BEST OF 2016: MOVIES
2016 has had its fair share of ups and downs. Isn’t that how life is? But it does not do to dwell on the sadness, and forget how to live, does it? Happiness exists in the narrowest of crevices – all we need is to be able to see it. Putting it this way: the world is your oyster, it is upto you to find the pearls. What gives you happiness could be that book you always wanted to read, or that song to which your heart always melts, or maybe, your favourite movie.
Talking of movies, the charts have had average movies as well as an equal number, if not more, of movies that leave the audience trying to catch their breath. Besides the storyline, direction, and other cinematographic factors, there are a few movies which stand out as what we would call far from mainstream.
Here is our listing of the top off-beat movies of 2016:
What would you do if you were framed for a crime you didn’t commit in a foreign city where no one speaks your language?
This scenario is exactly what director Vetrimaran tackles in this tragic film based (partly) on the novel ‘Lock Up’ (by M. Chandrakumar) which is, in turn, based on real life events. Visaranai, India’s ‘docu-drama’ entry for the Oscars this year, focuses on police brutality and the major flaws that exist within the justice system, as well as the consequences that follow if one gets stuck in the web of corruption and lies that is our ‘establishment’. This saddening, yet angering film follows migrant workers from Tamil Nadu residing in Guntur (Andhra Pradesh) who get arrested for a crime that they didn’t commit. What follows is the frustratingly unfortunate story of these workers. Visaranai at times promises hope to the audience but ends up crushing it brutally.
The film also manages to touch upon difficult themes such as the caste system, the meaning of authority and the question of morality. The film truly tests the conscience of both its characters as well its audience leaving us both hopeless and helpless. A word of caution for the light hearted as explicit violence is rampant throughout the film.
Watch it for its bold plotline and stellar performances (Dinesh, Samuthirakani) and it will leave you pondering over the true purpose of power.
Sing Street is set in Dublin, Ireland in the 1980’s. It follows the seemingly simple story of Conor, a teenager, as he tries to impress a beautiful yet mysterious girl by starting a band.
Due to the financial struggles of his family, Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) gets admitted into a free state school. The school’s rigorous establishment and bullies, along with his dysfunctional family life leaves Conor in a very frustrating place until he meets Ralphina (Lucy Boynton), a self-proclaimed model. In order to win her over, he claims that he is in a (then non-existent) band. Asking her to be in the music video, results in him forming the band ‘Sing Street’ with four other boys, which acts as the beginning of Conor’s adventure- both personal and musical. Finding solace in creativity and art, Sing Street gives a theme that all of us can relate to. We see not only character development, but also an evolution in music style and genre. This is in turn reflected in Conor’s attitude, behaviour and attire, like in the case of most teenagers. John Carney, the director who has received Oscars and Oscar nominations for music in his films (Begin Again- Lost Stars), gives us everything from David Bowie to Duran Duran in this coming-of-age film that is pure bliss.
Watch it for its stellar sound track and its melancholic, yet joyful representation of love.
All the Way
Politics. This is a field in which compromise and negotiation are of paramount importance. Unfortunately, not many people understand what this actually entails.
“All the Way” is about how Lyndon B. Johnson, the 36th president of the United States of America, managed to negotiate a working Civil Rights Bill. It also follows how he ran a successful election campaign in the face of unrelenting opposition from the south, as well as pressure from the Civil Rights movement. Director Jay Roach weaves an intricate tale of hope, tragedy, betrayal, and triumph. Bryan Cranston performs just as well as the former president on the big screen as he did in the role of Walter White on the small screen, while Anthony Mackie delivers a masterclass as Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. This film takes the viewer back to the days of segregation and gives perspective on what the people were going through at that time. It is a harsh reminder that even if you are the President, you cannot make everyone happy.
Turns out being the leader of the ‘free world’ isn’t all that easy.
Another brilliant coming-of-age film this year, Indignation by James Schamus follows the dramatic experiences of Marcus (Logan Lerman) who travels to the extremely conservative college of Winesburg University, Ohio to escape being drafted into the Korean War.
Set in 1951, Marcus the son of a Kosher Butcher from Newark, New Jersey travels on scholarship to Ohio and learns tough lessons about love, antisemitism, and the questionable role that religion plays in an institution. Intellectually arrogant, Marcus goes head-to-head and is an outright misfit in the conservative society that is Winesburg. An ‘intense’ atheist Marcus is an outcast with no social life until he meets Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon), who isn’t all that she seems to be. Dealing with a mentally-fragile father and an extremely dysfunctional family, Marcus’ struggles gain the sympathy of the audience. ‘Morality’ is a prevalent subject throughout the film. It realistically showcases acts such as slut-shaming and the ignorance about mental health in the 1950’s. Undoubtedly, the best scene in the film is the battle of ideologies between Marcus and Dean Caudwell which will leave you with goosebumps.
Listen carefully and watch out for clues and you might just figure out the ending.
Kubo and the two strings
A stop motion animation, that explores aspects of almost every genre from horror to comedy, Kubo and The Two Strings explores the story of Kubo, who has magical powers and whose left eye was stolen. Accompanied by Monkey and Beetle, he must subdue the Sisters, Raiden the Moon King and his army of evil spirits.
Kubo and The Two Strings, does what almost every animated movie aspires to, please the kids while leaving the adults with a cinematic experience, and with relative ease.
The plot has a flow, and yet delves deep into complexity, that leaves you wanting more as the movie progresses. But the true hero of this movie, is Dario Martinelli’s background score, acting like a river to keep the movie surging ahead.
The cast includes strong voices of the likes of Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, George Takei, and Matthew McConaughey, who bring out all the emotion they could.
Kubo and The Two Strings is an American movie that derives heavily from Asian influences, with, the animation and the score, giving the movie a larger than life feeling.
India’s attempt at a psychological thriller, Phobia builds on a decent and detailed plot, along with an absolutely power packed performance with Radhika Apte.
Apte stars as the lead role of Mehak, who starts suffering from agoraphobia after an accident. She then moves into a new flat, suggested by a close friends, but things get worse but when she starts having visions about the fate of the house’s previous resident.
Phobia’s plot may seem flat at times, but just when you think you’ve got it figured out, director and writer Pavan Kirpalani completely leaves you awed. Kirpalani’s cinematography and music score gives every scene a spine chilling feel, and everything is brilliantly brought together by Radhika Apte’s nerve-wracking performance
This thriller doesn’t just scare you, but it outsmarts you.
Based in Miami, during the War of Drugs, Moonlight is the story of Chiron, told by director Barry Jenkins, in three chapters, or phases of his life. Family, Love, Identitiy, sexuality, are various things many problems many people face in their life, and Barry Jenkins has shown them absolutely perfectly in this coming of age tale.
But Moonlight is also more than that. It’s a story of being black, being gay and being poor. It is about drug abuse and mass incarceration. Chiron played by three different actors, in three different chapters, struggles and finds a father figure in the local drug lord, Juan played by Mahershala Ali. It’s a cliche, being mentored by the drug dealer. But Ali brings a cozier feeling to it. He makes it feel more human, in a story feel from humanity.
The absence of any white cast is very subtle, yet it makes the setting more harsh, and the events more hard hitting. A perfect fusion of the background score, very classical yet modern, and the fluid, slow and almost seductive cinematography makes for very mellow viewing, and helps the audience lose themselves in a harsh world, that doesn’t feel that way.
Moonlight has various themes and many facets wich makes it easily relatable to almost anybody. This is Barry Jenkins’ ode to anybody who ever has faced troubles and hardship in their life, and in the process he has made one of the best coming of age tales ever.
In a time filled with supernatural horrors, most of them failing miserably, The Witch incorporates the stereotypical witchcraft but is set in the 17th century.
Written and directed by debutant Robert Eggers, The Witch’s historical accuracy and eerie setting of cold and dark New England, only adds to the atmosphere.
The story of a Puritan family, whose son is taken by a mysterious witch, and their downward spiral into religious mayhem and insanity, The Witch will make you pray to God no matter your beliefs.
The most ingenious element adopted by Robert Eggers was to shoot purely in natural light since the 17th century did not have artificial light. So all the either use daylight, or the light of a dim candle. Every scene builds up with a slow pace at first, till the final act of the movie, and a finale, that is one of the
In a genre that too often relies on tired cliches and jump scares, The Witch is outstanding. Eggers excels at creating a menacing mood without sacrificing story and character.
Horror is a genre that nobody takes seriously, but The Witch is a stunning example of a well made horror, having already garnered various awards and nomiantions worldwide.
A biographical action drama on the life of Desmond Doss, one of the greatest American soldiers of World War 2, who fought on the front lines and saved countless lives without picking up a weapon.
Directed by Mel Gibson, and starring Andrew Garfield in the lead role of Desmond Doss, Hacksaw Ridge is masterpiece of Garfield’s acting and Mel Gibson’s direction of the gargantuan action sequences.
A young Desmond Doss nearly kills his brother Hal, hitting him with a brick. This scarring experience, and a very religious upbringing, reinforce his belief in the Sixth Commandment of the Old Testament. He enlists in the Army with the rest of his town, but as combat medic, refusing ever to pick up arms. Doss faces various troubles and obstacles through his life in the Army, becoming an outcast amongst his fellow soldiers. On being assigned to the Battle of Okinawa, one of the bloodiest fights during the War, Doss saved 75 lives, earning himself a Congressional Medal of Honour, becoming the first conscientious objector to win it.
Hacksaw Ridge is easily one of the best movies of 2016, with various Academy nominations sure to come its way, and marks Mel Gibson’s return to direction after a decade, and in spectacular fashion. Gibson does what he does best, directs some of the most grandest action sequences during the battle, and turns it into a jaw-dropping spectacle, and for the calmer duration of the movies, churns out great performances from his cast, mainly Andrew Garfield, who shows the moral crisis Doss faced, his courage and conviction, excellently. The intensity of the action compliments the intensity of the emotions and brings the movie together seamlessly, creating one of the best war-time dramas ever made.
Manchester By The Sea
Directed and written by Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester By The Sea premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, 16 years after Lonergan’s debut at the very venue with You Can Count On Me, that won universal acclaim.
Kenneth Lonergan, one of America’s top playwrights and scriptwriters, delivers a heartbreaking family drama, full of loss and dysfunction enough to give you heartache.
We follow the story of Lee Chandler, a depressed Boston loner who works as a handyman, whose dark story unravels via flashbacks. After the sudden death of his brother, Lee becomes his nephew’s legal guardian. Once a joyous fun uncle, with a happy marriage to his wife (Michelle Williams), one dark event, shown in the flashbacks, changes his life completely. The horrific event really puts a solid reason behind his quiet, detached lonerism.
The story packs a strong emotional punch, but Casey Affleck’s portrayal of Lee Chandler, adds impact but curtails the potential of the plot. Lee’s relationship with his nephew, adds a bit of light to the gloomy story, exploring a new aspect to Lee’s life.
Kenneth Lonergan’s classic story of family dysfunction, and broken relationships, is brought to life, but also sadly, is kept from its true potential by the acting of the brilliant cast.
10 Cloverfield Lane
Is there anything like too much suspense?
If there is, clearly the makes of 10 Cloverfield Lane don’t know the concept of it.
This movie, is the epitome of all indie thrillers. With a primary cast of 3 actors, and the majority of the movie shot in a basement, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a movie every aspiring movie maker can learn from.
When Michelle, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead has an argument with her fiance, and leaves New Orleans, she has an accident and wakes up in a basement, handcuffed to a pipe. John Goodman’s Howard tells her he saved her life, and informs her of the “attack” on the US of A, by possibly the Russians, Martians or some enemy of the state.
With suspense and no clear idea of what’s happening at all in the story, the viewer is gripped from the very beginning, and you just can not let go. Nerve-wracking, adrenaline pumping, and very very surprising, the plot is simple and tense. Written by Josh Campbell, Matthew Stucken, and none other than Damien Chazelle, 10 Cloverfield Lane is precise and shows you what you need to, and nothing more. You sense danger even if you can’t explain it.
The plot does get obvious, and you understand it can go only one way or the other, but the ride is worth it.
For the Love of Spock
Rarely ever will you find a documentary that’s critically acclaimed, or termed a must-watch, but For the Love of Spock goes beyond a simple documentary of Leonard Nimoy’s life, and a feel s trip for Trekkies. Adam Nimoy, who dares to get more personal than most, examines a rocky father-son relationship and also pay tribute to everybody’s favourite Vulcan, Mr. Spock.
Originally meant just as a tribute to Star trek’s Vulcan hero on the show’s 50th anniversary, Adam Nimoy widened the scope of the movie due to the demise of his father in 2015. Back when the movie began producton Leonard jumped at the chance to work his son for the first time in almost 10 years, and narrates most of the movie himself. With interviews from the likes of William Shatner, JJ Abrams, the Nimoy family and lots of old footage of Leonard Nimoy himself, Adam Nimoy manages to not only satisfy the Trekkies, but also does an intensive case study of a rocky father-son relationship, patched together with hilarious interludes, Adam pays a very passionate tribute that even non-Star Trek fans would enjoy.
The Nice Guys
Set in the late 70s, the era of buddy cop movies, The Nice Guys is also a buddy action comedy, written and directed by the king of the genre, Shane Black. Now, I don’t call him the king for nothing. Shane Black has made both the Lethal Weapon movies, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, basically defining the genre.
Abiding by his own style, The Nice Guys is about two quite opposite good-bad guys, played by Russel Crowe and Ryan Gosling, who must team up to solve the cases of a missing girl and the murder of an actress.
Crowe and Gosling have absolutely great chemistry as the opposite characters of Healy and March, and have some great dialogue exchanges. Adding to their craziness, is Angourie Rice, who plays March’s 13 year old daughter, and delivers an absolutely knockout performance.
The Nice Guys has a sense of comedy through out, even in the midst of suspense, and heavy action sequences, which might feel a bit odd to some, but great to the others.
With a great entwined plot of two seemingly disconnected mysteries, The Nice Guys rests largely on the shoulders of the lead duo, and it’s nothing but a joy ride.
Having delivered 9 brilliant performances and garnered critical acclaim and various nominations, in the past 6 years, Jake Gyllenhal has made a niche for himself as a man for thrillers. So it’s fair to say this list wold be incomplete without Gyllenhaal’s annual thriller, Nocturnal Animals, directed by Tom Ford.
Nocturnal Animals, begins when Amy Adams’ Susan Morrow, receives a manuscript of a book written by her estranged first husband, Edward Sheffield, played by Gyllenhaal. As she begins to read, she gets lost in the story of Tony Hastings, also played by Jake Gyllenhaal.
Nocturnal Animals is a very neo-noir psychological thriller, which explores deep and dark emotions, mixed with the brilliant multi-layered plot that switches between the real world and the fictional. But, it was the acting that really made the impact. Jake Gyllenhaal, Amy Adams, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Michael Shannon portray every element of their characters to the dot, with every feeling of theirs, resonating in your own head. The visual storytelling methods incorporated by Tom Ford and his cinematographer Seamus McGarvey amplify every scene, giving a very unnerving and anxious feel through the course of the movie.
Nocturnal Animals is another feather in the hat of Jake Gyllenhaal, who consistently seems to improve, and deliver better performances year after year.
Tara rushes to the hospital in Kochi where her husband is admitted after his car accident. Sitting in the lounge during the night, she spots Shiv and goes up to him thinking he is a doctor when Shiv tells her that his wife has been in the hospital for eight months after having suffered from a stroke.
Tara who is in her late twenties and Shiv, an old man, both observe and learn from each other as they belong to different generations. Tara teaches Shiv how Twitter and Facebook work, takes him lingerie shopping while Shiv takes her to the temple and serene quiet places. Shiv and Tara are opposite in nature and have a huge fall out over whether Tara should get her husband operated at the cost of him having to live with paralysis for the rest of his life. In the meantime, Tara’s best friend visits her and keeps her occupied.
Tara and Shiv make up later and smoke a joint together in his backyard, dance the night till they end up falling asleep. Tara decides to go ahead with the surgery and Shiv decides to take his wife off the ventilators. They both sit in the Waiting room hoping for the best to happen.
It covers all the normal aspects of life and has minimal masala. The realistic taste of the movie is what is pleasing for the viewer. Unconventional as it can be, one of the best Bollywood films of the year.
Professor doctor Shrinivas Ramchandra Sirus falls victim to a sting operation carried out to determine his sexual orientation. Caught and filmed in a sexual act with his male partner, they were later beaten and humiliated. Condemned by the University, ostracized by the students and professors alike, he is sacked from his position as reader and chairman of Modern Indian Languages. The film beautifully captures human emotions, explores underlying desires and displays the protagonist’s struggle to understand as well as to explain himself. In picture, comes a young journalist who investigates the case and tries to understand the professor’s journey. While the professor goes through tremendous physical and psychological torture for his sexual preference, journalist Deepu Sebastian becomes his soul mate.
The film mirrors the society’s mindset, reflects their stubborn refusal to accept homosexuality, their ugly condemnation of a person different than them.
The relation between the journalist and the professor explores the beauty of unspoken words and silences. Professor’s tearful eyes display sorrow, vulnerability, angst, anger and fear and the journalist’s friendly smile’s heartwarming touches and humane gestures. Together, they make the most soul-stirring cinematic experience.
Professor’s impeccable rendering of Marathi poetry and his love for Lata tai’s haunting melodies warms us up.
Manoj Bajpayee gives his life’s best performance in this nuanced portrayal of a man brutally put to shame by an intrusive and insensitive society.
David is moved to The Hotel after his wife leaves him for another man. Every loner is allowed to spend forty five days in The Hotel and find a suitable partner with one or more similar traits or else they will be converted into a species of their choice. David’s brother had been in this Hotel some years ago and was transformed into a dog. David chose to be a Lobster in case he failed to find a match.
“One day as he was playing golf he thought that it is more difficult to pretend that you do have feelings when you don’t than to pretend that you don’t have feelings when you do”
With this in his mind, he strategized to match with the woman who was known to be heartless. They were soon shifted to the couple’s room. One morning he wakes up to find that the woman had killed his dog brother. He couldn’t help but cry, the woman realized that their relation was a lie and decided to take him to the hotel staff and they would then convert him to an animal no one liked. David converts the woman into an unknown animal instead and escapes from the hotel. He goes and joins the loners in the forest.
The rules here are different. Finding a partner or any sort of sexual activity is not permitted. But David ends up falling for a woman who is also nearsighted. The leader of the loners finds out their plan to flee the jungle and reside in the city. She takes the woman’s sight away so that they couldn’t be toggther anymore.
After this episode, David attacks the leader and leaves her to be eaten by the wild dogs. He walks down to the city with the woman he loves and while she sits in a restaurant, he goes to the washroom to scoop his eyes out.
Absurd as it may sound, this movie is unlike no other, requires a good deal of your concentration and is equally enrapturing.
Hunt for the wilderpeople
Ricky Baker, a child of thirteen, is brought to the home of Bella and Hector on some isolated farm in New Zealand. Known to be a rebel, Ricky has a tough time getting along with his new foster parents but forms a close relation with Aunt Bella. Bella soon leaves the world, leaving Ricky with Hector who doesn’t want Ricky anymore. Ricky flees the foster home before the child welfare people could take him away.
In the dense forests of NZ, Ricky bumps into Hector who has also disappeared from his own house on a hunt. It is believed by the Child welfare department that Ricky has been abducted by Hector and so a manhunt is organized to capture these two. Meanwhile, Ricky and Hector start enjoying each other’s company and become great companions. They encounter some crazy adventures and meet people who help them escape.
Extremely appealing and charming little kid, stern father, they make a totally lovable duo. Watch how the two tackle all scenarios and situations with a pinch of drama.
Hell or High Water
Toby and his elder brother who has been released from prison recently, go around the west of Texas robbing the various branches of the bank that wants to seize the family ranch which Toby wants to gift to his kids in order to improve their lives. They are being chased by a Texas Ranger soon to retire.
The bond between the brothers is rare and portrayed phenomenally. The serene cinematography and taste of the country side skies along with the music will linger for quite some time.
Warning: Beware of the racist remarks!
A prodigious tale of a family of six extraordinarily strong and intellectual kids (all named weirdly so that there’s only one of them in the whole world) along with their father hell bent on keeping them away from the worldly dangers, who set out on a joyous-adventurous ride out of their home in the jungles and cope with the disasters of the city fashion after the death of their beloved mother. Their journey to their mother’s funeral is anything but normal and will leave your jaws dropped.
Zaja (One of the Daughters): What’s Cola?
Ben (The father): Poison Water.
A must watch even if you don’t quite agree with its impracticality.
We are sure that movie-freaks out there have already watched half the list, if not more, or all, but if you haven’t, do yourselves a favour and watch at least a few of them. You won’t regret spending your hours on them, we promise.
Compiled by Bhavna Subramanian, Priyanjali Roychoudhury, Saloni Suchdev and Sudhanshu Shrivastava for MTTN