February 4th , 2014
Finally! After my last lament about the sorry state of Hollywood, I've not only seen several truly excellent films but one of the best movies I've seen in 15 years.
So, for the excellent stuff I first offer up, Fruitvale Station--a movie that will make my "10 Best Of 2014" (and I'm pretty sure I'm going have no trouble coming up with 10 this year unlike last years pitiful 7...).
I wouldn't be surprised if it came in at #2.
Again, after my ranting on here last month about all that is wrong the majority of Hollywood films I saw last year, Fruitvale Station is the antidote!
It tells the true story of young Oscar Grant, a 22 year-old black man who was shot by police in a San Francisco BART train station while he was face down in handcuffs. I'm giving nothing away by telling you this because actual cell phone
video footage of the murder is the opening scene of the movie.
This film is all character driven so there are barely any visual frills: though top marks go to the creators for coming up with an ingenious way of dealing with the potentially momentum-killing problem of showing a person texting--which happens a fair amount in the film. Michael B Jordan turns in a star-making performance in the lead role as he acts out the last 24 hours of this conflicted man's life. The writers choose to portray Grant as neither a sinner nor a saint. He is a man. With a difficult life full of obstacles and shades of grey. The very antithesis of lazy character sketch of Sandra Bulloch's character in the Award snagging fan-favorite Gravity--if that movie wins the Oscar for best picture I may have to go into another Post-Gump hiatus from watching the broadcast for 10 years!
WATCH FRUITVALE STATION!
Honourable mention has to go out to Enough Said also for having the guts to be a small film about real people who do little else but talk during the course of the film. James Gandolfini (in his second-to-last film) is lovely and warm as Albert, a recently divorced middle-aged man who is finally ready for a more gentle love in his life. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is wonderful as travelling massage therapist Eva, a woman whose divorce is an older wound but she is just as lonely as Albert and wary enough to think the worst of him after a coincidence allows her to see more of the man inside than she might have liked. The set up for this coincidence and it's fall out is a bit "Three's Company" but the performances are so good and the character's worth so rooting for that, for me, all was forgiven. This is a romantic comedy for adults.
Even some of the more straight forward Hollywood fare released in January was so well produced and acted that I came away surprised as well as entertained. Specifically I'm thinking of:
Captain Phillips--with Tom Hanks as a captain of a cargo ship that was captured by Somali Pirates in 2009.
I didn't even want to watch this but it was an extremely well crafted and taut thriller. The director is
Paul Greengrass, so I shouldn't have been so surprised, I guess. ( He made United 93 which is one of the best films born out of the ashes of 9/11. The best, actually.)
The other middle of the road (ha ha--I'm laughing because I typed that without thinking about the subject of the film) picture that was great fun if lacking in originality was Rush. Ron Howard directed this one and you get exactly what you would expect from him. The thing that helps this rise above the pack is the energy with which the Formula 1 races were filmed and the passion of the performances. Particularly the co-star of the film, Daniel Brühl. You may remember him from Quentin Tarantino's Inglorius Basterds--he played sniper hero of the Third Reich, Fredrick Zoller. In Rush he plays Niki Lauda the Austrian driver who is the nemesis of British superstar, James Hunt, played here by Chris Hemsworth (yep, Thor!) with all the required charisma and machismo.
It's entertaining, good fun.
Lastly I have to write about the film which, barring a miracle, will sit at the #1 spot on next year's list:
Her, a film by director Spike Jonze.
Joaquin Phoenix plays Theo a lonely man living in near-future Los Angeles. By accident he falls in love with a new operating system on his phone (think Siri, voiced by the sexy/smoky Scarlett Johansson).
I don't want to tell you any more than that since the less you know the better. This is a romantic comedy in the cloak of top-notch science fiction. The movies that came to mind (for various and not so obvious reasons) while watching it were: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner and Lost In Translation. And it really is in the league of those films. Now, please don't look at my mentioning
Blade Runner and think, "Ugh, not my cup of tea. Dystopian future blah blah blah..." The reason I thought of it were because of aspects of the setting, sure, but it's the mood of this film that harkens back to the films I mentioned.
As I said above, this really is one of the best films I've seen in 15 years.
2014 is shaping up to be an exceptional year for my beloved Hollywood.
Thanks for reading,