By Vincent Abbatecola
Photo Credit: Imdb.com
5) Hell or High Water – When a movie of a particular genre comes around, most times you may feel like how it’s going to play out. However, with director David Mackenzie’s Western heist-drama, he manages to divert those expectations and offer something more. His film follows brothers Toby and Tanner (Chris Pine and Ben Foster, respectively) who must resort to robbing banks in order to earn money to save their family’s farm from foreclosure, all while being trailed by two Texas rangers (Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham). The unbreakable sibling bond between Pine and Foster’s characters keep you invested in their mission, as does the brotherly relationship between the two Rangers that interestingly parallels the two brothers. Just as screenwriter Tayler Sheridan did with last year’s crime thriller “Sicario,” he excels in developing deeper moments for the characters in between the action. With the help of Mackenzie’s direction, the film is able to avoid becoming a typical fast-paced heist film and is instead a meditative look at the relationships between the brothers in their life of crime and the law enforcers who are chasing them, and it manages this while still delivering a couple of pulse-quickening scenes of confrontations between Toby, Tanner, and the rangers. This movie is a gritty, yet beautiful look at brotherhood on both ends of the law that manages to have you care for both pairs of characters, a testament to the talent on either side of the camera.
4) Arrival – Any science-fiction movie these days can boast great visual effects, but a film of this genre should also propose eye-opening ideas, and director Denis Villeneuve achieves this for his latest film. The narrative follows the appearance of 12 mysterious spacecrafts that land on Earth, which leads the U.S. government to contact renowned linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) to learn how to communicate with them and decipher the aliens’ reasons for their visit. Adams delivers one of her most complex and emotional performances to date, one that reaches an even deeper dramatic depth following the film’s reveal. Based on Ted Chiang’s short story, “Story of Your Life,” Eric Heisserer’s screenplay captures the spirit of the novel while also adding some unexpected and relevant political commentary, making this the type of movie that we need at the moment. With Villeneuve’s direction, he adds artistry to every shot, and just like his other films, it makes you want to sit back afterwards and ponder what you watched. Because of the ideas that complex sci-fi films have the potential to offer, the genre should always set out with the intention to make viewers think, and Villeneuve achieves such a feat. Not since Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” has a film involving alien contact been so magical, which makes “Arrival” all the more deserving to be ranked among those classics.
3) Sing Street – Over the years, Irish screenwriter and director John Carney has displayed a talent for creating stories revolving around aspiring musicians, while also including new songs you can’t help but listen to over and over again. He did it with “Once” and “Begin Again,” and he did it this year with his newest film. The story centers around 15-year-old Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) who tries to form a band to win the love of aspiring model Raphina (Lucy Boynton). Upon further practice, Conor and his band will realize they have the talent to take their music further than they imagined. Although Walsh-Peelo and Boynton are young actors, their performances are mature enough to help the movie go beyond its boy-meets-girl narrative. These characters are more profound than you would expect, which makes their journey to greatness all the more interesting. The movie also provides one of the best soundtracks of any film this year, with original songs like “Drive It Like You Stole It,” “The Riddle of the Model,” and “To Find You,” and the richness of these songs strengthens the story and makes you believe this band has the skills to make it big. Carney provides a vibrant, emotional, and optimistic view of what it takes to follow your dreams, and upon seeing this film in theaters, I was in love with what I had watched, and once you see this movie, you will be too.
2) Manchester by the Sea – The concept of a child losing a parent, or parents, and then having to build a relationship with their new guardian may seem like a been-there-done-that type of story, but writer and director Kenneth Lonergan takes it in a beautiful new direction in his latest drama. The story follows a janitor named Lee (Casey Affleck) who learns that he has been named the guardian of his 16-year-old nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), following the death of the latter’s father (Kyle Chandler). After moving in with Patrick, Lee will soon have to face his troubled past in his hometown. While Affleck’s performance tends to be downplayed throughout the movie, it’s one that still manages to be intensely moving, coming to an achingly emotional high in a flashback scene that stuns you with its heartbreak. Sharing the screen with Affleck is Hedges, who delivers a star-making performance as someone who is trying to cope with his father’s passing and the demands of growing up. Lonergan’s screenplay and direction carefully develop the relationship between an uncle who has to deal with his past, and a nephew who has to focus on his future, all of which makes this an affecting and layered look at loss, family, and the need to do what’s best for others. When you see this movie, it will be impossible not to be moved.
1) Moonlight – One of the powers of cinema is giving you a realistic look at the lives of others and how they live. When this happens, it can sometimes be a difficult experience, but still rewarding in what it teaches you. Such is the case with writer and director Barry Jenkins’ coming-of-age chronicle. Taking place in Miami, the story follows a young African-American boy named Chiron as he grows up in a rough neighborhood and has life-changing experiences that will shape him into the person he will soon become. All three actors who play Chiron (Alex Hibbert portrays him as a child; Ashton Sanders portrays him as a teenager, and Trevante Rhodes portrays him as an adult), are all in sync with the essence and emotions of the character, almost as if the same actor portrayed him for all three stages of his life. The highlights from the supporting cast include Mahershala Ali as Chiron’s surrogate father and Naomie Harris as Chiron’s troubled mother. With Jenkins’ screenplay and direction, he provides us with a detailed look at Chiron’s life and the difficulties that challenge him as he takes the plunge into adolescence and adulthood. While watching this film, we have the opportunity to witness the evolution of a boy becoming a man, an extraordinary journey of self-discovery.
Come back in February to see my predictions for the 89th Academy Awards!