Thursday, March 05, 2015

FEAR OF THE VELVET CURTAIN: OLIVIER, PECK AND THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL



This week over at Fear of the Velvet Curtain, it's time to shrug off those notions of guilty pleasures and reassess a longtime favorite of intellectually indefensible cinema, Franklin J. Schaffner's The Boys from Brazil. It's based on the novel by Ira Levin and stars Oscar-nominated Laurence Olivier as Nazi hunter Ezra Lieberman, in hot pursuit of the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele, played by also Oscar-nominated (just not for this movie) Gregory Peck, who has a plan to clone 94 Adolf Hitlers and usher in a new age Third Reich. I've seen this movie probably 20 times since its release in 1978, and I've always enjoyed it, somewhat derisively, but it's time to admit that the love I have for it goes beyond simple appreciation for a bad movie.

"I marvel at how closely I seem to know its rhythms and its tones—it looks stodgy, but to me it moves at a clip. I marvel too at how each well-familiar line reading, the ones delivered by Peck and Olivier, of course, but even phonetically assembled ones from special guest stars like Bruno Ganz, peal like missives from a distant world where movies like this are still made and audiences for them still exist. The Boys from Brazil is one of those movies that, for me, has made the transition from object of amused derision to one of genuine appreciation. I love this movie, guilt-free."

That's just a taste. Get the whole meal right now in my new Fear of the Velvet Curtain  column now playing at Trailers from Hell.

***************************************************

Sunday, March 01, 2015

UPDATE: MORE OF THE 2014 MURIEL AWARDS BEST ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE, BEST FILM OF 2004, BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY



Further Muriel Awards have been announced as the march toward the Best Film of the Year honors continues on.

The award for
Best Ensemble Performance features a consideration by Kevin Cecil that is, if I may, grand.

In awarding the Muriel 10th Anniversary Award for the Best Film of 2004, writer Josh Bell teases out memories of a winner that shows "how happy endings and sad endings are often the same thing."

And my own piece on the Muriel winner for Best Cinematography suggests how the triumph of the movie's visual strategy "enriches his images with the totality of the world while slightly warping their contours, guides us toward an experience with the familiar as something oppressively, insinuatingly new."

Find out what movies won in these categories (there's a big hint on one of the hovering above) and read what we have to say about them at the Muriels Web site, Our Science is Too Tight. And stay tuned. There's much more to come.

**************************************************

Friday, February 27, 2015

THE 2014 MURIEL AWARDS



Now that the trivial hoopla of the Oscars has finally been put to bed, it’s time to cap off the past year in movies with the awards that really matter. Named for award founder Paul Clark’s late, beloved guinea pig, the annual Muriel Awards, the current edition being the ninth, brings together an eclectic roster of Internet-based film writers whose passion for writing about film and films runs strong, even when the year’s offerings run relatively weak. It’s been my honor to have participated in the Muriels voting, and the subsequent writing about the winners, since their inception waaaaaay back in 2006, and hopefully we’ll all be here celebrating the Muriel’s 10th birthday next year, and in 2026 their 20th...

But enough projecting into the future. What of the here and now (and, where our anniversary awards are concerned, the then)? Paul has been assembling and announcing the winners of this year’s awards, and he’s been inching ever closer to the big one. I’ll play catch-up today and keep you posted on further announcements of winners and runners-up (yes, Oscar, we do second and third place), including a couple of pieces written by Yours Truly which will be showing up over the next few days. Here’s what Muriel has served up so far. *
 
Best Editing, essay by Michael Lieberman
 
 
 

Best Body of Work, essay by Matt Noller


Best Music, essay by Darren Hughes


Best Film of 1964 (50th Anniversary Award), essay by Patrick Williamson


Cinematic Breakthrough of 2014, essay by Adam Lemke



 
Best Supporting Actress, essay by Scott von Doviak




Best Supporting Actor, essay by Jeff McMahon


 

* All those pictured above-- Tom Cross (Whiplash), Crimes and Misdemeanors, Scarlet Johansson, Only Lovers Left Alive, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Ava DuVernay, Tilda Swinton (Snowpiercer) and Ethan Hawke (Boyhood) placed either second or third in the voting. To find out the winners, you'll just have to click.

And stay tuned. There are more Muriel Awards coming through the weekend and into next week!

**********************************************


 

 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

ALL-NEW FEAR OF THE VELVET CURTAIN: CHAIN SAW CONFIDENTIAL AND AN OSCAR POSTSCRIPT

 

Gunnar Hansen's book chronicling the making of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, called Chainsaw Confidential, is essential reading for fans of Tobe Hooper's film, and I take a close look at it in my new "Fear of the Velvet Curtain" column over at Trailers from Hell. Hansen's book begins by conflating the mythology behind the making of the film-- out-of-control set, disastrous shoot, drug-addled actors, psychological damage suffered by the guy playing Leatherface (that'd be Hansen, of course)-- and then proceeds to gently deflate that mythology with the clarity and intelligence of first-person observation. Here's but a taste of what you'll get when the curtain parts this week:

"The book is beautifully organized with chapter headings derived from the movie’s dialogue (“If I Have Any More Fun, I Don’t Think I Can Take It,” “There’s Them That Laughs And Knows Better,” “It’s a Good Picture—You Can Pay Me Now”) that cleverly reflect or connect to the author’s focus. And Hansen makes the wise decision early on to assemble his anecdotal approach to reflect the chronology of the movie’s story rather than the order in which the film’s scenes were actually shot. It’s a move made, as Hansen puts it, “for the sake of clarity and my own sanity,” but it also lends Chain Saw Confidential, for readers intimately familiar with the movie at least, something of the buildup of tension and anticipation that informs the movie."

There's also an Oscar postscript in which I apologize for my lame Oscar predictions and make some snarky comments about the show itself. My last words of any kind on Oscar 2014, I promise!

See you at Trailers from Hell  for this week's Fear of the Velvet Curtain!

*****************************************

Thursday, February 19, 2015

FEAR OF THE VELVET CURTAIN



 
Let me invoke the catch phrase of Futurama’s Professor Farnsworth and say, good news, friends!
 
In a development unforeseen by me until a few weeks ago, it seems Yours Truly will be branching out and taking up some pretty exciting company. If you know this blog, you undoubtedly know about the two-and-a-half minute film school known as Trailers from Hell, the brainchild of one of my favorite filmmakers, Joe Dante. Well, starting today, Yours Truly will have his own little corner of that prestigiously pulpy site! The good folks at TFH have offered me a weekly column (every Thursday), a soap box from which to pontificate upon all matters regarding the movies—reviews, appreciations, general musings and whatever else strikes my twisted fancy. So naturally, I said, naaaah…
 
Not really.
 
The column is called Fear of the Velvet Curtain, and here’s a little clue as to why, taken from my inaugural post:
 
"As every show started, the projectionist always fired up the machine before the screen was fully revealed, and the first flickers, usually the logo for the movie studio releasing it, or perhaps the opening images of the pre-show cartoon, always ended up splayed upon the surface of the curtain, warped and misshapen by the natural folds of the material and its movement as it slowly pulled open. There was something lurking there, and that something was coming out, couldn’t be stopped. It didn’t matter whether or not the movie was innocuous family fare, like Blackbeard’s Ghost or The Sound of Music, or horrors like Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed or The House That Screamed. The creepy ritual itself, those images projected onto the slowly retracting curtain, quite honestly terrified me, filled me with so much fear, excitement and anticipation that I often had to look away. And of course once the curtain came to rest at the edges of the screen and the movie commenced, looking away was the last thing I could do."

While life at SLIFR will continue on (a new quiz is a-brewin’ as I type), for me today begins an association with one of my favorite sites that I hope will be a long and exciting one. My most sincere thanks goes to Joe Dante, of course, and also to TFH’s art director, the eye-bogglingly talented Charlie Largent for this wonderful opportunity. You need only click here to see that inaugural post, plus my first extended column, all about (what else?) the Oscars, now playing at Trailers from Hell. Coming soon? Nope! It’s here!
  

(Also, check out critic Michael Sragow’s great new interview with Joe Dante conducted for Film Comment—click here for parts one and two.)

***********************************************

Thursday, February 05, 2015

WONDER WOMEN OF THE MOVIES: THE ARTEMIS WOMEN IN ACTION FILM FESTIVAL


 
Helen Gibson, a rodeo star in the early days of the 20th century, moved to Hollywood to become a “cowboy extra” and ended up becoming one of the very first paid stunt women/actresses in the history of the movies when she was hired to perform stunts and emote in the lead role of The Hazards of Helen (1914). She eventually opened her own production company in 1921 and continued in stunt work until the age of 69, when she performed in her last movie, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).
Similarly, Polly Burson grew up on an Oregon  ranch in the 1920’s and, like Gibson, was a rodeo performer until 1945, where she began stunt-doubling stars like Betty Hutton (The Perils of Pauline), Lucille Ball (Fancy Pants), Julie Adams (The Creature from the Black Lagoon) and Kim Novak (Vertigo). She was also the first female to be hired as the stunt coordinator overseeing an entire film, Westward the Women (1951), and performed her last stunt work on a movie at the age of 73, for 1992’s Hero.

 

And in addition to stunt-doubling actresses like Vivien Leigh (Gone with the Wind), Donna Reed (It’s a Wonderful Life) and Paulette Goddard (Unconquered), Lila Finn was the founding president of the Stunt Women's Association. She performed her last movie stunts on the set of Folks! (1992) at the age of 85.
 

 
Each of these names may ring only the vaguest of bells in the memory of most film buffs, if they are remembered at all, but each was a groundbreaker in the world of women performing stunts on film. They embody the spirit of history and tribute of a new and upcoming film festival, The Artemis Women In Action Film Festival, which aims not only to shed light on the history of the pioneering female spirit of this branch of the industry, celebrating lesser-known names like Gibson, Burson and Finn alongside more visible cinema icons like Pam Grier, Raquel Welch, Angelina Jolie, Zoe Bell and Michelle Yeoh, but also to help spotlight on-the-rise filmmakers looking to make their mark in the field of female-driven action cinema.

Melanie Wise, an actress, athlete, aspiring filmmaker and one of the founding members of Artemis Motion Pictures, the group behind the festival, remembers her days auditioning for countless roles in TV and movies that amounted essentially to helpless women in peril. But being six feet tall herself, often towering over the people making the casting decisions, she often found herself losing out on jobs because she was taller than her lead actors. On one audition for the Nash Bridges TV series, she found herself in an imaginative quandary which led to an epiphany of sorts. “I can’t sell this,” she said about pretending to be in quaking fear of the bad guy, and set out upon focusing on methods, including making her own films, to impress upon disbelieving producers that women in strong action roles would be something audiences would flock to see.
She says she and her partners, fellow filmmakers Sean Newcombe and Zack Baldwin, hit upon the idea of a female-oriented action film festival as a way to make just such an impression, and to give actresses who have been essential in making credible inroads into what has typically been seen a male-centric endeavor their due spotlight. “These are women who have skipped way past the confines of the roles we typically see them in,” Wise says, recognizing that for many females, actresses as well as viewers, broadening that scope can be an eye-opening experience. “Women can have a very narrow view of themselves and the possibilities they see open for themselves,” noting that when seeing women in roles traditionally assumed suitable only for men, they may see new dimensions and lifestyles they’ll find appealing. “Their whole worldview can change,” Wise notes, not without a glint of hope in her voice.

Thusly, the Artemis Women In Action Film Festival hopes to introduce to an audience already familiar with the great leading ladies of physical filmmaking to some of the long and fascinating history behind their favorite stars, but also to get that audience a peek into what might be just ahead in terms of the international talent that will be cresting the next wave of female action films. Wise and her team have already fielded submissions from all over the world, including Iran, South America and the United Kingdom, including one unlikely specimen of women in action produced by Stephen Fry and Derek Jacobi (“It has their customary dry wit, but asses are also kicked,” Wise assures), and movies about skateboarders, big mountain skiers and female movie stunt pilots are among the documentary submissions already in the hands of the Artemis team. (The festival is named after Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt, perhaps the first true female action star.)


But due reverence is also scheduled to be doled out to the likes of pioneering blaxploitation action star Pam Grier (Foxy Brown, Coffy, Sheba Baby); stuntwoman Jeannie Epper, seen below, whose earliest jobs included work on a string of ‘70s disaster epics like The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake and The Towering Inferno, as well as stints on Grier’s Foxy Brown and Coffy and doubling for Linda Carter as Wonder Woman; Angelina Jolie (Salt, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider); Raquel Welch (Fathom, Kansas City Bomber); Zoe Bell (Xena: Warrior Princess, Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2, Death Proof); Scarlet Johannson (Lucy, Under the Skin, The Avengers); and Michelle Yeoh (Supercop, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Wing Chun, Tai Chi Master), who Wise believes best epitomizes the ideal behind the peak achievements of female actor/stunt performers the festival hopes to suitably honor.
 


Wise emphasizes that submissions to the festival in the feature, documentary and shorts categories are currently open and will be through March 6, 2015, and can be made directly to the festival through the Artemis Women In Action Film Festival Web site as well as through the Without A Box, Film Freeway and Film Festival Life sites. The panels of judges will be announced shortly as well, to be followed by the full slate of programming that will comprise the festival, which runs April 24-26, 2015.


 
       Additionally, you can directly contribute financially to the festival by accessing the Women Kick Ass project which is currently accepting donations to ensure the first year of the festival will kick off with the sort of excitement and range of viewing selections that should accompany the honoring of these great and talented performers. “The whole festival will be worth it just for the opportunity to get these women and their work on a stage or on a screen and say, ‘Applaud this! They deserve it!’” says Wise, who will undoubtedly be in the front row, leading the cheers. One can imagine Gibson, Burson, Finn, and the countless other women in the movie and TV stunt field who led relatively uncelebrated careers, cheering right alongside her. Artemis herself might even fire an arrow to the stars in approval.

***************************************************

(For more information, visit the Web sites linked above as well as the Web site for Artemis Motion Pictures. You can also visit the Facebook page for the Artemis Film Festival for the most current updated information.)

***************************************************

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A BAKER'S DOZEN-PLUS FAVORITES FOR 2014



By the time you read this, you and I and everyone else will be focusing with laser-like intensity on the few, those lucky few, that have managed to survive the first stages of the campaign for Oscar glory, at the expense of all the rest of the films and filmmakers of 2014 that were worthy, deserving, and often more deserving of the sort of glory that will be showered on the nominees like a gold-flaked fake tan. Which is not to say that some likely Oscar favorites—Boyhood, Birdman, Whiplash, The Grand Budapest Hotel among them—don’t deserve the accolades. But there were a lot of other movies that will scarcely be mentioned from this day forward that also warrant our attention. So while Hollywood and the ravenous 24/7 press machine raise their glasses to those with the best, most relentless press agents or with Harvey Weinstein as patron saint, let me be so bold as to salute my own baker’s dozen favorites from the year just passed (delivered by my favorite movie baker, Enzo Aguello, seen above), with a bonus morsel and a another full basket of delights tossed in for good measure, before they all sail away, forever disinvited from the annual post-Oscar Governor’s Ball. These were the movies that made me the happiest to be hungry for the movies in 2014.
First, the appetizer, then the feast, in ascending order:


13.5) FEAST (Patrick Osborne)
By the time this little dollop of a movie works its way through to its conclusion, any possible objections to sameness in the usual Disney affirmation of family values have been eroded by the sheer joy of the movie’s effortless invention and discipline, and then washed away in a flood of tears.”


13) WHIPLASH (Damien Chazelle)
A movie that rumbles with the cacophonic fury of a Buddy Rich solo and a sly, rhythmic certainty in the probing of ambiguous depths of character that is all its own. Miles Teller’s student drummer and J.K. Simmons’ martinet music teacher give no quarter in this clash of creative realization and outrageous emotional manipulation. Hearts are hardened, souls are compromised and limits are pushed, to say nothing of the knuckle meat sacrificed to the dark beat of writer/director Chazelle’s unsettling emotional thriller. Above all, it has a soundtrack that soars.


12) ALTMAN (Ron Mann)
In remembering a filmmaker who lived life imperfectly, uproarious, generously, who then channeled those impulses into an astonishing career in which the failures were as fascinating as the many triumphs, Mann’s documentary reminds us not of cinematic glories that will be with us till all the lights go out, but also of what we’ve lost over the course of the 45 years of popular film culture since Altman’s free-spirited style briefly reigned, asserted its influence and then gave way to the sameness of the blockbuster era.


11) MILIUS (Joey Figueroa, Zak Knutson)

An examination and a tribute worthy of the knotty, exhilarating, maddening, supremely confident and impishly provocative auteur at its center which, in addition to celebrating the expected bravado, surfs surprising waves of feeling as well. Milius himself might scoff (while secretly appreciating it, of course), but the empathy this documentary generates for his boisterous voice, at its topmost volume and in its virtual silencing, is both remarkable and revealing.



10) BIRDMAN (or THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) (Alejandro G. Innaritu)

On one level it’s hard not to take this ebulliently confident tour de force as a direct response to the critics of Innaritu’s previous films, in particular their jittery, self-serious style which sacrificed memorable imagery and visual coherence at the altar of facile immediacy. But it’s also a blackly funny backstage satire which skewers the insecurity and hubris of actors and show business while simultaneously reveling in their glories. As it glides through the halls and up the stairs of a theatrical space constructed to reflect the mental echo chambers of a creative force skirting the edge of the final drop-off, Birdman proves taut and moving, a relentless snare pattern resounding like madness, reverberating like the thrill of performance, laughing and shuddering while the constructed inner and outer worlds crumble.
 
9) VIRUNGA (Orlando von Einsiedel)
A documentary with all the urgency of great investigative journalism and the razor-sharp instincts of a well-told thriller. Virunga showcases a devastating polarity of human nature in its portrait of the venal and violently destructive battle for oil lands in the Congo and the heroic attempts of a group of park rangers to facilitate the conservation of the land and the survival of its native population of mountain gorillas. It leaves you breathless with outrage, but also with hope generated by the sacrifice of the rangers and the power of moral clarity.


8) THE BABADOOK (Jennifer Kent)

This may not precisely be the most terrifying movie ever made, as broadcast by director William Friedkin, but it’s well scary enough to at least live up to the spirit of the hype, especially when considering this debut feature by writer-director Kent, an ostensibly supernatural tale which eventually drifts closer to a maternal riff on Repulsion, has the confidence and stylistic purpose of a seasoned artist of psychological horror. It’s anchored by Essie Davis’s spectacular turn as a mother whose post-partum trauma has eroded her patience and even love for her own son, who fries his mother’s last nerves in insisting the monster from a mysterious children’s book is somehow real. Profoundly unsettling, and not particularly pleasant—I had to fight the urge to bolt for the exits on a couple of occasions.  
 

7) ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (Jim Jarmusch)
Most hipsters act like they’ve seen it all, but Jarmusch’s ageless hipster vampires really have. It’s the director’s brilliant conceit that they should be consumers not only of blood but also of culture, great predator-participants in the most sublime and earth-shaking of creative endeavors throughout history, whose sense of romance, of deathless cool, is giving way to a seductive alienation that may be too much even for the undead to oppose. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston, the most sympathetic connoisseur-snob bloodsuckers imaginable; their modern-day lair, a fabulously cluttered batcave of analog rock-era detritus; and the philosophical swoon they take through the empty streets of Detroit in search of spiritual and sensory sustenance-- they are all similarly irresistible.  


6) SELMA (Ava DuVernay)

History made palpable, accessible, by its unfortunate reflection of modern evidence that the strides made in the Civil Rights Movement it so vividly depicts may not have taken us as far as we once thought, but also by the striking empathy commanded by the filmmaker for the real work required to channel and execute effective resistance. Visually powerful without an excess of directorial ostentation, DuVernay crystallizes the events leading to the march on Montgomery to speak to the desperate now in painting a portrait, embodied by David Oyelowo’s Martin Luther King, of a dynamic, recognizably flawed human being whose perhaps most important achievement may have been in timely reflection as well as thoughtful action. Selma fairly vibrates with historical resonance and immediacy.  


5) MR. TURNER (Mike Leigh)
Timothy Spall’s gruntingly eloquent, nearly subverbal performance as the indisputably great British painter J.M.W. Turner may be the year’s greatest, and it may also be (New York Film Critics Circle excepted) the year’s most egregiously ignored. Awards or no, Spall, in concert with Leigh and the masterful cinematographer Dick Pope, paints a Cinemascope picture of an artist worthy of the aesthetic and temperamental flux that characterized the end of his career. The filmmakers don’t try to ape the realist’s lean toward impressionism of Turner’s late work, nor does Spall labor to spell out thin explanations for his obsessions in actorly language. Instead, these modern artists strive for and achieve a tactile quality of everyday light and landscape to suggest how the British painter perceives the world around him, while honoring with their own craft the mystery of how those perceptions were transformed into Turner’s art. This is surely among Mike Leigh’s best films.


4) THE BATTERED BASTARDS OF BASEBALL (Chapman Way, Maclain Way)
“Most of the guys had a little paunch,” says Rob Nelson, pitching coach of the Portland Mavericks independent professional baseball club. “They led the league in stubble.” So does this marvelous, energetic, irreverent documentary, a perfect capsulizing of the Maverick’s raucous legacy of unprecedented success. The Ways pay tribute to actor turned baseball impresario Bing Russell (father of actor Kurt Russell, who briefly played for the team) and the enthusiastic, against-the-grain spirit he instilled in his players, which the city of Portland responded to in kind. In the process, they’ve made a movie that speaks to the true fan of the game, to the real love of the game, one of the great movies about baseball.



3) MANAKAMANA (Stephanie Spray, Pancho Velez)
The closest thing to being hypnotized, in a purely positive, enlivening sense, I’ve ever experienced at the hands of a movie, one in which the shift of a gaze, or a sigh, or an unexpected movement or sound, can feel like an earthquake. This incredible film, composed of a series of simple 10-minute shots observing human faces as they survey a beautiful Nepalese mountainside forest from a swaying cable car on its way to the temple of the movie's titular goddess, sucked me into its unblinking gaze. Each trip with a new set of passengers offers an opportunity to see and feel and think about the world differently, as well as reflect on the power of the moving image to convey so much by so apparently minor means. Beautiful and transcendent.  

And an equivocation at the top of the list, because I just can’t choose between the two movies of the year which most captivated me:


1) BOYHOOD (Richard Linklater)
From my review, posted August 18, 2014: “The film marks the passage of time in the faces of its actors, of course, but also through the way it indicates, without a jarring jump-cut sensibility, how Olivia (Patricia Arquette) extricates herself from the influence of her abusive, alcoholic husbands (the second one entirely off-screen); how the landscape of her countenance, changing in its way right along with her son’s, illustrates her deepening concern and love; by the telling presence of technology, of how Game Boy screens and televisions morph into computers and smartphones and, of course, the unseen grid of social media; of the political landscape of Texas after the turn of the century; and by the deft massaging of all these elements into scenes that don’t seem edited as much as molded together… Linklater lets the movie sprawl and find its own shape outside of prescribed methods of editing, how he allows it to trickle through the timeline and make room for the sorts of detail that would get sifted out of a more strictly and traditionally dramatic approach. Nothing much beyond the course of everyday experience happens in Boyhood—the movie has also been criticized in some quarters for not being dramatic enough, for being a too generalized portraiture of growing up. Yet the movie captures with alarming sensitivity the way youth, and the way people move through youth toward maturity, makes each decision seem momentous, important, far-reaching, when precisely the opposite may be true. Is Boyhood the greatest movie ever made, an enduring masterpiece? Who knows? Its sublime poetry, its generosity, its empathy, its curiosity, its window onto the true fleetingness and intangibility of time, these are the qualities that actually mean something. Boyhood is extraordinary right now. When we're older and grayer and ostensibly wiser, there will still be plenty of time to discuss matters of greatness."


 
 
1) UNDER THE SKIN (Jonathan Glazer )
 
Its title evokes ripples of unnerving intimacy, frissons of fear, and a construction of alien intelligence, perspective and detachment hidden in the guise of seductive earthly beauty, personified by Scarlett Johansson's spectrally gorgeous, eerily vacant countenance. Jonathan Glazer's science fiction dreamscape is perhaps the most powerful visual movie experience of the new century so far, its vision and command of technique stretching from absolute modernity to the dawning age of cinematic imagery. It begins with an act of interstellar birth, preverbal linguistic formations coursing almost subliminally on the soundtrack, and ends elementally, in fire and under the calming descent of snow, its gaze pointedly pleadingly back in the direction from whence it started. Between these points Under the Skin fashions an alluring near-perfect expression of the elusive, mysterious task of defining humanity, as well as chilling glimpses into the secret methodology of observation and harvesting of that humanity which leads to destruction and, perhaps, transcendence. Nearly a decade after his magnificent and haunting feature Birth (2004), Glazer here intertwines a singularly menacing and surreal atmosphere with an even stranger, more pure realism, and the feature that results places him on a short list among the most startling and original filmmakers working today.

THE APPRENTICE BAKER’S DOZEN (in descending order)


14) THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (Wes Anderson)


15) LOCKE  (Steven Knight)


16)  GODZILLA  (Gareth Edwards)


17) A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES (Scott Frank)


18) JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE (John Ridley)


19) THE HOMESMAN  (Tommy Lee Jones)


20) LUCY  (Luc Besson)


21) GOD’S POCKET  (John Slattery)


22) THE UNKNOWN KNOWN  (Errol Morris)


23) CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER  (Anthony Russo, Joe Russo)


24) STRANGER BY THE LAKE (Alain Guiraudie)


25) THE INTERVIEW (Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg)


26) BAD WORDS  (Jason Bateman)
 
STILL NEED TO SEE: American Sniper, Beyond the Lights, Beyond Outrage, Big Bad Wolves, The Boxtrolls, CitizenFour, Citizen Koch, The Dance of Reality, Dear White People, Fading Gigolo, The Fault In Our Stars, A Field in England, Finding Vivian Maier, For No Good Reason, Force Majeure, Foxcatcher, Fury, Get On Up, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Goodbye to Language, The Green Inferno, How to Train Your Dragon 2, The Imitation Game, The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, Into the Woods, Joe, Journey to the West, The Last Days of Vietnam, Life Itself, The Monuments Men, Night Moves, Nymphomaniac Vol. 2, Obvious Child, Palo Alto, Particle Fever, The Penguins of Madagascar, The Raid 2, Rigor Mortis, Rosewater, The Sacrament, The Story of Princess Kaguya, Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon, Third Person, Three Days to Kill, 22 Jump Street, Whitey: United States of America v. James Bulger, Wild, The Wind Rises, Witching and Bitching.

ACADEMY OF THE UNDERRATED


At the Devil’s Door, God’s Pocket, The Interview, Land Ho!, Lucy, Magic in the Moonlight, Ouija, Veronica Mars, Venus in Fur, A Walk Among the Tombstones

ACADEMY OF THE OVERRATED


Big Eyes, Blue Ruin, Calvary, Gone Girl, Guardians of the Galaxy, Ida, Inherent Vice, Interstellar, Jodorowsky’s Dune, John Wick, Nightcrawler, Snowpiercer

BEST ACTRESS
 


Essie Davis (The Babadook), Marion Cotillard (The Immigrant), Scarlett Johansson (Under the Skin), Tilda Swinton (Only Lovers Left Alive), Hilary Swank (The Homesman)

 BEST ACTOR


Timothy Spall (Mr. Turner), Tom Hardy (Locke), Michael Keaton Birdman), David Oyelowo (Selma), Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS


Patricia Arquette (Boyhood), Emma Stone (Birdman), Imogen Poots (Jimi: All is Buy My Side), Carmen Ejogo (Selma), Marion Bailey (Mr. Turner)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR


J.K. Simmons (Whiplash), Ethan Hawke (Boyhood), Edward Norton (Birdman), Randall Park (The Interview), Joaquin Phoenix (The Immigrant)

BEST DIRECTOR


Richard Linklater (Boyhood), Jonathan Glazer (Under the Skin), Mike Leigh (Mr. Turner), Ava DuVernay (Selma), Jim Jarmusch (Only Lovers Left Alive)

BEST SCREENPLAY


Mike Leigh (Mr. Turner), Paul Webb (Selma), Jim Jarmusch (Only Lovers Left Alive), Jennifer Kent (The Babadook), Alejandro G. Innaritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo (Birdman)

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY


Daniel Landin (Under the Skin), Dick Pope (Mr. Turner), Emmanuel Lubiezki (Birdman), Darius Khondji (Magic in the Moonlight), Yorick Le Saux (Only Lovers Left Alive)

 BEST FILM EDITING


Sandra Adair (Boyhood), Chapman Way (The Battered Bastards of Baseball), Spencer Averick (Selma), Simon Njoo (The Babadook), Justine Wright (Locke)

 BREAD BOX CRUMBS: THE WORST OF 2014 (in descending order)


10) Before I Go to Sleep (Rowan Joffe)

9)  Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy)

8)  Inherent Vice  (Paul Thomas Anderson)

7)  300: Rise of an Empire (Noam Murro)

6)  The Bag Man (David Grovic)

5)  Interstellar (Christopher Nolan)

4)  A Million Ways to Die in the West (Seth Macfarlane)

3)  Tusk (Kevin Smith)

2)  Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 (Lars von Trier)

1)  Left Behind (Vic Armstrong)

*************************************************