Directed by Clint Eastwood
Eastwood has fine-tuned the harrowing journey. Here he has a beefed up Bradley Cooper giving an intimate glimpse of how real-life Navy Seal sniper Chris Kyle’s successful military career emotionally affected his domestic life back in the U.S. between his many tours. Eastwood balances the conflict and domestic scenes with skill. While both sides of Kyle’s life are well crafted and full of different types of tensions I never fully warmed to the characters and the film left me exhausted.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu
A dizzyingly shot story of the fictitious, once famous, superhero actor Riggan (Michael Keaton) and his quest to be taken seriously by his audiences, friends and family. This is a highly enjoyable and dark romp, a great supporting cast and cracking dialogue. Shot mostly with interiors gives the atmosphere a claustrophobic quality reflecting Riggan’s struggles as he attempts to put on a broadway play and juggle the different parts of his fractured life. The cinematography and CGI is excellent at creating the impression that the film is almost one continuous shot. But ultimately the journey is better than the destination.
Directed by Richard Linklater
Linklater charts the growth of his main character Mason (Ellar Coletrane) and the story of his family in a brave approach by shooting and basing the film in bursts over a 12 year period (2002-2013). It is filled with natural story arcs and great period music with such subtle year changes that you can sometimes it takes more than a few moments to realise that we have moved into the next phase of their lives. The ensemble cast is perfect (in particular Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke). Linklater delivers a slice-of-life movie that leaves others in the genre like crumbs on a plate. Eat your heart out reality T.V.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Directed by Wes Anderson
Back to his best since “The Royal Tennenbaums” Anderson has put together my favourite film of the eight. It centres on the morally questionable exploits of, Gustav H (Ralph Feinnes), the manager of the imaginary hotel in question. In Fiennes he has found a lead actor who wears Anderson’s quick fire dialogue like an old glove. Each frame is a visual masterpiece the zany humour and adventures do not let up until the credits start to roll. My full review here.
The Imitation Game
Directed by Morten Tyldum
Benedict Cumberbatch pours much of his Sherlock character and then some into his portrayal of the brilliant and fragile character of the Father of Computer Science Alan Turing. The narrative jumps between three parts of his life focusing mainly on Turing’s code-breaking time during the Second World War in Bletchley Park. Tyldum puts together the film much like a code dropping clues here and there that will all eventually slot together into an unexpectedly emotional final bow. There are some wonderful examples of dialogue subtext in Turing’s interrogations. Of all the nominated films based on real events this is my personal favourite. My full review here.
Directed by Ava DuVernay
A powerful drama based on the defining battle in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement between Martin Luther King Junior (an excellent David Oyelowo) and President Lyndon B. Johnson ( the wonderful Tom Wilkinson) in the town of Selma. The film manages to deal with the national politics of the day down to minutae of small personal battles of minor characters without overcrowding the narrative or confusing the audience. While the film has been criticised for some historical inaccuracies it is still a powerful drama with excellent performances.
The Theory of Everything
Directed by James Marsh
Eddie Redmayne looks like he was born to play Professor Stephen Hawking. Marsh focuses on the relationship between Hawking and his first wife Jane Wilde. Remayne is astounding not only in his physical resemblance to the brilliant Professor but in the portrayal of the particular and well known way the physical decline of Motor Neuron Disease has left Professor Hawking. The main emphasis of the film lies in the emotional impact of the disease had mainly on his wife Jane (a touching performance by felicity Jones) as she struggled to raise their children. Though Hawking’s brilliance is evident his mathematical work in Cosmology is more of a supporting ‘character’.
Directed by Damien Chazelle
Andrew, young drummer, (Miles Teller) with hopes to impress Fletcher, a ruthless college orchestra conductor, at all costs. Chazelle has sculpted a compelling battle between mentor and student, so much so that the scenes when the two are not together seem flat. Teller, looking like a buffed up Wil Wheaton, is convincing the talented drummer whose hero worship of the greats compels him to make poor life choices. J K Simmons is stand out as the brutal mentor. I have never been so excited to see someone take to the drums. His makes for a compelling drama with a wonderful finale.
My top films here for overall performances, filmmaking and enjoyment levels are The Imitation Game, The Grand Budapest Hotel and I feel the Oscar for Best Picture should land firmly land in the magnificent Boyhood.