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Yesterday you had a chance to see the bottom half of my 20 favorite films and film experiences of 2014 (The best movies of 2014, according to Hans Morgenstern — Part 1). As you might have noticed, this year felt tricky for me and cinema, as it was hard to find movies, especially more popular ones, that satisfied this writer’s need for that transcendent moment in film. So I have added shorts and multimedia in the mix and, dare I say, visual art. Ultimately, I seek out experiences in movies that offer more than stories. It’s a personal choice, but if I didn’t have this personal choice I wouldn’t have the drive to write about moving images the way I do.

Without further ado, here are my top 10 movies of 2014. Like yesterday’s post, where available, all titles link to the item description page on Amazon. If you purchase via the specific link, you will be financially supporting this blog. If we reviewed it here, there will be a link to the review under the poster art. Finally if we haven’t reviewed it, I’ll share a few words about the film’s significance. Let’s begin with another short:

10. “Crème Caramel” by Canada

Commissioned by the art and culture blog Nowness for its hit and miss series “Defining Beauty,” this short is the series’ crowning achievement. It’s by a group of filmmakers from Spain called Canada. It’s shot in 35mm and beautifully composed featuring a great tune by French band La Femme. It’s hilarious in its objectification of a woman, but it has a great build up to a sly payoff at film’s end. It’s also NSFW.

9. Norte, The End of History

NORTE, THE END OF HISTORY, (aka NORTE, HANGGANAN NG KASAYSAYAN), US poster art, 2013. ©Cinema

Completely contrary to the short film above is this four-hour-and-ten-minute film by the brilliant Filipino filmmaker Lav Diaz. The pay-off also has great impact but asks the viewer for patient attentiveness. Norte, The End of History explores a law student’s descent into madness after getting away with murder and a parallel story of a man falsely imprisoned for the killing, as he comes to terms with his injustice. The film’s ironic twist is earned through both long, thoughtful conversation and quiet, deliberate pacing.

8. The Summer of Flying Fish

The_Summer_of_Flying_Fish-613336225-largeRead my review in the “Miami New Times”

7. Under the Skin

UTS posterRead my review

6. Ida

ida_ver2Read my review in “Reverse Shot”

5. Love Song R. Buckminster Fuller

Sam_Green_and_Yo_La_Tengo_Photo_Sam_Allison1

Here’s that multimedia experience alluded to in yesterday’s postThe Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller is so much more than a slide show with film clips because documentary filmmaker Sam Green is such a grand storyteller. He doesn’t simply present weird facts about a man sometimes called the 20th century’s Leonardo DaVinci. He offers a poetic tribute to thinking outside the box and the rewards to the self as well as society. And it helps that the legendary New Jersey indie band Yo La Tengo are live, off to the side of the screen providing a sublimely atmospheric musical accompaniment. Thanks to MDC Live Arts for bringing this multimedia documentary to Miami.

4. Boyhood

BOYHOOD_finalposterRead my review

3. Goodbye To Language 3D

goodbye-to-language-3d-posterRead my review

2. The Grand Budapest Hotel

GRAND-BUDAPEST-HOTEL-POSTER-570Read my review and an interview with Ralph Fiennes

1. Only Lovers Left Alive

only-lovers-left-alive-poster1Read my review

And that’s it! We’re very busy for next year. Surprisingly, early January is quite active: I loved Winter Sleep, Ana has glowing words for Selma, and we have preview appointments with the Dardennes’ Two Days, One Night and Liv Ullman’s Miss Julie with a favorite actress, Jessica Chastain. Plus, once again, IndieEthos is invited to introduce a couple of key films at the upcoming Miami Jewish Film Festival (Jan. 15 – 29). I will host Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem and Ana will host Zero Motivation. We also plan to participate in Q&As after the screenings. You might want to get tickets for Zero Motivation now because ticket sales are brisk. Both screenings of Gett are already sold out.

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Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Birdman-Keaton-Norton-Bway

Some may not realize this, but Independent Ethos has a seat on the Florida Film Critics Circle. This writer has been a member since 2012. In previous years that I have been a member (2012 and 2013) we ranked three choices in each category. But this year, we tried something different. Two rounds of voting. Each of the 25* voting members offered three choices in each category, no ranking. Once all ballots were turned in, our chairman and vice chair tabulated the results and gave us a new ballot of three choices in each category. Everyone would pick one name or film in each category, and then the ones with the majority votes were declared winners.

Also new this year were two new categories: score and ensemble cast, and we have four new members in the voting group! So there were lots of changes with this years vote. Were these changes for the better? Probably. I would have liked more personal favorites like Only Lovers Left Alive represented, and the fact that the Raid 2, an action flick of all things, won the Best Foreign Language category… (cringe… but, full disclosure, I haven’t seen it nor did I have an interest in seeing it). But then I’m pleased that we don’t appear like your typical New York-following group. I’m happy with Under the Skin‘s recognition for score and, yes, even Birdman beating Boyhood, as much as I like the latteris refreshing.

Check out this link to see all the winners. Below you will find my ballot and nominees, which may hint at some of my favorite films of the year, but, as usual take it with a grain of salt. This is a political thing after all, and one should list and lobby for films that have a chance for recognition that at least define a certain aesthetic that I feel no shame in celebrating.

Below you will find the the nominees our group voted on. The winner is in bold and my choices have an asterisk* by them.

BEST PICTURE

Boyhood
Birdman
The Grand Budapest Hotel*

BEST DIRECTOR

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu – Birdman
Richard Linklater – Boyhood
Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel*

BEST ACTOR

Michael Keaton – Birdman
Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything*
Jake Gyllenhaal – Nightcrawler

BEST ACTRESS

Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon – Wild
Julianne Moore – Still Alice*

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher
Edward Norton – Birdman*
J.K. Simmons – Whiplash

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Patricia Arquette – Boyhood*
Jessica Chastain – The Most Violent Year
Emma Stone – Birdman

BEST ENSEMBLE

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Birdman
Boyhood

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Birdman
The Grand Budapest Hotel*
Boyhood

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Gone Girl
Inherent Vice*
The Theory of Everything

CINEMATOGRAPHY

The Grand Budapest Hotel*
Interstellar
Birdman

VISUAL EFFECTS

Guardians of the Galaxy*
Interstellar
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

ART DIRECTION/PRODUCTION DESIGN

Interstellar
The Grand Budapest Hotel*
Into the Woods

BEST SCORE

Gone Girl
Under the Skin*
Insterstellar

BEST DOCUMENTARY

Life Itself
Citizenfour*
Jodorowsky’s Dune

BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM

Ida*
Force Majeure
The Raid 2

ANIMATED FEATURE

The Lego Movie
Big Hero 6
How to Train Your Dragon 2*

BREAKOUT AWARD

Jennifer Kent – The Babadook*
Damien Chazelle – Whiplash
Gugu Mbatha-Raw – Belle/Beyond the Lights

GOLDEN ORANGE

Borscht Film Festival*
Oscar Isaac

My initial ballot of nominees is below. All choices are listed in no particular order:

DSC01930.ARW

BEST PICTURE

Inherent Vice
Birdman
The Grand Budapest Hotel

BEST ACTOR

Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything
Ralph Fiennes – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Jason Schwartzman – Listen Up Philip

BEST ACTRESS

Tilda Swinton – Only Lovers Left Alive
Felicity Jones – The Theory of Everything
Patricia Arquette – Boyhood

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Edward Norton – Birdman
Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher
Jonathan Pryce – Listen Up Philip

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Mia Wasikowska – Only Lovers Left Alive
Naomi Watts – Birdman
Emma Stone – Birdman

BEST ENSEMBLE

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Boyhood
Only Lovers Left Alive

BEST DIRECTOR

Alejandro González Iñárritu – Birdman
Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Paul Thomas Anderson – Inherent Vice

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Jim Jarmusch – Only Lovers Left Alive
Alex Ross Perry – Listen Up Philip

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel (as its based on the writings of Stefan Zweig it could qualify here too, and I wanted to give this a good chance for script)
Paul Thomas Anderson – Inherent Vice
Anthony McCarten – The Theory of Everything

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Emmanuel Lubezki – Birdman
Nick Bentgen – Hide Your Smiling Faces
Robert Elswit – Inherent Vice

VISUAL EFFECTS

Fury
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Birdman

ART DIRECTION/PRODUCTION DESIGN

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Only Lovers Left Alive
Big Eyes

BEST SCORE

Jim Jarmusch and Jozef van Wissem – Only Lovers Left Alive
Mica Levi – Under the Skin
Alexandre Desplat – The Grand Budapest Hotel 

BEST DOCUMENTARY

Citizen Four
Life Itself
Jodorowsky’s Dune

BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM

Ida
Force Majeure
Norte: The End of History

ANIMATED FEATURE (I nominated only one)

 The Tale of Princess Kaguya

BREAKOUT AWARD

Director Jennifer Kent – The Babadook
Ana Lily Amirpour – A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Ellar Coltrane – Boyhood

GOLDEN ORANGE:

Oscar Isaac
Borscht Film Festival (It’s happening now! I lobbied hard for this one. Check out their trailer below)

I’ve actually covered Borscht a lot this year at the “Miami New Times.” Pick up today’s issue for My story in the film section. Also I wrote about the films “Papa Machete” and “Cool As Ice 2” on the publication’s art and culture blog Cultist. Click on the titles for the articles.

Hans Morgenstern

*There are two other members of the FFCC with emeritus status who sit on the sidelines, one of whom who likes to send out an email to all of us with his opinionated recap of what he has seen.

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

UTS posterTen years after Birth either impressed or upset audiences, the uncompromising filmmaker Jonathan Glazer blasts back into the movie theaters with one of the strangest science fiction films ever. Under the Skin follows an alien disguised as a woman (Scarlett Johansson) cruising the streets of Scotland in a big van. She’s looking for men. She wants their skin, and she’s armed with her sex appeal.

This could sound like a variation of Species, which featured another beautiful celeb playing a man-eater, but Under the Skin is so focused on mood over narrative clarity, it feels like an art film. It’s the perfect approach for science fiction. An alien subject should feel alien. Few seem to recall that George Lucas made such a grand first impression with THX 1138 because he presented a future world made incomprehensible on purpose. He did not have characters explain the weird TV shows they watched or how a holding cell can be a pure white backdrop and nothing else.

Under the Skin has a similar moment, except the background is black. Once the alien, who we come to know as “Laura,” has caught her prey and lures him past the front door of some decrepit, boarded home, the screen jumps to the black background. Laura walks backward, peeling off her clothes slowly. under-the-skin-image-1The man strips naked and stays in steady pursuit of the temptress. With his penis erect and only blackness surrounding them, it is as if desire has metaphorically given way to tunnel vision. Nothing else matters but the beautiful, curvy woman stripping before him. He never seems to notice that with every step he takes, he sinks deeper into the blackness. Laura stops walking backward and removing her clothing only when the top of the man’s head disappears below her toes.

There are several variations of this scene, and they begin with Laura pulling up to solitary men with the pretense of asking for directions. What she really wants to know is whether anyone will miss them once they are gone. After hearing the right answers, she will invite them in her van. There’s an odd naturalism to the acting during these scenes because, it turns out, the director used hidden cameras to shoot them while he and a few crew members hid in the back of the truck. Johansson the actress seemed unrecognizable to the unsuspecting men she pulled up to under a short, puffy brunette wig, as she ad-libbed many of these chats with a London accent. The idea that these scenes were shot with hidden cameras adds a meta-layer of creep factor to an already uncanny movie.

UndertheskinFeat

Johansson dives into the challenge with gusto, working off her environment and situation more so than acting off a fellow actor. It’s almost like acting at gunpoint, and she exposes a layer of vulnerability that’s both chilling and enchanting. It helps that her character only speaks when she needs to. Her warmest exchanges involve figuring out her prey. There’s one incredible moment on a beach where she tries to seduce a swimmer who is trying to rescue a drowning couple, which reveals her single-mindedness to ominous effect. The man leaves her at the shore, the couple’s crying baby sits in the distance. Laura’s eyes are always fixed on the swimmer. The camera observes the botched rescue from a helpless but observational distance. Even after the scene has ended, Glazer amps the dread up a notch by cutting away later that night to the screaming toddler left alone to languish by the shore, the merciless sea lapping ever so closer to him. This is one unsettling movie.

What_s_Scarlett_Johansson

Glazer came to feature film from a background in commercial and later music video production. That school of filmmaking has given us with such fascinating filmmakers as David Fincher, Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry, among others. Just like these filmmakers, Glazer understands how to present narrative and mood beyond the traditional narrative arc. He’s the guy behind the narratively obtuse yet still eerie Radiohead video “Karma Police:”

Also, based on gut, I wondered if he directed this startling video for “Rabbit In Your Headlights,” a collaboration between Radiohead vocalist Thom Yorke and the trip-hip duo UNKLE. He did. It happens to feature an amazing bit of acting by Denis Lavant, an actor well-known for pushing his physical limits and working with another inventive director, Leos Carax:

As a man from music videos, Glazer knows how to use music in his cinema. His earlier films, Sexy Beast and Birth had their moments, but Under the Skin stands as his strongest melding between score and visuals yet. During the opening sequence alone, Mica Levi’s soundtrack captivates. Fading up from silence, strings rapidly chug and vibrate like some deconstructed version of Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho score. A swelling electronic drone fades up until the strings fade out, leaving only the humming drone. Throughout you are left to wonder about the visual accompaniment, a point of red light, the iris of an eye seem to eclipse. The backdrop is clinically white. There may be a needle. The only concrete hint of what might be happening is in the title of Levi’s piece: “Creation.” Throughout the movie music recurs for both ambiance (variations of the spine-tingling sing-song melody accompanying the scenes in the black room) and illuminating the character’s development (a gradual, lush warmth develops in tracks like “Love”).

Glazer is indeed a brilliant stylist, but underneath his style lies a complicated ambivalence toward humanity. The film alludes rather directly to the perils of casual sex and the blindness to consequences caused by lustful desire. It’s a statement that starts feeling redundant were not uts_01_1for the variation of how many articles of clothing Laura removes in the recurring scene inside the black void and the deeper the director allows the viewer to see into the darkness of where these men end up (and it’s a disquieting revelation accompanied only by nearly silent underwater sonics that will leave some viewers feeling a bit claustrophobic).

If predatory Laura embodies the dangerous side of hook-ups, a change will occur alluding to a redeeming, non-judgmental humanity that arises when Laura’s last victim emerges (Adam Pearson*). He’s the ultimate lonely man. He only goes to the store at night, wearing a hood to hide a face disfigured by tumors. A kink arises from the choice of this victim that puts her on the run. The only one in pursuit seems to be a man on a motorcycle who, at the start of the film, gave her the skin she has donned to roam this world. The motorcyclist (who happens to be played by Irish star motorcycle racer Jeremy McWilliams) rides a sleek crotch rocket and wears a full leather riding suit. He looks like an interstellar traveler even though it’s nothing that would appear out-of-the-ordinary on earth. But there are moments when his presence seems to call too much attention to itself. Whether he catches up to her or not maybe does not matter, but who he is might have helped add a bit more substance to his relationship with Laura and his stake in her. Still, the distant high-speed rides featuring McWilliams are one of the film’s many invigorating, kinetic visuals.

Under-the-Skin

Further on in Laura’s solitary growth, something human emerges from melding with her skin. It’s important to consider a brief scene early in the film, when Laura removes the clothing from her deceased doppelgänger. Though seemingly lifeless, the body sheds a single tear as Laura undresses her. This could be seen as an allusion to human awareness carrying on through the skin. Otherwise, it feels difficult to understand why Laura seems to have a change of heart about her mission.

The attempt at transformation goes rather tragically for her, however. She cannot use her body to enjoy the human pleasures of chocolate cake or sex. Despite her human skin, it is nothing but superficial. Between two extremely different encounters between two different men, her story turns heartbreaking. Though first portrayed as a predator, Laura earns the viewer’s sympathy in small steps, from tripping in the street to being swarmed by drunk girls to taking in a damaged soul and paying him compliments he’s probably never heard. The film drops more of these bits until pummeling the viewer with a well-earned tragic finale.

In the end, science fiction has never felt more enthralling. Glazer obscures narrative enough to create the feeling of threat simply with the unexplained. Levi’s soundtrack— her first— stands as one of cinema’s greatest scores to amp up the creepy atmosphere, and Glazer couples it with equally disturbing imagery that will remain hard to shake long after leaving the theater. Here’s a film where one can honestly say, “You’ve never seen anything like this.”

Hans Morgenstern

Under the Skin runs 108 minutes and is Rate R (It’s gory and Scarlett Johansson famously does several full nude scenes). It starts May 15 at Miami Beach Cinematheque and the following day Cinema Paradiso – Fort Lauderdale and The Cinema Paradiso – Hollywood.

*Pearson is not a special effect.

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)