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Top 10 Lists for the Past
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is both a powerful movie and a gut-wrenching experience that's
definitely not for everyone. It makes a case for the un-cinematic concept that some things--or
people--that are broken just can't be fixed. Why this is such a difficult idea to grasp is beyond
me--maybe people just go to the movies looking for hope. Casey Affleck is excellent as Lee Chandler, a
local Massachusetts ne'er-do-well who suddenly finds himself as father figure to his 16-year-old nephew
when Affleck's brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) dies. Director Kenneth Lonergan packs enough grief and
misery into the movie to adequately two additional full-length features. There's lots of angst--teenage
and otherwise--as Lee returns to his hometown of Manchester to act as the boy's guardian and open old
wounds that definitely include his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams) who--as always--is excellent.
Manchester by the Sea is probably too intense an experience for people who think they have their own
problems--and I get that. But if you're willing to risk the journey, it's worth the trip. (12/15/2016)
SEARCH ENGINES If the film festival people allowed me to choose "Best Picture" at the fest, this one
would get my vote. A Los Angeles woman hosts fifteen members of their friends and family for a
"traditional" Thanksgiving dinner--something she has never done and has no idea about how to get it
done now. (You know that dinner is never going to be served when she decides to set the oven at 550
degrees for the bird.) It's a typical Westside conglomeration. In addition to the hostess's two
daughters, brother, mother and sister, the guest list includes random friends and friends of friends. The
only thing they have in common is their reliance on their cell phones. Two of the guests are bloggers.
Two of the guests had previously "found" one another on a gay dating website, and a couple of the
guests are just irritated spouses who are jealous of their mates' relationships with their devices. (And I
would be remiss if I didn't say that one of the guests is the "dog groomer to the stars.") One of the
bloggers is David, who records "random ceremonies and rituals" for his blog and has decided to conduct
an experiment--namely what happens when he turns on a phone jammer and fifteen people are
compelled to deal with one another for a day. The set-up and the result is very Robert Altman-esque,
which means I loved it.
LA LA LAND is a terrific movie, but not the great one that many would have you believe. I used to
say that Emma Stone could do anything. After La La Land, I'll say that she can do anything but sing
and dance. Ditto and even more so for Ryan Gosling. But that's all right. They don't need to sing and
dance. We just like to watch Stone and Gosling hang out together and offer a textbook definition of
movie chemistry. A third character in the movie is almost as charming as Stone and Gosling, and that's
the City of Los Angeles itself. No offence to Iowa, but the City of Angels has always been the place
where dreams come true. People from all over have always gravitated to it to dream their dreams and
try to live them. Seeing the city portrayed on firm in all its glory and squalor is almost as entertaining as
watching the lead characters. And it least it doesn't try to sing or dance. (12/23/2016)
ANTHROPOID A movie that overestimates the intelligence of its audience like this one does deserves
to be the financial disaster that it will likely be. First off, let's assume you know what "anthropoid" is.
(Look it up.) You'd think that a movie about animals that resemble humans would be science fiction,
but you'd be wrong. Even if it does have Jamie Dornan (Fifty Shades of Gray) and Cillian Murphy (The
Dark Knight Rises) in it, you wouldn't recognize them from their earlier roles as masochists and
supervillains. Even when you find out that Anthropoid was the code name of the military mission to
assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, you're wondering, "Reinhard Who?" Only when you drill down and
discover that Heydrich was "The Butcher of Prague" and the highest-ranking Nazi assassinated in WWII
do you start to understand what the movie is about. And it's quite good. The suspense of how the
operation will turn out is maintained from the beginning when Dornan and Murphy parachute into
Czechoslovakia to the brutal end. The actors are fine, and the atmosphere of 1942 Prague is captured
perfectly. Distressingly, the aftermath of the assassination resulted in about three thousand
Czechoslovakians being murdered by the Nazis in horrible ways. Not to be disrespectful, but Bugs
Bunny once said, "I belie that when you go to the movies, you should "loin" something." In Anthropoid,
you do. (8/18/2016)
BAD MOMS Despite most of the stuff you read on this page, I really do like raunchy comedy when
it's: a) actually funny; and b) something a little bit different from the hundreds of reels of dreck one
usually finds lying around the multiplex. Bad Moms is the first movie of the genre that I've seen since
The Hangover that I can recommend as something new in the world. While everybody likes Mila Kunis,
they're more divided on Kristen Bell and Christina Applegate--which is too bad because they're all great
here. We've come a long way from That 70's Show,Veronica Mars and Married with Children. At the
beginning of the movie, it was a bit off-putting to discover that a Chicago-area PTA was an all-female
organization, but after a while, you get used to the concept and find yourself a little bit relieved that no
men are taking part in the shenanigans. Bad Moms is that rarest combination--a genuinely funny
comedy and something that's not a retread of four other movies. Check it out. (7/29/2016)
FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS Well, here's Meryl again, showing up in a movie that looks a lot like
Oscar-Bait. But I think that perhaps she might have misjudged this time. I think that if anyone from this
ensemble is going to get an Academy Award, it's going to be Hugh Grant. While Ms. Streep plays what
is basically a gargoyle--a woman so delusional in her belief of her own musical prowess, she books
Carnegie Hall and gives a concert with predictably horrible results. Streep is actually not as off-putting
this time because she's not pretending she can sing (Postcards from the Edge anybody? Paging A
Prairie Home Companion...) She's playing a character who really can't sing, so we don't have to
admire her bravery for trying. But as I said, Hugh Grant--surprisingly--is the story here as Florence's
husband of twenty-five years who's come to an understanding with her about the way their lives are to
be led and cherishes her all the more for it. It's really an astonishing performance. For someone who's
been burned in the past and has learned to give Meryl Streep movies a wide berth, I was pleasantly
surprised by Florence Foster Jenkins. (8/22/2016)
HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS For a long time, it's been easy to dismiss or undervalue her as an
actress because of shows like The Flying Nun, movies like Steel Magnolias, Forrest Gump or the Burt
Reynolds movies or comments like "You really like me!" But the truth is that if she didn't exist,
somebody would have to make her up, and I'm sure they wouldn't do nearly as good a job as the original
has done for herself. Sure, the character of Doris is way over the top. No self-respecting ad firm in
New York would tolerate such a outre, 1950's-era schlump in their presence. But we look past that,
accept her for what she is and move on. She falls for a 20-something man, thinks her love is requited
and digs a deep, deep emotional hole for herself that you know is going to be painful for her to crawl out
of. The first two-thirds of the movie is so sweet that you find yourself dreading the eventual crash and
burn that you know is coming. And then it does. But it's not so bad. People are surprised, learn
something about themselves, pick themselves up and move on. It's almost perfect. To say that they
don't make movies like this anymore is a vast understatement. And it's too bad. Doris is terrific.
THE INNOCENTS This is a French-Polish production about a convent in Poland which has seen the
worst of the depredations of the Nazis and Russians by the time a French Red Cross team arrives in the
winter of 1945. Seven of the nuns have been raped and are now pregnant. If the neighbors in the town
find out, the convent will be shamed and closed down. Lou de Laage (a name you'll be hearing for the
rest of your life) plays a young French doctor who has been forbidden to provide assistance to the nuns,
but sneaks out at night to help them anyway. Faith is tested in all quarters in a believable way, and that
is what makes The Innocents as good as it is. See it whenever you get the chance.
MISSING PEOPLE I'm sure was brought to the festival to honor the local connection between the
documentary's protagonist, Martina, a New York City art (she calls herself a curator, so we'll go with
that) and a New Orleans artist named Roy Ferdinand, who died of cancer a few years ago. It's clear
that Martina's infatuation with Ferdinand is to some degree compensatory for the loss of her brother
who was murdered as a teenager. Throughout the first half, Martina says that she's doing everything she
can to curate Mr. Ferdinand's life and career as an artist. (She even has some of his old clothes), so I
started to feel somewhat manipulated into thinking that the movie itself was a somewhat ham-handed
attempt to bring more awareness to Mr. Ferdinand, so the shocking development near the end of the
movie that removes Martina from the picture is truly shocking. This was one of the movies where the
director takes questions afterward, and I asked him whose idea it was to make the movie. He said that
he was also a painter and sold one of his works to Martina. That started the relationship that eventually
grew to include Mr. Ferdinand.
MISS SHARON JONES Someday, someone will curate the career of Sharon Jones and the
Dap-Kings, and I'll be able figure out when and where I saw them in the 1980's. I want to say Baton
Rouge sometime around 1982, but I could be wrong. Anyway, I'd almost forgotten about her when I
saw this documentary on her tribulations as a stage two pancreatic cancer patient a couple of years
ago. The movie makers did a wonderful job of tracking her around the New York metropolitan area as
she did her chemo and tried to maintain relations with the members of the band who have been with her
for more than thirty years. Miss Sharon is an example to all of us, and I can't wait to see her in person
at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival this weekend.
EDIT: I did see Miss Sharon Jones at Jazzfest in May and she was as electric as she appears to be in the
poster at the left. She did a loving tribute to Prince who had died a week earlier. Miss Sharon herself
lost her battle to cancer in November 2016. Perhaps Miss Sharon Jones is the perfect movie to embody
a tragic year in music when so many of the greats passed from us.
Matt's Ten Favorite Movies of 2016!
People have been saying for weeks that 2016 has been a GREAT year for movies.
That really wasn't my experience, but I guess I'm glad that somebody had a good year. If someone had told me in June that by the
end of the year, I'd be putting Hello, My Name is Doris, Florence Foster Jenkins and Bad Moms in the Top Ten list, I would have
hooted in derision. But here they are, and no one is more surprised than I am. And I'm not denigrating these particular movies. I
saw over sixty movies (click on the icon at the left, if you want to see what I thought about all of them), and these are three of the
ones I liked best.
As usual, I insist that these are not the ten best movies of 2016. Unlike AMPAS, I wouldn't know where to start saying something
is the "best."
Personally, 2016 was Manchester by the Sea and a bunch of other stuff. And while I did like some better than others, none of them
stand out to me so much that it's worth the effort to rank them.
Politics aside, no one will miss 2016--least of all people who are starving for movies that offer no plush animal-ready cartoon
animals, mutants, superheroes or mutant-superheroes.
Here are ten I liked. Maybe you will, too.
Becasue it's the holidays, I'm going to back off from going to detail about my least favorite movies of 2016. Let's just say that
nothing was a awful as Nocturnal Animals, although, Sausage Party, Breaking the Bank, Deadpool and Genius gave it their best shot.