Sunday, November 20, 2016

2016 in film (Part IX)

I'm going to start posting my mini reviews directly on this blog after this point, but still plan on compiling these every 10 new movies I see, because I love countdowns. Only a couple more months of this before my top 25 (not doing a top 50 again, that was torture) and a while series of other countdowns. I'm excited!

10. The Ones Below
Directed by David Farr

In the past week, I've watched a handful of movies from this year and not had time to write reviews for them all until now. Okay, that's a lie, I had time - I just didn't feel like writing. So I just added them to my watched list and decided I'd come back to them a litthe later. It's been maybe 5 days since I watched this, and I didn't remember it at all. I had to dig deep into my brain to remember what this movie even was. So yeah, it's not particularly thrilling. Everything about this movie is generic, all slowly building up to a punchline you should've seen coming within the first 20 minutes. Generic isn't necessarily bad, though, but this movie did nothing to overcome that flaw. It just didn't work in a lot of little ways, resulting in one boring-ass "horror thriller" that was neither horrifying nor thrilling.

9. 13th
Directed by Ava DuVernay

I can't really get behind bland documentaries that don't inform audiences as much as they pander to the demographic they're clearly aiming at pleasing. I've said it before, and I will stand by it: if you need to be told that racism is bad, you're crazy, and a movie that's sole purpose is to convince you of that fact clearly won't sway you. But let's take this no-brainer out of the equation and look at what works about this movie: there are a few moments where you might be surprised by small pieces of information. That's basically it. Reiteration of known facts doesn't make you genius, it just makes you a parrot; and this movie is a total parrot. When it isn't talking down to the audience, it's smothering it in half-baked thoughts and high-minded, hollow rhetoric. Informative documentaries should compel you, and this one did nothing but make me feel like I was watching a big budget middle school civil rights presentation. DuVernay, you know how to assemble a film, I'm just waiting for you to put one together that really hits the target instead of blindly flailing around, only barely making any semblance of a point.

8. Imperium
Directed by Daniel Ragussis

What makes this movie stand out? I don't have much of an answer here. It isn't particularly unique, the acting is solid but not spectacular, there are a few intense moments but not enough to make it solidly thrilling, and by the time the ending rolls around you're left thinking "oh, that's it, I guess". Daniel Radcliffe truly is one of the more talented actors under 30, and while he tries to make this movie work, it's nowhere near as compelling as it ought to be. The one thing that works well here is how the logic behind the racism of the subjects of the film is fleshed out, giving the audience a better understanding of this kind of thought. There are moments that become thought-provoking due to how well they justify racism, but the writing never follows up on these moments with anything particularly creative, so they ultimately aren't very effective. Pretty solid, but I'll stick with American History X if I really want to watch a great neo-nazi movie.

7. Certain Women
Directed by Kelly Reichardt

Told in three loosely connected stories, Certain Women is mostly compelling due to the performances. The first story revolves around Laura Dern with a highlight performance from Jared Harris (a personal favorite actor of mine) and is downplayed from being the explosive segment that it could have been, which ultimately helps make it more human and relatable. The second segment is easily the most forgettable, which is a shame due to the casting of Reichardt regular Michelle Williams, easily the most talented actress in the film. Part 3 is probably the most emotional, which features Lily Gladstone and Kristen Stewart, with Gladstone quietly stealing the show in her deeply lonely and sympathetic role. As a whole, this movie is very uneven due to the boring middle section, but with a strong opening and ending, it still manages to be pretty solid.

6. In A Valley Of Violence
Directed by Ti West

Ti West is one of the greatest contemporary horror directors, so it came as a shock that his latest effort would be a fairly straight forward revenge western. That being said, his dark sense of humor and ability to pull of a slow-burn are still obviously intact, giving this basic story an edge to it that most other westerns simply don't have. A more traditional western would've made Travolta's character into a horrible villain, had the revenge plot centered more around a human character, and probably made Hawke's character into a little less of a high-strung coward. Also, the finale wouldn't have been nearly as funny as this. All-in-all, I want to see West return to horror after this, but that didn't mean this wasn't a really fun movie, especially seeing as how it was the first ever Ti Western. Also, the dog was amazing. They need to make Oscars for dogs. They could call them Rovers or something.

5. The Handmaiden
Directed by Chan-wook Park

Doesn't quite live up to the overwhelming hype (movies with lesbian sex scenes tend to get a lot of praise........I cannot imagine why), but that doesn't take away from how effective this is as a dark and complex psychological drama. As is always the case in Chan-wook Park films, the visuals are pretty incredible, and it never shies away from getting pretty graphic. This is not an elegant period piece that you can casually put on in the background while listening to Vivaldi and sipping Chardonnay, picturing how much more fancy your life would be if you were living in a Merchant-Ivory production of a Jane Austen novel: it's far too gruesome and intricate for that. Also, why would you put on a movie and listen to music at the same time? The more I think of it, the worse and worse that sentence feels to me... Anyway, it's also alarmingly human and a much more effective mystery thriller than I expected. The story unfolds skillfully, continually revealing new layers of meaning to what you've already seen. I also feel it's important to note how incredible the editing was here. Pretty fantastic stuff.

4. Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
Directed by Ang Lee

I feel this is one of those movies that deserves a more full review, but I'm still having trouble finding the words to fully describe this experience, so maybe someday I will be capable of fulfilling this desire. But not today. What I can tell you is that this doesn't look, feel, or act like most war films. It isn't trying to push a message in a typical way, and even the messages it does have to offer are often not what they seem. This is a n impressive, heartfelt experience that never felt cloying dramatic (except when it needs to), and in spite of its many flaws, is an experience unlike any other. Ang Lee may have disappointed the mainstream, but this is certainly wasn't intended for everyone. It's difficult, cluttered, and totally from the heart. Alwyn and Hedlund were terrific.

3. Arrival
Directed by Denis Villeneuve

It's always nice when a big-budget sci-fi spectacle is actually smart. While this territory seemed to belong to Christopher Nolan, I'm happy to announce Denis Villeneuve didn't compromise his artistry one bit to produce this one. Illustrating the importance of language, the writing in this movie is incredibly clever and manages to make every moment count. Amy Adams is terrific in the leading role, which is a lot more emotional than you might have originally guessed. It gets better as it goes along, building tension without ever serving up much action. This isn't a traditional blockbuster, but it is the kind of mainstream film I would love to see more of.

2. Moonlight
Directed by Barry Jenkins

Click here for the link to this full length review.

1. The Wailing
Directed by Nate Hong-Jin

Jeff Caffey’s review published on Letterboxd :
Horror movies are generally better kept short, seeing as how rarely they attempt to transcend the genre and just provide cheap thrills and dozens of "don't go in there"s. The Wailing overcomes these genre pitfalls, and taking its 2.5 hour runtime into consideration, thank god for that. With supernatural elements and more atmosphere than you could know what to do with, this movie never over does anything, making for a very subtly creepy experience. The building of tension and lack of consistent jump-scares to alleviate the stress that it causes makes for one hell of a build-up to a finale that works surprisingly well. I was biting my nails for 20 solid minutes leading up to the ending, which features striking images I still haven't been able to get out of my head after almost a week. From a technical perspective, this movie is close to perfect. Pacing issues are it's biggest flaw, but that never distracts from the experience for too long. One of the best horror movies of the year. Actually, probably the very best.

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