Peter Krausz, film critic, journalist and consultant. Film reviewer for Melbourne Catholic magazine.
2016 brought us many beautiful, stirring and downright entertaining movies. This is my personal Top 10, in a year of many, many fine films.
1. Son Of Saul
Searingly compelling Holocaust drama set in Auschwitz, and following the travails of a Sonderkommando over 36 hours, a Jewish prisoner charged with shepherding fellow Jews into the gas chambers. The use of sound and visual suggestion without being explicit heightens the horrors of life in a concentration camp. Extraordinary filmmaking by a new Hungarian director, Laszlo Nemes, whose cinematic flair is breathtaking. Oscar winner for best Foreign Language film.
2. La La Land
Damien Chazzelle’s glorious homage to Hollywood musicals and Jacques Demy’s bittersweet French musical fantasies, is meshed with a witty screenplay and well-choreographed sequences. His previous film Whiplash 2014, indicated an original and exciting filmmaker. This film confirms it. One bravura sequence after another in this charming and enjoyable film with a contemporary twist, and a nod to the musical art of traditional jazz. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are superb in the lead roles.
The power of investigative journalism, a dying art, is brought to the fore with this insightful expose, based on real events, of the Catholic Church in Boston attempting to cover up the acts of paedophile priests in early 2000. Stirring and cautionary drama, and rightly rewarded with the Oscar for Best Film. As in films like All the President’s Men 1975, and Truth 2015, without journalism there would be no objective insight into events which the public need to know.
4. I, Daniel Blake
British filmmaker Ken Loach’s working class films continually show the ordinary person struggling against harsh capitalism and brutal bureaucracy. In this film, an older worker after suffering a heart attack, attempts to find work and receive his just benefits due to the problems of unemployment. The barriers he and others encounter paint a bleak picture of anyone in Western Society who is not lucky enough to be employed. Compassionate and caring filmmaking.
5. Embrace of the Serpent
This Colombian/Spanish film shot in luminous black and white is a magnificently constructed narrative with two journeys which parallel one another over two time periods, both involving a quest, meshing into a spiritual revelation. The search for meaning, healing and redemption is beautifully portrayed in this film which climaxes in a colourful explosion of harmony.
6. The Lobster
Certainly the most unusual and challenging film for me for the year, is Greek director, now working in Hollywood, Yorgos Lathimos (Dogtooth 2007) The Lobster, whose metaphysical science fiction film is by turns amusing and quite disturbing. Set in a dystopian future where people who don’t find a partner within 30 days are turned into an animal of their choice, the film never fails to surprise and offers a deeper view of spirituality and commitment, with overtones of a Big Brother social control.
7. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
One of the best films to be made in New Zealand, Taika Waititi’s hilarious and poignant film about an orphaned teenage boy farmed out to a remote homestead, and eventually encountering an irascible curmudgeon (Sam Neill) who provides an escapade for both. The laconic and often absurdist humour makes the film a real delight. The film also amusingly satirizes both the media and the police hunt for them, which is quite biting in its astuteness.
8. Girl Asleep
In my view, the best Australian film released this year, and a winning combination of a teenage girl’s journey of discovery in growing up and the malevolent fantasy world which is set to consume her. Set in the 1970s, with an amusing use of the era, Rosemary Myers has fashioned a cautionary tale replete with unusual set-pieces, and an array of “monsters from the id” which serve as clever reflections of the girl’s state of mind while preparing for her birthday.
9. Hell or High Water
What begins as ostensibly a story of two brothers robbing banks in their small American outback communities, turns into a heartfelt commentary about the avariciousness of the banking system and the dubious morality on both sides of the situation. Jeff Bridges as the wise sheriff coming to grips with the brothers’ motivation and the inherent duplicitousness of the financial market and their treatment of people who fall behind in their mortgage payments, leads to a wonderfully ambiguous conclusion.
This new film by Spanish director Pedro Almodovar is a superbly layered melodrama of a mother and daughter relationship spread over 30 years. He imbues the film with a complex series of motivations and relationship issues, which take time to simmer and reach an inevitable climax. Above all, the film confirms Almodovar as a studious observer of human interactions leading to an epiphany for all concerned.