5. Out of Print
I too picked my first apartment based on its close proximity to The New Beverly Cinema, like the Director of Looper, Rian Johnson says he did in this insightful, educational, witty and compelling documentary about the revival cinema house in Los Angeles. It’s also the place I retreated to see a James Cagney film on 9/11 when nowhere else in the world felt safe. In her first directorial effort, Julia Marchese lovingly takes us through the history of the theater, interviewing longtime patrons and filmmakers who were influenced and shaped by its programming. This documentary is a must see for film junkies as it celebrates why we go to the movies, and the importance of why we should treasure and help preserve 35mm film. Out of Print is simply magic, and a movie I know I will revisit time and again for the laughs and just to make me feel close to my favorite movie theater in the world.
4. The Babadook
In this wildly original Australian tale, a troubled young boy, Samuel, pleads to his widowed mom that he is being haunted by a creature. It’s easy for his mother to shrug off his fears to his imagination, especially since he is so eccentric, and she is still grappling with the loss of her husband. When Samuel asks her one night to read a hand-made pop up storybook called “Mister Babadook” that he found on his bookshelf, she is horrified by the content of it. And what comes next is the stuff of nightmares. The most terrifying element of this film is the way first-time director, Jennifer Kent uses images, lighting and motion to conjure up feelings of dread and paranoia. In one particular sequence, when Babadook pops up in a George Méliès film playing on the TV, I had such a visceral reaction that I physically wanted to hide (I did so for a moment under a blanket!). What’s most astonishing about Babadook is that it feels timeless. It could take place in any era which means it will always be relevant and will no doubt frighten moviegoers for many years to come.
3. Force Majeure
This clever, introspective Swedish film starts off following a family of four as they begin their week long ski vacation in the French Alps. They appear to be the perfect, loving clan, brushing their teeth together in their cozy hotel bathroom and holding mundane conversations about what looks delicious to eat at the hotel restaurant. But then a defining event which puts them all in peril occurs, and quickly we watch this family unravel at the seams. I would recommend not watching the trailer for this film before seeing it as it spoils some of the most delicious plot points and character discussions. Not knowing the incident they are faced with and the truths they are forced to confront about one other make it all the more rewarding. Force Majeure challenges you to think what you or your loved ones would do in a similar situation. It’s a bleak yet humorous film at the same time, and that alone makes it essential viewing.
2. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Once again, another film in Wes Anderson’s filmography will go down as an instant classic. He’s one of the rare contemporary filmmakers who has such a distinct voice and creative eye, that you can identify one of his films from just a few frames. As always, some of the most refreshing and imaginative touches to his films are the little things going on in the background. This latest fable takes place in an European hotel run by Monsieur Gustave, and follows his budding friendship with new bellhop, Zero. These two characters are wonderful together, and their adventure hiding a priceless painting is sweet, hilarious and unbelievably charming. Ralph Fiennes shines as Monsieur Gustave, especially in the third act when he on a few occasions breaks his usual calm, polite demeanor and shouts out obscenities in frustration. Every single supporting role in The Grand Budapest Hotel, from the inmates at a local prison, to Gustave’s fellow concierges at sister hotels, to the adorable girl who spends her days making pastries, helps elevate this already enchanting film to new heights of brilliance.
The streets of Los Angeles, beautifully photographed by cinematographer, Robert Elswit, provide the nocturnal backdrop to this stunning pyschological thriller about the rise of freelance cameraman, Louis Bloom, who recklessly races around LA to be the first at a crime scene so he can record the mayhem and sell the footage to local news stations. Jake Gyllenhaal is absolutely mesmerizing as he fully immerses himself in Bloom’s intelligent, creepy, and unsettling persona. Bloom is a morally bankrupt soul, yet we root for him and revel in observing him masterfully manipulate his business associates with his litany of methodical speeches, and his blink free stare. The climactic scene of Nightcrawler was so nerve wracking that my hands were literally shaking in disbelief. There was no more thrilling cinematic experience or more riveting character on screen for me in 2014. Thank you, Dan Gilroy for crafting this modern masterpiece.