Another great year in film. Deciding on a Top 5 or Top 10 proved impossible, so I went with my list of favorites and some short(ish) reviews for the year. Enjoy. Comment. Share!
Pitch perfect intelligent sci-fi with a badass female lead played with strength and subtlety by Amy Adams. This is the sci-fi I’ve been waiting for since the likes of Moon.
20th Century Women
Annette Bening is wonderful in this role, leading a supporting cast whose members are each excellent in their own right. The script pays credence to strong women with a script that conveys warmth and wisdom and intelligence and humanity. And although it’s told from a mostly female perspective, there is plenty here for everyone to enjoy. Heartwarming and emotional.
I was incredibly moved by this film. NASA and the Space Race have long been obsessions of mine. (Also: trailblazing women in science). This is the story of three brilliant women at NASA who contributed to getting a man into orbit (and later, a man on the moon) in spite of obstacles presented by the social climate of the time. Watching the film, I felt gratitude that someone decided to tell their story with the respect and attention to triumph that it deserved. There were times when I felt like standing up and cheering. Instead, I settled for a couple of barely constrained “Yes!” moments. There is still room in cinema for a little fluff to support a story of victory in difficult circumstances. This is one such film.
Blistering, brilliant, wonderful, weird, and dark satire touches on modern dating, being single vs being coupled, and our society’s often twisted ideas on what is important in making a relationship work. Colin Farrell and Rachel Weis are on top of their game, as always, providing exactly the right balance of humor and cold sincerity to make this quirky script work onscreen.
Gorgeous, aching, heartbreaking, triumphant, life-affirming. Based on a play written by the incredibly talented Tarell Alvin McCraney created from his own life experiences, one wonders while watching this movie how he managed to find his way through this process with so much love and forgiveness. A comment I saw in response to an article on the film resonated with me – “This is literature on the screen.” I’ve never seen anything like it.
It’s hard to describe how fantastic this movie is given how dark the tone and subject matter. But it is. Tom Ford’s background in art and fashion gives him the ability to make movies with an intangible quality that I’m not sure anyone can quite put their finger on. “Style” is too cheap a word here. There’s way more to it than that. It’s beauty inside of beauty. Every line, every frame, every color, every setting, every texture is rich and adds to the telling of the story in a way that is important because it places the audience further into the narrative than is normally the case. And what a story it is. Masterfully handled by Jake Gyllenhall, Amy Adams, and Michael Shannon (seriously, is there anything these three actors can’t do?), this is tough to watch but you can’t tear your eyes away.
La La Land
I’m in awe of Damien Chazelle. Seriously. He goes from making Whiplash (one of my favorite films in the last few years) to this? The man is 31 years old and he’s been trying to get this movie made for 6 years. Since he was 25. From a film-making perspective, I sat through the entire film thinking “How the hell did he pull this off?” The tribute style to classic musicals is obvious here, but this is also his very own modern musical masterpiece. Color and music (oh, the music!) and story and performances all blend together in a triumph of movie-making.
A completely different look at the First Lady of Camelot in the days following the John F Kennedy’s assassination. Jackie is a raw and sometimes brutal depiction of a woman battling the grief of losing a husband while fighting to maintain the legacy of the man whose flaws only she can really understand. Natalie Portman gives an Oscar-worthy performance, balancing what we’ve been told to know about Jackie Kennedy with a depiction that allows us to separate ourselves from what think we know of her history. The camera shots and cinematography help make this one something really special, and a small but important role by the always wonderful Billy Crudup as the reporter who interviews her in the aftermath rounds this out as one of the top movies of 2016.
I expected something a little darker from the director of the original Old Boy, but I was definitely not disappointed. This was the most gorgeously shot film of the year. By far. It’s a rich historical drama rife with intrigue and a surprising amount of dry humor given the subject matter. I loved every gorgeous moment.
There’s not much to say here. Everyone who’s seen it knows why it’s fabulous. Mostly: it’s hilarious and raunchy and fun and self-depricating. Also: great action, great chemistry, great characters, great depiction of a comic book character that the reader base is really attached to. It’s what comic book movie adaptations are supposed to be.
Hell or High Water
Movies like these are what I always think good Westerns should be. Good vs Evil (deliciously incenting the audience to question who is actually “good” and who is actually “evil”) set in a dusty, hot setting where the bad guys have to make hard choices for the good of the cause. Yes, yes, yes. Throw in Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham as wizened old lawmen whose friendship takes on a role of its own, along with Ben Foster and Chris Pine as brothers who have to make hard choices based on unfortunate circumstances, and you’ve got yourself and honest-to-goodness classic of a modern movie Western on your hands.
Manchester By the Sea
Sometimes the best depictions of grief in film don’t show the outward pain and turmoil of that grief. It’s a fine line to walk, but Manchester By the Sea manages to accomplish that portrayal, mostly due to career-defining performances by Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges. This is a film that takes its time drawing out the sometimes-subtle nature of crushing grief brought on by circumstances that are too awful to contemplate.
This is the kind of documentary that stays with you. And it should. Brave and incredibly moving, Gleason is one of a handful of movies this year that I would describe as “must-watch” for every type of audience member. I’m still in disbelief that Steve Gleason and his wife Michel laid so bare his story, from his diagnosis with ALS to his eventual progression of the disease. If you get a chance, follow him on Twitter – he is really as inspiring a human being as the documentary portrays and is doing great work to promote ALS awareness and fundraising.
Isabelle Huppert is racking up awards this year for her work in Elle (and may very well end up with Oscar gold for Best Actress). It takes an actress of pretty high caliber to pull off what she’s pulled off in this role – namely the ability to portray strength, vulnerability, fear, cold indifference, pain, and desire all within the scope of one scene or a few back-to-back. You’ll wonder the whole film if she’s a sociopath or just fucking brilliant. The film has the feel of a fantastic 90s crime thriller with a masterful nod to the current social climate. Dark, violent, and gripping.
I’ll admit it. I had my doubts about Mel Gibson’s continued ability to make great movies. Hacksaw Ridge is proof positive that he can. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say this might be his best film to date. I take it back, Mel. My sincerest apologies.
Hacksaw Ridge is the largely untold true story of WWII Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served in the Battle of Okinawa. Doss won the Medal of Honor for his bravery, saving an estimated 75 men in one of the bloodiest battles of WWII. As a conscientious objector, he did all of this without carrying a weapon or firing a shot. Incredible. Gibson’s directing is on point throughout the movie, from handling Doss’s backstory from an unbiased perspective, to dropping the audience directly into the horror of war in a way that I’ve not seen before. A really important American story and a really, really good movie to tell it.
This movie is literally poetry on film. It’s beautiful (thank you, Jim Jarmusch). Adam Driver is just so very good as Paterson, a bus driver in New Jersey with the heart of a poet. Golshifteh Farahani is wonderful as his wife Laura, whose always-changing aspirations and daily house remodeling are the antithesis of Driver’s straight-laced Paterson. Often-hilarious, romantic, quiet, dry wit.
I’m a huge fan of John Carney, who also directed Once and Begin Again, so I had no doubt I would love Sing Street. It takes place in the 80s. It’s set in Dublin. It’s about a teenager who’s dealing with garbage of being a teenager so he starts a band to impress a girl. It features some of the best music of the 80s. In other words, it’s awesome.
This is an acting showcase, period. Viola Davis is phenomenal. I struggled with connecting to the story and the characters, but that’s really the point. Viola Davis has expressed it best in an awards acceptance speech when she said “We have a story and it deserves to be told.” It’s worth watching to get a new perspective. It always is.
I’m biased. I like well-made sci-fi and I like Michael Shannon. So I really enjoyed Midnight Special. If you’re looking for entertaining sci-fi, this will totally be your proverbial jam. It’s well-made with a great supporting cast. Everything to love here.
Infuriating and triumphant, Loving tells the true story of interracial couple Richard and Mildred Loving who were married in 1958 in racially divided Virginia. Banned from their hometown as a result of the marriage, they fought for 9 years to return, ultimately winning the civil rights case in the Supreme Court. This movie is a testament to holding back from over-dramatizing emotional subject matter where it would be easy to do so. Handled with sensitivity and subtlety by writer/director Jeff Nichols and the superb Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton, the apalling struggle and eventual victory of the Richard and Mildred Loving is given the light and love it deserves onscreen.
Love and Friendship
Love and Friendship is not your typical Jane Austen adaptation. It’s saucy – maybe even a little bit racy for the genre – and hilariously witty. Kate Beckinsale is brilliant in this role as the ultimate seductress using her feminine wiles and intellect to survive the constraints of being a woman in the late 1700’s. Tom Bennett as the bumbling Sir James Martin nearly stole the show in his (too) few scenes. This was more fun that I would have anticipated given that it was an Austen adaptation. Delightful.