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.
Life After Beth (dir. Jeff Baena)
Zombies in cinema are very much alive and Jeff Baena's film uses the familiar zombie apocalypse scenario to elevate his comedic love story into supreme deadpan farcical territory. The success of this picture is not Zombies or the physical gags of blood of gore (well the best gag might be the sight of Aubrey Plaza wearing a stove on her back), but Baena's frenetic comic pace which perhaps goes all the way back to the Marx Bros or in the present a British sensibility such as Armando Iannucci (In the Loop). A fine assembly of talent helps create a constant, never ending flow of comedy. Aubrey Plaza's a master of deadpan and so she's the ideal centre of activity, playing a girl who dies then mysteriously comes back to life to the confusion of her boyfriend (Dane DeHaan). Though he's a hot property now in Hollywood as a dramatic actor we've never seen this comedic side before. As the straightman he stands tall beside John C. Reilly, Paul Reiser, Cheryl Hines and Molly Shannon. After Plaza comes back to life slowly the world turns to hell but set to the uproarious soundtrack of grocery store jazz. You have to see in order to understand.
What We Do in the Shadows (dir. Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi)
With the prevalence of the found footage genre film these days, this picture, a riotous mock doc about a group of hapless but lovable vampires living in a flat together feels like a throwback picture now. Jemaine Clement can be funny reading the phone book and thus here as Vladislav, a virile ladykiller vampire he's irresistible. His directorial partner Taika Waititi from Eagle vs. Shark does a fine comic turn as Viago the host of the fake documentary and himself a fumbling but caring and conscientious vampire. A number of the frequent players from their other films abound, most memorably by Rhys Darby as the leader of rival werewolf pack. If you're knowledgable of Eagle/Shark and Flight of the Concords it's not hard to imagine this as an instant classic of absurd kiwi comedy.