So as previously mentioned I can now blow the half-time whistle and pitch just a selection of the memories 2016 in movies has scored highly with us thus far. A quiet start to the year by some standards, but my word what a mixture of movies to envelope ourselves in. You have no excuses really, what with funny sequels, more super-hero action, zombies, cracking animation, live-action remakes of classic Disney, as well as some simply majestic foreign language films. Something for everyone? I do hope so. Before we look at some of the best scenes and performances of 2016, here are the other 10 movies I promised, by no means the leftovers.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2
I may be a little bias but that should not distract from the fact that I, and the wife, have wondered for years if there would be a My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. Creator of the first film, Nia Vardalos casually entertained the idea for a while, and soon wrote the screenplay. The potential for the sequel lingered for some time, one of the film industry’s enduring sweethearts Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, sporadic Greek residents themselves, approached Vardalos finally and got the engine humming faster. Hanks would produce, Wilson would play a supporting part. The kinetic energy and audience appeal was always there though. The second installment is directed by Kirk Jones this time, but transfers so much of the cultural charm and chuckles of the first. The tone is spot on, Vardalos employs a developed collection of Greek-related humor, so rich in true family emotion, so much so it is almost an education, or watching your own family if you know what that is like. The story strands, that provide perfect pitch and balance of drama, sentiment, and comedy, don’t trip over each other. Toula (Vardalos) and Ian (Corbett) are at a crossroads, while their teenage daughter Paris (Elena Kampouris) is coping with the social distraction such a family brings – surprisingly Toula’s parents Gus (Constantine) and Maria (Kazan) have the biggest marriage dilemma. It flows along at a constant pace, there’s plenty for everyone here. Enjoy the Greeks, as I do.
The Witch (or branded as The VVitch) is by literal definition a New-England Folktale. Written and directed by Robert Eggers, the film-making is so compelling and true to the often-depleting horror genre, it is an accomplished directorial debut indeed. A 17th century Puritan family are banished, start a farm, and then begin to experience all manner of evil forces coming from the woods close by. The mysterious events kick into gear for the family when their baby, Samuel, one of five children, simply vanishes in front of the eyes of eldest daughter Thomasin. That there is a witch lingering is no huge secret to the audience, but the strange events soon pierce into the family dynamic, essentially turning them on each other. It is Thomasin (impressive breakthrough from Anya Taylor-Joy) who takes the brunt of the paranoia, which escalates when their dog is first butchered, and then her brother Caleb is literally taken by the nefarious elements. The illusive hare, and the murderous black goat only contribute further to the horror on show here. The film builds a pure and daunting anxiety, difficult to resist, compounded by a narrative rich in religion and family breakdown. The rural setting is unsettling throughout, leaving you cold and sucked in by the chills. Even the final act pulls a few extra shock punches, taking you where you perhaps feared all along, but you have no say in the matter.
The great British filmmaker’s adaptation of the novel by Lewis Grassic Gibbon was a passion project that took many years to be made into a feature. Terence Davies’ classic lyricism is intact along with his observant nature and no hold barred plunge into the darker more nastier aspects of a story that others would avoid in such films. Sunset Song is about a farm girl named Chris Guthrie (Agyness Deyn) living in Scotland and her journey towards womanhood and independence years before the First World War. The love of the land, enduring nature of life, sacrifices and hardships shapes the character. Clear eyed, a thinker and observer, Chris makes for a compelling character and her story is powerful. Life of a peasant in that time and place was hard, especially for women and men who lacked the kind of toxic masculinity found in the character of the father played by Peter Mullan. Featuring gorgeous cinematography and production, like many films by the director, its a passage of time narrative told in a stirring manner. Elements of the classic and modern techniques combined with strong performances and an awareness that is unlike any film you are bound to see this year.
Deadpool is a film that I did not see coming. I had seen the previews, thought it looked good, and then somehow decided to skip it when it arrived in theaters back in February. That was a mistake. When I finally saw it on Blu-ray, I fell in love. Speaking of love, Deadpool is a love story, mistaken as a comic-book film adaptation. It’s a love between Wade and Vanessa, which is pretty much as twisted and messed up as you can imagine. They meet at a bar full of mercenaries, and decide to screw on the first date, setting up their relationship to come. What abruptly puts the kibosh on their relationship is that Wade gets cancer. He’s offered a chance to cure his cancer, and also become superhuman. He takes a chance and it ends horribly. He’s disfigured, but alive, and can now regenerate wounds. Since he’s so ugly, he needs to cover his face, and hence, he becomes Deadpool. Now it’s revenge time on the guy who did that to him. So the reason I love Deadpool so much is because it’s a perfect mix of humor and action, with a nice touch of drama. That and it’s the antithesis of comic-book films in that the film doesn’t take itself seriously. When all other comic-book films are trying to be serious, Deadpool says screw that, and pokes holes in that style. It’s meta to the point that it references actors who play X-Men characters while talking to an X-Men character. I also love that it’s really easy to follow, unlike some of the more recent comic-book adaptations of late. Plus the screenplay is great, and Ryan Reynolds give a wonderful performance as the screwed up Wade Wilson aka Deadpool.
No Home Movie
At what point does a point on the planet become one’s own, not one’s own property but a part of one’s own persona: a home? People populate and vacate spaces in Chantal Akerman’s films. Presence gives purpose, furnishing spaces with practical identity; absence questions whether or not such spaces could be claimed to exist without them. Absence courses through No Home Movie, from the perspective of a person depicted as homeless, centering on another person, whose perception of home is narrowing, intensifying, fading away. Akerman’s film is stark and unyielding, more oblique than usual in its dedication to dislocation. It’s a self-portrait in which the subject is absent, and the effect is contemplative, chilling, horribly sad. Akerman is present in her mother’s home, for the past pored over in conversations that are a treasure to behold; present yet absent, rarely seen, often detected, never wholly there. A poignant association to make, connecting this thought of not actually participating in one’s life with the fact that No Home Movie was Akerman’s final artistic expression before committing suicide. That, and as a chronicle of the death of her mother, makes this film an even more profound emotional accomplishment than a technical one.
A high-concept idea of predators and prey co-existing in a metropolis that looks something straight out of a science fiction tale that George Orwell never got the chance to write. Sounds like this would only come from the guys at Pixar, but alas! – it comes from Walt Disney Animation Studios, and with this, Walt’s animated division joins the latter in crafting rich, creative stories that go beyond entertaining young children, but also entertaining the young at heart as well. Part buddy cop flick in the style of Rush Hour & Lethal Weapon, part social commentary on prejudice and gender, part homage to 70’s era crime classics like Chinatown, and part deconstruction fable of a seemingly perfect utopian society, this colorful, breathtaking, hilarious and thought-provoking animated feature does something with the genre I haven’t seen since 2008’s groundbreaking WALL-E: it takes what we’d expect from the genre and quietly subverts itself to talk about issues that are timely and something of a warning if we don’t listen.
10 Cloverfield Lane
I’m not gonna lie, at first I was like “Yeah, let’s watch this for Goodman, the guy’s a legend, I can bare some mediocrity just for the sake of his acting.” And then I was glued to the screen, feeling way more entertained than I had any right to by a movie shot almost in its wholeness within the tight, claustrophobic periphery of a conspiracist’s fort. 10 Cloverfield Lane legitimately blindsided me with its intensely interesting premise, managing with surprising ease to keep my fickle mind from wandering off. Twist after twist are being injected in just the right moments, saving the project from spamming us to viewer’s numb apathy. Instead, it keeps it intelligent and fresh, at first pushing the boundaries of the classics with a blatant throw-back to Misery and a soft kiss on the lips of The Silence of The Lambs. Soon after, and much to my surprise, it treads off into uncharted lands, descending darkly into an amalgam of genres; from drama to suspense and horror, all the way to sci-fi absurdity – but always brushed with a feather-light, cautious, Hitchcockian touch. Is it a sequel? A prequel? Does it have anything at all to do with Reeves’ 2008 Cloverfield? I don’t know and I don’t really care. This film is proudly standing on its own two feet, smirking at the audience with the middle finger lifted to all writing and filming tropes – and the acting bigger than the galvanized confines of the disaster bunker can withstand.
A film that is as brave and eye opening as it is touching and poignant, Mustang simultaneously acts as a magnifying glass on the physical challenges faced by women in a polarized society, and a microphone to the generation of youngsters fighting for change. It follows the story of five sisters in a rural Turkish village, masterfully delving into the difficult topics of physical, verbal and emotional abuse, youth innocence, sexuality and arranged marriage. There is equal screen time given to the warm camaraderie shared by the sisters and the intense hardship forced upon them, which really honors the unbreakable bond of siblings in the face of adversity and exploitation.
Son of Saul
Only one other film from Hungary has won the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award, Mephisto in 1981, but Son of Saul is a different kettle of fish altogether. Directed with a gritty expertise by László Nemes, who co-wrote the script with Clara Royer, Son of Saul is an Auschwitz concentration camp set film during World War II, where Jewish–Hungarian Saul Ausländer (Géza Röhrig) discovers the still-breathing body of a boy we believe he knows. Amidst the harrowing horror, prisoner Saul just wants to give the boy a respected burial when he is smothered to death horrifically by guards. Son of Saul is as engaging as motion pictures get, the camera lingers around Saul and his inmates like a bad smell, with every head-turn and exclamation, it’s a captivating progress, and you can hardly take your eyes from the screen. In danger of execution, Saul and a bunch of others flee during a riot, but the danger rarely seems to halt. The off-shot gunfire echoing in the film’s finale is just as haunting as anything we actually see during the movie. Son of Saul was hugely tipped for the Palme d’Or at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, but it came away with the Grand Prix instead.
Love & Friendship
We still have future offerings like Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters remake and Seth Rogen’s raunchy animated romp Sausage Party to get though this summer, but I doubt they’ll match what writer-director Whit Stillman pulled off with this Jane Austin period comedy about a widow who cleverly stays several steps ahead of everyone else in getting what she wants, which is a younger husband for herself and a suitable match for her daughter. Kate Beckinsale gives perhaps the best performance of her career as Lady Susan Vernon, the widow in question who uses her charms, intelligence and understanding of men’s desires to snag a young, rich suitor, and steer herself out of complications that would derail her plans, whereas Chloe Sevigny plays her right-hand woman, Alicia Johnson, who is every bit as devious and conniving as her friend is. And then there’s Tom Bennett as Sir James Martin who gets the film’s biggest laughs as an earnest, but dim-witted bachelor. Beautifully shot and a sharp, witty screenplay, this is a terrific comedy of deception and sex appeal, with a 19th century twist as only Jane Austin could create.