It’s a rare week that I don’t make at least one trip to the cinema, sometimes up to ten trips (during the film festival). As with reading I’m finding myself increasingly drawn to non-fiction, over half of the 75 films I’ve seen so far this year have been documentaries, primarily seen at the Documentary Edge, Architecture Film, and New Zealand Film festivals.
Top ten documentaries
1. Night Will Fall
One of the most horrific things I’ve ever seen, this is a documentary about a documentary made at the end of WW2, on the Nazi concentration camps. The original documentary was never released, suppressed in geopolitical interests by the British government. The footage remains truly shocking.
2. The Day That Changed My Life
Conventional but hugely powerful story of people in Christchurch on that fateful day in February 2011 when everything changed.
3. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
The shocking and gripping story of how Scientology developed and became a religion, effectively to avoid tax.
4. I Am Thor
The spirit of Spinal Tap lives on in the entertaining and affecting story of Jon Mikl Thor, better known simply as Thor, and the catalogue of disasters that beset his career from minor 70s rock star to the never-ending comeback trail.
5. Banksy Does New York
By far the most entertaining documentary here, no doom and gloom, just smart and playful art taking New York by storm.
Near unbelievable story of climbing Meru, a devilishly difficult 21,000ft peak in Northern India. Those with vertigo may want to look away when you see their tent hanging thousands of feet up off a shear rock face.
7. Sunshine Superman
The bizarre tale of the inventors of BASE jumping with a surprise ending.
8. Prophet’s Prey
Fascinating and disturbing story of Fundamentalist Mormons, a good companion to Jon Krakauer’s (who features) 2003 book Under the Banner of Heaven.
9. Sweet Micky For President
The story of Haiti’s post earthquake election is so improbable that it wouldn’t be believable unless it was a documentary. More twists than a series of Lost.
10. Just Like Being There
Winner of niche documentary of the year, covering the surprisingly interesting, and rapidly growing, world of gig posters, complete with as rocking soundtrack as you’d expect.
Top ten movies
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
Granted it is basically just a two-hour chase scene but cinema hasn’t been this gripping since Gravity, particularly seen at the IMAX. Who needs character development when your eyeballs are about to explode and your knuckles are going white clutching the seat rests. After the first big scene finished there was a collective gasp of breadth from the audience, relief from the previous twenty-minute roller coaster ride. And then the next ride began…
Fully deserving of all the accolades it collected, Birdman is that rare novel cinema experience, delivering new pleasures with every scene. Ed Norton reminds us of what he once promised, and Michael Keaton has not been this good since, well, forever.
3. Theory of Everything
Relatively conventional, with more God than the true story, but carried by Eddie Redmayne’s astonishing performance, worthy of the Oscar.
4. The End of the Tour
A little gem of a movie, with a touchingly melancholic atmosphere, particularly if you’re familiar with David Foster Wallace’s life. Containing the most intelligent dialogue of the year, this is well worth tracking down.
A rare good movie about hiking, if more about self discovery and life improvement. This is pleasantly dark and honest, though think I’ll stick with New Zealand tracks for hiking, less bear risk.
6. Force Majeure
The second oddest film of the year (see below for the clear winner!), this had a very confusing tone, between serious drama and farcical comedy, though remained thought-provoking throughout.
7. The Lobster
A really, really bizarre film, with moments of genius sadly becoming less frequent as it progresses, though remains a must see, if one requiring an open mind.
Some of the most arresting visuals of the year, with another punchy performance from Emily Blunt, but ultimately didn’t quite deliver a fully satisfying narrative.
Interesting and quirky little film on renowned psychologist Stanley Milgram, with a typically assured performance from Peter Sarsgaard.
10. Man Up
Not a classic but still the funniest film of the year, with an endearing star turn from Lake Bell, who was completely convincing as a Brit. Did portray the British as a nation of alcoholics, which may not be too far from the truth.
One of my favourite directors adapting a favourite author with some of my favourite actors. Inherent Vice should have been amazing but was a languid, confusing, fragmentary, lengthy and plain unengaging trial of patience, with some frustrating glimpses of never fully realised brilliance. The Assassin was even worse, with very little to recommend it unless you suffer from insomnia.