The Tribe (Miroslav Slaboshpitsky, Ukraine)
Cinema never ceases to surprise and amaze, and Slaboshpitsky's début is a film that will leave you literally speechless. The Tribe is set within a deaf and dumb school where a new student finds himself part of the eponymous tribe, a group of students that use the school as their personal fiefdom. The film is completely silent and communication is only done via sign language. But here's the kicker; there are no subtitles. It shouldn't work but it does, with this grim tale rising to Shakespearean levels of tragedy. The Tribe is a film for the age of discommunication, cinema that reaches backward to move forward and proves that the medium will always surpass and surprise against the onward march of mediocrity. [DM] Read Ben Nicholson's review here.
Goodbye to Language 3D (Jean-Luc Godard, France)
The irony was cruel; the only film of 2014 to push the medium of cinema was given the inexplicable indignity of a direct-to-video release. Altering our preconceived notions of what cinema can be by creating new ways of seeing; from the jaw-dropping use of 3D juxtaposition to provocative questions about the state of the art in the new century, Godard's Goodbye to Language confronts us with the complexity of our relationship with cinema. But no matter how cynical and despairing Godard gets, he cannot help but find himself still at the mercy of this great art, and even redefining it in the process. Not bad for a man who declared the end of cinema in 1967. [CW] Read Ben Nicholson's Toronto Film Festival review here.
Winter Sleep (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey)
Dialogue-heavy, 196 minutes long, a film about a failing marriage, one would expect Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Winter Sleep to be an arthouse experience for hardened cinephiles alone. Although I admit to a certain trepidation at the prospect of such a lengthy running time, Ceylan’s latest proved to be a film that left me feeling elated – to the point where I fancied myself crying out 'Cinema! Cinema!' just like Benoît Poelvoorde in Man Bites Dog. The term 'masterpiece' is an oversubscribed tag beloved of film PRs. It's a word-crime every critic regularly commits, in fact. But goddammit, Winter Sleep is one, and I'm willing to get in the ring and duke it out for the cause. Ceylan is a master of cinema. Rejoice! [MC] You can read John Bleasdale's Cannes review here.
Two Days, One Night (The Dardenne brothers, France)
In the Dardennes' Two Days, One Night Marion Cotillard demonstrates their potent capacity to showcase their actors talents as a brittle belle of misfortune. Desperate yet defeatist, she spends a weekend visiting colleagues, bashfully pleading for each to reconsider a callous ultimatum made by their bureaucratic bosses. Thematic trade-unionist undercurrents are profoundly accurate, but it's the natural wonders of Cotillard that elevate the material. Her honesty is agonisingly physical, contending with affairs both domestic and intimate. The filmmakers ideals seem fully realised in this truly involving film. As far as nuanced political dramas go, this is the Tout Va Bien of the social-realist genre. [TW] Read Daniel Green's review here.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, USA)
From its Russian doll-like narration device and opulent world, to the litter of welcoming faces from director Wes Anderson's past oeuvre, The Grand Budapest Hotel marks yet another post-Darjeeling upwards trajectory for the filmmaker. Even those critics of Anderson's work, who argue his auteurial showmanship lacks the requisite emotional beats were scrambling to lavish praise after discovering a beating heart underneath the decorative exterior. Ralph Fiennes has never been better as the foppish but principled hotel concierge M. Gustave H. and Anderson has crafted a sugary (yet sometimes bitter) pseudo fairytale which sits amongst his very best work. [AL] Read Joe Walsh's review from this year's Berlinale here
5. Stray Dogs (Tsai Ming-Liang, Taiwan)
Stray Dogs presents Taipei as a series of non-places: derelict housing, supermarkets, raindrenched motorway intersections. Shot in a succession of non-linear long takes, characters are positioned precariously in each frame, the audience invited to consider their relationship to the spaces they inhabit. Tsai's social realist dreamscape focusses on a homeless man who works as a human billboard. It is here the ambiguity of the film is offset with an outspokenness; he stands all day in treacherous weather, advertising a new housing complex. At night he returns to an abandoned building where he puts his children to bed. Situating the concept of home as something to be interpreted, rather than simply given. [CB] Read Patrick Gamble's review here.
The second feature from American writer-director Damien Chazelle is an exemplary and relentlessly tense examination of the simultaneously fruitful and dangerous effects of pure, naked ambition. In what promises to be his breakout role, Miles Teller shines as Andrew, a talented young drummer who, in his determined bid to be the very best, is put to the test by an instructor with methods of realising his pupil's potential. Playing the role of Fletcher, an intuitive tutor prone to furious bouts of volatility, J.K. Simmons delivers an astonishing performance of physical and mental supremacy, made all the more intense by Chazelle's ambiguous approach to an ostensibly simple story.[EdFrost] Read John Bleasdale's Cannes review here.
Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, UK)
There is a pivotal scene in Under the Skin in which Scarlett Johansson's alien looks at her body in the mirror for the first time. The deadly power held in her physical form reflected back at her, it is here the alien, and by extension the audience, can consider a society corrupted by an obsession with surfaces. Ultimately it is this corruption that the alien is escaping, a liberation she can only achieve upon shedding her skin in the final scene. An intoxicating, beguiling merging of Sci-Fi and social realism, yet goes far beyond both in its thematic, tonal, and stylistic reach, Under the Skin is an alternative, yet compelling exploration of gender and the power of appearances. [CB] Read Craig William's review here
2. Leviathan (Andrey Zvaginstev, Russia)
Shot using what is now a familiar palette of Payne's greys and melancholy blues, Zvyagintsev's Leviathan opens on an ominous, tumultuous shore line, the sight of crashing waves accompanied by Philip Glass' austere score an indicator of impending trouble. Set in northern Russia, the ever rising and falling waves come to represent Zvyagintsev and co-writer Oleg Negin's carefully constructed plot manoeuvres, which slowly establish the complexity of each power dynamic at every level, sustaining the tension of motives unspoken then building towards multiple dramatic crescendos. Such an approach is utterly compelling, pulling the viewer into what first appears to be a small legal matter, and becomes no less than the absolute corruption of bureaucratic and clerical power. [HW] Read John Bleasdale's Cannes review here.
1. Boyhood (Richard Linklater, USA)
There are few things arts writers hate more than a compliant consensus, and the critical rapture that greeted Boyhood on release has inevitably opened up questionable but persuasive gulfs of dissent. But talk of middle class tunnel vision can do nothing to temper Linklater's emotive and masterful vision of an American youth. The universality has little to do with the specificity of the events portrayed, and more with the collective recognition of our surrender to time's arrow. We need not have been through what Mason has, nor even understand his background or concerns, but we are all at the mercy of the same metaphysical forces. Therein lies the genius of Linklater's open-hearted wonder. [CW] Read Daniel Green's review here.