Monday, December 15, 2014
My two top films of 2014, Calvary and Mr. Turner, are not so different as would first seem. The first, about an embattled Irish priest in a rugged Irish village, and the second, about England’s most celebrated 19th century painter, display, in the long view, some striking similarities. Consider these men of woeful countenance: Father James Lavelle (Brendon Gleeson) spends his last days under the threat of murder from one of his disgruntled parishioners; painter J.M.W. Turner (Timothy Spall) moves in his final weeks among critics and peers hostile to his late painterly styles. Both men, against personal and professional odds heroically cling to their ideals and after their deaths leave behind a spiritual and material legacy: Thanks to his compassion and wisdom, Lavelle’s parisioners receive unexpected gifts of humanity and grace; and thanks to Turner’s obstinate refusal to sell his paintings, the British public is able to view them in perpetuity in galleries and museums. Both men lead solitary lives against the sublime landscapes that surround them—the rugged seacoast village of County Sligo, on the one hand, and the sweeping hills, streams, and rivers of London. These are darkly comic worlds, as are the lives of two men committed to their calling. Under the direction of two likewise committed filmmakers, John Michael McDonagh and Mike Leigh, and the magnificent lensing of British cinematographers Larry Smith (Austenland) and Dick Pope (Nicholas Nickleby), these are films of humility and transcendence. Yet, I have yet to see either one of them among many of the “Top Ten” lists making the local rounds. Indeed, neither is likely to achieve a wide viewership during their theatrical runs in America. Perhaps, they will realize their own enduring legacy through the afterlife of video and streaming.