problem for himself, and it seems he will be able to manage this disastrous situation at least for several days while searching for any help, but his situation becomes more desperate and frustrating, and this calm, resourceful man cannot possibly ignore his hopeless situation even when he keeps trying.
The director/writer J.C. Chandor willingly places many limits on his story while pushing it straight to his intended goal, and the movie seldom loses its steady pace while never feeling dragged, and it is solidly anchored by its sole lead performance by Robert Redford, who gives one of his best performances in his career. This is a first-class minimalistic survival drama, and it certainly deserves to be remembered as a small but impressive triumph of story and acting under challenging settings.
“Behind the Candelabra” is as dazzlingly entertaining as its flamboyant entertainer hero who ironically hid himself through the bold, colorful, and sparkling presentation of his personality on the stage. Based on the book written by Scott Thorson and Alex Thorleifson, the movie focuses on a twisty romantic relationship between Thorson(Matt Damon) and Liberace(Michael Douglas), and its story is as shiny and bizarre as you can expect from a show business melodrama involved with sex, drug, money, plastic surgery, and those glittering costumes wore by Liberace.
With the first-rate makeups and special effect, Michael Douglas and Matt Damon convincingly go through the tumultuous relationship story between their characters, and Michael Douglas, who sometimes surprised us through coming out of his usual territory, dazzles us with the performance we have never expected from him. Gliding with wig and make-ups and those shiny capes like a peacock, he not only looks convincing as Liberace but also gives us the complex portrait of a colorful show business man who can be caring and generous as well as manipulative and egoistic. It is rather a shame that he cannot be Oscar-nominated for this film because it was aired on HBO as a TV movie in US, and the same thing can be said about Matt Damon, the director Steven Soderbergh, and his technical crew.
Soderbergh recently announced that he will retire from his directing career after this movie, so it seems “Behind the Candelbra” will be the last work directed by him. Considering that he is not that old yet, it is possible that he will make a comeback later, but, anyway, this is surely the fantastic swan song from one of the talented directors of our time.
Hirokazu Kore-eda’s another deeply humane work “Like Father, Like Son” starts with a premise you have probably heard about through fictions or news articles. Ryota(Masaharu Fukuyama) and Midori(Machiko Ono), an affluent middle-class couple living in their cozy apartment in Tokyo, have a young son named Keita(Keita Ninomiya), and they suddenly come to learn that Keita is not actually their son; her real son was switched with the baby belonging to the other couple not long after Midori gave a birth to him six years ago.
Ryota and Midori soon meet the other couple who has raised Ryota and Midori’s biological son as their own son, and the movie takes a quiet route as calmly watching the characters going through the next several months. The parents begin to discuss about what should be done to them, and two boys begin to spend more time with their respective biological parents, but how can they let themselves separated from the son they have nurtured for six years? And how can they possibly move on from that?
Hirokazu Kore-eda handles his story and characters with understated sensitivity and warm humor, and the movie effortlessly goes around laughs and poignancy while serenely observing its characters with deep sympathy toward their hard, difficult circumstance. After touched and amused a lot by this moving family drama for 2 hours, I come to wish that the kids will be all right – and the adults, too.
Jeff Nichols’ “Mud” has a vivid sense of specific locations along with the natural beauty inside them, and we are naturally drawn to its drama wide enough to encompass many story elements flowed into it. The movie rolls its main plot and other subplots together effortlessly without losing balance in its leisurely pace, and the result is a rich mixture of bittersweet coming-of-age tale, tarnished love story, and intimate character drama.
The story is mainly told through the eyes of two young boys at the beginning of their adolescent years. Ellis(Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone(Jacob Lofland) have their special place outside their river town in Arkansas, and it is a small unnamed island in the middle of the river. On one day, they happen to encounter a mysterious man named Mud(Matthew McConaughey), and, though he surely looks suspicious, Ellis decides to help him, and Neckbone willingly follows his best friend’s decision.
As more characters appear along with more facts about Mud, the plot thickens with the vivid rural mood evocative of Mark Twain’s works, and the movie becomes a familiar but touching story about friendship, love, loyalty, redemption, and maturation. The director Jeff Nichols, who previously made a remarkable debut with “Shotgun Stories” in 2008 and then stroke us again with “Take Shelter” in 2011, firmly establishes himself as one of the most distinctive American directors with this film, and I can’t help but wonder about what will be the next.
Too bad there is not enough space for these terrific films…
We have two films about Somali pirates in this year, and “Captain Philips” and “A Hijacking” are very good in their respective ways. While Woody Allen goes darker with San Francisco and Cate Blanchett’s magnificent performance in “Blue Jasmine”, Ken Roach goes lighter with bottles of whiskey in his genuine feel-good movie “The Angel’s Share”, and Abbas Kiarostami goes naughtier in Japan with “Like Someone in Love”. Michael Winterbottom really went through several years with his actors for “Everyday”, and Bruno Dumont really went to the real-life mental institution for “Camille Claudel 1915”, and both directors give us something vivid, realistic, and mesmerizing like Ryan Coogler did in his powerful debut work “Fruitvale Station”.
“Blancanieves” is a charming black and white silent film which is far truer to the spirit of the Gothic fairy tale than recent Snow White movies from Hollywood, and “Drug War” is a dark, cynical, but compelling crime noir film from Johnnie To, and “Spectacular Now” is a very likable adolescence film which was one of the nice surprises to me in this year. And, finally, there is Abdellatif Kechiche’s “Blue is the Warmest Color”; it is a lot more than lesbian sex life, and you will be rewarded as long as you know what you will get before watching it.
I gave only three stars to these 15 films, but each of them has enough distinctive quality to be remembered, and maybe I will love them more than before someday.
“The World’s End” and “Pacific Rim” show exactly what entertainment films should be: fun, exciting, and interesting with wits and imagination. Along with the mind-bending terror of “Berberian Sound Studio”, the twisted family drama of “Stoker”, and the tantalizing fun of “In the House”, I also recommend you Brian De Palma’s new thriller “Passion”, in which he goes back to his usual dirty old man mode. Oscar-nominee Saoirse Ronan was unfortunately associated with “The Host” and “Violet & Daisy” in this year, but you may be relieved by her two good performances in “How I Live Now” and “Byzantium”.
We also have a number of small but good films deserving to be mentioned. Terrence Malick’s “To the Wonder” is worthwhile to watch though it is two or three steps down from his best works, and “Prince Avalanche” confirms David Gordon Green can return to his good old Indie mode whenever he likes to do that, and Ramin Bahrani’s “At Any Price” is an underrated work with Dennis Quaid’s good performance. “Laurence Anyways”, a long story about the life of a transvestite hero and his wife, is as charming as another breezy film “Frances Ha”, and “The Way, Way Back” is a typical but nice coming-of-age tale supported by the good ensemble performance, and the lonely and desolate sadness inside “Motel Life” is something I cannot forget easily.
Yes, I watched “Life of Pi”, “Flight”, “Lincoln”, “Cloud Atlas”, “The Sessions”, “Django Unchained”, “Silver Lining Playbook”, “Zero Dark Thirty”, “The Master”, and “The Impossible” early in this year, and they did deserved the acclaims and awards they received.
Joshua Oppenheimer’s “The Act of Killing” shows us one hell of nutty filmmaking, and this is No.1 documentary of this year. “Stories We Tell” is another mature and thoughtful work from the director Sarah Polley, and she courteously steps back to let others tell about her dead mother while clearly maintaining the focus on her subject with respect and love.
While I was glad to see “Searching for Sugar Man” winning Best Documentary Oscar in this February, I found later that other nominees, “The Gatekeepers”, “5 Broken Cameras”, “The Invisible War”, “How to Survive a Plague”, are equally good works, and, though they were not Oscar-nominated, “West of Memphis” and “The Central Park Five” are also memorable documentaries about outrageous and infuriating cases of legal injustices.
In case of the other documentaries of this year, I watched “Our Nixon”, “Blackfish”, “Leviathan”, and “The Crash Reel”, and I enjoyed watching them. I think you may like them, too.
My god, it was really a disappointing year for animation. “The Croods” and “Monster University” are good indeed but they are not something I will remember well after 10 years, and even Hayao Miyazaki’s swan song, “The Wind Rises”, is a bit disappointing even though it is equipped with his distinctive touches. I have not seen “Frozen” yet, but I dare to say the best animation feature film of this year is none other than a small South Korean animation feature film “The Fake”, a very dark, disturbing story about region, human evil, and a grim, depressing world where you have to face a harsh reality alone or ignore it through holding onto something not real.