Tim Cowlishaw

Best of 2016: Manchester by the Sea gets an A-plus

In Additional Facetime on December 30, 2016 at 10:36 am

This is my 5th (and final?) Top 20 list. I saw only four or five great movies this year but plenty of good ones. I also saw “Cafe Society” which deserves a special place in movie hell, but I’m feeling positive here today, so let’s just get to the top 20.
1. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA — I wouldn’t think that anyone comes out of the theater feeling exhilarated other than by the film-making, the story-telling, the work of Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams and the young Lucas Hedges. There is an unbearable sadness to this film, but not in an after-school special type of way. It’s the waking up every day and hoping that the misery won’t overwhelm you kind of sadness. You know from the previews you have seen that something has happened that disturbs Affleck but you don’t know what it is until maybe halfway through the film. And then you see why it never leaves him, and it is all he can do to get his nephew through the day.
2. ARRIVAL — There are 3 surprises in this film. One is that the aliens are not here (at least it appears this way) to attack us. Two is that a movie about language can keep us on the edge of our seats. Three is that — and I like to use character names, rather than actors’ names (sorry, Michael Stuhlbarg) — Arnold Rothstein parlayed his work in Boardwalk Empire to appearing in almost every movie we see!
The fact that Amy Adams can carry a film is not surprising at all.
3. HELL OR HIGH WATER — A great Texas film (even if shot in New Mexico) with a terrific Mr. Pibb reference. Best soundtrack in a long time, headed by Nick Cave with occasional help from Townes Van Zandt, Chris Stapleton and Waylon.
4. EDGE OF SEVENTEEN — If someone out there has the time to rank best teenage coming-of-age parents-out-of-town movies of all time, all I can tell you is that this is No. 2 behind Risky Business. And I wasn’t smart enough to see that there was anything really special about Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit a few years back. But, man, you can see it here from the first scene with the increasingly great Woody Harrelson.
5. OJ: MADE IN AMERICA — Not really sure where to rank an 8-hour movie that most of us watched in two-hour installments on TV. But when most of us were completely OJ’ed out after the FX series, Ezra Edelman reminded us that if one takes the time (and I mean years in the editing room) to examine this story, it’s probably not so much “Made in America” as it’s simply “America.”
6. DON’T THINK TWICE — Not a big improv fan, even if I have immense respect for people who can think fast in front of an audience or a camera (after 1,600 Around the Horns, maybe I’ll get there), but this is more about people and how we are so much more comfortable with failure than success. And, yeah, it’s hilarious when it needs to be.
7. LA LA LAND — This movie cracks the top 10 because I never thought it would make the top 20. I am not a fan of people bursting into song on screen. Combine that with dancing and you’re really in trouble. On top of that, factor in that Emma Stone isn’t much of a singer and Ryan Gosling can neither sing nor dance. So why do I like this 2-hour-plus movie so much? Why do I (gulp) wanna see it again? Because the 2 of them are so damn likable and because anyone who loves any aspect of LA will embrace the city here. Critics rave about the opening scene which I pretty much hated. The last 10-15 minutes is as good as it gets.
8. BIRTH OF A NATION — I’m not overly interested in the politics that derailed the movie (just as I don’t really have an answer for you on my No. 1 choice and the settlements Casey Affleck reached with female co-workers a few years back). I’m just ranking films here, buddy, and my awards aren’t worth anything. All I can tell you is that Nate Parker who directed and wrote and starred and brought sort of a young Everson Walls vibe to this film was sensational. I liked it better than the overdone 12 Years a Slave. This one didn’t have Brad Pitt riding to the rescue for Nat Turner.
9. MIDNIGHT SPECIAL — Michael Shannon. You need to make at least three movies a year, sir.
10. DENIAL — A court case about a Holocaust denier, you’ll learn more than you expected about the difference between the U.S. and England and their libel laws. There are really good performances here, especially Timothy Spall as the supposedly disgraced historian.
11. MOONLIGHT — My only problem with this film comes in the final third. The first two thirds would probably rank in the top five. Without giving anything away, it’s hard to describe my issues, and in all likelihood they are solely my issues, so go see it, especially if you’re a Remy Danton (House of Cards) fan.
12. JACKIE — Ignore Bobby Kennedy’s all-over-the-place accent and just focus on a great performance by Natalie Portman in the days after the assassination and what that might have been like from the First Lady’s perspective.
13. SULLY — Liked it but wish Clint Eastwood had included five minutes to explain how and why Sully believed he knew the right angle, the proper speed to take to land a plane filled with passengers on the Hudson River. It’s hinted at in Sully’s background, but I saw an easy explanation on the Discovery channel or somewhere and it would have been a nice addition. Regardless, Hanks is great as you might expect. Skyler’s still a little wobbly from all those years with Walter White.
14. EYE IN THE SKY — There are moments where this feels like a pretty good “Homeland” episode but it’s mostly better than that and asks important questions that we pretty much ignore whenever we hear that an American drone (oops) killed a few civilians in some Middle East country we never plan to visit.
15. WEINER — It helps that I saw this in a theater near NYU while visiting my son this summer. Unfortunately, it already feels dated because of Mr. Weiner’s almost unparalleled continuing issues with selfies and his junk. An uncomfortable documentary, Huma Abedin (Weiner’s wife when he was running for mayor when this was shot) never looks remotely pleased to have her life being captured on film.
16. THE LOBSTER — First half of this movie is top 10 for sure. Falls apart a bit when they leave the — let’s call it a hotel. Colin Farrell is fine but if you’re like me and you loved Broadchurch, seeing Olivia Colman (Ellie Miller) in this role is hysterical. Actually I would recommend Broadchurch over most anything on this list, now that I’ve brought it up. Mil-Lah!!!!
17. BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK — Read the book. Not sure what Ang Lee was thinking, although this is a fairly faithful rendering if you can handle all the extreme close-ups.
18. NOCTURNAL ANIMALS — A film I expected to love, based on the trailer, I saw two people walk out during the credits. The opening credits. Once you weather that and whatever Tom Ford was telling us in his designer way, it’s a mostly fun story-within-a-story but with scenes that take way too long and an over-the-top Aaron Taylor-Johnson performance.
19. STAR TREK BEYOND — Just to let you know I can go to and enjoy an action movie. Occasionally. As long as involves Spock.
20. MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY — Give Dev Patel his due, the man gets around. Interesting movie about math. OK, you weren’t going to see it anyway, but I would still rank it ahead of those that didn’t make the list this year.
Honorable mention: Fences. Free State of Jones. Hacksaw Ridge. Nice Guys. Jason Bourne. Finding Dory.
From The Coen Brothers Make Mistakes Too List: Hail Caesar.
Dishonorable discharge: Cafe Society.
Probation: The Accountant for producing a spellbinding trailer with “Everything in its Right Place” and then never using the Radiohead song anywhere in the film. There ought to be a law.

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