A year’s worth of independence

Embracing the freedom to look beyond 2014 and the regional big screens

By T.T. Stern-Enzi

Photo: Juliette Binoche as Anne in “Elles”

Forget the conventional play of compiling a top ten list – you can find that elsewhere. This year’s rewinding is reserved for a different class and brand of loves I have found. It’s time to not only go small – as in, independent-minded – but off the theatrical grid altogether. It is an adjustment I’ve been making over the last year or so; a willingness to think and step outside the old black boxes with those big projected images. Film and film culture is not about where you find it, but the discovery of the thing itself (and the sharing of said discovery). So why limit yourself?

When I look back on 2014, years from now, I will believe it marked the beginning of a new spirit of independence for me as a critic and film lover. Here’s why.

OBVIOUS CHILD (Gillian Robespierre)

I would love to say I was aware of Jenny Slate from her television work – as Jenny the Page on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon or during her run on Saturday Night Live, or from “This Means War” or as the voice of Ted’s Mom in “The Lorax” – but that wouldn’t be true, and more importantly, the recognition might have distracted me from the brilliance of discovering her in “Obvious Child.” The premise alone spits in the face of traditional rom-coms. An under-the-radar comedienne (Slate) gets pregnant and must make the choice that will help to define her independence and womanhood as never before (having an abortion). But forget the set-up and pay close attention to how Slate conveys each and every brutal (and brutally funny) step in the process.

CAFÉ DE FLORE (Jean-Marc Vallée)

For the past two years, I’ve been struggling to get a handle on Jean-Marc Vallée, the Canadian writer-director who has rapidly become a sensation of sorts for the dependent film scene (that curious subset of the Hollywood system where studios fund and release smaller titles in order to appear hip) thanks to “Dallas Buyers Club” and “Wild.” My early exposure to both films came as a result of the Toronto International Film Festival, but each film left me slightly underwhelmed, despite strong performances (Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto elevated what to my mind was little more than a Lifetime movie of the week). Once again though, thanks to MUBI, this 2011 feature from Vallée offered ample proof as to why Hollywood should be paying attention. He weaves a stunning spell with a pair of unconventional stories that capture the ephemeral unpredictability of why we live and love in a haze of music and memory that he hasn’t quite been able to achieve within the studio model, but I can’t wait until he bends that system to his will.

ELLES (Malgorzata Szumowska)

What a year it has been for Juliette Binoche. Nothing spectacular, in terms of awards caliber work, but she has appeared in roles that challenge the notion that there aren’t opportunities for complex adult female characters. I wonder about the “idea” of Binoche. Is she an actor (doing the chameleon-like work of disappearing from role to role) or is she a star, one of those undeniable figures who are simply themselves (or an aspect that we’ve come to recognize and associate with them)? I’ve come to believe it doesn’t matter in her case, and this little gem from 2011,which I came across thanks to the curated streaming site MUBI, proves my point. As a journalist caught up in an intimate investigation of a university prostitution outfit, she brings the same characteristic intelligence and sensuality I enjoyed from the pair of festival screenings of hers I attended this year (“Clouds of Sils Maria” and “1000 Times Good Night”). Intriguingly, she slipped back into the skin of a journalist in “1000 Times Good Night,” albeit a much more driven photojournalist who wouldn’t think twice about risking her life to get that one all-important shot.

Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com and visit his blog for additional film reviews at terrencetodd.wordpress.com.

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Reach DCP Film Critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com and visit his blog for additional film reviews at TerrenceTodd.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @ttsternenzi.

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