JC looks back over cinema releases for the past year
1 We Are The Best
A couple of thirteen-year-old girls in Sweden form a punk band. They’ve got the attitude and the hair, but they can’t play a note. It doesn’t matter, because the most important lesson any of us can learn is to ‘go for it’. They rope in a stitched-up blonde who has been studying classical music, and their journey together, with its peaks and troughs, its jealousies and awakenings, is everything that life has always been about. Poignant, celebratory, triumphant – with remarkable performances and oodles of love.
2 The Great Beauty
La Dolce Vita fifty years on – none of us is getting any younger, none of us can reclaim what is long gone. But there are compensations, and Jep Gambardella has found new pleasures to cherish, new insights to sustain his affectionate detachment. Director Paolo Sorrentino’s sardonic but forgiving eye sees all too clearly the hollowness of our pretensions, but if we are manacled by our follies we are liberated by our quest for love and beauty. As in Fellini’s masterpiece, the eternal city, Rome, plays its profound part.
3 The Broken Circle Breakdown
Who would have thunk it? A Belgian film about country-and-western singers? Director Felix van Groeningen employs time jumps that jar at first but, by the last scene, when the unorthodoxy of his approach has found its rhythm, the story he’s told is devastating. Everybody wants a happy ending, but life has a contrary way of not always co-operating. Fired by passion, Didier and Elise soar to the heights, but, like Icarus, they are destined to come crashing back to Earth. Incredibly moving, with great music.
Sometimes your preconceptions are all wrong. Too many movies that wish to address issues such as prejudices against ‘the other’ are burdened by a sanctimonious tone that ends up only preaching to the converted. When a bunch of gays in London join up with striking Welsh miners, the result might easily have been a tiresome diatribe – but it’s not. Set against the backdrop of Thatcherism (it’s not unlike the wonderful Made in Dagenham), the mood is vibrant, the struggle uplifting and the people real. It’s also unexpectedly moving.
Low budget and without imported stars to boost its appeal at the box office, Craig Monahan’s little gem is easily the best Australian movie of the year – by a country mile. Sent to a prison farm, long-term crim Viktor (Don Hany) is assigned the task of looking after injured birds. On the wings of an eagle his dignity is restored. Self-worth finds its natural offspring in compassion, and compassion never fails to lighten the burden of others. A film of great wisdom and warmth – and the eagle is fantastic.
6 The Lunch Box
Serendipity intervenes in all of our lives. Saajan is a clerk in Mumbai. His lonely days are all the same until a lunch that he has routinely ordered is not the one that is delivered. Ila, a housewife being cheated on, prepares her husband’s curries and rice with dutiful care – it is a meal she made that arrives on Saajan’s desk. They exchange notes, their communications grow more intimate. An exquisitely sad movie, quiet but sexually charged and beautifully acted by Irrfan Khan and Nimrat Kaur.
7 Begin Again
Maybe it’s just because he has ‘been there, done that’, but writer/director John Carney, as a former member of Irish band The Frames, has made the best mozvie about what it’s like to be a muso since… well, since his own Once (2006). Keira Knightley brains it as the singer/songwriter who will not be bowed by the industry. Scruffy Mark Ruffalo brings a wasted warmth to his down-at-heel record producer. She’s playing at a bar that he walks into one night and they become each other’s perfect chance encounter.
8 Living is Easy With Eyes Closed
More often than not it’s the Europeans who are most keen to emphasise the importance of the arts in our daily lives, and hence in the society we build. David Trueba has taken as his subject John Lennon and the timelessness of what he wrote. Schoolteacher Antonio, a Beatles fanatic, heads to a coastal village where Lennon is making a movie. On the way he picks up a couple of teenage hitchhikers. Their road-trip through Franco’s Spain is a tutorial in the power of words and the efficacy of their meaning.
There’s a lot of stuff buried back there in everybody’s family history. Woody receives notification that he has won a million dollars in a lottery. It’s a scam, but he believes it and sets out on foot to travel from Montana to Nebraska to collect his money. His mission opens up into one of pathetic grandeur as his son, brother and ex-wife gather to cajole and dissuade him but ultimately defend him against the greed and malice of others. Rapprochement can be hard earned, but its reward is priceless. Shot in brooding B/W.
10 Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes
Recent advances in CGI have seen it – in Hollywood, at least – knock narrative for six as the primary concern of many filmmakers. Believing, apparently, that only young blokes who want to see explosions and crashes go to the flicks, studios now expect the rest of us to put our brain into neutral and meekly accept their dross. Matt Reeves puts the effects crew in their place and bucks the trend in a sci-fi epic that is relevant, confronting and ominous. It is, in every way, a worthy descendant of Franklin J Schaffner’s 1960 classic.
The Joe Cockers
Noah, Captain America, The Other Woman, X-Men: Days Of Future Past, A Million Ways To Die In The West, Edge Of Tomorrow, Sex Tape, Mrs Brown’s Boys D’movie, Lucy, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Interstellar.