Oh hello there July, you certainly crept up on us. Or rather sped towards us full throttle. Six months of 2016 are now behind us and we have reached the half-way point of the year. A bunch of my kind writers gave me their two cents worth as we delve into the first six months of some of our favorite acting performances, some of the best scenes or sequences, and where we start with this piece, a collection of 20 movies you ought to have seen already. I know, we have missed a few no doubt. Feel free to tell us what you’ve enjoyed this year so far in the comments. For now here are the first 10.
Motion pictures are crafted from so many moving, visual, sensual parts. In some cases, rare cases, some of those artist components can linger beautifully as a single element, a lot like the marvelous cinematography alive and kicking in Sebastian Schipper’s breath-taking Victoria. Hats off to Sturla Brandth Grøvlen, the man behind the camera work, as the movie drifts through its engrossing, multi-layered narrative in one continuous take from start to finish. You read that right. And this is a movie that surpasses the two-hour mark. It’s remarkable achievement, given the characters themselves change throughout the hours, through night, then day, they are seemingly constantly on the move, getting tired, sweating, anguish clearly showing. At the center is the sensational Laia Costa as the Victoria of the title, a Spanish girl recently arrived from Berlin who knows nobody and is up for a good time. When she meets a group of boys, the potential suspicion of such a scenario following a busy night clubbing blends into a more amiable situation as she builds a kind of rapport with them. The hours that tick by though are far from smooth-going, as Victoria finds she has nested with a crowd that quickly attracts fatal danger. The blistering pace and frenetic energy sweep you up, racing along from one memorable scene to the next. And as the film reaches an inevitable, dramatic closure, there is even room for some poignant and heavy repercussions for the overwhelmed Victoria.
The Fundamentals of Caring
Pair up Paul Rudd and Selena Gomez, lob them into a formulaic tear-jerker, sprinkle some potential for political incorrectness on top and, what could go wrong, right? Well, nothing. Nothing goes wrong in this surprisingly funny, occasionally sweet, fulfillingly touching buddy-drama about an unlikely caregiver and a disabled teenager, self-hemmed into the fear of the unknown. Good performances all around, predominantly coming from Craig Roberts who is consistent with delivering the punches, even when having to work around a whole lotta predictable screenwriting. But if you stop waiting for the big impact, if you don’t watch for the potential of future notability, it’ll soon become clear that the truth of this little gem can be found in its details.
Captain America: Civil War
A few months ago, Zack Snyder tried his hand at deconstructing the superhero template by bringing in collateral damage and the effects of when super-powered individuals try to save the world in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice without much success with critics. Directors Joe & Anthony Russo’s installment in the ongoing Marvel Cinematic Universe goes right where Snyder went wrong: Both viewpoints are expressed and understood because the filmmakers give them time to explain themselves – Steve Rodgers, aka Captain America (Chris Evans) has had enough experience with being a yes-man for the government and with S.H.I.E.L.D. to come to the conclusion that he can’t trust the powers-that-be because they might have their own agendas that don’t mesh with the world he used to be apart of; whereas Tony Stark, aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), after the events of Age of Ultron, realizes the damage he and his fellow comrades can do if left unchecked. We understand where the two men are coming from, and the film presents moral quandaries about their stance as both Cap and Stark try to navigate a world post-Sokovia. This film, unlike Dawn of Justice never forgets to be entertaining amid the seriousness of the world changing around them, creating a solid balance between being thought-provoking and entertaining that the script and the filmmakers walk almost easily.
The Nice Guys
Who’d have thought that Ryan Gosling, an actor beloved for his portfolio of skull-crushing moody characters, could be so funny? His comedic timing and body language as L.A. detective Holland March pairs perfectly with co-star Russell Crowe’s deadpan law enforcer Jackson Healy. Despite some initial animosity, they join forces to crack the mysterious death of porn actress Misty Mountains; together, they’re really bad at being good, and throw as many punches as they do zany ripostes. Director Shane Black delivers another whip smart riot of joviality that simultaneously parodies and pays homage to the ridiculousness of the 1970’s, explores a somewhat unique crime plot, and cameos from Kim Basinger and a human-sized bee that talks.
Life through the living lens. Field Niggas finds beauty in truth and exposes truth in beauty. Khalik Allah sets sound and image askew in pursuit of communicating the most detail in the fewest movements. Each image bears the reality of the situation it captures, and the infinite possibilities of historical, cultural, societal, potential causes and effects of its content, burgeoning with depth of detail in Allah’s inquisitive, nurturing slow-motion. Each line on the soundtrack bears equal import; combine sound and image and the impact is doubled; set them apart and it’s is doubled again. Allah makes provocative, perceptive, perplexing associations; so too will your mind, allowing Field Niggas not only to represent raw reality but raw thought, assumption and opinion. Such a simple gambit succeeds due to the power of what it presents, a cultural microcosm that infers any number of meanings. This is real, hard life, meaningful to witness, more so to experience. It’s ethnological analysis and commentary, never judgement. Allah makes a subject of himself, portraying his process as one more street-sprung artistic expression, as a black American. Field Niggas shows life from the inside, a fundamentally dark-skinned world, a near-absolute vision. Bleak, unrelenting, it’s poetry in slow-motion.
The recent pure Coen Brothers feature is a zany screwball noir drama about the film industry (life) as a whole. A narrative in both its design and execution unimaginable to work the way it does in anybody else’s hands. Set in the 50’s, this film is a fictional tale based around a real life “fixer” Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) who works for Capital Pictures heading the Physical Production. He makes sure the productions are going smoothly as well as the real life messiness of the cast and crew don’t threaten that smoothness. He can fix anything except his life, clear his doubts and sort out his own issues. Religious themes both explicit and subtle, commentary on filmmaking as a wholesome and soul-sucking act, throwback to that particular era and a lot more. Movies and acts within the movie, an array of delicious characters with competent cast. This is a joyous fare filled with hilarious humor, dazzling production values. It is a chaotic film that doesn’t fall apart and leaves you with so much to think about, as surprising as it is for a zany comedy. But this is the Coens we are talking about.
Everybody Wants Some!!
Richard Linklater’s films are built on incredibly simple premises, and Everybody Wants Some!! follows a similarly elementary narrative. It’s a very charming account of a group of baseball players settling into the drunken haze of college life in the days before term starts, combining the nostalgia of 1980’s America with some timeless wisecracking and a phenomenal soundtrack of hits from the likes of Van Halen, Blondie and Sugar Hill Gang. Linklater manages to avert the archetypal bland populace of most modern teen comedies by revealing the character’s vulnerabilities, while at the same time making the audience wish they could look as cool when wearing flares and hideous shirts at discos.
One glance at the cast brought together by visionary director Jon Favreau for The Jungle Book and you know you’re in for a grand time at the movies. Favreau’s follow up to 2015’s Chef is packed to the brim with powerful voice work and a strong first performance from Neel Sethi who is the only live action character. Idris Elba strikes terror into the audience’s hearts as Shere Kahn the tiger whether they’re five or seventy-five, Bill Murray surprises with a strong and heart-felt performance as Baloo the bear, and Ben Kingsley as Bagheera the panther provides the essential father figure to young Mogli as he learns his place is the fierce jungle. The iconic songs are again present and as a rule of thumb any film featuring Scarlett Johansson needs to a have a feature song by her for she has an absolutely incredible voice. (Trust in Me) The Jungle Book is by far my favorite film of the year and I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.
Heart of a Dog
As loss is an inevitable part of life, so Laurie Anderson makes life from loss. Heart of a Dog is an imparting of knowledge, and a cathartic expression of emotion. Her musical experience informs her approach: intent upon the creation of beauty yet not without wondrous depth of wisdom. That beauty of Heart of a Dog is in the juxtaposition of these elements, forming a piece of audiovisual poetry whose attraction is potent due to its depth, and whose effect is profound due to its attraction. Anderson’s understanding of death’s impact on those left behind is deeply personal, and her means of exploring it, through musings upon memory, philosophy and a bewildering array of motifs, is evocative of the workings of the mind in periods of emotional intensity. Heart of a Dog trickles through topics interconnected by the infinite associations of Anderson’s thought process: despair, confusion, regret, humour. It flows seemingly uncontrollably, though this is its success as an artistic device: Anderson exerts uncompromising control, diverging or circling back exactly where she needs to, enriching and expanding her purview. A most singular expression, the only terms on which Heart of a Dog needs to succeed are its own.
Oh what a timely film Dheepan is. Relevant in all scopes of social struggles, but freshly so now in the dim light of the negative outcry on immigration. The French prince of filmmaking Jacques Audiard has dipped his toes expertly in the gritty, compassionate grounded crime worlds and intimate, often melancholy, relationships in great works A Prophet and Rust and Bone. Dheepan is the name on the dead man’s passport assigned to the Sri Lankan refugee (Jesuthasan Antonythasan) trying to resurrect a new life in suburban Paris, with him the plucked young girl Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby) and 26 year-old Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan) who will act as his daughter and wife respectively in a real attempt at a normal life as close to freedom as they can get. Dheepan‘s cast of unknowns (Antonythasan was a Tamil soldier and writes novels) are exceptional, blending humanity through to the fringes of brutality. The violent finale feels a little distracting in accordance with the film’s overall tone (a la Taxi Driver) but this is still a haunting piece of film-making across the board, hard to let go.
Look out for the second 10 Movies very shortly, as well as some Scenes and Performances from 2016.