Friday, November 24, 2017

THE TOP TEN FILMS OF 2016! Yeah, I-, (Sigh) I was putting it off this year, okay!

(Long deep breath)

Look, I've been putting this off, okay! I know, I'm always the last person to do a Top Ten List, and I play it off as fun, Haha, David waited 'til next year to do it, again, 'cause he didn't live at the movie theater and see everything or whatever, but-, you know, actually, I really have been putting this off. Technically, by my own rules; I should've done these two posts two weeks ago, but I decided to write on other things instead. It's not that 2016 was a bad year for films, I'll discuss that in a bit, I mean, it might as well have been, it was a shitty year for everything else, and 2017 seems like it's 100x worst, only with less celebrity deaths and more celebrity sex harassments, assaults, rapes, and other such sex crimes, and a moron in the White House, who's the top groper-in-Chief, except I doubt he's even good at that. I know enough about that, and sure, it should be, but on the same token, it's definitely been difficult to filter all those outside distractions out, and then to take a little time and then, focus in on the movies.

At least for me it's been. Usually I'm pretty certain about the best in film, each year, but this time, I-, I honestly am not sure how good or perhaps how shitty this year's been. I think it was overall a decent year, but watching 2016 movies and trying to judge them correctly, all through 2017, that's-, that's not an easy task. If there was ever a year where I just don't feel strongly about enough, this was the year. I usually warn people to not pay super attention to my 5 STAR RATING and read my reviews, and 'cause 5 STARS, 4 1/2 STARS, there isn't that much different, it's a good movie, and boy, was this year a great example of that. Usually, I can find myself getting really emotional about things, and really love or hate certain films, but you know, I feel like I was watching a lot of things that were, for all-intensive purposes technically good, or sometimes even great, but, I still had a very difficult time feeling connected emotionally to them. Normally, that's kinda okay; I'm very anti-fandom, and I definitely prefer people appreciate the "Good" instead of just worship the "like", but, at the same time, the reason I put up that defensive shield to movies, is because I'm waiting around for the next film I see to inevitably break it down, and, you know, I just-, I don't know, I'm starting to wonder if my guard was just a little too protected this year, 'cause there was a lot of good, but so little of it really effected me, that I'm really not sure I'm truly the best judge of this year in film. Most years, I'm fairly assured on my thoughts on the best films of the year, I never worry too much that I missed, too many things- I mean, sure, there's a couple films I haven't seen quite yet, but even the films I have seen, but I'm less confident in this list, than in any list, I've ever made.

I'm still annoyed that I didn't get to a few things, sorry to those wondering about "Your Name' and "The Founder", among others, but....- I think if I waited any longer, it would just be searching for the sake of searching. This was the year, even the high points felt like low points, and knowing that everything could've and maybe in some cases should've been better, made it much more difficult than it could've and in some cases should've, to enjoy the stuff that actually was really good.

Well, I gotta get this over with, and, officially close the book on 2016. As always, I get the last word. Let's do this!


Number ten.

10. Fences

The top of the list I basically had figured out, but that said, I actually, quite struggled figuring out what to put on the bottom of the list, there's a few movies I could've easily put here and justified it pretty easily. I ended up going with Denzel Washington's "Fences", probably because of it's power, but also because of it's importance by being the first feature film adaptation of an August Wilson play, and thank god, it wasn't just a good one; it was great.

"You know the strange thing about Broadway is how it's somewhat stereotyped as a Mecca for the stories of and for the Liberal Elite, or at least the New York Elites. It is expensive, it's roots in theater date back, probably closer to the history of Jewish Theater than anything else, and it's main attraction are usually overblown bombastic musical featuring, mostly white characters, and most of the time they deal with some of the more trivial problems of the world and are often about people in the elite class, in some way..... The thing is, that's not true. There's a long history of the Broadway stage in particular being heavily integrated.... In fact, in many ways, you can argue that for much of the 20th Century, it was sometimes African-Americans only avenue, if not Broadway, then the Chitlin Circuit before then, and it's not they're were represented that well in front of or behind the scenes on film and television, assuming they were represented at all. And if there's one playwright who you can point to as being representative of modern African-American theater in this country, it's definitely the one that's got their name on a theater on the olde Great White Way. August Wilson, despite having his work feature so prominently in the American theater Canon, he hasn't allowed people to adopt his plays into films. Only a TV movie production of "The Piano Lesson" that was just a filming of the stage production has ever been out there before, but now, over ten years after his death, Denzel Washington's determined to put all his work onto film. 

"Fences" is the 1950's entry into Wilson's famed "The Pittsburgh Cycle" of plays that take place in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, one for each decade and the focus of this play is Troy Maxson (Oscar-nominee Washington). Troy, is a garbage man,  literally, who goes to work every day and then comes home to his family. He's a hurricane who commands the attention everywhere and a loudmouth. It's hard to tell without his quiet but patient wife Rose (Oscar-winner Viola Davis) coming in to unspool his lies, but at one point, he left his home when he was 14 and was a thief for a long time, spending time in jail once he managed to find his way to Mobile. After that, he found some fame at baseball in the Negro Leagues before starting a family. For all-intensive purposes, he's one mammoth sonofabitch, who's incapable of seeing the world anyway except through his own eyes. He's arrogant, he's a hypocrite, he's one complex character. He can have his fun moments, like hanging out with his co-worker Mr. Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson) as he talks about getting the right to be a driver which no African-American has yet to be as him and Bono mostly hang on the outside and pickup the trash that way. I guess trashmen still do that. And they make decent money too back then, and his brother Lyons (Russell Hornsby) will borrow some between low-paying music gigs, calling him out every pay day and elsewhere for when he doesn't form a life of his own. He also goes after his son Cory (Jovan Adepo) 'cause he wants to play sports and he even has a college football recruiter coming, but he makes him work at the local A&P instead and personally sacrifices his chances of getting a scholarship, even with good grades. He protects his mother when he gets out of hand, but mostly, he's afraid of the huge shadow of a monster that Troy casts on everyone. The only character he seemed to have sympathy for is his brother Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson) who was shot during the war, and has since become a shell of his former self who can't really take care of himself. He tries to sell fruit, but he mostly talks about working for St. Peter keeping out the hellhounds. Eventually, Troy gets a mistress pregnant, and she ends up dying during childbirth. It slows him down, and he convinces his angered wife, soon-to-be-ex to take care of the little girl Raynell (Saniyya Sidney) but the only one who doesn't realize it's too little too late for him is himself.

I get the feeling that this is very much an African-American trait, especially with males who will battle on with somebody especially their kids about the supposed right choices and decisions and will just never let it go, it comes up a lot in literature. In another decade and another situation I can easily see Troy Maxson being a version of the Grandpapa character Arnold Johnson played in "Menace II Society" spouting nothing but religion to Caine, completely unaware of just how irrelevant such a message is to him. Troy's not religious, but he's an old man who believes he's given up his time for his family and now feels like he's deserved the right to run roughshot over everyone and everything else. As a film, Washington's directing is sparse, but it should be. This is a play and mores in plays than in films, the smallest lines, inflections and props can mean everything. "Fences" is a great first effort, a powerful film with spectacular performances at the center of the film that bring to life a story who's greatest strength is how observant it is about the experiences of people growing up in the world. How they live, who they are, what impacted most their ultimate decisions now in the past and in the future....."

You know, when I think about "Fences", all I really think about, is, the power of Denzel's presence. there's some great actors and performances of course, but Washington, directed himself in this, and it could've trivial for him to play this role, so bombastic and over-the-top, intense, but he uses the camera well in this case, and really makes this character, take up the entire screen. There's a close-up of him, really late in the movie, talking and holding a baseball bat, and like-, everything that could've possibly gone wrong for him, has happened, and you're waiting for that one genuine moment of clarity to finally hit him, and it doesn't just not happen, he outright refuses for it to happen, and it's frightening and devastating and monstrous to some extent, even. It's a towering performance in a movie, in every other way, is subtle, it's slice-of-life, it's stage-y, even,- I mean, it's just a straight up adaptation,- I guess you could argue, he could've been a little more bare bones than the film actually is, but it takes a lot to direct yourself, and make you seem like the biggest asshole around; it's easy to take the Nate Parker route, and play a famous American hero, and make him godly and whatnot,- this is so much on a higher level than I think even most realize, and it's a higher degree of difficulty too.

Number nine:

The last couple years, I've kept a genre off this list, documentaries. I didn't intend on that to happen honestly, it just kinda played out that way, but this year, they're making a comeback, and that's a good thing. That said, I wish this wasn't on the list....

9. O.J.: Made in America

Oh, it deserves it, it's a great movie, but-eh, O.J. Fucking Simpson....!

....Okay, so, I recognize the fact that I do have a lot of readers who are younger than I am, and maybe aren't as informed or don't really remember the O.J. Simpson trial, which is probably why 2016, became the year, we all suddenly decided to inform and reteach everybody about it in film and television, (Sigh, and no, before you ask, I haven't seen the entire FX miniseries yet, I've seen a bit of it, it looked good, but that's all I've seen so far) And for the most part that's a good thing, that said, for those of us who lived through it, and who recall it with a distressing amount of accuracy like it was yesterday, and have since, spent literally a huge chunk of our lives, learning and re-learning about O.J. Simpson, and have lived, relived, re-experienced and do that, not only with the trial, but with more extra added strange and surreal new chapters to the life of O.J. Simpson than I can count, it's-, it just hurts my head. I need an aspirin. And, if that wasn't enough, this is a seven-and-a-half hour documentary!

You read that right, 7 1/2 HOURS! So. let's get this out of the way, theatrically-released motion picture of this length, they are unusual, but it's not unprecedented. There's one experimental movie out there that literally takes over thirty days straight-through to watch and it's trailer is famously 72 minutes long, and there's plenty of famous cinematic feature films and movies that got screened in theaters but might show in other media elsewhere like "The Decalogue" or "Berlin Alexanderlplatz" for instance, that are in the nine hours range, but just in terms of documentaries, again it's unusual, but it's not unprecedented.... but this isn't too bad, except for the fact that, I'm reliving the damn O.J. Simpson trials. And, before you can really understand those trials and why he's currently in prison, up in the northwest corner of my state, after forever turning a pretty decent local casino that I've enjoyed going to most of my life that's pretty cool except for the occasional Union strike, into "That place O.J. robbed those guys." Sorry, Palace Station.

So, okay, O.J. Simpson, first of all, by any standard, he's one of the greatest football players of all-time, and one of the greatest athletes who ever lived. He came around as a standout Heisman Trophy winning running back for USC in the late '60s, and, while there's a lot of aspects of America in the late '60s that are actually well-studied and common knowledge, the sports world at that time, has sorta been lost through history occasionally. '68 was the year the two African-American sprinters at the Mexico City Olympics made the Black Power fist when they medal'd in the 200 meters for instance, and football in particular was quickly becoming the modern american passion we know today, and before O.J. Simpson, the most prominent African-American athlete in the sport was Jim Brown. The most prominent African-American athlete overall, was probably Muhammad Ali, so arguably the biggest sports named in the African-American community at that time, were very politically astute and involved in the Black Rights movement, to varying degrees, and you can argue that they were transforming the sports world at the time. O.J. Simpson, on the other hand...- well, let me put it this way, when the first trial was going on, my mother asked an African-American co-worker about him, because the trial, became about race, for several reasons, that I'm just not gonna explain here, 'cause it would take too long and too much of my sanity, but he mentioned something in passing, about how "Suddenly, he's Black, he never wanted to be before," and at the time, she didn't quite know what he meant, but the movie actually makes it quite clear, 'cause he was a Southern Cal-born and raised, darling, and yes, he was a bit of a hood in high school, but he was a star athlete and got away with a lot, and he was such a great athlete that he basically could get things that others in his position, couldn't and because he was seen as non-threatening and loved the spotlight, he did. Long before, Michael Jordan, O.J. Simpson, was the commercial spokesperson who was Black, but not really, at least to white audiences. You know that conversation in "Do the Right Thing" about how the racist John Turturro sees African-American athletes and pop stars differently? Yeah, "Run, Juice, Run", was from a Hertz commercial, originally.... 

....So, what do I think about this documentary about Kim Kardashian's godfather? Well, I don't really have much to say, but it's really good. It deserves the praise and awards it's getting, it's just, man, a lot to really-, ugh. I mean, I've seen and lived almost every O.J. thing that's come out, since this damn trial-, I have a copy of Marcus Allen's biography somewhere, there it is, on my bookshelf actually, I just-, ugh, if you haven't spent 20 years, reliving all this crap already, then, by all means, this is one of the best and most thorough pieces of film, you'll ever need to see to really get a sense of O.J. Simpson, the man, the myth, the reality, the trials, the crimes, the image, and the self-destruction of it thereof, than, absolutely, this is worth the time, it's one of the best films and documentaries you'll find all year. Remember, this is a subject that's, been devoted to 16 hours or so of television and film this year alone, and that's just in the major two pieces of art and there really is, that many layers and perspectives that can be done on this guy, and for better or worst, he needs to be considered and analyzed as a part of and a creation of modern Americana, and this film, does that, amazingly well.

I'm truly being honest, when I say that this is the movie, I really tried to not put on my list. If you're not my age, you might not even get it, if you're not my age or older, and aren't from this area of the country. I know and have corresponded with people, in Hollywood, who promote themselves as having worked with O.J. Simpson, still, and very recently, there was a  local story in the news here in Vegas about him, apparently getting a little too drunk and rowdy at the Cosmopolitan hotel here. He is still, a huge part that soaks in and seeps over the fabric of Americana and it's so annoying; I could go my whole life without ever thinking about O.J. again, and I think I'd be happy about that prospect. That said, it's one of the ten best films, and for a lot of the younger people who, might not get what the big deal was with him, and the trial, I mean, I guess you can read about it, but-, instead, if you really want to understand, the flinching and twitching that we all get from this, take the time, and watch this documentary with somebody older who's lived through all this, and see how they will react, and you'll probably finally start getting it.You'll be absorbed in the documentary fine, but you'll get that other commentary from your older friend, and it's the closest you can come to being transported back to all that. I don't know why you'd want to do that, but, if you do, hear you go. 

Number Eight.

8. The Handmaiden

On top of not having a documentary, another strange anomaly from last year was that 2015 was the first time, in a long time that I didn't have a single foreign film in my Top Ten, yeah, that was a trend that was bound to be short-lived, although I'm a little surprised Park Chan-Wook's latest is one of the ones that broke the list this year. I've been one of the ones who's been critical of him over the years, sometimes incorrectly so; I for instance totally whiffed on "Oldboy" the first time I saw it. However, after a brief foray into American filmmaking with "Stoker", a movie that I'm actually confident I'm still correct to pan, he's returned to his native South Korea, for this erotic thriller, and I definitely prefer his work when he's over there making it.

 I had to think over this one for a little while, trying to figure out, exactly what it is, and how to consider it. I already do that a lot with Chan-Wook Park; I find that I don't always think much of his work on original viewing, but over time I tend to appreciate him more. I had that concern with "Thirst" and especially with "Oldboy" a movie that, in retrospect, I seriously underrated on initial viewing;....all his films, seem to be about people entering or realizing their place in a new world that's opened for them, whether they've been locked in a prison for fifteen years, or they've become a vampire, or they're moving into a haunted house with a questionable stepmother. Or, here, where a young Korean girl, Sookee (Tae-ri Kim) who grew up, basically as a thief, second generation thief btw, and is now sent to be a maid for a Japanese mistress, Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim). The movie takes place in the 1930s, so this requires a little bit of a lesson here, uh, Japan was, occupying I believe,....  this is a prominent time period, we're talking here. For awhile, Korea was influenced more by China, but Japan influence had been taking over before then, and during this occupation, the country, was basically forced into the customs and traditions of Japan, and in many cases, took a rather subservient role to the Japanese. This, is important subtext, to this film, (And, now that I think about it, a lot of Korean films I've seen, there's a lot of subservient behavior in them) but, I'm not gonna give a history lesson that I only barely can follow, so getting back to the story, Sookee is sent to Lady Hideko by a Count, Count Fujiwara (Jung-woo Ha), who, just like the most famous count in literature you can think of, is also, not a count. This one is also, a conman, and has somehow found his way into Lady Hideko's Uncle's good graces. The Uncle, Uncle Kouzuki (Jin-woong Jo) is rich, and a collector of expensive and rare books in particular, mostly of an erotic nature. So, Kouzuki sends Sookee to help convince Lady Hideko to marry him, essentially, being his house spy, and figure out how to win her over, in exchange for part of the fortune that he plans to take, once he then gaslights Lady Hideko and put her in a mental home, leaving him, the main heir to Uncle's fortune and collectibles. If you followed all that, good, 'cause that's only a third of the movie, and even then I'm leaving a lot out. Mainly, that Sookee and Lady Hideko seem to have fallen in love with each other, and yes, this is an erotic movie, complete with multiple references in different contexts to nipple pulling, and some round beads, that look and are exactly like what you will think they are. This film, basically is a con movie, the kind with several double-and-triple crosses, one that could challenge a "The Sting" expert. I guess, taking symbolism out of the equation, the most logical comparison would probably be the Wachowski's "Bound", 'cause there's definitely a lot of similar characters at play, but that's a fun popcorn movie more than anything. Actually the movies that this reminds me of the most is Claude Berri's "Jean de Florette" and it's paired film, "Manon of the Spring". Those movies also, essentially were also stories about long con jobs that involved getting over on somebody in order to achieve monetary gain, (Well, more the first one did that than the second, but that was apart of it) and one that took a long time, and a slow approach, that, seemed successful at first, until the ultimate backfire comes in, and that one, also involved forbidden love too, come to think of it. Part of me, is not crazy about how this film, plays out; it's one of those films, where we see one thing, and then, see the same thing happen from a different perspective and angle, which is one of those cliches that I'm a little tired of, even though I honestly can't figure out how to do too many con movies without it, but, actually, it works really well here. The writing in particular is really strong here from Park and his co-writer Seo-kyeong Jun, and that might have to do a bit with this being an adaptation of a British novel from Sarah Waters called "Fingersmith", which actually makes sense, 'cause this film does have a bit of a "Dangerous Liaisons" feel to it, that definitely seems more Western and British in nature, and considering Waters is one of the best writers of gay fiction at the moment; I know her best from "Tipping the Velvet" which was turned into a wonderful miniseries on the BBC. Park is constantly inspired by Western novels and stories, sometimes more obviously than others, but this feels like one of his strongest adaptations yet. I can see why "The Handmaiden" has gotten so much praise, this is a film that will benefit from repeated thought and viewings and the deeper you go into it the better and more intricate it becomes. It's a truly impressive feature.

I'm starting to get a sense of Park Chan-Wook's work, and yes, I've seen this film since, and it is complicated, the plot, if you think about it too deeply, but it's a visual feast, above anything. A great erotic picture as well, which, don't sneeze at that, that's a tough genre. He really did pick a good writer to adapt, and there is a sense of westernization in a lot of his work. He's made a vampire movie, he's made a classic Hollywood horror/thriller, he's made,- well, "Oldboy" beyond everything else was a re-imaging of "The Count of Monte Cristo", and I don't know Sarah Waters falls on the modern scale in South Korea, but now that I've seen more of his work, he kinda reminds me now more of somebody like Akira Kurosawa, especially later Kurosawa, who, would do Shakespeare adaptation and turn the basic narrative into a Japanese epic, but he would also take stuff that was more modern and pulp even, for instance, which was loosely inspired by an Ed McBain novel of all things, and I think Park Chan-Wook is trying to do that for South Korea. At least in the west, we've really only had, like fifteen or twenty or so years or Korean cinema, really, finding a foothold and a regular permanent spot in American audiences mindset, as least, the-eh, ones attracted to more global cinema, and I suspect, it's vice-versa a bit too, and you're gonna find great filmmakers more inspired by something more instinctually Korean like a Kim Ki-Duk usually is for instance, and you'll also find more western-influenced filmmakers, in Korea, Park Chan-Wook, is one of the very best at combining those two influences into something special that people at all corners of the globe can appreciate. And "The Handmaiden" might be his best yet.

Number seven.

7. Silence

Martin Scorsese's "Silence" kinda fell under the radar come awards time and I guess technically I would probably rank this as a lesser Scorsese film, but it's still Scorsese, and it's still a great epic tale that more than perhaps even his previous religious epic, "The Last Temptation of Christ" challenges not only the lengths that people are willing to go in the name of faith, but also how dangerous,  quixotic and utterly useless the idea of spreading the name of God to others, can be.

I think in some ways "Silence" might be the long-awaited response to "The Passion of the Christ" that we've never really gotten outside of that one "South Park" episode. Either that, or, it's a movie that challenges and analyzes both the limits of faith as well as the reach and influence, of a religion, one who's God is for the most part, absent. Obviously, I can think of one other movie about the lack of a voice to and from God and that's Ingmar's Bergman "The Silence", a movie that, appropriately has quite little dialogue to it. Scorsese has made religious movies before, most notably, "Kundun" about the young Dalai Lama, and "The Last Temptation of Christ" which might still remain as his most controversial film, but religion is never far away from Scorsese. All his films seems to be about sins and how and whether we can overcome over trespasses. You can argue that he's one of the most Catholic directors of all-time. "Silence" however, takes a more philosophical look on religion. Based on a novel by Shusaku Endu, that actually was already once adapted to a feature by Japan New Wave director Masahiro Shinoda, it's not surprising to learn that Scorsese's been working on making this film for decades.

"Silence" tells the story of two Portugeuse Jesuit priests, Father Rodriguez (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garupe (Adam Driver) who made a long journey to Japan to not only spread Christianity but more than that, to find word about their teacher, Ferreira (Liam Neeson) who's been missing for years, and they've received word of his capture and that purportedly, he's since renounced the faith. The film takes place during the early 1630s, and at that time, the attempts of the Catholic church to expand it's reach in Japan had been stymied. Christians were persecuted, and those who supposedly did believe, practiced only in secret. I say supposedly, 'cause, well-, I don't want to give too much away, but one of the subtle conflicts in the movie is how there's a culture conflict, on top of the conflict of religion. Japan is arguably the only major culture in the world that has essentially never embraced Catholic dogma, even in most of the Far East, the religion in some form has taken hold, but Japan has remained Shintoism or Buddhists mostly. Even when they do use Catholic symbolism in their media, for instance in Anime, it's often done with the same way that a western culture would look at, say Greek mythology. "Silence" doesn't exactly explain why that is, but what it shows is the difficulty in trying to preach a word of own's lord to a culture that doesn't have lords.  For much of the movie, Garupe and Rodriguez are island-hopping to supposedly friendly southern islands where the word has taken root secretly. They first stopped in Macao in order to receive a translator and guide, kichijiru (Yosuke Kubozuka) who immediately recognizes the priests as Catholic and begins to be in service to them. Naturally, at some point during this journey to find Ferreria, which is delayed as they insist on traveling closer towards Ferreira, who they've heard conflicting reports about his survival and his renouncing of the Church. Eventually, Rodriguez is captured in Nagasaki and from there on in, the movie is a torturous mind game forced by the leader, Inoue Masahige (Issey Ogata). This being Scorsese and being a cinefile of the highest order, I'm not surprised to find some very obvious Kurosawa-ian touches to the major Japanese parts, Ogata clearly evoking Toshiro Mifune and Kubozuka clearly taken inspiration from some of those other messenger fool parts we'd see in something like "Yojimbo", who claims to be Christian, but mostly likes the idea of confession meaning that his past sins are forgiven,  'cause it opens him up to creating more sins. However the look of the movie holds to a that long-established aesthetic and it works here, credit the Oscar-nominated cinematography, as well as the Production Design. Masahige is a real person by the way, who much has been written about in the West through his connections with the Dutch East India Company, which is also where we get word of the Priests. The novel is based on the story of two lapsed Jesuit priests who were taken and symbolically were forced to renounce their faith, and spent their remaining years adapting to Japanese cultures and customs, and preventing the influence of Christianity to infiltrate the country.

Watching "Silence" can indeed be a struggle at times, but it's a fascinating struggle. The last half of the movie, is devoted to all that Rodrigues goes through, in an effort to preserve the strength of his faith, or the faith in the church, or whatever that actually means. Governor Inoue doesn't torture him necessarily, but instead tortures and kills everyone else, each time claiming that if he denounces the faith, through a symbolic act of stepping on the Bible, that his followers would be saved. It's a touch-and-go inner journey, trying to determine what one will do for their faith, or what they should do for their faith, and of course, the great philosophical analysis of whether it's okay to betray your core principles in order to save others.

Mostly, I found myself reminded of, what I suspect is one of the few other modern examples of this practice and it's ineffectiveness,... Whatever one's interpretation of the film is, and there are plenty out there, I think that's the main objective, showing the struggles of trying to force one culture on another and just how violent and dangerous that can be, especially when one doesn't bother to understand the culture they're invading.

For you see, to us, he's Jesus Christ, the son of our Lord and savior, dying for our sins, but to somebody else..., he's just a guy getting beaten up for a long time, before dying.

I know it's a tough film to get through, but I'm still a little amazed more people didn't get swept up by "Silence", the way I did. This is quite a powerful film; it a disturbing movie, there's a lot of scenes of just, torture and death, and it wasn't normal torture that we think about when we think of religious, and people fighting and dying for their beliefs, but there was this torture of the mind, that was at play, that made, the actual acts, so much more disturbing. There's all these horrible sins and punishments you get, especially as a Catholic, especially a priest, for renouncing God and his faith, and whatnot, but that's in the philosophical, when you're actually approach with that choice, that your faith will protect you and whatnot, but when you actually have that conundrum, and it's not, a life or death for you, but others lives are in your hands, and you're forced to make that choice, and can actually rationalize it, can I renounce God, if it helps others live, does that mean I'm doing God's work, what is I renounce but don't mean it, but is that worst than actually losing faith, or when will I actually lose my renounce my faith.... and that's just one aspect of the film. There's tons more going on in the film; it asks a lot of tough questions, and it really makes you think about them, from all sides. If there's a movie, that I suspect, like ten or fifteen years from now, we'll look back upon and see it a real classic, I think it's gonna be "Silence".

Number six.

6. Tower

The most unique documentary and one of the most powerful was "Tower" an animated documentary, using a process similar to the "Waking Life" approach, that recreates and reenacts the 1966 University of Texas school shootings that left dozens dead and kept the Austin campus in terror for over an hour and a half, before a combination of authority and private citizens were able to take down, what at the time had been the largest shooting massacre in U.S. history.

So, shortly before I started watching "Tower" I got some notices on my personal Facebook page from an old college professor of mine, tweeting and FB page telling people to stay inside, 'cause there was a gunman on the loose at my alma mater, UNLV. Apparently it was a fugitive on a crime spree and he was later caught in California and as far as I can tell, nobody was seriously hurt, but I still know some people that work or hang out in the area, so I was concerned. It doesn't help that I also grew up in a Post-Columbine world, but in reality that's not a good enough excuse, 'cause there were several high profile school shootings in a row before Columbine and about four or five right after and in fact, this in general isn't a new phenomenon at all. In America, you can date back the history of school shootings all the way to 1840 and after that, their ain't a decade where there weren't several others. Prior to the Virginia Tech Massacre, the deadliest college shooting occurred on an otherwise benign day in Austin and was known as the University of Texas massacre which took place over 96 minutes of terror on August 1st, 1966. "Tower" the amazing documentary by Austin-based filmmaker Keith Maitland, takes an inventive first-hand approach to retelling the sad story of that day. He combines some stock footage and interviews with the survivors and some of the others that were involved that day, and he also recreates many of the scenes, and eyewitness accounts, and animates much of the film through the rotoscoping process first expertly used in cinema by former Texas U. Richard Linklater in his masterpiece, "Waking Life" among other films. I've seen this combination before with "Chicago 10" but this was a better documentary. He also does something that I've seen occasionally done under necessity a few times, most notably with Alex Gibney films, but here, he doesn't just get actors to come in for the recreations, he also finds actors to fill the roles of the interviewees when they were younger. It's actually quite impressive, so you have some wonderful performances surrounding this film, that are quite impressive. I particularly remember Violette Beane as Claire Wilson, one of the first victims of the massacres, a pregnant anthropology student who had to lie bleeding on the hot pavement next to her dead boyfriend for over half an hour, with only one brave student, Rita Starpattern, also wonderfully acted by Josephin McAdam who is able to lie out the ground next to her and keep her talking until they can somehow manage to find a safe passage either to her, or get her to the ambulances. If you're wondering what I mean by that, well, the title is the big clue. Charles Whitman had shot and killed both his mother and wife earlier that day before going to multiple stores to stock up on ammunition. He then found his way to the top of Main Building Tower, on Campus, which had an observation deck 27 floors up, and he began shooting indiscriminately. That's why it took so long to get help and figure out how to save some of the early victims, since they were lying right in the middle of his firing. (Hmm, I don't think UNLV has a building more than seven stories high; I wouldn't be shocked if this was part of the reason) The film is terrifying, and it does more to bring you into the center of such an event that I can remember any film doing, and Whitman by the way, is rarely seen or heard. They don't animate the footage that was taken by the local newsman who had the most memorable day of their life that morning, and we don't get a good look at the shooter. There's one piece of footage at the end where Walter Kronkite doesn't try to explain or write off the shooter, saying something that still rings prophetic now and maybe even moreso than ever, that Whitman was the result of the society and all of us. He killed fifteen people, one unborn child and injured 46 that day, and "Tower" puts us seemingly right in the middle of that day, seeming afraid that bullets are gonna come flying in from above at any moment. One of the most intense and fascinating films of the year.

Intense is right. I think animation was sort of an accidental choice with this movie, but it was a great choice. It helps make the events more surreal in fact, when you're seeing them through this rotoscope lens, it actually helps takes this world, and elevates it and recreates it in a way, that I don't think you would've had the same effect, to just, reenact it and tell it straight. It could've come off like a bad episode of "Unsolved Mysteries" or something. Instead, we get this really intense story that tells us this tale of the recent past that, still resonates today. As to mass shootings in America, I mean, this has never not been a problem, especially at schools, of all kinds, and the notion that fifty years later, something like this, could happen, and really have nothing done to stop it from happening. It's happening, still, I knew people who attended that country music festival where some idiot shot down hundreds and killed fifty or so people from a hotel room on the Las Vegas Strip, and the wrong people are gonna see these two incidents and think that we have to put an end to tall building, that'll prevent shootings. It's a story about a day fifty years, and it's message and importance, couldn't be more relevant now if they tried. But more than that, it's an intense film, that takes you into a time and place, and places you, in that moment, under the tower where and somebody's shooting and terrorizing everyone around. And if you count it as an animated feature, it's arguably the best animated films of the year too.

Number five.

5. Jackie

The great Chilean director Pablo Larrain made a couple movies last year, and I happened to watch them both around the same time. I wasn't a fan of "Neruda" at all, but his intimate look at Jackie Kennedy, was a spectacular inside look at a character we previously only thought we had known.

So, I do take notes on all these films that I watch, as I'm watching them, but I don't write these reviews in the order in which I see them, or for that matter, immediately after I watch a film half the time. I do have an order in which I write the reviews for which films, that mostly matches up to how I eventually structure and place these films on this blog, but...- it's not important. What's important is that I saw "Jackie", coincidentally, immediately after I saw the other Pablo Larrain film that I'm reviewing this week, "Neruda."  Obviously, this system has placed my review of "Jackie" to have precedent, although I don't want to spoil my thoughts on "Neruda", but I wasn't fond of that film. There's several reasons for that, much of it, was the framing of the movie, particularly the way it's constructed, mostly like a cat-and-mouse chase between two people, when it really should just be about, Pablo Neruda, and his incredible importance as a poet, politician, scholar, etc. Anyway, I bring it up, 'cause "Jackie" does everything right that "Neruda" does wrong. There's other aspects on why this film is so great, but it boils down to the fact that they didn't take the story of Neruda's exile and formulate an antagonist to represent a bad guy for which Neruda is at least symbolically, if not literally combating against. Here, there is no bad guy, no good guy, nothing so simplistic, it's just "Jackie", (Oscar-nominee Natalie Portman) and whatever and all that that entails. Sure, there's a few characters that you could argue are set up as antagonists, for instance, most of the film appears to take place as a part of an interview Jackie Kennedy's giving from Hyannis Port by somebody only referred to only as "The Journalist" in the credits, although that's not a composite character; (Unlike "Neruda") that's Time Reported Theodore White (Billy Crudup), and much of the movie seems to be a battle between them, but it's really based on his article that he wrote, after interviewing Jackie Kennedy, shortly after JFK's funeral.

Jackie's inner struggle with herself and what-to-do in those days between her husband's assassination and the funeral, is what the film is about. It doesn't portray her in the most positive light, not just the fact that before I was about to write it down, they bring up her constant smoking, which she claims she doesn't do to the reporter, while, puffing on her latest cigarette, or the drinking and the pills even, but the conflicted effort of where her life was at the moment. The way both, the White House, and she had to deal with it.

There's a couple other events that the movie goes back-and-forth between, obviously, the several confusing and chaotic events in Dallas and the White House between, all the players that most Americans, at least if you're an American like me and grew up studying much of the folklore of the Kennedy White House, and the Kennedys themselves, (Although as a film person, I must confess, it was a bit of a kicker, the scene with Jackie telling off Jack Valenti [Max Casella], somebody who I had erased from my mind that he was apart of LBJ's press,  as she's constantly altering her plans for the funeral partition, whether or not she would travel with the partition or in a separate armored car, or even attend at all ) but the other intriguing scenes they go back to, is Jackie's famous PBS Documentary, "A Tour of the White House". I swear I've seen in it's entirety at some point, but it's more probable that I've just seen clips and pieces here and there in other documentary footage. For those unfamiliar with it, let me try to place that in context, as the First Lady her traditional responsibility was, the House itself, and she was the one that started the buying back old pieces of history from the White House and previous Presidents as she did up the White House in her and Jack's image of Camelot. She displayed these changes in a the aforementioned PBS documentary special which she received an Emmy for, which is sorta surreal and noteworthy, but that's  something which I doubt she particularly cared much about, and they seemed to show that here as well. It was an important thing at the time, but nowadays it's common for there to be at least one network that gets a somewhat regular access for a little while inside the White House, but at the time, it was America's first look into the First Family, and much of the history of that 132-room building that she was helping to preserve.

Going back-and-forth between these timelines works incredibly well here as the film's tunnel-visioned approach to Jackie, creates a tension that demands we observe and watch, even as this poor girl's struggles with every possible conflicting emotion. (Tension, is also something severely lacking in "Neruda", but I digress) Natalie Portman is in almost every scene in this movie, and when she isn't in the scene, the scene is still about her, and this might be her most powerful performance of her career. Capturing an intimacy with Jackie Kennedy, that frankly, few have ever had, even had the illusion of. Unlike say, Michelle Obama, who I can safely guess what she's doing or thinking at any random moment and at least feel like I can be fairly close to accurate because of how comfortable she is revealing herself to the world, Jackie has always been more reluctant to soak in the fame, that's why there's such a mystique around her that kept her fascinating. There's a wonderful last scene where you see her being driven down a street with a bunch of clothing shows, each selling a coat that's obviously based on the one that she was most famous for wearing.

...."Jackie" is one of the more touching and powerful films of the year. It's startling that I can see two movies from the same director, back-to-back and have such vastly different responses and reactions, and that's while I wish I could claim that it's simply preference of subject matter that determines this, it's really the quality of the films that does it. That happens sometimes;. It's unfortunate that the timing worked out that way, but I strongly suspect that if I had seen these films separately and a much further time period apart, I would have the same reaction.....

Yeah, I went back and rewatched "Jackie" recently as well and it's still a powerful movie. It's- a lot of people get this wrong, with biopics, even Larrain got this wrong earlier this year, especially with people who, we know so much about, or think we do, it's best to focus on, one or two moments in time with them, and how they are and react, and not simply, tell a straight forward or try to take their life and force it into a more cinematic narrative, "Jackie" does none of that, it takes a few critical moments about her, and just follows her and what she does and how she acts, as intently as possible. I know it's a fictitious and interpretative version of Jackie Kennedy, but I still feel like, I'm learning and knowing more about her, as a person, at least this Jackie, and that's why you make these kind of movies, is to try to get a sense of the person, and this one does it, better than most.

Number four.

Okay, so awhile back, there was a movie called "Incendies", that I saw. It was Canada's submission for the Foreign Language Academy Award, and it got nominated, so I watched it, and really liked it. In fact, it damn-near made my Top Ten List that year, it would've made a Top 20, easily. And I talked about it quite a bit, and also discussed it's skilled director, who managed to take a story, that, was conventional and had some questionable plot elements,including a disturbing twist and made the movie quite entertaining. And then he made some other movies, that, others seemed to like a lot more than I did. A lot more. It was strange too, 'cause some of them were barely good. I mean, he was a great filmmaker still, and I recommended all those films, but, it was kinda weird. I had seen him before most and was raving about him, and by the time the rest of the world had caught on to how good the filmmaker was and raving wildly about him, I was kinda unimpressed. I knew what he could do with "Incendies" so, I was ahead of everybody on him and I decided wasn't gonna jump back on the bandwagon again, until he actually made his next great movie.

4. Arrival

I'm glad I waited, and I'm glad to finally see Denis Villeneuve make a movie that's actually matches his skillset, and "Arrival" might be his best film yet.

I'm still debating about the ending of "Arrival", myself, especially the faux Christopher Nolan meets faux Terrence Malick part, and the kinda perverse, when-you-think-about-it, message it's sending, or insinuation of a message.... I won't explain it, and I can see arguments on both sides on the science and theory of it,... Anyway, part of me, wants to really simplify this film, especially cause of the ending, but I can't do that. There's too many interesting and mysterious things here, and considering other movies that have used this playing with different waves of time conceit in recent years, most of which have sucked, this movie, does it well, and actually finds an interesting way of doing that. Lousie Banks (Amy Adams) is a world-renowned linguist, who's occasionally been brought on board by the CIA in order to translate some material before; she's an expert in foreign languages, and, I know a little bit about this second-hand. I actually have a friend who does some translating of stuff like this, ancient literature mostly....

After the aliens arrive,- we'll get to that, Louise instructs Col. Weber, (Forest Whitaker) who's been brought in to recruit her, and when she declines and he mentions that he's going to talk to one of her competitors. she tells him to ask how he translates a word. One that he thinks means, "War" which she claims means, "An exchange of cows". Yeah, big difference, so yeah, these kind of debates over the intricacies of language is fascinating to me, and strangely, I don't think I've seen too many movies that discuss that. Off the top of my head, only Joseph Cedar's wonderful Israeli film, "Footnote" glimpses at this subject, but that's it, outside of the occasional memorable episode or two of "Star Trek".

Anyway, speaking of "Star Trek", aliens! Aliens have come to Earth, for what, we're not sure. And the process of finding that out, is what the movie is about. They're in several parts of the world, 13 of them to be precise with no true real logistical pattern to their placement, and they're imposing but they don't do much. This is a first contact story, about the struggles of, making first contact, so bring in the linguist. Louise is paired with Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) a physicist, as they are placed in this structural area inside the spaceship that's been crafted by the heptapods, which is the name we give the aliens cause of their seven-tentacle-like structure, and they slowly teach each other their languages. This one, is in America, Montana to be precise, but not all of the aliens from the spaceships are learning English. One's in Russia, one's in China, for examples and some of the countries aren't quite sure what to make of the spaceships, or what they say. There's several, several barriers in this struggle and of course, so many things can get lost in translation and even without the distinct different nuances of our own languages, there's even several different interpretations as well. Of course, everybody else is busy learning their language, and things get tricky, when we finally learn enough from each other to figure out why the Heptapods are there.

It's difficult to go to into what exactly happens without giving too much of the story, as well as the storytelling away; Denis Villeneuve's somebody who's work I've usually been less and less impressed with the more films he makes oddly enough, and I'm still not exactly sure "Arrival" is as good as his debut feature "Incendies" but as a director, he's off the charts here. Combining old-school montage techniques with modern-day craftsmanship better than he ever has before.Amy Adams is magnificent in what must've been a difficult role, especially when you realize that she's-, well, I don't want to give it away, but. there's an aspect of her character that I'm purposefully avoiding talking about, 'cause of how it's used in the overall narrative, which again, I'm not sure I like, but I get it here. Technically there's a lot of great work going on, visual effects of course, but the production design in particular is fascinating to me, and very underrated in this film. It is technically sci-fi, but the way they combine more modern production design with futuristic ideas is quite well done, and really impressed me in particular. Overall, this is one of the best filmmaking accomplishments of the year. Every aspect has something intriguing about it, and above everything else, it's the reason why this movie works so well. It's the kind of film that's good on the page, but becomes great with the amount of thought and work put into it.

I think "Arrival" is one of the great sci-fi films this decade, and we've had a few great ones already. Alfonso Cuaron's "Gravity" comes to mind, but that film was about a single character's journey. Technical masterpiece of course, but it was about the tension and the fight for survival.There's so much going in "Arrival", it's way more intricate and subtle, and not just in it's story, but in how it's told.  This is where Villeneuve's directing, really makes a difference, 'cause this could've just been an average film and an average story, it's his vision that takes these ideas and makes them greater.

Number three.

3. Mountains May Depart

 I only gave Zhangke Jia's "Mountains May Depart" 4 1/2 STARS when I originally reviewed it. I'm still not entirely sure I even, get the entire movie, but I don't know, it just continued to filter into the back of my head over the time. It's a beautiful story that follows it's characters through three stories over three different time periods in different part of the East as these character contemplate who they are, the decisions they've made and who they become and what they've made of their lives.

Zhangke Jia's is one of China's best filmmakers right now, and one of their most unique. He loves multiple narratives, and it's clear that his movies are saying something other than just the stories that he tell in the foreground. His "A Touch of Sin", spanned parts of China and generations in order to look at the place the country was and was currently going. That film made my Top Ten List the year it came out, and "Mountains May Depart" is doing something similar. It tells three stories, each in different time periods, but this time, he's following a few main characters, and the time period are interesting ones. The movie begins in 1999 Shanghai, then goes to 2014, modern day, and then, the last section takes place in 2025, and even that section spends a good deal of time, not in China, but in Australia. The movie begins, centered around Shen Tao (Tao Zhao), who the story circumnavigates around in each of the three stories, inevitably, the first one, is about her friendship with two young men, a worker named Liangzi (Jing Dong Liang) and a future entrepreneur named Jinsheng (Yi Zhang). I guess you could think of this as a "Jules et Jim" sort of friendship, but eventually, she makes a decision for one of them, and that decision irrevocably breaks their friendship. The next portion, in modern-day, (BTW, in a touch that I've noticed has become more and more common lately, Zhangke has chosen to play with the format ratio, with each section be a different ratio'd screen. I think Xavier Dolan's "Mommy" has been the best use of this so far, Wes Anderson played with this idea a bit as well, but I don't hate how it was done here; it's another nice touch and will probably become a more common practice in the next five or ten years.) involves Liangzi's who's spent most of his life as a coal miner, beginning to get sick, and Tao being at his side. Coal is a big industry in China, but it's also one that's being fazed out, and people getting ill, is as common as it is in America. The obvious parallel involved here, is how the changing country is leading to worst and changing conditions, and inevitably, more people leaving the nation and becoming immigrants somewhere else. In 2025, the scene has changed to Australia, where Tao is now a Professor, who's teaching, essentially Chinese as a second language, mainly to immigrant Chinese kids, as the old language is dying and much of the last part of the movie is spoken in English. (The first two parts being in Mandarin and Cantonese). She begins a relationship with one of her older students, Dollar (Zijian Dong), which is the Westernized name he took, Tao eventually went with Mia, and it's clear that Dollar is a reincarnated spirit of Liangzi, if not literally, then spiritually. Things come to ahead when they're booking a trip back to China, for a visit, before eventually moving to Toronto. Tao, is, I think the spirit of China, to some extent, in much the same way that the Luisa character is the incarnation of Mexico symbolically in Alfonso Cuaron's "Y Tu Mama Tambien", and yet, curiously, the most notable song that represents her, played at both the beginning and ending of the movie, is the Pet Shop Boys "Go West", which is pretty literal anti-Communist interpretation of that song, which specifically requests that going towards the West is the way to go, something that I don't think Tao feels is right in her heart, while society and economics might dictate otherwise. Zhangke has called this his most personal work, and since Zhangke's big motif is survival in the modern age, and at the behest of the modern technology, yeah, this movie might make sense as his most personal. He's a controversial director who doesn't explain his movies, but there's clearly added symbolisms to his work that, only on repeated viewings and study do they really become clear. I enjoy that about him, his films can come off as meditative mosaics at times, where you really wonder what exactly he's talking about, but I think ultimately, it's his exploration of what it means to be Chinese, an individual in particular in China today. There's a scene late in the movie where Dollar has brought Tao to translate a conversation with his father, as he's announcing that he's not going to college and it gonna live on his own. The conversation is about freedom, and what exactly that means to both generations, and for that matter, what exactly does it mean to Tao. That part, we never get an answer to, curiously, I guess, it's just being able to go back to your home and dance to The Pet Shop Boys, whether or not the song is even playing. "Mountains May Depart", but, the soul of the country still lives in some of it's people? The surviving ones? (Shrugs) I don't know if I entirely get everything about the movie, but it's a movie that worth exploring to find out about it, and I think that's Zhangke Jia's best asset as a filmmaker. He doesn't beat you over the head, but he calms invites you in and shows you, just enough to feel and understand where he comes from, and you fill in the symbolic blanks about what he may or may not mean, and his work is so strong and good that whatever interpretation you come up with, you're gonna be more thought-filled and more enlightened than you were before. He makes movies that demand you to think and demand repeated viewings, and in a world where sometimes watching something once is probably one-too many times, his most are pieces of fresh air over a constantly droll film scene.

Yeah, I don't know what I was thinking, giving this a 1/2 star off originally, but of course, Zhangke Jia's movies are so, unique and are structured more in an emotional sense than a narrative one, that I could easily say that I don't know what I was thinking, while watching these movies, and it would be an accurate depiction of watching the film, but I love that feeling. I love, having to drift in and out of some peoples' work and having to interpret, or come up with our own meaning of these movies. And-, I know most of the time, I make fun of films like that, "Oh, the meaning's up to us to interpret, since you don't actually have anything to say right," or something like. But, no, Zhanke Jia has stuff to say, and he's elusive in exactly what he's saying, but he's not speaking without depth or meaning, he knows what he's saying and wants to say, even if we don't. It might commentary, might be spiritualistic, it might be, philosophical, whatever it is, he's thought about it, and he's giving us some ideas and ways to think about it as well.

Number two.

2. Hooligan Sparrow

Maybe the most brazen and astonishing film of the year, if for no other reason than the fact that it was made at all, and somehow exists, was the guerrilla documentary "Hooligan Sparrow", that takes a first-hand look and the battle for human rights in China, by following around the life and world of one of it's most progressive fighters and provocateurs.

Ye Haiyan, is a badass. She's the subject matter in the documentary, "Hooligan Sparrow" which is an alias she's know as, but she's not what the movie is about. Ye Haiyan, is the famed artist and sex rights advocate most famous, for going to work at a brothel, for free, to anyone who was poor and in a migrant position in society. In case you're wondering, while I live in Nevada and know the brothels in my state are pretty well kept places, the legal ones anyway, the ones in China, yeah, they're not like that. She's in favor of legalized prostitution, and she often uses nudity and other graphic images in her protests and basically she gets attention and oftentimes gets results. Director Nanfu Wang, went to China and followed her for about a year, and it's her, who is the real star of this guerrilla documentary. The first place we see her go, is to protest outside a middle school, where six girls between the ages of 11 and 14, were raped by the school Principal and another government official. They were, taken out of class, and found later in a hotel room the Principal took them too. Despite this, at first the police said that their wasn't any evidence that they were raped and no charges were filed. A few days later, one of the parents of the little girl, she released a photo of stained panties to the press, where the girl had been bleeding for four days. That, made the officials look silly and eventually charges started coming. To understand this crime in context, you have to understand the corruption in the Chinese government, and to some extent the way women are generally looked upon in the country as well, cause, as ridiculous as this crime sounds, this wasn't unusual. To paraphrase "Casablanca", in China, human life is cheap. My initial instinct, is to think, that on top of everything else, the Principal was stupid for taking kids out of class, and to the hotel room, as gifts to the other government official, but no, that's not stupidity, that's arrogance. He presumed he's higher up in society and he can and should get away with it, and he almost did, and others do. Still, though, that's not the subject of the documentary, the film is a look inside the country, from the perspective of one of it's biggest political dissidents. We even see and hear them when Ye Haiyan is taken away by Police and threatened and we see Nanfu herself, put into positions where her life and footage is in danger. She doesn't reveal exactly how she got this footage out of China, but at one point, her life is threatened and the cops are after her as well. And by cops, I mean both the regular cops and the Secret Police, many of which, we see photographed by Wang, as they're looking at her, and of course Ye. This movie is an inside look at the protest and propaganda machine, but also an inside look at the treatment of dissidents in China, from the perspective of the filmmaker, who by filming a purported dissident, is now herself a dissident. Everyone's constantly followed, people are held in jail for days or even years without trials. They have no protection, and their lawyers are constantly filling out wrongful arrests reports. When Ye's free for a moment, she's hounded by reporters asking about her experiences and protests, and how she's captured the nation's imagination, and the next moment, she and her 13-year-old daughter are being evicted. One photograph of her stuff out on the street, after her latest eviction, was recreated, with her original own pieces of furniture in New York by Ai Weiwei, another controversial China artist/protester. If "13th"'s message is about how everyone has a camera to document the corruption and crimes in America, then "Hooligan Sparrow" is about the cost of that freedom and just how difficult and dangerous it is in other parts of the world to be one of the protesters and maybe more difficult is documenting such dissent accurately. Every moment, every shot that's taken, the filmmakers are in fear, and we feel that fear. "Hooligan Sparrow" is one of the most startling films and documentaries I've seen this year, and one of the most powerful. One of those films that's absolutely essential; it needed to be made, and yet the fact that it got made at all, is itself one of the most amazing things ever accomplished in recent cinema.

Boy, is this an amazing story and an amazing, daring movie, that-, the fact that it was made; they are naming names of secret police in this movie, and showing their faces; this is not a surreal, talking heads, doc, this is undercover, guerrilla-style film and film and film, until you can't, or you get arrested, and hiding the film and sneaking it out, and-, you know, we're going through, right at this moment, this whole sexual harassment thing, and despite everything good about it, I do worry about- I'm glad were catching the Harvey Weinstein's of the world and what-not, but there is this, puritan undertone to some of it, that I worry about. We are an anti-sex country, and it's nice to find a radical out there that's very pro-sex, and understand that it's not sex, it's the culture and the corruption of society, by the higher-ups, that lead to a sexual assault culture, and that she's combating that, and the price that costs her, not for uncovering the more horrific sex crimes and the misappropriation of justice, but for making the government look bad, and trying to censor and destroy her. And trying to censor and destroy everyone around...- it makes, much of this battle, seem trivial, but it also makes you realize, that, it's not over any time soon, and there is such a long, long way to go. Ye Haiyan is just at the beginning of the fight in China, and we're still at the beginning of the fight here, and it begins by telling the stories, and calling out those who need to be called out, no matter how it's done, and sometimes telling those stories, like "Hooligan Sparrow" is as harrowing and dangerous on it's own.


(Deep breath)

And now, the NUMBER ONE FILM OF 2016!:

(Drumroll ends)

(Long deep growling sigh of frustration)

Just-, just play the damn thing.

I still can't believe that happened; this is the single worst moment in the history of the Academy Awards and NO! I'M STILL NOT OVER THIS! I know it's entertainment, and this isn't life and death, but it's still, the goddamn OSCARS! It's the literal example we give for situations like this! "Well, at least it wasn't the Oscars!" We're-, it's all we got, we're spending months at this thing, we're on pins and needles, at the edge of our seats, we've picked sides! We've gone to see the movies, we've-, UGH!!!!! It's a fucking envelope, HOW DO YOU FUCK THIS UP! Did every goddamn thing that went to a vote have to have a twist ending to it in, 2016, even in 2017! God, this was a terrible fucking year, where nothing went right, not a goddamn thing, and we're gonna be paying for it for a long goddamn time, and now- I mean, the Oscars are already a joke to some, and now, this shit.

(Annoyed depressed sigh)

Look, I know it's silly and means nothing, but the Academy is a perspective on the zeitgeist, it's the moment we're in, it's what we, the industry considers to be the best in our field, and we honor them rightly so for their accomplishments, and it should be perfect. It should be this amazing moment, where the best of the best wonder and hope that they'll be so honored, it should be black tie and stuffy and proper and pompous and arrogant even, we're proud to be making movies and proud to be telling amazing stories that the world will see and appreciate; and sure, we may not agree with their decisions most every year, and as much as I like to bash some of the glitz and glamour aspects of the facade, it should still be, and it shouldn't be turned into a joke by themselves, by the simplest...-, by screwing up the envelopes! Ugh-

(Annoyed Scoffs, slight chuckle under breath, sly smirk, sigh.)

That said,


I don't know what to tell ya, they got it right this year.

1. Moonlight

Look, I don't hate "La La Land", I thought it was pretty great; if this was a Top 20, I'd probably find a spot for it, but, despite every possible nightmare fuck-up the Academy had, you know what, "Moonlight" is a goddamn masterpiece. It happens sometimes, maybe the amazing part of the Oscars was that, somehow in all the confusion they actually picked the best picture to win Best Picture. I don't remember the last time that happened either, maybe "Schindler's List" off-the-top-of-my-head, but, it happened. I know it's not an interesting or unique pick, but "Moonlight" is number one, and I don't think it's even remotely close this year.

The last six words spoken in "Moonlight" left me in tears. They're spoken by the main character, a man who's already gone by several names during the course of his young life, his birth name Chiron (Ashton Sanders) his first nickname as a kid, Little (Alex Hibbert) and finally, and most symbolically by Black (Trevante Rhodes) which is not simply a reference to his skin color, it's also representative of how he ultimately treats the world at large, including those he knows best and may even care for most. If he ever decides to allow himself to care for somebody again.... I'm certain that, being a straight white male that certain details will go over my head or not be immediately relatable to me, but that doesn't matter. "Moonlight" emotionally seems to have as much if not more resonance to me, than nearly any other movie I can think of.

...Explaining in detail some of the events that occur is not gonna help you understand why they're important (and besides revealing some of them would basically just be giving away the film) and besides that, the movie isn't about the events themselves, as it is, the environment that surrounds Chiron. No, scratch that, it's not the environment, it's how he reacts to the environment that surrounds him. Or in some cases, doesn't act. In some ways he's an observer, others a willing participant, many times unwilling...- Mostly, Chiron is just, a troubled young man who's trying to figure out his way in the world. A world that in several ways, dealt him a bad hand. For one thing, he grows up small, which leads to other kids picking on him most days. For another, he's gay, which leads to more picking and even worse, a more complex layer of confusing emotions. For yet another, his mother, (Oscar-nominee Naomie Harris) is a crack addict. It's Miami in the '80s, and if you know anything about the history of cocaine, then the time period and world will be instantly familiar to you.... During one time being chased on his way home, he befriends a local dealer named Juan (Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali) who instantly recognizes he's scared and takes him home, hoping his wife Teresa (Janelle Monae) can get him to talk. As a child of a single mother, (Although admittedly Italian single mother, so I was raised by my entire family) I've often heard those in the African-American community speak about the importance of having a father to teach kids how to be a man, and all that jazz and stuff, but I'll be honest, I simply don't understand that need. Whatever "Being a man" entails, has never usually appealed to me, and frankly, I take some offense to the notion that that's essential in growing up, or, I don't know bad things will happen to you, or you'll do stupid things...- I don't know, I'm not gonna pretend I understand, but if more father figures were like Juan, I think I would understand it more. When he suddenly dies, offscreen, with no mention of how, we only gradually realize how much we miss him, and in turn, how much Chiron needs him. If there is a real through line in the movie, it's basically a three-act play about a relationship between two young boys, Chiron and Kevin. When he first befriend Kevin (Jaden Piner) they get into a faux fight to make Chiron look tougher than he is, to help protect him. The second time, in high school is when Kevin (Jharrel Jerome) is a bit of a local player who's still able to be manipulated by the local bullies, when they share a tender, emotional, sexual moment, The third, is practically the entirety of act three, when he's now married with a kid, and has started working at a Cuban restaurant. He's contacted Chiron for the first time in years and they share a night of, just talking. Of course, it isn't just talking. I read Kevin's character not simply as Chiron's childhood crush, but as a character who's real objective is to provide the emotional support of all those around him. This is why he does well with both women and men sexually, but is also prone to getting into trouble when what the other person might want emotionally, is not in his best interest. He reminds me of Colin Farrell's character in one of the most underrated movies this century, "A Home at the End of the World" which was another movie that saw characters grow apart and on their own and then reconnect with each other at three separate points in their lives. (That film, also dealt with a character who had his own struggles that came with his sexuality.) Instinctively, Kevin knows what everyone around him needs, and it's his duty to provide that.

There's so much that makes "Moonlight" a masterpiece. The writing, based on Tarell Alvin McCraney's original story, "In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue" is some of the best I've ever seen, but the acting is even more impressive. It's one of those movies like "Shine" where it's somewhat difficult to determine who exactly is the Lead Actor, since the characters age over time and only peripheral characters are played by the same actors the entire time and even they don't have much screen time, but the casting and the performances are amazingly top notch. This might've as well have been shot over years like "Boyhood" with how well they cast some of these parts, especially over time. It's also one of the best directed movies I've seen in awhile. One of the most difficult things to get over in terms of directing is emotional resonance; the last time I saw a film and filmmaker do it this well was Sofia Coppola with "Lost in Translation". It's not always enough with film to get over what the characters are saying between the lines (Or what they want to say but don't) and that's not simply great acting, that's spectacular directing.

Look, I haven't seen everything so far this year, and I might change my mind after some time has passed and on multiple viewing, but "Moonlight" might be the best movie made this decade so far. It's, up there. "Moonlight" is everything good about what a personal film should be.

And I stand by that, this movie, is-, there's an old Plato quote, where he calls poets, the greatest enemy to the Republic, and his reasoning is because they're can make people feel emotional about things that they have never themselves gone through. That's part of why I brought up my background in my review, 'cause, the way this story is told, is poetry, in the greatest, enemy-of-the-Republic, sense that Plato described. it's not just empathy, it's not just throwing a bunch of ethos and pathos at us, it's the ability that this movie manages to make me feel for Chiron, because of how I can feel sometimes myself, and that's just-, that's just so difficult to pull off. You can make us feel for a character or situation, you can feel something about ourselves, it's unbelievable to make us feel for both at the same, and in so many different ways and emotions too. It's just sad or happiness, it's get you in a lot of different ways. I watched it again, preparing this list, and I cried again, and I was angry again, and I was happy again, and I was saddened and confused again, and worried again, and I cared again, and particularly this year, where I found myself, not caring about as many movies as I wanted to, this, "Moonlight" made me care, and made you care, whether you had gone through the things Chi-ron had gone through or not. It got the goddamn Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences to care, that's how great it was.

Well, the Top Ten's finally done for the year. It might not have been a great year, but there were some great films, and here are some other honorable mentions that are also worth checking out:

20th Century Women-Mike Mills
American Honey-Andrea Arnold
A Bigger Splash-Luca Guadagnino
Certain Women-Kelly Reichardt
Deadpool-Tim Miller
Dheepan-Jacques Audiard
Don't Think Twice-Mike Birbiglia
The Edge of Seventeen-Kelly Fremon Craig
Eye in the Sky-Gavin Hood
The Fits-Anna Rose Holmer
Florence Foster Jenkins-Stephen Frears
Ixcanul (aka Volcano)-Jayro Bustamante
Jim: The James Foley Story-Brian Oakes
Julieta-Pedro Almodovar
Knight of Cups-Terrence Malick
Kubo and the Two Strings-Travis Knight
Kung Fu Panda 3-Alessandro Carloni and Jennifer Yuh Nelson
La La Land-Damien Chazelle
Land of Mine-Martin Zandvliet
The Little Prince-Mark Osborne
The Lobster-Yorgos Lanthimos
The Love Witch-Anna Biller 
A Man Called Ove-Hannes Holm
Margarita with a Straw-Shonali Bose; Co-Director: Nilesh Maniyar
The Mermaid-Stephen Chow (aka Xingchi Zhou)
Moana-Ron Clements; Co-Directors: Don Hall & John Musker and Chris Williams
Morris from America-Chad Hartigan
My Life as a Zucchini-Claude Barras
Nocturnal Animals-Tom Ford
Paterson-Jim Jarmusch
The Red Turtle-Michael Dudok de Wit
Right Now, Wrong Then-Sang-soo Hong
The Salesman-Asghar Farhadi
Sing Street-John Carney
Tanna-Martin Butler and Bentley Dean
Toni Erdmann-Maren Ade
Under the Shadow-Babak Anvari
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot-Glenn Ficarra & John Requa

13th-Ava DuVernay
Author: The JT LeRoy Story-Jeff Feuerzeig
Blood on the Mountain-Mari-Lynn C. Evans; Co-Director: Jordan Freeman
Cameraperson-Kirsten Johnson
City of Gold-Laura Gabbert
Eat That Question: Frank Zappa In His Own Words-Thorsten Schutte
Holy Hell-Will Allen
I Am Not Your Negro-Raoul Peck
Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World-Werner Herzog
Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four-Deborah S. Esquenazi
Zero Days-Alex Gibney

Well, I'll do the Worst Films next time as usual.

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