Manchester By the Sea
Be prepared to get your heart ripped out by Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams in this—one of the more emotionally powerful movie experiences of 2016. Affleck plays Lee, uncle to Patrick (Lucas Hedges), who must return to his hometown and raise his nephew after his brother (Kyle Chandler) dies. Lee is a true mess, and we learn through flashbacks what got him to his messed up state. He’s battling some major past tragedy on top of his brother’s death, and there’s no telling how things will work out for him and Patrick. The flashbacks are brutal, revealing things that go beyond terrible, and it’s no wonder Lee has coping issues. Affleck has turned in good work before, but nothing like what he does in this film. He’s incredible. Williams turns in a blistering performance as Lee’s ex-wife, and a scene Affleck and Williams share together is guaranteed to knock you on your ass, and will probably earn them both Oscar nominations. Hedges is mighty good as the confused teen dealing with the loss of his dad and his somewhat strange uncle. Kenneth Lonergan directs from his own screenplay, and he’s put together some kind of movie miracle. His last big film was You Can Count On Me 16 years ago. He’s definitely one of the great cinema comeback stories of 2016. Besides being so emotionally powerful that you might dehydrate from crying, this movie also has some big laughs in it. It’s an instant classic.
4 Nocturnal AnimalsAmy Adams, on fire in 2016 even after you factor in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, plays Susan Morrow, a bizarre art gallery owner stuck in a rut. Her bland but gorgeous husband (Armie Hammer—also having a good year) is ambivalent toward her, and she’s borderline broke and generally unhappy. She gets a manuscript in the mail from ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). He was a struggling writer when the two were together, but now he just might have the novel that could get his career going. Susan agrees to read the advance copy, and the story within freaks her out, to say the least. The film’s screenplay, written by Ford and based on the novel by Austin Wright, then goes on an ultra-clever route. We see the story play out as Susan reads it and, as many of us often do, Susan casts the main character in the novel, Tony Hastings, as somebody she knows—her ex-husband. So Gyllenhaal plays two roles in the film: Edward in flashbacks and Tony, husband of Laura (Isla Fisher) and father to India (Ellie Bamber), in her visualization of the novel. One of the great tricks of the movie is that it remains a mystery whether or not the events in the novel are based on events in the larger narrative, or just act as a symbolic representation of the cruelties Susan inflicted upon Edward when she left him. Also, we never really know if Edward is somebody who simply wrote a chilling thriller and wants his ex-wife’s honest opinion, or if he’s sending her a message. Michael Shannon is excellent as a lawman living on borrowed time. It’s an alternately scary, funny, thrilling movie that is expertly performed.