2016 Best Film List – Brendan Rose

2016 Best Film List – Brendan Rose

Well, the Academy has spoken (after a shambolic mix-up) and, I’m happy to report, the news is heartening: With Moonlight emerging as the winner, the Oscar for Best Picture has actually gone to the top Anglo-American film of the year for only the second time in my life (along with Steve McQueen’s Twelve Years a Slave in 2014). And I was born a while ago, which means that dozens of mediocre films have been honored with this prestigious award over the past few decades.

Aside from Barry Jenkins’s new classic, 2016 was, overall, a deep and powerful year in the movies. There were a series of memorable offerings across genres, in sci-fi, horror, coming-of-age, and even a spry musical of note (yes, La La Land). But for me, the year was marked by a series of impressive auteurist dramas by some of world cinema’s still early-career innovators: Jenkins, Ade, Mendonça Filho, Hansen-Løve, Lanthimos, Larraín, Guadagnino. And the most outstanding of all this year, just a hint above Jenkins, would be the Colombian wunderkind Ciro Guerra, whose films are simply astonishing. I look forward to more features from all of these ambitious and talented filmmakers.

As with any year, there are promising films I have yet to see. With apologies to I, Daniel Blake, 13th, Certain Women, Under the Shadow, American Honey, Hell or High Water, and many others, I present to you the 2016 list:

TOP TEN (in order):

Embrace of the Serpent* (Ciro Guerra): This hypnotic and disturbing film, which details contact between European travelers and indigenous Amazonian communities in the first half of the 20th Century, is a sui generis masterpiece by one of the world’s most promising and inventive directors. There are shades of Heart of Darkness here, but with a stronger perspective afforded the local community than is evident in most works derivative of Conrad’s novella.

Moonlight (Barry Jenkins): Jenkins’s second feature, based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play, is a magnificent piece of pure cinema, with its exceptional photography and pacing, but also a film anchored in textured, subjective storytelling, overwhelming with its aching pain, its deep tenderness. There are scenes of such beauty and sentiment (e.g., young Chiron being taught to swim by mentor Juan) that the scope and impact of this film continue to grow in my mind.

Paterson (Jim Jarmusch): Jarmusch, now thirteen features in, is the most consistently stellar American film director of the past three decades. In this ode to verse, Jarmusch trains his camera on the basement poet-cum-bus driver played by Adam Driver, revealing his protagonist’s meditative daily rhythms as well as the post-industrial grace of rugged and worn Paterson, New Jersey. This sublime film’s only flaw: an underwritten part for Golshifteh Farahani as Driver’s partner.

Aquarius (Kleber Mendonça Filho): Sônia Braga captivates as a single, middle-age music critic who stands up to rapacious real-estate interests in Recife, Brazil by refusing to move out of her apartment, the last inhabited unit in a beachside building pegged for demolition and redevelopment. Mendonça Filho’s keen eye for social critique gives this complex character study a broader agenda.

Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade): This jaunty, off-beat father-daughter comedic drama from one of Germany’s finest directors keeps the audience on its toes (what a housewarming party!) while likewise skewering the sheltered English-speaking business-consultant class who traipse about Bucharest, Romania like a nouveau white-collar capitalist-colonialist clique. Remember: Never leave home without your spare teeth!

The Measure of a Man (Stéphane Brizé): Speaking of capitalism and its discontents, Brizé’s timely parable captures the pitiless professional drift of Thierry, a sacked factory worker in France, played with sensitivity by Vincent Lindon. This is the tale of one of the have-nots in this dog-eat-dog neoliberal economy; Thierry’s ‘rebound’ job as a security guard at a supermarket is both dispiriting and all-too symbolic.

Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan): Lonergan, one of the most important dramatists of his generation, constructs a quietly devastating film out of material that could, in the wrong hands, play as overwrought melodrama. Instead, buoyed by expert performances, he delivers an indelible piece of cinema, the sorrow and heartbreak of which remain palpable and resonant months later.

Things to Come (Mia Hansen-Løve): Top-class French actress Isabelle Huppert was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar for the underwhelming Elle, but her standout performance—and one of the few very best this year— was certainly in Things to Come, Hansen-Løve’s rich story of Huppert’s Nathalie, a philosopher who seeks new ways to imbue her life with purpose and meaning after a series of life-shocks.

My Golden Days (Arnaud Desplechin): This Proustian film of early love mesmerizes with its abundance of sharp, novelistic detail, its blending of the intellectual and the pop, its cross-decades expanse, its stinging wistfulness.

Arrival (Denis Villeneuve): Few mainstream sci-fi flicks have delivered the goods like Arrival. The assured Amy Adams paces this clever, taught film depicting a contact moment between humans and extraterrestrial life. Adams’s linguist-driven diplomacy and time-bending insight prevent carnage. One fault: the poorly-realized Jeremy Renner physicist character.

NEXT BEST FILM: The Witch (Robert Eggers): This bleak, eerie horror film is set on a Puritan homestead in 17th Century New England where a tangled, foreboding, and unknown forest beckons these new arrivals.

BEST DOCUMENTARY: I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck): One of the top films of the year. Peck’s tour-de-force is a sophisticated examination of racism in America via Baldwin’s own words from an unfinished manuscript.

HONORABLE MENTION (in alphabetical order): A Bigger Splash (Luca Guadagnino); Edge of Seventeen (Kelly Fremon Craig); Fences (Denzel Washington); Jackie (Pablo Larraín); La La Land (Damien Chazelle); The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos); Sing Street (John Carney).

*Embrace of the Serpent was up for the Best Foreign Language Academy Award for 2015, but it did not premiere in New York until 2016, making it eligible for this list. Similarly, this year’s Foreign Language winner, Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman, which opened in New York in 2017, will be eligible for next year’s list.

List complied by Brendan Rose

Brendan Rose’s 2015 Best Film List

Posted in Film Reviews, etc.

The Founder, directed by John Lee Hancock

The Founder – The Man Who Turned McDonald’s Into One of the World’s Best Known Brands

The Founder
Review By Calista B., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 13

Review By Maria G., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17

Posted in Film Reviews, etc.

Texting In New York City, a short film by Mansu Edwards

Synopsis: A college student named Winnerbeme loses a cellphone while approaching a woman on a NYC train platform.

About the filmmaker: Mansu Edwards is a prolific artist who continually challenges art forms with boldness and creativity. He delights in using autonomous monikers to signify a transformative experience when engaging in innovative artistic creations. In 2016, Mr. Edwards produced, wrote and directed his first short film, Texting In New York City. A work inspired from people’s responses to the street marketing of its paperback (text) edition.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/textinginnewyorkcity

Posted in Filmmaker Profiles

Man Without A Cell Phone, directed by Sameh Zoabi, Special Screening at Columbia University, Feb. 6

Man Without a Cell Phone
Monday, February 6, 2017
6:30pm 8:30pm
Dodge #511
2960 Broadway New York, NY, 10027

To be followed by a Q&A with Columbia University Prof. Hamid Dabashi

Visit the Website to RSVP.

Visit the Facebook page.

Posted in Filmmaker Profiles

Listopad, directed by Gary Keith Griffin

LISTOPAD is a story of the spirited friendship between three teenaged boys, swept up in the ‘Velvet Revolution’ of 1989.

Petr, Jiri and Ondrej are an unlikely trio of friends. An artist, a hockey player and a music trader, the boys survive Communism by playing sports, drinking beer, chasing girls and listening to underground music. But they are bound together by their common desire for freedom and, on a cold, dark night in November, Petr, Jiri and Ondrej join the front lines of a student demonstration in the streets of Prague. Face-to-face with the riot police, the boys are forced into a momentous decision: stand up against the Communist regime or give in to a system that has silenced their families for generations.

Based upon true stories from the Velvet Revolution, LISTOPAD is a timeless story of political and artistic courage. Seen through the eyes of Petr, Jiri and Ondrej, the film brings to life the exhilarating days of November 1989 when, in spite of everything and everyone arrayed against them, students, artists and dissidents filled the streets of Prague to stand up for their hopes and dreams of freedom.

Listopad on itunes: http://apple.co/2fM88U3
Google Play: http://bit.ly/2gZHwMp
iTunes/CZ: http://apple.co/2h7N2jK
iTunes/SK: http://apple.co/2h7L2rt

Listopad website:http://www.listopadfilm.com

Posted in Filmmaker Profiles

Elle, directed by Paul Verhoeven

Review by Mike Fishman

Elle, directed with dark flair by Paul Verhoeven (RoboCop, Total Recall), is unsettling in more ways than one might expect. Most viewers going in will already know that the film opens with a rape. In the opening scene Isbabelle Huppert’s Michele, a Parisian woman heading a video game company, is being attacked by a masked intruder and the brutality of the rape, conveyed more by sound than visuals, announces a film that will ask much of its audience. And indeed, as the film unfolds and we witness Michele (played note-perfect by the seasoned Huppert) interacting with her son who curses her, her ex-husband whom she alternately turns to for emotional support and casually takes a crowbar to his parked car, and the next-door neighbor with whom Michele instigates a game of footsy at a dinner while he is seated next to his prim wife, a moral ambiguity emerges that leads us to question her character in ways that are downright provocative.

Verhoeven, whose oeuvre includes Basic Instinct with Sharon Stone’s infamously uncrossed legs, has previously presented characters and situations that are not what they seem to be (or at least not what we expect them to be), but in Elle he wades deep into the territory of uncomfortable humor more associated with filmmakers such as Todd Solondz, who in Happiness and Welcome to the Dollhouse, dare us to laugh at things we dare not, as did Jody Hill in the twisted mall-cop comedy Observe and Report. Though Michele appears to be haunted by the attack (which we return to in flashbacks that give deeper glimpses into the event), she urges her video game developing team to make the game they are working on more violently sexual and at a late point in the film after she has identified her attacker, turns the tables on him emotionally, urging him to hurt her. This has the absurd effect of making him recoil and proclaim that that’s not how this is supposed to work.

Michele’s moral ambiguity, though, is evident early on in the film. Moments after she is attacked and taking a restorative bubble bath, a disturbing red blood stain surfaces through the bubbles, which she seems more fascinated by than repulsed. Later, during one of the flashbacks, she admonishes her cat (who naturally just sat by and watched as any cat would), that the cat could have at least scratched him. Such humor pervades the film, reaching its darkest point when Michele, having crashed in her car, phones her rapist to rescue her, unable to get anyone else on the phone. There’s something remarkable about a scene in which a man, who has been recognized by his victim as her attacker, is helping to extricate her from her crashed car even as we see a bandage on his hand from where she stabbed him during their latest violent encounter.

Why wouldn’t she just call the police? A secondary plot details the troubled history of her childhood, when her father went on a rampage and murdered a number of their neighbors, including women and children, then set fire to his own house, a news clips from the time showing a disheveled young Michele in the wreckage of her home. Although Michele appears to be an innocent caught in her father’s guilt, the question of whether she participated in the house fire remains and, in any case, she is occasionally treated as a criminal by strangers who recognize her simply by virtue of being the daughter of the murderous monster. When Michele, who has not seen her father since he was sent to prison, finally decides to face him, she arrives at the prison only to be told her father died the night before by hanging himself. The man could no more face his daughter willingly than she could him. The film would feel grim if it were not for the dark humor, and could easily have felt forced in lesser hands, Huppert managing a tight wire act of a wronged woman deserving of sympathy yet deflecting pity with her character’s ruthless determination and uncertain ethics.

Posted in Film Reviews, etc.

Dependent’s Day, directed by Michael David Lynch

Dependent's Day Trailer from Michael Lynch on Vimeo.

Award-Winning Indie Film, Dependent’s Day Now Available on Cable, Satellite, and coming soon to Vudu. Director Michael David Lynch lands distribution with his breakout relationship comedy feature Dependent’s Day.

Los Angeles, CA – December 5, 2016 — The breakout indie film, Dependents Day that launched in the festival circuit earlier this year to much acclaim is now available on demand everywhere and coming soon to Vudu. “I am elated that this film has resonated so well with audiences of all ages in the film festival circuit,” said director Michael David Lynch. “You never know when you are making a movie how people are going to respond to it. It was incredible to have our limited theatrical release in October and I’m thrilled that now audiences across the North America will be able to enjoy this film because it is now available everywhere!.”

About Dependent’s Day
Claimed as a ‘dependent’ by his successful breadwinning girlfriend Alice, Cam struggles to prove himself as he stumbles through different jobs and life’s obstacles in the hopes to live out his Hollywood dream and finally rise to the occasion. Dependent’s Day is a hilarious, heartfelt, authentic relationship comedy about the adventures of being in love and making it work.

The film is unlike most other Hollywood romantic comedies because it has a semblance of reality and strong female characters that are endearing throughout the movie. “I had lots of strong women in my life as I was growing up so I really couldn’t write this film without including that component,” said Lynch. “I wanted to write something that reflected my experience and see if it resonated with the audiences. Apparently, the fans enjoy intelligent funny women in roles too.”

About Director Michael David Lynch:
Growing up in Ann Arbor Michigan, Michael found his love for cinema as a projectionist, getting an inside peek at all that film had to offer. He followed this passion to Chicago IL, where he studied film at Columbia College Chicago. It was here that Lynch conceived the idea for Burden, a massive science fiction film of epic proportions that would give any big Hollywood blockbuster a run for its money. After graduating, Mike headed for Los Angeles, where he hit the ground running, working on huge Hollywood movies such as: Inception, Die Hard 4, Ironman 2, and Transformers 2. Ever determined to leave his mark on the medium, he went on to produce several successful films including: Drop, Between Us and This Thing with Sarah. Today, he makes his long-awaited feature film directorial debut with two incredible projects: Dependent’s Day and Victor Walk. Two different films that cover very different territory showing the versatility and heart of a talented director who is sure to keep telling stories. Lynch has had the privilege of collaborating with tons of amazing actors on Dependent’s Day, his debut feature narrative film where he served as Director, Writer, Producer, Cinematographer and editor. Dependent’s Day recently won the Audience Award Narrative Feature Comedy at the Cinequest Film Festival on March 12th, 2016, and Best Comedy Feature at South Dakota Film Festival on September 24th, 2016.

Behind the Scenes link: https://vimeo.com/192861223

Posted in Filmmaker Profiles

Delusion, directed by Christopher Di Nunzio

Delusion – Official Trailer from Christopher Di Nunzio on Vimeo.

Synopsis
(Short):
Three years after the death of Frank’s wife a mysterious woman appears. As their attraction grows Frank struggles with reality and his loss. He tries to start over not knowing his choices could lead him to his own downfall.

Long:
Frank Parrillo received a letter from his wife who died three years ago. With help from his nephew Frank decides he’s ready to start over. Soon after a mysterious woman appears who seems like a kindred spirit as they both battle internal issues. Still despite premonitions from a psychic and a man who Frank’s not sure is even real he chooses to move forward as he confronts the demons in his head. His choice could ultimately lead him to a darker reality.

Delusion has been picked up for distribution by Cinema Epoch and is now available to buy or rent in the US, Canada & UK at Amazon. It is free with Prime. Delusion will be released on more outlets soon.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/145228349

IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4113846/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

http://www.christopherdinunzio.com
http://www.facebook.com/CreepyKidProductions
http://twitter.com/Creepykid
https://twitter.com/ChrisDiNunzio

Posted in Filmmaker Profiles

Prophet, directed by Rich Robinson

Film synopsis: A Man, possessing only the clothes on his back and the hat on his head, travels among different settings from railroad tracks to industrial factories, to run down neighborhoods in a quest to express his inner thoughts through poetry and spoken word. While on his journey he is challenged three times by a Stranger; his own personal EGO who tempts him to question his choices forcing the Man to ponder what measures a human being.

Director’s statement: In spite of the current social and political landscape on both a statewide and national scale, my team created a short film titled prophet that confronts and diminishes the human ego and how the ego is a powerful persuader on all social and political issues/injustices. Through spoken word we’ve created a message of love through poetry in motion and our piece is greatly influenced by such incredible people such as Saul Williams, the late Maya Angelou, Eckhart Tolle, and youtube sensation Prince Ea.

This is an up lifting short film, a polarizing project that challenges the audience to think and by having the main character speak to the audience, engage them to come along his journey; a journey that through the use of poetry challenges the Ego and puts social issues into a perspective that is neither demoralizing or glorifying but instead is about BEING in the PRESENT.

Our Instagram is @prophetshortfilmseries and hash tag is #prophetshortfilm.

Posted in Filmmaker Profiles

Equity directed by Meera Menon

Review by Karim Malak

How Women ‘Make it’ in Wall Street

(Warning: spoiler alert.) In Equity, Anna Gaun plays Naomi Bishop – a lead advisor at a Private Equity (PE) firm that is handling a major Initial Public Offering (IPO) for a tech privacy company. The film shows the inner workings of Wall Street in a drastically different light. Written by Amy Fox, Alysia Reiner, and Sara Megan Thomas and directed by Meera Menon, one immediately understands that this new angle involves the question of women in Wall Street; something that remains an omission in most mainstream Hollywood films, if not all.

The plot centers round Naomi as she attempts to handle this major new deal and ‘make it rain’ in order to land a new promotion. Despite being the lead advisor for the firm, she is not promoted and her boss makes it explicit that top management doubt her. Naomi then sets out to make this deal the biggest Wall Street has ever seen. In the process Naomi displaces her frustration onto her young assistant Erin Manning (played by Sara Megan Thomas) who is also up for promotion and so has to hide the fact that she is pregnant in order to get it. She is caught dumping her alcoholic beverage in the bathroom sink and Naomi asks her how far along she is pregnant. Naomi tells Erin that she needs to suck it up, telling her not to upset their tech company client CEO ‘Ed’. A typical bro who dresses informally for his business meetings – reminiscent of Mark Zuckerberg’s lifestyle – Samuel Roukin as Ed plays the part assigned to him well, coming on hard to poor Erin who has to lightly nudge him when he forces himself on her whilst making out. Throughout the movie one cannot shake off that it is a reminder of Facebook’s own failed IPO. In fact, at one point in the movie as Naomi learns her Wall Street boyfriend – Michael Connor played by James Purefoy – is conspiring against her; she states that she is not going to be like Facebook, alluding to its failed IPO.

The irony of how Michael gets this insider trading information cannot be missed. As Naomi’s assistant, Erin is almost about to break because of all the pressure. She comes looking for her at Michael’s apartment but Naomi is not there. Michael starts to sweet talk her, getting the ball rolling and pouring her a drink. He uses Erin’s frustration of not getting a clear answer from Naomi about if she will get the promotion or not, and gets Erin to divulge the weaknesses of the tech company’s position, spilling the beans on a key weakness discovered during due diligence.

In the midst of this, Samantha, a lead investigator at the Security Exchanges Commission (SEC), investigates Michael Connor and learns he is seeing Naomi. She tries to muscle in on Naomi for information, an old classmate. As the plot thickens and revolves around these three women (Naomi, her assistant Erin, and the SEC investigator Samantha), one sees that in Wall Street it is not only a question of the top executive making it harder for the younger one, but that it carries a certain sting to it when it is done to a woman and displaced onto another much like how Naomi does that to Erin. What is new about Equity, isn’t that it brings women into the story of Wall Street. But that it shows that in this structure of money making, the injustices done to women are internalized such that these white women do it to other women just as much.

This is perhaps the one dimension missing in Wall Street, how these white women choose to be victims but that others do not even have that option and for them trying to change Wall Street is a foregone conclusion. Rather than aiming to ask why equal opportunity hiring or affirmative action perpetuates Wall Street’s chauvinism, white women are content to being equally exploited with their male colleagues. In the name of equality white women on Wall Street conveniently forget why they are the only recipients of affirmative action policies, rather than other women who are not white. For them It is not so much about changing Wall Street to being less exploitative, or less patriarchal, but about having their place in it at the expense of non-white women. Having internalized the Wall Street hierarchy and its rules all things go, and when one is a woman it becomes markedly different and more painful for women to work inside, but that in the name of equal opportunity these women have an onus on them to ‘make it’, to demonstrate that it is an equal space, in the process accepting to hide their marriage, or that the magnanimous young hot-headed ‘bro’ may inappropriately come on to the poor assistant. Such is the ‘cost’ of doing business and ‘making it’. Naomi tries to ‘make it’ against all odds and in the process she tramples over other women and displaces what was done to her to others as part of a ritual. Samantha the SEC investigator who comes so close to unraveling the insider trading plot in the end fails and accepts a Wall Street job.

Samantha the SEC investigator who comes so close to unraveling the insider trading plot in the end fails and accepts a Wall Street job. When she is asked in her interview why she wants the job she gives a generic answer about wanting to spend more time with her family and her female partner, but seeing the interviewer’s surprise she changes her answer. She gives the same one the movie opens with, the answer Naomi gave. Women should not feel dirty that they want to make money, or that making money is a bad thing. It is OK to love money.

That is precisely the story of Equity, how in the name of making it one gives up their dreams and instead learns to love to make money, hurt others and do what was done to them to the next unsuspecting incoming young executive, even if they are a woman. In fact, especially if they are a woman so that they learn the ropes of Wall Street faster.

Posted in Film Reviews, etc.