La La Land, Moonlight and Arrival top my list. But I also wonder why critics and audiences didn't take to The Nice Guys and Snowden.
If there’s a theme to this list, it’s the power of movies themselves. It includes everything from a tribute to the enduring appeal of the musical to three docs that show how film can not only capture, but sometimes even alter, lives.
(D: Damien Chazelle)
From its jaw-dropping opening number to its triple-hankie final sequence, Chazelle’s ode to love, art and movie magic made me swoon with delight. Although it’s filled with nods to the great musicals of the past, it’s no mere homage. Beneath the touching love story between Emma Stone’s fresh-faced aspiring actor and Ryan Gosling’s cynical jazz aficionado is a sharp look at a rapidly changing entertainment industry. But as this stunning film shows, some cinematic pleasures are timeless.
(D: Barry Jenkins)
A young, queer Black boy comes of age in the crack-infested streets of Miami. The miracle of Jenkins’s film is how essential, and authentic, every moment feels. The tripartite structure, gorgeous cinematography and deeply felt performances lend majesty and mystery to what might seem like an ordinary life. As we discover, it’s anything but.
Photo Credit: Jan Thijs
(D: Denis Villeneuve)
My colleague Norman Wilner said it best in his review: this is “sci-fi made by an artist.” Beneath the alien invasion scenario and the intriguing structure, there are big, pressing questions about fear of the other and the necessity to communicate. Not a bad message for the Trump era.
(D: Kirsten Johnson)
It takes a while for Johnson’s visual diary – culled from a decade and a half of her cinematography for other documentarians – to come together. But once it does, and themes about children, mothers and war begin echoing among the sequences, it’s astonishing.
(D: Roger Ross Williams)
Owen Suskind was diagnosed with autism at three, and it was only through animated Disney movies that his parents discovered he could talk. These films provided him with a way to navigate life’s challenges. But what happens when he experiences things that aren’t covered in cartoons? A moving testament to the power and influence of film.
(D: Andrew Stanton)
Hitting the same beats as his masterful Finding Nemo, Stanton goes even deeper in a film that, at its heart, is about living with a special-needs child. (I would love to have seen it with Life, Animated’s Suskind.) The film’s catchphrase, “What would Dory do?” has become a glorious call to thinking outside the box. It would make a great empathic double bill with Zootopia.
(D: Jim Jarmusch)
The set-up – bus driver (Adam Driver) in Paterson, New Jersey, writes poetry in his spare time – sounds dull and possibly twee. It’s anything but. Jarmusch and Driver, in a performance devoid of hipster irony, show us how to be open to all the miraculous sights and sounds of life’s journey. Call it Zen And The Art Of Bus Driving. (Opens February 3.)
(D: Gianfranco Rosi)
While thousands of refugees risk their lives trying to get from North Africa to Europe, people on the Italian island of Lampedusa quietly go about their lives, oblivious to the life-and-death events occurring near their shores. Rosi’s Golden Bear-winning film sees all yet never judges its subjects. The result is an artful, haunting document of this urgent global problem.
(D: Maren Ade)
If this German film about an eccentric man reuniting with his workaholic daughter were to get an American adaptation, there’d be cheap moral uplift and simplistic life lessons. Instead, Ade gives us absurdity, a straight-faced Whitney Houston karaoke number and a subtle, disturbing look at the human cost of globalization. (Opens January 27.)
(D: Tim Skousen, Jeremy Coon)
Back in the 80s, a group of teens spent several summers attempting a shot-by-shot remake of Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Now, decades later, they reunite to finish the final scene. Like their DIY film itself, this doc is rough around the edges, but it’s made with love, imagination and affection. And it provides a touching comment on aging and ambition.
A BIGGER SPLASH Tilda Swinton plays an aging rock star and Ralph Fiennes her narcissistic manager/former lover. I’m stunned that this isn’t part of the awards discussion.
EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!! No mere nostalgic college campus flick, this movie feels loose and casual even if its insights about human behaviour and finding one’s identity are dead-on.
THE NICE GUYS Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe play a pair of mismatched detectives in 70s L.A. I hope people discover it after they see Gosling play another L.A. character this season.
SNOWDEN What if Oliver Stone made his best, most relevant picture in years and people didn’t see it, let alone talk about it?