When making my list of my most anticipated films of 2014, I had the forethought to predict that Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin and Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher would be among the best films of the year. Other pictures, like Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice proved to be significant efforts in spite of missing out of my top ten. But there’s little in accounting for films like Alex Ross Perry’s Listen Up Philip, Joel Protykus’ Buzzard and Ramon Zurcher’s The Strange Little Cat, which were the sort of welcome discoveries that I never saw coming. As much as I enjoy scouring through the year’s releases, anticipating the next film from a celebrated auteur, it’s the surprises that really bowl me over. So while the following list of ten (along with an addendum) have piqued my interest, this is only what’s bubbling at the surface at the moment - there are dozens of films awaiting discovery.
Queen of Earth
(Alex Ross Perry)
The many women that orbited Jason Schwartzman in Alex Ross Perry’s Listen Up Philip were among the film’s chief highlights. So it’s of considerable interest to see Perry working with a script centered around two female characters, of whom include Inherent Vice’s Katherine Waterston and Phillip’s Elisabeth Moss. Both women gave some of the best performances of 2014 (Moss was especially memorable in Charlie McDowell’s The One I Love) and with Perry’s capacities for verbal acrobatics and developed directorial presence, the potential is certainly there for something special.
Mia Hansen-Løve’s Goodbye First Love is one of the best films released in recent memory on young love. It charted the plight of a teenager’s first love over the course of a decade, with its passages of time developing a steady cadence of emotional clarity - it’s terrific. Hansen-Løve’s new film Eden looks to take on a similar time-capsule approach, peering into the life of a Parisian DJ during the French electronic era of the nineties. Goodbye First Love’s liberal but delicate use of music indicates that this is a logical step for the director, so it’ll be interesting see how Hansen-Løve evokes the setting through sound.
The Duke of Burgundy
I still have to catch up with Peter Strickland’s previous film Berbian Sound Studio, though it’s the acclaim following last year’s Toronto International Film Festival for The Duke of Burgundy that has piqued my interest in his work. In what’s only his third film, the director has generated lofty buzz for his work and considerable international coverage. This sort of attention seems to be stemming from the cinema literati, and falls in line with the sort of acclaim that’s been showered on young directors like Xavier Dolan and Alex Ross Perry. Like exploring any filmography, there’s something genuinely exciting about discovering a new voice, a new perspective. Here’s hoping Strickland measures up to his exalted praise and joins the increasing vanguard of talented and high-minded young international directors.
It’s been a while for Todd Haynes, who took what now looks like a rite of passage sojourn to television with Mildred Pierce. Newly minted with a Criterion release of his best work Safe, the director’s upcoming adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel certainly looks like an ideal match for the filmmaker’s sensibilities. And featuring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, the film initially comes across as having the pedigree of an Oscar-contender above all things. But we tend to get lost in awards conversation when addressing the merits of any given film and Carol’s appeal really stems from a seeing a great director back at work. Haynes doesn’t typically get acknowledged as such, mainly due to his limited output over the decades, but every new film he produces has something exceptional going for it.
In a Valley of Violence
Ti West may have taken a creative step forward with his most recent film The Sacrament, but it was also his most disappointing. He emerged as a promising horror director following The House of the Devil and lived up to that promise with The Innkeepers, but The Sacrament saw West working outside of his comfort zone. Shot as a found-footage film, The Sacrament ultimately could not reconcile its ambitions with the limitations of its form. However, it did submit an exceptional supporting performance from Gene Jones, offering additional testimony of the director’s capacities for generating great performances out of his actors (Jocelin Donahue in The House of the Devil, Sara Paxton in The Innkeepers). This is something to keep in mind when looking forward to West’s new film, In a Valley of Violence, which sees the director steering toward the Western. Featuring Ethan Hawke and John Travolta, it’s certainly the most seasoned cast that West has worked with and it’ll be very interesting to see what kind of performance he can get out of them. But more importantly, this is a Western that I foresee possessing much of the horror DNA of West’s other films - how it coalesces is something to be seen.
Having recently read David Thompson’s Scorsese on Scorsese, it was fascinating to learn about the Martin Scorsese’s difficulties in getting financing for his various projects. It took decades to get films like The Last Temptation of Christ and Gangs of New York off the ground. Silence, an adaptation of Shûsaku Endô’s novel, has been on the backburner since the early 90s and has time and time again failed to make it into production - until now. Whether the film gets its intended release this year is left to be seen (it’s looking bleak) but this is a project that Scorsese is especially passionate about and something he talks about throughout Thompson’s text with unrestrained enthusiasm. Hopefully that translates into film.
Knight of Cups
It’s Terrence Malick. As some of you may recall, Knight of Cups and Voyage of Time made this list last year. Now with the former finally having a release date and trailer (the latter is still in post-production), it’s looking like the 10s will indeed be Malick’s most prolific decade yet (two films in the 70s, one in the 90s, one in the aughts). It’s a surprising realization really, given the gravity that’s bestowed on his work and how divisive his new stylistic approach appears to be (To the Wonder is just as good if not better than The Tree of Life).He clearly is one of the most revered living directors today, American or otherwise, and each new film provides a cinematic experience of such vast scope and ambition. The trailer to Knight of Cups indicates that the director may be addressing the increased profile of his work, along with the complexities that come with that reverence. The wait, hopefully, won’t be too long - it’s scheduled to premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival this February.
Ramin Bahrani surprised at last year’s Venice Film Festival with 99 Homes, in what looks to be quite the fable of American status climbing. Bahrani’s cinema has always possessed a component of fiscal concern in relation to the have and have-nots and 99 Homes surely continues the trend, where a family man must work for the landowner to forestall eviction. The fact that the leads are realized by Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon is doubly appealing. I’ve admired Bahrani’s brand of social awareness, essentially functioning as America’s response to the Dardennes. If the much-maligned but ultimately misunderstood At Any Price proved anything, it’s that Bahrani is a classical filmmaker, elevating simple stories into social poetry.
The Hateful Eight
One can find many commonalities between Quentin Tarantino and Marvel Comics. They’re both brands and appeal to a rapid fan base. And Tarantino, in what’s the mark of a good pitchman, began hyping his The Hateful Eight before it even entered production. With a swirl of controversy surrounding the leak of his script and the subsequent lawsuits that followed, he’s an auteur with a clear command of how to keep his name on the tip of everyone’s tongue. But in the business of anticipation, it’s Tarantino who is capable of delivering something actual cinematic merit. Few directors can command such notoriety based on name alone - there’s an aura of anticipation behind every Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, Christopher Nolan, etc film- but it’s with Tarantino that you walk into a theater on first showing experiencing something close to a cultural event.
World of Tomorrow
Following a memorable couch gag on The Simpsons and the completion of his Bill Trilogy with It’s Such a Beautiful Day, Don Hertzfeldt’s stock has risen considerably since I was first introduced to his work. I saw his short Everything Will Be Okay (it’s the opening portion to It’s Such a Beautiful Day) at a very critical time in my life and latch onto that film as my Holy Grail. There’s a beautiful elegance to Hertzfeldt’s deceptively simple animation, in what’s a collection of hand-drawn stick figures contending with concerns of cosmic implication. There’s not an animator alive with a better sense of storytelling through his form of visual abstraction, making all his films essential viewing. World of Tomorrow debuts at this year’s Sundance Film Festival - hopefully it sees some form of theatrical distribution soon after because the thought of seeing a Hertzfeldt film on the big screen will likely be my cinematic event of the year.
And More: The Assassin (Hou Hsiao-hsien), Beasts of No Nation (Cary Fukunaga), Cool Apocalypse (Michael Smith), The Death and Life of John F. Donavan AND Mommy (Xavier Dolan), Love (Gaspar Noé), Midnight Special (Jeff Nichols), Nasty Baby (Sebastian Silva), Phoenix (Christian Petzold), Queen of the Desert (Werner Herzog) , Ricki and the Flash (Jonathan Demme), That’s What I’m Talking About (Richard Linklater)