10. The One I Love
The One I Love is a film that has tinges of several genres, making for a very quirky viewing experience: light sci-fi elements, romantic comedy, mystery thriller. Mark Duplass and Elizabeth Moss play a couple whose marriage is on the rocks and their therapists recommends a weekend retreat for them as a chance to rekindle their love for one another. What transpires at this cottage is nothing they would have expected, and nothing I will get into for fear of giving away too much of the plot. The film lends credence to the notion that marriage takes real effort and work. The initial feeling of being “in love” with someone does fade, and there needs to be a foundation of some substance to build the relationship on. Also, the film point out the importance of loving someone for who they truly are and not the idealized version of them in your head, and how dangerous that can be to a relationship. Duplass and Moss give really good performances in this film too.
I did not expect this film to be what it was when I went to see it. I thought it was just going to be another run of the mill war story, maybe slightly above average, about how war is hell and all of the clichés that come with a war film. I did not expect to find a film that considers the toll a war has on the soul of the soldiers who fight. This film focuses on a tank crew led by Brad Pitt. Logan Lerman is the innocent, fresh newbie thrust into the group of men who have experienced more than their fair share of WWII. The real surprise and highlight of this film though, is Shia LeBouf’s Boyd “Bible” Swan, moral compass of this increasingly volatile group. These are men who seem to be finding it harder and harder to remember what it means to be good. They’ve spent too much time being the tip of the spear, and have been worn down to blunt instruments bordering on savagery as a result of it, on the verge of losing their humanity at times. War is hell is a common, basic theme of nearly every war film, but what those films can say about humanity is what can elevate the better ones.
Jake Gyllenhaal had a pretty good year. He’s turned into a terrific actor who plays some fairly unique characters. In Nightcrawler, he gives the best performance of his career as creepy, gaunt Lou Bloom, a self-made entrepreneur who races around Los Angeles filming crime and carnage to sell to the local TV stations. Bloom’s ambition is chilling and haunting as he pursues his goals at any cost, even “editing” crime scenes if it’ll look better on camera. Bloom is like a modern day Travis Bickle, only with a camera instead of a taxi, and the twisted ambition of Tony Montana. He’s not going to be the rain to wash away the trash of the city, he’s going to set up the trash to dump all over and get it on camera. Rene Russo (who should be in more things!) plays the TV producer who enables Bloom, creating a monster she eventually can’t control. They share a terrific scene in a restaurant on a dinner “date” discussing business that quickly shows how in control Bloom is and how easily Russo’s Nina has lost the upper hand. Every human interaction is a transaction for Bloom; an opportunity to gain something.
7. The Babadook
Easily the scariest film of the year, this little indie import from Australia is an old school horror movie that goes with less to great effect. The story is centered on a single mother and the handful that is her 6-year-old son (the father died taking her to the hospital to deliver the boy, making for a twinge of resentment and sorrow at the constant reminder, mixed with some dependency). The mom just wants to get a good night’s sleep for the first time in forever, while the son craves constant attention. When a children’s pop-up book called Mr. Babadook mysteriously appears on the shelf for a bedtime story, there’s no turning back, because you can’t get rid of the Babadook. The film does a great job layering the threat into the story. Initially, it’s just the child’s overactive imagination. Then maybe the mom is starting to see things. It’s also fascinating how the story serves as a metaphor for parenthood, single parenthood in particular, running the gamut of emotions that children can bring out of parents at their wit’s end. I also loved that journey the mother goes on through this film, where she starts out to where she ends up. It’s rare to find films, especially films like this, that don’t just resort to the female protagonist being the victim and eventually saved by some male lead.
As soon as I saw the trailer for this film, I had it on my radar. It was as wonderfully weird and entertaining as I had hoped. It features some of the best soundtrack music of the year too. Loosely based on one of the personas of a British comedian, Frank stars Domhnall Gleeson as an inspiring musician who joins up with a small band fronted by Michael Fassbender in a giant papier-mache head. The film explores the record making process, the creative process, and deals with the notion of the tortured artist, real or perceived. As big of a name as Fassbender has become in the last few years, not just for his acting but his striking good looks, it’s impressive that he commits so completely to a character who refuses to show his face to the world. The film does a good job showing that it takes more than just having musical skill and a computer to actually be a rock star, no matter how bad you may want it. Still, despite dealing with some heavy issues, including mental illness, Frank is ultimately a sweet film that loves its characters, however caustic, or flawed, or misguided they may be.