Sunday, February 26, 2017

Best of 2016 (Part Two)

AND NOW! We move on the more marquee categories - the actors, actresses, writers, and directors who made my favorite contributions to their films in 2016.

Best Adapted Screenplay
The Little Prince
The Handmaiden (WINNER)
Everyone and their mother has attempted to adapt Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince to film, but this was the first that truly captured the spirit of the novel, with the stroke of genius of making it as much about the act of reading The Little Prince as it about the plot itself. Elle is yet another example of why we should call a novel "unfilmable" at our own risk. Arrival's screenplay plays its hand so subtly that the big reveal both is and isn't a total surprise - a pretty neat trick! Moonlight's words are pure poetry, but never sound writerly. But how anyone could read Sarah Waters's Fingersmith and make The Handmaiden, which aside from completely changing the time and place of the novel, is actually even crazier than the novel, is mind-boggling.


Hell Or High Water
The Lobster (WINNER)
Manchester By The Sea
The Witch
Even setting aside the perfect use of period language in The Witch, it unfolds at a perfect pace for maximum scariness. Zootopia may be a little bit TOO on the nose, but damn if its insightful political commentary doesn't play like gangbusters, as does its clever comedy (sloths at the DMV!). Hell or High Water has the year's tightest, most quotable script, if not the most groundbreaking. Kenneth Lonergan continues to prove that he understands human beings and how they grieve better than just about any other writer with his near-perfect script for Manchester By The Sea. And in The Lobster, Yorgos Lanthimos found a perfect vehicle for his pitch-black sense of humor and deadpan, with an allegory that will touch anyone who has ever been single deeply.


Mahershala Ali, Moonlight 
Tom Bennett, Love & Friendship
Alden Ehrenrich, Hail, Caesar!
Ralph Fiennes, A Bigger Splash (WINNER)
Lucas Hedges, Manchester By The Sea
Lucas Hedges brings a great "real-kid" quality to his performance, and his nervous breakdown is as heartbreaking as it is hilarious. We can feel Mahershala Ali's presence long after his character is gone from Moonlight, such an indelible character does he create in such limited time. The rhythms of Tom Bennett's speech patterns in Love & Friendship are completely unlike anything else I've ever heard - a truly original comic creation that left me needing to pause and replay his scenes after I had stopped laughing. Alden Ehrenrich would make this list even if the only scene he had was "Would that it were so simple," but he does so much more. But his scene partner Ralph Fiennes truly outdid himself in A Bigger Splash, playing one of those annoying people who always has to be the center of attention, and gets it through the expenditure of lots of energy and volume. It's a tour de force you can't look away from, even if you wanted to.

Olivia Colman, The Lobster
Naomie Harris, Moonlight (WINNER)
Lupita Nyong'o, Queen of Katwe
Molly Shannon, Other People
Michelle Williams, Manchester By The Sea
Everyone in Manchester is always doing their best work when in a scene with Michelle Williams. That's not an accident. Whatever emotional impact the film has, it's all due to her performance. Lupita Nyong'o gets to show lots of range in Queen of Katwe as the titular chess prodigy's young mother, and she tops even her great Oscar-winning performance in 12 Years a Slave, telling us all we need to know about this woman just by the way she walks. Olivia Colman is the perfect vessel for Lanthimos's deadpan dialogue as the Hotel Manager; thanks to her, you'll never look at a toaster the same way again. Even though her character is dying of cancer, Molly Shannon makes sure she comes alive, bringing her natural good humor to bear, equal parts defense mechanism and genuine good feelings. Pity poor Naomie Harris, though. Were Viola Davis not fraudulently competing in this category at the Oscars, her fierce, raw portrait of an addict mother at three stages of her life would likely have swept awards season, and justifiably so.
 Hugh Grant, Florence Foster Jenkins
Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Connor Jessup, Closet Monster
Peter Simonischek, Toni Erdmann
Denzel Washington, Fences (WINNER)
Jessup lets us see the genuine fear and longing battling it out for dominance in his sensitive portrait of a damaged gay teen coming of age. Ryan Gosling does it all in La La Land - sings, dances, plays piano - and he does it all with the same effortlessness that marks his off-the-charts chemistry with Emma Stone. Grant's bottomless charm goes a long way towards making St. Clair a sympathetic character, but he's also sneakily funny as Florence's devoted husband/failed actor.  Jack Nicholson sure has big shoes to fill in the godforsaken Toni Erdmann remake, since Simonischek is so effortlessly sympathetic and weird simultaneously. It's a tricky balance that he pulls off to perfection. No one this year can touch Denzel's Troy Maxson, though. He's a true force of nature in Fences, swinging the entire world over to his axis wherever he goes. This is the best he's been in ages, and it's not like he's ever been one to phone it in.

Jessica Chastain, Miss Sloane
Viola Davis, Fences (WINNER)
Krisha Fairchild, Krisha
Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Natalie Portman, Jackie
The opening and closing close-ups of Krisha Fairchild's face are astonishingly precise - and the rest of her performance as a recovering alcoholic whose return home does not go as planned packs quite a wallop.  Isabelle Huppert has the trickiest part of the year in Elle, but thankfully the character couldn't be better suited to her gifts, and hot damn does she deliver as a woman who isn't sure what she's feeling, or even what she should be feeling, after getting raped. Jessica Chastain gets to sink her teeth plenty of scenery as the year's ultimate "nasty woman", and since she never lets subtlety get away from her entirely, it's a perfectly satisfying four-course meal. Natalie Portman was born to play Jacqueline Kennedy, but her portrait of a first lady in mourning isn't just about her perfect voice and looks, it's about the modulations in her speaking tone that speak volumes, and in how hollow she goes behind the eyes as she moves through her grief. But no one this year gave a more volcanic performance than Viola Davis in Fences. She's so disarmingly fun and flirty with her lout of a husband in the opening scenes that when the big snot-filled breakdown monologue comes, it's like a tidal wave hitting the audience. As she unleashes the full force of her pent-up anger and fear and love and grief, and stands up for what she deserves, it's not just Rose Maxson doing so - it's every woman who has ever been taken for granted and taken advantage of, for every woman who has suppressed her own hopes and dreams for a man, for every marginalized person who has watched and patiently waited and suffered in silence as others simply took what they wanted. She is all of us. And we will not be ignored.

Park Chan-Wook, The Handmaiden
Damien Chazelle, La La Land (WINNER)
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Yorgos Lanthimos, The Lobster
Pablo Larraín, Jackie
The totality of Larraín's vision for Jackie is absolutely stunning. Would that all biopics could be this focused and powerful. Barry Jenkins made Moonlight one of the most thematically, visually, and sonically beautiful films ever. No one else could have made The Lobster, one of the year's most unique films in terms of plot and tone, and Yorgos Lanthimos shepherded every single element together to make something completely singular. The Handmaiden is one of the most demanding films of the year - it's also one of the most purely enjoyable, so fleet on its feet and so willing to go where few other films would dare. Park Chan-Wook also makes sure all the technical elements are impeccable. Damien Chazelle made La La Land a technical dazzlement that feels entirely current despite using a form and technique rooted in the past. It's a perfect blend, reinvigorating the musical by going to places modern-day audiences aren't used to going. This was his dream project, and you can see the thought and care put into every frame.


  1. It is now at the countdown and let's see if some of your picks actually wins. I love that one pic you chose from The Hand,aiden...reminds me of a Monet painting.

    1. That's my favorite shot in all of The Handmaiden - it's one we get to see twice from two different perspectives, and it's like a punch in the gut both times.

  2. I'm glad she got her Oscar, but thank you for putting Viola Davis in the correct category. That fraud aside, she is just magnificent. Yay, the his & hers win here for Davis and Denzel.

    1. The His & Hers wins is really how the Oscars should have gone this year, but I guess the Academy just wasn't ready to have four black winners (and also too willing to go along with Viola's fraudulent campaign, but whatever. Whichever category she was in she would have won, and deserved to).

  3. So great to see The Handmaiden here! Your description of Davis' work makes me wanna see Fences

    1. She's AH-MAY-ZING in Fences, although I don't know if it's your kind of film. I'm kind of obsessed with The Handmaiden.

    2. Yeah I know Fences is wordy as hell...but hopefully I'll get to see it soon. I just loved loved loved The Handmaiden. My Best of 2016 post isn't coming for a long time but it will dominate most categories