These six exceptional films will be the ones that I remember the most from 2016.
Amy Adams is an expert linguist charged with translating the strange visual language of aliens who have set up camp in strategic spots around the world. The film is about trust and communication (and also about the nature of time), but director Denis Villeneuve is just as interested in how we earthlings interact, or don’t, with one another. The thoughtful screenplay by Eric Heisserer is given further luster by Villeneuve’s deliberate pace and Bradford Young’s muted but effective cinematography.
This foul-mouthed superhero comedy seems out of place with the more somber fare on this list, but Deadpool manages to re-charge the often-tiresome Marvel canon by simultaneously embracing the excesses of the genre while also mocking them. Ryan Reynolds finally discovers a vehicle for his off-kilter sensibility, and is ably assisted by Morena Baccharin, T.J. Miller, and a terrific effects team. The self-referential and hilarious credits and the obligatory Marvel “Easter egg” might be worth the rental fee by themselves.
This Korean mind-game of a movie quite consciously evokes the mysterious narrative of Kurosawa’s classic Rashomon with its labyrinthine plot. But it also defies its audience’s expectations of stately Asian cinema with a story of intrigue, trickery, romance, and a bit of steamy sex. A young girl is sent to become a servant of a sheltered, perhaps unstable noblewoman. Whenever you think you have this story figured out though, it shifts…slyly, delightfully.
Hell or High Water
Chris Pine and Ben Foster play hapless brothers who resort to crime to save their debt-ridden family ranch. Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham are the wily Texas Rangers tracking them down. As the brothers’ circumstances become known, their crimes become more understandable, and viewers find themselves torn between the sympathetic criminals and the relentless arm of the law. British director David Mackenzie intuitively captures the laconic, even fatalistic tone of this West Texas thriller.
La La Land
Writer-director Damien Chazelle, who stunned the film world in 2014 with his debut feature, Whiplash, has re-imagined the movie musical with this winsome story about two young idealistic artists (he a jazz pianist, she an actress) trying to make it in Hollywood. Utterly charming and unabashedly romantic, La La Land is a candy-colored love song to dreamers of all types, featuring winning performances by its stars, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Even the most cynical viewers would find them, and this film, hard to resist.
Manchester by the Sea
The movies would have you believe that every crisis in life can be overcome, usually with a profound emotional speech accompanied by a rousing swell of strings on the soundtrack. Kenneth Lonergan’s quietly powerful Manchester by the Sea, by contrast, maintains that once some people are broken by life, they stay broken. Casey Affleck, in the performance of his career, plays Lee, a man debilitated by past tragedy who must face those demons when he is left to be the guardian of his teenage nephew after his brother’s untimely death. A heartachingly sad and indelibly human film.
Honorable mention: Moonlight, Zootopia, Love & Friendship, Moana and The Lobster.
And a shot…coming to Theatre N in December.
Denial Screening Jan. 20-22
Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson and Timothy Spall star in this film based on a true story. Scholar and professor Deborah Lipstadt (Weisz) characterizes amateur British historian David Irving as a Holocaust denier in a well-regarded essay. When he sues her for libel in 1996 under English law, she and her legal team must prove the truth of Nazi atrocities against the Jews. Interestingly, much of the film’s dialogue was taken directly from court transcripts. Fairly subdued and straightforward as a narrative, the film is still a powerful reminder of the depravities of which humans are capable, as well as of their ability to conveniently forget past ugliness. For a full Theatre N schedule and more information, go to theatren.com.