With Marvel Comics dominating the cineplex – and teen-centric tales of dystopic future worlds running a close second – the movie menu has been both limited and lackluster these last several months. And just in case that fog of banality obscured some of the few original and impressive films that did roll through town, here are 10 recommendations worth pursuing via DVD rental or TV pay per view.
Anyone seeking a quietly dramatic acting tour de force should look for Locke, which stars Tom Hardy as a construction manager who is driving 90 minutes to London – and watching his life as a family man and respected professional go to pieces in the process. What is almost a radio play set inside a moving car is one of the most tense dramas of the year. The acting is similarly brilliant in the John le Carré political thriller A Most Wanted Man, which stars the tragically deceased Philip Seymour Hoffman as a German intelligence officer who struggles both with personal problems and the murk of lies and conspiracies in the post-9/11 world.
How about a jetlag-free trip to Europe? The immensely talented Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan are at the centre of Le Week-End, an acerbic romantic comedy-drama about an English couple traveling to Paris to try to recapture the romance of their long-ago honeymoon. Jeff Goldblum adds eccentric charm to this well-written squabblefest. More whimsical – albeit more violent – is The Grand Budapest Hotel, the latest film from the irrepressibly quirky Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom). Spanning decades, the story involves the exploits of a legendary concierge, played marvelously by Ralph Fiennes. The storyline is possibly odder in A Great Beauty, a love-it-or-hate-it film that uses a dreamily poetic style to explore the memories of a famed writer in Rome who is taking stock of his life on the occasion of his 65th birthday.
A literal journey transpires in the lyrical and absorbing Tracks, which stars Mia Wasikowska in the true-life story of a young woman in 1970s Australia who spent most of a year walking 1,700 miles through the Outback with four camels for company. And after snarking Marvel Comics in the introduction to this column, I must backtrack to heap praise on their jocular and entertaining Guardians of the Galaxy. Aside from plausibly using a “mix tape” of 1980s pop tunes as the soundtrack for a crazy spin across the Milky Way, this ensemble comedy was unpretentious, unexpected, and clever.
Ever yearn for those long-ago days when sci-fi films were mysterious and moody rather than just showcases of needless gore and endless digital effects? If so, check out the truly weird Under The Skin, which stars Scarlett Johansson as a space alien (maybe) who inexplicably lures random young men in Scotland into a disembodied death (maybe). Definitely for those who cherish their art films on the atmospherically enigmatic side. A very different kind of compelling experience is offered by Finding Vivian Maier, which had several sellouts at Cinecenta. This documentary tells the remarkable tale of a mysterious nanny who, after she died, was revealed to be a brilliant photographer who had secretly taken over 150,000 candid snapshots of people and architecture.
And notwithstanding competition from The Lunchbox and The Hundred-Foot Journey, the tastiest foodie movie of 2014 was undoubtedly Chef. Written, directed by, and starring Jon Favreau, this festival favourite is about a gourmet chef who can no longer compromise himself by working in a corporate environment. Chucking everything aside, he goes on a quest to reinvent himself as a man, a father, and a chef. Don’t watch this one when you’re hungry! And then there’s the unique Boyhood, the deservedly ballyhooed film by Texas filmmaker Richard Linklater (School of Rock, Before Sunrise). Shot in short bursts over 12 years, it uses the cinematic equivalent of time-lapse photography to portray the arc of a boy’s life from six years old to the cusp of maturity.
Oscar will be impressed!