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

12 O’Clock Boys
Dir. Lotfy Nathan


Over a span of three years, relatively unknown first time director Lotfy Nathan trained his camera on a young West Baltimore boy named Pug as he transitioned from a bright-eyed, boundlessly energetic pre-teen to a somewhat world-weary 13-year-old with an increasingly hard edge. Pug, whose undeniable magnetism and knack for guileless insight affords this film its most compelling reason for being, is obsessed with doing wheelies on dirt bikes and ATVs with a passionate intensity that only seems to present itself in the very young. While his fascination is intriguing and lends itself to some downright breathtaking action montages, the film revolves around an emotional center consisting of its subject growing up poor in some of the rougher parts of Baltimore with little parental supervision. What makes 12 O’Clock Boys a nearly perfect film hinges on how everyone involved managed to transcend the easily-exploitable particulars of Pug’s situation to create a work that treats a minor subject with an inspiring amount of respect and autonomy. [full review]

Stranger by the Lake
Dir. Alain Guiraudie

[Strand Releasing]

There is an underlying sense in the film that action, whether it represents Franck’s sexual identity or Michel’s violence, is validated by the presence of a witness. Men lurk around, emerging from the woods without warning, and the characters frequently find themselves in configurations of three. There are also rumors about a dangerous silurus (we never see it, but a silurus is a big, disgusting catfish) lurking at the bottom of the lake. These parasitic formations at first appear innocuous, and eventually collapse into violence. Still, though voyeurism and exhibitionism are instrumental to the story, they aren’t the endgame. Maybe that’s why Stranger by the Lake is able to avoid tawdriness. [The film] doesn’t feel exactly like anything I’ve seen before. In an interview included in the press materials for the film, Guiraudie commented that “the good thing about a lake is you always turn to face it.” One of the amazing things about his film is the way that seething body of water becomes the nucleus for so much orbiting activity. [full review]

The Raid 2
Dir. Gareth Evans

[Sony Pictures Classics]

Moving on from his Rio Bravo/Assault on Precinct 13 -influenced original, Evans reveals a much wider scope here in influences, story, set pieces, and cinematography. Drawing from films as disparate as The Godfather, Oldboy, Paranoia Agent, and even Hal Needham’s work, Evans is able to craft something familiar yet utterly new. The fights remain the brutal quick-paced, intimate affairs achieved by a stellar stunt team, but they aren’t shot at such close range this time, and even allow a farther depth of field to reveal the complexity Evans is capable of. Taking in a melee at a muddy prison yard, a garish nightclub, or cross-cutting between vicious acts of vengeance in multiple locations, viewers witness a whole new world of meticulously choreographed brutality. Overhead shots often reveal the chaos of this swarm of violence with just as much impact as the close shots between two grappling combatants. Of particular note is a car chase sequence that is easily one of the best in decades, and will certainly influence filmmakers for years to come. [full review]

Cold in July
Dir. Jim Mickle

[IFC Films]

Mickle borrows the visual tropes of 1980’s B-movies to adapt Joe R. Lansdale’s noir novel set in small town Texas during the same time period. In the film’s opening sequence, Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) creeps through the hallways of his suburban home, bathed in blue nocturnal light, as he fatally shoots a masked burglar. When the dead man’s father (Sam Shepard) begins stalking Richard’s family, the simple case of self-defense escalates into a more complicated series of events that bend the genre from neo-noir to revenge Western. This fusion of genres finds its representative in the character of Jim Bob (Don Johnson), flamboyant cowboy farmer/private investigator. Johnson’s presence also alludes to another cultural appropriator of the cinema du look style, Miami Vice; a music-soaked shot of Jim Bob driving his convertible at night offers an obvious nod to the pilot episode directed by Michael Mann. […] In this case, the throwback cinematic style intends to match form to function as a means of deconstruction. Just as Ti West tried to recreate a horror film set in the 80s as a critical examination of societal cracks, Mickle evokes the sleazy thrillers of the time period to examine the underpinnings of violence and corruption in American culture. [full review]

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Dir. Wes Anderson

[Fox Searchlight Pictures]

[I]t’s the degree to which this branding exercise is adhered to and the discipline with which it is organized that makes The Grand Hotel Budapest the director’s most satisfying and worthwhile film in recent memory. This fact is particularly apparent when one considers Budapest alongside Anderson’s last attempt to make a film with such a narrow-minded aesthetic focus, the truly execrable The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004). The difference here is the director’s commitment to a comparably limited set of tools: nearly every shot in the film contains some combination of flat, theatrical staging; centered compositions; 90-degree whip pans; and/or forward tracks with no rotation. The art design adheres uniformly to a proto- (or is it post-?) theatrical art-deco aesthetic, and the dialogue is a series of variations of timing based on the interrelation of arch commentary or winking exposition. The music is comically on-the-nose. What’s crucial here is not the specifics of the ingredients, but the rigidity with which the director abstains from any other expressive possibilities. […] It’s all effervescent fluff, but the film is so deeply committed to sussing out the full extent of the aesthetic possibilities in this particular arrangement of fluff that, in its own way, it winds up as a much of a committed contemporary formalist venture as, say, a Béla Tarr film. [full review]

[Art: K.E.T.]

Most Read