Thursday, February 23, 2017

Top Twenty Movies of 2016, Part 2 (#10-1)

And then there were ten. I've tried my best not to squawk about it too much over the course of the year, but I stand by the opinion that 2016 was not a vintage year for film. I do, however, think it may be the year wherein the importance of film (and our cultural sphere, in general) was clearer than ever.
Many might dismiss the pageantry of awards seasons and the minutia of 'Top Ten' lists as utterly frivolous in a year with so much noisy social and political unrest, with much larger (and disheartening) things happening outside the cinema bubble. But such tumultuous times are when we should cherish the movies even more.

The right movie at the right time can have tremendous power; It can soothe the vexed mind with magical escapism, it can educate by giving exposure to unseen people or issues, and it can provide connection to worlds we may never have known we could connect with. These ten movies do all that and then some. Congratulations to them, especially the top five, which represent my personal nominations for Best Picture of 2016.

#10: LOVE & FRIENDSHIP (dir. Whit Stillman)
Austen brings the wit and Whit brings the Austen in this hilarious parlour farce of buttoned-down niceties and social machinations. Stillman's translation of the epistolary novel Lady Susan represents perhaps the craftiest piece of adaptive writing enjoyed by cineastes this year, dressed to the nines and cannily performed by a sharp-tongued cast. Would that all dry humour were this flavourful.

#9: HELL OR HIGH WATER (dir. David Mackenzie)
This taught neo-Western that examines the many faces of oppression was one of 2016's biggest art house sleeper hits, though to label entertainment this watchable as “art house” is a stretch. Much is owed to the quartet of engaging performances at its centre and to Taylor Sheridan's keen screenplay, which works as both political parable and semi-satirical dissection of masculine power dynamics.

#8: LION (dir. Garth Davis)
It's not the soft lob it looks like on paper. Davis and writer Luke Davies distill the thematic substance of this inspiring true story about connecting with one's roots, and channel it into a graceful, focused two-act drama. Much of it plays like a stream-of-consciousness between reality and memory, evocatively realized through a rich collage of image, sound, and a lovely emotive score.

#7: THE HANDMAIDEN (dir. Park Chan-wook)
This kinky Korean melodrama – or 'erotic thriller', or 'dark comedy', or 'historic crime caper', or 'Asian lesbian romance' if you honestly think you can peg it into a single genre – is nothing if not absorbing. The sumptuous production design and costumes attract our gaze, but its Park's bold stylistic flourishes, shifting narrative perspectives and sly sense of humour that hold it.

#6: KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS (dir. Travis Knight)
Laika draws on the tradition of classical samurai morality tales (à la Kurosawa) to deliver a hero's journey brimming with magic and adventure, but tempered with a strong undercurrent of melancholy. Look beyond its magnificent Oscar-worthy visuals and you'll find a touching fable about the strength we draw from family – present or departed – and the importance of seeing humanity in a savage world.

#5: 13TH (dir. Ava DuVernay)
From what could have been a painfully academic exercise, DuVernay sculpts a vital essay on the systematic incarceration of African Americans that's both engaging and enraging. Though basically a parade of talking heads, their insights are punctuated by framing, musical and graphic choices that are deliberate and artful. This is what skilled documentary filmmaking looks like. Essential viewing.

#4: ARRIVAL (dir. Denis Villeneuve)
Science-fiction for the thinking moviegoer – superbly adapted by Eric Heisserer from a nebulous Ted Chiang novella – which voices the power of empathy and the value of communication in its own surreal, circular, beautiful language. It may favour the cerebral over the sentimental, but not at the expense of true emotion. With master of atmosphere Villeneuve pulling the strings, it's utterly hypnotic.

#3: 20TH CENTURY WOMEN (dir. Mike Mills)
I could bask for hours in the mellow, slightly psychedelic aura of this inviting slice of life, set in that forgotten era between the sexual revolution and the information age. Mills' welcomes us to get to know – if not fully understand – his characters, interpreted with naturalistic humour by the year's best ensemble.
The struggle to understand people is the most beautiful experience of this film.

#2: LA LA LAND (dir. Damien Chazelle)
Like an intoxicating riff on an old jazz standard, this unapologetic musical homage to the classic showbiz romance plays a familiar tune with a whole new set of notes. But it dwells high above mere pastiche. Shot, choreographed and edited with a dynamism and bold Technicolor palette that would make the likes of Busby Berkeley and Gene Kelly envious, it is a dazzling invention of pure cinema.

#1: MOONLIGHT (dir. Barry Jenkins)
A humanist triptych unlike any you've ever seen, built upon a triumvirate of achingly authentic performances (from Hibbert, Sanders & Rhodes), and accented by muted strokes of aural and visual expressionism. You needn't be black, or gay, or male to be moved by this stunning portrait on film; It's universality makes it all the more profound. It speaks to all, and at a time when all need to hear it.

Winners of my 2016 awards will be unveiled tomorrow. To recap, here are my nominees:

Best Picture
13th – Ava DuVernay, Spencer Averick, Howard Barish
20th Century Women – Mike Mills, Megan Ellison, Anne Carey, Youree Henley
Arrival – Denis Villeneuve, Dan Levine, Shawn Levy, David Linde, Aaron Ryder
La La Land – Damien Chazelle, Fred Berger, Gary Gilbert, Jordan Horowitz, Marc Platt
Moonlight – Barry Jenkins, Adele Romanski, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner

Best Director
La La Land – Damien Chazelle
Moonlight – Barry Jenkins
20th Century Women – Mike Mills
13th – Ava DuVernay
Arrival – Denis Villeneuve

Best Actor
Manchester by the Sea – Casey Affleck
The Lobster – Colin Farrell
Captain Fantastic – Viggo Mortensen
Moonlight – Trevante Rhodes
Fences – Denzel Washington

Best Actress
20th Century Women – Annette Bening
Elle – Isabelle Huppert
Loving – Ruth Negga
Jackie – Natalie Portman
The Edge of Seventeen – Hailee Steinfeld

Best Supporting Actor
Moonlight – Mahershala Ali
Love & Friendship – Tom Bennett
Hail, Caesar! – Alden Ehrenreich
A Bigger Splash – Ralph Fiennes
Queen of Katwe – David Oyelowo

Best Supporting Actress
Fences – Viola Davis
20th Century Women – Elle Fanning
20th Century Women – Greta Gerwig
Moonlight – Naomie Harris
Queen of Katwe – Lupita Nyong'o

Best Acting Ensemble
20th Century Women
Sing Street
The Witch

Best Original Screenplay
20th Century Women – Mike Mills
Hell or High Water – Taylor Sheridan
Jackie – Noah Oppenheim
The Lobster – Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou
Sing Street – John Carney, Simon Carmody

Best Adapted Screenplay
Arrival – Eric Heisserer
Lion – Luke Davies
Love & Friendship – Whit Stillman
Moonlight – Barry Jenkins
Silence – Jay Cocks, Martin Scorsese

Best Animated Feature
Kubo and the Two Strings – Travis Knight, Arianne Sutner
Moana – John Musker, Ron Clements, Osnat Shurer
The Red Turtle – Michael Dudok de Wit, Toshio Suzuki
Zootopia – Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Clark Spencer

Best Foreign Film
Elle – Paul Verhoeven, Saïd Ben Saïd, Michel Merkt
The Handmaiden – Park Chan-Wook, Lim Syd
The Salesman – Asghar Farhadi, Alexandre Mallet-Guy
Tanna – Martin Butler, Bentley Dean
Toni Erdmann – Maren Ade, Jonas Dornbach, Janine Jackowski, Michel Merkt

Best Documentary
13th – Ava DuVernay, Spencer Averick, Howard Barish
Cameraperson – Kirsten Johnson, Marilyn Ness
I Am Not Your Negro -- Raoul Peck, Rémi Grellety, Hébert Peck
Tower – Keith Maitland, Susan Thompson, Megan Gilbride
Weiner – Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg

Best Cinematography
Arrival – Bradford Young
La La Land – Linus Sandgren
The Light Between Oceans – Adam Arkapaw
Moonlight – James Laxton
Silence – Rodrigo Prieto

Best Editing
20th Century Women – Leslie Jones
Arrival – Joe Walker
Hell or High Water – Jake Roberts
La La Land – Tom Cross
Moonlight – Joi McMillon, Nat Sanders

Best Production Design
Hail, Caesar! – Jess Gonchor, Nancy Haigh, Dawn Swiderski
The Handmaiden – Ryu Seong-hee
Kubo and the Two Strings – Nelson Lowry, Jesse Gregg, Trevor Dalmer
Passengers – Guy Hendrix Dyas, Gene Serdena
The Witch – Craig Lathrop, Mary Kirkland, Andrea Kristof

Best Costume Design
Allied – Joanna Johnston
The Dressmaker – Marion Boyce, Margot Wilson
The Handmaiden – Cho Sang-Kyung
Kubo and the Two Strings – Deborah Cook
Live By Night – Jacqueline West

Best Original Score
Arrival – Jóhann Jóhannsson
La La Land – Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul
Lion – Dustin O'Halloran, Hauschka
Jackie – Mica Levi
Nocturnal Animals – Abel Korzeniowski

Best Adapted Score
The Lobster – Amy Ashworth
Love & Friendship – Mark Suozzo
Trolls – Justin Timberlake

Best Original Song
Letter To The Free” 13th – Common, Karriem Riggins, Robert Glasper
No Dames” Hail, Caesar! – Henry Krieger, Willie Reale, Chris Gattelli
Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” La La Land – Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul
Where You Are” Moana – Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa'i, Mark Mancina
Drive It Like You Stole It” Sing Street – Gary Clark

Best Sound Mixing
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi – Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush, Mac Ruth
Arrival – Bernard Gariépy Strobl, Claude La Haye
La La Land – Andy Nelson, Ai-Ling Lee, Nicholai Baxter, Steve A. Morrow
Lion – Robert Mackenzie, Steve Burgess, Nakul Kamte, Andrew Ramage
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – Christopher Scarabosio, David Parker, Stuart Wilson

Best Sound Editing
Arrival – Sylvain Bellemare, David Whitehead, Michelle Child
Deepwater Horizon – Wylie Stateman, Renée Tondelli
Hacksaw Ridge – Robert Mackenzie, Andy Wright
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – Christopher Scarabosio, Matthew Wood
The Shallows – Brandon Jones, Tobias Poppe

Best Visual Effects
Deepwater Horizon – Craig Hammack, Jason Snell, Jason Billington, Burt Dalton
Doctor Strange – Stephane Ceretti, Richard Bluff, Vincent Cirelli, Paul Corbould
Kubo and the Two Strings – Steve Emerson, Brad Schiff, Oliver Jones, Brian McLean
The Jungle Book – Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Dan Lemmon, Andrew R. Jones
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – John Knoll, Mohen Leo, Hal Hickel, Neil Corbould

Best Makeup & Hair
Florence Foster Jenkins – Daniel Phillips, J. Roy Helland
Hacksaw Ridge – Shane Thomas, Larry Van Duynhoven
The Handmaiden – Song Jong-Hee
Silence – Noriko Watanabe
Star Trek Beyond – Joel Harlow, Khank Trance, Richard Alonzo

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