Just like last year, this list comes a month late, so you can call me a straggler. Then again, just like last year, MediaBrewPub isn’t a full-time paid commitment, so you can call me a victim of circumstance. I’d love to publish these lists at year’s end, but since I’m not a member of a critics’ group or guild (which would grant me access to screenings and screeners), I spend my Januaries catching up on the movies that I either missed or need to check out – and even then, there are always a few that I fail to watch. I could postpone this for the sake of being comprehensive, but given that this is already February of 2017, now is the time to reflect on a year gone bye.
How do you make a film about the Christian faith? Certainly many have tried, and many still try. Some – particularly many modern Christian filmmakers – paint non-believers as the enemy or point to belief in God as an answer that magically fixes just about every problem. While such films do make considerable money at the box office, they seem self-congratulatory and delight in providing answers that reinforce spiritual identity. This is, in my opinion, an elementary treatment and understanding of faith which glosses over the fact that faith is a process, shaped by a constant and often painful struggle between what one sees and a loving God’s promises. Belief and doubt go hand in hand, and that juxtaposition lies at heart of Silence, Martin Scorsese’s complex and delicate adaptation of Shūsaku Endō’s celebrated novel.
As things stand, a Star Wars film will officially release every year until at least 2019. The odd-numbered years will see entries that make up the sequel trilogy started by last year’s The Force Awakens, and in between, there will be films that comprise an anthology series, which tackle stories based on (so far) familiar characters and events featured in or hinted at in the trilogies. A pessimist will say that the studio is being gluttonous and on course for what may eventually led to Star Wars fatigue, which could mirror the superhero fatigue already being felt these days. On the other hand, an optimist – AKA any Star Wars fan like me – will welcome these installments with open arms. Of course, the only thing that matters is whether or not the films are any good. Not all is well with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, but it does stand well enough on its own and indicates that there’s hope to be found in the future of the anthology films.
It’s too easy to be a cynic and a pessimist these days. Look at all that has happened this past year on a worldwide, national, local, or personal level; chances are, you’ll find reason aplenty to feel angry, discouraged, and numb about the world, humanity, life, or yourself. We’ve seen better times, and we need something that can inspire us to get back on our feet. Art – particularly the cinema – has long done that for us, but this time, it must be more than just an escapade. We need a film that doesn’t ignore the fact there’s a reality we must return to after the credits roll. And yet, that very film should continue to engage and ultimately galvanize us long after it ends. Answering this call is the impeccably crafted and irresistible romantic musical comedy-drama La La Land.
When we follow a character’s journey, his or her emotions and thoughts must be believable and clear if we are to completely emotionally invest in both the character and the journey. This tenet holds true even if that journey spans or skips over a great period of time, in which the character gets older and undergoes change. It most certainly applies to adaptations of extraordinary true stories like Saroo Brierley’s, which is recounted on the big screen in the film Lion. Garth Davis’ picture is a solid production wielding some emotionally stirring punches, yet there’s this sense that it isn’t as extraordinary as the story it seeks to tell – which lies in how it handles the character of adult Saroo.
For a love story to work, you need to believe in the characters’ love. Heck, if the love between two people is what drives any kind of story regardless of genre, then you need to believe in that love first and foremost. If you don’t, then the relationship is all for naught, and the story is sapped of drama and emotion. That’s the conundrum that Allied unfortunately falls into, and it progressively devolves into a limp affair.
Storytelling for cinema is a difficult art to master since there’s so much to look out for. The hook must be gripping, and the characters need to be compelling. Once you have those, you’d think the script is fine, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The journey, the proceedings must be worth the investment, and that’s when you take into account character arcs, relationships, themes, and how that story should be told. At the end of the day, the story matters most, which means that the audience must care. With his sophomoric feature Nocturnal Animals, writer-director Tom Ford – yes, the fashion designer – definitely proves himself to be a tremendous visual stylist, though he doesn’t quite breathe proper life into what is an interesting yet dispassionate story.