Steve Schweighofer’s Film Brief 2016

Somehow 2016 has not ended for me. The acidic taste left by the temper tantrums thrown by spoiled citizens in the world’s most privileged countries amidst the horror of reality in the rest of the world remains stuck in my craw like a stubborn popcorn kernel. A personal Thoreau-like relocation back to the wild came with the trade-off that it would be years likely before I see the most 2016 late releases. Therefore, my 2016 highlights are all from relatively early, pre-season. As a result, the best things I viewed this year were more than likely Scandinavian TV series (Nobel, Trapped) than Hollywood productions, but what follows are some movie highlights that made 2016 a little more bearable.

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Deadpool Title Sequence

Could there have been a better antidote to 2016 than Deadpool director Tim Miller’s opening title sequence, which is probably the most imaginative and artistic achievements since David Fincher’s titles for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? Set to the lush strains of Juice Newton’s cover of “Angel in the Morning”, Miller breaks down, in close-up and slow motion, one of the film’s key action sequences so that each frame looks to have been ripped from Marvel’s pages. In it, amid a rain of bullet casings and flying paraphernalia, the main character teabags one villain and pantses another mid-air while the actual titles proclaim the film’s primary contributors as “Some Douchebag’s film”, “Starring God’s Perfect Idiot”, “Produced by Asshats”, “Written by the Real Heroes Here”, and “Directed by an Overpaid Tool.” It’s a loving middle finger not only to the genre, but also to the general malaise that fogs a year that sits like a brick in my stomach. “There’ll be no strings to bind your hands; not if my love can’t bind your heart”. Absolutely love it.

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Taylor Sheridan’s script for Hell or High Water

Sheridan’s front-of-camera looks may have kept him employed as a wallpaper character actor for 20 years, but his ear for dialogue that’s both true and economical is something we haven’t seen since Robert Towne’s hat trick of The Last Detail, Chinatown, and Shampoo. The second in a 21st Century frontier trilogy – the first being last year’s gem, Sicario, – Hell or High Water examines family relations, racism, and the economic crisis with such a light and un-proselytizing touch that we don’t realize it while we’re engaged in his story of two desperate brothers and the Texas Ranger pursuing them. Part three of the trilogy – Wind River – as well as a sequel to Sicario are on the way, and I, for one, can’t wait. Taylor Sheridan’s style is clear, honest and uncluttered. Word has it that he doesn’t rewrite, that his first two scripts were filmed in first draft form. Screenwriters beware – honesty is making a comeback.

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Alden Ehrenreich as Hobie Doyle (Hail Caesar!)

If there was a breakout performance in 2016, this is it. When it comes to comedy, few actors are able to immerse themselves so completely into a character that the mere sight of them onscreen incites smile if not outright guffaws. Madeleine Kahn was one, consistently; Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda is another. The last one to pull it off in a Coen brothers’ film was probably Brad Pitt in Burn After Reading. As the cornpone cowboy actor in Hail Caesar!, Ehrenreich charms to the core, whether he’s displaying his considerable roping skills using spaghetti while in romantic pursuit or hysterically shattering the highbrow atmosphere of Hobie’s big dramatic debut with his nasal twang and cowshit body language, all the while holding his own with heavyweights like Ralph Fiennes. Why he’s not in awards discussion more is a mystery – I don’t think there’s a 2016 character I’ve enjoyed watching as much as Hobie Doyle.

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Overall Production of A Bigger Splash

It can’t be accidental that the title of Luca Guadagnino’s film references David Hockney’s sun-dappled, shimmering paintings. The island of Pantelleria is actually the 5th character in this smart, character-driven drama that won the Venice Film Festival. The film is sumptuously shot by cinematographer Yorick Le Saux, dressed-up by art directors Roberta Frederico and Zsuzsa Kismarty-Lechner and set decorator Tatiana MacDonald, with understatedly perfect costuming by Giulia Piersanti. When poured over the likes of Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schenaerts, Dakota Johnson and Ralph Fiennes, you get an sensually immersive experience that enhances the conflicting passions at play onscreen that stays with you long after the film has ended.

So that brings us to 2017. I hear another of my favorite books – Call Me by Your Name – has been filmed. Normally, I would be on the ceiling, but having learned my lesson with another beloved book – Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk – I wait in guarded anticipation.

Steve Schweighofer @banjoonthecrag

 

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