Mar 2, 2014

The Month in Movies: February 2014

This is going to be a slightly different month in movies post, because so much of February has been taken up with one thing: coming of age movie month, and that has meant that I've got a problem with the monthly awards categories: I have seen a ridiculous amount of great performances this month, and choosing just one or two would be unfair.  The same is true of the films I've seen, there's such a lot of good stuff to cover and I don't want to to miss any of it.

PS: I know I only got through 21 of my proposed 28 coming of age films.  I'll finish the list in the first week of March and then the weekly series will start after that.

I gave four five star grades to first watch films this month, all of them viewed as part of my coming of age movie month series.  Here are the titles in alphabetical order.
Les DiablesMauvaises FrequentationsThe Spirit of the BeehiveTotally True Love
The French films are, rather typically, the harder hitting half of these picks.  Les Diables has Vincent Rottiers and his autistic sister Adele Haenel trying to survive largely on the streets, convinced that the only people they can each rely on is the other, while Mauvaises Frequentations starts off as a fairly typical film about a pair of unlikely friends before travelling a truly dark and sad path.

The other two films to which I handed top grades this month are rather lighter and both take a child's eye view of the world.  The Spirit of the Beehive is elliptical, puzzling, beautiful and anchored by one of the best child performances I've ever seen, while Totally True Love views the first stirrings of romantic attraction and the primary school politics of it from the entirely convincing perspective of a 10 year old.  It's a fun and funny film but doesn't sacrifice substance for laughs.  Four very different films the, but all well worth seeing. 

This attempt at a throwback World War 2 men on a mission movie has a great cast, but it's scuppered by the fact that co-writer/director George Clooney can't find a tone, the film pinging backwards and forwards between smug irreverence and vomit-inducing sentimentality.  What little action there is in the film is hopelessly derivative and feels shoehorned in.  There is never any sense of drive to the mission; instead the team seem to slowly bumble their way to their goal with little urgency.  Add to this no less than FOUR iterations of the same lecture about whether art is worth a man's life and you have Clooney's worst directorial effort.  And he made Leatherheads.

Each month I do a list of awards, with categories lovingly ripped off from my friend AJ.  This month, again thanks to Coming of Age Movie Month, I can't possibly limit the main acting categories to the maximum of two that I usually pick.  I'll do the regular list for the rest, but here's a special section for this month's actors...

Best Actor
Peter Bjerg: You Are Not Alone
Bud Cort: Harold and Maude
Anton Glanzelius: My Life as a Dog
Vincent Rottiers: Les Diables
Noah Taylor: Flirting
There are some spectacular performances listed above, and you could probably argue, at least among movie fans, that Bud Cort's performance in Harold and Maude achieves iconic status, but for me it was one of the smaller and more subtle pieces of work that was the highlight.  Noah Taylor has always been an actor I enjoyed, but I'm not sure I've ever seen him be better than he is in Flirting.  His performance is extremely naturalistic; he's neither especially suave nor especially awkward, but has moments of each quality, and that's really the truth of most people's teen experiences.  Truth runs through Flirting and it's embodied in Noah Taylor's performance.

Even reducing this to a list of five has been an onerous chore.  I could have made a Top 10.  I have also included a special mention for two actresses, essentially giving one performance, in a new release.
Maud Forget: Mauvaises Frequentations
Ruth Gordon: Harold and Maude
Adele Haenel: Les Diables
Eva Gram Schjoldager: Kundskabens Træ
Ana Torrent: The Spirit of the Beehive

SPECIAL MENTION: Charlotte Gainsbourg and Stacy Martin: Nymphomaniac
I was torn on this choice, and very nearly went for Eva Gram Schjoldager's incredible performance in the almost unknown Kundskabens Træ, but I can't deny that Ana Torrent's work in The Spirit of the Beehive is entirely worthy of its reputation as one of the finest performances ever given by a child.  There is something so naturalistic about Torrent's work, even as the film slides into surrealism.  What she captures most beautifully is that sense of wide-eyed curiosity; an openness to the world which we all seem to have as kids and then gradually shut down as we grow.

I nicked these awards categories from my friend AJ, who has been asking people to fill them out each month for many years at the message boards.  Only first viewings are eligible.

Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto: Dallas Buyers Club
Best Supporting Actress: Uma Thurman: Nymphomaniac
Best Director: Victor Erice: The Spirit of the Beehive 
Best Screenplay: Lasse Nielsen, Bent Petersen: You Are Not Alone
Biggest Surprise: Totally True Love
Biggest Disappointment: The Lego Movie (Not bad, just... meh)
Most Fucked-Up Movie: Nymphomaniac
“I’m Pretty Damn Sure No One Else Has Seen This” (and they should): Two Birds [Short] (also most of Coming of Age Movie Month)
One To Watch: Stacy Martin: Nymphomaniac
Best Scene: Mrs H.: Nymphomaniac
Movie I Finally Got to Friggin’ See: The Spirit of the Beehive
Coolest Title: Bastards (shame about the film, but a cool title)
Hottest Lady: Stacy Martin: Nymphomaniac

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