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2014: The Year in Film

Manakamana.jpg
Cinema Guild
A scene from Manakamana

Collected below are some of the film reviews published in The New York Review and on our blogs this year.


American Hustle

The Music of the Swindle
Geoffrey O’Brien: David O. Russell’s American Hustle declares what it is about with disarming bluntness. The two con artists around whom it revolves confide to us in voice-over right at the start: Sydney (Amy Adams), aka Lady Edith Greensley, wanted “to become anyone else other than who I was.” Irving (Christian Bale) acknowledges that “we even con ourselves.” (February 13, 2014)


At Berkeley

Wondrous, Fragile, Tedious Berkeley
Stephen Greenblatt: Like others of Frederick Wiseman’s documentaries that I have seen, At Berkeley is slow, patient, and meditative, but it gradually builds toward a climax of sorts in a student protest sparked by state budget cuts to the university and attendant fee increases. (January 16, 2014)


Boyhood

‘Making Real What We Cannot See’
Dan Chiasson: This is a great film, the greatest American movie I have ever seen in a theater. It is great for what we see, but it is even greater for its way of making real what we cannot see, or for suggesting that what we cannot yet see we might one day see. (September 4, 2014)


Burning Bush

Czech Winter
Francine Prose: Agnieszka Holland’s brilliant, ambitious, and moving new film, Burning Bush, begins at a violent and traumatic moment in Czech history, five months after Soviet tanks had brought an end to the Prague Spring. Part of what makes the film so affecting is the pace and patience with which it documents the gradual change undergone by its protagonists as they come to realize how unlikely it is that anything will change. (June 11, 2014)


Citizenfour

The Question of Edward Snowden
David Bromwich: The undeclared subject of Citizenfour is integrity—the insistence by an individual that his life and the principle he lives by should be all of a piece. Something resembling an aesthetic correlative of that integrity can be found in the documentary style of Laura Poitras. (November 21, 2014)


Diplomacy

The Argument That Saved Paris
Ian Buruma: In his new film Diplomacy, Volker Schlöndorff has expertly created the creepy, almost surreal atmosphere of two men discussing the ruination of Paris. The only risk of historical fiction, especially in the movies, is that it ends up replacing in the public memory the facts of what actually happened. But Schlöndorff is not a historian. The best way to look at his film is as a love story about Paris. (October 15, 2014)


Force Majeure

Manhood Against Marriage
Francine Prose: What do males expect of themselves, and what do women want from them? In Ruben Östlund’s engrossing and perceptive film Force Majeure, as in life, questions of masculinity collect around blunt manifestations of bravery and fear, and confrontations with nature. (October 24, 2014)


Gone Girl

The Hard Work of Marriage
Zoë Heller: It is one of the uncontested wisdoms of our era that “marriage is hard work.” The belief that conjugal happiness can be earned only by rigorous and sustained emotional labor is so deeply entrenched in the common culture that when Amy Dunne, the female protagonist of David Fincher’s new movie, Gone Girl, boasts cheerfully of finding marriage “easy,” it is as if she had entered Dracula’s castle scoffing at the existence of vampires: the audience knows at once that her hubris must be punished. (November 13, 2014)


Goodbye to Language

Tree! Fire! Water! Godard!
Geoffrey O’Brien: Goodbye to Language is not different in kind from other works of Godard’s late period, but is different in the intensity of its impact. Filming in 3-D, Godard forces a reconsideration not only of his own films but of all films. (November 3, 2014)


Her

Love Objects
Elaine Blair: Spike Jonze’s film Her is a story about machines and humans and human-like machines. Skin is important. The unnatural appearance of Catherine, the soon-to-be ex-wife of the hero, makes her seem something other than a flesh-bound fellow human with Theodore. (January 16, 2014)


The Imitation Game

A Poor Imitation of Alan Turing
Christian Caryl: The Imitation Game, the new film about the mathematician and codebreaker Alan Turning, seems determined to suggest maximum tension between him and a blinkered society. But this completely destroys any coherent telling of what Turing and his colleagues were trying to do. (December 19, 2014)


Ivory Tower

The Hi-Tech Mess of Higher Education
David Bromwich: Andrew Rossi’s documentary Ivory Tower prods us to think about the crisis of higher education. But is there a crisis? (July 29, 2014)


Korengal

What Only Soldiers Understand
Christopher de Bellaigue: Sebastian Junger’s new documentary Korengal follows the same soldiers over the same fifteen-month tour of duty in Afghanistan as his acclaimed 2010 film Restrepo, but it cannot be considered its sequel; it might be misleading even to call it a war film. Korengal‘s subjects are youth and male friendship, and it deals in a peculiarly profound way with the unsettling sense that a young warrior experiences, after fighting alongside his brothers-in-arms, that he knows all the joy and agony that life can offer. (August 20, 2014)


Manakamana

Eleven Visits to the Sky
J. Hoberman: Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez’s Manakamana documents Nepalese pilgrims as they are conveyed via cable car up to a Hindu temple. There are five ascents to and six descents from the mountain, an eleven-act vaudeville show in which the trips are separated by a clattering landing and an invisible cut made during the darkness of the turn-around. (April 17, 2014)


Mr. Turner

Turner at Twilight
Jenny Uglow: Turner’s willful “difficulty,” as an artist and a man, powers Mike Leigh’s film Mr. Turner. And what a fine film it is: rich, enjoyable, imaginative, faithful to Turner’s spirit. Steering clear of familiar biopic clichés, it slides between modes like a Dickens novel, from the psychological depth of the central characters to jovial party scenes at Petworth and Punch-like caricatures of catty, competitive Royal Academicians. (November 13, 2014)


Nymphomaniac

Sex: The Terror and the Boredom
J. Hoberman: Although too capricious (or should we say promiscuous?) to be a taxonomy, Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac is designed to illustrate and exhaust every popular theory of nymphomania, including, of course, the idea that the condition exists only as a male fantasy. (March 26, 2014)


Omar

Decency Without Hope
David Shulman: What does it take to remain decent under the conditions of the Israeli occupation, on either side of the Separation Barrier? Is it even possible? These are some of the questions explored in Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad’s powerful new film, Omar. (March 10, 2014)


Skinningrove

Chris Killip: Skinningrove
In this short film by Michael Almereyda, photographer Chris Killip presents a group of largely unpublished photographs from the 1980s, taken in and around the village of Skinningrove, in North Yorkshire, and recalls his relationships with the subjects. (July 22, 2014)


Snowpiercer

Revolt on the Polar Express
J. Hoberman: Bong Joon Ho’s Snowpiercer is a madcap addition to the comic-book-derived movies that have dominated cinematic summer fare for much of the twenty-first century. At once streamlined and ramshackle, it doesn’t have a plot so much as a premise—or rather, a ruling metaphor. (July 1, 2014)


Under the Skin

Ways of Being Alien
Geoffrey O’Brien: At any given moment in Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, we might be watching a fantastic tale dressed up in documentary trappings or a mass of documentary footage held together by the wisp of a fantasy. The fantastic element resides essentially in the person of Scarlett Johansson, who while often naked is at the same time entirely concealed. (May 9, 2014)