2014: My year in film

A list seen this year in San Francisco, London, New York, Sydney, and occasionally, VOD and mid-air.

Initial tweet-reactions to the “5 star” films included. Note to self: read a thesaurus.

In alphabetical order, by star rating…

5 star

20,000 Days on Earth
The mind of Nick Cave brought to us in spectacular, hybrid fashion. Haven’t enjoyed a film as much this year!

“Straight up, nothing fancy” Hawke’s character says at one point. It’s true. It’s also a near-perfect, natural time capsule of moments growing up.

A most essential and terrifyingly timely film that needs to be seen. Snowden, Greenwald and Poitras are heroes.

Finding Vivian Maier
I’m filled with sadness that Ms. Maier didn’t get to see how the world has embraced her work. A lost talent and complex personality packaged up to be narratively and emotionally as strong as anything this year.

An unforgiving tragedy helmed by a master storyteller in Bennett Miller. Tatum and Carell are unrecognisably good.

Frame after frame of black & white beauty that’s soft, still and restrained. I marvel at Pawlikowski’s confidence and vision.

Unparalleled as pure spectacle and wonder. Nolan’s ambition overshadows any faults. McConaughey’s acting, the sound design, and editing made it even richer as a cinematic experience on second viewing.

Hoyte van Hoytema must have watched 2001 many a time! Even Zimmer’s score had some welcome unfamiliarity to it.

Life Itself
A touching tribute to a great man and all he loved. Thank you, Steve James. And thank YOU, Roger. The entire theatre laughed and cried in unison. Two thumbs up.

Maniacal, desperate, living the American Dream by way of network television. Gyllenhaal continues his incredible run. The city of L.A., score, humour and editing all stand out.

Only Lovers Left Alive
Simply oozes style and wickedness. The soundtrack will have no equal this year. An instant all-time favourite.

The Double
Offbeat brilliance from Richard Ayoade. Jesse Eisenberg better get an Oscar nom. A fantastic double act.

The Square
There won’t be a braver, more important film this year.

Two Days, One Night
Marion Cotillard gives *the* performance of the year. Completely transformative. A masterwork in realism.

Under the Skin
Singular, seductive, striking sci-fi. Wow to the score, cinematography and Johansson’s all-consuming presence.

Phenomenal! J.K. Simmons is terrifying. Miles Teller’s energy and intensity is out of this world. What a star! The only thing to do at the end is stay sunken in your seat and clap. That rhythm is playing in my head and I can’t stop it.

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The Last of Us

My last console was the original PlayStation. I’ve been a PC gamer since then, up until moving last year and leaving my desktop behind. Playing ‘The Last of Us’ on a PS3 tonight for the first time was a cinematic experience.

The storytelling. The sound design. The camera direction. The score. The use of vibration in the controller to convey certain things. The “cut scenes” are perfectly blended into gameplay, and I got that same feeling I did when playing ‘Bioshock’ for the first time, where I was watching the opening video and then nothing happens for a while. Then I realised the game had kicked in. The opening to ‘The Last of Us’ is that on steroids.

The emotion I felt was very real. The tenseness is on par with any film or TV show, and moreso because you’re in control of a character and the camera. I hesitantly approached each window or door, turning the camera at times so I wasn’t facing the window, avoiding the potential crash of glass. I was projecting my own fear and heightening the suspense due to my paranoid direction.

Even the gameplay tutorial is done in the most minimal, intuitive way possible.

I had to stop playing to write this down. From what I’ve read, I’m guessing my mind will continue to be blown.



‘Enemy’. An intriguing premise knocked out of the park by Villeneuve! Hypnotic, suspenseful, original. Shot and scored magnificently!

Two shots of glimmering eyes in darkness are absolute stand-outs. One of Gyllenhaal, another of a “woman” walking upside down. The silhouettes, and swooping, sepia-washed city all create an inquisitive, unnerving atmosphere that’s backed up by a lovely score. Gyllenhaal is doing wonders by portraying two characters in the most nuanced of ways.

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12 O’Clock Boys

’12 O’Clock Boys’. Tragic as both a character study and broader social commentary on what people live for in their day-to-day struggles. Dangerous escapism as seen by outsiders looking for the temporary kind is darkly ironic.

Lotfy Nathan found someone special in Pug. Bright, ambitious, destined for doom. Nature nor nurture have been particularly good to him as a young boy, and it doesn’t look like that cycle is stopping anytime soon for him and others in Baltimore.  What’s been eating away at me ever since I walked out of the theater is how much Nathan’s decision to document Pug’s quest drove him even further. Would he have done everything he did if a camera wasn’t on him? The ending seemed particularly exploitative.

You see the pursuit of power, fame and notoriety, driven all the more by social media. The film ending where it does, I’m afraid of what effects this will have on the next generation of Baltimore’s 12 O’Clock Boys.


2013: My year in film

A list seen this year in Australia, Austin, New York and San Francisco, hence some 2012 releases making it in.

Warning: I rate films too highly. Take it as a relative measure. I begrudgingly preface this post every year with the same message, in various word lengths.

In alphabetical order…


Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
Quite simply, everything works. A character-driven, brooding, complex, Malick-esque romance.

All Is Lost
A near-wordless marvel! Robert Redford’s physical, nuanced performance commands admiration. The score and sea, worthy allies.

An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story
An unbelievable true story that grew off the screen into a once-in-a-lifetime, shared experience at SXSW, with the man himself being there.

Before Midnight
The perfect ending to the perfect trilogy on love.

The lighting, the symmetry, the composition. Just, wow. One of the most beautiful looking films I’ve had the pleasure of watching.

For Those in Peril
There’s no way a debut has any right to be this good in nearly every respect. Haunting, assured filmmaking, with an ending that’s hugely rewarding, yet ambiguous. I do remember screaming “FUCK YEAH!” I had the same reaction to ‘Take Shelter’.

If cinema is about the moving image, this embodies it to its fullest. Like nothing I’ve seen. Cuaron and Lubezki are gods.

Thank you, Spike Jonze, for an utterly brilliant, exploratory look at our future, and the collision of humanity and technology. Joaquin Phoenix confirms yet again that he’s one of the best actors going around. Scarlett Johannson’s voice acting, a joy.

Inside Llewyn Davis
My favourite character and performance of 2013. Oscar Isaac is a revelation. I felt hopeless and sad.

Saving Mr. Banks
Very, very special. No expectations going in, floored on every count. Hit me harder than anything this year.

Upstream Color
Incredibly thought provoking, visceral and hypnotic. Carruth’s writing, score and direction are all stunning. The sound design melds right in too. The film that stuck with me most.

What Maisie Knew
Emotionally turbulent in the best possible way. Onata Aprile gives a most captivating performance.

Zero Dark Thirty
A remarkable, gripping achievement in storytelling. A rollercoaster through Jessica Chastain’s head and a quietly devastating ending.

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‘Her’. Thank you, Spike Jonze, for an utterly brilliant, exploratory look at our future, and the collision of humanity and technology. Joaquin Phoenix confirms yet again that he’s one of the best actors going around. Scarlett Johansson’s voice acting, a joy.

Writing feelings on behalf of other people, programmatic feelings, faking feelings. This runs throughout, begging the question of what an authentic feeling is, and how much of a one-way, need-based thing it is at times.

And from a purely HCI perspective, ‘Her’ makes me a believer in voice interactions. It’s a deceptively simple take on technology that’s not constantly in your face via pieces of different size glass. No radical Minority Report hand-waving dominating here.

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Inside Llewyn Davis

‘Inside Llewyn Davis’. My favourite character and performance of 2013. Oscar Isaac is a revelation. I feel hopeless and sad.

The ending hit me hard because of all the brilliance before it. I was immersed inside Llewyn Davis’ world and had no idea what was happening. The writing, looking back, could be accused of putting him in predicament after predicament, but all I felt was sorrow, only questioning it briefly while watching. The world’s a cruel enough place, and as much as I love the character, he doesn’t have a lot of karma going for him.

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Six weeks with the Nexus 5


PSA: I switched from a Nexus 4. That’s the context any comparisons I implicitly make will be in relation to.

The Nexus 5 feels better to hold and touch, it’s lighter, the screen is a vivid, beautiful piece of glass to look at, everything is faster, transitions and scrolling smoother, the camera’s better (especially in low-light), the LTE is welcome, the battery gives me a day.

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A redesign done right

This post on Eleganthack struck a chord with me last week. There’s plenty of wisdom in there (so read it), in particular, the simple enough idea of explaining the benefit of change to users on their terms. You’d be surprised how often it isn’t done.

The perfect counterpoint arrived this week in the form of Nest’s Smoke + CO Alarm. I scrolled through the site once. I can’t even remember what I did an hour ago, or anything I’ve read today, yet the three simple reasons Nest gave are fresh in my mind.

The messaging identifies common issues with smoke alarms, Nest’s well-thought out solutions to each, and speaks to you in a non-techie voice.

No mentions of “simple” or “beautiful” anywhere to be seen. I think they realise words like that aren’t needed when the product speaks for itself.


Airbnb made my night

120 nights this year. That’s about the time I’ve spent in Airbnb homes across Austin, New York and now San Francisco. I haven’t had a bad experience yet. Tonight I had a great one.

Less than a week before I flew to San Francisco, I started looking for temporary accommodation. I didn’t know the city, I needed somewhere close to the shuttle, I heard the Mission is cool. I opened up Airbnb’s trusty map view, entered my budget, found nothing.

I looked on Craigslist for a minute, quickly running away from the interface (I’ve grown to tolerate it now). I looked again the next day, and a place popped up that I hadn’t seen. The budget fit, the location worked, there were no reviews, the photos looked dodgy.

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