The half-year in review
SN&R film critics Daniel Barnes’ and Jim Lane’s favorite films of the year (so far)
Looking to catch up on the best of 2016 to date? Fire up the ol’ Netflix and check out Daniel Barnes’ and Jim Lane’s recommended viewing.
1. Only Yesterday: A bit of a cheat, since this richly detailed animated masterpiece from Studio Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata was made in 1991, but the film only received an American release this year thanks to GKids. Only Yesterday is as delicate as Yasujirô Ozu, as powerful as Akira Kurosawa, as possessed as Kenji Mizoguchi and as hauntingly beautiful as any film ever made.
2. Three: This genre-hopping blast from prolific Hong Kong filmmaker Johnnie To works as part solemn morality play and part gonzo white-knuckle thriller, part huge-hearted ensemble dramedy and part pitiless three-hander, with an almost unbearable escalation of tension that explodes into one of the most insane action sequences you’ll ever see.
3. The Witch: Robert Eggers’ unsettling “New England Folk Tale” only improves on re-watch, presenting a pre-industrial world so wracked with hypocrisy and repression that consort with the devil becomes the only sensible feminist option. A soul-withering, vaguely sexual slow creep in the vein of Under the Skin, The Witch feels authentic both as Pilgrim anthropology and as a waking nightmare.
4. Krisha: Another excellent movie about the nightmare of family, only written and directed by and starring an actual family. Insanely talented rookie director Trey Edward Shults remakes his 2014 short film with this low-budget gut punch of a Thanksgiving weekend, using his parents’ house as the location and enlisting most of his family as actors. It sounds like a Sundance torture chamber, but the film has energy and style to burn.
5. Love & Friendship: Whit Stillman’s first foray into adaptation is an absolute delight, an intelligently dizzy and refreshingly wordy take on Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan. There is an almost perfect overlap between the sensibilities of Stillman and Austen, to the point that all of Stillman’s previous films now feel like reverse-engineered Austen adaptations.
1. The BFG: Yes, it flopped at the box office; so what? The Wizard of Oz bombed in 1939, but its day finally came, and so will The BFG’s. A finer movie this year is simply not possible. And while I’m on the subject, I’ll take this opportunity to apologize to Steven Spielberg and the late Melissa Mathison for all those family audiences who passed up their brilliant fantasy in favor of Ice Age: Collision Course and The Secret Life of Pets.
2. Eye in the Sky: This was an examination of the moral conundrums of 21st-century warfare and the sometimes cold calculations of collateral damage, all disguised as a white-knuckle thriller—and it succeeded on both counts. It was the kind of thing you’d expect if Alfred Hitchcock and George Bernard Shaw had decided to make a movie together.
3. The Jungle Book: There was still more Disney than Kipling, to be sure, and this nominally live-action remake was actually computer-animated except for Neel Sethi as Mowgli (in a remarkable debut performance for a 12-year-old working alone in front of a green screen). Still, there were undercurrents of menace that harked back to old Rudyard, and if some parts were too unsettling for small children, they could take heart from seeing young Sethi braving them right there on the screen.
4. The Nice Guys: Writer-director Shane Black scored with a terrific companion piece to his underrated 2005 film Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling made a hilariously profane team as two bottom-feeders in 1970s L.A. trying to unravel a convoluted murder mystery. Black’s ending was a little messy, but it left the door open for a franchise, and I say bring it on.
5. Finding Dory: The gang at Pixar, especially Andrew Stanton (he of the Midas touch), did it again with a sequel that, like Stanton’s Toy Story 2, enriched and enhanced the original. Exhilarating, breathtaking and irresistible, this was perfect entertainment.