|Shahram Mokri's Fish & Cat|
The Wedlock (Hejazi, 2014, B-)
Hejazi paints his themes -- women fighting for the status in a patriarchal but increasingly conflicted society -- with screaming bright colours but this gorgeously shot film is elevated by a sensitive performance from one of the best actresses working today, Taraneh Alidoosti.
The Sensitive Level (Tabrizi, 2014, D+)
Once the filmmaker behind sharp, socially conscious comedies -- includes one of the best Iranian films ever made, Leili Is With Me -- Tabrizi is now making the same type of films, but without the sharpness, social consciousness or, in fact, comedy.
Melbourne (Javidi, 2014, B+)
An intolerably tense film, the only respite being that, despite the film's unrelenting grip, you can always assure yourself this is just a film and it will all be over soon and none of it is happening in real life. The narrative and visual structure borrows very heavily from Asghar Farhadi's About Elly and A Separation -- and not just because it is apartment bound and stars Peiman Moaadi and Mani Haghighi -- but that comparison can be reductive. This is an emotionally involving, finely acted and deftly executed gem.
Fish and Cat (Mokri, 2014, A-)
The temporally and spatially flexible structure allows Fish & Cat to be suspenseful and playful in equal measure. However much one intends to read into the film's sociopolitical subtexts -- there is a lot of room for interpretation but I tend to think that's more a product of the culture that has given birth to the filmmaker than his intent to infuse his work with meaning -- this is essential work. A formally curious and genuinely terrifying film that is on both accounts unique to Iranian cinema.
Gilda (Vidor, 1946, B-)
Gilda features what is without doubt the sexiest performance ever put on the silver screen. If the film didn't even have anything going for it, it'd still be worth watching just for that. Still, the film gender politics and narrative beats feel more than a bit dated.
Ida (Pawlikowski, 2014, B-)
A lot less chilly than I remembered from my original screening during last year's Toronto festival, but I still can't reach the heart of this film. It's exquisitely photographed and intensely powerful in its best moments, but I find it inconsistent and slight in spite of the story's potential.
Inherent Vice (Anderson, 2014, A-)
Anderson captures all the humor, specificity and nostalgia in the original text. Grounded by a tremendous performance by Joaquin Phoenix, Inherent Vice bursts with energy and zips along at rapid fire speed. Its plot is convoluted – as is Pynchon's brilliant novel and as are some of the cinema's best detective stories
– but one need not even follow every subplot to feel the heat of the film, to sense the bitterness of the tipping point where counterculture became uncool and sentimentality became archaic.
Winter Sleep (Ceylan, 2014, B+) (review)
In a career trajectory that has continually taken him in the direction of more expansive, audacious cinema, this is the filmmaker’s most daring and aesthetically ambitious project yet.
Selma (DuVernay, 2014, B)
In its best moments, Selma is sensational, a touching experience with immeasurable emotional force and sociopolitical relevance. There are moments in the film that stand out because of their outlandish characterizations (mostly with the white government officials) or because we see them too often (“statement” moments outside of real statement moments) to make this a truly outstanding film. However, the performances are uniformly strong and the costume design and cinematography are exemplary.
Whiplash (Chazelle, 2014, B+/A-)
Anything that is predictable, lazy or dull about the story pops out of the screen like wildfire in Chazelle's hands. Perhaps the direction and the rhythmically synchronous editing are a bit overzealous, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing when the film is so reliant on those rhythms. This was relentless fun, made all the better by two incredible performances from JK Simmons and Miles Teller.
A Most Wanted Man (Corbijn, 2014, A) (thoughts)
Having now read the original novel on which the film is based, the film has gone even further in my estimation. Corbijn's adaptation shades just the right characters and narrative beats in darker colors and eliminates just the right subplots to make this a smarter take on modern anti-terrorist activity than the book. It is one of the best spy thrillers made in recent years, elevated by an incredibly performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Still Alice (Glatzer/Westmoreland, 2014, B)
The pace of the narrative is intermittently too fast, limiting the impact that the gravity of individual moments can leave on the audience. The dialogue is, at time, overdetermined and obvious as well. Yet, Still Alice is elevated by remarkable performances from the cast, particularly Julianne Moore, whose tender, subtle turn is a revelation; one of the best performances in an extraordinary canon of work. An incredibly moving and personal film.
Dancing in the Dust (Farhadi, 2003, B-)
Farhadi's debut film features interesting ideas about guilt, loss and the male identity in Iran, but it lacks the complexity that we have come to expect of him over the years. There are interesting visual formations at play, but the film bears the marks of a first time director and is at times heavy handed.
The Theory of Everything (Marsh, 2014, C)
Everything one expects a generic biopic about the life of a respected but disadvantaged man in Britain in the 1960s to be, The Theory of Everything is. Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones do outstanding work, but the whole doesn't have anything new to offer and its characterization of Jane (Jones) becomes increasingly disingenuous and disrespectful as the film progresses.