The heist film is a tried and true formula for genre moviemaking. There’s no denying the simple pleasures of watching a team of “who’s who” stars work together to either steal their way to wealth and luxury…or perhaps get punished for it. Steve McQueen’s sprawling Chicago-set crime saga, Widows, follows in the footsteps of the classic heist films, the Heats and Dog Day Afternoons of the world, and forges its path with a mixture of social commentary and an examination of our obsessions with tales of teamwork and thievery.
Imagine the sprawling & cynical political bite of John Le Carre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy filtered through the pulpy hyper-reality of the John Wick movies and starring Charlize Theron as James Bond: that is Atomic Blonde.
The countdown continues…again!
The countdown continues!
2016 wasn’t the best year for movies if you didn’t go out of your way to actively seek ones outside the major releases. However, not all of us have the time to either go to the theaters or dig into post-festival favorites. This year I’ve curated my recommendations for 2016’s best movies. Many films were solid-to-good this year but I must admit it was easier this year to weed out what I thought veered into “excellence” in terms of offering that perfect mix of “new & exciting or ambitious” and/or accessible to general viewers. This list spans mega-budget spectacle to micro-budget indie films, strange foreign pictures and like all my other omnibus reviews attempts to rate or encapsulate the range of what cinema offered this year.
Without further ado, the countdown:
I was first introduced to the filmmaker Jacques Audiard with the intense crime opus A Prophet. That film was easily one of the greatest crime dramas this side of The Godfather, it followed a Muslim teen sent to prison who rises in the world of France’s organized crime both as a matter of necessity and in order to better his lot in life. I’m here to tell you that while Dheepan is not a step forward for Audiard, the film nonetheless represents everything that makes him one of the truly exciting voices in contemporary cinema. Like that 2009 feature (which was France’s entry into the Academy Awards at the time) Dheepan is harrowing saga about people who go through tremendous suffering on their way to freedom in a country that isn’t their own.
Here we go again. 8 years after Iron Man kick started a blockbuster movie franchise that’s now 13 films in, Captain America: Civil War is less of an event movie than it is “a very special episode” of an ongoing serial or rather the cinematic equivalent of binge-watching a handsomely budgeted TV show in the span of 2.5 hours for all the positives and negatives that entails. After being thoroughly impressed with the last Captain America-centric movie helmed by Joe & Anthony Russo and penned by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (The Winter Soldier), this latest installment is less concerned with pushing these films forward the way that one did and more so with keeping things on brand. Despite a strong central concept and thesis, by focusing on “hitting its marks” with little fuss or any guts to do anything but color within the lines of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) playbook, Civil War isn’t necessarily a great Marvel movie so much as it is the “Platonic Ideal” of a Marvel movie. It’s the best of MCU and the worst all at once.
The erotic drama is a unique subgenre unto itself. There’s always been a stigma associated with it in terms of the inherent sleaze juxtaposed with often revealing explorations of lust, love, sex, sexuality and the specificity of emotions associated when two or more individuals connect or attempt to connect on a physical and/or emotional level. The infamous classic Nagisa Oshima film, In the Realm of the Senses made it a point to juxtapose his lead lovers’ fiery passion with their self-imposed solipsism. Luca Guadagnino’s gorgeous A Bigger Splash sets itself in a rather “on the nose” yet still effective metaphor for this specific form of myopia and hedonism: most of the action takes place by a swimming pool on a private island surrounded by the sea. Essentially a riff on The Big Chill and 9 ½ Weeks, this vibrant tale is about the lustful intertwining love square between four individuals.
At the heart of superhero stories are our modern myths, a way of how contemporary society deals with the real world through easily recognizable pop icons. It’s not about things like continuity or consistency or “rules” or even sacredness so much as the tradition of interpretation and re-telling. Comics writer Alan Moore once had a saying, “This is an imaginary story… aren’t they all?” And that cuts right into what Zack Snyder has done with his messy yet endlessly audacious superhero opera, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.