Top 15 Films of 2014, No. 7 – Blue Ruin

BlueRuin1Blue Ruin is a thriller written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier. The film follows Dwight (Macon Blair), a mysterious vagrant who learns that the man convicted of killing his parents is being released from prison. Dwight then spirals into a rage of vengeance, simultaneously putting his estranged family in harm’s way.

BlueRuin2I am guessing that most of you (if not all of you) have never heard of Blue Ruin (it is streaming on Netflix, though, so go check it out now). The project is only the second feature film by its relatively unknown director Jeremy Saulnier. The story of how Blue Ruin came to be is extraordinary. After years of obscurity, Saulnier wrote the script for Blue Ruin and threw all of his eggs in one basket to get this thing filmed—he and his wife essentially sacrificed every last dollar they had to help fund the movie. How they got the rest of the money for the budget (which is said to have been less than $300K) is the truly remarkable story—it was achieved via a Kickstarter campaign. With enough money to produce the film, Saulnier enlisted his childhood best friend Macon Blair to serve as the movie’s leading man. An independent movie at its very core, Blue Ruin ended up winning the coveted FIPRESCI Prize as a part of the Directors’ Fortnight section of the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. This accolade led to Saulnier being able to run his film up and down the film-festival circuit, and its growing critical success landed Blue Ruin theatrical and VOD releases in April of 2014. The film’s story (which I will get to next) is masterful, and given the fact that the film’s own production once hung so delicately in the balance, I am most appreciative for its release.

BlueRuin6Blue Ruin is not your average revenge thriller. This is so for two obvious reasons: (1) how quickly Saulnier’s ditches the actual revenge and (2) the fumbling, untried nature of the film’s “hero.” Most revenge thrillers thrive off of the retribution storyline for the entire duration of the film—Saulnier shreds that stereotypical feature into pieces. The film is just an hour and a half in length, but within 20 minutes, Dwight has already faced his parents’ killer and that strand of the story is complete. That leaves 110 minutes for this film to continue with the most obvious plot-point already over. This is what makes Blue Ruin so good—it dispenses with the retaliatory scheme and moves on to something even more brutal, violent, and exhilarating. So the revenge was only the beginning; it is merely a starting point for the story of a grudging family feud that acts more as an exposition on the limits of “settling scores.” The entire film is shot beautifully, and Saulnier’s storytelling technique is dark, bleak, and unnerving, and Blue Ruin succeeded in constantly keeping me on the edge of my seat.

Blue Ruin3The film’s lead character Dwight is one of the most out-of-place people in revenge-film history, and that is exactly why it works so seamlessly with the bigger story in Blue Ruin. Macon Blair portrays the drifter effortlessly, and he does a stellar job in bringing out the more obvious of Dwight’s characteristics, as well as the subtle ones. Most revenge/thriller movies have a heroic character that jumps in to save the day in the most macho-like ways. The character will usually be a tall, strapping individual with a penchant for fearlessness; however with Dwight, you will get no such thing. He is a small, soft-spoken, and inexact man, and these qualities make for the most implausible of avengers. Throughout the movie, you feel for Dwight as he struggles to face the violent events that have unfolded, and the fear in his eyes is unbearably noticeable—how will he ever live to see another day? Dwight’s complexities are portrayed immaculately, and Blair’s leading performance anchors this astonishing indie film.

BlueRuin4The film also has some valuable supporting performances that ensure the film’s plot is carried out creatively throughout its duration. Most of the actors will be completely unknowns (including its lead Macon Blair, for that matter), but there are two that you will know, even if you do not immediately recognize them. Playing the role of Ben Gaffney, one of Dwight’s old high-school friends, is Devin Ratray—you know him better as Buzz from the Home Alone films. BlueRuin5Also, there is a surprise appearance from Eve Plumb, better known as Jan Brady from The Brady Bunch—the 56-year-old actress portrays Kris Cleland, a member of the family that is out to get Dwight. Blue Ruin is rated R for strong bloody violence and language.

Blue Ruin trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJo1qrr_8Hc

Academy Award nominations for Blue Ruin:

NONE

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of 2014:

  1. American Sniper
  2. Guardians of the Galaxy
  3. Birdman
  4. Fury
  5. Calvary
  6. Interstellar
  7. Gone Girl
  8. The Lego Movie
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Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 7 – Amour

Amour

Amour is a French-language film directed and written by Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke.  The movie follows an elderly couple, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anna (Emmanuelle Riva).  Both of them are retired music teachers that enjoy spending time together and listening to classical compositions.  One day, Anna suffers a stroke, and after that, nothing seems to be quite the same with her.  Their daughter, who lives abroad, comes to visit often and wants to help in any way she can, but Georges prefers to care for his wife by himself.  These two have endured a lifetime of love and compassion together, but after Anna’s incident, all factors of their relationship are drastically tested.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Michael Haneke is one of the great filmmakers of this era.  The world’s grandest film festival is the Cannes Film Festival in France, and the biggest award given out is the Palme d’Or, an award presented to the filmmaker of the best feature film at the festival.  Only seven filmmakers in the history of the competition have received this award twice, and Michael Haneke is one of those directors (The White Ribbon, 2009, and Amour, 2012).  This track record proves why Haneke is one of the greatest directors in the modern film industry.

Amour is up for many awards at this year’s Oscars, including Best Picture, becoming only the seventh foreign-language film to be nominated for this award.  A lot of people strongly dislike foreign films, but I think this characteristic makes you ignorant as a fan of film.  Some of the greatest movies ever made were not in the English language, such as The Seventh Seal (Swedish), Wings of Desire (German), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Mandarin), Downfall (German), and Letters from Iwo Jima (Japanese).  Everyone can attain a greater level of understanding and respect for the world film industry by taking the time to watch foreign films.

In Amour, Haneke has created one of the most unique tales of true love that the film industry has ever seen, and his outstanding script and story are made to look even more dazzling due to two unbelievably powerful acting performances.  One of the most critically recognized performances is from Emmanuelle Riva as Anna.  Riva has been nominated for many awards, including Best Actress at the Oscars, and the attention her portrayal has received is very much deserved.  Her unprecedented level of skill and sentiment in this role makes her a true contender for the Oscar.

My favorite performance from the film, however, is that of Jean-Louis Trintignant as Georges, Anna’s husband.  It is easily one of the greatest portrayals from a male lead in recent memory, and the ways in which Trintignant defines love and compassion on the screen are nothing short of amazing.  Trintignant has already been nominated and won for Best Actor at numerous film awards ceremonies in Europe, but for some reason that I still cannot quite understand, he was snubbed at the Oscars.  I felt his performance was the strongest in the entire film, and that is saying a lot considering Riva clearly gave an Oscar-winning performance herself.

This film was by far one of my favorites of the year, and even though it probably won’t win for Best Picture, Haneke will most definitely be receiving his first Academy Award win for Best Foreign Language Film.  Amour is rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, including a disturbing act, and for brief language.

Amour trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Tuc3zjvJU8

Academy Award nominations for Amour:

Best Picture (Margaret Menegoz, Stefan Arndt, Veit Heiduschka, and Michael Katz, Producers)

Actress in a Leading Role (Emmanuelle Riva)

Directing (Michael Haneke)

Foreign Language Film (Michael Haneke)

Best Original Screenplay (Michael Haneke)

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of the Year:

8. Les Misérables

9. Beasts of the Southern Wild

10. Looper

11. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

12. The Dark Knight Rises

13. Flight

14. The Master

15. Argo