With the crushing inevitability that is the passage of time, we have passed through half of 2016. I’ve got to admit, I don’t think it’s been an amazing year so far for movies. Usually there is a film that really sticks out early in the year as my favourite that normally sits there for the whole year. This hasn’t happened yet. However, there have been some truly wonderful films and from what I’ve seen so far, these are the best of them.
I find Charlie Kaufman to be a frustrating filmmaker. I respect and admire his work and his ideas. His films are always unique and have a different worldview but I, for the most part, find them alienating and a bit dull and at their very worst, weird and quirky almost for the sake of it. Anomalisa is easily his best film yet. Animated using soft, stop motion models and using only three people in is entire voice cast, Anomalisa manages to be a hugely human film. David Thewlis voices Michael Stone, a Customer Services specialist speaker and author who is distanced from his family and those around him until he meets a woman called Lisa who lights a fire in his soul. Anomalisa is a very amusing film, filled with jokes on the nuance of life, and is a thoroughly tender and beautiful film. It conveys a more realistic relationship than most live action films manage.
Films often get known for their gimmick; shot all in first person, denounced by the church, disordered chronology. Victoria is a two and a half hour film shot all in one long unbroken take. However, this is so much more than a gimmicky filming technique or a filmmaking experiment. The fact that the camera moves in and out of cars, up and down stairs, chases the characters while they run or ride on bikes and the shots are not only coherent and well framed but also sometimes beautiful is testament to the brilliant work by cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen. The fact that Victoria is also a fantastic film is nothing short of a miracle. Victoria (Laia Costa) has recently moved to Berlin. On a night out she befriends a group of young men, falling for the charismatic Sonne (Frederick Lau). As the night continues they all become embroiled in criminal activity which soon spins out of their control. The performances are naturalistic (the actors predominantly improvise their dialogue) and the film is exciting and tense. You become invested with the characters and end up feeling guilty as you feel like a participant in what they do. When the credits finally roll on Victoria, you really feel like you’ve been through something.
Jeff Nichols has been making a name for himself making well reviewed but little seen indie films such as Mud and Take Shelter but it is with this years’ Midnight Special that his talent has really taken off. Michael Shannon is Roy, a father trying to transport his son, Alton, across the country while being pursued by the government and religious fanatics. Alton is special and important but nobody yet knows why. Nichols has made an exciting, entertaining and interesting science fiction chase movie. From its tense opening I was hooked as the film grabbed me and didn’t let go until its end. A masterclass in action and science fiction on a fairly limited budget, Midnight Special deserves to be seen by far more people than have already seen it. With Nichols’ next film Loving being tipped as an early Oscar contender, there is still plenty to look forward to from him.
Interest in Western movies has been aroused recently with Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight both reaching a wide audience and gathering Oscar nominations. Better than Tarantino’s most recent Western attempt is the debut film of S. Craig Zahler, a novelist, here directing from his own script. It also stars Kurt Russel and his massive moustache, which surely must command its own trailer, as a small town sheriff who tries to find the kidnapped wife of local doctor Arthur, played by Patrick Wilson. However, this isn’t your run of the mill kidnapping. She has been taken by a vicious tribe of cannibals who span the line between human and monster. Bone Tomahawk is not for the faint hearted. It is gory and violent and has one of the most vicious deaths that I’ve seen in recent years. It’s not just the violence that will stay with you but also the wonderful characterisation and dialogue. A lot of the movie is taken up with the journey to find Arthur’s wife Samantha, yet this is never boring. The dialogue is natural and entertaining and you come to care about the characters. With Bone Tomahawk Zahler has emerged as a strong talent and I’m interested to see what he will do next.
I have missed out on a lot of films this year that I still want to check out including The Green Room, The Nice Guys and Notes on Blindness, so I would really expect this list to be a little longer but that’s just how it’s played out so far. I also haven’t included the Oscar films from very early in the year, but I’ll get to those when I do a full round up at the end of 2016.