Cake (2014) attacks the subject head-on and explores the often embarrassing world of dealing with support groups, pain management instructors, healthcare workers, and one's own paralysing self-doubt about what the next day holds. As a sincere look at difficult subjects like suicide and prescription drug addiction, this could have been a phenomenal movie baring vital messages about pain and recovery. Instead, it's as hard to take in as the Oxycontin Jennifer Aniston repeatedly dry-swallowing during bouts of extreme muscle pain.
- It's in the murky uncertainties and frosty climate that A Most Violent Year endures and excels
- Alex Garland's Ex Machina is a stirring piece about human possibilities and digital anxieties
- David Koepp's Mortdecai is another mawkish, turgid and desperately outdated spy comedy
- Our first review of 2015 delves into Alejandro González Iñárritu's dizzyingly immersive Birdman
The Boy Next Door (2015) will be remembered as one of the worst movies of the year. The sub-par acting, overdramatic cinematography and horribly predictable shock value of the film makes it all the more difficult to sit through without laughing at the ludicrous production or checking a cellphone to gauge how much torture one is expected to sit through before it finally ends. Worst of all, however, is the warped desire to sexualise the misogynistic actions of the lead sociopath.
While We're Young, starring Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts, has been chosen to open the festival, while Force Majeure - which won the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at last year's Cannes Film Festival - will close proceedings. In total, 174 events will take place across the famed cinema city from 18 February to 1 March, including 11 world premières, 10 European premières and 33 UK premières. Highlights include fall festival favourites Mommy, Clouds of Sils Maria and Girlhood, Alan Rickman's directorial debut A Little Chaos, the Pedro Almodóvar-produced black comedy Wild Tales and Still Alice.
Selma (2014), a stirring and complex portrayal of three civil-rights marches that took place in 1965 between the eponymous Alabama town and nearby state capital, Montgomery. The demonstrations were intended to force through legislation on voting rights and were spearheaded by Martin Luther King Jr himself, perfectly embodied on-screen in a towering performance by a transformed David Oyelowo.
Mortdecai (2015) from director David Koepp. Based on Kyril Bonfiglioli's 1970's comic novels, it follows the misadventures of the dodgy art dealer Charlie Mortdecai. He is a buffoonish British aristocrat who gives dear Johnny plenty of scope to up-the-ante on his long list of insufferably tiresome character performances. Like the Mad Hatter, Jack Sparrow and Willy Wonka before, he seems all too at home with the eccentricities of the role; complete with plummy British accent, twittering facial whiskers, and nods to the films Peter Sellers, Ronald Neame's Gambit (1966) and its 2012 remake.
Ex Machina (2015), the impressive directorial debut of genre polymath Alex Garland, our great contemporary technological fear is internalised then cast into the future's void. The consequences of The Age of Information – from Google to Snowden – are taken as given and next steps are considered. It is a film about human possibilities and digital anxieties, positing technological innovation as an endless cycle. The science changes, but the moral narratives stays the same; Garland confronts the technological zeitgeist of our day, but considers it within the tradition of late 20th century sci-fi.
Ultra Culture - which also sidelines in twinning film premières with a keg and a sing-song, Lyne now makes the somewhat inevitable leap to filmmaking with his debut Beyond Clueless (2014), a documentary that takes an extensive look at the decade-long, seminal years of the teen movie sub-genre.
Margin Call (2011) was dialogue-heavy and cerebral, reflected in the computer screens and shimmering steel and glass of the surroundings. In the far more elemental All Is Lost (2013) the sea was the ever-shifting landscape for Robert Redford's near-wordless toil. Most recently, the director has turned his hand to a crime drama of sorts, adopting a grimy, muted aesthetic in keeping with the tumultuous setting of New York in 1981. The scintillating A Most Violent Year (2014) highlights what has been the through-line of Chandor's terrific career to date; the struggle to survive.
Very Good Girls (2014) has all the trappings of an indie coming-of-age story: a hip soundtrack commandeered by musician Jenny Lewis; fresh-faced and innocent actresses; dreamy cinematography; just a dash of drama to appropriately weight the plot. This is all well and good but in a sea of films of this ilk, it gets drowned in its own good intentions. Naomi Foner's first outing as writer and director falls by the wayside very quickly, feeling like a exercise in derivative perceptions on what it means to become a woman. The narrative focuses on Lily (Dakota Fanning) and Gerry (Elizabeth Olsen) who are on their last summer vacation before college.
Funny Face (1957) took Old Hollywood to the counterculture and tore a strip off it. It was showbiz as artistic imperialism, with Donen turning a song and dance number into a form of cultural battering ram, taking on the beatniks, the bohemians and the dropouts. It was a last hurrah for the Hollywood musical, but Donen offered neither a limp celebration nor mournful epitaph.
Girls and Frances Ha (2013) have done anything, they've elevated the platforms for women in the entertainment industry to share their views and opinions and explore issues and debates within modern feminine society. Following suit is Gillian Robespierre's debut feature Obvious Child (2014), an expansion of her 2009 short film of the same name that chronicled the crises a young woman faces when she becomes pregnant. Reprising her role as said woman, Donna, is American actress and stand-up comic Jenny Slate, who brings an air of authenticity to a character with whom she shares many notable traits.
A Most Wanted Man (2014) is set in a post-9/11 Hamburg, Germany: on high-alert after allowing plotters involved in the New York attack to work right under its nose. Adapted from John le Carré's novel of the same name, the film seeks to explore the war on terror from a new perspective and contemplates just what toll espionage takes on those who are caught in its web. Chechen Muslim Issa Karpov's (Grigoriy Dobrygin) arrival in Hamburg is an ominous one.
1915: The Battle for the Alps (released as The Silent Mountain in 2014), is set in the Dolomite Mountains during World War One. A classy European cast includes William Moseley, of The Chronicles of Narnia fame. The dramatic backdrop is the fight between Austro-Hungary and Italy for control over territory stretching from Trentino through the South Tyrol to Trieste. Interweaving the political and personal, Grossner uses the wider focus of war as a stark contrast to the fortunes of two families who live on the border and intermarry. Andreas (Moseley) and his sister Elisabeth (Emily Cox), the offspring of an affluent Austrian hotelier, both fall for local Italians.
Following hot on the heels of last week's Bafta nominations in London as well as the weekend's telling Golden Globe results, at 1.30pm GMT today the list of nominees for this year's 87th Academy Awards were broadcast across the globe. With presenting duties split between J.J. Abrams and Alfonso Cuarón, as well as Chris Pine and Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, it was Alejandro Iñárritu's Birdman and Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel that were the two stand-out performers, with both receiving nine nominations each including Best Picture and Best Director. Clint Eastwood's American Sniper (six), Richard Linklater's Boyhood (also six) and British offerings The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything also picked up nods in key categories.
Dallas Buyers Club (2013), where both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto walked away with awards, Jean-Marc Vallée returns with Wild (2014), an adaptation of Cheryl Strayed's account of her treacherous, life-affirming hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. Despite a career best performance by Reese Witherspoon, Vallée's has again defined himself as an 'actors director', with his latest a hideously contrived self-help travelogue for the narcissistic and wilfully ignorant. Opening on a scenic vista, complete with rolling hills and lush Pacific greenery, we hear the murmurs of moaning and groaning stemming from off screen.
Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, American filmmaker Damien Chazelle returns with Whiplash (2014). A bruising and bracingly melodious cat and mouse story, it continues the director's fascination with the way music simultaneously inspires and affects everyday life. With what has already proven itself to be a festival favourite and awards contender, Chazelle's latest is an exemplary study of the both fruitful and dangerous ramifications of pure, naked ambition, one that skilfully marries a dark sense of humour with viciously high tension.
Calendar Girls (2003) screenwriter Juliette Towhidi, has succulently crafted an emotionally bruising, evocative and smartly streamlined adaptation of one of the greatest rallying cries to pacifism, Vera Brittain's remarkable Testament of Youth (2015). An account of her war years between 1914-18, Brittain's book is unique in a variety of ways and the challenges of adapting for the screen are numerous as a result. Kent, who gathers a cast of extremely bright young things, creates a drama that glides with sorrowful grace, pitching at a respectful and tear-inducing tone.
Duck Soup (1933) is already flinging mud in the eye of Western democracy. Bankrupt, the aforementioned country's lofty name is skewered when it is hauled back into the black by its richest citizen, Mrs. Teasdale. She insists on replacing the ousted premiere with a bold new leader of her choosing. The power of money may be absolute, but it's the enduring power of absurdist humour that is evident in her selection - Groucho Marx' wise-cracking Rufus T. Firefly. Leo McCarey's film throws meaningful narrative out of the window, presenting a masterclass in political satire and gut-busting slapstick.
In American Sniper (2014), Chris Kyle (played by Bradley Cooper) insists on keeping both eyes open when peering through the sights of his rifle. His reasoning is sound; to keep a weather eye on the rest of his surroundings. As director, Clint Eastwood seems to have ignored that advice, instead allowing his protagonist's telescopic tunnel vision to suck him in. Telling the tale of the US military's deadliest sniper, one of mainstream cinema's master purveyors of masculinity and Americana seems to have completely bought into the legend he's retelling. Despite a delicate handling of Kyle's internal struggles on home soil, deeper complexity appears to lie just out of frame throughout.
National Gallery (2014), a study of the Trafalgar Square institution. Wiseman's film is nearly three hours in length (still an hour shorter than his previous effort, 2013's At Berkeley), but every frame seems to illuminate some distinctive element of the ethereal nature of the place, and even at the speed of light his portrait of an institution in motion has questions that ruminate afterwards. In his signature style, without talking heads, narration or explanatory context, Wiseman takes us straight into the London gallery itself and the inhabitants inside - both human and paint-form.