Written Christian Petzold & Harun Farocki
Directed by Christian Petzold
The post-World War II period in Germany has proven to, when used as a setting, provide some of the most atmospheric and rich stories in cinema. You have this sliver of time after the defeat of the Nazis and before the nation was cleaved in half by the Cold War where society was attempting to redefine its identity in the wake of cultural horrors. There were survivors of the Holocaust re-entering Berlin, some with a desire to move past what that had experienced and others never forgetting which of their neighbors betrayed their trust. This is the landscape of mature, nuanced thrillers where each interaction can be dealt with a delicate touch, and shocking reveals are as gentle as a feather yet devastate people to their cores.
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Written by Jon Ronson & Peter Straughan
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson
When given an actor like Michael Fassbender, a man with a handsome leading actor face and square jaw, the last thing you would think to do is put him under a paper mache head for ¾ of your movie. In doing this though the filmmakers give Fassbender some freedoms he might not be afforded in more traditional roles in films that call on him to be a smoldering lover or a dashing hero. The character of Frank is a cipher, created by comedian and musician Chris Sievey. Sievey used Frank as a way to express the strangeness and absurdity he might have felt too nervous about showcasing with his face revealed. The film Frank, very different from the real world Frank, is a mentally ill man who is unable to see himself as a valuable person and hides in this mask, which he sees as the ideal form of a face.
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Written by Gregory Burke
Directed by Yann Demange
In 1971, Northern Ireland was facing the height of the Troubles, a period where the people of that portion of the United Kingdom were in an all-out war with each other. These conflicts were based primarily on the divide between Catholic and Protestant but were based more on those who were loyal to the British throne and those who sought independence from the kingdom. The film ‘71 follows recruit Gary Hook who is thrown into the chaos of Northern Ireland with little understanding of the factions and nuance of relationships. He’s just there to do a job, supporting local police as they do residence searches for weapons caches. Things turn south quickly, and Gary finds himself trapped and wounded on the streets of Belfast. He’ll spend a night of terror, unsure of whom to trust and testing his mettle to survive.
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Mr. Turner (2014)
Written & Directed by Mike Leigh
I loved Mr. Turner! We’re in an age of the most cookie cutter formulaic biopic. Look at films like Bohemian Rhapsody, which follows a rigorous plot structure that doesn’t provide insight into its central figure. It’s not a new problem; it’s just so prevalent. Mr. Turner has no interest in exploring the early years of the English painter J.M.W. Turner, there’s no scene which shows him picking up a paintbrush for the first time as if guided by a divine hand. When we meet the main character, he’s in the last 25 years of his life, past a broken marriage where he doesn’t claim his two daughters, and whose only human connections are with his manager/father and an occasional tryst with his psoriasis riddled maid Hannah. This is not a pretty story but an honest one.
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Written by Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch
Directed by Sean Baker
From the opening moments, you know you are in for a nonstop burst of energy in Tangerine. Much like Sin-Dee who refuses to smoke a joint because she only does uppers, this film has a continual momentum. This dynamic is aided by the technique of filmmaking on display, an iPhone with some apps and at times a Steadicam rig. That sense of rolling energy is supported by this incredibly new mode of making movies and with our two trans main characters. Sean Baker is doing something very experimental yet familiar, made apparent with his use of the old standard “Babes in Toyland.” Baker wants to blend the modern with the classic and create a new kind of film.
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Written by Andrey Zvyagintsev & Oleg Negin
Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev
In American cinema, there is a tradition of the plucky underdog who has all the odds stacked against him and still manages to come out on top. There is no such archetype in Russian films where the idea of a lone figure having the ability to overcome the bureaucratic power is laughable. Inspired by the bulldozer rampage of Marvin Heemeyer of Colorado, director Andrey Zvyagintsev reimagines that story through a Russian lens of powerlessness. Leviathan is such a searing pointed portrayal of modern Russia and its ugliness that Zvyagintsev, who had received government funds to help finance this film, caused the Ministry of Culture to rewrite their conditions on how a movie gets their support. Films must not “defile” the Russian culture, which is another way of saying they must support the party line and be propaganda.
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James White (2014)
Written & Directed by Josh Mond
The first thing you notice is the extreme close up of the young man’s face, the titular James White. Next, you see the abstracted background, unfocused to the point of becoming an impressionistic blur. The message is clear: we’re going to spend some time getting uncomfortably close to James, in his head, seeing the world from his perspective, as ugly as that might get. Josh Mond has given us a challenging and often unsympathetic figure in James White, a version of himself written as part of the director’s exploration of his own mother’s death from cancer three years prior.
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Written & Directed by Richard Linklater
Seeing the connectivity and influences that have made your life can be a very daunting task. There are profound moments that stand out, but they alone are not what shaped you into the person that exists today. Filmmaker Richard Linklater decided to attempt to tell the story of one person over the course of the actor’s actually childhood and adolescence, everyone in the cast contributing real-life experiences in a semi-improvised movie. The result is Boyhood, an ambitious piece of cinema but one that doesn’t entirely propel itself into a pantheon of greatest films, in my opinion.
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Force Majeure (2014)
Written & Directed by Ruben Östlund
Tomas, his wife Ebba, and their two children are on a skiing vacation at a luxury resort in the French Alps. While eating lunch on the deck of a restaurant, they witness a controlled avalanche that suddenly becomes much scarier and looks to threaten their safety. Tomas runs leaving his family behind, but the incident turns out not to be dangerous. The rest of their trip is plagued by the fact that the patriarch abandoned his family in the face of potential death. This is exacerbated when Tomas’ old buddy Mats shows up with his much younger girlfriend, Fanni. Mats tries to defend his pal, but that creates friction in his and Fanni’s relationship. The two men suddenly find themselves questioning their masculinity and place as the “heads of their families.”
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Written by E. Max Frye & Dan Futterman
Directed by Bennett Miller
Mark Schultz is three years out from his wrestling gold medal win at the ‘84 Olympics and is feeling the pain of being quickly forgotten. He’s also stuck in his brother, Dave’s shadow, who also won gold and is now working as a coach at Wexler University while preparing for a bid at the ‘88 Olympics. One day Mark receives a phone call from eccentric multimillionaire John Du Pont. Du Pont has decided he wants to support Mark and the Olympic wrestling team with hopes of another gold. He opines about the loss of “American greatness” but as time wears on it becomes clear Du Pont sees himself as the leader, coach, and comrade of these wrestlers. An unhealthy power dynamic develops between Mark and Du Pont that only worsens when Dave arrives to act as the “assistant coach.” It’s clear this arrangement is heading for disaster.
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