The Best of 2016 in Film – Dreamers, witches and nice guys.

It seems that the events of 2016 have birthed a new generation of cynics, and at the turn of the new year, all one can hear around are people crying over the horrible year that has passed. However, being one who prefers to count gifts over curses, I consider ourselves blessed to have received a stellar list of films, taking various different genres to stranger waters, and realizing the full potential of some others. Now while the movies that big franchises and studios have churned out were more in the form of financial investments than works of art, 2016 has witnessed masterpieces from global filmmakers and the independent categories. The following is the list of films that I think made the most of their run-time this year, and deserve to be seen by one and all. (This year, I’ve added suggestions of old movies similar in some way to each film on this list, so the doubtful ones can decide what to watch.)
Continue reading

‘La La Land’ review – Here’s to the ones who dream

What makes a great song, a great film or, for that matter, any great work of art? Damien Chazelle’s answer to that question is that great art is anything done by a person who is passionate about it. His latest film La La Land is then a testament to great art, combining the passionate performances of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling with the equally passionate filmmaking by Chazelle in a story that brings two characters, equally passionate in their own arts, into each other’s lives. While being a refreshing revival of the grandiose Hollywood musical, La La Land also turns out to have the biggest heart of any film in a long time. And in this year when most of the world seems to be taking a step back for the worse, isn’t an escape of optimism something we could all use?
Continue reading

‘Little Sister’ review – From an unconventional premise, an unexpected masterpiece.

If there’s one thing you can count on your kids to do, that’s rebel. And what better way is there to rebel against your ultra-liberal, atheist parents than to run away and become a nun (especially when those parents wished you to grow up as a lesbian Satanist)? Set against the backdrop of a pretty unconventional American family, Little Sister follows its protagonist’s return to her family home for the first time since she ran away, and the seven days she spends there to dig her family out of the metaphorical dirt. Directed, written and produced by Zach Clark, this film gives the homecoming cliché its own wacky spin, balancing glee and gloom as brilliantly as it works the dissonance of the premise into the story.
Continue reading

‘La Tortue Rouge’ review – The story of life woven in fairytale yarn

They say the best pictures need no words, and what are films but moving pictures? La Tortue Rouge (The Red Turtle) is the latest animated feature from Japanese giant Studio Ghibli, and has its signature themes of surreal journeys, humanity and ennui written all over it. In fact, it was the studio’s wonder child and animation maestro, Hayao Miyazaki who saw director Michael Dudok de Wit’s previous work in Father and Daughter and convinced the studio to take him on. Free of the restraints of language and dialogue, this Robinson Crusoe-esque tale of a man washed ashore on an island sings a universal song of isolation, dreams and the cycle of life.
Continue reading

‘Arrival’ review – A sci-fi masterpiece has arrived.

Language is the cornerstone of our civilization.

So begins the book written by Dr. Louise Banks, the protagonist of the latest film from Denis Villenueve, who has been making his mark felt in the world of cinema with a string of thought-provoking films including Prisoners, Sicario and Enemy. Arrival is based on a short novel by Ted Chiang, titled ‘Story of your Life’, which seems a more appropriate name for this all-encompassing film than the uninspired ‘Arrival’, which seems to suggest little more than an invasion. Taking on heavy themes of bridging languages, colonisation and questions that hit the core of our existence and our perceptions of reality, this latest child of the science fiction genre carries them confidently and with the seriousness they deserve, all the while having us hooked to a plot that gets more interesting with each passing second.
Continue reading

‘Hell or High Water’ review – A perfect Western for these imperfect times.

The reason why movies that came to be known as the ‘old west’ genre came to be so popular in the ‘50s and ‘60s was the tense, dangerous atmosphere which elevated a simple story of people pitted against each other by circumstance or desire. In Hell or High Water, David Mackenzie tells such a simple story of two brothers and a cop on the hunt, their motivations and tenacity made to resound in our minds through the bleak environment and the discomforting tension pouring out of every scene. Embracing the formidable setting and the sepia palette that comes with it, it is an exercise in restraint, never flinching in the face of the terror it creates, and not allowing you the use of more than the edge of your seat.
Continue reading

‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ review – The magic of imagination and social commentary

Harry Potter fan or not, when you hear about a spinoff to the British franchise 5 years after the last movie, set in New York and based on the author of one of Harry’s schoolbooks, only one word comes to mind: ‘cashgrab’. Especially when said spinoff is a prequel, studios tend to crowd the movie with references and easter eggs – usually in the form of ancestors of the original characters – turning them into a commercial mess and without a story to stand on its own on. However, finally relieved of a ‘chosen one’ protagonist and stepping outside school grounds, the franchise of witchcraft and wizardry takes us into an interesting period in magical history which we have only heard mentioned second-hand before. Bursting at the seams with pure imagination of the likes to only come from J K Rowling’s wonderful mind, and walking the fine line in building its world and telling a compelling story on its own, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a delightful film to be lost in.
Continue reading

‘Doctor Strange’ review – Marvel can only go so strange.

At the time we meet them, the characters of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are all connected by a thread of similarities: they are all battling their own inner demons, facing problems with their personal relationships, played by the best talent that Hollywood can muster and communicate solely through jokes and openers to exposition. After the premise, however, the filmmakers are allowed to experiment and be creative with their stories – as long as the essential ingredients of an infinity stone, references to other Marvel films, and villains exasperated enough with our reality to open portals for other worlds to take over, are not missed out in the process. Doctor Strange is the nth film in the franchise (Where n is twice the number of years since Iron Man came out. Well, almost.) for which an end looks nowhere near,  which tells the story of a doctor who learns to forget everything he knows, as he embarks on a journey of endless metaphysical possibilities. Armed with an extremely intriguing premise, an exceptional cast and amazing visuals, this is a film that hits all the notes required of the franchise in its race to that last portal battle, while also trying some new things along the way.
Continue reading

‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ review – Wild at heart and oddball to the core.

As Pixar’s Up taught us, there is something inherently endearing about the relationship between a grumpy old man and a little kid who keeps getting on his nerves. While at first glance, this movie might seem no more riding on the same emotional coattails, and while on closer glance, the overall story seems to have many of the same beats, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is its own movie, something you’re sure to notice from the very first scene. Directed by the same mind that brought us the inventively hilarious What We Do in the Shadows, this is an extremely original film that introduces its audience to unchartered frontiers of emotion, visuals and chaptered storytelling. Rooting itself in the distinct culture and landscape of the New Zealand countryside, it takes us down a heart-warming path filled with measured dark humour and boundless imagination.
Continue reading