And, to cap off this series (for the time being) the cream of the crop. Which in this year isn’t saying quite as much as in other years, but still.
These are all **** films, and all films I heartily recommend to you.
Just to save a little time, these films all earned an 87 from me, except for The Lobster, which earned an 88.
- Nocturnal Animals
From the bold, beautifully filmed opening credits, you know this is going to be a directorial tour de force for Tom Ford. As it happens, the rest of the film only occasionally reaches such stylistic heights, but it tells its dual (or really, triple) stories so well that it doesn’t matter; Ford’s writing is just as distinguished as his staging, and in the unbearably intense roadside encounter which kicks off the meta-narrative, both reach their peak. Superior performances, with Michael Shannon’s pitch-perfect portrait of a grizzled Texas lawman being truly Oscar-worthy; the cinematography, editing, and score are likewise magnificent.
This might move up or down my list once I get around to seeing it again, but damned if it didn’t get me thinking. It’s a treatise on autonomy through the lens of a rape-revenge thriller, as a video-game developer (a clever touch, that profession) tries to figure out who attacked her. And when she does, things don’t play out like you’d expect. I’m still puzzling over just how I feel about Isabelle Huppert’s performance – whether it’s good or great – but I’m in no doubt whatever about David Birke’s marvelous script or Paul Verhoeven’s subtle but sure-handed direction.
UPDATE 1/19/17: Having seen this a second time, I’m even more impressed by it than before. Huppert’s performance is decidedly great. I’m bumping its score up to an 88.
One of the best biopics (and overall films) of the year, but so few have seen it. It’s like a cross between Network and The King of Comedy, as we ache for the protagonist who can’t help but make worse the mess they’re in. That protagonist is played by Rebecca Hall in one of the absolute best performances of the year – sympathetic, sardonic, haunted, harrowing – and the film around her, from the crisp writing, to the superb supporting cast (especially Michael C. Hall), to the direction and editing, to the subtly spot-on period detail, is of a exemplary piece.
Another great documentary, here beginning with the phenomenon known as “competitive endurance tickling”, and ending so far down a rabbit hole of lies and cruelty and dirty money, that your incredulity might be the only thing keeping you from absolute devastation. But David Farrier tells this story with such clarity, such integrity and determination (since doing so puts him at great risk), that it elevates what might have been a troubling anecdote into a shining example of the documentary process itself. That the film was finished, and that it can be seen, is itself no small triumph.
- Finding Dory
I went into this with trepidation. Pixar sequels have been a mixed bag, and in Finding Nemo I’d found Dory rather tiresome. But my fears were quickly allayed, as the story of Dory’s quest to find her long-lost parents is as heartwarming, funny, and inventive as you’d expect from a Pixar film. The blending of past and present (a common theme this year) is sublime. And the voice acting is a treat as well; Ellen DeGeneres makes Dory much more compelling (for me) this time around, and Ed O’Neill is a great cranky octopus. Just a delight all around.
And here, of all the documentaries I’ve seen this year, the absolute best. Because not only does it tell a compelling story, and not only does it tell an important story, but it tells it so perfectly. Watching Anthony Weiner self-destruct (and watching Huma Abedin react to his behavior) makes one at once cringe in embarrassment for his family and staff, weep for the genuine political talent lost, and stay absolutely riveted to the screen. There are no gimmicks, no narration (aside from a little talking-head footage with Weiner himself), just the skillfully assembled reality of a horrid situation.
- The Lobster
No film I’ve seen this year exceeds it, yet few films have proven harder for me to write about. Lanthimos and co-writer Efthymis Filippou skewer the madness of conformity (especially in the name of “love”) with their precisely distilled deadpan, yet they allow for just a hint of human warmth (like the kiwi scene) to leaven the tone of blackly comic horror. The direction and writing are just perfect, and the cast commit absolutely to the purity of Lanthimos’ style; Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz deserve considerable recognition. The ambiguous ending wasn’t necessarily the best choice, but I accept it.
And that does it. The seventh part of this series, comprising the films I have yet to see, will go up right around the end of January. Until then, I’ll be watching (and when possible, re-watching) films and giving my thoughts on the awards race.