TOP TEN (plus one)
1. LALA LAND – Ryan Gosling plays piano, and Emma Stone plays an actress as they imagine a Hollywood future that at any moment can seamlessly become a dream and break into song. Stone is riveting, the chemistry is perfect, and the set pieces are breathtaking. Movie love at its best.
2. LOVING – This story of the mixed race couple that helped change miscegenation laws focuses on Mildred and Richard Loving’s honesty, integrity, and commitment to one another without melodrama. It is buoyed by two of the year’s best performances.
3. MOONLIGHT – Told three chapters that bravely explores a black man’s life as he comes to terms with his sexuality and moves into adulthood. It is riveting at every level: story, cinematography, ensemble acting, and is notable for its patience, quietitude and courage.
4. FENCES – Denzel Washington directs and stars with a cast that does justice to August Wilson’s language. Set in Pittsburgh in the 1950’s at the home of Troy, Rose and Cory Maxson, the play is about history, fate, hubris, family, race, fathers and sons. It is a giant work brought with honesty and integrity to the screen.
5. THE WITCH – Based on stories of Salem witches, the film imagines what it would be like if this were not mere hysteria. It grows to be outrageous and chilling with a heart-stopping finish.
6. PATERSON Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani are adorable as a married couple who love and support each other. He drives a bus and writes poetry while she designs clothes and bakes great cupcakes. This film awakens us to the magic and wonder of the ordinary.
7. HAIL CEASAR - The Cohen’s tribute to classical Hollywood is silly but filled with enough clever Hollywood tropes, references and set pieces to make it a real treat for movie lovers.
8. JACKIE – Pablo Larraín looks at Jackie Kennedy’s life in the days following her husband’s assassination like a fever dream. She chain smokes puts on a brave public face and builds a mythology around a life she never really wanted. Mica Lev’s dizzying score adds to the surreal quality.
9. A BIGGER SPLASH – In Luca Guadagnino’s sensuous film, Tilda Swinton as a rock star and Ralph Fiennes and as her manager husband enjoy the good life relaxing on Pantelleria Island. When luscious brat Dakota Johnson shows up the movie drops us on our heads and we watch as the rich unravel.
10. MANCHESTER BY-THE-SEA – Casey Affleck's understated performance, Michelle William’s wicked tough Massachusetts’ housewife and mother along with Kenneth Lonergan's ear for everyday speech turn a tragic life into a celebration of the common man. These are travails of one life hidden behind the picturesque facade of this quaint seaside town.
11. WIENER DOG – I must add Todd Solondz’ odd and puzzling, funny and awful story of a dachshund that gets passed from owner to owner. It is, as he puts it, “cruelty and tenderness, or comedy and pathos rubbing against each other.” I love the confusion, but also the heart at the center of the film.
ALLIED – This is the big WW II spy epic with Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard.
Maybe this is a throwback to old-style filmmaking but it just feels old. You cannot have a plane crash in your backyard and, while that same plane is still smoking, take your new baby out for a picnic where it takes its first steps. Cotillard is so talented and beautiful I’d watch her read a phone book, which come to think of it would be more real than this stagey hokum.
AMERICAN PASTORAL Ewen McGregor directs Philip Roth’s novel earnestly but without a soul. Too many scene feel forced, and a good story deflates into a collection of scenes that go nowhere. McGregor is too cozy for the part of a desperate father looking into America’s dark heart to find his daughter who has become a revolutionary. Dakota Fanning is too elegant for the dreary role of the daughter. She adds no dimension to the character and looks ridiculous.
JACK REACHER - Perhaps expectations weren’t high to begin with, and this could be a guilty pleasure, but for being one more silly franchise movie. Tom Cruise’s display of Kabuki facial language - the clenching jaw in close-ups, the quizzical eyebrows - just add to the laundry list of clichés.
FAVORITE 10 FOREIGN FILMS
This year these films happen to divide evenly between male and female directors.