It has been awhile, and at the end of the holiday season no less! Gone with the festivities, the days off, and the indigestion, but at the very least, there was plenty of time to catch up with some of the great films released over the year. Well, hypothetically speaking. The big downside this year was that so many films like Phantom Thread, Call Me By Your Name, The Post, and Paddington 2, are not reaching Orlando until well into January, which is disappointing. What’s the point of even having an end of doing a top list or retrospective when release dates are this arbitrary, and where’s my Paddington 2!? Granted, this problem is nothing new as every year so many great films get little or sometimes no chance to screen here in Florida. So as a fun experiment, instead of catching up on the 2017 releases, I spent much of my holiday catching up with some of the films I missed in 2016 and review those instead.
Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women is a beautifully measured anthology about the lives of… certain women who live around a small town in Montana. This includes Laura Dern; an insurance lawyer who deals with a lost cause, Michelle Williams; a mom building a house, and newcomer Lily Gladstone; a horse wrangler that is smitten with a teacher (played by Kristen Stewart). Kelly Reichardt directs the film in a manner similar to Andrei Tarkovsky and Jane Campion; the film is slow, nuanced, but every moment onscreen is engrossing and rich with empathy. The repetition of viewing Gladstone spreading hay, grooming her horses, every day reveals not only the hard work needed to do her job but also the loneliness of it all. Reichardt finds poetry and tragedy within the daily routines of her characters with an entrancing grace.
Furthermore, and this may sound like a backhanded compliment, but Certain Women is one of the most vividly brown films that I have ever seen. Montana in this film is a decaying autumn of a state with its rundown hotels, muddy snowfields, and dirty leather jackets. Everything hints at a world on the cusp of dying out but Reichardt finds beauty in people striving to live on the land.
Things to Come
When a film examine topics like philosophy, divorce, and parental death, it is easy for a story to fall into a pit of despairing melodrama, thankfully Things to Come—which goes for the whole trifecta—does not. The film is about a philosophy professor named Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert), who suffers through a couple major tragedies, but the film is less about the external conflict and more about her embracing the absurdity of it all. Director Mia Hansen Løve finds great humor and pathos in clumsy moments like when Nathalie fishes out a reusable grocery bag after accidentally throwing it away with a bouquet of flowers, in a fit of rage. It is hard to think straight on a bad day, but Nathalie is not so hopeless as to throw away a decent bag. This leads to Nathalie finding solace in her philosophy and begins moving on. So what if she is alone? At least she is free and healthy. It almost makes too much sense that Isabelle Huppert plays Nathalie, she always performs with such understated boldness and wit; it is like the character and actor are cut from the same cloth. Huppert carries the viewer through this film with unmatched confidence and by the time the plot reaches the lush fresh countryside, everything clicks together, and one is at peace.
The Love Witch
A Technicolor horror throwback about a witch who finds, loves, and destroys her suitors with love magic? Sign me the heck up! Like a Powell and Pressburger film if the duo went on a binge on Hammer horror films and mushrooms; The Love Witch is delightfully a mad showcase of style and an unflinching feminist tale of finding power in femininity. Director, writer, editor, set decorator, and costume designer Anna Biller made one of the most singular and excitingly auteur films of 2016, if not the decade. Double-bill this with Daisies that party will be talk of the week.
A boxing match, postwar Bosnia, a midwife assisting birth, a mother with Alzheimer’s disease, these are among the many, many moments documented by Kirsten Johnson in her sweeping and personal collage documentary. The film itself is a revealing anthology of people living through conflicts of various forms but what makes Cameraperson so unique is how revealing it is of the person behind the camera. The bulk of this film is made of unedited clips from dozens of documentaries (i.e Citizenfour, The Oath, and Derrida) photographed by Kirsten Johnson and throughout the film we hear her work behind the camera. We hear her talking to her directors about coverage, her reaction to a kid talking about their eye injury, and sometimes she is alone, outside in the cold, and the only way to know she is there is when she sneezes. With these simple details, it subtly reveals the physical, psychological, and ethical tolls Johnson goes through on a routine basis and also why this job is so important for her. It sounds like a dull avant-garde piece, and while it certainly is avant-garde, but dull it is definitely not. Do not let this film slip away.
Set to some ominous music, The Wailing begins with a verse from Luke 24:37-39 “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” and it only gets cheerier from there. The movie proper begins like a dark comedy as Jong-goo, a shlubby small-town cop, ineptly deals with villagers who are infected with a rabid zombie-like disease. It is hilarious, but it stops playing like director Na Hong-jin’s pseudo-sequel to Shaun of The Dead once Jong-goo’s daughter gets infected. The plot does not merely take a sharp turn so much as it evolves into one of the most blasphemous horror epics since The Exorcist. The Wailing is a lot to take in, brutal in every sense of the word and it haunts long after it ends.
Lets end on a high note with the other instant classic musical of 2016. Sing Street is an adorable coming of age tale about a boy who in an effort to impress a girl starts a new wave band so that they can make a music video. But much to everyone’s excitement and horror, the band is actually pretty good. In fact, they are kind of amazing. They are so unreal that it could only work in cinema. Set in the 80s, Sing Street plays very much like that decade’s many jukebox dance-film/musicals like Dirty Dancing and Footloose, but has the tremendous advantage of having original songs that transcend their pretense as a throwback. Sing Street teases many 80s trends, a running gag of how the band dresses up like specific one-hit wonders whilst the bandleader talks about being original is hilarious, but this films has nary a cynical bone inside itself. Sing Street is shamelessly nostalgic, shamelessly romantic, shamelessly crass, but who cares? This film is the dance party that the 80s deserves. So check it out!
So there you have it. Hopefully something in here peaks your interest and maybe by February I will have something that resembles a top-10 film list for 2017.