D'Abbadie D'Arrast's Topaze
A film that is at times slightly lethargic from a narrative standpoint more than redeems itself through visual inventiveness and an all-in performance by John Barrymore. I have never seen Pagnol's version so I cannot comment on how it stacks up. D'Arrast proves himself though a very strong director with a keen sense of camera movement and emotive framing. I was particularly moved during the moment when he slowly pulls back the camera during Topaze's farewell speech to his classroom.
Richard Linklater's Boyhood
I walked in feeling that this was the best-reviewed American film of the year so far and though I have been lukewarm with Linklater over the years I wanted him to astonish me, prove me wrong and force me into a categorical reconsideration of everything I had seen from him to date. And for stretches he and the film did just that - during those moments when Marco Perella is on screen or when Mason and Sheena are fighting and reminding us of Kechiche's great work from last year Blue Is The Warmest Color. It does so many things right by my book. It updates that much beloved genre from the seventies, the American naturalistic character film, shooting it with our color and feel and the look of today's world. By holding up a mirror to us no matter how awkward and vapid our words or actions or struggles may be, it also carries forward one of the great traits of those 70s films asking us to look and think rather than escape and ignore. Linklater's approach of shooting the same fictional characters throughout their childhood alone gives his film a special effect and it is my feeling that anyone interested in knowing where the American art film is in 2014 needs to check it out. However as much as I want to be with the majority and love what everyone else loves, like I was after seeing Kechiche's film last year, I have some fairly major reservations. Linklater's charm has always been his aloof approach to storytelling, the naturalistic lived-in words and reactions he is able to coax from his performers in his relatively shapeless works. He probably hits more of those moments than ever during Boyhood's 164 minutes. Ultimately though his approach also is a little his undoing as after a while a work of this ambition wants either more shape and formal discipline (Boyhood could have used a more discerning editing team) or a more powerful aesthetic such as what Antonioni, Malick, Kubrick or even Coppola would have given us.
Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive
Certainly Jarmusch's most interesting film since at least Ghost Dog. It echoes and adds to so many other strands in his work, doing for Detroit what Mystery Train did for Memphis, doing for the vampire genre what Dead Man did for the western, and channeling Young, Mueller and other shades of Jarmusch in intimate ways that deepen the auteur's unique legacy and footprint in world cinema. There is not much humor making it the director's darkest and most disturbing work but it also rewards in what struck me as the deepest work to come from Jim since Depp was chasing William Blake.
Kent Jones' Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows
Jones could be an esteemed documentarian or a well known one if that was his desired path. He is among the most astute and articulate of English-speaking cinephiles and his homage to Lewton is proof yet again (as if he needed anything else to support that claim). Jones gives us a succinct yet heartfelt essay on the producer who should be far more of a household name, again like Jones. His two hands full of films deserve to be an even greater part of the conversation and I imagine their reputation will only continue to grow as the years pass. A required look for anyone interested in knowing more about the great Lewton.