Get the feeling you might have missed something in 2014? Don’t panic, some of Standard Issue’s brilliant writers are here to take you through their must-see films of the year.
Only Lovers Left Alive
If you apply the theory that vampire tales are a metaphor for the cultural fears of their times to Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, contemporary culture is terrified of… hipsters.
This sublime, funny, dark narcotic dream of a vampire tale is all about the hipsters. Its vampires Adam and Eve are the beautiful people with knowing eyes who only come out under cover of darkness, when they travel though the spectacular decay of the ruined Detroit nightspace, or pad with deadly intent through the twists and turns of a Moroccan medina.
They listen to experimental noise in industrial nightclubs, dress themselves in monochrome minimalism and collect antique books and analogue tech. Their deadpan humour – Jarmusch’s humour – is so laconic it might be mistaken for something else. The psyche-drone soundtrack by Jarmusch’s band SQURL ranges from languid junkie lullaby to whacked-out sonic waves.
For all its drollity, decadence and literary references, it is a sweepingly, achingly romantic film. It doesn’t hurt that vampire Eve is the magnificent Tilda Swinton, or that her vampire husband Adam is played by Tom Hiddlestone, chanelling Vision Thing-era Andrew Eldritch from the Sisters of Mercy with all the attention-seeking intensity of a bored rock’n’roll pretty boy. Or vampire. They’re not so different, apart from the immortality question.
And, for all their world-weary artiness, when it comes to the crunch they’ll do whatever it takes to survive. Hipsters. Perhaps we should be scared, after all.
Mistaken for Strangers
You may not like the band The National. Oddly, this is actually more of a boon than a problem when watching this documentary film about that’s rapidly becoming one of the most essential music films of all time. It’s made by Tom Berninger, the singer’s brother and he’s actually really not that keen on them. He prefers metal. And he really hates their slow songs.
Being a five piece made up of two sets of brothers, one of them twins, singer Matt was feeling the spare part, family-wise. He’d never got to spend much time with his much younger drop-out brother so perhaps giving him a job on the road was the solution to everything. What it actually turned out to be was the conduit to a lot of very, very funny on the road, privacy-testing amateur footage by Tom that shows ridiculous sides of both the band and to touring. And the band were gracious enough to realise how utterly entertaining it is.
So we see the easily bored Tom pointlessly shouting at Moby’s house, swinging his legs while asking blunt questions he’s not interested in, like: “Who do you think is the fastest guitarist?” and insisting he can’t have a girlfriend because he doesn’t own dishes. He runs off, he manages to go swimming in the night (“where?!”), he nearly flattens buildings with the tour bus, and when in charge of the guestlist, he manages to leave people waiting on the street.
“Who’s still out there?'” patiently asks the singer, still babysitting his own roadie while about to play to thousands. “Well, your wife’s parents. Werner Herzog. And the cast of Lost“.
It’s a poignant, sweet, hilarious and utterly life-affirming watch. You’ll know nothing more about The National than when you began, but you’ll want to go on holiday with them. Credit also to unsung heroine of this film Carin, Matt’s wife, the film’s genius producer who helped compile the clips of her two idiots, and make us love them.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
For me, Wes Anderson’s best film since The Royal Tenenbaums. Every shot was like a stunning, intricate painting – but in no way style over substance.
Fantastic performances, sharp dialogue and real heart made it my most satisfying cinematic experience of the year. Anderson successfully transports us to another world that, despite cartoonish sledge rides and a Gothic-horror-esque villain, we buy without a second thought.
Ralph Fiennes has never been better and shows us surprising comedy chops in the film’s lead role and among the countless celebrity cameos Tilda Swinton stands out as an elderly nymphomaniac widow. There’s also a small, but predictably scene-stealing, turn from Bill Murray.
Although the film could be described as an arty, screwball comedy, it also has a real sense of foreboding and decay. We see the titular hotel in different time periods and see how its once luxurious surroundings have become dated and threadbare as the decades have past. The film’s semi-expressionist style could easily prove alienating in the wrong hands, but somehow it’s just a charming, hilarious and moving ride that only the staunchest Anderson naysayer could hate.
Think of those films in which women are allowed to be both bad and good, and a bit unfathomable too. Go on, count them, on one hand. Just as I had loved Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girl for its foray into the darker parts of the modern female psyche, its twists and turns, I loved the movie adaptation even more (I managed to ignore most of the reviews, which were inexplicably meh).
Here we had a female protagonist who was deliciously complex, who you loved and feared for and were scared by; a film where the angelically beautiful Rosamund Pike issuing the word cunt prompted the audience to collectively shudder in disbelief.
Ben Affleck played the part he was born for; a slightly gone-to-seed but oddly attractive douchebag. Watching her toy with him, you were reminded how few films operate from the female gaze as much as the male. There were a few holes, of course, and some continuation oddness involving Pike’s pregnant belly. But any film that can make me laugh and jump in shock and has its heroine rummage insouciantly in her own underwear gets my vote.
More please, Ms Flynn.