Best of Year – Female Performances

childspose.poster.ws_Love end of year film lists!

So here we go with the first of mine – best female performance of the year (year based on Australian release rather than official year of release).

5. Tilda Swinton: Only Lovers Left Alive & Snowpiercer (she can do no wrong!)
4. Marion Cotillard: Two Days, One Night 
3. Julianne Moore: Maps to the Stars
2. Adèle Exarchopoulos: Blue is the Warmest Colour 
1. Luminita Gheorghiu: Child’s Pose

Other excellent performances seen during 2014 include Meryl Streep (August: Orange County), Patricia Arquette (Boyhood), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) and Agata Trzebuchowska (Ida).

My top five is dominated by European performances with Luminita Gheorghiu absolutely riveting in the Romanian film Child’s Pose. Seeing a way to reassert control over her adult son’s life when he faces manslaughter charges, an affluent Romanian woman (played by Luminita Gheorghiu) sets out on a campaign of emotional and social manipulation to keep him out of prison, navigating the waters of power, corruption and influence.

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‘Maps to the Stars’

maps_to_the_stars_ver3Challenging and sickly enjoyable.

Some nasty shit goes down but it also has some genuinely funny laugh-out-loud moments. It’s a brutal commentary (and somewhat relentless) on the Hollywood fame game (or more specifically the fading or failure of fame game) with Julianne Moore (The Hours, Boogie Nights) stupendous and Mia Wasikowska (The Kids Are All Right, Tracks) quietly unsettling.

Not one of the characters has any redeeming features…. And thankfully there is no neat happy ending – David Cronenberg (The Fly, A History of Violence) may tie up loose ends, but he’s not falling into the ‘please everyone’ final plot lines.

Rating: 68%

‘Men, Women & Children’

men-women-and-children-posterThe critics slaughtered this on release – somewhat unfairly in my opinion.

Admittedly, it’s flawed, a little over-reaching in it’s commentary/moral with too many stories to give justice to them, but Men, Women & Children is an enjoyable small film with numerous inter-related stories and strong if quiet and nuanced performances (Adam Sandler is actually good in this and the storyline between him and his wife, played by Rosemarie DeWitt, is one of the most interesting of them all in the film!).

Rating: 57%

‘The Captive’

The Captive new posterVirtually a complete misfire on all fronts – which was a pity as the premise (and trailers) created a suspenseful kidnap thriller with a twist.

The main problem appeared to be with its split time narrative: we already know whodunnit from early on, so there was no sense of suspense. The result is a tangled mess with little or no engagement. And after nearly 2 hours, the denouement is over so quickly that blink and you miss it! Disappointing.

Rating: 46%

‘The Gathering’ by Anne Enright

9780099501633Sadly, I do not share the critical love bestowed on Irish writer Anne Enright’s fourth novel, winner of the 2007 Man Booker Prize.

The Gathering had all the potential of being a deeply touching story – the narrator’s inner journey from a young girl, one of nine surviving children, to a 39 year-old married woman organising the funeral of her brother, Liam.

The closest in age to her recently deceased sibling, Veronica looks back on an extended family life in Dublin, with particular emphasis on the life and times of their paternal grandmother, Ada. Veronica is looking for an understanding of the wasted life of Liam, an alcoholic who committed suicide in England. She believes something happened when they were children staying at the home of Ada.

Anne Enright unquestionably writes beautifully – but her story as a whole has no focus, a split time narrative resulting in a disjointed, disconnected and often confusing flow (too often a return to the previous paragraph for clarity was required with the realisation that a new thought, time or even character was now the focus). The present and the past merge too often in a stream of consciousness where the poetic language may flow, but which suddenly leaves you unsure who or what is being described…

Added to which, none of the characters (where they have been developed) are particularly likeable or fully rounded.

In short, The Gathering is a disappointing book that misses on so many levels. And it makes you lose the will to carry on reading – not a good thing in a novel!

‘The Sense of an Ending’ by Julian Barnes

the-sense-of-an-endingCharacter-driven rather than plot-driven, Julian Barnes’ novella is nevertheless a compelling narrative  and a meditation on memory and aging (or, as The Independent newspaper so succinctly critiqued, ‘a whodunit of memory and morality.’)

The plot, divided into two parts and narrated by everyman Tony Webster, is relatively straightforward.

One is set in the 1960s and recounts the formative relationships of Tony’s early life – ‘the three who became four’ in the final year of an all-boys school, university life and the gradual parting of the ways of the school friends. Of particular importance is the friendship between Tony and Adrian, the newest member of the quartet and, later, Veronica, Tony’s first serious girlfriend, he meets whilst studying at Bristol University.

But it is in Two that the meat of The Sense of an Ending comes to the fore. Now retired, a father, divorced and, whilst still on good terms with his ex-wife, Margaret, Tony is relatively content if somewhat lonely. He spends his days ‘pottering’ and volunteers as a librarian at the local hospital.

An unexpected bequest of money and the promise of a diary belonging to Adrian (who had committed suicide many years previously) open the doors to the revisiting of those school/university memories. But even more unexpectedly, the diary is held by Veronica and Tony is suddenly forced to look back at those brief years of One – and try to make sense of what happened then and what is happening now.

One rash act comes back to haunt him. Cause and effect, responsibility, blame, deceit, misunderstanding, guilt, remorse: it’s all there. And it is only in the final pages of The Sense of an Ending that it becomes shockingly clear to him just what the repercussions of that rash act were.

Taught, precise language along with an endeavour to make sense of things past and present result in a delicate, intricate yet eminently accessible novella. And it provided, after three previous shortlists, Julian Barnes the 2011 Man Booker Prize.

“Bereft” by Chris Womersley

Bereft_B_format_LRCompelling, moving and eloquent, Bereft is Chris Womersley’s acclaimed second novel.

With his taut prose and assured language and imagery, critics compare his writing to that of American novelist Cormac McCarthy as Womersley writes, in Bereft, of the inhospitable Australian bush landscape as “riven and tortured” and the Angel of Death appearing before Jim Gracie, “…a raggedy man, with forearms like twists of rope.”

Quinn Walker returns to the New South Wales town of Flint following the end of the First World War and during an influenza pandemic that is sweeping the nation (and the rest of the globe). A decade earlier Walker had fled his home, caught with the battered dead body of his younger sister and a knife in his hand.

Haunted by that tragedy and the horrors of the war in Europe, part of his face mangled by shrapnel, Walker needs to confront the deep scars of his past. But he must be careful, knowing that his father and uncle will as sure hang him if he reveals his identity – even though, three years earlier, a war-office telegram had been received informing the family of Quinn Walker’s death.

Quinn thus hides in bushland close to the family farm, surrounded by his nightmares and hallucinations of trench-life and wartime battles. But, in secret, he also visits his dying mother, sick with influenza and quarantined at the family farm.

Scrabbling to exist, unsure of the reasons why he has returned, he meets Sadie, an ethereal 12 year-old orphan. Living rough, avoiding the authorities, Sadie knows more than she should about the past, but through her strange and knowing ways, protects Quinn from himself and his uncertainties.

Tough but fragile, it is Sadie who provides a focus for Quinn, offering salvation and redemption in his guilt for not protecting his sister a decade earlier. She also offers the opportunity for vengeance and justice.

Grief and guilt litter the pages of Bereft. The small town has been decimated of its male population by the war. The influenza pandemic claims more lives. Dying, Quinn’s mother whispers to her returned son of the loss of her children. In one of the most emotional passages in the book, she tells him “…there isn’t a word for a parent who has lost a child . . . There is a hole in the English language. It is unspeakable. Bereft.”

But it is Quinn who is ultimately bereft: the loss of his beloved sister, the loss of his family, the loss of his childhood, the loss of his innocence.

Brooding, heart-wrenching and moving, Bereft is a compelling second novel from Chris Womersley and which formed one of only three novels on the 2011 Miles Franklin shortlist (the others being When Colts Ran by Roger McDonald and, the eventual winner, Kim Scott and That Deadman Dance).

‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’

hr_Exodus-_Gods_and_Kings_16Ridley Scott’s latest is, as you would expect from the director who bought us Prometheus, Blade Runner and Gladiator, a true epic.

Huge battle scenes, sumptuous Egyptian palaces, revolting slaves, a cast of (computer generated) thousands result in an entertaining spectacle, even if at times it slips into something of a stolid retelling of the Biblical Old Testament story of Moses (Moishe) leading the Hebrews out of Egypt to Canaan. Some of the scenes are genuinely exciting while Christian Bale (Moses) and Joel Edgerton (Ramses) do what they can with a somewhat solemn life-long friendship that suddenly turns.

Rating: 59%

‘Finding Vivian Maier’

fid14159Enjoyable but this critically well-regarded documentary sadly runs out of steam. For an investigative documentary, finding information about Vivian Maier is relatively too easy. The result is a lack of  cinematic punch. We spend a little too much time with former employees or their children (Maier was a nanny) talking of her as a little eccentric and never without her camera.

Writer/Director John Maloof’s own journey in initially discovering those negatives and tracking down ‘the ones that got away’ could have added so much more impact. A little disappointing.

Rating: 57%