What better way to start the New Year than with a list of Top Duke Discoveries – these are pulled from across the entire watching spectrum – there are no rules, no limits, no release date limitations – these are simply my favourite films I saw this year all across 2014.
Whiplash: I don’t think there are enough words in the English language for me to be able to do justice to the experience of watching ‘Whiplash’ – it’s a kind of exhilaration, a constructive perfection that I have not seen for years. Anyone with any love for film should make sure to watch this on the biggest, loudest screen that they can catch it on.
Blind: The nuances of ‘Blind’ are mesmerizing – switching between fantasy and reality and carefully intertwining the stories of a blind woman trapped within her own head and the construct world she has created, this emotionally astute and darkly funny film manages to achieve an emotional honesty which I have not yet encountered since the astonishing ‘Vanishing Waves’.
I Am Here: Perhaps one of the most daring films of 2014, this astonishing film features a standout performance by Kim Basinger who brings an incredibly delicate vulnerability to the role of Maria – a succesfull businesswoman with a particular obsession. Asking some of the most difficult questions on-screen this or any year, ‘I Am Here’ succeeds despite its occasional failings – a flawed masterpiece if there was ever one.
Street Wars: The less I say about this 1992 gem the better as there might be a Duke surprise for everyone in store. But let me just put this out there: of all the boys-in-the-hood gang films I’ve seen across the course of my film-discovering life, none has had the swagger and the daring of Jamaa Fanaka’s epic which delights and surprises in every turn with outlandish characters, brilliant action scenes and a sense of rebellion that touches the viewer even after all this time.
When Animals Dream: Gentle and melancholy, this incredible effort from director Jonas Alexander Arnby blends the gentle horror of classic Universal monster movies with an updated treaty on female sexuality and small-town oppression. A love story, an exploration of puberty and an out-and-out horror film, this incredible effort deserves to be seen more widely.
Eat Your Bones: Of all the films about masculinity in 2014, none could match the swagger and honesty of ‘Mange Tes Morts’ – set within a gypsy community in Northern France, this incredible outing blends documentary cinema with the best of classic gangster films and captures a world so familiar and yet foreign that it’s impossible not to be mesmerized. The final confrontation left me breathless and hopefully will capture audiences elsewhere in a similar fashion.
The Treatment: The closest to the hard-nosed thrillers of 80’s that any film has ever come, ‘The Treatment’ ; on surface; is a classic police thriller – but its dark corners are many and its unflinching handling of the central concept is incredibly brave and daring. Perhaps the staging is by the numbers and the resolution of the case a little clichéd – and yet it’s hard not to be taken in by the brilliant acting and the sense of dread and tension that director Hans Herbots builds from the first scene and does not let go until the very final, dreadful, heart-breaking frame. You will not see a better thriller this year.
Petit Quinquin: Let’s be honest, I’m not a fan of Bruno Dumont and his over-composed and very slow approach to filmmaking but in his first T.V. outing he has managed to create one of the out-and-out masterpieces of the year. Funny AND incredibly astute this tale of an investigation into a series of Northern France is blessed with outstanding performances and an ever-darkening mood which draws the audience right in. Unmissable whenever it airs anywhere, it’s even worth tracking down on the big screen just to appreciate the majesty of the cinematography.
Magical Girl: Carlos Vermut’s tale of unpleasant things happening to odd people is finely judged, brilliantly executed and incredibly hard-to-watch. The material is familiar, yes, but the result is so outlandish it’s hard not to be impressed by his building on the brilliant debut of ‘Diamond Flash’. A director to watch if there was ever one.
The Raid 2: Look, it ended and I wanted to be thrown against objects and run around screaming. It’s the best adrenalined ride I’ve ever encountered. The car chase scene alone puts everything else within the genre to shame. Just – let’s accept it – Gareth Evans has discovered the fountain of fighting and the rest of us will have to look on whilst he brings together sequences technically impressive and visually arresting beyond imagination.
La French: It’s familiar, it’s predictable, it’s totally stuff we’ve seen before – and yet… who cares when the end result is so absolutely brilliant? Blessed with mesmerizing performances from the two leads, this gorgeous and utterly wonderful gangster epic treads familiar territory with such confidence that you’d have to be cinematically blind not to be impressed. I love ‘La French’ and I want to forever live in its sun-drenched, blood-soaked vision of 70’s Marseille. There.
Wild Tales: The funniest film of the year by a wide margin. The last 20 minutes alone is worth the price of admission but that’s not enough for director Damián Szifrón who invents even more outrageous scenarios with a speed hitherto unknown in comedy films. Sheer marvel and bloody funny.
The World of Kanako: No other film can match the outrageous madness of director Tetsuya Nakashima‘s story of awful people doing awful things to each other. Fantastically nasty and wonderfuly ugly, this has to be the best neo-noir that has hit our screen for a long, long time.
Norway: Flawed? Yes. Repetitive? Sometimes. But damn if it’s not also engrossing, funny and absolutely mesmerising to watch. Blessed with a killer soundtrack and an ending which demands to be played loud, ‘Norway‘ is the best Greek-disco-vampire story that I’ve ever seen.