Since it’s the start of another new year, it means three things: (1) best-of-2013 lists have recently been everywhere (guilty as charged!), (2) the BAFTAs and Academy Awards are just around the corner and (3) resolutions, resolutions, resolutions!
And so to take note of all three, over the year of 2014 I’m going to retrospectively look at some of my favourite films of the 21st century, one year at a time. This is partly because I keep thinking about certain films of the past five years and just how bloody good they are – Zodiac, for instance, is not only a modern classic but quite possibly one of my very favourites of all-time. No surprises if it’s included in the 2008 selection then.
Like the Academy Award Best Picture nominations these days, each of these pieces will have up to ten films, depending on the strength of the year and my particular feelings for the films released (UK release dates being used). These are the truly special films for me – the real greats – that stood out, and will continue to be remembered for years to come.
It means that most included have been watched twice or more in order to assess their longevity, or at least haven’t been watched for the first time in only recently. Anyway, before 2013 came 2012, and so let’s start our Benjamin Button-like backwards journey, in order of release date throughout the year…
J.C. Chandor – writer/director Margin Call – has just released his second film (All is Lost). It couldn’t be more different; Robert Redford stars, and he’s the only cast member. Margin Call, however, saw the then-debuting film director take on a Glengarry Glen Ross-esque world of corporate affairs in dizzy doses of dialogue-heavy theatrics. The stage-like dynamics make it a force in itself, but the powerful pawns who play them – Spacey, Bettany, Quinto, Tucci, Irons – bring it to life. Margin Call is a sensation of changing landscapes and places physical objects next to the 21st-century playboy outfits of financial nothingness in order to wait and witness the ensuing chaos. Which, by the way, is on-screen magic.
Dane DeHaan is a star – forget the BAFTA Rising Star nomination, it was truly confirmed with last week’s Whose Year Was it Anyway? results – and has recently excelled in Kill Your Darlings, played an important part in The Place Beyond the Pines, before next year taking stage alongside Andrew Garfield in The Amazing Spiderman 2. Before all of this, though, came his big break in cinema: Chronicle. This is particularly significant – it will give the film a new lease of life. And when it does, spectators will sit up and take notice because Chronicle is much more than simply a DeHaan stepping-stone towards greatness. The unconventional (perhaps anti-) superhero flick attempts to trace a real-life setting around power, natural selection, mystery and other accompanying virtues/vices of such special forces, with an increasingly dark and desperate tone devouring it.
Martha Marcy May Marlene
Speaking of dark and desperate, at least this one has no pretenses from the off. Sean Durkin, another first-time writer/director (now better known for his work on Channel 4’s miniseries Southcliffe last year), teams up with Elizabeth Olsen – younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley – and both succeed in delivering something pretty spectacular. The cross-cutting narrative tells the fragmented story of Martha – also called Marcy May and Marlene at other points through the narrative, reinforcing the sense of distorted identity – a cult escapee, attempting to readjust to normal life. During the course of the unsettling, borderline-traumatic events, we’re witness to her (lack of) quality of life during this period of effectively self-forced imprisonment, as well as her closed relationship with family back in the “real world”. It’s harrowing, it’s got a terrific performance from John Hawkes (who is detestable and frightening), it says plenty about the world and it’s reminiscent of Kevin Smith’s Red State.
You’ve Been Trumped
I’m sure you weren’t expecting me to get through this without mentioning a documentary (or Mark Kermode, for that matter), so here it is. Kermode’s lauded this one within his various platforms, but he’s been bettered in giving the little doc that could a greater voice by the idiotic actions of the antagonist himself. Yes, Donald Trump’s misunderstanding of social media means that he’s essentially promoted it to a wider audience by attempting to take on the brave director of this social injustice film. During the 90 minutes, Anthony Baxter challenges Trump – who outrages Scottish locals by proclaiming to build a new golf course in their backyard – and feels the full force of the law, and the effects that money can seemingly have on it. Outrageous, provoking, infuriating and more – the documentary brilliantly demonstrates the absurdity and injustice all around, in creatures great and small.
The Dark Knight Rises
Certainly the biggest box-office success on the list, TDKR deserves recognition for its blistering pace and will go down in history as the fitting third part of one of the greatest trilogies of all-time. Nolan’s intellectual blockbusters kicked off a trend from which the likes of The Hunger Games and even Chronicle have since thankfully profited, though many big studios continue to churn out the same uninteresting stuff (it was interesting, however, to see another whose natural habitat is the arthouse – Guillermo Del Toro – also have a go with Pacific Rim recently). There are two kinds of memorable films: those that are structured superbly (often theatrically) which don’t miss a beat. Shaun of the Dead and In Bruges are both terrific modern examples: I couldn’t imagine them with a single line done differently. These are brilliant, whilst the others are loveable – and this is where TDKR lies: the flawed masterpieces. This and The Dark Knight have significant (and rather obvious) problems, and yet their greatness transcends any weakness in the overarching narrative. It’s superbly written by Nolan; pulsating, juggling many balls at once, and it shows off his roots as a philosophical storyteller, of which he is a genius.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Perks is a rare beast in the sense that it is – or at least appears to me to be – a great adaptation of its source, resulting in two separate but connected forms of excellence. What’s even more remarkable – although perhaps this helps explain the result – is that the author (Stephen Chbosky) is the man who ended up directing. They do say that an author isn’t best placed to realise the art of adapting a book into a film, but it’s clearly not true here. It’s also a bit of wonderful casting in the form of Logan Lerman supported by Emma Watson and Ezra Miller, and even Paul Rudd in the typically likeable role as mentor. Perks is a coming-of-age film that goes beyond most others: not just modern coming-of-age tales, but the majority ever made. It’s devilishly funny, it’s terrifically wicked and witty, it’s charming and loveable, the characters are sweet, naïve and broken, they’re relatable – it’s so personal and it hits home. It’s pretty much impossible for any LGBT kid not to identify with elements of the story, but the truth is that it deals with the darker elements of teenage and student life in a way that most other coming-of-agers won’t touch, meaning that it’s fresh, unique and honest to the majority of viewers. I wholeheartedly love this film: it made me laugh and cry more than most comedies and tragedies, it scared the hell out of me unlike many horrors, and it made me feel elated. Perfection.
There are others that came very close: Searching for Sugar Man, Looper, Silver Linings Playbook, Sightseers and more. I should also point out that I’ve written briefly on The Hunt – believing it to be a 2013 film and seemingly being wrong – so that will likely be one of my favourites from 2012 in the future too. I’ve also written extensively on Shame, an inclusion in my Modern Greats feature of last year, otherwise it would have made the list for sure.
Next up – next month – is 2011…