I’m having my own Oscars: 2014

Best Films

  1. Winter Sleep (Nuri Bilge Ceylan)
  2. Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev)
  3. Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski)
  4. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer)
  5. Jauja (Lisandro Alonso)
  6. Force Majeure (Ruben Östlund)
  7. Boyhood (Richard Linklater)
  8. Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne)
  9. Mommy (Xavier Dolan)
  10. Selma (Ava DuVernay)
  11. Nymphomaniac Vol. I (Lars von Trier)
  12. Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)
  13. Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy)
  14. The Babadook (Jennifer Kent)
  15. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)
  16. Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson)
  17. Love Is Strange (Ira Sachs)
  18. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch)
  19. What We Do in the Shadows (Jemaine Clement & Taika Waititi)
  20. Enemy (Denis Villeneuve)

Honourable mentions: BirdmanCalvary, Gone Girl, Bird People, Listen Up Philip, Obvious Child, Tracks and Night Moves.

Best Woman-Directed Films

  • Selma (Ava DuVernay)
  • The Babadook (Jennifer Kent)
  • Bird People (Pascale Ferran)
  • Obvious Child (Gillian Robespierre)
  • It Felt Like Love (Eliza Hittman)
  • Night Moves (Kelly Reichardt)
  • Palo Alto (Gia Coppola)
  • Belle (Amma Asante)

Best Original Screenplays

  • Nuri Bilge Ceylan & Ebru Ceylan (Winter Sleep)
  • Ruben Östlund (Force Majeure)
  • Taika Waititi & Jemaine Clement (What We Do in the Shadows)
  • Luc Dardenne & Jean-Pierre Dardenne (Two Days, One Night)
  • Alex Ross Perry (Listen Up Philip)
  • Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., Armando Bo (Birdman)

Best Adapted Screenplays

  • Paul Thomas Anderson (Inherent Vice)
  • Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl)
  • Walter Campbell & Jonathan Glazer (Under the Skin)
  • Javier Gullon (Enemy)

Best lead performances: Women

  • Marrion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night)
  • Scarlett Johansson (Under The Skin)
  • Essie Davis (The Babadook)
  • Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl)
  • Melisa Sözen (Winter Sleep)
  • Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

Honourable mentions: Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle), Mia Wasikowska (Tracks), Julianne Moore (Maps to the Stars) Lisa Loven Kongsli (Force Majeure), Tilda Swinton (Only Lovers Left Alive) Jenny Slate (Obvious Child).

Best lead performances: Men

  • David Oyelowo (Selma)
  • Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler)
  • Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
  • Joaquin Phoenix (Inherent Vice)
  • Michael Keaton (Birdman)
  • Haluk Bilginer (Winter Sleep)

Honourable mentions: John Lithgow (Love Is Strange), Jason Schwartzman (Listen Up Philip) and Tom Hiddleston (Only Lovers Left Alive).

Supporting performances: Women

  • Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
  • Agata Kulesza (Ida)
  • Carmen Ejogo (Selma)
  • Uma Thurman (Nymphomaniac Vol. I)
  • Emma Stone (Birdman)
  • Elisabeth Moss (Listen Up Philip)

Supporting performances: Men

  • J. K. Simmons (Whiplash)
  • Edward Norton (Birdman)
  • Ethan Hawke (Boyhood)
  • Kristofer Hivju (Force Majeure)
  • Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher)
  • Josh Brolin (Inherent Vice)

Best Cinematography

  • Lukasz Zal & Ryszard Lenczewski (Ida)
  • Gökhan Tiryaki (Winter Sleep)
  • Bradford Young (Selma)
  • Darius Khondji (The Immigrant)
  • Erik Wilson (The Double)
  • Manuel Alberto Claro (Nymphomaniac Vol. I)

Best scores

  • Justin Hurwitz (Whiplash)
  • Mica Levi (Under the Skin)
  • Jozef van Wissem (Only Lovers Left Alive)
  • Rachel Portman (Belle)
  • Alexandre Desplat (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
  • Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross (Gone Girl)

Best documentaries

  • Citizenfour (Laura Poitras)
  • A Fight For… (Siniša Gačić)
  • 20,000 Days On Earth (Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard)
  • Life Itself (Steve James)

The weirdest gems of the year

  • What We Do in the Shadows (Jemaine Clement & Taika Waititi)
  • Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson)
  • Buzzard (Joel Potrykus)
  • Frank (Lenny Abrahamson)

The biggest disappointments

  • The Riot Club (Lone Scherfig)
  • White Bird In a Blizzard (Gregg Araki)
  • Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller)
  • Magic In The Moonlight (Woody Allen) – Woody, I think it’s time for you to retire.
  • Nymphomaniac Vol. II (Lars von Trier) – Lars, Vol. I would suffice.

The worst films of the year

  • The Other Woman (Nick Cassavetes) – this is Hollywood at its worst.
  • Men, Women & Children (Jason Reitman)
  • If I Stay (R.J. Cutler)
  • Two Night Stand (Max Nichols)
  • God Help the Girl (Stuart Murdoch)

Two Days, One Night (2014)

Ever since the Dardenne brothers gained international attention with their 1996 film La Promesse (a devastating film about the ruthless exploitation of immigrant workers in contemporary Belgium), they continue to surprise with their realistic portrayals of limited opportunities and everyday struggles of the working class. Their filmography is filled with socio-economical criticism and this film is no exception. Although they haven’t filmed nothing less of extraordinary, this may very well be their most complex and well written film since their 1999 masterpiece Rosetta that brought them their first Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival.deuxjoursunenuitstills008

The central protagonist Sandra is played by Marion Cotillard who excels in what may be her finest performance to date. Sandra is a wife and a mother living in economically devastated Belgium town. She works in a factory (quite possibly for a minimum wage, although her salary is never discussed) and can barely manage to afford their family apartment (there is some discussion of returning to social housing with her husband). Living on a verge of poverty, it doesn’t come as a surprise when we learn that she recently had a nervous breakdown and has a history of depression. Although recovered and eager to work again, her boss doesn’t seem to think that she’s capable of performing her job as efficiently as before. He decides to let her go – but because he doesn’t want to get his hands dirty, he hands the decision over to the employees. After offering them two options (voting for Sandra keeping her job or voting against it and receiving a 1000€ bonus), Sandra gets voted out and is consequently fired from her job. But as it later turns out, some of the co-workers were pressured into the decision, as the foreman supposedly told them that they will be the ones losing their jobs if they vote against firing Sandra. After she confronts the boss about it on Friday afternoon, he agrees on holding another, secret ballot on Monday morning – giving her exactly two days (and one night) to convince her co-workers to give up their bonuses in order for her keeping her job.

What unfolds after that is an amazing and engaging melodrama and an uncompromising character study of a person who wants to get better, but can’t shake off the stigma of being unstable and incompetent to work because of her depression.

tumblr_ndtfzrX0xC1rcjsxlo1_r1_1280Sandra must swallow her pride and go on a weekend journey, begging the people she works with to let her keep her job. Even before she embarks on this difficult journey, we can see her moral dilemma – how can she asks them to give up their bonuses for her? They deserve that money. They need that money. But her husband doesn’t want her to give up that easily, knowing that their family cannot survive on his salary alone. With great difficulty (and with a great help of Xanax), she starts to drive around town, facing her co-workers, one by one. Cotillard’s portrayal of Sandra is nothing short of perfect – her posture, with her shoulders constantly scrunched as if she’s carrying the world’s weight around her neck, is telling us everything we need to know about the troubled life that Sandra lives, constantly worrying about her family’s survival, about her job, about paying the bills on time. Everything you need to know about Sandra’s life is in that posture – even more so than in her sad and empty look that shows us how little energy she has left, how ready she is to give up on her job – and on life in general.

This film is a great examination of corporate corruption and manipulation, herd mentality and peer pressure. It is also one of the most realistic portrayals of  how the working class lives in capitalistic neoliberal system where workers have no rights whatsoever and can easily be replaced if they suffer from a prolonged illness. In accordance with capitalistic competitiveness and lack of solidarity, the corporate factory where Sandra works decides to pit the workers against each other instead of simply letting her go, forcing them to choose between their own self-interest and the empathy towards another human being. But even those whose vote isn’t instantly bought with the bonus money don’t tumblr_ngi48b0vp41qzpdnho5_500make the decision lightly, since almost everyone’s first question when she approaches them is: “How is everyone else voting?”. Clearly afraid that they would be the only ones voting for her and therefore voting against everyone else’s interest, they can’t even begin to think about protesting against the inhumane and manipulative working environment. Each of them is too scared for their own job, because who knows who will be fired next?

The Basics:
Directed by: Luc Dardenne, Jean-Pierre Dardenne
Written by: Luc Dardenne, Jean-Pierre Dardenne
Starring: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione
Running Time: 95 minutes
Year: 2014
Rating: 9

Television series – best of 2014

Best drama series

  1. Fargo (Noah Hawley)
  2. Peaky Blinders (Steven Knight)
  3. Mad Men (Matthew Weiner)
  4. House of Cards (Beau Willimon)
  5. The Affair (Sarah Treem & Hagai Levi)
  6. True Detective (Nic Pizzolatto)
  7. Boardwalk Empire (Terrence Winter)
  8. The Americans (Joe Weisberg)
  9. Masters of Sex (Michelle Ashford)
  10. The Fall (Allan Cubitt)
  11. Shameless (Paul Abbott)
  12. Game of Thrones (David Benioff & D.B. Weiss)

Honourable mentions: The Good WifeThe Newsroom, Orphan Black, OutlanderThe Musketeers, Orange Is the New Black, Luther, Sherlock.

Dishonourable mentions: True Blood, American Horror StoryThe Leftovers, Forever.

Still have to watch: Hannibal, The Knick, Marco Polo, Penny Dreadful, Halt and Catch Fire.

Since my list includes only USA and UK TV series, here’s a short essay I did on Danish television series, if anyone wants to watch something a bit different: The success of Danish television series.

Best comedy series

  1. Broad City (Ilana Glazer & Abbi Jacobson)
  2. Parks and Recreation (Greg Daniels & Michael Schur)
  3. Modern Family (Christopher Lloyd & Steven Levitan)
  4. Girls (Lena Dunham)
  5. Louie (Louis C.K.)

Honourable mentions: TransparentArcher, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Mozart in the Jungle.

Dishonourable mentions: New Girl, The Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother, The Mindy Project, Selfie, Manhattan Love Story.

Best leading actors

  • Matthew McConaughey (True Detective)
  • Dominic West (The Affair)
  • Martin Freeman (Fargo)
  • Kevin Spacey (House of Cards)
  • Matthew Rhys (The Americans)
  • Billy Bon Thornton (Fargo)
  • Cillian Murphy (Peaky Blinders)
  • Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom)

Best leading actresses

  • Robin Wright (House of Cards)
  • Ruth Wilson (The Affair)
  • Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black)
  • Jessica Lange (American Horror Story)
  • Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife)
  • Frances McDormand (Olive Kitteridge)
  • Gillian Anderson (The Fall)
  • Lizzy Caplan (Masters of Sex)

Best supporting actors

  • Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones)
  • Sam Neill (Peaky Blinders)
  • Adam Driver (Girls)
  • Jamie Dornan (The Fall)

Best supporting actresses

  • Helen McCrory (Peaky Blinders)
  • Lena Headey (Game of Thrones)
  • Samira Wiley (Orange Is the New Black)
  • Alison Pill (The Newsroom)

Top 35 films I’ve seen in 2014

I’ve seen 325 films this year so far – here are the top 35.

  1. Werckmeister Harmonies (dir. Bela Tarr, 2000)
  2. Landscape in the Mist (dir. Theo Angelopoulos, 1988)
  3. Andrei Rublev (dir. Andrei Tarkovsky, 1966)
  4. Ugetsu (dir. Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953)
  5. Woman in the Dunes (dir. Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1957)
  6. Le bonheur (dir. Agnes Varda, 1965)
  7. Silent Light (dir. Carlos Reygadas, 2007)
  8. Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors (dir. Hong Sang-soo, 2000)
  9. Man with a Movie Camera (dir. Dziga Vertov, 1929)
  10. Goodbye, Dragon Inn (dir. Tsai Ming-liang, 2003)
  11. Songs from the Second Floor (dir. Roy Andersson, 2000)
  12. What Time Is it Over There? (dir. Tsai Ming-liang, 2001)
  13. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (dir. Luis Bunuel, 1972)
  14. Revanche (dir. Gotz Spielmann, 2008)
  15. Simon of the Desert (dir. Luis Bunuel, 1965)
  16. Faust (dir. Alexander Sorukov, 2011)
  17. Marketa Lazarova (dir. František Vlačil, 1967)
  18. The Ruling Class (dir. Peter Medak, 1972)
  19. The Vanishing (dir. George Sluizer, 1988)
  20. L’argent (dir. Robert Bresson, 1983)
  21. I Am Curious – Yellow (dir. Vilgot Sjoman, 1967)
  22. Police, Adjective (dir. Corneliu Porumboiu, 2009)
  23. La Promesse (dir. Luc Dardenne & Jean-Pierre Dardenne, 1996)
  24. Dead Man (dir. Jim Jarmusch, 1995)
  25. The Wicker Man (dir. Robin Hardy, 1973)
  26. Drifting Clouds (dir. Aki Kaurismaki, 1996)
  27. The Shop Around the Corner (dir. Ernst Lubitsch, 1940)
  28. Grand Illusion (dir. Jean Renoir, 1937)
  29. Ucho (dir. Karel Kachyna, 1970)
  30. Klass (dir. Ilmar Raag, 2007)
  31. Like Father, Like Son (dir. Hirokazu Koreeda, 2013)
  32. Stranger by the Lake (dir. Alain Guiraudie, 2013)
  33. Sult (dir. Henning Carlsen, 1966)
  34. The Pitfall (dir. Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1962)
  35. The Fireman’s Ball (dir. Miloš Forman, 1967)

Fruitvale Station (2013)

tumblr_mzj9wuSUqP1sk1tguo6_500After the recent grand jury decisions, following the deaths of 18-year old Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in Staten Island, both unarmed African-Americans who died by the hand of white police officers (none of whom was indicted for their actions), this film seems more relevant than ever. Fruitvale Station, Ryan Coogler’s first feature-length film, based on real-life events that happened on New Year’s in 2009, was an immediate hit at last year’s Sundance Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Prize. Although focusing on the last day of Oscar Grant’s life, who was shot to death in the early morning hours of January 1, 2009 on a train platform called Fruitvale Station, this film is not so much a story about Grant, as it is a story about most African-Americans living in contemporary USA.

Film’s narrative begins on an early morning of December 31., introducing us to 22-years old Oscar Grant (played by the excellent Michael B. Jordan), his girlfriend Sophina and their daughter Tatiana. But what may seem like a “normal” day of any American family at first, soon turns out to be a portrayal of a difficult life the American racial minority lives. The whole family strives to live the life that most of the white Americans effortlessly get to live (without ever realizing their own luck and privilege) – we can see Oscar shopping for New Year’s family dinner and gifts for his mother’s birthday, we can see him dropping his incredibly sweet and smart daughter at day care and preparing for the night out with Sophina and his friends. But it is not long before the real life of the minority breaks into the story: a life of constant unemployment, poverty, illegal jobs and prison convictions. Grant was just let go from a job at the grocery store that he’s desperately trying to get back. After his former boss explains that he already hired somebody else, Grant’s starting to get desperate – after all, he has a daughter to support and a rent to pay. He starts to think of getting back to selling drugs, but after some serious consideration he decides against it, since selling pot already got him to serve time. The scene when he reflects on his previous life choices and his life in general, where he remembers his time in prison, is one of the most interesting things in Fruitvale Station. It manages to show us (in the most subtle way possible) how being in prison is a completely normal, natural life event for an African-American, while it is considered an excess when the same thing happens to someone who’s white. Yes, the same laws apply for us all – but we live in a society where not all people have the same options and opportunities in life. It doesn’t matter how hard-working they are and how much they’re struggling to climb through the obstacles of racial differences – most of them will sooner or later settle for an illegal job, because it will be the only job they could get, or the only job that will get them the means to survive. It is heartbreaking to hear Oscar’s answer to Sophina’s question “What will you do?”, after he decides he’s done with dealing: “Something legal.” It immediately makes you wonder if that’s even possible. He’s black, he’s an ex convict – does he actually has a chance of changing his life, of turning a new leaf? Will society let him do that?

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This is not a film about racism of specific individuals – although there is no doubt that the police officer who shot Oscar in the back (supposedly incidentally, as he later claimed he meant to fire his teaser, but grabbed a gun instead) was racist. This film is, above all, about the American unjust system that systematically oppresses the African-American minority, who as a result of this constant oppression and inability to move upward on the social scale, becomes problematic, and quite frequently even violent.

While driving on a train back home after going to see New Year’s fireworks with his girlfriend and a group of friends, Grant unexpectedly runs into his enemy from prison, who punches him in the face and provokes a fight. When the train stops at Fruitvale Station and the police intervenes, they immediately pull all the African-Americans that were involved in a fight off the train – while they leave a (white) guy who started the whole thing, alone. After being pulled off a train, Grant and his friends, all unarmed, repeatedly explain they didn’t do anything wrong, that they were just trying to get back home, but they still get beaten and eventually arrested – and this is when Grant, lying face down, resisting arrest, gets shot in the back.

Unlike the two recent cases of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, where the police officers weren’t indicted (even though there were several cell phone videos that showed Brown being shot eight times with his arms raised, surrendering and Garner being choked to death, stating several times before dying that he can’t breathe), Johannes Mehserle was charged with second-degree murder and served 11 months in jail – which still doesn’t seem like a fair sentence, since he took a life (even if he didn’t mean to and was really just completely incompetent) and since, if the roles were reversed, Grant would get not only a life in prison, but quite possibly a death penalty.

As Jon Stewart said after hearing about the grand jury decision considering Eric Garner’s case: “We are definitely not living in a post-racial society and I can imagine there are a lot of people out there wondering how much of a society we’re living in at all.

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The Basics:
Directed by: Ryan Coogler
Written by: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer
Running Time: 85 minutes
Year: 2013
Rating: 8