2016 was a fantastic year for film. Lane and Michelle go through their year in film and talk about their 10 favorite (9 for Lane).
I only have 9 and they’re kind of weird because I didn’t see a lot of films this year. I’m dragging my feet on Oscar buzz.
1. Blue Jay
I can’t get enough of this film. Mark Duplass started with the cliched premise of a chance encounter with a high school sweetheart in their hometown and, with the addition of Sarah Paulson’s incredible performance and Alex Lehman’s beautiful black and white imagery, Blue Jay became a hilarious, tragic film.
I knew nothing about Arrival going in, just that enough people had recommended it for me to take notice. I saw it the weekend after Election Day and it was a memorable viewing experience. Touching on hope, despair, and the complex politics of US/foreign relations, Arrival may be the best film to close out Obama-era America. Also see: Johann Johannson’s fantastic score and, of course, Amy Adams’ performance
I’m not qualified to talk in-depth on Moonlight’s meditation on black masculinity, I’m going to point to Code Switch’s episode and interview with directory Barry Jenkins for the ultimate source on that. But I will emphasize how beautiful and important this film is.
4. The Witch
This is my viewing experience of The Witch: watching that last scene and crying over motherfucking unabashed feminine power.
5. La La Land
Okay, I’ll be honest, the more I think about this film it’s pretty fucked up in regards to diversity, mansplaining, the white male savior complex, etc. BUT it made for an affective viewing experience for someone who is a sucker for jazz, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, tap dancing, primary colors, and romantic comedies. I’ll keep listening to the soundtrack.
6. The Edge of Seventeen
Joining the league of The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles. Let’s take high school movies and teenage experiences seriously.
7. 10 Cloverfield Lane
We’re living in the era of sequels and remakes. I know we’re growing weary of Marvel et al., but playing with franchises can transform monotony. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a perfect example of the right kind of franchising.
8. Finding Dory
I always need an animated movie on my end-of-year lists. Finding Dory is fine. Points for baby Dory.
9. Don’t Think Twice
I almost forgot about this film… I don’t know what that says but I know I really enjoyed it.
1. Blue Jay (Alex Lehmann)
Lane and I can agree that this was our favorite film of the year. This may come as a surprise to most, but not to those who know us. How do you pick a Netflix distributed, indie film as your #1 pick? Well, you have a Duplass brother (Mark to be specific) writing, producing, and starring, you add Sarah Paulson and all her charm and versatility to the mix, and you bring in a cinematographer to direct. But most of all you tell a story that is both familiar and foreign, comfortable and restless, raw and polished, and of course, real. Blue Jay is beautiful in its narrative, unmanufactured chemistry between Duplass and Paulson against a simple backdrop of a small town with big history, and the incredible eye Lehmann brings to his shots. Oh, and cue the feels once “Jim Cain” by Bill Callahan kicks in during the credits.
2. La La Land (Damian Chazelle)
Here’s to the ones who dream…about La La Land weeks after seeing it. This film was a masterpiece. Regardless of some problematic elements highlighted in various critic’s reviews of lack of inclusion of minorities, etc., you can’t deny it is just a stellar example of filmmaking. If you’re anything like me, you love a good musical, but so often we get regurgitated reboots, botched transitions from the stage to screen, and a plague of Hollywood A-listers testing the waters only to fall to short. I was hesitant going into La La Land, but from the minute the screen opened to the title card reading “Presented in Cinemascope” I was invested, glued to the screen, and mildly sweating from the rush of excitement and flushed cheeks of joy I was experiencing. Gosling and Stone are gems, the original soundtrack by Justin Hurwitz is accessible to all types of music lovers, the narrative is simple but complex and yet never makes you feel like you’ve known all along how it’ll playout. What Chazelle does with music and cinema is magic, and I’m a believer.
3. Arrival (Denis Villeneuve)
Ok, ok, ok if it were up to me I would dedicate this entire blog to Arrival, but I’ll spare you the film rant that’ll appear as a derailing of my mental state. I LOVED Arrival. Denis Villeneuve is one of my favorite directors because of his fascinating vision in each of his projects. He often teams up with excellent writers and DPs to bring that vision to the screen, but it’s Villeneuve’s fascination with the mystery of human nature and the cerebral experience of engaging with a film that makes his films standout. Arrival is no different. It is a film that felt necessary during these trivial times we live in delivering a message that can be read and comprehended by all who receive it. Amy Adams is stunning, playing a linguist called to action when an alien “invasion” occurs across the world. She’s smart, strong, powerful, endearing, cold, and imperfect, and that’s very important for a female lead character. I won’t spoil or get pitchy on you, but if you haven’t seen Arrival, go now! And please bask in the fantastic score by the always mind-blowing Johan Johansson!
4. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)
Moonlight does an excellent job at going to places with race, gender, sexuality, and culture without reaching or trying too hard. Barry Jenkins’ interweaves memories with the growth and trials of life and the significance it has in establishing our identity. The film is visually appealing, but something noteworthy, is the spot on casting decisions made with Naomi Harris, Mahershala Ali, Alex Hibbert, Janelle Monae, Shariff Earp, and more. This coming of age tale doesn’t feel like a cliché, and it’s a monumental piece of cinema.
5. Other People (Chris Kelly)
Chris Kelly is better known as the head writer of SNL, but now he can add writer and director of a heartwarming and funny film with Other People. A story about a man named David who returns to his hometown to be closer to his family as his mother goes through extensive treatment for cancer. David (Jesse Plemons) is a struggling writer dealing with the breakup of his long-term boyfriend and lack of movement in his career after pilot season and a failed script. He returns home to a family where his father refuses to acknowledge his sexuality, his sisters are distant and struggling to connect with their brother as he makes his priority his mother. Molly Shannon is brilliant as a woman dying from cancer and visibly brings the element of sickness to her character, but also keeps her radiance in place throughout the entire film. The supporting cast is diverse but stacked with familiar, funny, talented faces. You will laugh, you will cry, you will smile, and you will be reminded that we are human and how precious life is with Other People. It is now streaming on Netflix, so please go check it out.
6. The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos)
The Lobster was a fine addition to my collection of films I saw this year. A film that captures the harsh nature of society and the idea of casting people out based on lifestyle changes, divorce, economic status, disability, etc. is scary when it’s shown in the form of a dark comedy. The Lobster tells the story of a hotel that hosts single people who have 45 days to find a mate through exercises at the retreat, or they must be turned into a wild animal forever. It’s hilarious, but it’s not easy to digest when you start thinking about how close to our reality it actually is.
7. Green Room (Jeremy Saulnier)
I’m going to start this review with a shoutout to A24. They have been distributing some of the best films over the last five years, and it needs to be acknowledged. In fact, they are responsible for Moonlight and The Lobster too. Green Room is raw, dark and punk rock, and those are the surface elements of why I loved it. Saulnier brings to life the DIY punk scene with a band called the Ain’t Rights traveling the Pacific Northwest on tour. They meet up with a guy who houses them for the night after promising a gig and interviewing them for his college radio show. The gig falls through but he manages to hook the band up with a spot he found through his cousin. The band ends up at a bar in the middle of nowhere, and we soon find out it’s a neo-Nazi hangout spot. Things get intense following their arrival and the film roots itself in fear. Green Room is a thriller and a horror because of its aesthetic and storytelling, but now more than ever, it is a horrifying tale of an underlying backbone of our country that is resurfacing after the recent political climate of America. If the punk rock, thriller, and A24 points don’t sell you, let the solid cast of Patrick Stewart, Marc Webber, the late Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, and Imogen Poots do the trick.
8. Nocturnal Animals (Tom Ford)
Tom Ford brings us an intensely, exhilarating film in Nocturnal Animals. It feels like the art based films I studied in school, but there is something profound hidden in the mix of vivid shots, complex narratives, star-studded cast, and emotional ride that Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal take the audience on. What I truly love about Nocturnal Animals is the significance of art. Ford makes sure art has just as large of a role as his star actors, but he also works to send us a not always clear message of what role art plays in society.
9. Lion (Garth Davis)
Note: Highly recommended to bring tissues if you are extremely emotional and/or human. Lion was extraordinarily human. The story of Saroo, an Indian child, who was adopted at age 5 and raised in Australia by White parents. After living 25 years as their child and going to university, he rediscovers the memories of his childhood in India and becomes determined to find his family. On the forefront of Google Earth’s launch, Saroo uses the new service to track down areas around the train station he was separated from his brother at, and becomes obsessed with finding his real home. He becomes isolated from his adoptive family, his friends, and his supportive girlfriend, played by Rooney Mara. It’s emotional, frustrating, encouraging, and inspirational. Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel give stellar performances as Susan Brierly and Saroo, but the star of this film is Sunny Pawar who plays a young Saroo. He is this year’s Jacob Tremblay, and a force of nature on camera to be paid attention to.
10. Miss Sloane (John Madden)
Jessica Chastain. That’s it. Ok, just kidding, but really, when are we giving her the Oscar she so rightfully deserves? Miss Sloane is another example of the talent of Jessica Chastain and the personality she brings to each of her characters. But Miss Sloane does more than just highlight Chastain’s extraordinary presence. The film brings to life the script of first time screenwriter, Jonathan Perera. There are twists and turns within the narrative, and none of them ever feel predictable. Each character, main or supporting, have the opportunity to shine and hold weight in their roles for telling the story. The cast includes Mark Strong, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alison Pill, Sam Waterston, John Lithgow, and my sweet, lovely Jake Lacy (looking very buff). The most important part of Miss Sloane is the topic: gun control. The film centers on the lobbying for gun control, but the film does not take a stance or favorable position for either party. It remains bipartisan and in doing so, it exposes each side of the argument for their corruption. People will hate it because they’ll pick out the parts that don’t apply to them or “attack” them, but it’s a relevant, fascinating look into the process of our government and the behind the scenes of lobbying.