Desperate, protective mother Die channels her anger and defensiveness into hostile verbal and physical behavior in "Mommy." Violent outbursts of her volatile, psychologically unstable teenage son Steve trigger her dysfunctional interactions with just about everyone, including Steve. A widow, Die dotes on Steve, whom she is called to collect from a home because of sociopathic tendencies.
Directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard's "20,000 Days on Earth" explores the creative process of the exceptional, Australian-born musician Nick Cave. The occasion for this revealing exploration is Cave beginning the recording of his album Push the Sky Away. On the first day of production, Cave had lived, as the film's title signals, 20,000 days on Earth.
Directors Sam Cullman and Jennifer Grausman create a deft balancing act in their documentary "Art and Craft." They follow and listen non-judgmentally to accomplished art forger Mark Landis, a "philanthropist" who has donated at least 47 fraudulent paintings to 46 different American museums. In a parallel story, Matt Leininger, Cincinnati Art Museum's ex-chief registrar, works obsessively to expose Landis' deception.
An intriguing, curious documentary, "Teenage" scrutinizes the cultural transformation of those 'tween years between childhood and adult status. Pursuing ideas detailed in Jon Savage's book "Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture 1875-1945," writer/director Matt Wolf draws extensively on archival footage to animate the social milieu in England, Germany and America through film, photographs, diary entries, and more.
Anyone familiar with novelist Thomas Pynchon will not expect a conventional film in "Inherent Vice," adapted from Pynchon's 2009 novel. Moreover, with screenwriter/director Paul Thomas Anderson guiding this cinematic adaptation through its illogical paces, linear progression is abandoned. As in "There Will Be Blood," "The Master" and "Punch Drunk Love," Anderson presents his stories from a distinctive, idiosyncratic perspective.
Director Ava DuVernay's "Selma" delivers a poignant portrayal of events leading up to and immediately after the 1965 Selma to Montgomery, Alabama march for civil rights. Restrained, dignified and multi-layered, "Selma" suggests many parallels to today's racial struggles here and across the U.S. without ever succumbing to heavy-handed moralizing. In this film, facts speak eloquently for themselves.
The best films of 2014 offer robust creativity and substantive content. These films are ones I want to re-watch for a stirring aesthetic, emotional, and intellectual experience. At the top is director Richard Linklater's "Boyhood," an unprecedented, 12-year production that captures the contemporary American family, not just boyhood. Eller Coltrane, Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke give brilliantly realistic performances.
English professor Jim Bennett has a dual personality. By day, he lectures university students in an animated way on the modern novel. By night, he debases himself and everything he professes to believe by repeatedly wagering every dollar he has and all he can borrow, up to a quarter million, until he's stripped bare. He embraces peril and courts disaster.
The best horror films translate nerve-jangling fears into frightening scenarios, tapping into conscious as well as suppressed anxieties: the malevolent stranger, the elusive intruder, or the evil doppelganger. The deliriously unnerving Australian film "The Babadook" capitalizes on those terrors, probing the dark, repressed unconscious of widow Amelia who struggles to care for and about her increasingly difficult son Samuel.
In the opening scene of "Foxcatcher," director Bennett Miller establishes his observational cinematic style. Wrestlers Mark and Dave Schultz, both 1984 Olympic gold medalists, physically grapple, at first just as part of a typical training session. Then, with increasing tension, the interaction segues into a serious psychological contest of will and character.