Two Days, One Night was one of the best films of the year. The plot was simple and direct. A factory worker, Sandra (Marion Cotillard), is recovering from a debilitating episode of depression. Factory managers have told Sandra's co-workers that, if they allow them to eliminate Sandra's job, they could provide them with a substantial cash bonus. Sandra now has 36 hours to lobby her co-workers to vote on her behalf to preserve her job. She must rise above feelings of sadness and self-doubt to find inside of herself self-respect, confidence and determination. She must fight for what she believes is right to avoid becoming a victim.
This year, an excellent film program could be created with The One I Love, Honeymoon and Coherence. The theme that these films share is clear. These are three trippy horror indies that deliver shock and dread by combining the dangers of a cabin-in-the-woods horror film with the tensions of a marital breakup film. The films feature troubled couples who are not sure that they know each other as well as they thought. How well does any husband or wife know the person lying next to them at night? Several classic horror films, including Rebecca (1940) and Rosemary's Baby (1968), explored the dread, the treachery and the paranoia of marriage. The same premise also made Gone Girl a worldwide success this year.
No time for a triple feature? A pair of films that could be matched for an intriguing double bill is Cheap Thrills and 13 Sins. Both films present desperate people who are willing to endure escalating dares and degradations for a big cash payoff. These dark-humored films are nasty, bloody versions of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. To be honest, the nastiest and gore of these films would normally be too much for me (and I did in fact fast-forward through the more violent scenes), but the dilemmas were engrossing and the characters were sympathetic.
It is rare that I could become so engrossed in a film that I wasn't bothered by the excess blood. Yet, it happened again with The Rover, which features a grim and brutal loner (Guy Pearce) traveling through a post-apocalyptic Australian outback to recover his stolen car. His cold, single-minded pursuit of the car thieves is much like Lee Marvin's cold, single-minded pursuit of his traitorous confederates in Point Blank (1967). The Rover could have been titled Point Blank: The Apocalypse Edition. Pearce is so single-minded that no other reasonable thought can find space in his head, which at times makes him come across as a comically brutal oaf.
This was, in general, a good year for trippy low-budget films. Other notable films in this category are Open Grave and Predestination.
I am usually unmoved by big-budget CGI action films, but this year I found myself captivated by Dawn of Planet of the Apes. Great story, great characters, and great special effects.
This year was full of surprises for me. Nothing was more surprising than the number of new feature comedies that made me laugh this year. For the last few years, I have been grateful if I found one or two films that made me laugh. This year, I found nine! Let me provide a roll call.
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Leggo Movie
Trailer Park Boys: Don't Legalize It
Dead Snow 2
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Knights of Badassdom
The best documentary that I saw this year was Finding Vivian Maier, which presents a fascinating portrait of an immensely mysterious and immensely talented street photographer whose abundant work (over 100,000 photographs filling up several storage lockers) wasn't discovered until shortly after her death.
It was a good year. I hope that this trend continues through 2015.