Yes, there are Oscars and Golden Globes, SAG “Actor” and critics’ honors. But there’s only one “Schumie” for the movies of 2016. As other awards continue to roll in, the Reel Dad honors the year’s films.
Food for the Soul: La La Land
Just as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers helped a nation survive the Great Depression in the 1930s, an evening with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone may be the ticket to restore your belief in today. La La Land is more than a movie; it’s a reason to wake up in the morning. And, for people who love musicals, this is not your standard-order tuner. While most song and dance movies showcase big numbers in big adaptations of big Broadway hits, this is a small movie with big dreams. It’s softer, quieter, slower, with music that naturally flows from the story and the characters. The movie doesn’t simply play. It floats.
Piece de Resistance: Moonlight
Of the movies we celebrate for 2016, Moonlight stands alone in its clarity, depth and relevance to this moment in time. Director and writer Barry Jenkins tells a meaningful story of how a young boy confronts adversity, confusion, anger and prejudice as he tries to carve a path for life through a hostile world. But he’s not alone. From the shadows of a deteriorating environment emerges an unlikely mentor who shares wisdom, support and unconditional love. The movie reminds us what people can experience when they don’t let fear, hatred and ignorance stop them. This will be a movie we remember from 2016.
Baked to Perfection: Manchester by the Sea
People grieve in different ways. Some of us search to understand what we cannot comprehend. Others pray for the strength to move forward as they cling to what they must leave behind. At the opening of Kenneth Lonergan’s beautiful film, we see a man quietly fill his days taking care of small jobs and his evenings trapped by private thoughts. Little do we know about the grief that fills his heart. As somber as the film may sound, Lonergan grounds his masterful drama in humanity, fills his characters with natural humor, and rewards his audience with a delicate expression of the hope that can emerge from despair.
Cooking with Gas: Hidden Figures
Sometimes looking in the rear view mirror can help us see how to move forward. This popular film recreates 1961, a time when social norms define roles and history dictates potential. It takes us into a hidden world where three women dare to demonstrate ambition beyond their surroundings. Nothing is going to stop them, not the color of their skin, not the roots of their traditions. The movie reminds us what people can accomplish when they recognize what binds rather than separates, what connects instead of divides. And, when people work together, what we can accomplish.
Food for Thought: Hell or High Water
The man looks at the plains with the wisdom of awareness and the disappointment of routine. He lives with what he has, including a realization that he has not accomplished what he hoped in his work, as he battles loneliness in his life. In this fascinating film, Jeff Bridges delivers a complex view of the disappointments that aging can bring, while Chris Pine and Ben Foster explore the layers of sibling relationships. Their portrayals of desperation on the West Texas plains create a stunning drama that stays with you long after the movie ends. And Bridges, an Oscar nominee once again, is sublime.
Proof is in the Pudding: Lion
As we look back at childhood, we recall moments we memorize, the people, places and experiences that define how we view our world. Like the best of movies about memories, Lion reminds us what the people closest to us mean and what we hope never to forget. Because the early moments of the film live in memory, director Garth Davis stages images connected with limited dialogue; as the film shifts forward he begins to use a conventional narrative filled with traditional dialogue. This balance gives the film energy as the young man searches through his memory to find the clues to the past.
Delicious Recipe: Jackie
The lady searches for words to express her grief. When she fails, she uses her eyes to intensely communicate the sadness. In a few seconds her life turns upside down as tragedy invades a safe space reserved for leaders and their ladies. And, when she looks up, she sees a nation desperate to find a moral to a fairy tale where no one lives happily ever after. No matter how much you may remember about the assassination of John F Kennedy – or if you recall the television coverage over four endless days in November 1963 – the insight in Pablo Larrain’s powerful film Jackie uses events we remember to reveal emotions we may only imagine.
Essential Nutrition: 13th
This powerful documentary – of race relations in the country, past, present and, hopefully, future – dares to explore the layers of hatred, deception and denial that create the tension that defines too many confrontations between people in our country. While politicians may argue over what dignity people should be able to expect, the film reminds us how easy it can be to pretend that all people are treated in equal ways. Director Ava DuVernay returns to her roots as a documentary director to deliver a striking story of how a nation can fool itself into believing it is fair at the same time it enables a judicial system to fuel discord.
Inspiring Invitation: Loving
As a young couple in love, Oscar nominee Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton brim with happiness, hope and humility as two people who strongly believe in the power of dreams. That she is Black and he is White complicates their aspirations in the South in the late 1950s when a marriage between races is against the law in their home state of Virginia. Jeff Nichols’ film brings their bravery to life through situations that feel real, messages that fill hearts and performances that ring true. Negga, especially, creates a memorable portrayal of a woman with strength so silent yet so certain.
Overlooked Gem: 20th Century Women
Movie maker Mike Mills so cherishes the memory of his mother that he offers this lovely movie in her honor. His film bypasses a traditional narrative in favor of a series of memories of a young man growing up in a house surrounded by women trying to secure their identities at a time of change for the sexes. We meet Dorothea, an ultimate mother for the ages, who simply wants her son to be everything he can be at a time when women struggle for the same clarity of identity. There are no happy endings in this lovely movie. Instead we trust the passage of time will help each of these special people find peace in their hearts
Delectable Diversion: Elle
She looks at the man with a vague sense of wonder and disbelief. Is this actually happening? Or a product of her imagination? This fascinating film plays with our movie memories of psychological thrillers as it weaves a compelling tale of a powerful woman rendered powerless by her circumstance. Paying tribute to the look, feel and tone of the best of Alfred Hitchcock, it tells a complex story of how people can be threatened and fascinated at the same time they try to balance reality and fantasy. Isabelle Huppert should win an Oscar for her layered portrayal of a most complex lady.
Bursting With Flavor: Florence Foster Jenkins
Someday, someone may create a role that Meryl Streep can’t play. But I can’t imagine. The actress has proven for more than 40 years, no matter the challenge, that she can find a way to make any portrayal breathe. Streep gives every character a voice. The voice, actually, is the challenge in this movie delight about a woman who can’t sing. Or carry a tune. The lady makes noise. Lots of it. This smart, thoughtful, funny film lets us into the life of someone who believes she hears music in every moment she experiences. As Jenkins, Streep can’t imagine a world without music. Life creates too many sounds to remember and share.
Surprising Chef: Hacksaw Ridge
Who would have expected Mel Gibson to return to the screen with such a dynamic look at an unlikely war hero? In this moving, meaningful film, Gibson reminds us the visual command he can bring to a story, as he tells a tale of a young man in the 1940s who objects to war but commits to serve his country. How this man balances the priorities of faith and freedom fills the screen with bravery, resolve and humanity. And Gibson makes it all work with the sure hand of a director who knows how to make the story come to life. Andrew Garfield is a deserving Best Actor nominee for his portrayal of the young hero.
Sublime Nutrition: Captain Fantastic
To be a father is to hope and fear, push and pray, support and challenge. On our best days, we connect with our children with love they never doubt; on our worst we let the intensity of our love get in the way of what our kids may actually need. Like the best of movies about parenthood, this film reveals the flaws of its characters without apologizing for their behavior. This father so wants the best for his children that he dares to make unconventional choices. But the film isn’t so convinced that he is correct that it doesn’t question his logic. Sometimes any parent, no matter how well intended, can make wrong choices for the right reasons.
Half Baked: Café Society
While not the best of Woody Allen’s recent films, this cinema confection feels like a dip in a swimming pool compared to other overheated offerings in local theaters. Allen lovingly recreates Hollywood and New York in the 1930s complete with stylized sets, lavish costumes and classic tunes on the soundtrack. The film, in fact, looks so smart that we think is sounds just as good. By this time, Allen has made so many movies that it’s difficult – even for someone so creative – to continually create something new. Even when one of his movies feels like something we have seen before, we can be so entertained we don’t care.
Simply Delicious: Love and Friendship
Thank you, Emma Thompson. Since this Oscar-winning actress and writer reinvented how to make a movie from a classic romantic novel – with her sterling adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility in 1995 – we have seen a marvelous screen parade of rich characters wearing fancy frocks and articulating witty observations. Thompson’s creative spirit fills this new romantic comedy that credits a pair of Jane Austen stories for its narrative. It’s a lot of fun as characters prance around uttering romantic nonsense while dressed in delicious pompous outfits. Movies are rarely so enjoyable.
Tasty Treat: My Name Is Doris
If you saw her on the street, you might think she is simply an eccentric who finds a a New York state of mind so freeing. She wears her own style of clothing, freely picks up free stuff left on the sidewalk, and returns to her Staten Island home each evening after work to be with her cats and her many souvenirs of a life defined by limits. For Doris, as perfectly played by Sally Field, each day is a reminder of what hasn’t come her way. This is one if those well-conceived, well-made independent films that too quickly disappear. Look for it on DVD, or online, for a delightful time at the movies.
What a year at the movies! See you at the theater!