To Half and Half Not: The 2014 Mid-Year Favorites
As I mentioned once before, ages ago, I don’t get out to the movies often, so I’m relegated to watching stuff on Netflix and the library and such. And we have reached the halfway point. So, here, I have compiled my fifteen favorite new-to-mew films, in alphabetical order, I’ve seen so far (running count, 217).
1. A Matter of Life and Death (1946) | Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
No one can make a film like the Archers. No one can photograph one like Jack Cardiff. So, of course, when putting together an allegory about the relationship between the Unuited States and Britain after World War II, these masters of the film form would deliver one of the most transcendent of film experiences. Both an incisive critique of that relationship as well as loving tribute to life and death, Powell and Pressburger’s film is amongst the most outstanding to ever grace the screen, and the most honest, unwavering approaches to those subjects.
2. Caesar Must Die (2013) | Directed by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani
As prisoners gear up to bring Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar to life, art imitates life and the line between fiction and reality is blurred. While certainly an outstanding examination of that subject (as well as the inherent politics of Italy, past, present, and future), it is moving because it is enthralling. Watching these prisoners begin to shed that very anonymous moniker and become human beings, who then become characters and heavily invested in those characters leaves one in a trance. Its swift running time never falters, and every moment feels necessary.
3. F for Fake (1973) | Directed by Orson Welles
Orson Welles’ magic trick. I have little to say about the film that others have not, beyond the fact that it’s one of the cinema’s most enduring spells.
4. Friends with Money (2006) | Directed by Nicole Holofcener
As far as I’m concerned, when I think of films that examine the relationship of money with characters, I think of Steven Soderbergh, but his examinations are perhaps less class based and slightly more oblique than Holofcener’s film. Nonetheless, Friends with Money is an intimate observation of how money and class, even amongst white people, shift and affect the dynamics people have with one another. It is most successful in how sensitive it is, every beat tender and raw, with Jennifer Aniston giving the performance of her career.
5. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) | Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
First off, Howl’s Moving Castle doesn’t make a lick of sense. Narratively, it’s a cluster bomb, a loop-de-loop that probably give Shane Carruth some pointers. Yet, its flamboyance, exuberance, and ebullience makes it my favorite Miyazaki film. It soars like few other films do, breathlessly transporting the viewer into another world where plot takes a back seat to immersing the viewer in characters and places. Everything is gorgeous, nothing makes sense, and it’s absolutely perfect that way.
6. Irma Vep (1996) | Directed by Olivier Assayas
A comment on France’s place within the film industry, sure, but Irma Vep is most interesting when it acts as a self-reflexive examination on what “remakes” are philosophically and ontologically. Acknowledging the limitations of remakes and therefore elaborating on what they should be, Assayas leads his meta-film (a film about the making of a remake of Les Vampires) to an impressive conclusion, condemning “fidelity” to source material and asking artists to thrive on divergence. Oh, and Maggie Cheung is awesome.
7. Mysterious Skin (2004) | Directed by Gregg Araki
In my experience, I do not like Gregg Araki. I certainly recognize his importance and influence regarding the New Queer Wave, but I don’t care for them. They’re too bawdy for my taste. But here, Araki dials back the crassness and investigates the nature of trauma, especially through a queer lens. It’s heartbreaking, with Brady Corbet giving an emotionally ravaging performance.
8. Paprika (2006) | Directed by Satoshi Kon
Paprika is a special kind of nightmare, and the perfect kind of inspiration for Christopher Nolan’s Inception. However, it has more in common with David Lynch’s dream logic and jumps into the human psyche than it does with Nolan. From here on out, any kind of cheerful jingle will have you screaming.
9. Ridicule (1996) | Directed by Patrice Leconte
Ah, remember the days when people would duke it out with their wit, donning a white wig and pantaloons? Well, if you count rap battles, it actually hasn’t changed much (save the clothing), but Leconte’s pleasant period piece and look at pre-Revolution France is just kind of delightful.
10. Short Term 12 (2013) | Directed by Dustin Daniel Cretton
Stories like this aren’t told often, so whatever its narrative flaws, Short Term 12 feels intense and important. Perhaps better thought of as an observation than a complete narrative, it aims for the heart without feeling manipulative.
11. Sound and Fury (2000) | Directed by Josh Aronson
While superficially very interesting in its investigation into deaf culture, it is also a precise examination on the way different culture react to impending change, or the threat of change. It’s an impressively engaging look at families debating on whether or not to give their children cochlear implants, but behind this conceit is passion and anger, sound and fury.
12. The Bling Ring (2013) | Directed by Sofia Coppola
Sofia Coppola’s latest film seemed to go under the radar for the most part, often being written off as boring and without commentary. But, honestly, The Bling Ring doesn’t need commentary. Existing as a document of the times, Coppola distances herself, allowing the characters to slowly reveal themselves on their own, and allowing her film to act as a litmus test for how the audience will judge them. With a stellar performance from Emma Watson, The Bling Ring is a very subtle, yet still affecting look at contemporary teenage ennui.
13. The Innocents (1961) | Directed by Jack Clayton
Amongst my poorer decisions as a human being was watching the Hammer Horro classic before bedtime. With expressive cinematography and a haunting soundscape, The Innocents, based on the novella The Turn of the Screw, is one of the most frightening, subversive horror films ever made.
14. Tom at the Farm (2013) | Directed by Xavier Dolan
My love for the Quebecois filmmaker knows no bounds. With each film, he matures another ten years, this time tackling a Hitchcockian aesthetic in order to comment on American intolerance. Stepping back from too much formal experimentation and allowing atmosphere to drive the narrative, Dolan’s film is an intelligent thriller that makes the heart race.
15. Touch of Evil (1958) | Directed by Orson Welles
Surely one of the bleakest noirs in history, Welles’s nihilistic Touch of Evil still gets the honor of being called “the best B-movie ever made”.
2 thoughts on “To Half and Half Not: The 2014 Mid-Year Favorites”
June 19, 2014 at 12:09 pm
I love that you included Mysterious Skin, that’s one of my favorite movies despite the subject matter being hard to watch. Joseph Gordon-Levitt was wonderful in it. Araki can be a very sporadic director, but MS is certainly his best.
June 19, 2014 at 7:33 pm
It’s just so sad. Really takes it out of you. Quite an emotionally exhausting film to watch. I am excited for Araki’s new film though. I don’t remember who’s in it though.