The Diva Del Mar’s Fab Faves of 2016
Happy New Year!!! With the festival circuit coming to its year’s close and the award season just around the corner, it’s a great time to reflect on the 2016 cinematic repertoire. Indulge me in a trip through my favorite films of 2016 and the interesting and unique facets about these films that made them stand out in my opinion. If you have found any resonance in my other reviews, you might like some of these that I didn’t get to write up. I have chosen them mostly because they are unique and bring something fresh to cinema. With everything being a remake, sequel, prequel, or novel adaptation, anything refreshing is…..well refreshing! Enjoy and please share your thoughts down below. I’d love to chat with you!
The Hunt for the Wilderpeople
I caught this gem of a film as SXSW and was unable to prevent tears from welling up within the first 20 minutes between the giggles, of course. Taika Waititi really knows how to pull on your heartstrings while tickling your funny bone, and he spins a great yarn along the way. Wilderpeople tells the tale of a child struggling in the foster care system, the quirky couple that takes him in, and the unexpected adventure between child and foster-dad that leads to personal redemption. Witty, charming, and incredibly well-written, this movie should have been a bigger hit. It makes commercialized mainstream feel-good cinema seem like awkward garbage. A film shouldn’t have to choke the viewer with over-dramatized scenes to trigger an emotional response. You can easily absorb the “feels” through clever writing and watching skilled actors work through their characters’ relationships. The scene that made my eyes well up was a just simple and touching conversation between foster mother and son. It was honest, intimate, and thoroughly effective. You really need to check it out!
10 Cloverfield Lane
Whether you were a fan or not, you have to admit this film was really entertaining. I loved every bit of it and was excited for the chance to see John Goodman in a dominating role. He’s just so great. I also found the story and premise to be very relatable to women. As an intimate story revolving around the feminine trepidation of being trapped and helpless in dubious male company, it invites you to forget that you are in fact, in the Cloverfield universe. In addition, this film stands out for me because it’s a “sideways” sequel and it’s not awful. I love movies that exist within the universe of another film, have a completely different story to tell, and don’t completely suck! In this case, it even strays from the original found footage format, and relies more on psychological terror than jumps. And talk about a thrilling ending! Loved it!
The Red Turtle
A gorgeous silent film with tremendous philosophical and emotional impact, this animated feature took my breath away. It’s a beautiful fable about a castaway and a giant red turtle that prevents his escape. One act of frustrated and selfish cruelty unveils an opportunity to find a lifetime of happiness, love, and acceptance. What I adored about this film, is that it is RICH with many philosophical and symbolic offerings. There are so many lessons to learn from The Red Turtle, particularly for our technologically overdriven society. I’d wager that this simple fable offers more profound wisdoms, than an overly complicated, “cerebral” film like Inception. A celebration of the simple beauty and poignant nature of serendipity, this movie will entice a sigh and have you yearning for a trip to the beach. Share it on a quiet evening and enjoy its majesty.
Apart from subversively causing shockwaves across the cinematic comic book community and catapulting Ryan Reynolds career and clout with fans, this film is marvelous and thoroughly rewatchable. As much as you laugh at Reynolds’ antics as Deadpool, the movie also engages the audience emotionally. And even though the movie is DIRTY, it still manages to avoid being sexist, racist, or exploitative. Brilliantly marketed through plucky narrative online videos and a powerful social media presence, fans loved the movie before it even came out. Deadpool removed the kid gloves from the comic book genre, proving that R ratings don’t kill comic book films. I am forever grateful for this, as director James Mangold mentioned that Deadpool eased his efforts to make Logan as dark and bloody as he had intended. It’s a revolutionary film in the industry and the crotch shots are a nice bonus!
Smart and emotionally complex, this film challenges the audience to search deeper into the realms of humanity and to prize the beauty of life, in any shape, form, or brevity. Haunting, and hopeful, Amy Adams dishes up a wondrous performance, reflecting the vulnerability and possibilities of mankind. Her character makes an interesting decision in the film, one that most people wouldn’t have the courage to make. She reminded me that the value of life will always trump the finality of death. Additionally, I think this film is possibly one of the most societally relevant to come out this year. It challenges us to think bigger and with more compassion for life. Watch Arrival and take notes, also, it’s just a really great film.
Be wary of reviews for this one as even the most careful critics may reveal just a little too much. I recommend skipping the trailers and just going in blind to get the full impact of this fun romp in the home invasion genre. Violently dark with just enough wit to conjure up a few chuckles, this film caught me off guard, as there was very little buzz about it. It was better than more popular films at Fantastic Fest, and I just happened to catch it on the last day with Annette Kellerman. We walked out pleased and energized by the unique film. If I don’t see more buzz about it, I might highlight it in my Unsung Heroes series. It’s an excellent thrill ride.
A fabulous offering from Germany, Toni Erdmann takes the family comedy genre to an entirely new level of wit, charm, and endearment. Tackling the difficult relationship between a goofy father and his career-driven daughter, this movie reminds us to appreciate the odd moments of humanity that are worth far more than a life of arbitrary success. It also reminds us that our parents still have many lessons to impart to us as adults, if we are open to them. Featuring excellent comedic timing and rich humor, I loved how Maren Ade uses every inch of the screen to tell the story. While one character is in the foreground, moving her part of the story along, another character is slinking along in the background, continuing his adventure. The viewer is treated to layered story-telling that captures multiple emotional character arcs simultaneously and brings them together in the fuzziest, most heart-warming hug you’ve ever seen on the silver screen.
Thoroughly rewatchable, which is one of my requirements to label any movie as excellent, I watched this film three times in the theater. Apart from the general “coolness” factor of Benedict Cumberbatch and the amazing special effects, this movie has a lot of emotional clout. Even upon my third viewing, I lost my cool during the balcony scene. The movie offers viewers a powerful and important lesson: A meaningful life isn’t about personal gains and accomplishments, it’s about being vulnerable and open to every possibility of existence. We see our pompous Doctor learn gratitude, humility, and intimacy, when his self-centered world of status, greed, and fear is shattered. It’s the truest story of a hero, as his fall from grace is painful and requires true grit and change to overcome. It’s rare to find a good story that draws from the classic definition of the hero’s arc, while capturing the sleek pace and feel of contemporary Marvel films.
Hell or High Water
A gritty story of the struggle of the common man in small town America, this film fascinated me with its performances and power. Taking place in Texas, this movie offers up a tale of two brothers, fighting to save their inheritance from predatory financial institutions through a life of crime. Ben Foster is amazing as always, with Chris Pine and Jeff Bridges riding his coattails in performances. The movie is dry, like a Western should be and has no frills about it. And like in most good Westerns, this allows the viewer to enjoy subtext and the richness of subtlety. It also exposes the consequences of letting big government exploit the rights of those who seem inconsequential to society. People of limited means are often taken advantage of by those more powerful, and by exploiting them, we are effectively creating more criminals. This is the societal lesson of Hell or High Water, but this movie is also a tale of male bonding and masculine energy. We are presented with four very different men, each bringing different facets of strength and male charisma to the story. From the sheriff who hides his competency and courage under racist quips and chatter, to the neurotic, loose cannon temperament of Foster’s character, the viewer enjoys an interesting study of the male psyche. Socially relevant and marvelously acted, this one stood out for me as a power film of 2016.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe
You know how District 9 tricked us into watching a film about the atrocities of the apartheid in Africa by packaging the story as a bad-ass sci-fi adventure? Well, The Autopsy of Jane Doe tackles violence against women in the very same way, but instead it packages the story in a gory horror movie. When you set aside the genre elements of the film, you get something even more intrinsically horrific. Throughout history and still in modern times women have suffered terrible abuses at the hands of men, with little to no recourse for justice or escape. This film tackles this uncomfortable issue with unflinching horror and discovery, serving up a chilling thrill ride that scares the tar out of you. Well done!
We Go On
A delightful discovery at Other Worlds Austin Film Festival, We Go On deserves to join the ranks of festival favorites in the 2016/2017 seasons. A cleverly written psychological thriller, this movie tells the story of a man who sets out on a terrifying adventure to overcome his fear of death by offering cash for proof of the afterlife. Wonderfully written, it’s the first time I see a horror film that features a buddy movie arc where the buddies are mother and adult son. It’s funny, scary, and thoroughly enjoyable with story elements that surprise you along the way. It features a fantastic performance by Clark Freeman, who truly captures the struggle of a man who is brave enough to fight through his phobias. I love his arc. It’s refreshing to see a story about true grit and courage, that isn’t necessarily an action or western. A nice addition to the world of paranormal and psychological terror, definitely put it on your radar!
Thanks for reading!
The Diva Del Mar