Our Little Sister (Umimachi Diary)
At their estranged father’s funeral, the oldest of three sisters takes it upon herself to ask her little-known teenage half-sister — the product of an adulterous relationship that “crushed their family” — to join her siblings and make it a quartet. Koreeda’s gentle, upbeat approach turns this examination of what holds a family together long after the sands of time have filled in the emotional crater left by a messy divorce into something wonderful.
A teenager free of life’s commitments takes up with a band of fellow hard-partying outcasts to travel the Midwest selling magazine subscriptions. 163 minutes is a lot to ask of an audience, but Arnold’s unpretentious approach never caused me to regret the fact that I don’t own a watch. And here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write: Shia Labeouf gives a terrific performance.
Nothing in 2016 creeped me out quite like this. It takes about 15 minutes to figure out the “why,” but hats off to director Karyn Kusama and screenwriting/marriage partner Phil Hay (he shares credit with Matt Manfredi) for encouraging audiences to want to stick around and see just how they were going to pull it off.
7) Pablo Larrain’s Jackie
Like watching a bug trapped in a specimen-jar, Jackie posits a documentary portrait of a passive character set during the four most intensely intolerable days of her life. One can’t recall the last time two films by the same director cracked the top ten. It’s Pablo Larrain’s year.
Shoring together small moments from the lives of believable characters, in a manner free of special effects and fluky plotting, and with the same dramatic and visual gusto one would apply to an epic, is what independent filmmaking should be all about but seldom is.
5) Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson
Seven days in the life of an unwearied Jersey bus driver and his capricious bride. Those looking for a story to latch onto would be better off consulting reruns of The Honeymooners. This baby’s all about style as subject, with Jarmusch’s doubling gaze never failing to fascinate. I didn’t want it to end.
4) Clint Eastwood’s Sully
Whereas American Sniper was a negative appraisal of the American military, Sully connects like a sock on the nose to big government that insists on sticking it where it doesn’t belong. Let’s pray the Trump-hating Academy voters don’t use Clint’s political views as an excuse to rob him of a nomination.
3) Pablo Larrain’s Neruda
Egos clash between a Nobel Prize–winning Chilean poet with nothing to lose and a fictionalized gumshoe with everything to gain. Told in the manner of a ’40s film noir, Neruda is the dark comedic capper to the director’s so-called “Pinochet-era” trilogy. Mixing fact and fiction, writer Guillermo Calderón mines the fugitive poet’s voice and political identity to produce this year’s most faultless script.
Cemetery of Splendor (Rak ti Khon Kaen)
A small elementary school is temporarily transformed into a military hospital to house a group of vets felled by a bafflingly incurable sleeping sickness. The deliberate pace, unostentatious camera placement, and refusal to cut in for a closeup add a surreal serenity; the less we’re told, the more were sucked in by the film’s hypnotic, ever-expanding aura of mystery.
1) Atom Egoyan’s Remember
Egoyan’s exceptionally resourceful contemporary Holocaust drama finds part of its brilliance in the director’s blessed refusal to scuff his narrative with maudlinness or guilt-inducing flashback memorials to the camps. Add to this a crackerjack suspense yarn and Christopher Plummer’s unforgettable performance, easily the best acting job this year. What should have been everything I loathe turns out to be a masterpiece with which I fell in love.