This year was a little different from last year. It was the year I really started writing. I’ve had this blog for, like, eight or so years and maintained it. I’ve written intermittently for VeryAware.com for a while, as well as TheBlackMaria.org. But this is the year that I really pushed my writing, so that my audience grew and I made more friends and engaged with more people than ever. I was fortunate to have my work featured on Movie Mezzanine (of which I am now Assistant Editor), Under the Radar Magazine, Film School Rejects, IndieWire’s /Bent, Sound on Sight, and elsewhere (you can find all of my work here). I got to go to two film festivals for the first time ever, and attend as press for them, which was amazing. I actually got to meet the writers I so much admire in person, in the flesh, and pick the brains and hang out with them. And this time, I actually got to watch a bunch of movies from 2014, which almost never happens. At the time of this writing, on Christmas Eve, I’ve seen 96 new releases, and 423 new to me films in general (a step down from last year, but whatever). So, here was my superlative year in film, 2014 edition.
The Film I Rewatched the Most, and Then Finally, Actually Wrote About It: Frances Ha
Look how surprised you are, loyal readers! I know, I’m hardly surprised myself. I watched Noah Baumbach’s sweetly melancholic masterpiece another couple dozen times this year (or at least it felt like it), but this time, I actually put pen to paper and tried to articulate exactly why I loved it. The final product is probably rambling and ridiculous, but it tries to capture what about it makes me swoon. You can read it here.
The Other Film I Rewatched the Most: Heartbeats
I like foreign language films as much as the next person, but I suppose I never thought that my go-to comfort film would be a Quebecois film. By “comfort food film”, I mean something like Bringing Up Baby or Frances Ha, the kind of film that’s doused in pathos and emotion, but are strangely comforting to watch. The kind of film you put your pajamas on for and make hot cocoa. Dolan himself describes Heartbeats as kind of like an essay, expanding more on ideas that typical plot. I think it’s kind of funny, and frustrating, that so many people consider this film his weakest, considering I’d argue that it’s the film that best achieves exactly what it sets out to do. His films are about desire, different kinds of desire to be sure, but as far as time slowing town and people being pretentious and ostentatious, Heartbeats, or rather Les Amours Imaginaires, is able to capture and articulate that kind of thing immaculately. I’ll always go for bat for this film. Comfort food movies often have a heavy dose of identification with the viewer (which explains the summer I spent watching When Harry Met Sally…), and Les Amours Imaginaires is no exception. (I even converted the lovely Conner Good into being a Heartbeatslover.) It’s about what it feels like to be in lust with someone and to make yourself vulnerable to them.
The Film I Saw the Most In Theaters: Gone Girl
I saw it first at its premier at the New York Film Festival, which was awesome. My first impressionswere that it made me feel icky. But it was still kind of awesome. I saw it a second time on a date. (I know.) I spent the first fifteen or so minutes taking notes, in an effort to write a piece as long and rambling as my Frances Ha one, examining all of the various angles that one can approach the film. I realized that, oh, I’m with someone, so maybe I should put my notes away. So I tried to take some mental notes, but then we went to dinner and it went so well that all of my mental notes were eradicated. I saw it a third time with my friend and former art teacher and she allowed me to take notes during the film. I took 8 pages of notes. I have yet to actually write about Gone Girl to my satisfaction. (But, hey, I connected it to Taylor Swift!)
The Year That Was Kyle Confronting His Mommy Issues: Mommy and The Babadook
In general, I had a weird and rough year, at least with regard to the relationship with my mother. Seeing that reflected back at me in the movies was really weird. But I think it was incredibly important for me to see, from a so-called third party or objective point of view, what that relationship looks like and what the consequences of our actions are. Xavier Dolan’s Mommy works as a mirror to his first film I Killed My Mother; while The Babadook helps me better understand the emotions and depression that both my mother and I experience. It was a weird year, y’all.
The Year That Was Kyle Writing About His Personal Life
This year, I wrote a bit about my personal life with regards to film. I wrote about Dolan’s Mommy and my relationship with my mother, and Jonze’s Her and how it played into a long distance relationship I was in. It’s weird being that transparent on the internet, when I consider myself relatively transparent and honest as it is. The primary difference between my internet persona and my IRL persona is that I’m less clever in real life. But revealing those parts of my life, how I truly feel about certain things, was scary. I was fortunate to have wonderful people support me with those pieces, and fortunate to have a really wonderful response to those pieces. I think this is a lesson in that more people should be able to write with that kind of personal edge to film, because bringing that baggage to a movie and letting it inform your experience is something everyone does, but people are rarely honest about.
The Characters That Embodied Duality: The Double and The Babadook
It’s true that every experience you’ve had and all the baggage you have influences how you watch and experience a film, but I feel that, at least for these two films, that kind of duality and dichotomy are integral and fascinating aspects to understanding Richard Ayoade’s The Double and Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook. Both films allow the protagonist to fluctuate and oscillate between hero, villain, and hero again. So, depending on your perspective, how you see Simon James right off the bat is different: he’s either this loathsome, creepy, stalker or this “invisible boy, held up by strings”, worthy of some sympathy if not condoning his actions. Which makes the film’s third act also a double in itself, because one either sees the film as a concession or a cop out, or they see it as a wink-wink cruel piece of satire and derision against the very type that Simon is. While that kind of inherent duality and dichotomy doesn’t exist to the same degree in The Babadook as it does in The Double, it is, at least, still partially there in similar terms. You either side with the mother and find the child insufferable or you don’t. There’s enough room for nuance, certainly, but presenting those dichotomies in character on film so starkly was one of the most interesting trends I saw this year.
The Romantic Comedy That was *This* Close to Being Perfect: The F Word
Had it not been for the ending of Michael Dowse’s The F Word (or, as it’s known in the United States, What If…?), the film would be the perfect, progressive response to When Harry Met Sally…, whose gender politics and essentialism is, at this point slightly “dated”. It is, even more than Ephron’s film, honest and cutting, and Radcliffe and Kazan have an easy, breezy chemistry with one another that’s reflective of the barbed banter of “today’s youth”. But, damn, that ending. Close, but no cigar.
The Criterion Release I Waited Four Years For: Eraserhead
I remember the day Criterion put Eraserhead on their Hulu+ channel. It was a good day. And four the next four months, I spent every Criterion announcement day waiting with bated breath for a Blu-ray edition to be announced. And every time, I was disappointed. Until one July day, it was finally announced. And then I got my hands on it. And it was good.
The Best Rep Film I Saw: A Matter of Life and Death
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 United 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.
The Superhero Film That I Watched Out of Obligation: Guardians of The Galaxy
I shan’t rant to you about how I feel about Marvel and DC’s business model, because that could take years (heh), but I will say that James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy is a notch below “fine”. It’s Star Wars, but everyone’s Han Solo. Han solo is nice in small doses, the cockiness always having been relatively appealing. But when everyone has a gigantic ego and the dialogue a manifestation of that, I become kind of bored with it. Don’t call me a snob just yet though…
The Action Movie That Blew My Mind: Lucy
Luc Besson’s Leonmeets Inceptionmeets The Tree of Life, aka Lucy, is one heck of a thrill. It’s a film that knows it’s kinda dumb, but reaches for the stars anyways. And can we talk about ScarJo’s performance in that phone call scene? It’s the kind of film whose action is so perfectly execute and whose visuals are so intoxicating, it almost makes me take Vulgar Auteurism seriously.
The Moment That Will Haunt Me Forever, Even Though It Was Awesome: PTA Making Fun of Me
Rather than have me explain the ordeal, I’ll just give a little context and provide a clip. It was right after the Inherent Vice press screening during the New York Film Festival. I raised my hand. I asked a question. And the rest, (un)fortunately, is history. Without further ado…
The Underrated Gem: A Coffee in Berlin
Music Box Films released a little film written and directed by Jan Ole Gerster called A Coffee in Berlin (also known as Oh, Boy!) which flew under every single person’s radar (except the lovely Noah Gittell, holla). Though it sounds, at first, disingenuous to call it “The Male Frances Ha”, it’s not inaccurate, and nor is it a knock against the film. It’s commonalities aren’t limited to the fact that they’re shot in black and white or follow young people at a crossroads, unsure of what to do with their lives, but also the fact that they share the same kind of warm, loving, tender atmosphere and treatment of their protagonists. It’s playful, fun, melancholy, and vulnerable, and completely deserves a look and a watch.
The Film That Was About All the Debates I Had About It: Gone Girl
Is it misogynistic? Is it feminist? Is it misandrist? Is it about the media? Is it about marriage? Is it cynical? Is it dangerous? In a word, yes. I’d wager an argument that Gone Girl is about the swarm of debates that surrounded it. The film revolves so much about the narrative of peripheral conversation and implies public thought and information is what drives our popular culture, and that’s exactly what happened with Fincher’s film.
The Thing Which Might Get Me in Hot Water: #TeamAmy
Without spoiling anything, I’ll just say this: in the weird and bizarre way and world this film sets up, Amy is totally justified in her actions. Yup.
That Time I Finally Watched a Movie That My Ex-Girlfriend Kept Telling Me To Watch: Léon: The Professional
My ex-girlfriend (yes, I had one of those, are you that shocked?) is kind of punky and edgy, which is one of the several things I admire about her. She was a huge fan of Besson’s Léon: The Professional, and throughout the course of our short relationship, she kept telling me to watch it. I did finally get to watching it this year, and gosh, it’s good. I can certainly laud her for having pretty good taste. Weird though the central relationship may seem, the earnestness in itself is kind of nice. Portman, so young at the time, really brings this incredible duality to the character, at once impressively mature for her age, and yet childish and infantile. it’s moving, like Le Samouraï and Paper Moon had a weird baby.
The Best Swag I Got This Year: #ScreenerLife
This was the year, as aforementioned, that I really pushed my writing. This was the year I started telling people tepidly, “I write ‘film criticism’”, air quotes and all. And so, I was lucky enough to get some pretty amazing swag, including, but not limited to:
I’m really, really fortunate that I get to write about movies at all, with any kind of audience. The swag is really just a perk. I’m incredibly thankful to and for my editors for allowing me to write about movies.
The Scariest Film I Saw: The Babadook
Jennifer Kent’s debut feature is effective because it’s as heartbreaking as it is scary. It’s a complex film, again, examining the tempestuous, multifaceted relationship between a mother and son. Watching the struggle play out on screen is sobering, and watching the emotions manifest themselves as demons is terrifying.
The Unpopular Opinion: Boyhood
I know that at this point, with Linklater’s Boyhood topping every damn best-of list no one cares about my lukewarm opinion on the film, but I can’t help but feel slight resentment, especially as I still have this impression that much of the praise is for its extra textual qualities. Anyways, my short thoughts are over here.
The Films That Made Me Feel Very Single: Most Movies
Sorry, it was a weird year for that too! Anyways, The Way He Looks was sweet and lovely, Gone Girl made me never want to be in a relationship, and then Ira Sachs’ Love is Strange made me change my mind about that, The Heart Machine made me feel weird about being involved with people online but then made me feel okay about it again, and watching Heartbeats several dozen times this year was probably not a good idea.
The Year That Was Scarlett Johansson as Misandrist: Under the Skin and Lucy
In Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, you have Scarlett Johansson playing an alien who lures men to their deaths. In Luc Besson’s Lucy, you have Scarlett Johansson kicking ass. In the former, her power is specifically a utilization of her sexuality and performance as a woman to gain the advantage. In the latter, it’s slightly more masculinized, but I’d argue that the power is relatively ambiguous and genderless. And it was glorious.
The Criterion Cover I Hate So Much I Wish It Would Burn: A Hard Day’s Night
It’s like a seventh grader’s rejected PhotoShop project. It’s just awful. Ironically, it’s the same design team that tackled Criterion’s release of Breathless, which is a design that pretty perfectly captures the kind of zeitgeist that film created. But this is just awful. Between a choice of having it in the collection with that cover or not having it in there at all, I pick the latter.
Having Kristen Sales tell someone my name and having them respond with “that’s the whitest name I’ve ever heard”
Playing Cards Against Humanity with Kristen, Marya, and Trevor Jost
Meeting my wifey, Raquell Gallardo
Seeing A Hard Day’s Night on the big screen
Gazing lustily at Drew Morton’s film collection
Carley Johnson getting weirded out at my going to Tiger Heat
Going to Tiger Heat, this gay club in LA
Too many to list
I don’t think I’ve had better experiences in my life.
The Worst Film Festival Experiences I Had
Waking up at the ass crack of dawn to get in line for Inherent Vice
That time I owed all the film bloggers moneys.
Nah, even that was great. No bad experiences to speak of.
The Experience I Can Cross Off My Bucket List: Nymphomaniac: Director’s Cut
It was my duty as a Lars von Trier fanboy to watch the full cut of Nymphomaniac, his magnum opus, which played in New York for… one day, at the IFC Center. I felt like seeing the five and a half hour odyssey in theaters was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I can report back that this was a film that felt shorter in its full breadth than in its shorter iteration. It felt like the complete vision, uncompromising. I was honestly rather lukewarm on the film when I saw it in its international, four hour cut, but this… this was a revelation.
The Year of von Trier
I wrote about good ol’ Lars a bit too, but more than that I was able to see four of his films in theaters at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts: a double feature of Dogvilleand Manderlayon Valentine’s Day (of course) and a double feature of Antichristand Melancholiathe following Sunday. Seeing Melancholia in theaters, in particular, was an exhilarating experience, given that, at the end of the film, the entire theater shakes. It is transcendent.
The Film That My Queerness Made Me Reevaluate: Let the Right One In
I saw Thomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In several years ago, and I recall being really bored with it. It wasn’t very interesting, I wasn’t used to its harsh Scandinavian bleakness. But coming back to it years later, my understanding of being queer, even my peripheral experience of being alone and an outsider, made me reconsider the film in a new context. Coming to that realization, the film broke my heart a little.
It was a pretty good year for female performances, and these were some that nearly carried the films they were in.
Essie Davis in The Babadook
Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl
Uma Thurman in Nymphomaniac
The Film That’s Kind of Better Than Her: The Heart Machine
This isn’t a knock against Her in the slightest, as that film is still incredible, and incredibly important to my personal life. Although Zachary Wigon’s The Heart Machine sets itself up to be “the anti-Her”, they both ask the same questions about authenticity, love, identity. It makes its way to the middle where the two films intersect. Only, while Her is caught up in the throes of newfound romance, The Heart Machine benefits from its initially cynical attitude by not being distracted by sentimentality. Its ability to ask those questions are straightforward. Its honesty about ambiguity, though, is what makes it great.
The Film That Catalyzed an Inexplicable Crush: God Help the Girl
I have a weird crush on Olly Alexander. He’s probably my most unconventional crush. He’s not, like, “hot”. He’s got a funny shaped head, he’s really, really pale, and really, really thin. But with a honeyed voice and a wonderful earnestness, there’s something sweet and compelling and beautiful about him. I do love my emaciated white boys who would undoubtedly reject me. These qualities and more are on display in Stuart Murdoch’s God Help the Girl, where he plays a wistful, talented young man in love with a wistful, talented young woman. It’s twee, but in a good way.
The Film That Was Great for Jokes About My Dad: Mr. Turner
Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner, about the English painter JMW Turner, is a superb film, but it was even more fun for all the jokes I made about it. Because my last name is Turner. Let me be clear, my dad would have probably found it really funny. We made dumb jokes together.
The Most Punishing Sound Design: Eraserhead
I also got to see Eraserhead in theaters this year, in 35mm at a midnight screening during TCMFF. And let me tell you, the sound design on that film is punishing. Several moments during the film, I thought my ears were going to burst. But, it was one heck of an experience.
The Short Film That Was Awesome: “Digital You” – Directed by Nick Mastrangelo
It won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2014 Reel Film Fest, the local film festival my film club and university puts together every year. But Nick Mastrangelo’s short film is really, really an impressive work, not only from a student, ut just in general. Unlike many Lynch imitators, “Digital You” seems to actually understand what the iconic auteur does with film and filmmaking, and use that for its own purposes. It’s an amusing, brusque, and pretty awesome short. And I don’t like just because I’m in it or because a close friend of mine made it; I was lauding this before we had established a friendship. It’s that good.
The Film I Accidentally Saw Twice: Tom at the Farm
Xavier Dolan’s fourth, and arguably best, film Tom at the Farm has yet to receive US distribution, despite the fact that it premiered at Venice and TIFF over a year ago. It’s his most disciplined film, where stylism takes a back seat in favor of tone and atmosphere. As it remains in distribution limbo (it’s available on home media in the UK and Canada), the film has made the festival rounds in the States a bit, which is how I first saw it. Connecticut has a small LGBT film festival called Out Fest, I think. Since I thought it was going to be my only chance to see the film for a while, I thought, “Hell yes.” So, I covered it, sort of, for /Bent. And then my friend Diana told me that it was going to be playing in New York with Dolan in attendance. And I thought, “Hell yes.” So, I attended its New York premiere. Next to Heartbeats, it is my most watched Dolan film, and, to me, his most accomplished.
The Director I Obsessed About This Year: Xavier Dolan
“No shit, Sherlock,” you say under your breath after reading this. My friend Willow Catelyn asserted that I will become synonymous with Dolan’s name on Twitter, in the same way that Labuza is synonymous with Leones. It’s true, I wrote about Dolan numerous times this year. But I don’t think it’s a bad thing. Clearly, I have a connection to his work. And I think my faculties are working enough so that I can distinguish my personal investment in his work with a relatively objective evaluation of it (e.g. my most personal connections are with my least favorite films of his). And I think it’s paid off; that Dolan acknowledged not one, but two of my pieces really means a lot. I exposed myself in a way I hadn’t before when writing about I Killed My Mother and Mommy, and that he responded to that and said that it touched him is really the greatest form of validation I could ever ask for. I joked to someone that this year I created a monopoly on writing about Dolan on the east coast. It’s almost true.
The Most Beguiling Films: We Are the Best! and God Help the Girl
Both are about music, and friendships, and pure joy. What more could you ask? (If you couldn’t tell, I’ve been working on this post all day and I’m getting tired.)
The Crisis of Masculinity is (Mostly) Hilarious: Gone Girl, Force Majeure, True Detective, Boyhood
In all of these films, our definitions of masculinity, what it means to be a man, what manhood is, etc. are called into question. And it’s all really funny, sometimes intentionally (Force Majeure) and sometimes not so much (True Detective). And while the former two films explore it from a relatively interesting, mildly enlightening perspective, the latter two are boring and are filled with oft trodden tropes. Also, the female characters aren’t fucking disposable.
The Year That Was Kyle and Queer Cinema
I felt obligated, as a cinephile and queer person, to dive into some queer cinema. So I watched stuff like Paris is Burning, Xavier Dolan, Todd Haynes, Derek Jarman, Boys Don’t Cry, Jamie Babbit, etc. I also watched some terrible queer romcoms on Netflix. But even watching those was an important part of my continuing journey of self-discovery, and all that jazz.
So, that was my year in movies. It was really something, and I hope next year is just as fruitful and exciting! I really value the friends and people I’ve connected with over the past year, or the connections and bonds that have become stronger. So thank you everyone for listening, reading, engaging with this small town boy who just happens to like watching and writing about movies. I hope all of you have a warm and happy holiday and an equally awesome New Year. I hope 2015 will be another awesome year for cinema!