By Dave Watson
It’s generally accepted that I am, well, a bit of a prick – a hard-to-please movie snob who hates anything popular.
At a preview screening of 15 minutes of footage from the Rock’s awful Hercules movie, another critic refused to sit next to me with the words: “I can’t sit next to you Dave, you’re a cunt, you’ll suck all the joy out of this for me!”
And she was right, I would have. I radiate displeasure. But despite the overwhelming mediocrity of most of this year’s big films, for the first time in decades, I saw more films I loved than hated and any of these films could’ve made it onto this list – The Rover, Blue Ruin, The Drop, Stranger By The Lake, the still unreleased-in-the-UK Snowpiercer, The Signal, The Purge: Anarchy, Stations Of The Cross, The Machine, Cheap Thrills, The Guest, and Oculus – but below are a baker’s dozen of the films I’m glad I saw at the movies.
Silent Sonata (Circus Fantasticus)
A lyrical, surreal, near perfect work of melancholy beauty, Slovenian writer/director Janez Burger's dialogue-free magical-realist fairytale is an eloquent visually gorgeous reflection on the significance of art and its power to transform our lives.
It’s been quite a year for Skins graduate Jack O’Connell: starring in Yann Demange’s Troubles-set thriller ’71, giving the Spartans a run for their money in cartoonish swords-and-sandals epic 300: Rise Of An Empire, and being handpicked by Angelina Jolie to carry her WW2 tale of endurance Unbroken. But as he struts defiantly into prison in the opening scene of David Mackenzie’s Starred Up, members of the audience are in no doubt that they’re watching the future of British cinema.
Nymphomaniac Volume 1 & 2
There’s plenty of tit but very little titillation in Lars von Trier’s darkly funny, subversive, erotic odyssey, a cheeky, intelligent, deliberate provocation from an artist at the top of his game and a refreshingly adult film in a cinematic landscape choked with children’s superhero films.
How well can we ever know the ones we love? Modern horror is rarely as intimate as newlywed Harry Treadaway coming to suspect there’s something very, very wrong with his new bride, the phenomenal Rose Leslie, in writer/director Leigh Janiak’s slow-burning, creepy little nightmare Honeymoon.
Goodbye To Language 3D
It’s a fine line between genius and bollocks and, at 83, French cinema’s oldest enfant terrible Jean-Luc Godard is still skipping merrily along it with the playfully subversive, eye-boggling Goodbye To Language.
Under The Skin
Dark, hypnotic and squalidly beautiful, Jonathan Glazer’s tale of Scarlett Johansson’s sexy alien predator adrift in Glasgow, Under The Skin, is unique in today’s cinema – a head-scratching poetic riddle willing to dazzle and disappoint audiences in equal measure.
Edge Of Tomorrow
It’s Groundhog D-Day as a quirk of fate condemns Tom Cruise’s cowardly army spin doctor to relive the same fateful day again and again, fighting, dying and being reborn, trapped in a closed loop of time as he struggles to save the world from an alien invasion in the only intelligent, funny and exciting blockbuster of the summer (that’s right, screw Guardians Of The Galaxy and Yawn Of The Planet Of The Apes): Doug Liman’s Edge Of Tomorrow.
Cold In July
Starts out dark and just gets murkier as Stake Land director Jim Mickle serves up a morally complex, gritty, atmospheric thriller punctuated by sudden, percussive, almost matter-of-fact bursts of violence that’s not afraid to go to a really unexpected, dark and nasty place right out of the grindhouse with great performances from Michael C Hall and the iconic Sam Shepard and the joy of watching Don Johnson, DON FREAKING JOHNSON, steal the film right from under them as a sleazy, pig-farming, rhinestone cowboy private eye.
A heartfelt coming-of-age drama and the year’s most chilling, and most ordinary, horror film, writer/director Lucía Puenzo’s (XXY, The Fish Child) Wakolda is a quietly terrifying portrait of the creeping, insidious nature of evil as a young, underdeveloped Argentine girl bonds with the silkily seductive German doctor staying at her family’s hotel in a small resort town high in the Patagonian mountains. It’s 1960, the town is full of convalescing Nazi war criminals and the doctor’s name is Mengele…
Both a tense, sweaty, murder mystery and a fascinating study of the institutionalised racism and bigotry that lies at the heart of Australian society, Ivan Sen’s neo-noir trades on the iconography of the American West as Aboriginal detective Aaron Pedersen finds himself caught between the white community who are openly contemptuous of him and ostracised by the Aboriginal community as he uncovers a sinister underworld of rural meth labs, police corruption, racism and casual murder while investigating the killing of a local prostitute.
It’s almost impossible to review James Ward Byrkit’s low budget, slow-burning, cerebral headscratcher Coherence without offering spoilers so all I’ll say is that it’s like an episode of The Twilight Zone directed by Bunuel as a mismatched bunch of successful, middle class, middle aged creative types meet for dinner and find reality spiraling out of control as the Earth passes through the tail of a mysterious comet. Subtle and low-key, Coherence may not always be coherent but it’s an unnerving little mindbender that crawls under your skin.
In Order Of Disappearance
Imagine Death Wish crossed with Yojimbo with Homer Simpson’s Mr Plow in place of the taciturn samurai and you’re within a snowball’s toss of Hans Petter Moland’s blackly funny revenge thriller In Order Of Disappearance which sees vengeful father and local Citizen Of The Year of his small snowbound town, Stellan Skarsgard, spark a brutal gang war and a spiral of tit-for-tat killings as he takes out the gangsters who murdered his son. Spiritually closer to the anarchic spirit of Jo Nesbo’s Headhunters and Jackpot than po-faced Nordic Noir, In Order Of Disappearance is a joy.
“We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars… Now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.” We may spend the first third or so of Interstellar contemplating the dirt as an eco apocalypse blights the Earth, but for Christopher Nolan the stars are our destination in an intimately epic space opera that’s as much about the problems of absentee fathers working away from home as it is saving the world.
And the rest…
It would be wrong to call these films The Worst Of The Year – none of them are as inept as Scar Tissue, as awful as No Good Deed, as laughably offensive as Sabotage – but each and every one of them is a banal, idiotic triumph of mediocrity.
The Guardians Of The Galaxy
Yup, I’m gonna go there coz no one else will, I’m calling bullshit on The Guardians Of The Galaxy! Despite my healthy 40-year-old adult’s aversion to children’s superhero films, I actually was looking forward to this one. The trailers looked fun, it had a rodent firing a machine gun and Karen Gillan as a sleek, sexy and bald, evil alien assassin. But every idea it stole from the likes of Star Wars, Serenity, Indiana Jones et al, just reminded me how good those films were and how much I’d rather be watching them. By the film’s unnoticeable climax I realised that I’d rather be watching the Roger Corman-produced Battle Beyond The Stars. And as soon as the film finished, I went home and did just that and had a much better time. And I’m sorry all you geeky fanboys and girls, to me Star Lord will always be the douchebag buddy James McAvoy lamps with a keyboard in Wanted.
Self-indulgent misogyny for hipsters who’ve rubbed one out over Siri.
I’m not sure how you manage to make a beautiful young naked girl wandering the streets of Paris in only hooker high heels while bleeding from her torn, ravaged vagina not just boring but unsympathetic but somehow Claire Denis has managed it.
12 Years A Slave
Two-plus hours of very pretty, photogenic misery porn precision tooled to engender hand wringing and guilt in what will probably be it’s predominately white middle class audience, a better title than 12 Years A Slave may have been Terrence Malick’s Roots. Except Roots was good.
The Zero Theorem
Anyone still wondering why Terry Gilliam finds it so hard to get films made need look no further than the stillborn The Zero Theorem. Gilliam films just aren’t very good.
The Raid 2: Berandal
Bigger, bloodier and more brutal than the first film, The Raid 2 is also pretty boring, aimed squarely at fanboy geeks who want nothing more than the next "cool" fight scene. And NO chop-socky film needs to be TWO-AND-A-HALF HOURS LONG!
Self-consciously kookier than Zooey Deschanel tap dancing down a flight of stairs while playing Smells Like Teen Spirit on the ukulele, Frank is wank.
Not even as good as the ‘80s TV ad for Chewits where a city-trashing monster is distracted by a lorry-load of sweeties.
Possibly the most universally fellated, vastly over-rated film in living memory, everyone loves Boyhood. Everyone but me. Richard Linklater points a camera at an uncharismatic kid who can’t act and films him a couple days a year, every year, for 12 years AND NOTHING HAPPENS! The cinematic equivalent of a YouTube montage where someone takes a daily photo of themselves, there’s no story to speak off, the kid never learns to act and God, time has not been kind to Ethan Hawke! These days, he looks like Dorian Gray’s picture. It’s not even a fresh idea, Michael Winterbottom having gotten there first with 2012’s far more effective Everyday. If you really want to watch bad actors age before your eyes, just watch the Harry Potter movies in a marathon over a weekend. At least over the decade it took to make them, the kids learned to act.
Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For
A repellently nasty, sleazy exercise in misogyny, Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For is simply vile. The seconds you have spent reading this are more than the steaming pile of woman-hating excrement deserves.