A final awards season observation before we flush this turd of a year down the toilet: Critics groups and other end-of-year awards-giving organizations don’t honor the best so much as they honor the most. In other words, the award for best acting is really an award for the most acting (thus the sliding scale of difficulty that tends to reward physical transformations, physical hardships, accents, portrayals of diseases and public figures, etc.), the award for best writing awards the most writing, best picture the most picture, best editing the most editing, and so on. Of course, there are also working critics who would argue that the best editing is the kind that you don’t even notice, to which I can only reply: What in the serious f? Are you literally sleeping through these movies, you inveterate hacks? Notice editing, goddammit! Do it! NOW!
Saturday, November 26
The Handmaiden ***REWATCH*** (Dir.: Park Chan-Wook; GRADE: A-)
No real change from my rapturous review of a couple months ago, although it was fun seeing how the plot pieces all clicked into place this time. As I said back in October, the aesthetics here are flawless, but the important thing is that they all pour back into the story, characters and themes. Nothing is wasted or gratuitous, not even the octopus.
American Honey ***REWATCH*** (Dir.: Andrea Arnold; GRADE: A-)
Another rewatch as my stack of screeners started thinning out, and once again no real change from my original review, just another affirmation that this film was designed to be compatible with my operating system. Equal parts cultural anthropology, never-ending party, social critique and waking daydream. The ensemble cast of the year.
Sunday, November 27
Toni Erdmann (Dir.: Maren Ade; GRADE: B+)
Do not open until 2017.
Loving (Dir.: Jeff Nichols; GRADE: C)
Monday, November 28
Holy Hell (Dir.: Will Allen; GRADE: C+)
A documentary about a magnetically slimy cult leader made by the person with perhaps the least critical distance – one of his most devoted followers. Fairly fascinating in a purely voyeuristic sense, but the utter lack of rational perspective is infuriating.
Wednesday, November 30
The BFG (Dir.: Steven Spielberg; GRADE: B)
A solid and unfairly dismissed children’s fantasy from Spielberg – it’s a messy and weird stargazer where most movies of its kind are blunt and safe, although even I could have done without the extended dinner sequence in the final stretch (we get it, we get it…the giant is comically large).
Don’t Breathe (Dir.: Fede Alvarez; GRADE: B)
Effective and atmospheric horror, as a gang of callow Detroit thieves invade the house of the wrong sight-challenged sadist. Keeps pushing forward and mutating when most films would nestle into their own unambitious concepts, although considering some of the second-half twists, you certainly wouldn’t call this a progressive portrayal of the blind. Quite the opposite, in fact!
Thursday, December 1
Paterson (Dir.: Jim Jarmusch; GRADE: B)
Do not open until Xmas. Check out my updated Jim Jarmusch Power Rankings HERE.
Friday, December 2
Arrival (Dir.: Denis Villeneuve; GRADE: C+)
More sustained, thudding portent from Villeneuve, closer to the tongue-clucking, two-and-a-half hour skull contusion of Prisoners than the comparatively focused and electric Sicario, with an ending that roots the entire film in a Bill & Ted concept of space-time. Note to makers of movies: please stop putting Jeremy Renner in things. He is awful.
A Monster Calls (Dir.: J.A. Bayona; GRADE: C+)
Do not open until Xmas.
Saturday, December 3
La La Land (Dir.: Damien Chazelle; GRADE: C+)
I get the feeling that Chazelle’s entire concept of classic cinema was gleaned from watching Chuck Workman montages, rather than the actual films. This would-be throwback offers all the exuberance and bright colors of an Old Navy ad, without any of the substance. Impossible to despise, and the leads have chemistry, but La La Land offers such a shallow, juvenile perspective on film musicals, on classic Hollywood, on Los Angeles, on artistic integrity, on dreams, on jazz, on love. I could go on, but why? You’re either gonna eagerly mainline this human-emoji daftness into your bloodstream or you aren’t.
Hacksaw Ridge (Dir.: Mel Gibson; GRADE: C)
Fuck Mel Gibson. That is all.
Sunday, December 4
Man Down (Dir.: Dito Montiel; GRADE: C+)
Monday, December 5
Hidden Figures (Dir.: Theodore Melfi; GRADE: B-)
Do not open until 2017.
Tuesday, December 6
Evolution (Dir.: Lucile Hadzihalilovic; GRADE: B-)
Always Shine (Dir.: Sophia Takal; GRADE: B)
An uneven but extremely promising weird-out from Takal, a prolific indie actress directing only her second feature. She also offers meaty roles to her lead actresses, although I was less enamored with Mackenzie Davis’ showy transformation than other critics.
Baden Baden (Dir.: Rachel Lang; GRADE: B-)
An airless, nearly Sundance-ready story of a post-collegiate slacker (Salomé Richard) falling back into bad habits and bad relationships while doing piss-poor repair work on her grandmother’s bathroom. Lang’s debut feature is the final chapter in a trilogy that started with two short films I haven’t seen, so it’s possible I’m missing some key context. Either way, this is extremely minor, but Lang still shows an intriguing eye and ear.
Saturday, December 10
Fences (Dir.: Denzel Washington; GRADE: B)
Reviewed in the 12/22 issue of the SN&R.
Moana (Dir.: Ron Clements, Don Hall, John Musker and Chris Williams; GRADE: B)
Utterly delightful, if you don’t mind the usual limp Disney spirituality and shameless cultural appropriations (not to mention Lin-Manuel Miranda’s shockingly insipid lyrics and melodies). Funny and thrilling, not to mention self-aware in the mold of Hercules and The Emperor’s New Groove, and so much more satisfying than Disney’s more celebrated 2016 release Zootopia.
And that’s a wrap for the 2016 movie year! As of December 21, I watched 354 movies in the calendar year of 2016, and 205 of them were list/ballot-eligible releases. That’s a lot, but there were still many well-reviewed and/or intriguing films that I failed to watch before deadline, including:
Silence; (GRADE: A-) Allied; Miss Sloane; The Founder; Gold; Patriots Day; (GRADE: B) Rules Don’t Apply; (GRADE: B) Passengers; (GRADE: B-) The Light Between Oceans; (GRADE: C-) Newtown; Voyage of Time; The Age of Shadows; The Alchemist Cookbook; Closet Monster; Creepy; The Eyes of My Mother; The Innocents; Happy Hour; London Road; One More Time with Feeling; Operation Avalanche; (GRADE: C) Under the Shadow; and many more.
Still, I did as thorough a job as possible catching up with 2016 releases, and even though I felt like it was a down year at the movies overall, I’m happy with my top 10 list. And yet it’s still quite possible that an even better top 10 could have been pulled just from that above list of unseen titles. It’s really quite humbling, and an important reminder that no matter how much we think we know, there is always so much left to learn. Onward to 2017!