No matter how tumultuous, both personally and objectively, a year can potentially be, there will always be films to watch from some corner of the world that may or may not be oblivious to the problems right in front of you or me. 2016 was particularly harsh to me in many respects but was also incredibly rewarding. In a sense, the harshness experienced clarified my own sense of vitality, a Proustian observation, which was therapeutically in dialogue with the many great films I experienced in the year. As I have said in previous entries on the many blog sites I have colonized at some point in the last five years, it is difficult to generalize whether a certain year is 'good' or 'bad.' That requires a much more thorough measurement for another post. When is comes to the moviegoing I practice and continue to improve upon, there is this pleasant realization that more I search for a particular film the more films I end up discovering in the process, ultimately concluding that there are always too many films that I need to see that I never manage, at least in a timely manner. For that, I remain steadfast on my hesitance to compare one year to another year and my focus narrows between January 1st and December 31st of 2016.
A lot can be discussed in terms of the types of movies I saw, for example the surge of documentaries involving North Korea as the subject and the many ways the nation can be represented. It is a peculiar and fascinating issue that can be expanded upon in a separate post but you will be introduced to it more formally later on. Some surprisingly versatile years from growing directors like Jeff Nichols (The Midnight Special and Loving) and Denis Vilenueve (Arrival) as well as Damien Chazelle retaining a certain artistic momentum from his debut of Whiplash with La La Land. Internationally, a not-so surprising array of incredible films popped up from France to Brazil to Thailand to South Korea, offering many more ways to tell stories that give an intriguing perception. But let us foray into the intricacies of this list, providing a context and criteria for what is being selected and what is not being selected. The list that formulates is not so much a testament to how good the year was but more so about the availability of certain films to me.
Some Films That Almost Made It
And there were a lot of them, all formidable stories that offered indelible experiences. As I mentioned in my Tales From the Dark post, The Neon Demon, though certainly not a perfect film, created an unusual impression in my mind that has only grown in intrigue and fascination. Although much praise was rightfully given to Vilenueve's Arrival, there was some errors of simplicity that marred my full immersion into the delicately complicated world the film offers. Same thing goes for Nichols' Loving, which provides many great moments between the two leads but sort of evaporates in the name of ending within a loose two-hour time frame. An animated film like Moana was a great experience but I realized, having not seen a Disney sans Pixar film in a long time, the simplicity of the story and all-too familiar beats locked itself from even more grandiose narrative. Along with Moana, another critically acclaimed animation, Kubo and the Two Strings, provided probably one of the most beautiful visuals this year, yet the writers made questionable decisions with the protagonist in regards to theme that left me more troubled than anything else, although I sincerely admire the ambition.
Love & Friendship rekindled a lost fondness for Jane Austen stories partly because Kate Beckinsale's biting performance whose gossip and wit are as sharp as a newly forged blade. Acclaimed documentary filmmaker, Babara Kopple, intimately looks at the powerhouse musician, Sharon Jones, as she fights cancer in Miss Sharon Jones!!. Knowing the untimely death of Jones, this film has a heightened importance and the cathartic scene at the church where Jones sings to the small congregation will remain as one of the most memorable scenes in any documentary.
Looking abroad, renowned Thai filmmaker Apitchatpong Weerasethakul's Cemetery of Splendor is tantalizing with its minimally profound moments and fragility. Admittedly, it was hard for me to immerse myself at points but this film requires a second viewing from me and I am more than happy to indulge. The Mermaid hails from Chinese comedic director Stephen Chow (Kung Fu Hustle) and it is as wacky as you can imagine, so wacky that the preachy third act became more of a letdown than anything else. Otherwise, the film is wildly entertaining. Though emerging from Canada, Guy Maddin's The Forbidden Room might have snagged the most bizzare experience of the past year where the film sort of self-destructs on itself as you watch a series of neurotic stories-within-stories-within stories-within...you get the idea. It is a film worth watching if you seek an unbounded sense of zaniness and confusion (Everyone is, right?).
Not to be outdone, my personal favorite directors, Joel and Ethan Coen, created yet another delicious tale of absurd intellectualism with Hail, Caesar! which dissects early 1950s American society through the traditional Hollywood studio system. An effective ensemble and hilarious moments reinforce an otherwise busy production. I would like to give a shoutout to a small film I had the pleasure of watching in the ImageOut festival in Rochester, NY, highlighting a plethora of LGBTQ films from around the world titled Pushing Dead by Tom E. Brown. A hilariously cynical film that balances a morbid topic with kind sensibility; an HIV comedy that surprisingly works.
Martin Scorsese returned to his interest in religion, faith, and the moral challenges associated. In the case of the recent Silence, the main characters' faith is put to the test in an environment that feels no need to adapt. It's an incredibly hard film to watch, torturous in almost every sense of the word, but it is a powerful testament that few filmmakers would attempt; a faith film that does not fall into the stereotypical genre are few and far between and it is great to see a film like this being made.
There are many more I can talk about but I'd like to move on, so the following list lays out all the films that are good (some really good) that I just didn't include in my final best-of list:
Cemetery of Splendour
La La Land
Miss Sharon Jones!!
Love & Friendship
The Neon Demon
Lo and Behold
A Man Called Ove
Under the Shadow
In case this is your first time perusing my lists, these films are considered to be the .5 of my list. Quite exemplary, yes?
Additionally, as I have already stated, there are many films I did not get to or the availability was too limited for any possible screening, so these films are ones I did not see in time and may be considered for the 2017 list:
A Monster Calls
The B Side
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
20th Century Woman
I Am Not Your Negro
Of course, there are titles that I might not even considered, that might not have ventured into my limited scope of accessibility. Each and every year I hope to broaden that scope.
Most Honorable of Mentions
2016 was an intriguing year in that there were many re-releases of older films. The most brazen and shocking of them being the release of Belladonna of Sadness, an X-rated Japanese animation made on the fringes of the American counterculture movement about sexual liberation in a medieval world. Although it was beautiful and grotesque all at once, I still found myself unsure of what to think the film was to express.
Two other films re-emerged, thankfully, back into the cinematic world for people, like the younger generation, to experience. These two films are both incredible in their own right and, if they had been released this year, officially, they would have easily made their way into the top list. The first film being Isao Takahata's masterful Only Yesterday (originally released in 1990), the film I described as this beautiful rumination of what it is to live, to grow, and to look back. My love for this film, which admittedly blossomed years before even seeing this for the first time, has only grown...a story I can only hope to aspire to in my own writings...its themes so personal and so delicate in my subjective history. This film, along with Grave of the Fireflies and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, provides a convincing testimony that Takahata should be considered Miyazaki's equal, both artists analytical in craft and sagacious in expression.
The other film is by one of my favorite documentary filmmakers, Les Blank. A Poem is a Naked Person chronicles the concert tour of Leon Russell as well as the cultural environment surrounding Russell, his band, and anyone who has worked with him. Basically, in true Blank form, it is a cornucopia of authenticity mixed with a humorously contemplative eye from the filmmaker. A film gushing with great music, littered with multitudes of small, special moments of bizarre elegance, and never venturing to over-complicate itself, it is almost unbelievable that the film was held unreleased for over forty years because Russell was unsure of his own depiction in the film. Now, after Russell's passing, an urgency has risen within this otherwise lax film. But there is a lesson to be learned here: never hesitate to display yourself through Blank's lens.
With all that said, the preface is over. Who knows if you've managed to lock your eyes at this portion of the blog without resorting to look at the real list. Anywho, this is the list of my top films. I hope this finds you intrigued, wanting to explore more of the film world and the infinite amount of stories formulated by men and women across the globe. Frankly, that is probably the most foundational reason for making such a list...I don't even like lists for the most part. Despite such confessions, these films are my favorites and, I think, are very much worth your time. Thanks and enjoy!
14. A Boy and the World (Ale Abreu)
Although using musical cues to preface crucial narrative change and character growth, A Boy and the World could have done with more music. That was my biggest complaint with one of the earliest films I saw in 2016. And while that gripe still holds true as I look back, I remember the ambition and perplexing nature it holds so confidently. Directed by Ale Abreu, a Brazilian filmmaker and animator, the colors, shapes, and sounds easily invite a expansive demographic, but that does not inhibit the artist to settle for an easy story, let alone a simplistic structure for telling such a story. Rather, the film is incredibly complex in its visual symbolism, connecting the external mayhem with the internal conflict of the main character who seeks to find his identity. A cityscape that can be marveled by those who love Blade Runner and Dark City, A Boy And the World forces the eyes to explore each and every frame, to pick up on both the large and small details of real-world influence. And while some of it my be heavy-handed, the moments where we nosedive into human complexity, or the human necessity to why Abreu tells this story, is when a magical power erupts before us and the animation vibrates a lyrical, albeit melancholic, celebration.
13. Our Little Sister (Kore-eda Hirokazu)
Said to not be one of Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda's best films. Nonetheless, his recent film, Our Little Sister, lingered within the personal realm of my mind. A lengthy film all about familial schisms and politics, there is an interesting and somewhat unobserved question of what makes a family a family. The formidable group of sisters who rally together in the face of parental discontent is altogether fun, endearing, and puissant in its effectiveness, as they take in a younger sister of theirs that was born from their father's second (or third?) wife. Enjoyable insight uncovers a hypothesis that offspring carry with them characteristics of their parents, no matter how much they hate them. Thus, if the offspring is not careful, they will become what they so vehemently hate. Such an observation, partly driven by assumption but something I can totally relate to (minus the hate), is what makes watching the eldest sister struggle as she wants to distance herself from her family history but try to support and care for her new, much younger, sister. Many moments, mostly involving food, create a gentility asking for the audiences sympathetic involvement and we begin to care as if we were another sibling. In addition, much can be analyzed by the way setting and mise-en-scene quietly interplay to help evoke a sense of personal restraint, visualizing the aforementioned assumptive observation that, maybe, we can never get away from our family, for better or for worse. We simply need to make do and grow into a person that can acknowledge where you come from and where you are going.
12. Songs From the North (Soon-mi Yoo)
Amusingly, this is the first of three South Korean films on this list. Of course, I never planned on my lists taking shapes in these sorts of manner but it is all well deserved, beginning with Soon-Mi Yo's essay film Songs From the North. 2016 saw the release of several documentaries exploring the estranged nation of North Korea, the other two notable films being Under the Sun and The Lover and the Despot. While the latter two features uneasy problems stemming from perspective and questions of motive and endgoals, Songs From the North is the only one directed by a Korean filmmaker...South Korean, that is (the distinction must be made). Having been given permission to film under the patrol of an officer, Soon-Mi quietly points the camera at large, concrete buildings, at lines of children, at shop owners and in effect points the camera at a mirror to the rest of the world in order to ask the tough questions. All films are a struggle to make, but few films consistently exemplify that struggle. Soon-Mi, for the most part, needs to film in secret, which means she is hiding the camera in her bag or briefly panning to some subject only to pan away before we can fully digest the image. It may become frustrating, but there are still incredible moments of a world so mysterious. And, within the context of her thesis questions, we are shown a people who hold an almost justifiable resentment towards the United States...mixed in with a culture that can be easily interpreted as brainwash. This resentment remains powerful because of the propagandist culture that will continue to feed it. Yet, the worlds that lie outside of the communist country, like America, are just as much a perpetrator...similar to the accusations resuscitated by Joshua Oppenheimer in The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence. So even though this film is quite minimal and possibly even amateurish in its production, it does lend a startling authenticity ultimately giving us a reasonably blurry look into a country we choose to ignore or mock, instinctively positioning ourselves as superiors. To use the now tired Batman euphemism, Songs of the North is the North Korean documentary we deserve.
11. Don't Think Twice (Mike Birbiglia)
I am not sure I have seen a comedy about comedy carry as much pathos since Charlie Chaplin's The Circus. While not trying to inflate the comparison, it is a small testament to the effectiveness of Mike Birbiglia's Don't Think Twice, which centers on an improvisational group on their last legs as two of the members are selected to audition for a show not dissimilar to SNL. Let me retract the idea from the first line and say it really is not pure comedy...a dramedy is more appropriate. Either way, the script naturally weaves both comedy and drama to the point when something dramatic is expressed it always calls upon comedy and when something comedic is expressed it always calls upon the story's drama, a symbiosis of great storytelling. The ensemble cast making up the group delivers beautifully natural performances and the anonymity of most of the cast members (save for Keegan-Michael Key and the director) endorses one of the fundamental conflicts of the film in that everyone may be happy for the two selected for an audition but deep down are rampaging in a jealousy that would do anything to take their place. It is sometimes an unnoticeable price you pay for dreaming as such grandeur delusively shapes the way you look at others...most of them you see as competition. The way many of the main characters look at each other suggest they know exactly how much that price was and, just as crucially, the film pulls no stops in delineating the complication of "making it big," or receiving that one big chance. Not everyone could handle the fame and responsibility that consequently emerges with that big break. Don't Think Twice uses nuanced relationship dynamics to cover the many responses to such phenomenon and even though we may smile and laugh through many moments, it is a sort of smile or laugh that is one step away from sadness.
10. The Witch (Tom Eggers)
Horror films seek out what makes us uncomfortable, what makes us hesitate and what makes us question our own, normalized perceptions of the world. And many of the successful horror films, like their sci-fi counterparts, weave in allegorical threads into the haunting plot to indict a major problem or issue in contemporary society. The last scene in George Romero's Night of the Living Dead still stings as a shocking slap in the face, clarifying to audiences all over what kind of movie they were actually watching. Tom Egger's The Witch returns to such form, pummeling us through an hour and a half of devastation and ending with a prideful ambivalence that can only be countered with thorough examination. By adhering, quite faithfully, to the real folktales (is that an oxymoron?) regarding witches in 17th century New England, Eggers illuminates horror tradition. Yet, unbeknownst to many, he begins to slowly invert such traditions, bringing these folktales into a modern context, and ultimately subverts the foundation the film was based on. The dissolution of Puritan faith begets the dissolution of the Puritan family which eventually begets fear, and it is through this frightening display of fear, precipitating between each member of an ostracized family, we begin to seethe cost through such paranoia. As the last scene plays, the possibility of a feminist reading is extremely justifiable and all the more surprising, deepening the complexity of a film already loaded with symbolic terror and nauseous moments.
9. Hunt For the Wilderpeople (Taika Waititi)
The New Zealand landscape may be globally known as Middle Earth but let us try not to forget that such a landscape is that of a real country. If Taika Waititi's Hunt for the Wilderpeople is an homage to anything its the infinitely beautiful landscape of the island nation. It is great that the two main characters get lost in it for most of the film and it is great that the two main characters are Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) and Hec (Sam Neill of Jurassic Park fame), an odd couple of sorts who are running from the authorities because society has given up on them. A film with this amount of fun is hard to criticize, let alone neglect. While it is not as rambunctiously funny as Waititi's last film, What We Do in the Shadows, the sense of adventure is there, complete with startling moments of tenderness, fright, and action. Though, with much effort, you could equate it with the Speilbergian films of the 80s, Wilderpeople resembles what today's nostalgic films should aim to be...a look back by bringing something new and refreshing. Dennison's performances is comic acuity, his pacing and range make it seem like he has been doing this sort of thing for decades. Sam Neill's grumpiness is, for lack of a better word, intoxicating and wholly believable, creating a dynamism that makes their adventure inviting. Here is a film that becomes a detriment if you force analytics onto your interpretation, whatever the hell that may be. Like Ricky and Hec, you just sort of run with them not really worrying about what will happen but that you are enjoying the ride. I cannot stress it enough, Waititi is the Edgar Wright of New Zealand, offering impressive comedies full of life and electricity with an almost unequivocal amount of fun. Fun...you want me to repeat it again? I thought so.
8. Manchester By the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan)
Tragicomedy is a subgenre that is challenging for any filmmaker to pull off. To do so with a protagonist who appears as a hallow shell to the whole wide world is even harder. How are we to sympathize with such a man, played by Casey Affleck, who recedes into a shadow of himself with the indication that any sort of affection could be had with someone else? Kenneth Lonergan and his Manchester By the Sea deftly crafts a violent tragedy interwoven with the awkward (or obnoxious) drollery of everyday life. Of course, it is not everyday that a man, whose brother has just died, must assume custody of his son. Nevertheless, through episodic moments that build the relationship between Affleck's Lee Chandler and Kevin Hodges's Patrick Chandler, we get an exhibition of coping from a traumatic experience equal parts scathing and comforting. Like a billowing and hovering cloud of storm and chaos, trauma obstructs the totality of a worldview that can be found as liberating. Affleck perfectly embodies a tainted soul, filled with internal embers and debris from a bygone self destruction. His voice imbues a sense panting, as if he is subconsciously trying to say sorry for the sins he has committed without overtly saying anything. And it is because of the unwillingness to fully take a hold of his past that he settles for automation. We watch the pain grow and grow but we also watch a unrequited love surface. This film is funny and those moments are genuine and such injection only adds to the weight of tragedy and the profundity of humanity.
7. The Fits (Anna Rose Holmer)
Coming-of-age stories always provide a fascinating venue for themes that both embody what it means to be young and what it means to grow old yet it cannot escape its own worn-out tropes. I will have to say that I have never seen a coming-of-age story quite like Anna Rose Holmer's The Fits, a film that is as realistically human as it is psychologically surreal. Because of that, it is at times an existent drama and at other times a fantastical thriller. It is almost incredible the way Holmer squishes genres together quite bewilderingly but manages to concoct a film that thrives on its unpredictability while also delivering on its exploration into the fears and hardships of becoming a woman. At times slow-burning but simultaneously crackling with communal celebration, the epicenter of such fireworks is undoubtedly Royalty Hightower who plays lead and who coldly tries to fight off the inevitability of growing up as she sees her friends, one by one, be stricken with a mysterious ailment labelled "the fits." Sometimes she might seem questionably nonreactive, but Hightower commands her ambiguous role with heft and a strength that can only be attributed to being a badass. Between a strict boxing regiment and combative dancing, her austerity is cancelled out by her physicality and her trajectory through the story mapped by the way she moves, or doesn't move. Either way, it is a performance as elegant as any this past year, harking back to the year when Quvenzhane Wallis scorched the screen in Beasts of the Southern Wild. By the end of it, although I was still trying to wrap my head around such an unusual experience, I am wholeheartedly glad this film exists. Maybe, no hopefully, you would be glad too.
6. The Handmaiden Park Cahn-wook)
Park Chan-wook is one of the artists who continuously makes me uncomfortable in the best of ways. By gleefully teetering on the edge of what could be called sadism, Park's films rocket into the depths of human fear, depravity, and unhealthy obsessions. Boy, do we venture into some dark places...just witness (yes, witness) his earlier vengeance trilogy which includes possibly his most famous entry, Oldboy, to understand the sorts of crazy stories he tells like neurotic parables that somehow make us feel enlightened and dirty at the same time. So this is why, out of all the filmic elements I could talk about in regards to this taut thriller, I will choose to talk about the focal sex scene. Is it alright for me to do this? I ask earnestly...may I? I don't really get to talk about sex scenes all that much partly due to some of my critical conservatism but also due to the fact that sex scenes in films are never really that interesting. Usually, they are either an ends to a means for plot progression or a superficial attempt at titillation. Granted, Park Chan-wook's The Handmaiden is an erotic film so titillation is an aspect, crucially even. Of course, a film about sexual liberation of two woman in an era of national and cultural occupation (the film is set in Korea during Japanese occupation) needs to show sex as a vehicle for emotional catharsis, of unbridled confidence, and, most importantly, of consensual trust: this trust is both emotional and physical, the zenith of human compassion through sexual passion. Now, without giving too much away, what I really wanted to discuss is the way the sex scene functions as an interesting narrative device, exemplifying change in perspective akin to the mastery exhibited by Tarantino in Jackie Brown. Of course, what do I know being a straight male watching an erotic film by a straight male? I will openly acknowledge that there is an argument to be made about this film possible objectification in light of its empowerment. But I will stand by my adoration for a film that is quite sexy but also thematically and formally exuberant. It is not even close to the level of depravity as Oldboy, but The Handmaiden will still startle and triumph in its exotic, and erotic, depiction of sexual politics.
5. Cameraperson (Kirsten Johnson)
Cameraperson could be considered an essay film akin to Songs From the North, though more specifically it should be categorized as a memoir film. Kirsten Johnson re-contextualizes footage from the many documentaries she has shot into an almost referential and personal experiment. Her memories within the many shots and scenes bleed together as her editing confidently constructs a montage of emotional and intellectual consistency, an achievement Eisenstein would be proud of. And within this assemblage, transporting us from Afghanistan to Madison Square Garden to Nigeria, despite the globetrotting, there is this seamless understanding of the power of the camera, the phenomenon of recording testimonies and events. Even without context, there are numerous incredible moments which include a terrorizing montage of old, run down buildings that were edifices supporting some particular genocide. In Nigeria, a baby is born yet the nurses struggle to keep it alive. We watch, Thompson watches, and several moments go by of unfathomable anxiety, where we feel the immediacy of helplessness and urgency that Thompson and her director felt standing in the same room as the infant breathes painfully. Of course, this film is not redlining with astronomical intensity. Johnson episodically settles down into a mediation, a solemn rumination of obscure moments. Some of these shots may not have much meaning....maybe she even forgot what she really felt but the inclusion of such contemplative instances offer the audience to participate in meditation. Ultimately, it is a triumphant vulnerability that Johnson opens herself up to; her cinematographic eye not only witnesses but also exposes, sometimes transforming into a mirror reflecting the memorial thought process of an accomplished filmmaker...we witness a stream of consciousness carrying the burden of time but also the power of cinema.
4. Thank You for Playing (David Osit and Malika Zouhali-Worrall)
Admitting to a bias that any film that humanizes the art of video games inherently absorbs my whole curiosity and sympathy, I remain unashamed. There are many films, mostly documentaries, that have opened the world up to the culture or lifestyle of video games. While many of them are solid, some of them are too informational to explore any nuance into what makes video games pleasant instead of a pariah and scapegoat for the supposed troubles of our youth. Then there is a film like Thank You For Playing by David Osit and Malika Zouhali-Worrall, a film both incredibly investing but immensely tragic. No child should have to experience what Ryan and Amy Green's son experienced so early in his life. Living with cancer as a four year old is sadistically inexplicable and the dread for parents to watch their child slowly fade away is something I hope to never experience. Nonetheless, Ryan and Amy decide to find a coping mechanism by creating a video game influenced by their emotional journey through this tempest. With the game's development, art imitates life and then back again as the game functions not just a mirror that is hammered but an active ingredient in an existential conflict with the parents, especially Ryan. Was the creation of this video game cathartic or did it only focus the pain? Has the project become a distraction, and alternate reality projecting a decomposing fantasy? Questions like these are complicated through the film as it becomes more subjective, more surreal and, formally, becomes a first-person documentation. A father films himself with his dying son as much as he can in an effort to maintain some sort of life essence in the digital recordings. A similar motive is applied to their game, named The Dragon, Cancer, where Ryan may try to see the polygonal representation of their boy as his soul, preserved forever in the many programming lines of the game and eventually into the minds of the gamers who interact with such a gossamer experience. This document is a way to help Ryan and Amy bear the burden of their pain. Through art, as in video games specifically, liberation could be found.
3. My Love, Don't Cross that River (Jin Moyoung)
There is no other way for me to say this other than I was blessed to watch the film My Love, Don't Cross That River by Jin Moyoung in a packed theatre. An observational film following an elderly South Korean couple is a completely simple premise yet a whole assortment of themes and issues spring up by just practicing the simple act of watching. We can compare it to a real life Ozu film almost down to specific mannerisms and relationships. Indeed, familial scuffle is generated by the unopened case of what to do with this aging couple who otherwise are very independent. Their love for each other almost miraculously gives them strength and their autonomy; their tenderness and humor are intoxicating. Time, unfortunately, erodes independence, and the rest of the family that travels far out of the way to visit their secluded house hardly subdue their tedium in taking care of their parents. Does life become onerous at a certain age? Is life all about a level of independence that, once lost, proceeds to stare straight into the unavoidable conclusion of death? Making quite an assumption, that is what I thought at some point when looking upon the faces of the well-seasoned wife and husband who seem better off without their family anyways but who always enjoy their company. Will I face a similar future? My personal question connotes a cyclical nature permeating within many of the films moments. I will never forget the shot of the ailing husband looking with a childhood fascination at his newborn puppy. It is almost a personification (and anthropomorphism) of life and death, necessary to be together, contently acknowledging the importance of each other. Yet, our innate human frailty to hesitate stepping into the great unknown causes pain especially if you know you will be leaving your loved one behind. It is known that Johnny Cash died shortly after the death of his wife, June Carter and the recent tragic pair of passings saw mother and daughter, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, die on consecutive days. If you have this strong connection with someone, a connection no one else can break or taint, it must feel wretched and distressing to have that connection finally severe due to death, an unpalatable loneliness. Leaving this movie, though, a vitality rings true long after the drudgery of death recedes. A wonderful film such as My Love reinforces a stubborn optimism against an increasingly pessimistic world. Life does not become burdensome if you keep living it, no matter your age.
2. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)
When I heard Barry Jenkins, the director of Moonlight, admit to his fascination with Wong Kong-Wai's In the Mood For Love, it all made sense to me. Like a pleasant revelation illuminating a path of shared interest, it made it easy to understand why Moonlight had such an impression on me. As I stated in my review, the film boasts a lyrical, or maybe even orchestral, structure and pacing embodying a story of a man coming to terms with his identity in a world that seems to shun him. What we witness is sort of a psychological realism, a world rendered from an unreceptive mind where emotions pervade like the still air and though not much is explicitly said we have an ample opportunity to infer. Jenkins weds style and substance to an extraordinary effect through symbolic motif, powerful closeups of the three incredible actors who play the lead at three points in his life, and a discernment for tangential beauty (that one scene in which diner food is being prepared...deliciously beautiful while being almost blatantly unnecessary). Of course, one of the performances of the year provided by Mahershala Ali as a morally troubled drug dealer exhibits Jenkins's confidence in writing complex characters even in supporting roles. Nevertheless, the perfection of the protagonist comes with the films internal excursion into a mind fortifying itself from all the vitriol as well as the distance the film gives to the protagonist at the same time. In essence, we understand him so much that we know there are places we cannot fully traverse unless we have experienced what he has experienced; mystery is openly accepted in the construction of our lead, Chiron. Gaining momentum as the story unravels into a soft, intimate crescendo, the last scene plays out in this delicate rigidity, a desperate testament chiseling at ostensible masculinity. To travel down a road in life you know, with each and every step, will take you farther away from who you are...it must be terrifying. I applauded this film, that fact that is was made and how it was made. At least it gives me a brief window, or fuel, using the famed Roger Ebert analogy, to power the empathy machine of which my own insecurities and desires can be shared or at least acknowledge upon watching Moonlight.
1. O.J.: Made in America (Ezra Edelman)
Yes, it is a five-part series. Unsurprisingly, I could care less. Director Ezra Edelman approached this documentary about famed football star turned nightmarish celebrity, O.J. Simpson, as a ninety minute feature according to the traditions of ESPN's 30 for 30 Documentary Series. Instead, it became a five-part, eight hour treatise on a country chained to blisteringly contradicting problems. Of the eight hours, every hour, no, every minute of the obscure odyssey drips with formidable and, dare I say, objective detail. Documentaries should not be required to be informational, to inform audiences by providing facts akin to a news report; documentaries are more generally just representations of our shared reality (while fiction films are reproductions). Yet, if you are to make a film cogitating the myriad of reasons and circumstances that lead to the awful shit storm that was "The Trial of the Century," your information needs to be reinforced in an alloy of impartiality. Or, rather, an openness to understand the roots of all sides of the issues and to not necessarily fight them or condone them but to just question them with the endowed sense of curiosity we should all exercise. Edelman took on this behemoth of a story with this investigative curiosity, questioning everything he came across, unfettered by where he comes from and what experiences he brings to the table. He journeys into the heart of an American hell with a camera and a plan and what a grand plan it was. The idea to preface the trial with a parallel narrative between O.J's rising popularity in Los Angeles and the racial turmoil that began to boil in that same city is a perfect blueprint that creates an intersection where both stories collide at ludicrous speed. The spectrum of social actors Edelman finds and interviews is refreshing, completely discarded any concessions about a shallow or annoyingly propagandistic tale that would only be preaching to the proverbial choir. No, nothing is sacred in this film and through the hours of interviews by dozens of people, the audience is left in the middle of the aforementioned shit storm, churning up a frustration feeding off the neurotic ignorance that has always been displayed in our country. What Made in America exposes is the consequences of symbolism. Although symbolism naturally functions in art as a tool for thematic expression, applying symbolism to the realities of political and social institutions is downright frightening and those consequences are clearly revitalized. For that, it is truly an American film, effectively making it one of the most important films of late. Let me take it a step further: it is one of the most American films I have ever seen, if that is even a reasonable thing to say, because of its fearlessness in accusing pretty much all of us for blinding divisiveness. Apart from its national ties, it is an ideal film, a special film. I hope this is a revolutionary spearhead for more documentaries, seeking to inform, to really take the time and minimize bias or agendas and just observe the damn story for what it is. Ezra Edelman skyrockets to one of the finest filmmakers in America now and his film, O.J.: Made in America, is a recent film already exuding a sense of incumbent timelessness.