This year was all about subverting expectations at the movies, as many of the more interesting films toyed with genre expectations to produce slow-moving, introspective dramas. The box office was dominated (as usual) by established brands and animated kids movies – The Rock/Kevin Hart comedy Central Intelligence was the one film in the year’s top 20 that featured original characters in a live-action movie – but there was no shortage of visually impressive, thoughtful features to be seen.
On a local level, I should also mention that some of my favorite moviegoing experiences this year featured older films. RISD screened silent classic The Phantom of the Opera with a live orchestra on Halloween, while Brown screened Luchino Visconti’s operatic Rocco and His Brothers at the Granoff Center. Movies on the Block threw a curveball by presenting Clue with only one of the original three endings, and TCM’s series showcasing recently restored films included The Maltese Falcon at Providence Place. Oh, and the Roger Williams Park Conservancy gave us Moonrise Kingdom under the stars.
Here are the ten movies I saw this year that really resonated with me. Two honorable mentions are films that technically came out last year, although they didn’t make it to Rhode Island until 2016. I saw Todd Haynes’s festive, gorgeous Carol on New Year’s Day and it was an excellent start to the year. A few months later, the Cable Car brought in Mustang, a lush, green film about five Turkish sisters living in an increasingly authoritarian household.
1. The Lobster
I saw The Lobster back around Memorial Day, and remember certain visuals as clearly as if I’d just seen them – a dance party in the woods, a musical number in a hotel ballroom, exotic animals meandering through a forest. A sci-fi film set in a world where people must remain coupled or face the consequences, The Lobster features great acting from Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, and French star Lea Seydoux.
2. Into The Forest
Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood star as lonely sisters in Patricia Rozema’s feminist apocalypse drama. I say drama, because the word thriller isn’t exactly right for a film whose most thrilling moments include watching the walls of a mod house succumb to water damage. Absolutely no one saw this movie – it played at the $3 theater East Providence for a single week – but it’s worth a watch.
I didn’t get a chance to see Weiner, so I won’t make any pronouncements about this being the year’s most uncomfortable documentary. A New Zealand filmmaker discovers the online world of “competitive endurance tickling” and eventually uncovers an insanely peculiar web of deceit, vengeance, and homophobia masterminded by a shadowy phantom with a bitter heart and a seemingly endless bankroll.
So much of the talk surrounding Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight focused on the acting that I really wasn’t expecting it to be so visually arresting. The cinematography is stunning, even as the narrative falters a little in the final act. Main character Chiron is played by three different actors, from a scrawny nine-year old through a prison-sculpted drug dealer. Janelle Monae excels as a surrogate mother figure, and I look forward to seeing her in roles that have a little more depth.
5. Everybody Wants Some!!
Richard Linklater’s lightweight Everybody Wants Some!! is a really remarkable movie, a comedy that critics kept calling “accidentally gay” but which is so much smarter than that. Centered around a house full of college baseball players in 1980, not much happens and we never see the guys play a single game. It seems inevitable that someone’s going to either come out of the closet or die by falling off a roof, but Linklater skirts expectations – that would ruin the fun, after all.
6. Neon Bull
In northeastern Brazil, a rodeo hand named Iremar chalks bulls’ tails by day while designing sexy women’s clothing in his spare time. Traveling from town to town, the characters in this slow-paced erotic drama aren’t all that much different from the cattle they spend their days with. (I don’t know anything at all about Brazilian class consciousness, to know whether anything should be read into that.) Styled like an ethnographic documentary, the camera observes passively as humans and animals alike go about their daily routines, eating and sleeping and having sex.
7. The Green Room
A punk band accidentally books a show at a remote Oregon bar run by neo-Nazis, led by a particularly sinister Patrick Stewart. The band starts their set with a cover of the Dead Kennedys “Nazi Punks, Fuck Off,” which goes over about as well as you’d expect. Things go downhill quickly as the bodies pile up and the dogs are let loose. (Side warning: don’t watch this movie at home with your own dog. They won’t like it.)
Zootopia is full of explicit anti-discrimination and anti-bullying messages, but the animated adventure also features lots of “trust the police” themes that seem rather at odds with the world as we know it in 2016. It’s a really entertaining movie, though, with a DMV full of sloths and mob goon polar bears dressed in gold chains and tracksuits. The vocal talents of Shakira (as a gazelle) and Idris Elba (as a water buffalo) help, too.
Six bored men devise a series of tests to determine which of them is the best. Set in a luxury yacht on the Aegean Sea, this nutty Greek satire never played locally. It’s streaming on Netflix, though, and worth tracking down.
10. Bleed For This
It’s odd watching a biopic about someone who went to your suburban high school. It’s even more peculiar when the film is a resurrection parable, complete with a bloody crown. Director Ben Younger claims that he doesn’t like boxing and doesn’t particularly like boxing movies, which explains why most of the action takes place outside the ring.