Curated by Eva
2014 was an exciting year for film. I’ve recently been brought into a Sunday afternoon tradition of taking a trip to the movies. I try to do my best in keeping up with the big Oscar contenders since I saw exactly 0 of the 2014 nominees (except for Gravity, which I urge you to not see high). My favorites this year, however, have been the films that slipped under the radar. Behind the buzz of Birdman, Boyhood, and Guardians of the Galaxy were equally terrific films that missed their 15 minutes of fame. I’ve recommended a few to you here, so if you do see them I’d love to hear what you thought.
I used to become frustrated by the breadth of Polish films that focused on WWII, the Holocaust, and struggles of resistance groups in the light of oppressive political regimes. Although these subjects are profound and fundamentally changed the country’s landscape both at home and abroad, I found them to be impersonal and overreaching. Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida absolutely crushes the cemented mold of Polish filmmaking in the reflection of war.
The film follows the meeting of Ida, a young girl about to take her vows at the convent where she grew up, and her aunt Wanda, a successful but severely damaged ex-prosecutor in Łódź in the 1960s. Over 90 minutes, the two women travel to uncover Ida’s upbringing and unearth Wanda’s incapacitating demons, but the beauty of Ida lies not only in the structure of the plot (though I did literally gasp at the climax — HEYO!). Many moments in the film are filled with silence and wide shots of a majestic Polish landscape. Ida’s young, wide Slavic face speaks to Wanda’s weathered and icy expressions where words are not necessary.
In short, Ida flawlessly examines the debris of a war-torn country and the loss of faith that is too difficult to bear on our own.
My big brother makes me watch Indiana Jones and Rocky every time it’s on TV. Every. Time. When he suggested we start Snowpiercer, a post-apocalyptic film on Netflix, my PTSD returned in full swing and I wholeheartedly refused. How foolish. With some time to kill over the holidays, I gave in and we pushed back our plans two hours that night just so we could finish the movie.
Snowpiercer is a strange film, and not at all what I expected from Chris Evans, who is spectacular. After the Earth has frozen over in an attempt to reverse global warming, a Caste-system passenger train carries the world’s survivors. A revolt to reach the train’s conductor ensues, and so begins a bizarre ride that includes brainwashed children and Tilda Swinton in hillbilly teeth.
Snowpiercer feels like a graphic novel, and the story takes so many different turns that each part of the train feels like a different film. We left gleefully wondering what the hell we just watched.
The Whiplash effect was strange. Films buffs were buzzing about the film prior to its premiere, and maybe not enough people went to see it, but the movie fell back under the radar after its release. I cannot understand why.
Whiplash follows Miles Teller, an ambitious jazz drummer who works himself, quite literally, to the bone to impress his Draconian instructor (the brilliantly terrifying J.K. Simmons).
You do not have to like/listen to jazz to enjoy this film. If you do, it’s a total bonus because the music is spectacular. However, for any young person who has struggled to hurdle literally any obstacle in their life, Whiplash is poignant and relevant. It also might induce anxiety; J.K. Simmons is a scary MF and the long, increasingly loud drum rolls and stressful pauses shot my blood pressure through the roof. But goddamn did it feel good.
Finding Vivan Maier
For the documentary fans, you cannot miss Finding Vivian Maier. Overlooked in life, over 100,000 of Maier’s photographs, tucked away in a cardboard box, were bought to auction entirely on accident. After discovering the box’s contents, Maier posthumously rose to become one of the most revered street photographers.
I love the perverse fascination with exposing secluded characters. It’s addicting to watch our human impulse lift the veil of anonymity (as long as it’s not happening to me), since misunderstanding is scary.
Vivian Maier was a nanny in Chicago who rented an upstairs attic to work on her art, and even those closest to her were unaware of her creative forces. Her photographs include gritty and fascinating subjects that are remarkably close-up. That, to me, was the most heartbreaking. I once watched a documentary about a beautiful young women who had died in her apartment only to be found 3 years later. Decidedly keeping yourself a mystery is a terrifying idea, and Finding Vivian Maier dares to ask those questions and leave the answer to you.