20.) When Marnie Was There
Since Hayao Miyazaki’s retirement a few years ago, speculation has run rampant about the future of Studio Ghibli, the Japanese animation studio (think Disney) he helped spearhead with such films as Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Only Yesterday and My Neighbor Totoro. We may not see another Ghibli movie in theaters for a while, if ever. It’s fitting then that Hiromasa Yonebayashi (The Secret World of Arrietty), a man who came up in the industry doing clean-ups and key animation on the films I mentioned, is tasked with the company’s apparent swan song. Beyond all of that background at the end of the day When Marnie Was There is one of the most beautiful tales of letting go. It follows Anna Sasaki, a young girl who while living with her relatives in the seaside town, finds the abandoned mansion and meets Marnie, as a girl who promises her to keep secrets from everyone. Throughout her life, Anna spends time with Marnie and to find the truth about her family and foster care.Magical realism has always been a cornerstone of Ghibli’s playhouse, and this movie is filled with such tenderness that is to be loved as it examines our relationship to memories in various forms.
19.) 45 Years
“Infidelity” can mean more than a physical betrayal of a relationship with another; it can also mean an emotional one. However, it is subjective as to which one could be more harmful to a romantic bond than the other. 45 Years confronts the notion that affairs of the heart can be just as devastating as affairs of the flesh. Fate has thrown wrench in the anniversary plans of husband and wife Geoff (Tom Courtenay) and Kate (Charlotte Rampling). As they put together a big celebration of their forty five years of matrimony, Geoff has received a letter from Swiss authorities regarding the body of his late girlfriend, Katya, the woman he dated before meeting Kate. One may be inclined to read 45 Years as the trial of Geoff but the movie isn’t as interested in that as it is exploring how Geoff’s emotional reaction to the news is affecting Kate. Rampling does some of the best work of her career in this film that couldn’t be less concerned right and wrong, black and white, good or bad, faithful or faithless so much as the unseen complexities that all marriages are built on.
If you decide to see a movie about transgender women this year it should be Tangerine. Devoid of sensationalism, pandering, exploitation or cheap tropes, Sean Baker’s bold indie comedy about a day in the life of two transgender sex workers, traversing the streets of Los Angeles is both highly entertaining and often poignant. You’d never guess that it was shot on his iPhone were it not for all the publicity surrounding this stylistic choice because he pushes the technology into a realm that’s almost indistinguishable from something shot on film or with studio-preferred cameras like the Alexa or Red. Tangerine is the lovechild of John Waters’ trashy celebrations of “fringe” culture and the hangout fun of Ice Cube’s Friday movies filtered through the stylish and visceral lens of a Crank movie. There’s a heightened kinetic pacing and energy, that keeps the movie propulsive and bubbly and never repulsive despite exploring a corner of American life that would normally have been reserved for Jerry Springer episodes. The key ingredient here is empathy: everyone in the film may be manic or “weird” but they are rendered likeable and at the very least understandable with relatable hope and dreams. It’s also a Christmas movie.
17.) Mistress America
Indie queen actress Greta Gerwig has once again collaborated with director Noah Baumbach on another empathetic portrayal of my generation, the millennials. This time instead of the dishelved “life at a crossroads” look from Frances Ha, Mistress America opts for a bubbly screwball comedy that shows that perhaps the worst traits associated with my generation can be made out to be our best if we put in the effort. More than that, it’s a look at what it means to achieve and identify ourselves and connect to others in an era where our value is reshaped by media and social media.
16.) Black Coal Thin Ice
This stylish neo-noir detective story from China puts most crime dramas to shame. The story is set in northern China in 1999 and 2004, as a detective works to solve a series of murders where the similarly murdered victims are scattered across the province via coal shipments. The common thread is a female dry cleaner. Unfolding with tenacity, the film is also a bleak look at a contemporary China which hides its problems away from the rest of the world. However, beyond any social commentary or look at gender roles in China and similar-minded Asian countries, this movie is just brilliantly made from top to bottom. The performances from Liao Fan as the worn out detective and Gwei Lun-Mei as the mysterious dry cleaner are an exercise in a performative language that is never reliant on the verbal.