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  • Don’s Favorite Narrative Films of 2014 (Part 3)

    Best of 2014

    By | January 3, 2015


    This is Part 3 of my Favorite Narrative Films of 2014. If you missed Part 1 or Part 2, I suggest starting with those posts. Otherwise, please read on…


    Love Is Strange
 (dir. Ira Glass)

    Ever since the end credits began to run during my first viewing of Keep the Lights On I have been anxiously awaiting Ira Glass’ next film. Of course fate intervened and I was not able to watch Love Is Strange
 until the final moments of 2014, but the prolonged anticipation ended up paying off in ten-fold. Love Is Strange
 masterfully navigates the complex relationships that aging has with sexuality, personal economics and family. The spark between John Lithgow’s Ben and Alfred Molina’s George is utterly intoxicating and sublimely authentic; their connection powers Love Is Strange
 with an emotional wallop that was unmatched in 2014. I would love to live in a world in which the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences recognized a film like Love Is Strange


    Lucky Them (dir. Megan Griffiths)

    The strength of Megan Griffiths’ Lucky Them is in its fully realized depiction of Ellie (Toni Collette), a fortysomething music journalist struggling to maintain her career in a man’s world. Ellie enjoys alcohol and sex just as much as her male cohorts; she might not always be the best “functioning alcoholic,” but Griffiths’ characterization of Ellie skillfully circumvents Hollywood’s stereotypical pratfalls concerning single women who imbibe in alcohol or promiscuity. In this case, the only man who Ellie really needs is a rock star who mysteriously disappeared years ago. Though Ellie dated this musician for a while, she hopes to find him for an exclusive cover story to once again justify her worth as an aging female journalist to her editor. First and foremost, it is so refreshing to see a character like Ellie in the hands of a female director — not that this came as any surprise, the female leads in Griffiths’ other two features (Eden and The Off Hours) are quite masterfully realized as well.


    Marvin, Seth and Stanley
 (dir. Stephen Gurewitz)

    Writer-director-actor Stephen Gurewitz’s Marvin Seth and Stanley is about observation, specifically the minute personality traits of the three protagonists. Armed with Gurewitz’s well-crafted dialogue, every beat is hit perfectly by the actors; so perfectly, in fact, that the onscreen happenings feel overwhelmingly real. The characters react with naturalistic spontaneity to to their observations; barbed comments and off-handed remarks are batted around with effortless ease. Filmed on 16mm film, Marvin Seth and Stanley might look and feel like a lost classic of 1970s American independent cinema, echoing John Cassavetes, Woody Allen and Robert Altman; but this film also confidently places Gurewitz in the center of the vibrant post-Mumblecore/micro-budget movement of the 2010s.


(dir. Tim Sutton)

    Tim Sutton’s Memphis focuses on establishing a profound tone and atmosphere rather than propelling the narrative forward. We experience the surreal qualities of this purgatorial place alongside Willis as he awaits the next stage of his existence. Sutton’s sublimely lyrical entry into the slow cinema cannon, Memphis is a gorgeous example of visual poeticism teamed with an astounding soundtrack that takes the film to another dimension. Sutton is the sorcerer in this equation, conjuring up an unique artificiality that brilliantly captures Willis’ dreamy mindset.


    Night Moves (dir. Kelly Reichardt)

    Writer-director Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy, and Meek’s Cuttoff are some of my favorite films of the 21st century; so, yeah, I guess I went into Night Moves with astronomical expectations. At this point, God only knows what those expectations were, but they were obviously not met. This is by no means fair to Reichardt, especially since Night Moves is an admirable film. It is an intriguing meditation on political activism, one with no real black and white answers, just a whole lot of befuddling grayness. Reichardt’s traditionally slow and meandering approach to cinematic narratives works in stark opposition to the plot of Night Moves. There is an unsettling push-pull dynamic going on throughout Night Moves; Reichardt seems naturally inclined to pause and reflect upon moments, no matter how inconsequential they initially seem, but the trajectory of the thriller genre demands that the story keeps moving.


    Norte, the End of History (dir. Lav Diaz)

    I waited until the closing moments of 2014 to watch Lav Diaz’s 250-minute Filipino philosophical diatribe, mainly because I knew it would not be an easy experience to endure. Does Norte, the End of History “need” to be over four hours long? Well, there are a lot of long contemplative pauses strategically placed throughout Norte; without those breaks, the film might clock in closer to three hours, but the dense profundity of the rapid-fire dialogue would probably cause your head to explode. Few films have prompted me to think quite as much as Norte, and for that reason alone I am thankful that I invested 250-minutes of my life into this cinematic experience.


    The One I Love (dir. Charlie McDowell)

    Although The One I Love is nicely set up as a romantic comedy, it is armed with an alarmingly intense and disconcerting air that hovers on the brink of mutating into a horror film. The dramatically sharp turns are deftly orchestrated, never giving away too much information at any one time. This high concept narrative takes its audience on a rapidly-paced and perplexing journey that is sure to make some heads spin, but it is totally worth the wackadoodle trip. That said, this feature-length debut from writer-director Charlie McDowell is truly a film that deserves to be seen with no prior knowledge.


    The Pretty One (dir. Jenée LaMarque)

    There are certainly plenty of films about twins negotiating their separate identities as well as films about swapping lives, but writer-director Jenée LaMarque’s feature-length debut thankfully presents us with a relatively novel concept. LaMarque is most interested in the way that Laurel (Zoe Kazan) approaches her existential crisis and redefines her identity; she might be in her twenties, but The Pretty One represents the coming-of-age of a young woman who until now has lived a very cloistered life. This entire film rests upon Zoe Kazan. Her subtlety in portraying one character’s portrayal of another truly differentiates this film from the exaggerated caricatures that are all too prevalent in “switching lives” plots.


    Proxy (dir. Zack Parker)

    Just as the characters masterfully manipulate each other, writer-director Zack Parker subtly alters our perception of the film’s reality with his deft directorial hands and keen comprehension of cinematic language. By constantly shifting the narrative perspective from one unreliable character to another, we never know whether we are experiencing the respective character’s reality or fantasy. All the while, Parker thankfully avoids the overused narrative trapping of the Rashomon effect; instead, Proxy unfolds in a linear format that seamlessly shifts from one character’s perspective to the next.


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