Alibi V.24 No.1 • Jan 1-7, 2015 

Film News

Birds, Boys and a trip to Budapest

The Best Films of 2014

Birdman

Birdman

Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu has spent his career creating laudable-but-depressing ensemble dramas (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel)—which only makes this rule-breaking comedy all the more unexpected. Watching Michael Keaton tweak his post-Batman image as a washed-up action star looking for career redemption in legitimate theater is a hell of a lot of fun. But we knew it would be. What we don’t expect is the playful, experimental, blackly comic way Iñárritu frames this existential tale of Hollywood fame, Broadway vanity and internet notoriety.

Boyhood

After the lyrical, wonderfully unhurried Before Sunrise/Before Sunset/Before Midnight trilogy, indie filmmaker Richard Linklater had nothing left to prove. And yet, he went out on a limb again, transplanting the “slow food” movement to film, creating a lighthearted drama that took 12 years to complete. There’s no trace of gimmickry in this simple look into a young boy’s life from ages 5 to 18. What shines through more than anything is Linklater’s humanity. Clearly, he thinks people are as interesting as explosions or spaceships or martial art fight scenes. And this everyday epic proves him right.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

At this point people are either fans of Wes Anderson’s highly literate, obsessively art-directed brand of whimsy, or they’ve moved on. Too bad for the latter, because the naughty humor and occasionally dark story make this screwball caper his most grown-up work to date. Ralph Fiennes is simply magnificent in the role of uptight libertine M. Gustave, serving as the fastidious concierge to Eastern Europe’s fanciest hotel, circa 1935. As expected this one looks like an award-winning, patently artificial diorama. But for maybe the first time, an Anderson film has been removed from the museum and set free, making this charming Hotel his most idiosyncratically arty and unabashedly crowd-pleasing work.

We Are the Best!

In the past Swedish filmmaker Lukas Moodysson has trafficked in some dark, dirty cinema (Lilya 4 Ever, Show Me Love). But this warm blast of youthful energy (based on a semi-autobiographical graphic novel by his wife, Coco Moodysson) is completely goddamn wonderful. This mouthy rock ’n’ roll anthem about three very different tweenage girls forming a punk band in early-’80s Stockholm perfectly captures that pubescent time period when everything was either life-changingly wonderful or earth-shatteringly tragic. This pitch-perfect ode to rebellion, friendship, girl power and loud music is lovely, funny, exuberant and—above all—empathetic.

The LEGO Movie

This year was a fantastic one for pure popcorn entertainment. Mainstream commercial films like How to Train Your Dragon 2, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Big Hero 6, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy were smart, savvy and totally worth the price of admission. Forced to pick one perfect piece of family fun, however, The LEGO Movie is it. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s animated comedy isn’t just a brilliant way to handle a toy-based movie, it’s a sly parody on summer filmmaking and a mind-bendingly subversive take on the crazy idea of making a LEGO movie in the first place.

Blue Ruin

Every year there seems to be at least one micro-budget indie that I just can’t shake out of my head. This year, that spot belongs to Jeremy Saulnier’s slow-burn shocker Blue Ruin. With a miniscule plot and next to no dialogue, Saulnier traces one sad-faced man’s dogged quest to get revenge for ... something. While the typical Hollywood vendetta story is told with heat and passion, this one’s a dish best served cold. As much attention is paid to the ominous mood-setting as it is to the vivid bursts of violence that punctuate the film’s languorous tension. Once that first drop of blood starts flowing, though, you just know it will be impossible to staunch.

Snowpiercer

It’s easy to point out all the plot holes, logical flaws and conceptual implausibilities in Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho’s screaming mad, post-apocalyptic thriller. But it’s entirely possible Bong is perfectly at peace with this over-the-top satire’s ragged edges. And you should be too. It’s hard to imagine this visionary satire about class warfare taken to its illogical extreme any other way. Watching the poor and destitute survivors of a radically climate-changed Earth battle the 1 percenters for control of a high-speed train rocketing endlessly though the frozen wastes, you could do one of two things: Concentrate on the radical political metaphors, or get swept away in the gonzo action. Take my advice: Watch it twice and do both.

Nightcrawler

This night-black crime thriller about a predatory LA crime journalist (the gloriously sleazy Jake Gyllenhaal) isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. Still, it’s an admirably uncompromising film that grabs the zeitgeist like no other this year. There’s not much to like in Gyllenhaal’s oily Lou Bloom, an opportunistic con man prowling the late-night streets of LA looking for gory crime scene footage he can peddle to cut-rate news networks. And yet, in the Golden Age of reality TV and tabloid journalism, aren’t we all just a bunch of hypocritical voyeurs? Shot by cinematographer Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights, Magnolia), the film is also painfully beautiful, capturing sodium glare glimpses of the city’s seedy underbelly that would make LA fetishist Michael Mann (Manhunter, Heat, Collateral) jealous.

Life Itself

If you love movies, you grew up watching critics Siskel and Ebert duke it out on TV. So it goes without saying this documentary look at Roger Ebert’s last days is a must for film lovers. The open, honest way Ebert dealt with his debilitating cancer is admirable. So it’s hardly surprising to find that he gave unfettered access to Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Steve James (Hoop Dreams). Far from lingering on death and dying, James’ documentary is a happy, funny, sad, wry tribute to one man’s long and storied time on Earth. How appropriate that a life lived in movies should end on film.