A dozen of the best movies for 2014 by Richard Jones

Gone1). Gone Girl: a multiplex sort of film, admittedly, but I loved the performances of Ben Affleck as the husband under the pump and Rosamund Pike as the devious wife. We start off with Nick and Amy festering in Nick’s small Missouri hometown after both their careers in New York take a downturn. Amy goes missing from their well laid out home, so naturally hubby Nick becomes the prime suspect. Maybe he’s not the paragon we thought he was. He’s quite duplicitous, in fact. So as the plot unfolds it occurred to me it’s quite adventurous for a mainstream movie such as this one to explore the dank, dark dungeons of marriage the way it’s done here.

2). Dallas Buyers Club: OK, so it won an Academy Award or two earlier in the year, but we didn’t see it until the end of March. Matthew McConaughey was outstanding as the hetero tradie who contracted AIDS in the late Eighties and then went on a mission to buy in bulk unapproved pharmaceutical drugs overseas and smuggle them back into Texas. He sold the drugs to sick, fellow HIV positive folk. Jared Leto as transgender HIV positive Rayon also won an Oscar, along with McConaughey.

3). Tracks: Mia Wasikowska was terrific as the ‘Camel Lady’ Robyn Davidson trekking across thousand of klicks of Aussie desert on a personal odyssey. The camels she took along with her were good, too – and very tolerant. Apparently best-selling author Davidson has given the stamp of personal approval to Mia’s portrayal of her.
My best Aussie flick of the year.

4). The Grand Budapest Hotel: Ralph Fiennes as the concierge of all concierges in this romp, set in 1932 to start with, shares the movie with a roll call of distinguished actors in bit parts. Monsieur Gustave assists a fellow employee to prove his innocence after the young trainee concierge had been framed for murder. Nazi Germany is in charge of their mythical nation so there’s many problems to be solved along the way.

5). Jersey Boys: now I’m not a fan of musicals (or music written later than 1969, anyway) but I am an unabashed follower of Clint Eastwood in his latter day role as a director. Eastwood’s take on Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons as they stormed to the top of the charts and the US nightclub and party circuit was riveting. Frankie wasn’t much of a hubby or a father, but his falsetto tenor won everybody else over.

6). Wadjda: I’ll bet a lot of readers will recoil with who/what? Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) is a Saudi Arabian girl who wants to win a bicycle in a school competition, where entrants must recite verses from the Koran: flawlessly. In a country where girls are not permitted to ride bikes. And because she’s a woman, director Haifda al-Mansour couldn’t come out onto the streets of Riyadh to organize her shoots but stay secluded close by inside a caravan. An absolute winner this film.

7). Calvary: I’m an unabashed Brendan Gleeson fan (think The Guard, In Bruges) so when his take on a Catholic priest given seven days to live was screening, I hot-footed it along. Very chilling to be sitting in your little Irish country church’s confession box and hear an unknown, and unseen, parishioner tell you he was abused as child so you, as the parish priest, must pay. Even though he might not even have been a priest back then as Father James entered the priesthood after a failed marriage.

8). Pride: there can’t be too many striking miners who are supported emotionally and financially by a major city’s gay and lesbian community. But that’s what happened in Thatcher’s Great Britain in the 1980s. The main players in a London gay community take off to south Wales to offer their assistance to a little town’s beleaguered coalminers and their families. They weather the initial resentment, hostility actually, as they gradually work their way into Welsh life.

9). Folies Bergere: another favourite of mine is accomplished French actress Isabelle Huppert. Here she’s a stud Charolais breeder in Normandy’s cattle country. Marriage with hubby isn’t creating any sparks so she heads to Paris and has an unlikely, albeit brief, liaison with a Danish peridontist (Mikael Nyqvist, from The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo). Hubby also leaves the cows behind and drives to Paris where he tries to find out what’s going on.

10). Saving Mr. Banks: until this movie came out I didn’t know much about Pamela Travers, the author of Mary Poppins. In this film Pamela’s gone to Hollywood as Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and his creative teams work on the film version of the children’s classic. Emma Thompson is fine as the feisty, argumentative and uncompromising Pamela who right up to the day of the movie premiere wanted no cartoon animations in her story as she mercilessly harries Walt.

11). My Sweet Pepper Land: set in the far reaches of Iraq, a largely unseen Kurdish movie shot as a 21st century Western. Saddam Hussein is gone, so a Kurdish war hero agrees to become the ‘sheriff’ in a rough, remote town on the Turkish border. He’s determined to bring order to the place and stand up to the local outlaw leader’s illegal trafficking and his concept of justice. The sheriff’s world is turned upside down when he meets the town’s independent school teacher. She’s no wallflower, embedded as she is in a tough conflict zone.

12). The Immigrant: dare I mention it again. Another of my screen loves in Marion Cotillard is Polish Catholic Ewa arriving in New York in the 1920s. Her very ill sister doesn’t make it past the Ellis Island immigration counter. Ewa is almost deported before Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix) bribes agents and takes her to his house, and ultimately his dance theatre. He prostitutes her, but oddly also fancies her himself. Bruno’s magician cousin Emil (Jeremy Renner) befriends her and acts as her unofficial guardian.

Underrated – Still Life: Eddie Marsan is terrific as the lonely and friendless south London council worker who has to arrange meetings with relatives of recently deceased dirt-poor, unloved denizens of housing commission-type tenements. Ultimately he has to arrange the funerals of these people, too. And usually is the only mourner in the church. Poignantly he almost finds love on his very last assignment before he’s retrenched. In scale a little movie, but very touching.

Underwhelming – Finding Vivian Maier: bargain hunter John Maloof bought tens of thousands of rolls of undeveloped film rolls at a clearance sale. They’d been shot by nanny Vivian who had worked for well-off households in Chicago and New York. Through Maloof’s assiduous collection and printing of Vivian’s previously unseen photographic work she’s now become a world figure in the arts sphere. But I couldn’t push aside her very ordinary treatment of some of the children in her care as these people — now adults, and some quite old — relate their stories to Maloof in this doco.

The Monuments Men: George Clooney and Matt Damon star in this tale of professional art connoisseurs who work alongside the U.S. military to uncover the hiding places where the Nazis had stashed priceless stolen works of art. World War 2 in Europe is winding down. The story is fascinating – it didn’t need goofy add-ons to show us how altruistic and concerned America was to ensure thousands and thousands of masterpieces were brought back into public view and ownership.

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