Friday, 9 January 2015

Friday Five: Best films of 2014

The list is fairly self-explanatory, but a couple of things to note are that I'm only including films that were actually released in 2014. I saw Still Life in 2014 and it is excellent, but its release date was 2013 (even 2012 in some places) so it can't qualify for the list. It was too hard to whittle it down to five, and, as it's my blog and I can do what I like, I kept it at seven. And they're in alphabetical order because I couldn't pick the very best.

7 of the best films from 2014:
  1. 20,000 Days on Earth – Not only a fascinating insight into the more-than-mildly-bonkers mind of Nick Cave, but also a discourse on the transformative power of performance. Sharply directed by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, the fusion of documentary and drama with talking heads and concert footage is absolutely excellent. It won the directing award at the Sundance Film Festival; it deserves to win many more at many more.
  2. Calvary – Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, and starring Brendan Gleeson as a good priest, this film has all the commanding scenic shots, black humour, depth of plot and characterisation you would expect. Its combination of deeply disturbing morality and theatrical reverence is both subtle and shocking, reverberating long after its short (1hour 40mins) running time.
  3. The Grand Budapest Hotel – Sort of like a combination of Fawlty Towers, Allo Allo, and a bumbling prison escape/ murder mystery/ chase-sequence thriller: wonderfully weird, impeccably acted and every scene fantastically framed – I love this sort of description-defying stuff! Wes Anderson directs the tale of the adventures of Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes), the legendary concierge of a famous European hotel between the wars, and exceptional actors fall over themselves for a bit part.
  4. Mr. Turner – Timothy Spall is brilliant in Mike Leigh’s earthy and grimy biopic in which humanity is ugly, and the only beauty is found in the paintings and the scenery. The film is as much about the nature of fame and celebrity as it is about art and the passing fads in the cultural consciousness. While J.M.W. Turner is the major planet around which all the other actors orbit, they all shine brightly in this firmament.
  5. Nightcrawler – Excellent and disturbing film about how we get the news delivered to us in the way we deserve. Jake Gyllenhaal gives a chilling performance, Rene Russo mines the emotions behind the cut-throat news service industry, and writer/director Dan Gilroy offers up a lot to think about.
  6. Paddington – Paddington Bear was one of my childhood favourites, along with Bagpus, The Clangers, The Magic Roundabout and The Herb Garden. I loved the books, I loved the TV series, and now I love the film – feel-good film of the year. Everyone gives a top-notch performance from Ben Wishaw as the voice of the bear, to Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins as Mr and Mrs Brown. Whereas Disney would have ruined it, Heyday Films, you looked after my bear. Thank you.
  7. The Trip to Italy – Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are back and as brilliant as ever. Their (largely unscripted, as is director Michael Winterbottom’s wont) blokish banter of insults and continuous non-sequiturs is reminiscent of the rambles you used to have down the pub in the good old days before someone would whip out their smart phone and kill all creative discussion. The back-drop of scenic Italian countryside, gourmet meals and plush hotels is merely a bonus.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Lost Bear Gallery

Lost Bear Gallery in Katoomba is an absolute little gem. The exhibition spaces feature polished kauri floorboards, leadlight windows, high ceilings, wide architraves, and old fireplaces. And then there's the artwork. When we visited, I encountered some new (to me) artists who brought the surrounding scenery to life.

Warwick Fuller has painted the Australian landscape for over 35 years. He remains unswayed by trends and changing fashions, painting large landscapes in oils on canvas, uncaring that landscape art has fallen out of favour with abstract impressionism being preferred. His images capture light, storms, waves, trees and cattle with striking authenticity. He claims not to want to necessarily paint exactly what is there but to portray his emotional response to the scene. "I want my pictures to sing the songs I sang when I painted them."

Fenceline Track, Tumburumba by Warwick Fuller
Gibralta Grand by Warwick Fuller
Mist on the dam near Yass by Warwick Fuller
Light on Tinkers Hill by Warwick Fuller
Lake light, Angler's Reach by Warwick Fuller
Waterhole by Warwick Fuller
Log Crossing by Warwick Fuller
Mountain Blue by Warwick Fuller
Graham Hallett lives in the Blue Mountains and paints stylistic, hyper-real local vistas with layers of colour and movement. There is something reminiscent of Japanese woodcuts in the execution, but the palette of deep reds, purples, yellows and ochres is pure Australian. Echoes of timeless cultures reverberate through the hills and gullies, hinting at ancient tales told beneath the drooping trees.

Fire Trail by Graham Hallett
Red Track by Graham Hallett
Shelter by Graham Hallett
Little Gully by Graham Hallett
Red Mountain by Graham Hallett
Green Gully by Graham Hallett
Rocky Point by Graham Hallett
Twin Trees by Graham Hallett
The Divide by Graham Hallett
Evening by Graham Hallett
Paul Margocsy, meanwhile, focuses on the foreground, with his stunning portraits of local birdlife. Creating watercolour and gouache masterpieces, the detail is almost photographic with extreme close-ups on eyes or feathers with blurred backgrounds. Although he loved drawing as a child, Margocsy received no formal training and left school to become a window dresser until he was called up in 1966 to serve as a conscript to the army. 

His paintings began as murals for children's nurseries, and when he joined the Wildlife Art Society of Australasia, he instantly won first prize for the best painting. Since then he has published books, held national and international solo exhibitions and been commissioned to create a series of stamps.

Australian Boobook owlets II by Paul Margocsy
Australian Azure Kingfishers II by Paul Margocsy
Australian Splendid Fairy Wrens by Paul Margocsy
Australian White Breasted Sea-Eagle by Paul Margocsy
Australian Gang Gang Cockatoo by Paul Margocsy
Australian Sulphur Crested Cockatoo by Paul Margocsy
Australian Red-Tailed Black Cockatoos by Paul Margocsy
Australian Laughing Kookaburras by Paul Margocsy