Films I loved in January 2017

25 January 2017
Natalie Portman as Jacqueline Kennedy in Jackie.

Natalie Portman as Jacqueline Kennedy in Jackie

Jackie is set after the assassination of United States President John F Kennedy as the former First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, speaks to a reporter about her time in the White House and the aftermath of her husband’s death. Far from the trappings of conventional biopics, this is a dreamlike film about mythology, memory, living in the public eye, grief and dignity. Filmmaker Pablo Larraín’s camera and composition at times evokes Yasujirō Ozu; at other times Stanley Kubrick and Terrence Malick. Natalie Portman delivers the best performance of her career in this deeply moving and poetic film.

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Alex Hibbert as Little (Child Chiron) and Mahershala Ali as Juan in Moonlight

On paper, Moonlight covers a lot of familiar ground in its snapshot of a gay black man, who is played by three different actors (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes) during three defining periods of his life. However, Barry Jenkins’s film presents the subject matter in a way that makes it feel fresh and vibrant. From the music choices to the unexpected ways the cinematography is used to change perspectives to the use of stillness, this is exciting cinema. And while Moonlight is specifically about black identity and queer identity, it also captures broader themes about how the male psyche is constructed. But most of all, it’s a film about the prevalence of hope and love.

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Sunny Pawar as Young Saroo in Lion

Lion is based on the true story of Saroo Brierley, who as a 5-year-old boy was accidentally separated from his Indian family, sent to an orphanage and adopted by an Australian couple. After 25 years of growing up in Australia, Saroo set about trying to find his birth family back in India. This is a beautiful film that is confronting and heartbreaking. It touches on themes such as the vulnerability of children, the responsibility adults have to children, what family means and how we form our identity. Lion is a deeply humane film and watching it is an incredibly rewarding experience.

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Hailee Steinfeld as Nadine Franklin and Woody Harrelson as Mr Bruner in The Edge of Seventeen

I’m a fan of any film that treats the experience of being a teenager with respect, so I was very impressed with  The Edge of Seventeen. Filmmaker Kelly Fremon Craig captures the loneliness and awkwardness of being an unpopular teenager with sincerity and humour, and without the angst or twee whimsey that often creeps into teen films. The entire cast is excellent, but Hailee Steinfeld especially stands-out in the lead role as Nadine, a young woman learning how to juggle responsibility and asserting her own individuality, while navigating friendship, family, love, sexuality, grief and happiness.

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James McAvoy as Kevin in Split

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen an M Night Shyamalan film and even longer since I’ve seen one I’ve enjoyed, so I was very pleasantly surprised by how much fun I had with Split. It’s a B grade exploitation film made to look far more respectable than it is and filled with disarming stylistic choices that are used to alternate point-of-view and create unease. The concept of the villain being a collection of Jekyll and Hyde type identities residing in the mind of a man with dissociative identity disorder is taken to such an extreme that it’s impossible to take seriously, not unlike the way Lucy in 2014 took its premise to such preposterous lengths. I had a ball with this well-crafted and ridiculous film.

Thomas Caldwell, 2017
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