A look back at some 2016 silver screen successes

Despite some rough seas for the film industry, there were some hidden gems

The year 2016 came and went like a hurricane, leaving many dumbstruck film fans from the unusually high list of casualties within the film industry. But, as hurricanes do, the year also washed ashore hidden gems and treasures—let’s look at the ones to be most thankful for.

  1. Paterson

Who, other than Jim Jarmusch, could have made a film this quiet, profound, ironic and heartfelt about a bus driver whose uneventful existence is enriched only by his poetry writing, which, perhaps, no one will ever read? Adam Driver nails the part, making a return to independent filmmaking after becoming a household name for his role in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This one is about as far from intergalactic warfare as you can get. So if you’re currently feeling any Jedi and superhero fatigue—hop right in.

  1. 10 Cloverfield Lane

This is a loosely-connected sequel to the 2008 found-footage film, Cloverfield. No one saw it coming and few wanted it until it was here, yet what a pleasant surprise it turned out to be. A tense and claustrophobic mystery-drama, it improves upon the marketing-savvy original on every possible level. It plays out like a feature-length version of a Twilight Zone episode. You walk into it lost and wide-eyed, much like the film’s heroine, and even when you think you have the story figured out, you don’t. You never want to blink as you watch John Goodman’s sublimely ambiguous and terrifying character lead you through the rat maze.

  1. Finding Dory

Now here’s a sequel that few saw coming but everyone wanted. So did it live up to the original? Maybe not, but, like Monsters University in 2013, it offers a sweet reunion with characters we grew up loving. It’s not so much a continuation as it is a side story, told with the usual winning ingredients of a Pixar film: as-yet-unsurpassed animation and uproarious humour and emotion that creeps up on you before you know it.

  1. Hail, Caesar!

This is a Coen brothers film, so you can expect things to be more complicated than they appear. Senselessly over-complicated even, to the continued incredulity of the characters. Whether you want to contemplate the philosophical questions buried within the texture of the film or simply enjoy it as a zany period comedy is entirely up to you. Either way, it is great fun—a loving look at 50s Hollywood in which the Coens contemplate cinema as something of a religion. The cast is simply phenomenal, with George Clooney and Alden Ehrenreich as world-class idiots.

  1. Midnight Special

Many of last year’s most interesting films are united by a deep-seated nostalgia for cinema’s past. Some take their inspiration from the 50s and 60s. Others, like this one, are a clear throwback to the early Spielberg blockbusters of the late 70s. In other words, the people who are used to saying “They don’t make them like that anymore” must have rested relatively easy. Midnight Special is a smart sci-fi film, one that focuses on human drama instead of becoming a special effects extravaganza. Just the way it should be.

  1. The Student

A Russian film that hasn’t been seen much yet outside of the festival circuit, The Student offers a brutally honest look at religion in a once-atheist country. Filmed as a simple, if bleak tale of radicalization spreading uncontrollably in a society suspicious of rational thought, the film remains cool-headed and close to life even in its most surreal passages.

  1. American Honey

Speaking of cinematic experiences, few were as intensely engrossing and immersive as this one. A nearly three-hour epic road trip shared with a group of young outcasts, American Honey feels unscripted, with one choice leading naturally to another. Here’s a world of vibrant colours and infinite possibilities, with freedom-seeking characters who inspire in us a mix of hopelessness and awe. It’s an unusual film, a journey of discovery, a search for belonging in the vast, diverse and strange land that is the United States.

  1. The Handmaiden

The Korean film industry is one of the most creative, risk-taking and fun-loving in the world, and director Park Chan-wook is rightfully the leader of the flock. This might be the most purely entertaining film he has done, taking devilish pleasure in unraveling the story’s mysteries and deceiving expectations right until the end. Park continues to take inspiration from Hitchcock, while upping the level of violence and sexuality to something rarely seen in Western cinema—almost never gratuitously, of course.

  1. Nocturnal Animals

It appears Tom Ford was always meant to be a filmmaker. This second work confirms him as a master of style, a romantic visionary who knows how to imbue stories with his own sensibilities. It’s a haunting and dreamlike drama, bursting with symbolism and meaningful colours—the work of a perfectionist, who leaves nothing up to chance. At times terrifying and ultimately tragic, it is amplified by a large cast of performers at the height of their power, leaving an indelible impression.

  1. La La Land

This one’s going to be for the ages. It takes everything we—and director Damien Chazelle—appreciate about classic musicals, and rewires it as a bittersweet, old-fashioned story of idealized love and outlandish dreams in modern L.A. The music is stupendous—fantastically joyful at times while deeply melancholic at others—and the visuals are on par. The film conjures the kind of magic we stopped expecting from movies a long time ago. If La La Land doesn’t make you fall in love with movies—and someone dear to you—all over again, perhaps it’s just not meant to be.


American Honey: Chasing American dreams in a hopeless place

One of cinema’s leaders in social realism, Andrea Arnold, returns with an American Indie classic

As the blockbuster season finishes and award season begins, American Honey, the fourth feature film by Andrea Arnold, emerges as an early favourite for number one movie of the year, winning the Cannes prix du jury.

An intimate American road trip movie about a few disenfranchised youths, American Honey provides a fun, sometimes horrifying look at people who aren’t often seen in cinema. It is a simple film in terms of plot, yet it is very complex in terms of character development. It is realistic without being cynical, and sympathetic to its characters without romanticizing the lower-class hero. American Honey is a special film with characters who are not romanticized as heros.

The film follows Star (Sasha Lane), an 18-year-old who is taking care of her dirtbag boyfriend’s two children. A chance encounter at a KMart with Jake (Shia LaBeouf)—in the role he was born to play—opens the door for her to escape her troubled domestic situation. She decides to go across the country with Jake and his ‘crew,’ a merry band of magazine-selling misfits. An intense romance quickly develops between Star and Jake, to the disapproval of their boss, Krystal (Riley Keough). From here on, there is not much plot—it is a mixture of a mundane work-a-day lifestyle and spring break.

Typically Arnold’s films deal with characters trapped in a society packed with symbolism related to a constant desire to be free in nature. ‘The Crew,’ as they are referred, move aimlessly around the country selling magazines while singing along to songs about making money. Star is quickly accepted by the group as one of their own, yet she still seems to not fit in completely. She is an outsider within outsiders.

Viewers who aren’t familiar with Arnold’s work should note going in that she is not a director interested in finite conclusions or plot-based stories. Rather, she is more preoccupied with observing people in the margins of society. Some viewers have been put off by the open-ended nature of her endings as well as the idleness of her plot lines, and American Honey is no different. However, the brilliance of this film is not the end of the road, but the journey itself. This is a road trip movie with no destination, because there cannot be a destination. In fact, Star’s journey is effectively just a circle which ends where it started.

While the cast, besides Lane, is entirely white and mostly heteronormative, interested viewers should be aware that this is not a nostalgic Americana love letter to the past. American Honey is a very critical look at a country built on classism—one which ignores its poor, never granting even a small hope of escaping the cycle of poverty. The film can be described as an epilogue for the American Dream.

American Honey comes to Montreal theatres on Oct.14. It will be playing at Cinema Du Parc and the AMC in limited release. 

Grade: A (4.5/5)


Highlights from the Festival du nouveau cinéma

Here’s a look at a few of the festival’s films that have stood out so far for their remarkable storytelling

In this second week of the Festival du nouveau cinéma, let’s take a look back at some of the best films screened so far—some of these will be screened again, and all are expected to play in theatres.

American Honey

Undoubtedly one of the best films of the year, American Honey is the worthy winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes—the third such win for English director Andrea Arnold. It is a wild and memorable alcohol-fueled road trip through an invisible America, one of social outcasts and abandoned youth. Don’t let the 162-minute running time scare you away—this is an experience that deserves to be stretched out. For its startling authenticity and social realism, it demands comparison to the Dardenne Brothers’ best work. While it presents characters and situations that often feel all but hopeless, it never loses sight of the light at the end of the tunnel—one that is sometimes just a flicker, but can grow into a camp fire. Also, this film should end the debate on whether or not Shia Laboeuf can act. Spoiler alert: he can.

The Student

This is a rare and important look at religion in Russia—a once atheist country that is no longer averse to embracing fundamentalism when it suits a political purpose. It is odd to realize the film is based on a German play, when everything in it feels topical and adapted to the reality it depicts. A high school student suddenly and inexplicably becomes a Christian fanatic, interpreting the Bible as a call to arms in this tense and staggering story. If the film is somewhat didactic in its approach, it feels not preachy, but well-measured—in fact, much of the dialogue is lifted straight from the Bible—with the sources, such as book and chapter numbers appearing on the screen, and the structure seems to reference the great anticlerical texts of the Age of Enlightenment, something out of Voltaire.


Nowhere near an ordinary biopic—or even, perhaps, an ordinary film—this is a fittingly poetic exploration of Nobel Prize winner Pablo Neruda’s persona and art, depicting an episode of Chilean history through playful, contemplative experimentation with form and content. Luis Gnecco, as Neruda, on the run when Chile outlaws the Communist Party to which he belongs, and Gael García Bernal, as the inspector on his trail, are exquisite in ways that transcend the conventional cat-and-mouse relationship you would expect. The unnatural colours and dreamlike editing create a distinct environment in which truth and fiction overlap in tribute to a larger-than-life character.


Controversial in Brazil, its country of origin, for political reasons that have more to do with the filmmakers than with the film itself, this is a sensitive character study elevated by a career-defining role for aging legend Sonia Braga. A woman refuses to give up her apartment when the building is being bought up by a conglomerate that plans to destroy it. She hangs on to the apartment as a piece of the disappearing world she was once a part of. She knows she will die, and she knows the building will eventually be gone, but she will not allow it to happen on her watch. The accumulation of subtle details and elements of the woman’s life creates a portrait that conjures up feeling and respect for her.

American Honey will be released on Oct. 14. Neruda will be released on Dec. 16. Aquarius will screen again Oct. 15 at 6 p.m. at Cinéplex Odéon Quartier Latin (with French subtitles). Release dates for Aquarius and The Student have not yet been announced.

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