What a difference a year makes!
This time last year I was mired in the grief of losing my beloved father and while I still miss him dearly, life returned to normal, or whatever normal looks like after you lose a parent because nothing is ever the same again, which meant in my case, lots and lots of movies.
Not as many as I wanted to see of course but then there are only so many hours in the day and I am a pop culture omnivore, which means I somehow need to fit in movies, books, TV shows, comic books and music, as well as eating, breathing, sleeping, and oh yeah, catching up with friends.
Still I managed to get to a shade over 60 films this year, ranging from blockbuster-y behemoths that bestrode the zeitgeist like Thor: Ragnarok, Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Wonder Woman to fantastically incisive indie films like Ingrid Goes West, Maudie and God’s Own Country to the richness of foreign films like Rosalie Blum and The Salesman. Throw in some Oscar darlings like Loving, Hidden Figures and Dunkirk and I was rewarded with a year of inventive, clever cinematic storytelling.
As always, the list that follows reflects the Australian release schedule.
This was a brilliant movie to begin the year with. Both a sprawlingly expansive story and an incredibly intimate one, Lion is about loss, belonging, redemption and forgiveness and ultimately, coming to terms with life and its many contrary, messy outworkings. Patel and Kidman are just superb throughout.
It would be easy to regard Wilson, played with irascible brilliance by Woody Harrelson, as a thoroughly unlikeable character with few redeeming features. But like all of us, he is a man of deep emotional needs and raw vulnerabilities and this very clever film balances his less appealing qualities with his innate humanity for an affecting outcome that neatly sidesteps expectations.
Parts stalker-creepy and parts innate French charm, Rosalie Blum offers a quirkily unique perspective life, one that accepts happy endings are possible but that getting to them is anything but neat and straightforward. After all, when does life ever play solely to our expectations? Rarely and this joyously clever, determinedly offbeat and yet charming, it’s a refreshing take on the idea that life can get shaken up in ways we don’t see coming and when we least expect it.
Justly lauded as one of the great films of 2016, Loving is, like pretty much everything that speaks to our shared humanity these days, a heartwarming but robust rebuttal to the idea that there is far more that separates us than unites us. The film fights this malignant philosophy one quiet life moment at a time, demonstrating that while love does triumph over all, we must stand with it and fight along too if victory is to be assured.
A riveting film on just about every level, The Salesman concerns itself with the grey areas of life, which if we’re honest is most of them, a notion that is unpalatable to the bigots and extremists who seem so thick on the ground at the moment. Repudiating the idea that a complex thing like life has easy answers and that you can simply sweep trauma under the carpet with no consequences, it’s a hearty, intelligent pushback to the simplistic legalists of the world.
What a glorious film this is. It manages, with breathtaking narrative deftness and an eye for richly-wrought characters, to be both heartwarmingly inspiring and incisively clever, portraying one small but very important part of the civil rights struggle in the United States, one that simply began as three women wanting to make the most of unexpected opportunity. Taraji, Monae and Spencer are awe-inspiringly-good, reminding us that at the heart of every revolution are extraordinarily ordinary people wanting the same chances at life as everyone else.
Grim and bleak and yet deeply, affectingly emotional resonant, Logan is the Wolverine film we didn’t know we needed. Anchored by Hugh Jackman is gritty, disillusioned mode, Logan is about second chances and hope and the idea that it’s never too late to stake a claim at redemption. A valuable and necessary to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it offers a brilliant new perspective on the usual glossy, black-and-white world of superheroes.
Do we need all these live action remakes seems intent on foisting upon us with near overwhelming regularity? Probably not, but if they have to come and they will, then may they all be as inventive, rich and affecting as Beauty and the Beast, that manages to find all new ways to dazzle, impress and reach our hearts, in a story that you may think you know so well there is nothing left to surprise you.
What a stupendously brilliant, awesome, amazing film. It soundly, and with firm conviction, captivating characterisation and immersive, gripping action, reminds us that not only is Wonder Woman one of the best superheroes out there but that she is capable of carrying a movie of her own and how. The highest-grossing superhero origin movie of all time, the film is spectacle, heart, morality play, embodying a refreshing honesty about life and an intelligence that warms the heart and mind simultaneously.
Here’s my review of Wonder Woman.
Families are complicated right? We know that but seeing it play out with heartfelt honesty and truth as it does in 20th Century Women, anchored by the inimitable Annette Bening, is engrossingly reassuring. Even better is that this is a family both born and chosen, one of those increasingly common entities that offer a sense of belonging and home to people who may have neither. Sure they’re messy and problematic and as flawed humans we rarely get it as right as we want to, but it’s an engaging reminder that it’s worth pursuing however it plays out.
Described by its creators as Australia’s first Muslim romantic comedy, Ali’s Wedding is a delight on every level. Cleverly-written, deftly acted and possessed of an appreciation for the great cultural differences of the Muslim community and yet their deep, shared similarities to any of us who value love, family and belonging, the film is sweetly, laugh-out-loud funny, proof you can be insightful and hilarious at once with one negating the other.
LEGO movies are fast becoming a gold comedy standard. Brilliantly and mercilessly lampooning Batman’s gruff, emotionally-cut off persona, The LEGO Batman Movie gives us a great tale, wonderful characters and sizzlingly funny oneliner after oneliner, a parody that never puts a foot wrong and even manages to be a little emotionally resonant into the bargain.
Monsieur Chocolat, like so much European, and particularly French, cinema refuses to accede to the idea that life is neat and easily-told. A biopic that tells the story of turn of the 20th century Afro-Cuban clown Rafael, the film is at turns painfully sad and incisively socially observational, and riotously, giddily joyful, just like life if you think about it, especially when you inhabit a world, as Rafael does, where some people think they are better than others and act, sadly, accordingly.
Not normally one for wartime movies, I found Dunkirk effortlessly, endlessly gripping. Finding the raw humanity in a film that is ultimately a story about survival against the odds, both collectively and personally, the film is a visual feast, a narrative delight and intensely, beautifully real that manages to be massive and intimate at once, a rare feat that lends it so much majesty and emotional impact.
A wholly different war film, War for the Planet of the Apes is a brilliant end to what has been an exceptionally and uniformly good prequel trilogy, proving they can be done and done well (right Star Wars? Oh, yeah, no, you didn’t get that memo alas). Doing what every film in the trilogy has done best, which is find the intimate and the real in amongst the big picture expansiveness of a world literally gone to the apes, the film upends the idea of hero and villain, excoriatingly revealing how little humanity often has when the chips are down and how perhaps our passing is some sort of cosmic justice.
An absolute, quietly passionate delight, Maudie is one of those films that looks unassuming and fey on the surface, telling its story with little fanfare and no gimmicks, that is as robust and substantial as they come when you dig down. With the odds stacked against her, the titular character nevertheless refuses to let life or people best her, suffering and gaining in equal measure as she winningly does so.
The idea that love is love is love has been bandied about a lot this year during Australia’s god awful same sex marriage survey, but that’s because it is innately true. I know my relationship with my husband is as real and committed and heartfelt as any straight person’s but God’s Own Country quietly and yet powerfully makes that abundantly clear, serving up a timely reminder that is there far that unites than separates us and that love is never as bigoted and judgemental as we all too often are.
It took until this year to watch the original Blade Runner – who knows why; living in the country, it was the ’80s, I was a “good Christian, honestly I can’t recall – but I loved it, obviously, from its first mediative frames, as the unexpectedly evocative music of Vangelis swept me up in a thoughtful, measured rumination on what it means to be human. Blade Runner 2049 has much the same look and feel, albeit with much more modern patina, and an intellectual commitment to exploring many of the same issues. It is beautiful, sprawling and expansive, one of the few movies I have seen in many years that feels truly immersive, a world entirely and richly unto itself.
In my review, I call Thor: Ragnarok a hoot. It may sound like a glib, tiny little term to bandy around for a Marvel blockbuster but it fits perfectly. Helmed by the immensely talented and inordinately clever Taika Watiti, the film is clever, rich in intent and fiercely intelligent while being spectacularly, immensely blockbuster-y and insanely, endlessly, hold-your-sides funny. I … LOVED … IT.
Granted Breathe is hardly, ahem, breathtakingly original. It’s your standard inspirational, Vaseline soft-focused, rose-coloured glasses biopic where a determined individual triumphs over grave infirmities. And yet for all that, I found it deeply charming and often funny, lifted by fine performances from a stellar cast and a script that tried to inject humour into what is, on paper at least, a not even remotely funny situation. You leave the cinema feeling buoyed and good about life and frankly in these dark and trying times, isn’t that a wholly good thing?
Here’s my review of Breathe.
Sure it’s schmaltzy and in many ways entirely predictable but Wonder, the story of Auggie, a young boy who due to a genetic condition looks nothing like anyone else and suffers because of it, is an absolute delight from start to finish. The film is a substantial, real, honest and exquisitely-lovely film about accepting yourself, no matter what others think, and accepting others without qualification that leaves you feeling like anything is possible, no matter how big the challenges your life may contain, and given life’s messy contrariness at the best of times, that’s something we all need to be reminded of no matter who we are.
Here’s my full review of Wonder.
Coco is a masterpiece, a film that takes top flight animation, music and a culture impossibly resplendent in music, the value of family and a thousand other things besides, and delivers up a story that reaffirms the importance of family, but family which grows, is alive and develops, and understands that sometimes healing and an appreciation for the diverse talents that make it up, may be needed to keep the memories alive and renew and enliven the bonds that keep it strong and make it something truly special and worth belonging and celebrating at every turn.
If you’ve been alive longer than five minutes, you will be painfully aware of how cruel and unyielding life can be. But in The Florida Project, where life is grim indeed for the poverty line residents of motels on the fringe’s of Orlando’s golden tourist mile, young Moonee is protected from its worst excesses by a motley group of people but most powerfully by her own innocent belief that life is a playground full of infinite possibilities. Moonee doesn’t know that yet and as you journey to the point where that bubble of sweet child-like delusion is going to have to be burst, at least partly, you are hope and pray that Moonee’s happy little world can endure in some way so sweet and beautifully alive is it.
This film made my heart utterly and completely glad. What a sweet, beautiful, funny, fantastically-whimsical delight and joy which perfectly captures the spirit of the books, a gorgeous, visually-lush reminder that being kind and generous of spirit beats cold, hard and nasty any day.
Here’s my full review of Paddington 2.
And if you’re wondering how other people ranked the year’s films, wonder no more … and want to watch all the year’s films really quickly? Can help you with that too!
Keen to see this year’s most striking movie posters? Check out the selections at MUBI.