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.


La La Land will make you dance in the clouds

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone’s chemistry will make you believe in the old magic of cinema again

Somewhere along the way, the film industry forgot how to inspire hope, or decided it was no longer necessary. It used to be that, as the world grew gloomier, the movies grew happier. This was a natural counterbalance to the uncertainty and unquietness of real life.

Today, as the world approaches pre-WW2 levels of tension and confusion, the big screen is not being a source of comfort—gritty is still the new cool, and some like to speculate that cinema is altogether dead, with Netflix offering the hip alternative. This present context is what makes Damien Chazelle’s La La Land all the more significant, meaningful and timeless. The film will not be released until December of this year, but it already has the feel of an established classic.

The mood is set with a virtuoso opening dance sequence that takes place on a Los Angeles highway. You watch as dozens of people are kept waiting in a traffic jam, when suddenly magic happens, and irresistible joy is breathed into the most ordinary of proceedings. It is during this opening dance sequence that a chance encounter occurs between Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a struggling musician, and Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress.

They are two dreamers in a city that couldn’t care less about them, and yet it inspires in them visions of love and enchantment, of star-bathed backgrounds and lushly coloured skies. Life circumstances ensure that they continuously cross paths—they meet again and again. First they dislike each other, then like each other, and finally they fall in love. All that jazz. The duo have a chemistry so pure that you know it is fate that brings them together, and not a team of screenwriters.

Sebastian (Gosling) and Mia (Stone) are two happy-go-lucky dreamers in a world that forgot how to dream.

What a strange concept it is to make an old-school musical in our day and age—but it works, both as an ode to dreams and to the power of cinema. Gosling and Stone are not professional dancers or singers, but the film doesn’t require them to be. The music by Justin Hurwitz—a key collaborator of Chazelle’s—is out of this world, written to emphasize tenderness and melancholy over vocal prowess.

The film is made with such nostalgia, and Chazelle—known for the 2014 sensation Whiplash—has such love for the history of music and cinema, that you almost expect the characters to make a wrong turn and be transported a century back, like in Midnight in Paris (2011).

The way La La Land confronts cinema’s dying past in a largely indifferent present recalls Sylvain Chomet’s animated L’illusioniste (2010)—although the latter mourned the retirement of magic, while Chazelle’s film all but screams that magic is still possible, even though it may not always offer a path to happiness. La La Land packs in all the pleasures of a musical, while offering a depth of emotion and a richness of form. It is a triumphant, generous masterpiece that feels bound for serious Oscar glory. You are right to be excited for it. Until the next time I see it, my heart will beat to the tune of Hurwitz’ songs.

Exit mobile version