As someone who writes about movies regularly and sees a hundred-plus new releases in a given year, the ol’ top ten list is a big thing. With the clock winding down on 2014, I’ve gone into overdrive to make time for some of the year’s more notable, acclaimed and discussed movies. So, today I bring you a snapshot Catching Up, looking at three films from 2014 with briefer than usual takes on each one.
Theory of Everything
This biopic on the adult life of Stephen Hawking is obviously and unfortunately just that; a biopic. Even with a pair of striking performances by its leads, the script too often skips past various parts of Hawking’s life, and the pleasures and troubles it brings to his wife Jane, that would give great insight into who each person is at their core. Yes, it’s in order to follow a through-line of their love-life, but a relationship is about those little moments in between as much as it is the big ones.
Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones are memorable as the married pair, the former with the showier part. Redmayne and director James Marsh (best known for his docs Man on Wire & Project Nim) do a fine job of presenting Hawking as a man with a disability and not leaning to hard on the latter as a sole defining trait. They allow for the world-famous physicist to have emotional flaws, even if they’re ones that could still use time to breathe.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya
To American audiences, Japanese auteurs that work in animation tend to begin and end with Hayao Miyazaki. Yes, he is one of cinema’s all-time masters. He is not the only fantastic Japanese filmmaker who works in animation though. One of his finest peers is Isao Takahata, whose efforts include My Neighbors the Yamadas, Pom Poko and Grave of the Fireflies. The Tale of Princess Kaguya will hopefully heighten his stature domestically for it’s a treasure.
Based on centuries old folklore, it is a classically told fairytale, simplistic in its rules, broad in characterizations and profound in what it does with them. The picture grows out of the arrival of Princess Kaguya, a quickly-growing child that is born inside a bamboo husk. Her arrival is seen as a grand sign by her adopted parents, with the father feeling it’s a sign that will lead to a courtship that requires a strict nobility.
Though not strictly hand-drawn, Kaguya appears like a mesh of charcoal paintings and watercolors; at times stiff in movement, while elsewhere blooming with a breathtaking lushness. As told by Takahata, the movie has a somberness that underlies the whole, knowing that anything that pops up so suddenly and wonderfully is not meant to last forever. It also features an imaginative sequence at just past the halfway mark that is as gorgeous and stunning as any scene I’ve seen in all of 2014.
Love is Strange
The new film by Ira Sachs (Keep the Lights On) is a stellar, truly tender story of two men’s love and the shackles modern America still puts on such a thing. It features John Lithgow as Ben, the kind of man who is prone to giving his opinions about at all things, and Alfred Molinda as his longtime partner and recently married husband George. Even though their relationship is no secret, George is let go from his teaching position at a religious private school after their official nuptials.
The movie is littered with tiny surprises, first and foremost in its narrative structure, which successfully lets us into the troubles that arise after George’s firing and Ben’s growing health problems. Sachs and fellow screenwriter Mauricio Zacharias accomplish a great deal by revealing a series of longer scenes which establish the varying connections each family member has with another, letting them shift and evolve over the brisk 94 minutes. In a manner, it is like a more gentle, warm-hearted Noah Baumbach movie. A heartbreaker of a feature that roots its power in being human.