1. Before Midnight
Director: Richard Linklater
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
This is the conclusion of Richard Linklater’s ‘Before’ Trilogy, a landmark experiment which started in 1995 with the touching Before Sunrise and was continued with 2004’s spellbinding Before Sunset. Each of these films takes place over almost real time and follow the relationship of Jesse and Celine, and deal with the different obstacles that ageing presents us. This conclusion not only lives up to the previous films but is perhaps the most daring one. We see the couple interacting with others rather then just themselves, and, now that they are a married couple, the film doesn’t have the simple ‘will they won’t they’ plot of the previous installments. This is a film about the consequences of following your heart, and the hardships, regrets and jagged conversations that arise once the lovers walk off into the sunset.
2. Blue Jasmine
Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins, Andrew Dice Clay
Woody Allen has creative highs and lows, surely as consequence of churning out a film a year since 1982 and To Rome with Love certainly seemed like an old director on autopilot. But Blue Jasmine finds Woody Allen at the comedy drama heights of Crimes and Misdemeanors and Manhattan. Cate Blanchett (a shoe-in for best actress come the Oscars) is astounding in the title role of Jasmine, a bourgeois wife who loses everything when her property magnate husband is arrested as a fraud and turns to her working class sister, who she previously ignored, for help. The film is perfectly cast, from Alec Baldwin as the sleazy husband, to Sally Hawkins as Jasmine’s sweet but gullible sister Ginger, but this is Blanchett’s finest hour, one she deserves to be awarded for.
3. To the Wonder
Director: Terrence Malick
Starring: Olga Kurlylenko, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams
Terrence Malick’s previous film, The Tree of Life, was wildly divisive, with people either calling it a masterpiece (myself included) or a pretentious, even lazy, attempt at intellectualism at the expense of entertainment. To the Wonder met an even more negative reaction. Many claimed that, with its sunset-bathed photography, lack of plot and hushed voiceovers, it was Malick crossing into self-parody. I however found the film to be not just visually beautiful but also a bold and moving look at a relationship over a series of moments, rather then over one direct story. It may not be the masterpiece I found The Tree of Life to be, but it’s a simpler film then that. It isn’t trying to say anything deeply intellectual or metaphysical. It is, instead trying to capture an emotional journey as honestly as possible, and it’s a fascinating experience to watch a master filmmaker attempt to do that.
4. Behind The Candelabra
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Matt Damon, Michael Douglas, Rob Lowe
Steven Soderbergh, director of eclectic films such as Traffic, Che and Magic Mike, has said that this will be his final film. If so, it’s a very fine end to his versatile career. Based on the memoir by Scott Thorson, it follows Scott’s (Matt Damon) love affair with Liberace (Michael Douglas) , the ultra-camp musician, and all the passion, bitterness and jealousy it involves, as well as how Liberace tries to save his public reputation by hiding in the closet (despite the closet containing the most overtly flamboyant costumes you’ll ever see outside of panto). Malta was fortunate enough to have this film released in the cinema, while it was only released on TV in the US, due to concerns over its homosexual content. It’s their loss because the film has everything you want in a movie: it’s outrageous, moving, bizarre and witty, and even ends on a big musical number. With its 70s and 80s setting, sex, drugs, and swinging soundtrack, it’s like Boogie Night’s gay cousin.
5. Good Vibrations
Director: Lisa Barros D’Sa , Glenn Leyburn
Starring: Richard Dormer, Jodie Whittaker
The true story of Terri Hooley, a record shop owner in 70’s Ireland who becomes Belfast’s ‘godfather of punk’ when he starts producing music for up-and-coming bands. This leads up to the release of Teenage Kicks by The Undertones. Despite his passion Hooley has no business sense and despite his money draining away, his enthusiasm for punk music and the meaning it has for him continues. It’s a feel-good, boldly directed film, about following your dream whatever the cost. At the heart of it is a remarkable performance by Richard Dormer as Hooley, who makes his character likeable enough for the audience to cheer on yet still shows him to be flawed and at points self centered. It kept me gripped and excited throughout despite never having been a fan of punk music.