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Posted 17.12.14

Plymouth Arts Centre pick us five must-see films of 2014

By Jake May

Plymouth Arts Centre is a nationally-renowned, Barbican-based centre for contemporary visual art, independent cinema and creative learning. 

Since we're approaching the end of 2014, we thought we'd ask them to pick us their top five must-see films of the year – and here Film Programmer Anna Navas kindly obliged.

"I thought this was going to be a simple exercise when I first thought of doing it.

I have a few very distinct film memories from this past year which have restored my faith in the world of cinema. But then I looked at the list of films we have screened at PAC in 2014 and my list immediately jumped up to 20. I’ve narrowed it back down to 5-ish but reserve the right to change my mind and swap a couple of other titles in!

So. Drum roll please… reverse order:

5. Frank

(dir. Lenny Abrahamson)

A genuine surprise, this film made me laugh and cry in equal measure. Superficially it uses the character of Frank Sidebottom who was created by Chris Sievey, as a template to explore the whole balancing act between creative genius and madness. Michael Fassbender spends almost the entire film wearing a giant papier mache head while performing music that can only be described as ‘interesting’. His performance is touching, infuriating and funny, conveying the complexity of this wonderful human being through the tone of his voice alone. Maggie Gyllenhall as the furious Theremin player Clara proves yet again that she is possibly the best actress of her generation who is willing to take real risks in the roles she chooses.

4. Ida

(dir. Pawel Pawlikowski)

There is a quiet stillness about this film that is staggeringly effective. Set in Poland in 1961 the film looks back into the recent past through the eyes of Anna, a young novice who is told to go and visit her one remaining relative before taking her vows. Never having left the convent she goes to stay with her worldly, weary aunt Wanda, a state judge and Communist Party member. Wanda reveals that Anna was born to a Jewish family who were hidden and then betrayed by neighbours in their village during the war. Travelling back to the village to try to confront the past this becomes a road-movie, a meditation on the past, on family, belonging and legacy. It is a deeply serious film yet as fragile as a bird. There is so much hidden tension in what is revealed yet remains unsaid that the film becomes a testament to Poland’s understanding of itself and its actions during and after the war. Pawlikowski weaves a film of crystalline beauty and clarity to look at a very dark past.

3. The Grand Budapest Hotel

(dir. Wes Anderson)

If you like Wes Anderson films, you’ll love this and if you don’t like them, you’ll still love it. It has the charm and precision of a finely-tuned 30’s screwball comedy with the added bonus of a performance by Ralph Fiennes that is so high-camp it’s in the stratosphere. He plays Gustave H. the legendary concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel whose life’s work is to oil the complicated gears that make everything run like clockwork while also schtupping the elderly, rich guests so they feel loved and cared for. Like all of Anderson’s films, every stitch of every scene is lovingly crafted with the most staggering amount of detail so that it feels like we are peering into the most beautiful dolls house ever created and added to this a cast of Anderson regulars who appear to love working with him so much they will do anything he asks of them, no matter how ridiculous. With Tilda Swinton as the ancient Madame D. and Willem Dafoe as the leather-clad henchman Jopling the cast is to die for darling!

2. Inside Llewyn Davis

(dir. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen)

The one thing I don’t understand about this film is why it hasn’t appeared on many Best Film lists this year. As soon as the film started I knew it was something special. Llewyn Davis is a folk singer trying to make it in New York’s Greenwich Village at the start of the 60’s. His problem is that, in the words of his ex-lover Jean, he’s “an asshole”. Except he isn’t an asshole, he is a deeply grieving man who is unwilling and unable to express his true self in any way other than through his music but nobody wants to listen to it because he won’t compromise and play what people want to hear. He is the one true shining beacon of creative purity in a world of folk musicians who will do anything for a buck while still trying to maintain their pretence at being ‘alternative’. There is a scene in this film that, for me, stands head and shoulders above anything else. Llewyn goes to visit his father in his care home and sings the most beautiful version of Shoals of Herring to him. In any other film, directed by any other director, this would have been drowned in sentimentality but instead, the Coen Brothers give a masterclass in restraint, undercutting our expectations so no sentiment leaks in at all. This is a film steeped in a wry melancholy and one that gets richer with every viewing.

1. Under The Skin

(dir. Jonathan Glazer)

What can I say? Sometimes a film comes out of the blue and knocks you sideways with its sheer force. There are images and atmospheres from this film that are as vivid in my mind as when I first saw it in April. I am still in awe of the way Under The Skin conveyed such a sense of ‘otherness’, fear and wonder with what appears to be so little. Almost no dialogue, an unexplained plot, minimal characterisation all add up to a creeping sense of unease. Scarlett Johansson as the alien serial killer is astonishing, terrifying and tragic but it is the sheer outsider quality of this film that makes it a masterpiece, from the naturalistic lighting and sound which is an alienating contrast to how we normally see the world conveyed on film to the keening soundscape created by Mica Levy, our gaze is firmly placed with the alien so we see our world anew and boy, does it look strange. With hints of Nicolas Roeg’s Man Who Fell To Earth and Lynne Ramsay’s Morvern Callar this is a stone cold instant cult classic.

And a special mention goes to 20,000 Days On Earth, the quasi-documentary about Nick Cave. Any film which shows Cave, the Dark Lord of music, eating pizza on the settee with his children while they watch telly needs to squeeze onto the list somehow."

Head down to Plymouth Arts Centre on 38 Looe Street for independent film, excellent food, and exciting contemporary art