The last couple of years have seen a plethora of really good films and first half of year has not disappointed. Despite my obvious third world limitations cinema wise, I have taken in a significant expanse of cinematic offerings this year by thanks to some third world means and a good number of them really charmed and excited me.
There are no Ghanaian films on this list unfortunately and unsurprisingly but in the last couple of years I have been making an honest effort to see more homemade stuff and I give myself a solid C as far as those endeavours are concerned. The thing is the films aren’t getting any better. There was a brief moment when you felt the industry had a beacon in Shirley Frimpong-Manso but this year especially, she has frustrated. Her black comedy, Six hours to Christmas was one of my film highlights from 2 years ago but everything since has been a let-down.
This year saw Potomanto, A Northen Affair and Devil in the Detail have been this 2014’s marquee release, all 3 lacking in cinematic verve but bizarrely and to my annoyance, embraced by the mediocrity of the Ghanaian movie landscape. To be fair, I saw the latter 2 at the Legon Film Event early this year in the presence of equally or more incisive movie goers who were uncompromising in their assessment.
It’s sad anytime I talk about our films, it’s just complaints but I digress, if folks at home won’t give me some good stuff, I’ll find my fix elsewhere. I’ve sat back and taken stock and these are my picks of the year so far, six of them for each month I guess.
First up for me is David Gordon Green’s dark indie drama Joe. This gripping mix of friendship, violence and redemption in the American South sees Nicholas Cage as the titular character in this adaptation of Larry Brown’s novel. The first thing that jumps out his performance, the best I have seen in all its grit and tortured splendour. However the highlight for me, which I have mentioned on this blog before, was the homeless actor Gary Poulter, now deceased. He is truly devastating here as young Tye Sheridan’s drunk abusive father. This being the first true Green film I’ve seen, it was hard not to marvel at the raw authenticity his direction brings. The location radiates the dire socio economic vibe that gives life to the relatable setting. His direction and the cinematography build up the surreal atmosphere and he never shies away from showing us a real life ugliness some of us are already aware of.
Next up is the film everybody loved, The Grand Budapest Hotel. I have heard people criticize Wes Anderson for being monotonous with his style and I quickly called BS on that however true that may be. His style has been much of a riddle to me and the fact that deep down I somehow cannot fully comprehend his films makes them more of a novelty. Anderson is as rigorous as ever piecing together a fascinating Europe during the interwar period. It’s almost an ode to a time nearing its end considering devastation European society was to meet. We see another ensemble cast which is knitted together perfectly in a hilarious and underlying sombre narrative amidst the snippets of dark humour which, to the best of my knowledge, is new to Andersons work. Newcomer Tony Revolori charms with his ever present quirkiness but everyone’s highlight was Ray Fiennes who puts in what some have called an unexpected comic shift is the driving force of the film. I’ve seen him in In Bruges and he displays some great comic nous there so not surprising for me.
If first heard of Snowpiercer mid last year and I began to wait patiently for its release. Two, four and six months passed and I wondered if I’dever see it till I did, early this year. Snowpiercer is everything I thought it would be plus 1 (dunno where that came from). The film gives us smart and imaginative social dystopia with remarkable imagery accompanying each world on the iron locomotive. The cast on show here (Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Song Kang-ho etc.) are on form and Evans especially who exudes guile and charisma as the leading man and anchors the film admirably and there’s certainly more to expect from him after he hangs ip his Captain America Shield. This wholesome science fiction film is the English-language debut of Korean director Bong Joon-ho and the mix of metaphor and reality he serves should be seen by as many as possible.
Edge of Tomorrow for me stands head and shoulders above every summer block buster this year. Hell I genuinely feel it’s the best science fiction action film in almost a decade. Edge Of Tomorrow centres around a D-Day style invasion of alien-occupied Europe and director Doug Liman with the aid of his script gives us bits and pieces of Groundhog Day and maybe Saving Private Ryan combining to form a smart, funny and energy filled action film. The fact that it’s an original story and not a franchise movie or a sequel gives us hope for action movies down the line. Cruise has one of the more interesting character arcs of the year and his performance sells it totally. Bill Paxton is never in enough movies and he provides ever-present humour and Emily Blunt does it says on the cover; Full Metal Bitch. The movie doesn’t seem to have made lots of money and I know Michael Bay will turn in 1 billion for his Transformers movie. Maybe it’s because kids of today (I’m 22) didn’t really grow up on Cruise and he is officially a box office old-timer.
In my final assessments, I was astonished to find About Last Night really stuck in my head so much so it made the cut of my high glorious standards. The film opens with Bernie (Kevin Hart) and Danny (Michael Ealy) recounting in comical detail, Bernie’s latest hook-up perfectly synced with Joan (Regina Hall) and Debby (Joy Bryant) doing same. Hart likening his sex to peace talks was one of my funniest moments of the year. He and Regina Hall are at their raunchy best living out a relationship only possible in R rated Hollywood. For moments of true introspection, we turn to Danny and Debby who give us a more conventional relationship some may relate to. It gets very chatty with them but is vital for how we get to understand them and their relationship. Still though, I never tired of Hart and Hall – sequel please!
Finally some love for the Immigrant. I sighted this film for the first time on one of those “films to shake up the Oscars” lists early 2013 and roughly 13 months later I saw the movie. The Immigrant stars Joaquin Phoenix, Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Renner and is directed by James Gray. The cast screams Oscars but the director seemed to have other things in mind. This story plays out an unhurried and emotional dish of love, hope, pain and ultimately redemption in this period film set in New York. The film and its performances are by no means any Oscar bait but gives the love triangle established some standing and the chilling visuals paint a stunningly dark portrait of the city in 1921.
A lot of good stuff has been released especially the ones under the radar. Chinese film A touch of Sin by director Jia Zhangke gives poignant and violent commentary on Chinese society. Irish black comedy Calvary gives one of the most chilling openings to film which if sustained would have been one of the films of the year but is still a terrific whodunit. Then there is Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s emotional mess (in a good way) Le Passe which loses no punch in a different language.
As far as the rest of the year is concerned I’ve got my eyes as always on the crime dramas with Gone Girl, A Most Violent year and of course Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. There’s also the small matter Nolan’s Interstellar.