Best Movies of 2016: An Eclectic Roster

unknownI managed to squeeze in over 100 films in 2016.

A good mix of foreign and domestic releases (those looking for blockbusters, comic book flicks and eye candy should search elsewhere).

Here’s my list of favourites:

  1. “High Rise” (Director: Ben Wheatley) Sorry, folks, no other film came close. Wheatley’s adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s bizarre novel is just about note perfect. Bravo!                    (Read my review)
  2. “The Valley of the Bees” (Director: Frantisek Vlacil) Czech New Wave; 1968            (Read my review)
  3. “Loving” (Writer & Director: Jeff Nichols) Nichols’ latest has “Oscar” written all over it. Wise and commendably understated.                                                                                    (Read my review)
  4. “The Big Short” (Director: Adam McKay) The 2008 financial meltdown, brilliantly portrayed.
  5. “Mustang” (Director: Deniz Gamze Ergüven)
  6. “Inherent Vice” (Director: Paul Thomas Anderson)
  7. “The Hunt” (Director: Thomas Vinterberg) Mads Mikkelsen shines.
  8. “Christ Stopped at Eboli” (Director: Francesco Rosi)  A deeply spiritual movie.
  9. “Biutiful” (Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu)  Almost unbearably moving.      (Read my review)
  10. “Chevalier” (Director: Athina Rachel Tsangari) A movie that manages to be funny and insightful.
  11. “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” (Director: Ken Loach)
  12. “Mother and Son” (Director: Aleksandr Sokurov)
  13. “The Celebration” (Director: Thomas Vinterberg)
  14. “The Lobster” (Director: Yorgos Lanthimos)                                                                         (Read my review)

Honorable Mention:

“Alps” (Director: Yorgos Lanthimos)
“The Secret in Their Eyes” (Director: Juan Campenella)
“The Witch” (Director: Robert Eggers)
“Four Lions” (Director: Chris Morris)
“99 Homes” (Director: Ramin Bahrani)
“’71” (Director: Yann Demange)
“Inland Empire” (Writer & Director: David Lynch)
“The Babadook” (Writer & Director: Jennifer Kent)

Documentaries:

“The Wolfpack” (Director: Crystal Moselle) A film almost too good to be true.
“The Occupation of the American Mind”  (Writer & Director: Loretta Alper and Jeremy Earp)  A courageous look at the real situation on the ground in Palestine.
“Dig!”  (Director: Ondi Timoner)
“Beware of Mr. Baker” (Director: Jay Bulgar)

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Posted in Academy Award, Best movies of the year, Cinema, classic cinema, cult film, Czech New Wave, Documentary, film, foreign language film, movie | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Loving”–Now Playing at the Roxy Theatre (Saskatoon)

loving“Loving”  (2016)

Writer & Director:  Jeff Nichols
Cast:  Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton, Will Dalton, Alano Miller, Terry Abney, Nick Kroll, Bill Camp

Contemporary American cinema rarely produces a feature film of such undeniable excellence as Jeff Nichols’ “Loving”. These days, Hollywood is obsessed with spectacle, fantasy and escapism—serious, intelligent dramas only rarely making it past the “pitch” stage.

Somehow Nichols’ work has escaped the creative grinder and over the past decade or so he has presented us with a number of well-scripted, superbly acted films that, genre-wise, run the gamut from family drama to science fiction. “Mud”, “Shotgun Stories”, “Take Shelter”; quality movies that don’t stoop to please or pander to audience expectations. Even in “Midnight Special”, to my mind his least successful film, Nichols’ ear for dialogue and sense of character never desert him.

“Loving” is Jeff Nichols’ most complete, accomplished effort to date. Based on a true story (how I usually loathe those words), the movie tells of how Richard and Mildred Loving struggled to have their 1958 inter-racial marriage recognized by the state of Virginia, eventually winning their battle in a landmark 1967 ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States. Those are the essential “facts”.

The couple’s courageous efforts to overturn racist miscegenation laws was originally portrayed in a 2011 documentary, “The Loving Story” (directed by Nancy Buirski). Nichols saw the documentary and immediately recognized its dramatic possibilities (Ms. Buirski co-produces “Loving”).

Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton are perfect as Richard and Mildred, their onscreen chemistry apparent from the moment they appear in the same frame together. Viewers have no difficulty believing that these two have enormous affection for each other and will endure tremendous hardship to retain their union. The supporting players are equally believable and authentic, and here I call special attention to Sharon Blackwood, who plays “Lola”, Richard’s mother. She’s a rural midwife and healer, strong and tough as nails, her appearances brief and always memorable.

But, as ever, the real star of any Nichols film is the script and it’s here that he excels. By refusing to infuse his drama with ridiculous incident and overwrought sentiment, the film-maker shows a willingness to treat his audience as adults, a refreshing and welcome approach. There’s a remarkable scene about 2/3 of the way through “Loving”, when one of Richard Loving’s drunken companions, a black man who has suffered discrimination every waking moment of his life, taunts his friend: “Now you know what it feels like”. It’s an awkward, uncomfortable moment, a reminder that the Mason-Dixon line wasn’t merely geographic, it carved a jagged demarcation through the very soul of a nation, dividing human beings for the most specious and revolting reasons.

That separation is just as apparent, just as stark today. Black lives matter…and any written law or deeply ingrained prejudice that insists one colour or gender or religion supersedes another defames our entire species and diminishes any claims we might have that we have achieved a truly just or civil society.

“Loving” reminds us that though the times have changed, old attitudes linger.

Slavery, segregation, race hatred are historical traumas that will not go away and no interval of time will wash them from the collective consciousness.

Like any sin, they are eternal and can only be absolved by a genuine feeling of contrition on the part of the transgressor, and expressions of forgiveness from those we have wronged.

ΩΩΩΩ 1/2  (Out of 5)

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I have seen the future…

…and it looks like this:


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/147365861″>UNCANNY VALLEY</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user12563589″>3DAR</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

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Short film by Jiri Sozansky

From the same year, “1984”, a short film by Czech artist Jiri Sozansky.

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“High-Rise” (Directed by Ben Wheatley)

high-riseHigh-Rise (2016)

Director: Ben Wheatley
Writers: Amy Jump & Ben Wheatley
Cast:  Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Miller, Jeremy Irons, Luke Evans, Elizabeth Moss

A magnificent adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s cooly savage, satirical novel, Ben Wheatley’s “High-Rise” is gruesomely faithful to Ballard’s acerbic view of humanity, how some of us try to separate ourselves from rest of the common herd via status symbols, titles and privilege, with all the accompanying props and regalia.

Is it Darwinian? Evidence of Dawkins’ “selfish gene”? Why are there men and women among us who insist on appropriating for themselves far more than they are due, stealing resources and opportunities from those far more deserving?

Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) arrives at the city’s latest mega-project, five towers in various stages of completion encircling a massive parking complex. It is a colossal development that will eventually house thousands of people in efficient, state of the art comfort. Laing takes possession of an apartment about halfway up the high-rise, which places him in a unique position between the lower floors (occupied by the less affluent) and the television personalities and movie stars living in the exalted, upper realms of the structure.

It doesn’t take long before the two factions are vying for access to the services and functions the high-rise provides…especially once the power outages and food shortages commence and people take it upon themselves to secure the necessities of life. Within three months, the residents of the building are existing in squalor, fighting and killing over scraps, separated into various clans and societies living within uneasy proximity to each other, any small spark or conflict  leading to bloody raids and reprisals.

Hiddleston’s performance as Robert Laing is thoughtful, nuanced, the mental and moral disintegration of his character nicely played. Sienna Miller is a smouldering, erotic presence on-screen: her portrayal of the vampish Charlotte is a high point. A pleasure to see Jeremy Irons, as always, and he imbues the role of Royal, the Architect, with a delightful sense of menace.

Well-scripted, visually striking, this is director Wheatley’s most well-rounded and accomplished film to date and I predict, like “Fight Club”, “Donnie Darko” and “Eraserhead”, “High-Rise” will only grow in stature in years to come, eventually acquiring “cult” status.

The movie pitilessly dissects the social evils that have accompanied our drive to technologically remove ourselves from interaction with nature, the outside world, even our next door neighbours. Modern life has created a hedonistic, consumerist mindset that puts little stock in inter-personal relationships, the ties that bind, and instead insists that we sequester ourselves in our own safe, personal space, a sanctuary we ferociously defend against all interlopers, while hysterically invoking our God-given right to “stand our ground”.

“High-Rise” might seem fanciful to some, a dystopic, far-fetched, blood-soaked parable. That doesn’t do justice to Ballard’s cruel genius or Ben Wheatley’s enviable abilities as a film-maker. Those seeking the safety of fantasy and escapism will not find much of either in evidence in “High-Rise”. Instead we are reminded of the thin-ness of the veneer surrounding civilization and how quickly the trappings of civil society melt away in times of tribulation and want.

Whatever the result of a war where every man is enemy to every man, also a result of a time when men live without other security than what their own strength and their own capacity to invent their give. In such a state, there is no room for a strenuous activity, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth, no navigation, no use of imported goods by sea, no building suitable for any device move or lift things as require much force, no knowledge of the earth’s surface, no measurement of time, no arts, no letters, no society, and, worst of all, constant fear, and danger of violent death and life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short…

(Thomas Hobbes)

ΩΩΩΩ 1/2 (Out of 5)

“High-Rise” is currently playing at the Broadway Theatre in Saskatoon. Click here for show times.

 

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More from Andrew Sarris

Sternberg

Josef von Sternberg

“Visual style is never an end in itself, and it cannot be ultimately defended except as it relates to a director’s taste and sensibility. Any visual style can be mechanically reproduced, but without the linkage to a directorial personality, the effect is indeed mechanical.”

And:

“Everyday life, as such, seldom appears in Sternberg’s cinema. His characters generally make their entrance at a moment in their lives when there is no tomorrow. Knowingly or unknowingly, they have reached the end or the bottom, but they will struggle a short time longer, about ninety minutes of screen time, to discover the truth about themselves and those they love.”

Andrew Sarris,  The American Cinema

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“The Lobster” (2016)

lobsterThe Lobster 

Director:  Yorgos Lanthimos
Writer(s):  Efthymis Filippou and Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Lea Seydoux, John C. Reilly, Ashley Jensen

Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely liked “The Lobster”.

Love the notion of an alt-reality where being single is a crime against society and I think director Lanthimos and his co-scenarist have presented us with an original and entertaining motion picture. What can you say about a movie that opens with a woman emerging from her vehicle, stalking into a field and shooting a grazing donkey dead? The gesture seems vicious, insane…until about twenty minutes later when you begin to get an inkling of the depth of her pain and misery.

The film is courageously underplayed—Colin Farrell is restrained, almost monotonic—plot bends and twists introduced matter-of-factly, routinely. The single people residing at the Hotel have forty-five days to find a compatible life partner or else…well, no spoilers, let’s just say the consequences are pretty dire. But there is a third option, escaping into the surrounding woods, joining up with a band of renegades whose numbers are constantly being thinned by the relentless “hunters” (Hotel guests, armed with potent tranquilizer guns).

There’s something wonderfully absurd and, frankly, a bit unnatural about the whole thing. I mean, the escapees in the forest look awfully clean and well turned out, and even after weeks on the run, living rough, Colin Farrell doesn’t lose any of his belly flab. About halfway through the film the hunt just stops, no explanation, and the forest dwellers are free to wander about without concern or dance to the electropop thumping from their ear buds.

Yes, but it’s satire, isn’t it, dark comedy. It must be: I laughed and certainly the audience around me giggled and tittered at various points. This isn’t supposed to be 1984 (although Farrell is housed in “room 101”) and Lanthimos is not ladling on the morality and significance. To me, the director is less interested in world-building than he is exploring the notion of enduring love, a passion and fidelity that can survive time and temptation, the anxieties and stresses of modern life.

Is true love conceivable or possible for everyone? Do all of us require companionship, is that a prerequisite for happiness? Who says so?  Yorgos Lanthimos shows us that even in an autocratic dystopia, some rebel souls will always insist on their right to be alone. I suppose it’s meant to be a reassuring message, a paean to individuality but, as with most satire, any revelations are costly and even if you think you’ve escaped unscathed, always make certain you check for blood. Funny how the smallest cuts bleed the most…

ΩΩΩΩ (out of 5)

“The Lobster” is currently playing at the Roxy Theatre, Saskatoon. Check their website for dates and times.

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