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The Best Movies of 2014

The Best Movies of 2014

Reviewers Graham Adams and Gemma Gracewood pick their favourites of the year and their filmmakers to watch. Movies listed alphabetically.

 

Blue Is the Warmest Colour

Much hyped for a sex scene that was jarring in its cold departure in style from the rest of this all-consuming film, it was the one bum note in Abdellatif Kechiche’s sumptuous take on Julie Maroh’s tumultuous graphic novel. Amid all the lovely bums, it was as much a story of class division as a sexual coming-of-age, and very satisfying for it. GG

Boyhood

Richard Linklater’s love letter to adolescence — 12 years in the making — may have come out too early for Oscar season, but watch this space anyway. Letting the usual big movie transitions happen off-screen, Linklater and his impressive cast dig deep into the human moments that really matter during the course of a young boy’s growing-up. GG

Finding Vivian Maier

Vivian Maier worked as a nanny so she could patrol the streets of Chicago and New York in the daytime with a Rolleiflex around her neck, snapping people living on the margins. She was intensely private and no one recognised her genius until John Maloof bought boxes of negatives at a Chicago auction in 2007. Now she is acclaimed as a star of 20th-century photography, compared to luminaries like Diane Arbus and Robert Frank. GA

Housebound

A truculent young woman is sentenced to home detention for a bungled robbery, but the family house turns out to be haunted. With nowhere to run, Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly) is forced to confront her fears and bond with her long-suffering mother, Miriam (Rima Te Wiata). Writer/director Gerard Johnstone plays with the conventions of the comic-horror genre to make the story fresh, funny and increasingly tense until it spills over into the kind of gory loopiness that made Braindead and Black Sheep so memorable. GA

Inside Llewyn Davis

The loveliest shaggy-dog tale ever made about a cynical, selfish folk musician. As unlikeable as Llewyn Davis tries to make himself, each awful decision just makes us feel for him more, and T-Bone Burnett’s attention to 60s detail on the soundtrack infuses the Coen Brothers’ winter tale with the salty tears of bitter folk. GG

Nightcrawler

Googly-eyed, cadaverous Jake Gyllenhaal is perfectly cast in this black comedy as a creepy go-getter who sees lucrative opportunities in selling clips of car crash and murder scenes to ratings-driven news stations. He’s a sociopath who will stop at nothing to get ahead, including engineering bloody disasters himself, all the while mouthing the self-serving mantras of modern American business as justification. It’s a pitch-black portrait of an out-of-control tabloid media and its suppliers. GA

Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets

Florian Habicht’s irrepressible cu­riosity and natural excitement about people infuse his films with a joyous childishness that can crack the hardest heart. Music documentaries often take themselves too seriously, but Habicht creates a jubilant, warm and funny story that brings us right alongside Jarvis Cocker and co while retaining Habicht’s deepest respect for his rock idol. GG

The Great Beauty

Paolo Sorrentino offers a eulogy to Rome and its upper class, revelling in the city’s beauty as well as exposing its inhabitants’ narcissism. The story is told through the eyes of Jep Gambardella, a 65-year-old novelist still dining out on his one literary success decades earlier. It’s a funny, bitter-sweet exposé, with lush cinematography and biting one-liners; a Dolce Vita for the 21st century. GA

The Punk Singer

At a time when feminism is experiencing a fascinating Fourth Wave led by Lena and Caitlin and Lorde and #everydaysexism, this documentary about one of the Riot Grrrl movement’s greatest leaders, Kathleen Hanna, is a potent reminder of the scrappy, grungy Third Wave battlers who were armed only with zines and guitars and VHS camcorders. Long live the 1990s! GG

Tracks

A true story about a determined young woman trekking nearly 3000km across the Australian desert with four camels and her dog for company could have been dire but director John Curran knows all the emotional turning- points that draw drama out of true grit pitted against gruelling terrain. Mia Wasikowska puts in a stellar performance as the prickly, obstinate heroine Robyn Davidson, backed by Adam Driver as the generous but annoying National Geo photographer Rick Smolan, who helps her survive. GA

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Character of the Year

Stu the IT Guy from What We Do in the Shadows
Playing close to his real-life personality, non-actor Stuart Rutherford lent a sweet, grounded presence to Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s silly vampumentary about Wellington’s hipster undead. GG

Filmmakers to Watch

Gerard Johnstone
The Film Commission used to have a special knack for ruining the careers of talented young directors by allowing them to make a feature film long before they were ready — frequently on the strength of a short film that had done well at Cannes. Worse, they would usually allow their protégés to write their own scripts as well. When the leap from short film to feature proved too demanding for many, they fell from the sky directly into that circle of hell reserved for thwarted precocious talent.

When I saw that Gerard Johnstone had written, directed and edited Housebound, I wondered if that familiar pattern of disaster would be repeated, but then I noticed that not only had he won the 48 Hour Film Contest twice but had also written and directed the two seasons of The Jaquie Brown Diaries. And his experience shows in Housebound: from the opening sequence of a botched raid on an ATM, you know you’re in capable, experienced hands. Hats off to Johnstone for an excellent feature debut and hats off to the commission for getting the development process right. GA

Gillian Robespierre
During my first summer living in New York, on a rooftop on the Lower East Side, I saw a short film called Obvious Child. It was a brief, brilliant spark of contemporary “yesness” I craved to see more of. And then, this year, that film’s director, Gillian Robespierre, roped the delightful comedian Jenny Slate into a full-length version, creating an abortion rom-com for today’s filmgoing urbanites packed with genuine female friendships, solid parent/adult-child connections and a nice twist on hooking up with the wrong guy.

The bawdiness is hilarious; not in a vomity, OTT Bridesmaids kind of way, more in a “bit too late on a Friday night on K’ Rd, forgot to eat” kind of way. Robespierre and her friends took Obvious Child to the Sundance Film Festival with funding support from Kickstarter, then ran a savvy campaign that saw the film running in US theatres for weeks on end against blockbuster fare like Guardians of the Galaxy. Finally, a woman making a non-obvious yet totally realistic movie choice — a rare and wonderful thing. GG

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