When I first heard about Hidden Figures, I had high hopes: Hollywood making a movie about black women is rare enough. To make a movie about nerdy black women is incredible. (Though 2016 produced at least two such films: don't miss Queen of Katwe.) But then I saw the trailer, and it looked pretty corny. But then I started hearing from everyone about how great the… read more!
Movies Released in 2016 (in alphabetical order)
This semi-abstract portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy during the immediate aftermath of her husband's assassination is more a showcase for Natalie Portman than anything else. However, history buffs – specifically, Kennedy fetishists – will surely be drawn in. Chilean director Larraín likes taking risks with format: his breakthrough feature No, set in the late '80s, was shot on '80s-era video. This time he and his DP… read more!
Although Terrence Malick's following has dwindled to a few diehard film critics and movie geeks, the writer/director keeps churning out features in this fertile third act of his career. They all look great, thanks to Emmanuel Lubezki's flawless cinematography, Jack Fisk's rich production design, and the most attractive actors Hollywood has to offer. But Malick's increasing disinterest in narrative and his fondness for stilted voiceovers have turned… read more!
Laika, the Portland, Oregon animation house, returns with another stunning stop-motion beauty. But as with their previous outings Coraline, ParaNorman, and The Boxtrolls, their odd blend of kiddie movie and dark fantasy left me wondering just who their audience is supposed to be. I find myself lauding the studio for its commitment to quality while being increasingly annoyed by their insistence on dumbing down their… read more!
From its opening number through much of the film, I have to say that I liked La La Land very much, but I could not love it. Writer/director Damien Chazelle caused such a stir with his incendiary first feature Whiplash that, when I heard he was following it up with an old-fashioned musical about Los Angeles, I couldn't wait. And who can resist the pairing… read more!
Yorgos Lanthimos may be the spiritual child of David Lynch, but the Greek filmmaker has already proven to have a unique, distinctive voice. The Lobster, his English language debut, is reminiscent of his earlier Dogtooth – the only one of the director's features I've seen – in that it infuses an obviously absurdist setup with bone-dry humor and punctuates it with unexpected outbursts of gruesome… read more!
Non-prolific writer/director Whit Stillman – this is only his fifth feature in 26 years – tackles his first screenplay based on previous material, in this case the Jane Austen novella Lady Susan. It's a quirky choice, but perhaps predictably so, considering the filmmaker's reputation. Heaven knows, Austen's six novels have been bled dry by screen adaptations. Yet her sole work of short fiction has never before been filmed. Stillman, whose own modern-day… read more!
Many moons ago, I went to CalArts with The Love Witch's creator Anna Biller. Although nobody makes films like she does, her latest feature displays a loyalty to that '90s CalArts sensibility that I remember so well, and I found it oddly touching. Even Love Witch cinematographer M. David Mullen – Biller does pretty much everything except shoot her films – graduated from CalArts… read more!
The title may suggest a generic romance, but Loving actually refers to Richard and Mildred Loving, the real-life interracial couple whose 1958 marriage was illegal in the state of Virginia (and nearly two dozen other states with anti-miscegenation laws), and who fought for years to have said law overturned. It's always ironic to see foreign actors cast as historic Americans – Australian Joel Edgerton plays Richard; Irish-Ethiopian Ruth Negga plays… read more!
This is the third feature film from not-especially-prolific writer/director Kenneth Lonergan, following the lovely You Can Count on Me and the overrated Margaret. Like its predecessors, Manchester by the Sea explores what happens to ordinary people after tragedy strikes. It does so with honesty and a scruffy, foul-mouthed grace, even if its story unfurls over familiar ground. Casey Affleck is Lee, a taciturn Boston janitor… read more!
Indie Stalwart Jeff Nichols, who's written and directed a series of dark, moody features (Mud, Take Shelter, Shotgun Stories), reteams with his regular star Michael Shannon for an ambitious film that blends standard family-on-the-run drama with bald-faced science fiction. The results are intriguing and original, if not totally successful. Midnight Special concerns an 8-year-old boy named Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) whose father (Shannon), along with an old… read more!
Although 2016 kicked off with the underwhelming The Birth of a Nation poised as the "great black hope" of indie film, this gentle drama about a closeted gay man – showing him as a child, then as a teenager, and finally as an adult – came out of nowhere to blow everyone away, subverting all preconceptions about both black and gay cinema in the process. Moonlight's wisp… read more!
Recently I saw a hugely entertaining documentary called The Bandit, about the making of Smokey and the Bandit. With much of its footage from 1976 and 1977, it practically reeks of the '70s, all stale cigarettes and Aqua Velva. It's a perfect depiction of what people looked like back then, how they spoke, what they wore, and where they lived. Even aside from The… read more!
If you're put off by the thought of obese naked women dancing around in slow motion, you'd best skip the opening credits of Nocturnal Animals. Beats me, though, if this sequence has anything to do with the film's themes; the women are merely part of an art installation overseen by Los Angeles gallery owner Susan (Amy Adams), filthy rich but stuck in a loveless marriage.… read more!
After years of films containing varying degrees of violence and/or cynicism, writer/director Jim Jarmusch returns to his mellow-hipster roots with Paterson. Though the rigid formalism of Stranger Than Paradise and Down by Law has long since been abandoned, this is still vintage Jarmusch, with its lackadaisical pacing, its focus on the "unimportant" moments of real life, its love of a well-timed fade-to-black, and… read more!
When you sit down to watch Queen of Katwe, you are first greeted by the Walt Disney animated logo, in all its sparkly glory, while cheerful African music plays in lieu of "When You Wish Upon a Star". And at that moment, you might think, My God, this movie is going to be pandering and horrible. Instead, what follows is a nicely restrained biopic about… read more!
If The Force Awakens was a shallow exercise in nostalgia, and the George Lucas-directed prequels were abominable CGI showcases, then Rogue One is the first Star Wars movie to feel truly connected to the original trilogy, especially the 1977 feature that started it all. Part of this is by design: the bulk of Rogue One takes place mere days before Star Wars, so unlike the… read more!
Warren Beatty has led one of the most charmed lives in Hollywood, and does not need my pity. Yet pity him I did when I saw that his long-gestating passion project, a biographical fantasy about Howard Hughes, opened to an abysmal $667 per-screen average, making it the biggest flop of 2016. (Why it even opened on over 2,000 screens, instead of… read more!
I'm happily surprised that such a low-key biopic like Sully would debut as a #1 film. Perhaps everybody just felt like going out and seeing a good movie. Although the 2009 "Miracle on the Hudson" incident, in which Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger safely landed a damaged passenger jet on the Hudson River, seems tailor made for the big screen – you've got a… read more!
Toni Erdmann's premise is simple: Ines (Sandra Hüller) is a thirtysomething workaholic whose father Winfried (Peter Simonischek) is a practical joker. Concerned that his daughter is losing her soul to her job, Winfried dons a fright wig and some ridiculous false teeth, pretends to be a freelance consultant named "Toni Erdmann", and insinuates himself into Ines's work life – all to inject some humor into her… read more!