Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Year in Film, 2016

THE HANDMAIDEN: A twisty tale of two women.

The best movies of the year:

1. The Handmaiden: Seeing Park Chan-wook's stunning erotic thriller at the Busan Film Festival last October was my favorite moviegoing experience of the year. After nearly 2.5 hours of shifting perspectives, shocking plot twists, sliced fingers, and bells used in ways that will make you blush, I wasn't completely sure I understood everything. I just knew I never wanted the camera to stop exploring the many rooms of Lady Hideko's house, where a pickpocket named Sook-hee arrives to pull off a con game. This is by the same director who gave us the Vengeance Trilogy, and so of course Sook-hee enters a veritable house of horrors. Hangings, a monster in the basement, and the world's most perverse book club — Lady Hideko's house has it all. Ultimately, though, the movie is a touching and lushly romantic celebration of women. It just might be Park's lurid masterpiece.

2. Silence: Audiences and Oscar voters may have given it the silent treatment, but I am in complete awe of Martin Scorsese's 25th feature film. Inspired by real events, it tells a remarkable story about Jesuit priests in Japan when that country had outlawed Christianity. Silence addresses questions of faith and the possibility of transcendence in a way that affected me deeply, more than any other Scoresese picture except for maybe The Last Temptation of Christ and George Harrison: Living in the Material World.

3. Arrival: Grandly ambitious, touching and humanistic sci-fi in the tradition of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Contact.

4. The Nice Guys: From director Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), this is a wildly entertaining L.A. crime film / buddy comedy. We need at least 10 more cases for Healy (Russell Crowe) and March (Ryan Gosling) to solve.

Under the same moon: Alex Hibbert in MOONLIGHT.
5. Moonlight: Feels as vital and distinctive as the works of Oscar Micheaux and Charles Burnett. At first I thought the movie had peaked early with the really wonderful performance by Mahershala Ali as Little's mentor, but then the diner scene at the end blew me away. 

6. Midnight Special: For my money, a subtler, more magical homage to vintage Spielberg than Super 8.

7. Allied: The best wartime romance set in Casablanca since... well, you know.

8. The Childhood of a Leader: Best new director goes to Brady Corbet for his eerie portrait of a psychotic brat turned fascist leader.

9. Fences: Powerfully acted adaptation of August Wilson's play about an African American family in post-war Pittsburgh. The final moment of grace has stayed with me.

No escape: Mary Elizabeth Winstead in 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE.
10. 10 Cloverfield Lane: Not quite a prequel or sequel to Cloverfield, but it's definitely part of the same universe. It manages that neat trick within a tightly written suspense picture about a determined young woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and her mysterious captor (John Goodman, the movie's volatile MVP).

11. Hail, Caesar!: A lark by the Coen brothers. Their recreation of the Golden Age of Hollywood (Westerns, Biblical epics, musicals and more) gave us several of the year's most delightful movie scenes.

12. The Wailing: Reminiscent of Angel Heart and The Exorcist, but really you've never seen anything quite like this 2.5 hour, hallucinatory Korean horror film. It ends with a demonic encounter you won't soon forget.

13. American Honey: Writer-director Andrea Arnold's first American movie is a long and loosely plotted road picture about a "mag crew." It's sometimes sad, often very funny and almost always beautiful to look at. All is forgiven, Shia.

14. The Witch: Best villain goes to Black Phillip, horned prince of darkness. "Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?"

Samantha Robinson casts a seductive spell in THE LOVE WITCH.
15. The Love Witch: How to describe this cinematic oddity, which has the makings of a cult classic? It was shot in Technicolor on 35mm film, which is almost unheard of for a low-budget horror movie these days. It's a master class in interior decorating, and it apes the style of earlier "bad" movies it clearly has a lot of affection for. The closest comparison I can think of is Psycho Beach Party. Just watch it and be amazed by all of the gloriously deadpan performances and striking color schemes.

GREEN ROOM, which features one of Anton Yelchin's final performances.

Honorable Mentions:

Love & Friendship, Louder Than Bombs, Other People, Knight of Cups, Green Room, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, Ouija: Origin of Evil, Hush, The Shallows, Café Society, Train to Busan, Hell or High Water, Florence Foster Jenkins, Demolition, Hidden Figures, The Invitation, Don't Breathe, Doctor Strange, Tale of Tales, Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Best musical: La La Land. Much better the second time.

Concert film: Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids

Family films: Zootopia, Pete's Dragon, Kubo and the Two Strings

Using archival footage, eyewitness accounts and rotoscopic animation, TOWER is a masterpiece about the mass shooting at the University of Texas at Austin in 1966.
Documentaries: Tower, 13th, De Palma, Where to Invade Next

Guilty Pleasures: Gods of Egypt, Sausage Party, Yoga Hosers

Underrated: Blair Witch, Snowden, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

Stars-and-bars bikini: Riley Keough gives a standout performance in AMERICAN HONEY.
Best Actor: Denzel Washington, Fences
Best Actress: Amy Adams, Arrival

Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Best Supporting Actress: Riley Keough, American Honey

California dreamin': The dazzling opening scene in LA LA LAND.

Favorite scenes:

Hail, Caesar!
"No Dames" and "Would that it were so simple?"

The Handmaiden
Lady Hideko takes a bath; even dental work is sexy in this movie.

La La Land
"Another Day of Sun"

The diner scene.