This year saw me hit a strange balance where my feature watching was significantly impacted by the amount of online shorts I found myself watching, and being able to kick back on the sofa with Vimeo on my Roku didn’t help matters. Regulars would have seen the fruits which came out of all those hours in couch mode throughout the year, so here follows the features which weren’t battered into oblivion by the relentless onslaught of their shorter siblings. These are the reason why features still have the power to get me off the couch and into the cinema.
10. MOONRISE KINGDOM
Dir: Wes Anderson
Very often when I sit down to watch a film it’s with the sincere hope that I’m about to see something I’ve never experienced before, but there are those filmmakers who I return to with a desire to have ‘more of the same only different’ each time. Wes Anderson is one such director and Moonrise Kingdom fits the bill perfectly. If you’re not a fan of Anderson’s meticulous staging, measured dialogue or, let’s face it, kooky characters then this isn’t the film to win you over. If however they signal a welcome return for you as they do for me, then the run away, wilderness romance which shapes the eye of the storm that is Moonrise Kingdom will have you eagerly anticipating the next trip to Anderson-land.
Dir: Rian Johnson
If the re-pairing of Rian Johnson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt after the excellence of Brick wasn’t enough to get you going, then surely the addition of time travel mechanics which see victims popped back to the past for a tidy disposal was enough to win you over? Yes there are some paradoxes that you could get hung up on but when a story wraps you up in its characters this much, a few plot holes are more than forgivable.
8. EAT SLEEP DIE
Dir: Gabriela Pichler
When the packing plant that 21-year-old tomboy Raša works at lays off staff in a round off efficiencies, she’s forced to re-evaluate her life, abilities, and future as the foundations of her existence shift beneath her feet. A role that we usually expect to be fulfilled by documentaries, director Gabriela Pichler presents the lives of individuals rarely seen under the scrutiny of the cinematic gaze and brings a fresh perspective to the struggle of European youth living during a time of reduced opportunities.
7. THE KID WITH A BIKE
Dir: Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne
This story from the Dardenne brothers contains both heartbreak and hope in equal measures as we follow Cyril, a boy who has been rejected by his father and has the opportunity to embark on a new and potentially bright future if only he can stop rejecting the kindness of strangers and avoid the lure of the those who would corrupt him for their own ends. Cécile de France puts in a great performance as the benevolent Samantha and Thomas Doret’s performance as the petulant Cyril is so convincing that at times you want to reach into the screen and shake some sense into him.
Dir: Vassily Sigarev
Whoever it was that came up with the term ‘the living ain’t easy’ obviously didn’t have Vassily Sigarev’s second feature in mind, otherwise they may have decided that ‘the living is brutally unfair and unflinchingly cruel’ was a much more fitting phrase. Set in a small wintery Russian town, Sigarev depicts three parallel stories of death and the profound effects these have on those who try, and mostly fail, to cope with loss. Living is a film which resides in the depths of human despair but the performances and Sigarev’s ability to place us in the distorted realities of his characters, make it a worthwhile, if bleak watch.
Dir: Ben Wheatley
It seems that the only way I’m likely to have an end of year list which doesn’t feature Ben Wheatley’s work is if he decides to take a year off at some point. Lighter in tone than Down Terrace or Kill List, Sightseers sees Alice Lowe and Steve Oram reprise characters they developed on stage for an unforgettable and murderous English camping holiday. Billed as a dark comedy, Wheatley still retains his flinch inducing approach to violence so that whilst you find yourself laughing at Chris and Tina’s idiosyncrasies, their murderous explosions stop that laughter dead in its tracks.
Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos
The fact that Yorgos Lanthimos, director of Dogtooth my favourite film of 2010 had a new feature co-produced by Athina Rachel Tsangari, another filmmaker on the vanguard of Greek cinema’s resurgence and director of the excellent Attenberg, meant that I had understandably high expectations for this strange tale of stand ins for the recently deceased. Like the grieving clients of Alps, I’d happily pay to hang onto these characters for just that little bit longer.
Dir: Cate Shortland
It’s been a long wait to see where Cate Shortland would go after her 2004 debut about hedonistic loneliness Somersault but the adaptation of Lore, a story from Rachel Seiffert’s The Dark Room, is the perfect fit for her narrative talents as a director so able to convey the tumultuous emotions battling within those on the edge of adulthood. Here Lore (Saskia Rosendahl) must lead her four younger siblings across a defeated World War II Germany whilst trying to come to terms with the incongruity between reality and the falsehoods indoctrinated in her by her Nazi SS parents.
2. RUST AND BONE
Dir: Jacques Audiard
Jacques Audiard’s story of the coming together of two broken individuals does so with such a subtlety that it would be a stretch to call Rust and Bone a romance. Though not a conscious act, and certainly not intentional in the case of Marion Cotillard’s Stéphanie, both characters bleed for this relationship in their own way, and out of that comes a bond that strengthens scene by scene, yet is unnoticed until it’s an undeniable fact.
1. THE WALL
Dir: Julian Pölsler
If you relocated the Luna Brothers’ limited series comic Girls to the Austrian mountains, culled its population to one and did away with the egg-laying naked alien woman then you’d still be a fair bit away from Julian Pölsler’s adaptation of Marlen Haushofer’s 1963 novel. Where the Luna Brother’s used the ‘trapped in an invisible forcefield’ as a mystery to be solved, The Wall is more a reflection on the human condition and an exploration into the validity of continuing to go on when the only person you’re living for is yourself. The Wall is carried on the shoulders of Martina Gedeck as ‘The Woman’ in a phenomenal performance, enhanced by her philosophising voiceover and cinematography captured over several seasons by a team of cinematographers, which renders the natural world in breathtaking detail. The Wall is a film that took me completely unawares when I saw it at the London Film Festival and it’s never been far from my thoughts since.