December 30, 2014

My best movies of the year

I love good movies but there's a lot of dreck out there,  so I depend on reviews and recommendations to help me choose what I want to see.  With streaming video, we have more choices of movies from all around the world and recommendations become even more important.  With that mind, here are the 'movies' I most enjoyed this year, some of them several years old; but I hope they  help you find a good movie you otherwise wouldn't have known about or considered.

Parade’s End, 2013  5 part BBC/HBO.  Amazon Instant Video
Written by Tom Stoppard, based on the novels of the same name by Ford Madox Ford with Benedict Cumberbatch as Christopher Tietjens.

A brilliant government statistician from an aristocratic family, Christopher Tietjens marries the beautiful and sexually manipulative Sylvia believing he is the father of her child.  She recklessly, even vindictively carries on affairs, yet he refuses to divorce her despite being attracted to the young suffragette Valentine Wallop.  He is the 'last Tory'  and is too honorable to be unfaithful to his wife.  As WWI begins, Christopher goes to fight in France, leaving both women behind.  When the war ends, he must decide with whom he will spend the rest of his life.    Widely praised as one of the finest things the BBC has ever made,  Benedict Cumberbatch's acting is faultless and often achingly moving, a painful juxtaposition of emotional stiffness and deep, crippling vulnerability"

Ida, 2013 Polish, directed by Pawel Pawlikowski.  Netflix
In 1960s Poland, Anna, a young novice nun is told by her prioress that before her vows can be taken, she is to visit her family. Anna visits her aunt Wanda, a judge and former prosecutor associated with the Stalinist regime, who dispassionately reveals that Anna's actual name is Ida Lebenstein, and that her Jewish parents were murdered during the war. Ida decides she wants to find their resting place. She and Wanda embark on a journey that both sheds light on their past, and decides their futures.  A stunning and beautiful movie in black and white.

Top of the Lake  2013 -7 Episodes  Netflix
A television miniseries written by Jane Campion and Gerard Lee, filmed and set in New Zealand.  Elizabeth Moss (of Mad Men fame) is a detective investigating the disappearance of a 12-year-old girl, Tui Mitcham.  Beautiful, mysterious and riveting.

Rake, Australian mini series 2010 Netflix
Cleaver Greene is a brilliant but self-destructive lawyer in Sydney and is the lawyer you would want if you were ever in deep trouble.  Even as his life is spiraling out of control,  "He's a lawyer who acts for those clients whose cases appear utterly hopeless, a man always on the wrong side of conventional wisdom, his energy kinetic and his charisma inescapable."

"An elegantly paced comedy of rather bad manners, which is also an off-beat character study and a seemingly unfolding relationship drama. He wraps these up in a rather ironic narrative that echoes the legal thriller and the courtroom drama, gently parodying both."

The Chorus (Les Choristes) French, 2004.  Netflix
Pierre Morhange, a widely successful orchestra conductor,  returns to France when his mother dies.  He reminisces about his childhood inspirations when he and his former classmate Pépinot read the diary of their old music teacher Clément. In 1949, a young Pierre  is the badly behaved son of single mother Violette .He attends the boarding institution for "difficult" boys, Fond de L'Étang ("Bottom of the Pond"), presided over by strict headmaster Mr Rachin.  A new teacher Mathieu brightens up the school and assembles a choir, leading to the discovery of Pierre's musical and physical talents and a transformation in the children.

Deadwood, HBO, 2004-2006 - Amazon streaming video
Set in Deadwood, South Dakota, this American western mixes real characters like Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, Wyatt Earp with fictional ones to chart the growth of Deadwood from camp to town as the inhabitants band together to create a civil society on the frontier, bringing order out of chaos.

With the exception of the profligate profanity throughout (a deliberate anachronism), the series is true to history, depicting violence, racism, prostitution, greed and the often corrupt politics of frontier life along with bravery, self-sacrifice, love and loyalty.

Calvary, Irish, 2014, still in theaters.
Brendan Gleeson is sensational as Father James, a good priest who is told in the confessional that he will be killed in one week's time because of the sex abuse the unknown parishioner suffered at the hands of a bad priest.  As the week unfolds in the spiritual desert of contemporary Ireland, he cares for and confronts his parishioners  and is met with condescension, even contempt, as he soldiers on to his own personal Calvary.  The end, though grim, is filled with hope as his daughter (he became a priest after the death of his wife) visits the murderer in jail.

Fleming, The Man Who Would Be Bond, BBC America, 2013 Amazon instant video
The young Ian Fleming who would go on to create  James Bond in a series of novels was a dissolute playboy with a dead war hero father, a successful brother and a disappointed yet ambitious mother who urges him to make something of himself and secures for him a job in naval intelligence as WW2 looms.  His imaginative, unorthodox  approach brings results when nothing else does and Fleming becomes  exceptionally skilled as a master of espionage.  In time, he becomes the commanding officer of a new unit of Intelligence Commandos to best the Nazis and is asked by the Americans to draw up a blueprint for a similar agency of spies.  All the while, he carries on a twisted love affair with the already married Ann O'Neill and mistress of the editor of The Daily Mail.

Throughly engaging and well-acted, I don't know how much is true, but if it is, his life was as fantastic as any of his novels.

Broadchurch, 8 episodes British ITV, 2013, Netflix.
In a Dorset coastal town, an 11-year-old boy is found dead on a beach.  The series focuses on the search for the boy's murderer and the impact of grief, mutual suspicion and the media have on the town.  In the U.K., it won universal praise and enormous ratings success however, the Americanized
version, Gracepoint on Fox, made barely a stir.  Broadchurch is emotionally resonant in its depiction of death's aftermath, the acting of the entire ensemble is terrific and the music is haunting.

Olive Kitteridge,
HBO, 2014
I read and loved the book which won a Pulitzer Prize for its  series of thirteen interconnected short stories.  I found the character of Olive compelling, unforgettable and a Yankee to her core - crusty, sometimes even cruel with her tart remarks, other times immensely funny, often depressed (her father committed suicide and she discovered the body) with occasional bursts with unexpected love and generosity.  Frances McDormand is brilliant as Olive and Richard Jenkins superb as her tender, kind husband.

Posted by Jill Fallon at December 30, 2014 10:52 PM | Permalink