WE’VE seen a number of really good movies this year mainly in our own central Victorian multiplex but with a couple viewed in Sydney and Melbourne during breaks at annual writers’ festivals.
One aspect which should be remarked on. Not as many continental films were on our agenda in 2016 – unsure whether less were available or we just didn’t get around to seeing them.
Here’s my Top Twelve.
1. Spotlight: a brilliant investigative journalism expose outlining how in the early 2000s a team from the Boston Globe outed a huge network of Catholic priests and brothers who’d sexually abused boys in their care. Michael Keaton outstanding as the paper’s lead investigator with Rachel McAdams and Mark Ruffalo in fine supporting roles. Took home the 2016 Oscar for Best Picture.
2. Carol: Cate Blanchett stars in this 1950s tale of forbidden love between two women from diametrically opposed social classes – herself as a well-heeled socialite and a much younger Manhattan shop assistant (Rooney Mara). They go on a road trip with Carol’s hubby distraught and super keen to find them. Blanchett was a finalist for the Best Actress Academy Award this year.
3. Hell Or High Water: two vastly different brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) set out to rob the front counters in small-town branches of a west Texas bank, the very same bank which spivved their farming mother during her lifetime. A Texas Ranger played by Jeff Bridges sets out after them as the hauls are too small for the state police, let alone the FBI, to consider.
4. Labyrinth Of Lies: Less than two decades after World War 2 a host of SS concentration camp guards are working in all manner of everyday West German jobs. But young prosecutor Johann Radman (Alexander Fehling) hears first hand the story of a Jewish survivor from death camp Auschwitz and in 1958 starts to dig into sensitive documents. His immediate superior Prosecutor-General Fritz Bauer (Gert Voss, in his final-ever role) is supportive but even so Radmann lands in a tangled web of lies and denials.
5. Florence Foster Jenkins: Meryl Streep at her best as a tone-deaf New York socialite who ends up ‘singing’ completely off-key to an early 1940s audience, including a thousand active servicemen, in a packed Carnegie Hall. Florence was convinced she was a genuine opera star, an illusion carefully shielded and nurtured by her canny husband, played by Hugh Grant. Until the fateful and career-defining Carnegie Hall evening.
6. The Man Who Knew Infinity: set in pre-World War 1 Cambridge where Indian mathematics wizard Srinivasa Ramanujan (Dev Patel) takes the academic world by storm. Irascible but secretly loveable maths professor GH Hardy (Jeremy Irons) perseveres with the whiz as he tutors him in writing clear and unambiguous proofs. Eventually Ramanujan is accepted as a fellow of Cambridge Uni., but his health deteriorates and he just manages to reunite with his wife and family back in India before a premature death.
7. Brooklyn: another Fifties New York-area movie, this one about young Irish girl Eilis (Saoirse Ronan). She’s left bleak Ireland, her mother and older sister behind for the promise of America. She lives with a witty landlady (Julie Walters) and meets a benevolent priest (Jim Broadbent). The dilemma for Eilis is her blossoming romance with local tradie Tony while retaining strong feelings for Irish boy Jim, back home.
8. Rams: a little known film from Iceland about two warring sheep farming brothers who haven’t spoken to each other in 40 years. And that’s even though they live on adjacent farms. Everything changes when the virulent disease scrapie infects sheep in both farms and across their valley. How Gummi and Kiddi eventually collaborate to take a few breeding sheep they’ve saved from the exterminators up into the blizzard-swept highlands forms the climax. Was Iceland’s entry in the Oscar category: Best Foreign Language movie.
9. Mustang: well paced Turkish film centring on five free-spirited sisters who live close to Black Sea town, Trabzonspor. Lale (Elit Iscan) is the youngest and liveliest of the five and because of an end-of-school-year seaside frolic with boys, their grandmother and uncle barricade them inside the family house. As potential marriage candidates they’re taught to cook, clean and sew yet Lale sneaks out and conspires with a village truck driver to take them to a Trabzonspor soccer match, attended by an all-female crowd.
10. Sully: the tale of airline captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger who lands his stricken twin-engined commuter jet in New York’s Hudson River. And then makes sure everyone aboard, crew as well as passengers, have disembarked safely. That’s just the first problem for Sully (Tom Hanks): he also has to face a big air crash investigative inquiry.
11. The Magnificent Seven: Denzel Washington leads his motley crew – 7 in total, of course – to a little 1870s mining town lorded over by ruthless tycoon Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard). After a few skirmishes as they travel to the town and its mine, the Seven eventually despatch the town’s resident gunslingers and await the arrival of Bogue’s massive posse from California for the ultimate showdown.
12. The Founder: Michael Keaton is okay as Ray Kroc, the man who franchised the McDonald’s fast-food idea across the U.S., and eventually the globe. But he’s not nearly as memorable as he was in Spotlight. Dick McDonald (Nick Offerman), the younger of the two brothers whose single Sacramento outlet in the Fifties was the fulcrum upon which the whole mega-chain is based, almost stole the show. Kroc’s first wife (Laura Dern) is stuck in a wet blanket role.
Unlucky to miss a listing – Hacksaw Ridge: Mel Gibson’s return as a director after a decade on the sidelines. The story is about decorated World War 2 medic Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a pacifist who won’t carry a gun, and how he brought dozens of wounded Army comrades to a field hospital, on his own, from an Okinawan battleground. First of all Gibson sets the scene in Doss’ home state and then focuses on his military training at a tough boot camp.
Disappointments – Hail Caesar!: not often you see a Coen Brothers film, especially one starring George Clooney, where you keep waiting for something to happen. It’s 1950s Hollywood and studio fixer (Josh Brolin) is trying to keep his stars in line. That’s until Roman-era swords and sandals star Baird (Clooney) is ‘kidnapped’ by leftie script writers: with dim-witted Baird in full kit throughout.
Absolutely Fabulous, The Movie: dunno why I was talked into going to see this stinker with one of wife’s book groups. Joanna Lumley is great at taking us on TV tours Down The Nile, Through Japan and Across Greece. But at 70 she’s a bit ancient to still be playing the party-going pisspot. Jennifer Saunders remains good as champagne-swilling Edina, but I was delighted to read recently that she’d said that was it for all time on the Ab. Fab. front: teev and movies.
Best of the kids’ flicks – Finding Dory: tends to go on a bit but hey, it’s not for our age group. Still it has a couple of nice protagonists including the septopus Hank (Ed O’Neill, he’s really an octopus but missing one tentacle) and a near-sighted beluga whale. Best of all was perhaps Big Fluke the sea lion (Idris Elba) speaking in a twangy east London accent. Dory is voiced by Ellen DeGeneres.
Cheery animated kids’ flick, Trolls: the huge Bergens have invaded Troll village so Poppy (Anne Kendrick) who’s a happy Troll and the sad, melancholy but resourceful Branch (Justin Timberlake) get started on their journey to rescue their very thick friends. The Bergens are happiest when they’re eating Trolls so only Bridget (Zooey Deschanel), the King’s very plain scullery maid, is on the side of the Trolls.
NOTE: I’m a devoted fan of three genres – Westerns, costume dramas and spywar movies.
Hence the placement of The Magnificent Seven in my Top 12.
And we assiduously avoid anything to do with sci-fi, fantasy, Zombie walk-agains, horror and the like so have never ever seen any Harry Potter, Lord Of The Rings, Star Wars (originals or remakes) or similar fluff!