Arrival. Director Denis Villeneuve has been one to watch in the last few years – Incendies, Enemy, Prisoners, Sicario all great but perhaps missing that…something, to make it that bit better – well, with Arrival, he found that something and I am now very very intrigued by his next project, Blade Runner 2049. Amy Adams performance may be a career best. Despite some unfortunate American exceptionalism tones, the themes of time and of working together were handled perfectly. Also, the sound and visual design on this sci-fi is just incredible – some of the best I have ever seen in a film.
The Big Short: Lots of energy, hilarious, and originally told. A great ensemble cast about an important subject. These rich Hollywood actors lecturing us on financial inequality is a bit weird, no doubt, but it doesn’t change the facts about what happened – about the corporate recklessness, about the poorest having to bail out the richest and so on. It is on Netflix now as well. Watch it.
Couple in a Hole: A raw, brutal, and captivating film about guilt and loss from writer/director Tom Geens. Shot in the French Pyrenees and (surprisingly) around London too, there is some absolutely stunning scenery – vast forests, and cloud and snow covered mountains surround our protagonists throughout. The said protagonists are brilliantly played by Kate Dickie and Paul Higgins – her attempts at leaving the hole being some of the most powerful moments within the film. Higgins takes on a stereotypical role of man dealing with grief, things clearly ready to fall apart within him at any point, while he is clumsily trying to keep a facade of strength. People will be torn with the way in which it ends – I am still not sure – but this is still a thoroughly engrossing film, either way.
The Daughter. A really great Australian film. Nicely shot, with some unique editing techniques that amalgamated the timelines slightly. The acting is superb, from well known Aussie/NZ imports Geoffrey Rush and Sam Neill, to lesser know actors such as Odessa Young and Ewen Leslie, giving it all a great chemistry. The sense of impending doom throughout was actually uncomfortable at times – but in the best possible way.
Embrace of the Serpent. With elements of Aguirre, the Wrath of God, as well as Apocalypse Now and even 2001: A Space Odyssey this is an intense, philosophical and lyrical film from Columbian writer/director Ciro Guerra. It follows two timelines, both with Amazonian shaman Karamakate and two separate Western explorers, in their search for a sacred healing plant. Perhaps some unoriginality lies in the concept of the noble savage versus the evils of the white man (in real life, as well as film, perhaps), but Guerra explores this in such a patient and meditative way, shot in gorgeous black and white, that it becomes pretty much impossible to not be sucked in by the film’s gentle rhythm.
Hell or High Water. A brilliantly crafted modern day Western from director David Mackenzie. Brilliantly strong performances all round, with Ben Foster’s morally complex character probably being the standout. In fact, the morality of all the characters is grey, leaving who to root for as satisfyingly ambiguous. The financial inequality and race themes running throughout were well woven into the story and it all looked beautiful; it sounded that way, too, thanks to the ever dependable Nick Cave and Warren Ellis providing the score.
The Revenant: Could have shaved fifteen minutes off the runtime perhaps, and I can see how this would be a struggle for some viewers, but I could have watched it all day. The bear attack and first scene were particularly engrossing, even with slightly poor CGI on the former (which I am worried about how it will look in ten/twenty years). Beautiful cinematography and powerful acting throughout.
Room: If I weren’t such a manly man, I would have cried at least fifteen times during this. A rather harrowing story is made ten times more positive by the fact that we see it through the eyes of a five year old. The film follows a mum and son, held hostage in a small shed at the end of their captors garden – this life is all the son has ever known. Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay are really strong in their individual performances and their chemistry with each other; it is their bond that makes the film so powerful and so great.
Son of Saul. Hungarian director László Nemes’ debut feature is an uncompromising look into our titular protagonist and his experience in Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. With the camera perpetually focused on Saul, a Jewish prisoner, the awful events he witnesses are often at the periphery of the frame, sometimes only heard or out of focus. This is such an excellent story telling device, concentrating the larger horror of the camps and the war in general (which we have seen plenty of on film already) into one man’s unsmiling face, as he tries to redeem himself. Brutal, as can only be expected, but absolutely beautiful with it.
Spotlight: A really solid film about the Boston Globe’s exposure of the Catholic Church’s systematic cover up of abuse. Another great ensemble cast here with great performances – all the roles were really well written, well rounded characters. Writer/director Tom McCarthy certainly gave a Sidney Lumet vibe in the way this was made and it really works.