Bill Cunningham New York
This was a pleasant fashion doc for the first half (and oddly more illuminating about the Gray Lady than this year's Page One: Inside the New York Times) but then it struck an unexpectedly deft emotional chord and became a truly moving story about an elusive man with a keen eye who could have easily been overlooked.
"Bill traverses so many disparate layers and overlapping social milieus of New York City. I thought it essential to interview people who not only have a relationship with Bill but who span the spectrum of New York to help tell his story. I tried to lessen the tyranny of the bland talking head by filming each character in the form of a photographic portrait – one that gives as much visual insight into who they are and how they live or work—and trying to make each person a character in the film in their own right." - Richard Press, Director.
Writer/ Director Mike Mills crafts a bittersweet elegy for his father, who like Christopher Plummer's (a beautiful performance) character, came out as a gay man late in life.
"My dad was very poised and polite. He was born in 1924, kind of shy and very aesthetic. He wore a suit and was very proper.... I had seen my real dad gravitate towards all these guys – not just romantically, but his gay friends – who were way wilder, way more messy, way less aesthetic, way juicier, more emotional, less 'boundaried' and kind of messy. It was really beautiful and heartbreaking to realize, 'Wow, that’s what he wants. He wants to be more like that. Consciously and unconsciously, he’s attracted to these guys.' I knew that, but I knew it better after writing about it." - Mike Mills.
Andrew Haigh's poignant look at the lives of two men who spend a few days together. A strong, naturalistic script by Haigh and lovely acting by Tom Cullen and Chris New. One of the best, most authentic gay films I've seen.
"I spent a long time working on the script, trying to make it feel as real as possible, make it sound like actual dialogue rather than script talk. Then when we got to shooting the film, I always left room for improvisation. I would sit down with the actors each night and we would go through the script, taking out what didn't work, adding things we felt necessary. And then during shooting, we would continue this method. If the actors wanted to add things, then they did and if they wanted to take things away, they did that also. I was always looking for something spontaneous." - Andrew Haigh, from my interview with him.
Midnight in Paris
It's been a while since Woody Allen has made such an indelible comedy. His nostalgic and whimsical ode to the City of Light hits the sweet spot.
"I was an amateur magician, and to this day I can do sleight of hand and card tricks and coin tricks. And I always feel that only a magical solution can save us. The human predicament is so tragic and so awful that, short of an act of magic, we're doomed. Many people feel they will be saved by their religion in some way, and that's a version of magic -- some all-powerful magician is going to give them an afterlife or in some other way make life meaningful. But in fact, that doesn't seem to be the case. If they suddenly discovered tomorrow that the universe had been created by a god and there was meaning to it, then everyone would be very cheerful and it would be a big help. You'd notice a lot of smiling faces." - Woody Allen.
Mavis Gary is quite ridiculous in her quest to reignite an old flame but her insecurity is palpable and raw. Banal discussions over how 'likable' Gary's character is have undermined the brilliance of Theron's performance, Diablo Cody's darkly funny script and Jason Reitman's precise, sensitive direction.
"I feel like I'm part of a generation of people who are stuck in the past and are really self-absorbed. I mean, we're actually taking pictures of ourselves and posting them on Facebook, and keeping in touch with people that should have been out of our lives 15 years ago. Obsessing over who's getting married, who's having kids, who's more successful. It's like we're recreating high school every single day using social media. And it's weird." - Diablo Cody.
An arresting, bleak film of a man's addictions in contemporary New York with a wonderful performance by Michael Fassbender.
"We all use our bodies, that’s how we are. We hardly ever talk. In film, people are talking all the time about how they feel and whatnot, and in reality that’s just not the case. We made Hunger in the way we did to reflect some kind of reality, and I feel the same way about “Shame.” The whole idea of back story and what could have happened to them — I wanted to make that situation familiar rather than unrecognizable. I wanted it to be about what we know, about what happens to them in everyday life. You meet someone for the first time and you have no idea who that person is really. What they do is present themselves the best way they can, and possibly through a period of time, after getting to know them, through the present you might see the past in them. And that’s exactly what I wanted to do with Sissy and Brandon and the audience." - Steve McQueen.
George Clooney gives another impeccable performance as a father of two young daughters, grieving over the comatose state of his wife after a boating accident. Writer / Director Alexander Payne's adaptation of a novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings is rife with distinctive observations.
"I had never seen exactly this story in a movie before, and then the fact that it was told in Hawaii, and not just generally in Hawaii, but amidst that decaying aristocracy, made it very interesting to me. I wasn’t so much interested in Hawaii as I was Honolulu. I had never seen Honolulu in a film. So I was eager to see it. As the years go by and I make more films, I am increasingly interested in capturing place as a vivid backdrop for my films." - Alexander Payne.
It's a bit of a stunt and a message to craft a silent film in an era of noisy blockbusters, but the supple direction of Michel Hazanavicius and lead performances of Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo make this a joyous homage.
"In my mind, he [the film's main character, George] is everything but an artist. He is a film star, but that’s his job in a way. That’s not his principle characterization. To me, he is a proud man. That’s what defines him. He refused to adapt himself to a changing of his world. I think he’s afraid of losing something that he thinks he controls." - Michel Hazanavicius.
I enjoyed this movie more than any other this year since its slick 70s / 80s neo-noir atmosphere is in my aesthetic wheelhouse. And Gosling is so magnetic (and hot!) in the lead.
"I wanted to lift the notion of time, because like fairy tales, they're symbolic storytelling. They're metaphors. The fairy tale always takes place in worlds that are between, unidentifiable." - Nicolas Winding Refn, Director.
This portrait of the unexpected consequences of a disintegrating marriage of a middle-class Iranian couple is both taut and timely.
"For the Americans it is not attractive to hear what the similarities are between them and the Iranian people. It is attractive to hear how different the Iranians are. These kinds of films, however, can fill that gap that the media doesn't show. Of the similarities between us. This is the most recurrent of the things I've been saying these last two days. That the similarities between people are far greater than the differences between people." - Asghar Farhadi, Director.
There were many great, memorable films this year which didn't make the Top 10. They are:
Incendies, Margaret, Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Skin I Live In, Tomboy, Everything Must Go, Moneyball, We Were Here, The Tree of Life, Sing Your Song, A Screaming Man, Meek's Cutoff, Jane Eyre, Melancholia, Hugo, Project Nim, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Carnage, Le Havre, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, Pariah, Beautiful Boy, Trust, Poetry, The Myth of the American Sleepover, Super 8, The Black Power Mixtape 1967 - 1975, The Trip, Bridesmaids, A Better Life, Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol, The Guard, Pina, Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, Buck, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Certified Copy, Last Night, Senna, Attack the Block, In A Better World, Contagion, Neds, Win Win, House of Tolerance, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Hanna, Tuesday, After Christmas, The Arbor, Of Gods and Men, Tabloid