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The Skyfall from Timbuktu, with Paddington and a Straw Boyhood
1. Timbuktu: This Mauritanian film—from the Northwestern Islamic Republic, not the Indian Ocean tourist destination—is a clear, unimpeachable winner. A fictional film based on the hardest fact threatening the world—the irreconcilable conflict between religious doctrine and human freedom—Timbuktu is one of those films that looks as beautiful as its content is ugly. Lucky African film festivalgoers saw it on the Digicel Imax screen and the next-luckiest at the TT Film Fest at MovieTowne. Those who buy the DVD will have the best luck, perhaps, in being able to return time and again to a timeless film the world should see several times.
2. Winter Sleep: The 2014 Palme D’Or winner at Cannes has everything to thrill BC on TV: spectacular cinematography; a deeply human story having nothing to do with explosions or blood-splattering and everything to do with how we live and relate to one another; and the fleetingness of life and the meaninglessness of what we declare to be important. Slow, beautiful, makes you not even consider whether you should have read the book first.
3. Tangerine: Historical from the moment of completion as the first film shot entirely on iPhones, Tangerine deserves far more attention for far better reasons: it is as magnificent a film as its protagonists are marginalised in real life; it stands the notion of Hollywood, where it is shot, entirely on its head; and it makes great characters of people who happen to be transgender; it is also a terrific “city” film—and shows, not the side of Hollywood that most of us see on the big screen, but the Los Angeles that most people who live in it have to deal with everyday. A film for Trini filmmakers to copy, if they must copy something American.
4. Skyfall: Like Spectre, its follow up from the same team, Skyfall makes the very difficult task of humanizing Fleming’s cartoonish, racist secret agent look easy; at the end of Skyfall, for the first time in almost two dozen movies, the viewer understands why James Bond, a character so superficial he could be played by both Roger Moore and Sean Connery, might be deeply firetrucked up, if he were a real man; at least as played by Daniel Craig and directed by Sam Mendes.
5. Boyhood: The film that should have won the Best Picture Oscar last year was shot over 12 years with the titular boy entering manhood by the end; it’s almost shocking that an American—even Richard Linklater—could complete so special a celebration of our own ordinarily spectacular lives. Worthy of favourable comparison with Satyajit Ray’s Apu trilogy.
6. Margarita, with a Straw: A highlight of the TT Film Fest, Margarita covers a great deal of ground because its lead character—a beautiful, bisexual, young Indian girl with cerebral palsy—herself covers a lot of human experience; and that’s before the mother gets cancer. The material is extraordinarily well-handled by director Shonali Bose and features amazing performances all around—but the girl in the wheelchair deserves a standing ovation every time she appears. The last frame is as magical as that of The 400 Blows.
7. Slow West: Dismissed by many American critics as living up too well to the first word in its title, Slow West is as classic as Westerns get and as violent, unpredictable and unsafe as the world in which the genre arose; Sam Peckinpah would have liked it. Quentin Tarantino violence can almost always be defended; Slow West’s violence deserves praise, as real art. Amazingly, it is young Scottish director John Maclean’s first feature.
8. Salt of the Earth/ Amy: BC on TV’s first cheat occurs with a tie for the documentary film of the year, between the heartbreaking, but ultimately hopeful, story of the life of Brazilian photographer, Sebastiao Salgado, who spent 40 years documenting the hardship of life all over the world, and the heartbreaking, but ultimately heartbreaking, story of the life of Amy Winehouse, who spent a far shorter period living a brutally hard life. Both films are staggeringly beautifully shot and are replete with overwhelming images; but Salt has the edge.
9. The Imitation Game: The true story of the life of the man who invented the first computer has many strengths, reflected in the multiple awards for which it was nominated, including Benedict Cumberpatch’s best role so far, but it deserved the only one it got, for Best Adapted Screenplay; this could be the most perfectly realised screenplay ever written.
10. ’71: Probably the best surprise of the European Film Festival in Port of Spain this year, ’71 is set in Belfast at the worst point of the modern Troubles, when the British army occupied Northern Ireland, and was treated like Israeli soldiers in Palestine. A genuine thriller, it is also a contender for the strongest modern antiwar film, even if it borrows its most gut-wrenching scene from the oldest, and still strongest, of the genre, All Quiet on the Western Front.
11. Unfriended: Easily the standout horror of the year, and one of the most original films ever shot, the whole film takes place on the desktop of a laptop computer; like Locke with jumps.
13. Birdman: Last year’s Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Cinematography Oscar winner could not be ignored; but BC on TV always felt it pegged higher than it ought to have done.
14. White God: Perhaps the most original film ever shot, and certainly the best film featuring animals in the lead since The Adventures of Milo & Otis, it collapses in the last reel, but is so spectacular up to then, deserves its place.
15. Paddington: The old English children’s story is updated, but only as far as the arrival of the Empire Windrush. A children’s story in the same way Gulliver’s Travels was; and one featuring Tobago Crusoe as Lord Kitchener on the soundtrack.
16. Dope: One of the most pleasant surprises of the year from American born (Nigerian roots) writer/director Rick Famuyiwa: an intelligent youth film starring black lead actors that is neither apologetic nor didactic, just very, very good.
17. The Duke of Burgundy: An overlooked film that reflects human relationships universally, though starting at what ought to be the quite singular perspective of lesbian sadomasochistic sex.
18. Maps to the Stars: David Cronenberg tackles Hollywood from the opposite social perspective of Tangerine and in the way only he can: simultaneously deeply disturbing and just as engaging.
19. Citizenfour/Casa Blanca: The story of Edward Snowden, the man who outed the US Government, is about as far from the story of a Downs Syndrome adult man in Cuba, but both capture modern heroes.
20. Ex Machina/It Follows: Another cheat allows into the Top 20, first, the year’s best sci-fi film and, second, the second-best low-budget film (after Tangerine), and second-best horror of the year.
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