Boyhood | USA
Richard Linklater’s coming-of-age epic is one of the most enthralling movies of the year. With his feature Boyhood, he achieves an impressive cinematic feat – filmed over a period of 12 years, audiences literally follow a young Ellar Coltrane growing up on camera. The film’s poetic naturalism explores the meaning of youth, both its joys and pitfalls, focusing on a child’s relationship with his divorced parents, portrayed by Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette. Ultimately, the movie is a poignant snapshot into childhood memory and offers new perspectives on our own past experience.
Ida | Poland
Director Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida was unleashed at the Sundance Film Festival and portrays the story of Anna, an orphan raised in a convent and preparing to take her religious vows. Taken away to visit her only living aunt, an alcoholic former Communist Party judge, it is revealed the Anna’s real name is Ida and she is a daughter of Jews murdered during the Nazi regime. Consequently, the two embark on a journey through family history to uncover the secrets of the traumatic past. The film yet again highlights Pawlikowski as a great artist with the ability to produce exquisite cinematography.
Winter Sleep | Turkey
Released only in the final weeks of 2014, Winter Sleep is a Turkish production written and directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan. The plot follows a former actor, Aydin, who runs a hotel in rural Anatolia and leads a stormy relationship with his wife. In a hostile winter environment, simmering tensions fuel hostilities and the movie gives an insight into inner turmoil and the fragile cracks in relationships between brutal personalities. All of this is exacerbated by the feature’s slow-burning pace and subtle camera movements – at 3 hours long, this mesmerizing epic is definitely worth the effort.
Mr. Turner | England
Featuring the fantastic Timothy Spall as the eccentric British painter J. M. W. Turner, Mr. Turner explores the last 25 years of the artist’s life. Both celebrated and despised by the public and the Royal Family, the inner world of the painter is exposed through the company he holds, his sexual exploitations and the profound death of his father. Whether an art buff or not, this feature boasts sensational performances and an outstanding profile of one of Britain’s most admirable landscape artists, giving audiences a new perspective of the man behind the easel.
Norte, The End of History | Philippines
Those able to withstand this 4-hour feature will certainly be rewarded with a memorable and visually dramatic viewing experience. Written and directed by Lav Diaz, Norte, The End of History focuses on the northern Philippine province of Luzon, where a law-school dropout commits a horrendous murder and a family man receives the life sentence in his place, leaving behind a loving wife and their two children. Adapting influences from Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment that are subtly interwoven throughout the plot, the movie explores notions of history, philosophy, politics and religion and gives new perspectives on human obsession, cultural identity and national guilt.
The Grand Budapest Hotel | Germany
Wes Anderson’s addition to the 2014 movie scene has claimed four Golden Globe nominations, including for Best Motion Picture and Best Director. A British-German co-production, The Grand Budapest Hotel recounts the adventures of Gustave H, portrayed by Ralph Fiennes, as an experienced concierge who endeavors to prove his innocence when framed for a murder. Filmed entirely on location in Germany, the film’s unconventional style and exceptional lead performances light-heartedly explore deep emotional issues, all to a vibrant backdrop of a visually stirring European continent.
Finding Vivian Maier | USA
Finding Vivian Maier is a fascinating documentary film tracing the life story of a nanny and amateur photographer in 1960s and 1970s New York and Chicago. For decades, she secretly photographed the city streets and it was only after her death that real estate agent John Maloof discovered the cache of over 100,000 images attributed to her. Winning the box of negatives at an auction and falling in love with the photographs, he became fascinated with uncovering the real master behind the lens. Taking the international photography art scene by storm, this film is a thought-provoking tribute to one of the world’s greatest street photographers.
Two Days, One Night | Belgium
A Belgian drama, Two Days, One Night is written by the Dardenne brothers and stars Marion Cotillard and Belgian Fabrizio Rongione in the title roles. Winning the Sydney Film Prize at the 2014 Sydney Film Festival, the movie is the epitome of elegant storytelling and a rare work of simplicity. The plot concerns a desperate woman, Sandra, who is released from hospital to find she has lost her job. In order to get it back, over the course of a weekend, she must convince her co-workers to give up their annual bonuses. The film is provoking insight into the power of community and the social state in the modern world. With supremely intelligent performances, this is a compelling entry.
Leviathan | Russia
Directed by the acclaimed Andrey Zvyagintsev, the feature focuses on a Russian coastal town and is a bleak portrayal of corruption and intimidation in contemporary Russia. Following Kolya, a man who is forced to fight the corrupt local mayor in court, he summons a lawyer named Dmitri to support his case. Rife with suspense, extraordinary images and magnificent dramatic poise, Leviathan is a movie of unflinching ambition, challenging the reality of today’s political and social boundaries and highlights one man’s plight to stand up to a monster state.
Wild Tales | Argentina
Argentinian film producer Damián Szifrón’s 2014 entry is a collection of various stories that compile a dramatic commentary confronting the social state of his native country and of the selected individuals within it. Wild Tales is a movie about love, deception, haunting pasts and spectacular acts of violence found in everyday life. Comprised of six short films, it is a clever exploration of human vulnerability and the unpredictable fate of people – deep and philosophical in equal measure. Upholding a curious comedic resonance, this black comedy is a must-see and an electrifying achievement for Argentinian filmmaking.
By Varia Fedko-Blake