DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: 2014

Friday, 26 December 2014

Best of 2014

So here's the unscientific best of the year. With a couple of exceptions the common thread of this crop is clearly the cynicism and darkness which each of these filmmakers brought to the screen. Sure Boyhood was an admirable narrative exercise and sure, The Imitation Game and Theory of Everything were handsome but forgettable biopics, but these ten pictures were the most memorable for me because they either challenged traditional genres, executed age-old genres to perfection or simply projected unique cinematic voices with panache better than anyone else.

Dir. Bennett Miller
Miller's methodical account of the relationship between Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz and his deranged benefactor John Du Pont haunts long after the picture stops 'rolling'. A fascinating character study of disparate people - Schultz the blue collar athlete wrestling in his brother's shadow and Du Pont the man-child hermetically sealed in his Foxcatcher compound - a bold exercise in sustained nail-biting tension, Foxcatcher works brilliantly on multiple thematic levels, class, patriotism, sports and American history. No film stuck more with me than this.

Dir. Damien Chazelle
Sure there’s kind of shameless exaggeration of performance, in particular JK Simmons’ pumped up rage which comes off as R Lee Ermey’s drill Full Metal Jacket drill sergeant character transplanted to a Juliard-like music school, and sure the theme of artistic desire and sacrifice for artistic perfection are hit a little hard on the nose, but Damien Chazelle’s laser-focused picture and harrowing journey of its hero is a force of nature impossible not be dazzled by. In fact, it’s a thrill ride of immense proportions. Cinematic bravura bursts from the picture's classically composed frames: gorgeous warm lighting complements the sense of history of the jazz numbers their artists play; dynamic editing, intrusive compositions, fetish-like close-ups of the Miles Teller’s drum kit and long extended takes of the kids ripping his skins creates a dynamic energy. And that showstopping ending puts all other films this year shame.

Dir. Denis Villeneuve
Villeneuve’s beguiling Cronenberg –influenced headtripping doppelganger picture is playful cinematic fun. Consciously obtuse and aloof, Villenueve places us in a David Lynch-type world, in which narrative comprehension take a backseat to the thrill of mystery and mood. Jake Gyllenhaal’s double performance is as cold and absorbing as Jeremy Irons’ double-duty in Dead Ringers. As mirror images of one another, there isn’t much to distinguish one another other than how Gyllenhaal's carries each character. It’s one of two remarkable performances this year from arguably the most interesting actor working today. Villeneuve’s probing camera and methodical pace draws into the deranged psychosis of both characters. I have my own theories of what the recurring spider motif means, and the nature of their seemingly mirror-image duality, but you won’t get this explanation here. Have fun figuring it out yourself.

Dir. Bong Joon-Ho
What a beautiful concoction this picture is. The familiar apocalyptic scenario played out on a train ride around the world, and seen through the deranged lens of Korean genre cinema master Bong Joon Ho. Last year’s English-language debut for Chan-wook Park (Stoker) showed the potential of the cross-culture mélange of Korean and American cinema. Here Snowpiercer achieves a kind of genre perfection, finding inspired freshness in the bloated post-apocalyptic set up. Robust and creative action sequences compliment the sharp sense of humour, elements all working in sync with the well thought out high concept scenario.

Dir. Jeremy Saulnier
Imagine a threadbare version of Taken, replacing the righteous Liam Neeson hero with a meek and utterly frightened but intensely focused suburban everyman. And instead of the martial arts hand to hand skills of Neeson, an equally impressive common sense guile. With these stripped down elements Blue Ruin triumphs as a white knuckle revenge-thriller as tense as any of its kind.

Dir. Dan Gilroy
Influenced by the anti-heroic De Niro/Scorsese creations of Travis Bickle and Ruper Pupkin, Jake Gyllenhaal's socially awkward ne'er-do-well who finds his calling as an immoral ambulance-chasing paparazzi is a fascinating train wreck character. Gilroy's colourful Los Angeles-based cinematography (most of which takes place at night) is a delightful throwback to the seedy Hollywood of old.

Dir. Wes Anderson

After fifteen years we almost take for granted the inspired diorama-like constructed imagery of Anderson's pictures. The idiosyncratic off-the-wall characters existing in a fairytale like world of their own are also well-entrenched in our pop-culture awareness. But I'm convinced years after Anderson's career has ended collectively we'll wonder how this guy never fully received his due as one of the most unique voices in cinema history. Grand Budapest Hotel represents a high-water mark for his mid-career renaissance. Without Owen Wilson as co-writer Anderson seems to have embraced even more imaginative worlds and elaborate forms of storytelling. Hotel's decades-spanning narrative is a tall-tale fantasy bursting with everything in Wes Anderson's arsenal we take for granted.

Dir. David Fincher
If you were to simply describe the plot of Gillian Flynn’s pulpy bestseller it would come off as an outrageous Joe Eszterhas-style potboiler ripped from the era of early 90’s sexual thrillers. But when orchestrated by a master of the genre, at the top of his game, where other filmmakers would have made this picture into a sloppy ham-fisted mess, David Fincher makes two and half hours a completely engrossing experience, terrifying and witty in equal measure and self-aware enough not to take itself too seriously.

Dir. James Gunn
The shared universe of the Avengers/Marvel series has resulted in a television-like homogenization of its films. It's impossible to find any kind of directorial authorship in any of the Iron Man, Captain Avengers or Thor films. Guardians is the anomaly and arguably the reason the little-known comic property became a late summer sensation. James Gunn's sardonic sense of humour and his Star Wars era sense of adventure represents a refreshing throwback and a burst of energy to the bloated super hero genre.

Dir. E.L. Katz
This genre winner sparked a minor bidding war after its raucous SXSW premiere. Katz's slice of soul sucking cinematic nastiness applies some of the direct moral questions from say, Adrian Lyne's Indecent Proposal to a pulpy midnight film. David Koechner as a diabolical wealthy games maker challenging blue collar bar buddies Pat Healy and Ethan Embry to a game of high stakes dare. In their pursuit of the cold hard cash the meek family man Healy is tested to the limits, and the fringe criminal Embry who would seem to have the upper hand in the endeavour finds himself matched test for test. While the escalation of violence is comical in its excessiveness, the rock solid performances are humane and believable. At its best Cheap Thrills is a scathing inditement of American capitalism and the American dream.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

The Tragedy of Macbeth

The Bard’s tale of the ambitious Scottish lord who with his wife conspire to take the throne of Scotland by hook or crook has always made for great cinema. It’s one of the more violent and action-packed of Shakespeare plays and through the eye of Roman Polanski, at the peak of his abilities, turns the story into a ruthless and bloody parable of ambition - a film even more resonant with the Charles Manson tragedy only a couple years behind this production.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Gone Girl

If you were to simply describe the plot of Gillian Flynn’s pulpy bestseller it would come off as an outrageous Joe Eszterhas-style potboiler ripped from the era of early 90’s sexual thrillers. But when orchestrated by a master of the genre, at the top of his game, where other filmmakers would have made this picture into a sloppy ham-fisted mess, David Fincher makes two and half hours a completely engrossing experience, terrifying and witty in equal measure and self-aware enough not to take itself too seriously.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

All That Jazz

The influence of Fellini’s 8 ½ is clear in Bob Fosse’s own memoir-like fictional film. The story of a theatre director under immense pressure to make his next show a hit, while under the usual pressures of the business, told with a mixture of fantasy and realism is cut from the same mould as Fellini’s great picture. The creative evolution of Fosse’s work from 'Sweet Charity', 'Cabaret' and 'Lenny' seems to culminate in this overly ambitious yet invigorating explosion of cinema.

Friday, 22 August 2014


While Erik Skjoldbjærg built upon the established cinematic traditions of procedural crime thrillers, in the light of the recent trend of atmospheric crime procedurals such as True Detective, The Killing, Prisoners, 1997’s Insomnia, in hindsight looks to be a direct aesthetic antecedent  for these other more successful pictures/series.

Monday, 4 August 2014


The Bresson brand of neo-realism is perhaps exemplified best with this unconventional character study of a Parisian thief desperately in need to self-fulfillment. Remarkably Bresson's seemingly simple approach uncluttered by the elements of traditional cinematic narrative allows the master filmmaker to create as much uncompromising tension as anything in Alfred Hitchcocks's filmography.

Thursday, 24 July 2014


After rebooting his career with two small scale earth-bound pictures, The Wrestler and Black Swan, to my surprise Aronofsky launched back into big idea cinema with the previously unfilmed biblical story of Noah and the Great Flood. It’s a strange mix of epic swagger and Hollywood heroism and the intellectual cinematic gymnastics which Aronofsky has been known for. Ultimately it’s mildly rewarding and nothing of the intense feelings of emotion he made his name for in his more successful pictures.

Thursday, 5 June 2014


Steven Spielberg’s slavery drama exemplifies the late-career inconsistencies of the hitmaker. Startling moments of dramatic intensity and eye-popping depiction of the horrors of slavery are marred by heavy-handed preachiness. Thus, like many films of the post 80’s era we can admire the film but never feel fully satisfied by it in the end.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Crocodile Dundee

The story of the rustic Aussie cowboy Michael J. “Crocodile” Dundee character brought to the vacuous Manhattan lifestyle in the height of Reagan-era 80’s decadence milks every ounce of comedy and charm from this scenario. It was an unlikely megahit in 1986, but even today the film remains highly watchable thanks to the easy-going naturalism and uber chemistry from its two newbie stars Paul Hogan and Linda Kozlowski.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Breaking the Waves

Von Trier’s extravagantly conceived neo-realist fable seems now like a monumentally significant film in the cinema of the new millennium. Laying out Von Trier’s grandiosly tragic and melodramatic journey of her golden heart heroine under the handheld griminess of Von Trier’s shaky documentary style creates a strange but inspired cinematic experience unlike anything that came before it. Not only did it jump start the Dogme movement but legitimized the lo-fi aesthetic for all filmmakers to come.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Riot in Cell Block 11

Cinematic tough guy Don Siegel first exemplified himself as a director with vision with this razor sharp prison thriller, at once as a first-rate claustrophobic thriller but also as a critique of the inhumane conditions in US prison system at the time.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Considering the massive overkilled marketing push behind this film, the inspired mix of absurdest humour and sharp satire make Anchorman 2 a genuinely pleasant surprise. The almost 10 years between the first film and this one is worth the wait. While the character of lovable buffoon Ron Burgundy and his outlandish gags and set pieces are finely tuned, it’s the film’s sharp critique of the commodization of modern news which sets the film apart from other money-making franchise ventures, such as 'The Hangover'.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Agony and the Ecstasy

With Easter coming around, this also means the season of a historical epics – both in theatres and home video. Agony and the Ecstasy was one of the bigger films of its day, a 70mm showcase, telling the story of the Michelangelo and his tempestuous relationship with Pope Julius I who commissioned the surly artist to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. As usual with this kind of the film, the superb production value carries the weight over a dull story and hammy characterizations of historical figures.

Friday, 21 March 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street

What a pleasure to see at age 70 Martin Scorsese, into the latter stage of his career, deliver one more sprawling crime picture, in this case a film which acts like a capper to a trilogy including Goodfellas and Casino, three pictures connected by the director's blistering cinematic pace, it's fascinating viewpoint into three segments of high stakes crime and corruption and it's sympathetic portrait of three contemptible characters. Once again Scorsese succeeds.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

George Washington

David Gordon Green’s dreamy feature debut renowned for its swath of Terrence Malick affectations feels even more warm and inviting fourteen years later. The consciously lazy narrative of a group of rural Texan kids, black and white, co-habitating happily, and growing up impervious to the pretty bleak squalor around them, is the functional foundation for Green’s lush tonal aesthetic. Essentially the film is made up of small moments of infectious and hypnotising beauty, moments and scenes which don’t always coalesce together fluidly, but collectively whet our palette through its nostalgic filter of childlike naivete.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

12 Years a Slave

Steve McQueen’s already celebrated picture consciously manages to find a medium ground between the intimate and avant-garde roots of his earlier pics and the broad historical canvas of American slavery. As devastating it is to see slavery depicted on screen he never seems to match the level of visceral impact as his debut Hunger. Thus, however powerful and moving there’s a feeling he’s tamed himself for the sake of American and Hollywood acceptability.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

A Brief History of Time

The story and science of renowned astro-physicist Stephen Hawking was given the Errol Morris cinematic treatment in A Brief History of Time in 1991. Morris’ ability to probe deep into unique idiosyncratic characters is put to the ultimate test in Hawking, the wheelchair bound genius with no way of communicating other than his hand controlled clicker and computer-translated voice. And yet through his inert facade emerges perhaps the most enlightening character study he’s ever made.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Saturn 3

There’s very little to praise in Saturn 3, the much-maligned Razzy-nominated science-fiction film from 1980, which appears like a stain on Stanley Donen’s ('Singing in the Rain', 'Seven Brides for Seven Brothers') esteemed filmography. At the time, we could admire Donen’s desire to step into another genre, similar to Robert Wise’s success with 'Star Trek The Motion Picture' a year prior, but even with relaxed expectations today, the film never rises above a mere curiosity-piece for the talent involved.

Friday, 7 March 2014


Thomas Hardy’s tragic 19th century novel adapted as a luscious period film by Roman Polanski is a unique notch on his filmography rarely discussed or acknowledged. Made in 1979 after his escape to France, the film beautifully rounds out Polanski’s long and successful career as it remains one of the three pictures of his nominated for best picture and best director (along with Chinatown and The Pianist).

Thursday, 6 March 2014

300 Spartans

With today’s eyes this version of the Battle of Thermopylae serves only ‘Sword and Sandal’ genre enthusiasts (although this one was Greek-made with Hollywood involvement) and curiosity seekers interested in the origins of Frank Miller’s cult graphic novel 300 and by association the monumentally successful Zach Snyder film. Otherwise it’s a dull historical actioner from start to finish.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Alan's Top Ten Films of All Time

Ok, Daily Film Dose is not daily any more. It’s not dead, in fact very much alive (in my head). I’ve been it for over 7 years and I’ve never posted an all-time favourite list. And so here it is, for what it’s worth. Ten films that stick to me so vividly and profoundly more than anything else I’ve ever seen.

How Green Was My Valley (1941) dir. John Ford

This film exemplifies everything that is great about John Ford, even more so than any of his revered Westerns. Ford's signature elegant style creates a romantic view of Welsh coal mining family living through turbulent times. Told from the point of view of young Roddy McDowell's character there's a filter of romanticized nostalgia which Ford embellishes with all his cinematic powers. Breathtaking recreation of the town is front and centre. Arguably one of the greatest locations and sets ever built. The coal mine perched atop a hill at the end of the town and the rows of houses which follow down the valley creates Parthenon-like compositional perfection. And those plumes of smoke which linger in distance so perfectly in the frame was all part of Ford’s obsessive design. The film's trump card though is the astonishingly emotional ending, as moving and powerful as anything in Ford's oeuvre and the history of cinema for that matter. To some the film is notable for being the one that bested Orson Welles and Citizen Kane for Best Picture and Best Director at the Academy Awards but How Green Was My Valley is better and I bet Welles would agree.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Raise the Titanic

Notable at the time for being an expensive flop, this audacious story of a covert CIA operation to quite literally raise the H.M.S. Titanic from the bottom of the North Atlantic in the hope of salvaging a rare mineral to be used in the production of an atomic nuclear defense system would seem like a Sisyphean task. But the Clive Cussler novel on which it was based was a best seller, a precursor of sorts to the Michael Crichton/Tom Clancy brand of techno-thriller of the '80s/'90s, and well, it's Hollywood.

Friday, 31 January 2014

The Long Day Closes

Though having only five dramatic feature films under his belt Terence Davies has been dubbed the greatest living British filmmaker. And there’s little argument here. The Long Day Closes, his second film exemplifies the dreamy beauty of his films, a symphony of cinematic elegance whose sole purpose is to bask in the beauty of his inspired marriage of imagery and sound.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Sundance 2014 - Day Four Wrap Up

Boyhood (dir. Richard Linklater)

A phenomenal achievement, shooting a film over 12 years charting the course of a child's life from from age 6 to 18. Unfortunately Linklater is not immune to the inherent problems with shooting kids, many awkward scenes early on threaten to douse the fire early but the film gains strength as goes along ultimately ending with the feeling of the film as greater than the sum of its parts. As customary to Richard Linklater the film is less about plot, drama or prefab conflict than the observing his main subject Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and giving the audience the cinematic equivalent to 'growing up'. As a dialogue driven movie it works best when the child actors Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater are older more mature and thus better actors. Thus there's a snowball effect which gains traction the longer we get to know the characters. It takes a long time get there, but it's a worthy journey to take.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Sundance 2014 - Day Three Wrap Up

Skeleton Twins (dir. Craig Johnson)

This high wattage comedy asserts Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader as a contemporary classic comic duo. The spark of comic timing from the classic SNL material is evident. May/Nichols might not be the right comparison but their careers have no sign of slowing down. Wiig and Hader as depressed adults both of whom stunted emotionally and who come together in their home town to mutually reconcile their demons might sound like conciuosly casting against type but director Johnson effectively moves the story between brooding drama involving suicide attempts and broad improv comedy and uproarious set pieces. Adding up the ample doses of 80's nostalgia, hilarious comic set pieces and the multi-pronged plotting Johnson packs a lot fit into its brisk 90min running time, but by hitting all the structural beats in their right places more than smoothes over any loose ends. 

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Sundance 2014 - Day Two Wrap-Up

Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart (dir. Jeremiah Zagar)

Appropriately titled Jeremiah Zagar brings us back into the salacious case of Pamela Smart whose 1990 murder of her husband and three teenage killers convicted inspired massive pre-OJ media coverage as well as the Gus Van Zant film To Die For. Emulating the style and tone of Errol Morris' Thin Blue Line, Zagar crafts a masterful twisty story from the various narratives at play in this case. At core Zagar lasers in on the effect of the media on our collective opinions on the case as well as the jury which convicted her. Less partisan than Thin Blue Line and Paradise Lost, the triumph of Captivated is the open mystery surrounding all details of the case, and let down a tad by an excessive running times which unnecessarily hits the nail on the head. Captivated is a production of HBO Documentary Films will air later this year.

Sundance 2014 - Day One Wrap-Up

The Kristen Stewart starrer Camp X-Ray highlights a light load on this first day. Also included below are capsules for two other fine films Liar's Dice and The Overnighters.

Camp X-Ray (dir . Peter Sattler)

How can a naive female private Guantanamo Bay guard find common ground with a suspected Al Quaida terrorist? Hollywood can make that happen. Well maybe this isn't a Hollywood picture but Peter Sattler vision steers the film in a Hollywood direction without losing its indie cred.  Payman Maadi (A Separation) and Kristen Stewart square off admirably and make equal adversaries and partners. Sattler moves naturally from tension, humour, and genuine heartwarming fraternal emotion ultimately arriving at a controversy free prison film about the most controversial prison in the world. Sattler might just get slapped on the wrist for not taking enough of a stance on the injustices or immorality of detaining these prisoners, but he's able to make a prison film accessible and commercial which aids in any kind of cause. Handsome cinematography, intelligent and expertly crafted dialogue are juicey material for Maadi and Stewart. The fact is, a naive wide eyed but introspective soldier is the ideal role for Stewart's staid acting style. And Maadi riding two lauded Asghar Farhardi roles is a natural playing an intellectual but manipulative Muslim prisoner. Unique musical accompaniment and handsome cinematography create an impressive total package.

Monday, 13 January 2014


Some filmmakers take years to hone their style and aesthetic tastes. Others announce their vision right out of the gate. Such is the case with Thief, which instantly established Michael Mann’s unique, unmistakable viewpoint on the world and which features one of James Caan’s best roles as a professional thief who yearns to establish a legitimate domestic life with a wife and child, but who instinctively gets pulled back into the world of crime.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Public Enemies

Nobody plays cops and robbers better than Michael Mann, and in 2009 his then highly-anticipated Dillinger picture allowed the director to venture back to the golden era of sensationalized crime — the Depression Era of John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson et al. But after the disaster of Miami Vice, it was  a double-shot of disappointment. While Mann set the same unique tone of stone cold procedural action mixed with elegant melodramatic melancholy, it was the technical elements in the early days of HD that let him down.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

King Kong

Arguably the spectacle of all spectacle films, an enormous achievement of special effects, drama and romance. Merian C. Cooper's story of an ambitious filmmaker looking to capture on-location cinema reality in a remote lost world-type island whose crew encounters a giant vicious ape who has a soft spot for young blondes not only showed us a huge monster battling dinosaurs and climbing the skyscrapers of New York City, but an undeniably sincere romance of beast to woman, and the heartbreaking tragedy of human folly.