Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Movies: The Year 2014 - A View Into The Rear-View Mirror

(Drivebycuriosity) - 2014 was a solid movie year. Like the years before it delivered at least one spectacular cinema event: Under The Skin. This is the most electrifying film I have seen for a while. Director Jonathan Glazer focuses on Scarlett Johansson as a sexually predatory alien camouflaged by a human skin. The camera follows "her" closely and shows how the alien tries to learn and to handle the humans. This leads to visually stunning allegories which leave room for the imagination. Watching Scarlett alluring her "prey" is breathtaking. The movie is almost a one-woman show - and highly erotical. The outstanding cinematography created pictures that are burning into the brain. Some scenes could make you fall in love with the Scottish landscape, others create surrealistic and  intoxicating optical effects even Stanley Kubrick would be proud off.

It seems 2014 was the year of Scarlett Johansson, who also shone in "Lucy" where she plays a woman who gets infected by a super drug which increases her brain function capacity ten-times. She transforms into a kind of goddess which telekinetic power, ability to travel over time and space and much more. It`s a lot of fun watching her fighting the Asian drug lord and his gang who had caused this transformation.

Scarlett was also the voice of the AI - a computer program which is learning, adapting and able to communicate and to understand its environment - in the movie "Her", who had a relationship with a man. The idea seemed a bit pathetic to me, but otherwise there were some interesting ideas about technological advances in the new future. The busy actress also made supposedly a lot of money in a blockbuster for the market of young adults (the average US movie visitors) : "Captain American: The Winter Soldier". Besides that she had another independent movie, "Chef", which I also missed.

Tilda Swinton had also a strong year. The actress impersonated a vampire very realisticly in Only Lovers Left Alive,  one of the best movies of the year and the vampire genre. Her natural paleness, her androgenous style and her restrained way of acting made her to the most convincing exemplar of the bloodsuckers I have ever seen on screen. The film tells about a married couple, both centuries old vampires, who strolls through the nightly suburban Detroit and Tangiers (Morocco). Their "life" gets more and more complicated and challenged.

Swinton also delivered a brilliant performance in "Snowpiercer", where she acted as a representative of the arrogant upper class. After a failed climate experiment the whole earth is an uninhabitable ice desert. The surviving rest of humans lives in a super-train, the "Snowpiercer", which runs around the whole globe over a year´s time. The train, which is very long and has many different segments, is comparable to a spaceship but it also can be understood as an allegory to planet earth. I was fascinated by the cinematopgraphy which showed a stunning artic world.

Tilda also appeared  in "The Grand Budapest Hotel" in a supporting role. The film is set in a mountainside hotel in a fictional European state in the 1930s. Director Wes Anderson, one of the stars on the firmament of independet cinema, delivered a kaleidoscope of funny and sometimes dramatical events and spiced this with a lot of slap stick.

I also enjoyed to see Eva Green  in "Sin City - A Dame to Kill For" -  a surreal trip through a sinister but sexy dream world. The former Bond Girl was even more bitchy and seductive then in "Casino Royale" and "The Dreamers". Watching Jessica Alba dancing in the club was also breathtaking. And there were more eye cookies including Jaime King, Rosario Dawson & Juno Temple. And Lady Gaga had an interesting cameo.

                                                            Female Pleasures

Lars von Trier, who is one the most provocative movie directors of our times, had  a memorable comeback as well. In 2011 he delivered "Melancholia", one of the best movies of the decade. Last year`s Nymphomaniac I and II wasn`t quite as strong but Charlotte Gainsbourg impressed by telling the story of her life and her addiction to sex and the intercourse with a lot of men. The film is a rich analytical discourse and offers a lot of philosophy - about pleasure and female sexuality of course, but also about coming of age, life in general, the compositions of Johann Sebastian Bach, the importance of Fibonacci Numbers and much more.  The movie has in both parts a lot of graphic sex scenes but it is also intellectual, very fresh, powerful, thrilling and sometimes humorous.

The greatest positive surprise of the year was the Scandinavian movie Force Majeure, which ran with English subtitles. A marriage suddenly falls into a crisis caused by an unforeseen incident. The film is a cinematic masterpiece about relationships, spiced with philosophy, humor and surprises. I enjoyed the perfect structure between casual family live, sudden dramatic and funny scenes. The spellbinding cinematography delivered stunning pictures from the awesome mountain landscape of the French Alps. It is a shame that the Oscar committee overlooked it.

The year had more positive surprises. On of them was Tim`s Vermeer, a gorgeous documentary about a Texan engineer, software developer and inventor who painted an exact copy of Vermeer´s "The Music Lesson". He used a self-constructed camera obscura and a mirror in order to prove the thesis, that the Dutch master, who lived in the 16th century, worked with a camera obscura, a precursor of a movie projector, to create his stunning effects. I was impressed how stubbornly methodical and painstakingly the Texan realized his obsession and enjoyed the beauty of Vermeer´s paintings which fanned my appetite to see more of his work.

Some of the blockbusters also appealed. I had much fun with the dark comedy"Gone Girl" where a man  is questioned by the cops because his wife had disappeared. It´s a roller coaster of feints & surprises and dealt with various topics like romantics, adultery, deception, obsession and how they made fun of cable TV and the phenomena of mass hysteria. Maybe "Gone Girl" is a critical study about today´s society spiced with a sharp dialogue. Here one quote: Husband: "You fucking cunt!"  Wife: "I'm the cunt you married! The only time you liked yourself was when you were trying to be someone this cunt might like. I'm not a quitter... I'm that cunt." The fast paced "Nightcrawler" confronts the audience with Louis (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is starting a career as a freelance video reporter on the streets of Los Angeles and does anything to get exciting video material (footage) to sell it to the TV channels, what leads to dramatic developments. The film is a mirror of the contemporary media mixed with thrilling elements - and an intense experience and breath taking.

"Interstellar" gave me mixed feelings. Basically I enjoyed the play with the idea of wormholes as short cuts between different parts of the universe and other science fiction topics. I indulged into the awesome pictures of space, the earth and other planets & fascinating images of space ships, extraterrestrial worlds and wormholes. Otherwise I disliked the illogical and kitchy plot which catered  the mass market and an audience who doesn`t care much about science and science fiction.


                                                             Pure Cinema Magic

I also had mixed feeling with "Inherent Vice", which is an complicated and ambitious work of cinematic art (directed by Paul Thomas Anderson).  I didn`t care much about the absurd and chaotic plot but I enjoyed the eclectic roller coaster of hilarious, sometimes funny and sometimes dramatic scenes and ideas which werespiced with a lot of jokes and slapstick. And one of the hottest sex scenes of independent cinema also compensated for the challenges of the plot. Birdman gained its strength from the performances of Michael Keaton, Edward Norton & the enticing Emma Stone. I indulged in his awesome very long camera drives. The camera followed the actors almost wherever they went and sometimes circled around them, sucking the audience into the plot, almost intoxicating the viewers - pure cinema magic.The film  is a proof that Hollywood didn`t lose interest in making entertaining but respectable movies.

"Life of Crime" makes fun of kidnapping . A group a thugs abduct the wife of a seemingly wealthy man, which leads to a chain of surprising and hilarious events. Fun to watch. "The Trip To Italy"follows the Britsh comedians Steve Coogan & Rob Brydon on a travel to Italy where their characters are reviewing 6 top restaurants for a newspaper. Most time the camera focuses on their faces and follows their dialogues and sketches. I enjoyed their laconic but humorous comments about the world around us and had the most laughs when they were imitating the voices and speaking in the manors of some Hollywood stars. I loved the gorgeous landscapes (mostly at the Italian Rivera coast). Some places justify even the cliché of "heaven on earth". And the served meals at the classy restaurants looked "mouth-watering".

2014 proved that Hollywood still delivers good cinema besides the flood of sequels and adaptions of video games & comic books.

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