Honorable Mention: Manchester By the Sea
What a laugh riot. It’s a satire of superhero movies, and like the best satires, it works as an example of the genre it is satirizing. Like *Scream*, apart from making fun of horror movies, also functions as a genuinely scary horror movie. The writers should get most of the credit for *Dead Pool*, it was brilliant and all kinds of wrong. Can’t wait for the sequel.
What a beautiful, heart-breaking, breathtaking, jewel of a film. Understated, intense, masterful. Incredible expressiveness with very few words spoken from the three actors sharing the lead role (you see the main character as a boy, as a teenager, and as an adult). Easily the most beautiful movie of the year.
The way I see it, there are three components that make dramatic writing effective (whether it be play, movie, TV, radio, whatever): construction of the plot, character development, and dialogue. *Fences* clobbers all three areas, what a masterpiece. I SO wish I had seen it onstage with Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, I’m sure it was incredible. Washington directed the film, and it’s a little wonky at first. I was aware of the camera movements, as in, “Now I’m showing you a reaction shot of this guy laughing,” that kind of thing. That’s never a good feeling, as an audience member. But either it got better or I got used to it, that only bothered me at first. I have to keep reminding myself that Washington gave a great performance, because Viola Davis absolutely walks away with the movie, turning in a performance of extraordinary power.
It had a little bit of a paint-by-numbers quality: insert touching moment with children here, insert withering moment with white man here, insert humanizing of white man here, that kind of thing. But it was never cliché and never felt tired. The movie was lifted by the strength of the performances and especially by the strength of the story. What an amazing story. It’s a Triumph of the Human Spirit movie, and you know how I feel about those - - but I really loved this one.
The new Almodóvar movie, one of his very best, a masterpiece. It’s the only movie of his that has no trace of camp and next to no LGBT content - - and yet we are unmistakably in Almodóvarlandia. This movie had the most startling moment in any movie this year, a moment of transformation that was done with such simplicity and grace, it literally took my breath away.
Manchester By the Sea
What a lovely, unique movie. I can’t think of another movie that’s so gentle and quiet but also so powerful. Great performances by everyone and so brilliantly written and directed. It made me feel like I need to give *Margaret* another try, the previous movie by writer/director Kenneth Lonergan. I found that movie heavy and boring, never a good combo.
Best Cameo, Female
I was sure that the great Leslie Uggmans had this in the bag with her delightful cameo in *Deadpool*. But without a doubt, it has to go to Joan Collins in *Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie.* Cameo of the MILLENIUM! Worth seeing the whole movie.
Best Cameo, Male
Matthew Broderick in *Manchester By the Sea.* It’s a small part and it could have been played by nearly anyone but I like that it was played by him.
Remembrance of Movies Past
Remember *Baby Boom*? It’s a movie from 1987 starring Diane Keaton as a tightly wound, highly driven, shoulder-padded New York City career woman. She inherits a baby from a distant cousin and high jinx ensue! Keaton is at her best in this movie, and the supporting cast is stellar: Sam Shepard, Harold Ramis, Sam Wanamaker, James Spader, Mary Gross, and a very young Chris Noth in a tiny part. The “having it all” content is a little dated (or is it?), but the movie is full of charm. It’s available streaming for members of Amazon Prime!
Movie That Needs To Be Made
The April 11, 2016 issue of the New Yorker had a fascinating article by Gay Talese about a man in Colorado who bought a motel and renovated the attic to allow him to spy on his guests from above, without them knowing. It would make a great Brian de Palma movie, he could make liberal use of his split screen technique (of which he is the master).
This just in: the movie is in pre-production! It’s being directed by Sam Mendes. He’ll do a good job, but it won’t have the oomph that de Palma would give it.
*The Beguiled* - - the next Sofia Coppola, about a Union soldier being held captive in a Confederate girl boarding school. Starring Elle Fanning, Kirsten Dunst, Nicole Kidman, and Colin Farrell.
*Isle of Dogs* - - the next Wes Anderson. The usual suspects: Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Frances MacDormand, F. Murray Abraham, Bob Balaban. New to the franchise: Scarlett Johansson, Bryan Cranston, Greta Gerwig, Liev Schreiber, Courtney B. Vance. And most dazzling of all, the one and only Miss Yoko Ono! They’re all credited as “voice,” so methinks this must be an animated movie or similar. Possibly about dogs.
*The Family* - - the next Mary Harron, about the Manson family!
*Last Flag Flying* - - the next Richard Linklater, with Steve Carell, Lawrence Fishburne, and the inevitable Bryan Cranston.
*Happy End* - - the next Michael Haneke movie (*Caché,* *The White Ribbon,* *Amour*), starring Isabelle Huppert and Jean-Louis Tritignant.
*Frantz* - - Richard, Karen, and I saw a preview for this when we saw *Julieta.* It’s directed by François Ozon, who did *8 Women,* *Swimming Pool,* etc.
Most Deserving of a Comeback
I feel funny giving this award to an actor who’s only 42, but what happened to Drew Barrymore? She’s done a little TV, and three movies that I didn’t see in the last five years. *Whip It* was so strong, and she directed that, too.
Viva La Diva
Laura Linney in *Nocturnal Animals.* A tiny role, but easily the best thing in the movie. She played Amy Adams’s mother, and though it’s not biologically possible (Adams is 43, Linney is 53), with that wig and that force of character, you totally believe it. Let’s not forget that Angela Lansbury was only THREE years older than Laurence Harvey when she played his mother in *The Manchurian Candidate,* the Viva La Diva to end all divas.
I hate to say it, but the *Absolutely Fabulous* movie gets the Nice Try award. It reminded me of some of the recent Woody Allen movies, because I was laughing out of a sense of loyalty, not really because I thought what was happening was funny. There were many things to like, but the whole enterprise was somewhat flat. I think a big part of the problem is the absence of laughter - - the TV show was filmed before a live studio audience (as they used to say on *Laverne and Shirley*), and though I’m sure the laughter was amped up with a laugh track, it makes a big difference to be laughing along with the audience, rather than manufacturing all of that laughter yourself. They had the same issue with the *Gilligan’s Island* reunion specials.
*31*, the latest bloodbath from horror master Rob Zombie. This is the man who brought us *House of 1,000 Corpses,* how could I miss his latest movie? It was a cheap, fun, old school horror movie. Would love a sequel.
How Could I Have Missed It?
Richard and I watched *Humoresque* with our friend Dennis. It’s a Joan Crawford epic from 1946, also with John Garfield. What a glorious movie! High camp at times, and some great bits of crackling dialogue (Clifford Odets was one of the screenwriters), but also genuinely moving. It’s the story of a concert violinist, and the music is used to tell the story, always a thrill.
Break-Out Performance, Female
I really hated *Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them* (it gets my Drek award this year, see below), but Katherine Waterston was so good in it. She first came to my attention in the Glorious Mess of 2014, *Inherent Vice.* In both movies she has a quiet power. I’m thrilled to see that she’s in the next *Alien* movie.
Break-Out Performance, Male
Simon Helberg in *Florence Foster Jenkins.* It takes real chutzpah to steal a movie from Meryl Streep! Of course I love him on *The Big Bang Theory,* and it was a treat to see him in a movie, and doing such a marvelous job. He said it was a treat to do something different with his hair, and to wear something besides a turtleneck.
The opening credits to *Deadpool* are hilarious, and perfectly set the wacky, snarky tone for the movie.
Five Celebrity Death Double-Headers
Carrie Fisher (12/27/16) and Debbie Reynolds (12/28/16).
Farah Fawcett and Michael Jackson (6/25/09).
Michelangelo Antonioni and Ingmar Bergman (7/30/07).
Milton Berle, Dudley Moore, and Billy Wilder (3/27/02).
Orson Welles and Yul Brynner (10/10/85).
Please note: Mother Teresa died six days after Princess Diana. I seem to remember it being the same day…
*Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them*. I hated this movie. It was coy and smug.
*The Dressmaker.* Richard loved the book, I couldn’t quite get into it, but I enjoyed the movie. Kate Winslet is fabulous, and what a treat to see Judy Davis chewing up the scenery again.
*Florence Foster Jenkins* was delightful. Meryl, of course, can do no wrong. It was a treat to see Hugh Grant looking his age, and looking fine.
I liked *Arrival*, and even more the second time. Incredible sound design, and a unique (in my experience) narrative twist. A stellar performance by Amy Adams, who appeared to be channeling the spirit of Liv Ullmann throughout. Never a bad thing. I was a little puzzled by the alien spaceship, which looked like a giant burned shortbread cookie, but hey, I was able to roll with it.
*Nocturnal Animals.* I was interested in this because I liked Tom Ford’s first movie a lot, but this one didn’t seem as special. *A Serious Man* felt like an exercise in style, and Ford used the gleaming beauty on the surface of the movie to express the hollowness within. I half-expected the ending credits to say, “A Serious Man. The new fragrance by Tom Ford.” With *Nocturnal Animals*, I felt like he was trying to make a real movie, and he added elements of violence and intense drama to plant his flag as a Serious Director. It didn’t really work. I will see his next movie, but I hope it’s better than this one.
*La La Land.* The previews looked so promising, but it was not a success. I sat there, wishing I liked it more, feeling bad that I didn’t like it more. This is not a pleasant feeling to inspire in an audience member. The movie had the same issue as the Scorcese-directed *New York, New York*: it wanted to be both a normal realistic movie and a phony baloney Hollywood musical. That’s a big divide, and good luck crossing it.
*Lion.* A beautiful movie, heart-breaking. It had a whiff of a Lifetime TV Movie, but not in a bad way. The little boy who plays the main character as a boy is incredible, he is the heart of the movie.
*Elle.* A rape comedy! Only the French would see that as a viable genre. Isabelle Huppert is always fearless, and she is especially fearless in this movie. I guess I’m glad I saw it, but I did not enjoy it as much as the rest of the audience. Maybe that says something about me, but more likely it says something about the audience at the Angelika.
I guess Diane Keaton’s stock is high with me this year - - my Guilty Pleasure (another movie streaming on Amazon) is *The First Wives’ Club.* I quote this movie at least once a month. It’s not the greatest, but it tickles me. Fab performances by Goldie Hawn and Bette Midler, and a cameo at the end by the one and only Ivana Trump!
On Second Thought
I was crazy for *Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery* when it came out, I saw it at least twice in the theater and many more times on (ahem) videotape. I watched it again recently and it just doesn’t hold up. There are lots of funny moments but on the whole it lacks fizz. I will not be rewatching either of the sequels.
New Category: Best Use of a Pop Song
Of course I’m wired to notice the use of music in movies, and as much as I love a well-done specially-composed score, I’m almost more impressed with the clever use of a pop song. The most striking example I can come up with is from Lars von Trier’s sadistic masterpiece *Dogville:* the underscoring between scenes was Vivaldi, and after a long final scene with no music at all, von Trier had David Bowie’s “Young Americans” playing during the closing credits. That opening drum solo was like a hatchet being thrown from the screen. It was nothing short of shattering.
The award for this year goes to *Moonlight* and the song “Hello, Stranger,” which, in my opinion, should be called “Seems Like a Mighty Long Time.” A beautiful, touching song that greatly enriched the emotional content of the scene. The most beautiful moment in the most beautiful movie of the year.