2016’s Top Ten

When I survey the ten films I chose as my top picks for 2016, what surprises me is how much fun I had this year. This list is not without serious dramas, but I tossed aside some pretentious titles. Great acting was king this year. From almost every film on my list, there was a tour de force performance, or a great ensemble cast. Again this year, all the films on my list were premiered at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema. Have a happy new year!

1. Moonlight by Barry Jenkin

Three different times in the life of Chiron, an African-American gay man. At 9, he is bullied at school and he lives with his drug addicted mom And he meets a crack dealer who becomes a positive force in his life. At 16, things are worse than ever for Chiron. He discovers that love and betrayal can come from within the same person. Years later, Chiron is an adult now, but a fragile man who still carries the wounds of his broken childhood. Jenkin mixes poetry of the street and of the heart. The cast is astounding. This is what a masterpiece looks like.

https://loveatthemovies.wordpress.com/2016/11/17/moonlight/

2. Manchester by the Sea by Kenneth Lonergan

Upon the news of his brother’s death, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) returns to his home town of Manchester-by-the-Sea. Memories from the past are overwhelming him as he learns he’s been named guardian of his 16 years old nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Lonergan’s beautiful film is a delicate study of pain and survival in the face of tragedy. His brilliant screenplay weaves comedy and drama effortlessly. Affleck and Hedges play off each other as if the were really family. The film to beat at the Oscar.

https://loveatthemovies.wordpress.com/2016/12/09/manchester-by-the-sea/

3. Hitchcock/Truffaut by Kent Jones

This was the first film I saw in 2016. And what a great way to start the year! François Truffaut’s 1965 book-length interview with Alfred Hitchcock is still considered by some a cinema bible. The film explores its influence on people like Richard Linklater, Wes Anderson, David Fincher and Martin Scorsese. What is undeniable after watching Hitchcock/Truffaut is the intensity of Hitchcock’s images. But 80 minutes was too short. In my opinion, 10 hours would not have been enough.

https://loveatthemovies.wordpress.com/2016/01/06/hitchcocktruffaut/

4. Florence Foster Jenkins by Stephen Frears

In many ways Florence Foster Jenkins, a biopic about a woman who did not know she could not sing opera, did it anyway and became a great success, is the most accomplished film of 2016. Costumes? Got it! Set decoration? Got it! Make up? They certainly got that! It has three knock out bravura performances. This is Meryl Streep in her most technically challenging role. Hugh Grant, as her husband, is like a grand master of ceremony. Galloping from one genre to another: Classic comedy routines, dance numbers, tear-jerker, no sweat! It’s a wonder that Simon Helberg, as her accompanist, can keep up with them, but he does. And a good time was had by all.

https://loveatthemovies.wordpress.com/2016/08/11/florence-foster-jenkins/

5. Into the forest by Patricia Rozema

It goes off. Just like that. No explanations. No reasons given. No more electricity. No more phones or internet. No Twitter or Facebook. And it does not look as if things will come back anytime soon. Living in the middle of the forest, two young sisters Nell and Eva, have to fend for themselves after their father dies. Canadian director Patricia Rozema asks a very important and necessary questions. Do we really need all this? Could we survive if it all suddenly disappeared? Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood have both found the perfect partner. Rozema and cinematographer Daniel Grant are not afraid to go deep into the forest, to show us that both in light and in darkness there is beauty to be found.

https://loveatthemovies.wordpress.com/2016/06/09/into-the-forest/

6. Elle by Paul Verhoven

The most shocking and surprising film of 2016. When Isabelle Huppert’s Michèle is brutally raped in her home by a masked intruder, she does not seem to be affected at all. Instead, Michèle is cold and calculating. And so are Huppert and director Paul Verhoven, who are both at the top of their craft. Huppert is totally convincing in a part that would scare off many actresses. Verhoven directs without a fuss but with the precisions of a scalpel. He’s more interested in telling a good story than in pyrotechnics. But what is Elle? It’s a casual thriller about rape. Shocking!

https://loveatthemovies.wordpress.com/2016/11/24/elle/

7. Sing street by John Carney

Fun at the movies? Who ever heard of such a thing? It may happen if we go back in time to 1985. In Dublin, Ireland, young 14-year-old Conor “Cosmo” is sent to school at the Christian brothers with the very repressive Brother Baxter watching over him. But Cosmo recruits some of his school mates to form a band named Sing street! All around them there is music from groups like Duran Duran, The cure and The clash. The boys write their own songs and produce their own music videos. And Cosmo falls in love with Raphinia, the model they hired to be in their videos. The young cast is pitch perfect. Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, as Cosmo, has a wonderful voice and literally carries the film. So, music, nostalgia and romance. And boy, those costumes, the hairs!

https://loveatthemovies.wordpress.com/2016/05/13/sing-street/

8. The dressmaker by Jocelyn Moorhouse

Supposedly based on a ‘gothic novel’, Jocelyn Moorhouse’s film feels more like a parody of a gothic novel. The dressmaker is the campiest film I’ve seen in a long time. Myrtle “Tilly” Dunnage comes back to the desert like town of Dungatar in the Australian outback (‘I’m back, you bastards’), where 25 years earlier she was falsely accused of murder. She wants the truth and probably revenge. Tilly reconnects with her mother, Mad Molly, the town’s alcoholic dirt bag. Kate Winslet and Judy Davis are expertly chewing up the scenery. Other cast of characters include a hash brownies eating elderly woman and a cross-dressing police officer. Camp, I told ya!

https://loveatthemovies.wordpress.com/2016/10/21/the-dressmaker/

9. Wiener-Dog by Todd Solondz

Wiener-Dog is a multi-storied film about a dachshund that go from one owner to another. This is Todd Solondz’s best effort since his 1998 controversial film Happiness. It has the same type of sick and twisted humour. It also has a stone-faced acting masterpiece by the great Ellen Burstyn. Burstyn steals the film from everyone, including the dog. If you like cynicism, like I do, this is the film for you. But dog lovers beware. The one thing I learned: Don’t feed granola bars to your dog.

https://loveatthemovies.wordpress.com/2016/08/30/wiener-dog/

10. Captain Fantastic by Matt Ross

Viggo Mortensen plays Ben Cash, a widowed father of six who has decided to raise his children as recluse anti-capitalist communists. They don’t celebrate Christmas, but instead celebrate Noam Chomsky’s birthday. Captain Fantastic is the part of a lifetime. And it has a near perfect ensemble cast of young and veteran actors. One of them is Frank Langela, as Ben’s controlling father-in-law. There are clichés, but the snappy dialogue and the acting is fun, and soon it does not really matter.

https://loveatthemovies.wordpress.com/2016/07/22/captain-fantastic/

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Radin! (Penny pincher!)

What made me laugh so much when I saw Radin! was the willingness from the screenwriters to dare to go overboard. François Gautier (Dany Boon), the film’s main character, is not merely a penny pincher (a “radin” in French), he is the MOTHER of penny pinchers. The lights are never switched on in his home. At any time, in any rooms. At night, if François needs to read something, he waits for the street lamp posts to switch on. He showers in cold water. He brings a calculator to the grocery store to make sure that the cashier did not make any mistake. François is a classical violinist and music teacher. Trying to collect some money for a colleague’s retirement party is near impossible. When he sees the collector coming his way (accompanied by a John Williams Jaws-like score), François goes into hiding as if he was avoiding the plague. But François shows up at the party. How could he miss out on all that free food and free wine. When she was pregnant with François, his mother was conditioning him not to be like his father, a debt-ridden miserable man. As an adult, François is a miserly miserable man. François is very conscious that he has a problem. Instead of seeing a psychiatrist, François consults his banker. Maybe he wants to change, but he just hasn’t found the right incentives to change. And one day François gets the unexpected visit of Laura (Noémie Schmidt), his teenage daughter. He did not know. That’s what happens when you buy expired condoms. As you can see, the topic allows the writers to come up with a never-ending torrent of jokes, peppered with the right amount of pathos. Radin! is the ideal project for Boon’s considerable comic talents. Funny one moment, then suddenly touching and physically showing us how François is actually affected by his economic neuroses. A hunched back, he keeps his head lowered, avoiding the stares of disapproving colleagues and friends. François is not a happy person. Schmidt and Laurence Arné, as François’ unlucky new girlfriend, are good, but Boon is the drawing card here. And so is that great comedy screenplay.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Radin! (Penny pincher!)

Directed by:
Fred Cavayé

Screenplay by:
Fred Cavayé
Nicolas Cuche
Olivier Dazat
Laurent Turner

Starring:
Dany Boon
Laurence Arné
Noémie Schmidt
Patrick Ridremont
Christophe Canard

89 min.

In French with English subtitles.

Lion

Lion is the true story of Saroo Brierly, who at the age of 5 (child actor Sunny Pawar) got into a train that brought him 1600 miles away from his house, his family and his mother (Priyanka Bose). When the train door finally opened, he was in Kolkata (AKA Calcutta), trying to find his older brother, Guddu (Abhishek Bharate). Homeless in the Indian capital, Saroo often finds himself in trouble. He’s a smart and instinctive boy who runs away when he feels danger ahead. Lion is compelling and heart pounding filmmaking. Sunny Pawar is the star of the first part of the film. The small boy running around dirty Indian streets, amongst the poorest of the poor, desperately calling his brother (“Guddu! Guddu!”) are some of the most troubling, indelible images of 2016 cinema. Then, after many misadventures, Saroo (his real name is actually “Sheru”. “Sheru” means “lion” in English, hence the title.) is found on the street by Indian social services. They try to find Saroo’s mother or his village, but the name of the village, according to the name that Saroo has given to social services, is nowhere on the map. Eventually, Saroo is adopted by a nice Australian couple. John and Sue Brierley (David Wenham and Nicole Kidman) fly with Saroo to their home in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. The film then jumps 20 years. Saroo is in his mid-twenties (now played by Slumdog millionaire’s Dev Patel) and is trying to locate his mother and his village with the support and help of his girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara). He uses maps on Google Earth to retrace the footsteps of the 5 years old boy he used to be, and revisit some painful memories. I think that Lion can qualify as a tear-jerker, but it does not feel like a tear-jerker. It doesn’t because the true story is given room to breathe, to simply be an incredible tale of survival. It’s an impressive fiction film debut for director Garth Davis. Everything is done with much restraint without underlining the drama with effects. He is helped by great acting from Pawar, of course, and also Patel and Nicole Kidman, who give sensitive performances. Cinematographer Greig Fraser is an artist, a painter who uses dark tones and colors with a deft eye. Precision and control. Lion is a tear-jerker, but it is also a great film.

And the Oscar went to… Despite 6 nominations, Lion did not win a single Oscar. Oh well!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Lion

Directed by:
Garth Davis

Screenplay by:
Luke Davis
Based on A long way home by Saroo Brierley and Larry Buttrose

Starring:
Dev Patel
Sunny Pawar
Nicole Kidman
Rooney Mara
David Wenham
Priyanka Bose
Abhishek Bharate

118 min.

Rated Parantal Guidance

In English, Bengali, and Hindi with English subtitles.

A man called Ove (En man som heter Ove)

It is hard not to be cynical when you see a film like A man called Ove. You know that despite the lack of originality, the corny sentimentalism, the bargain basement clichéd characters, some audience is going to buy it all and just love it. To be fair, A man called Ove has at least two things going for it. The two main actors are strong and likable enough to make some of this film watchable. Rolf Lassgård and Bahar Pars play neighbours Ove and Parvaneh. Ove is the stereotypical Swedish/Scandinavian old curmudgeon we’ve been seeing in countless Swedish and Scandinavian films (remember The 100-year-old man who climbed out the window and disappeared and Finland’s The grump?). Every morning Ove gets up and inspect the complex where he live. He makes sure there are no unattended bikes. If there are, he locks them in the shed. He checks that every garage door is locked. He notes the licence plates of cars that are not properly parked. There is two things he hates more than anything: a car driving on the car-free driveway and people. All people. He calls everyone “Idiot!”. Ove has been that way ever since his beloved wife, Sonja (Ida Engvoll), passed away. Bahar Pars plays Ove’s new neighbour, Parvaneh. She is positive, nice, always smiling and pregnant. Parvaneh is an Iranian emigrant who just moved in next door with her and she just moved in next door with her Swedish husband and her two young daughters. All Ove thinks about is being reunited with his lovely Sonja. But every times he tries to kill himself, there is always something or someone thwarting his plan. And despite how much he hates people, all he gets is love from Parvaneh and his other neighbours. (See, I told you it was corny.) Honestly, this is not that bad a film. But I’ve seen that film so many times before. Nothing new here, move on.

And the Oscar went to…  As they did a few years ago with The 100-year-old man who climbed out the window and disappeared, Eva von Bahr and Love Larson lost the Makeup and hairstyling Oscar a second time. The winner was the universally panned Suicide squadA man called Ove also lost the Best foreign film award to Iran’s The salesman.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

A man called Ove (En man som heter Ove)

Directed by:

Hannes Holm

Screenplay by:
Hannes Holm
Based on the novel by Fredrick Backman

Starring:
Rolf Lassgård
Bahar Pars
Ida Engvoll
Filip Berg
Viktor Baagøe
Nelly Jamarani
Zozan Akgun
Tobias Almborg

116 min.

In Swedish and Persian with English subtitles.

Manchester by the Sea

Manchester by the Sea is about middle-aged Boston janitor Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck). Lee lives alone in a crummy apartment. An early montage shows us how easy it is for Lee to lose his temper. He f-offs a female client and later punches a guy at a bar. One day, Lee gets a phone call from Manchester-by-the-Sea, his home town His older brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler) has died of a heart attack. Through the skilful hands of editor Jennifer Lame, we get to revisit some important moments in their lives. Lee remembers being at the hospital when Joe had his first heart problem. He also recalls the fun times he had with Patrick, Joe’s young son, on Joe’s fishing boat. Patrick is 16 now (played by Lucas Hedges, in a star making performance). Lee has to stick around for a few days as Patrick’s mother has been out of the picture for a while, so the boy is basically alone. When Lee discovers that his brother named him as his son’s guardian, painful memories from the past comes back to haunt him. In that scene, Kenneth Lonergan informs the audience in small doses, bringing us to the final reveal inch by inch. It is even more powerful that way. After that we understand his uncontrollable sudden bursts of anger. I can’t tell you more without spoiling it. But if Manchester by the Sea is also quite funny, that’s because of teenage Patrick’s relationships with his numerous girlfriends. In life nothing is entirely without humour, no matter how dramatic things get. The cast is excellent, especially Casey Affleck (Ben‘s younger brother) and Lucas Hedges who play against each other as if the were really family. They are really brilliant. The screenplay is not the easiest to say. It has tons of overlapping, all variety of f-word all over the place (Hey! It‘s a family thing.) , but it defines every characters with clarity and hindsight. It is real and subtle. It is not flashy, but it does what it needs to get to the emotion through to us. Beside Affleck and Hedges, we should not ignore Michelle Williams as Lee’s ex-wife. “Perfection” is such a loaded word. Yes, Manchester by the Sea is a sad, heart-wrenching, but a warm and beautiful film. And it will be the front-runner at the Oscars. For me, Manchester by the Sea is “perfect”.

And the Oscar went to… Manchester by the Sea ended the evening with two Oscars. As was predicted, Casey Affleck won Best actor. And Kenneth Lonergan was also an obvious choice for an Original screenplay win.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Manchester by the Sea

Directed by:
Kenneth Lonergan

Screenplay by:
Kenneth Lonergan

Starring:
Casey Affleck
Lucas Hedges
Kyle Chandler
Matthew Broderick
Gretchen Mol
Michelle Williams

135 min.

Rated 14A

L’avenir (Things to come)

After a gutsy performance in Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, Isabelle Huppert is back again in Mia Hansen-Løve’s L’avenir. Huppert plays philosophy professor Nathalie Chazeaux. We are in 2010 and Chazeaux is trying to teach, but there is a student strike against Nicolas Sarkozy’s retirement pension reform. She finds the idea of young people concerned about retirement ridiculous, and ploughs through the blockage to teach to the few students who are there to learn. She’s in her sixties and lives a quiet life with Heinz (Andre Marçon), her husband of 25 years. The couple have two adult kids. L’avenir is somewhat misleading, as it does not initially seems to be about anything else than Nathalie, her colleagues, friends and family speaking at length about philosophy, philosophers and books on philosophy. You might think this is arid, but it’s all about the delivery. You may do the same film with people invested, as these characters are, by films, theatre, sport cars or nine-inch nails, and make it as poignant as Hansen-Løve is able do here. One day, Heinz announces he is leaving Nathalie for another woman. Nathalie seems more upset at Heinz for leaving with some of her favourite philosophy books than about the other woman. But she has other things to worry about. Her mother, Yvette (Edith Scob) is proving more difficult for her to handle and she has to place her in a retirement home. Elsewhere, Nathalie still maintains a friendship with former student Fabien (Roman Kolinka), but we feel that secretly hopes that they could be more than friends. When Yvette dies, Nathalie looses all semblance of control over her life and she’s left there helpless as her emotional safety nets are taken away from her one by one. When she finds something to hang on to, it soon is also taken away. The philosophers she has studied her whole life are of no help to her. They do not offer her any solution to ease the pain. I will let others attempt a more intellectual reading. Between Elle and L’avenir, Huppert shows us such a range that she seems to be able to do effortlessly. And that’s the trick. It must look easy, but, oh boy, when the tap of tears is turned up in L’avenir, it breaks our heart. During a shot where she is riding in a car after Yvette dies, and Nathalie looks out the window in tears. It dawned on me that Isabelle Huppert was, along with Arlety, Deneuve, Ingrid Bergman, Giulietta Masina, Paul Belmondo, Humphrey Bogart, Bacall, Sophia Loren, Anna Magnani, Gabin and Simone Signoret, among the great classic faces of cinema.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

L’avenir (Things to come)

Directed by:
Mia Hansen-Løve

Screenplay by:
Mia Hansen-Løve

Starring:
Isabelle Huppert
André Marcon
Roman Kolinka
Edith Scob

98 min.

Rated 14A

In French, English and German with English subtitles.

Christine

When I write about Christine, I can’t tell what happened in 1974 that made Christine Chubbuck famous because that would be a spoiler. Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall) was a 29-years-old news reporter for WXLT-TV in Sarasota, Florida. Christine had her own talk show called Suncoast digest in which she talked about local and social interests. But she is always at odds with news director, Michael (Tracy Letts) who would like the newscast to be more sensational and cover murders and crimes (“blood and guts” someone says) to bring in higher ratings. The news that there might be positions opening in Baltimore, brings even more tensions and competition at the station. If that wasn’t enough, she suffers from sharp pains in the stomach, and as a result will have her ovaries removed. It is clear after a while that Christine’s depression is coming back. At times, it comes very close to manic depression. She lives with her mother, but always picks a fight with her. Her incoherent thinking is all over the map: she wants the job in Baltimore, she’s a virgin but wouldn’t it be nice if she finally had a romantic life now, especially before her ovaries are removed because she wants children, she wants that job in Baltimore, she buys a CB radio to listen to police calls and be the first to report it to the news, she needs that job in Baltimore. She does puppet shows for children at a local hospital, but they get increasingly weird and disturbing. There is a yelling match between Christine and Michael where Christine goes too far. There is a ray of hope when the handsome anchor, George Ryan (Michael C. Hall, no relation to Rebecca) invites her out on a date. The screenplay by Craig Shilowich is successfully showing the slow drip of mental illness. It is a relentless enemy. Shilowich and director Antonio Campos sets the film squarely in a realistic mid-1970s, complete with 70s long dresses, 70s pants, 70s hair and moustaches, and a fun soundtrack of songs from the 70s. Christine is such a difficult part to play, with all her contradictions, her mood swings and sudden shifts. Rebecca Hall’s Christine is an unvarnished portrait of a mentally ill woman, warts and all. With the marvellous Tracy Letts as her boss, there is a feeling of watching a harsher and less likable version of Lou Grant and Mary Tyler Moore (from The Mary Tyler Moore show). Lets hope these two will be remembered at Oscar time.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Christine

Directed by:

Antonio Campos

Screenplay by:
Craig Shilowich

Starring:
Rebecca Hall
Michael C. Hall
Tracy Letts
Timothy Simons
J. Smith-Cameron
Maria Dizzia

118 min.

Rated 14A