Films of January 2015

Well, there you go. February is here. Time really flies.

This month I caught up with some important 2014 releases that will be discussed in the coming month. I also watched a few TV shows like Black Mirror ans started The Decalogue. Also, Girls, Parks and Recreation and The Americans are all back in top form, so I’ll be catching up with those. Hopefully in February I’ll see other more important and maybe I’ll have time to go see Ex Machina and Kingsman: The Secret Service, both which are already out here in the UK. Until then, here is what I watched in January 2015:

First Time Viewings:

Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonze, 1999)

Oh, I loved this film. The last one from Spike Jonze’s filmography that I haven’t seen. I really like this guy’s work. This might be my favorite film of his. It’s one unusual, original, funny and ambitious film, something like I’ve never seen before. I laughed so much and the acting was so good. What happened to Cameron Diaz? She was good at the beginning of her career and showed so much promise… A+

Birdman (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2014)

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Again, a very funny and unusual film. Very ambitious and so different from the director’s other films which are depressing with a capital D. The cast is great and am so glad that Michael Keaton’s career is brought back to life. Let’s hope he will win the Oscar and not Eddie Redmayne. Loved every moment of it. A

Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2014)

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Like everyone else, in terms of plot, I haven’t got much out of this film. It’s confusing on purpose to evoke the style of the novel by Thomas Pynchon as well as the psychedelic era it’s set in. I laughed so much at this film, more than I expected. Part of me is disappointed this didn’t end up to be the great noir epic I thought it would be a year ago. I haven’t read the novel and was not familiar with the author’s style so this was a surprise for me. But I still got so much out of it. The cast is just so great. Joaquin Phoenix is hilarious as this different type of detective/hero, always under the influence of drugs. Also, Katherine Waterston, is a breakout role, was so good at the femme fatale, Shasta Fay (a lot of weird names in the film like Japonica, a trademark of the author apparently). Let’s hope she has a long career. The supporting parts were wonderfully played. Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Jena Malone and Benicio del Toro among others. Also, Joanna Newsom’s narration worked greatly as well as the soundtrack. Can’t wait to see it again. B+

Two Days One Night (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, 2014)

Touching film with an outstanding performance by Marion Cotillard. This is actually the first film from the Dardennes that I have seen. Was familiar with their realistic style but never got to actually seeing one of their films. This story was not approached in a cliche way nor was it unnecessarily extended. It was done just the right way. B+

Selma (Ava DuVernay, 2014)

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Not being from USA I wasn’t as familiar about the Selma march so everything that was portrayed in this film is completely new to me. The speeches were so powerful and full of passion and some scenes were just upsetting. I think this should be played in schools. The acting was superb as well as the direction by Ava DuVernay, A BLACK WOMAN. It’s also so relevant given the recent events in the United States  but I’m not going to get into that as it has been discussed everywhere and is so obvious.

It’s a shame the film got snubbed at the Oscars. Just so stupid that shit like The Imitation Game gets 8 freaking nominations and this gets only two, one for the song John Legend and Common wrote (which they will win) and for Best Picture which is just a consolation prize for everything they got snubbed at. I mean David Oyelowo over Steve Carell’s nose and one dimensional portrayal of John du Pont or Benedict Cumberbatch’s unsurprising performance in The Imitation Game is outrageous. I usually hate it when minorities have to included in something just because they have to for the sake of diversity and not because of merit, but here the anger is understandable. It’s just wrong and Selma is much better than other films like The Imitation Game or even American Sniper. Why the hell did the director of Imitation Game got nominated for? What did he do better than what DuVernay did in Selma? Anyway, I’m sure this film will have the last laugh as it will stand the test of time. B+

Top Five (Chris Rock, 2014)

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Another film featuring an all black cast. This has been praised since its premiere at Toronto in the fall, I had to see it. It’s pretty funny and sweet. It’s a romantic comedy with much more than just silly romance and meet-cutes. Good job, Chris Rock! B

Love Is Strange (Ira Sachs, 2014)

Love Is Strange is an updated version of Make Way For Tomorrow and Tokyo Story. The actors portraying the aging, homeless couple are John Lithgow and Alfred Molina. It was a sweet film with beautiful performances but it didn’t surprise me as much as it did others. It’s still worth watching. B

The Book Of Life (Jorge R. Gutiérrez, 2014)

Well this was such a colorful film. Rich in culture and color, The Book Of Life is set in Mexico and focuses on a love triangle, two men fighting for one woman’s love all while confronting life, death and after life. The story, besides the facts from the Mexican culture, was a bit bland. But it’s still worth watching because of the look and just because it’s set in a world we don’t know much about. If the competition wouldn’t have been so hard this year at the Oscars this could have easily got in the line-up. B-

Wonder Boys (Curtis Hanson, 2000)

I tried watching this film two years ago but I didn’t like the characters so I gave up. Now I’ve seen it in its entirely and didn’t hate the characters as much. I found this film to be a comfortable, fluffy film for guys. What I didn’t like about it was the strangeness of the characters especially the one played by Toby Maguire. What was the reason of the dragging  Marilyn Monroe into this? I thought it was a pleasant film but didn’t get much out of it. C+

A Most Violent Year (J.C. Chandor, 2014)

I waited for this film for a while. The trailer prepared me for a big gangster epic film but A Most Violent Year isn’t even close to that. While I did appreciate it for making Oscar Isaac’s character not the ruthless guy we thought would get and the different approach to violence, I thought the film lacked a really good story at its center. The film is basically about Oscar Isaac’s character trying to save his business without getting in a war with his competitors. He doesn’t want to be the Godfather. And I liked that, but I wanted much more out of the story. More clashes, more arguments, more action. I thought while his character was not the usual ruthless guy we see in a film like this nor is he tempted to become a gangster like Michael Corleone, but besides that there isn’t much left to the character. There isn’t much development for him or for the other characters.

Also everybody talks also about Jessica Chastain’s performance and how ruthless she is. She is certainly bold compared to her husband, but besides the scene with David Oyelowo at the daughter’s birthday, I didn’t find her really cruel. I thought she was just silly and trying to act badass but failing. In my eyes she did. I wanted more time with these characters and more development but probably this isn’t what the director wanted with this film. C+

Obsession (Brian De Palma, 1976)

Clearly an homage to Vertigo, Obsession tells the story of a man whose wife and daughter are kidnapped and killed. Fifteend years later he meets a woman looking like his wife in Italy. Obsession is a classy thriller that couldn’t have been done in the 50’s by Hitchcock because it would be too disturbing. The twist is a bit forced and feels like that’s the only thing to get out of the film. Even the big reveal is something similar to Vertigo in that is just such an unnecessary complicated plan, just like the whole Madeline/Judy thing in Vertigo. However I don’t know if it works that great here. I liked the score by Bernard Hermann, among his last work, which was so sprawling and epic. Genevieve Bujold was great in the scene revealing the twist. Really, really good. C+

American Sniper (Clint Eastwood, 2014)

This film was too patriotic for me. These pro-American films make me want to puke. This film made 90 million dollars two weeks ago at the box office in one weekend. So Americans really like this film. I didn’t know who Chris Kyle was before. Apparently he was a very damaged guy. Personally, apart from the whether to kill a kid dilemma at the beginning and the portrayal of PTSD, I was bored by this film. I am again surprised this got so many nominations at the Oscars. Even Bradley Cooper got a nomination for this role. I found it, besides the things I just mentioned, to be an empty film with not much to offer. Cooper was good though. Also, it’s funny how Sienna Miller played last year twice the wife of a man to be murdered, the other one being Foxcatcher. Odd thing. C+

Laggies (Lynn Shelton, 2014)

I really wanted to like this film. I did appreciated the portrayal of lost people as I am lost myself and don’t really know what to do with my life, so I sympathized with Keira’s character but I hope I don’t get to her age without knowing what to do with my life. It’s supposed to be a feel good film and but by the end it loses me by going the usual rom-com way. Dumping the overly dedicated, perfectly fine boyfriend for a guy you just met. Stuff like that. And Ellie Kemper’s character was so annoying. I really wanted to like this film. C

Into The Woods (Rob Marshall, 2014)

Well this was so boring. I usually like musicals, mostly the spectacle but there is nothing to find here. Apart from the dedicated performances, most notably Emily Blunt, Meryl Streep, of course, and Chris Pine, I didn’t like this film. Not a big fan of this type of mixing between singing and speaking. I am also not familiar with the Broadway show so I wasn’t as involved in this film as others who saw the show. However The Golden Globes joke about Meryl Streep and this film was priceless. C

The Imitation Game (Morten Tyldum, 2014)

I hated this film. Hated hated hated it. And the fact that it got 8 Oscar nominations makes me so angry. What is wrong with the world? This film is so mediocre, uneven, cliche, superficial and totally undeserving of portraying the story of Alan Turing. Plus it doesn’t even explain what the hell they were doing with that machine they used to crack the Enigma code. What, did they think I’m so stupid I won’t understand I tiny bit of what they did with that machine? This film is the equivalent of TV shows with a genius jerk a la House. The film was sold as a big Oscar film so of course everyone is blinded and can’t seen how average this film is. I’m sick of these Oscar bait films and this is one of the worst of them. Why did Benedict Cumberbatch got nominated for this? What new things does he bring to the table in terms of acting? And what about Keira Knightley? What did she do so special to deserve an Oscar nomination? But what angers me more is the nomination for Best Director. Why did this guy get an Oscar nomination? And this is where the discussion about Selma comes in.

The didn’t even portray his life properly. They didn’t focus on the oppression he suffered for being gay. I don’t know why they didn’t go with that approach, the Oscar voters usually love that stuff. Also he was chemically castrated. That is a horrible, horrible thing to happen to someone but they mention it briefly at the end like he just got a vasectomy. What a terribly mediocre film. Why do people keep falling for this kind of films? D

 

TV Viewing:

The Decalogue: Episodes 1 & 2 (1989)

I managed to see only the first two episodes of this beautiful miniseries. The first one was haunting, beautiful and really hit me. The second one is not as strong but still very powerful. This is arthouse TV like it hasn’t been done before. Have you seen this miniseries? If yes, what are your favorite episodes? A

Seinfeld: Season 9 (1997 – 1998) 

You can sense that things are coming to an end. I was getting tired of silly Kramer and evil George. But I will miss watching new episodes of this show. It’s really unique and so, so much better than Friends. If you want to laugh, watch Seinfeld. A

Black Mirror (2011-)

I’ve been meaning to check out this modern day Twilight Zone for a while and finally watched the entire series. There are only seven episodes, so there is not hard to consume. The first episode is unlike the other rest of the series and the one that focuses the least on how technology affects our life. The second one, Fifteen Million Merits, is by far the most depressing one. The third and fourth episodes are the most minimalist in terms of story and also my favorites. The fifth episode is the most intense one and the twist is bonkers. Surprised to see the lead actress in this episode played the annoying friend in the ABC romantic comedy series A to Z. Talk about range. The sixth one is entertaining and has a point but also think it’s the weakest episode. The Christmas special was great too. It covered many things. If you like smart science fiction, I recommend this show. So this is my top 7 Black Mirror episodes:

7. Waldo’s Moment – B

6. The National Anthem – B+

5. Christmas Special – B+

4. Fifteen Million Merits – A-

3. White Bear – A-

2. Be Right Back – A

1. The Entire History Of You – A

Togetherness (2015-)

This show is so sweet and funny. You laugh, you cry, you smile, you cringe. It’s a really nice small show about marriage, friendship, success, adulthood and parenting. Really, really like it. Already got a second season. A

Man Seeking Woman (2015-)

This is a unique approach to the wimpy guy/dating world sitcom. It presents the hardships of dating in a fantastical way. Man Seeking Woman tells the story of Josh, a guy who recently got dumped by his long time girlfriend and is thrown back into the dating pool. Things like the ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend being Hitler or the girl his sister sets him up with being a troll are metaphors for how hard it is, especially in this world, to meet potential partners.  It presents things like most of us see them. It presents the characters’ insecurities in an honest way. I hope this show goes on for a long time but it looks expensive because of all the special effects. B+

Empire: Pilot (2015-)

Pretty much what I think Scandal feels like. This was a wild success. It was an alright pilot, setting every character with a problem. I liked Taraji P. Henson, she seemed like she stood out of all the other actors. Her character has color, she is the sassy ex-wife of Terrence Howard who just got out of prison where she went to because of him, if I remember correctly. The flashbacks show her in a different light and I appreciated that. However, I will not continue watching. Watched the pilot out of curiosity. There is not enough time in the world and I’m just not eager enough to continue with Empire. It looks like a soap opera. And I just don’t like the music that much. B

Schitt’s Creek: Pilot (2015-)

Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy in a sitcom. How could this go wrong? Well, it did. This show about a family of rich people losing their fortune and moving in the only place they’re allowed to keep, a town called Schitt’s Creek that they bought as a joke. But all four characters are insufferable, especially the kids. Also, the creepy guy from the second Scary Movie is in this and he’s just as annoying. It already has a second season, so they have time to fix things up. D

What did you watch this month? Have you seen anything from this list?

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7 comments

  1. Two of the films you saw this month made my list for top dogs of 2014 – TOP FIVE…which was *far* smarter than most comedies of its ilk…and SELMA, which was actually my choice for the best film of the year.

    That’s a great month of viewing!

    Like

    1. Yes, Top Five is certainly more than just a romantic comedy. I never expected the film to be this good. And Selma was a very powerful film with fantastic performances. I didn’t know anything about the King’s march before.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

  2. The Decaogue is probably my favorite tv-series of all-time. E1, 4, 5, and 6 are my favorites, the latter two were turned into longer versions for the cinema, because they are so strong.

    Wonder Boys is one of those awards season films tht got a lot of attention a few years ago. I’ve seen it twice and think its forgettable.

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    1. The Decalogue’s first 2 episodes had a great impact on me. I was deeply moved by this series so far. Looking forward to seeing the rest of it.

      Wonder Boys was a little strange. Back in 2000 when the film was released I didn’t follow the Oscar season. I know it won for the Bob Dylan song but did it get attention for other categories besides Best Original Song? I can’t see what for…

      Thanks for the comment!

      Like

      1. Glad you discovered The Decalogue, I reviewed each episode on my blog.

        Wonder Boys, Michael Douglas was nom for a Golden Globe. and the film was nom for writing and editing at the oscars. The director Curtis Hanson was a big deal at the time, three years earlier L.A. Confidential was an even bigger awards season movie, so Wonder Boys was expected to be another great film.

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  3. @ Chris: I wouldn’t call it a discovery. I knew The Decalogue existed, I just didn’t get around to watching it. I didn’t know you reviewed the entire series. Please leave a link to the post.

    Wow, I get it now. I love L.A. Confidential. The hype is understandable, that film was great. I also read that the book has many fans so maybe that is another reason why the film got some attention. It’s hard to follow something as great as L.A. Confidential with a film about strange writers.

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