by NEVIL GIBSON
The New Zealand feature film industry can take a bow for its best year ever. Not just for the number
released — at least 10 had decent cinema releases — but their quality.
One makes it into my top 10 and three others will get honourable mentions. This is a considerable
achievement, considering about 200 features had full cinema releases this year.
1. New Zealand: The Dark Horse
In a close race, the clear winner combines the best from two of this country’s best-known productions,
Once Were Warriors and Boy. Producer-director James Napier Robertson cast Cliff Curtis as the bipolar speed chess champion and James Rolleston as his gang-related prodigy. The result is an unvarnished view of a New Zealand underclass, while displaying great humanity.
Runners up: Fantail, The Pa Boys and Housebound.
2. Animation: The Wind Rises
Japanese master animator Hayao Miyazaki’s final work at 73 still uses hand drawings rather than computer
generation. The story is based on the life of aircraft designer Jiro Horikoshi and sheds new light on
Japan’s pre-World War II period. This covers the rise of its military power as well as technological prowess. A fictional personal drama adds to a remarkable visual feast that is unlikely to be repeated. Runners up: The
Boxtrolls and The Lego Movie.
3. Spy thriller: A Most Wanted Man
This John Le Carré story looks as if were created for Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his last roles. He
plays a faded German intelligence officer tracking the background of a Chechen defector who could throw
light on the financing of Islamic terrorism. Dutch director Anton Corbin cuts through the usual complexity associated with espionage to produce a high degree of suspense with the minimum of the customary action sequences.
Runner up: Manipulation, an overlooked Swiss production.
4. Futurist thriller: Her
This genre seems to have run out of steam, even as it has morphed into blockbusters. Scarlett Johansson
is cast as a heard but unseen smartphone operating system employed as a virtual lover by professional
letter-writer Joaquin Phoenix. The concept is original and the execution by writer-director Spike Jones is an engrossing, offbeat comedy that will engage your mind in more ways than you think.
5. Period: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Perhaps not writer-director Wes Anderson’s best, but this droll and quirky comedy is lushly packaged
with a large A-list cast of bizarre characters. The 20th century interwar setting in central Europe adds to the year’s most colourful confection.
Runner up: Beloved Sisters.
6. European arthouse I: The Great Beauty
Italy’s Paolo Sorrento echoes Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and a host of other cinematic tributes to Rome. A
lavish masterpiece in any year, and worthy of several viewings to pick up all its nuances.
7. European arthouse II: Ida
Pawel Pawlikowski’s austere style and monochromatic mid-winter setting deliberately recall Poland’s
era of great films in the 1960s. A noviciate’s background is uncovered as her aunty takes her on an
absorbing road trip.
8. American arthouse I: Nebraska
Director Alexander Payne’s bittersweet road movie recalls Hud and The Last Picture Show as a father and
son pursue a phantom lottery payout in a desolate and barely populated area of the midwest.
9. American arthouse II: Boyhood
Writer-director Richard Linklater pulls off the impossible in a family drama filmed over 12 years,
with the cast ageing in the process. The gimmick is soon forgotten as the characters bring new meaning
to “reality show”.
10. Biography: Hannah Arendt
Moral philosophy becomes exciting in Margarethe von Trotta’s telling of the Adolf Eichmann trial in Israel and the controversy that arose in America around its interpretation. The showpiece is a seven-minute lecture as Arendt justifies herself.