1. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
When you have a pearl in your hand, you don’t show it quickly. You don’t give it away easily. The Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan goes against the cinematic grain of making pictures move quickly on the screen. He moves his pictures slowly. He unfolds a richly layered story over time where you slowly get to know the characters in full dimensionality. The film is a kind of detective story where you know the murderer, but you don’t know where he’s put the body. You experience what a feast is like in a village (the prodigal generosity), what a beautiful young woman does to the eyes and faces of old men (rejuvenation), how pettiness and quarrels seem native to every culture and how acts of consideration and kindness restore one’s faith in our blemished humanity.
See this one to hear Adele’s haunting song. See it for Judi Dench, one of England’s finest actresses. See it for a very human and very vulnerable James Bond – Daniel Craig. For too long Bond has been a kind of superhero, not quite Superman who can fly or Spiderman who can spin webs, but someone who always wins whatever fight he’s in, unscathed. This Bond bruises and bleeds, loses fights, gets confused, lost, disoriented. At times he’s not sure whom he’s fighting for. He knows that M would sacrifice him just as she has sacrificed other agents before him, including the cyber-terrorist Silva played by the best Bond villain ever – Javier Bardem. If you’re like my mother and enjoy action, a good storyline, superb acting and a great song, you can’t beat this Bond. Director Sam Mendes, a man of the theatre, knows how to lure an audience in and how to keep their attention.
3. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Britain has had a longtime love affair with India. Britain gave its ravished Bride cricket and the Bride offered its suitor curry, a lasting improvement to the island’s bland cuisine. This film features an A-Team of English actors including the Grand Ladies of theatre and screen, Maggie Smith and Judi Dench, going to India to find new lives for themselves. One of the seekers, Graham, played by Tom Wilkinson, is a retired High-Court Judge, born in India, who needs (in all the many dimensions of that word) to find his lost lover. After a long journey, in one of the most beautiful depictions of gay love ever put on the screen, Graham falls into the arms of his Indian lover while the man’s wife approvingly watches from a distance. Each character in this charming and humorous tale comes to India for a different reason: to rediscover lost love, to find new love, to find a job, to escape the boredom of retirement and so on. At first The Promised Land doesn’t live up to its billing—the exotic Hotel in the postcard is nothing like the rundown building they’re asked to occupy. But as the young proprietor Sonny says, “Everything will be all right in the end…If it’s not all right, then it’s not yet the end.”
4. The Master
How the Academy overlooked this one defies reason and taste. It showcases two of the best male performances in recent years – Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quell,a troubled WWII vet, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lancaster Dodd, the charismatic founder of the religious movement called The Cause. Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood), The Master explores the hynotic power of a cult (inspired by L. Ron Hubbard’s Scientology) based on past-life therapy. You’d think that anyone hearing the introduction of Dodd (Hoffman) would turn tail and run — “I am a writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist, a theoretical philosopher. But above all, I am a man. A hopelessly inquisitive man – just like you.” – but that’s not what happens. Quell (Phoenix) becomes more and more entranced by his older and more successful friend. He becomes a believer, a True Believer who is willing to beat up anyone who doubts the Master. He buys into the idea that knots in our present can be unknotted by understanding our past traumas. Not to everyone’s taste, but this movie makes tension and intensity palpably visible in ways I’ve seldom seen on the screen.
By J.S. Porter