Favorite 15 Films of 2014 (So Far) From murder to full frontal to bear traps

The Dance of Reality
Dir. Alejandro Jodorowsky

[Abkco Films]

Jodorowsky's latest is an uncompromisingly lyrical and surreal film, which is only hampered by some segments that find the filmmakers' digital equipment not up to the task of capturing the master's vision. We're introduced to a mother who only communicates through bursts of opera singing and comes up with a truly awe-inspiring cure for the plague; a classically Jodorowskian group of severely disfigured men (victims of mine accidents); and a brutal, Stalinesque father (played exquisitely by Jodorowsky's eldest son, Brontis) obsessed with assassinating General Carlos Ibáñez del Campo and who screams the mantra "God doesn't exist!" with as much fervor as a Westboro Baptist protester. Traversing this strange landscape is a young Jodorowsky (Jeremias Herskovits), ridiculed by his Chilean peers for his Jewish Ukrainian ancestry and constantly tested by his father for strength and resistance to pain. This boyhood Jodorowsky plays a Dante to the Virgil of Mr. Jodorowsky himself, looking surprisingly spry for an 85-year-old, guiding his younger self through sometimes traumatic, sometimes joyful, but always very powerful experiences. What's most remarkable about all this weirdness is the director's absolute refusal to treat any of his characters with anything less than the utmost compassion and dignity. Here we see a Jodorowsky less incensed by political discord and perceived injustice, and more concerned with the lives of the individuals he's decided to follow in his film. [full review]

The LEGO Movie
Dir. Phil Lord and Chris Miller

[Warner Bros.]

As with any kids’ film, the concept is a ridiculous one, especially typed out like this in review form. But The Lego Movie elevates itself beyond its somewhat cornball premise thanks to everyone on board. Lord and Miller wrench some genuine laughs out of the limited physical movement of these Lego people and the outlandish circumstances these characters are in, while also providing some healthy digs at corporate culture. The cast is pitch-perfect, too, with some great work thrown in the mix by Liam Neeson as a split-personality policeman and Charlie Day as a hyperactive 80s-era spaceman. […] The real gem of this production, though, is the animation staff. Working within the confines of Lego shapes and using models from throughout the toy brand’s history, they create vast landscapes that should send collectors into convulsions of joy and envy. Absolutely everything — from explosions to a vast ocean to a strange nebula that lies just outside President Business’s office building — is rendered as if built from actual Lego pieces. [full review]

Dir. Pawel Pawlikowski

[Music Box Films]

Rather than the dramatic histrionics that [the film’s] clash of figures may suggest, Pawlikawski’s approach is austere and subdued (even the romance is dealt with elegantly), capturing a sense of spiritual tranquility with a purity and economy of form that is rare outside of a Bresson or Dreyer film, yet with a political and moral fervor that this type of material demands. Its compositions are often fragmented, with close-ups capturing only a portion of Ida’s face or placing her at the very bottom of the frame as if her sense of self is dominated by the world around her while the soundtrack, only once interrupted by a brief spurt of non-diagetic sound, is wonderfully spare, the emptiness filled either with natural sounds or brief interludes of classical or jazz music (most memorably John Coltrane’s “Naima” in its most sentimental moment and Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony ironically in its most tragic) played by the characters. This minimalist aesthetic is not only suitably contemplative, but allows the films dramatic moments hit with a crashing crescendo and the visceral indignation of Wanda to clash so wonderfully with the serene solemnity of Ida. [full review]

Under the Skin
Dir. Jonathan Glazer

[A24 Films]

She leads all of the men into a smooth and reflective black plane, where they follow her as she undresses — more and more with each man, with the first just her shirt coming off, but by the third man she is naked — and then, once all of their clothes are off, they descend, seemingly without hesitation, into a body of gelatin or liquid, where they are suspended until suddenly deteriorating silently. This is in stark contrast to the scene that starts the movie, when the succubus steals the body of the dead girl, which takes place among impossible white, luminescent and shining, infinite. […] There are many more of these visually-stunning and inventive moments. But Under the Skin is not “interesting” to look at a lot of the time, mostly taking place in a van as Scarlett Johansson’s character drives around the streets of Scotland, talking to men, taking a few of them, leaving most of them where they are. Glazer employed documentary techniques for these scenes — everyday non-actors, unstaged footage of crowds — giving them the feeling of anthropological filmmaking, almost predatory in its detached observation. [full review]

Vic + Flo Saw A Bear
Dir. Denis Côté


Côté’s film […] thrives on that ambiguity and the isolated feeling it creates. The secondary characters are mostly one-dimensional — Jackie (who appears late in the film but plays a crucial role) is a villain, Guillaume is a stooge, and Emile is a ghost. But Côté’s portrait is also carefully tender at points. In many ways, the relationship between the two women exhibits a complex psychology of post-incarceration life. When Flo sustains an injury that requires her to wear a leg cast, she points out that Vic almost seems pleased by her lack of mobility. Thankfully, Robitaille and Bohringer carry the film with subtle expressiveness from its initial vagaries through the harrowing final ten minutes (and trust me when I say that it’s a uniquely shocking conclusion). What you make of that ending is entirely up to you, but it sticks in your throat like an unspoken word. Whatever the nature of the complex bonds between Vic, Flo, and the outside world, the idea that they are essentially real is hard to deny. [full review]