Mr. Reed’s Metaphysical Neighborhood Presents the Best Technical and Artistic Film Work of 2016

best-art-and-technical-2016

On Tuesday, January 24, the  Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announced the 2017 Oscar nominees. Three days later, I am finally getting around to finishing up my own lists of favorites from last year. I already posted my “best film” and “best acting” lists, so today’s post – about the (often) unsung artists and craftspeople who are essential to the filmmaking process – completes the triptych. Most of the time, the movie’s hyperlink will take you to my review, if one exists (and if not, I have a note explaining where the hyperlink takes you). I also hyperlink the artists’ names, as well (mostly to IMDb, but sometimes to their own personal websites), so you can see what other work they have produced over their careers. In the case of best score, I link to the movies’ soundtracks on Amazon or iTunes, as well.

For each category, I stick to 5 candidates, in alphabetical order. These are the films where I thought that the work in that particular area truly enhanced the quality of the movie. Enjoy, and feel free to leave comments after you look it over!

Best Screenplay (adapted and original, combined):

Best Cinematography:

Best Editing*:

[*2 of these are documentaries – Cameraperson and The Last Man on the Moon – which are among the hardest kinds of films to edit, given the huge amount of material to work with, from which one must, somehow, extract a coherent story.]

Best Production Design:

Best Visual Effects**:

[*Too many people to mention all, so I have simply hyperlinked, next to the title, to the movie’s crew page on IMDb page, where you can look at the multitude of people involved in the many visual-effects teams.]

Best Original Score***:

*plus The Lobster for best choice of previously composed music (particularly Beethoven’s String Quartet in F Major, Op. 18, No. 1, Adagio affettuoso ed appassionato)

“Silence” Is a Powerful, If Long, Elegy to Faith and Meaning

Silence

Silence (Martin Scorsese, 2016)

Though possibly an hour too long, Martin Scorsese’s Silence – a monumental testament to the power and ravages of religious faith – is the director’s best work in years. Beautifully acted by Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge), Adam Driver (Paterson), Shin’ya Tsukamoto (Kotoko), Tadanobu Asano (Grasshopper), Yôsuke Kubozuka (Helter Skelter), Liam Neeson (A Monster Calls) and Ciarán Hinds (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), among many others, the film is notable for its dramatic restraint, as if Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street) had taken the title to heart. An adaptation of Japanese author Shūsaku Endō’s 1966 novel of the same name, Silence tells the story of Portuguese Jesuit missionaries to Japan who have the grave misfortune to be alive in the early 17th century, when that country decided to close itself off to foreign influence, effectively banning all practicing Christians and those who would serve them and convert still more. Left on their own by the rulers back home, these priests struggle against impossible odds tending to their shattered flock. The real challenge is their own despair. In response to prayer, they hear only God’s silence. This is the ultimate test of belief.

Scorsese starts the movie with the gentle sound of birds under a black screen, before cutting immediately to silence. We then find ourselves on a sloping hill, a thick mist outlining armored figures like an homage to an Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samurai) film. This is 1633, just as the anti-Christian purges begin. Neeson plays Father Ferreira, a gaunt hulk of a man who watches the crucifixions without any sense of how to prevent them. His weary voice narrates the massacre, the report of which reaches the head of his order (Hinds) in Lisbon, who reads aloud its contents to Fathers Rodrigues (Garfield) and Garrpe (Driver), two younger priests trained by Ferreira. They determine to travel back to Japan to investigate, since no one has heard from Ferreira for years now (mail traveled slowly in that time), and simultaneously offer succor to persecuted believers. They eventually make it to their destination, via China, thanks to an alcoholic Japanese fisherman, Kichijiro (Kubozuka), who was once a Christian, but has now renounced the faith. Once in Japan, Rodrigues and Garrpe discover a village of secret believers, who take in the foreigners and hide them by day, worshipping by night. Eventually, however, the chief inquisitor (Tsukamoto) arrives, having heard rumors of new “padres” (as the priests are called by the locals), and both he and his interpreter (Asano) prove to be clever and ruthless antagonists. The weight of history is against our Jesuit friends. This will not end well.

And yet, unlike most other films by Scorsese, there will not be a lot of bloodshed (though there is one grisly beheading). Instead, the director focuses on the inner torture of these quiet souls, who fervently believe in what they preach and are unable to comprehend the Japanese authorities’ aggression. We know that Japan, in its own eyes, had very good reason to fear the encroachment of foreign (i.e., European) powers, given what was happening elsewhere in the world. It was not until the 19th century that the country opened its doors to the then-modern world, and though the Japanese were technologically backwards as a result of their previous isolation, they were also masters of their own political fate (as much as a feudal society can be), and not a colonial outpost. However one feels about the decision to expel the non-violent priests – whose religion was seen as a gateway to further foreign influence – there was a method to the madness. Unfortunately, despite the fact that these reasons are explained, at one point, by the film’s Japanese characters, there are still moments when Silence threatens to become like many another movie about Japanese internment-camp atrocities, such as Angelina Jolie’s recent Unbroken. We’ve seen that story a few too many times. Fortunately, however, Scorsese quickly moves beyond the clichés to examine the psychological toll of the torture on men who have professed to love God at all costs.

What is faith, and when is one prepared to die for it? Is one prepared to watch others die for one’s own beliefs? This is the true nature of the dilemma faced by Rodrigues, Garrpe and Ferreira. They are repeatedly asked to commit apostasy and deny their religion, and each faces the crisis in his own way. Some do, some don’t, some resist and then do. Endō, who based his novel on real-life accounts, explores in depth the limits of human physical and spiritual endurance. Perhaps Scorsese’s film is so long to test our own endurance, yet there is magnificent beauty throughout. Garfield, especially, whose character’s arc forms the main through line, holds the movie together with a performance of extreme sensitivity, ably supported by a very strong Driver and Neeson. Quiet and disciplined, they turn Silence into a plaintive meditation on sacrifice and survival that is an elegant elegy to our eternal search for meaning in this world.

Mr. Reed’s Metaphysical Neighborhood Presents the Best and Worst Films of 2016

[For an explanation of my blog post title, check out my “best of” list from 2013.]

Below you will find lists of my favorite films of the year, divided by narrative (fiction) and documentary (nonfiction) formats (I do not separate animated films from either genre, and there are examples of at least one animated film in each category). This is the first time I have broken down my lists in this way, and it largely has to do with the sheer number of documentaries I now watch and review in my position as lead film critic for Hammer to Nail, which makes me want to highlight even more of the great work being done by the 21st century’s exceptional nonfiction filmmakers. As always, the main factor that motivated me to include a film among my favorites is whether or not that film surprised or moved me; was there something in it that reached deep down into my cinematic soul and woke me up as I watched it, even if the film as a whole may have had some flaws (perfection is a subjective reality, anyway).

Not all of the movies mentioned received some kind of theatrical or online release in 2016, though most of them did; a few may still be looking for distributors after making their festival rounds. Where I have previously written reviews of a movie (whether for Hammer to NailFilm Festival Today or this blog), the title of that movie is hyperlinked to my original review. If I only wrote a brief capsule review of a film after seeing it at a film festival, then I link to that write-up, however short it may be. Where I have not (yet) reviewed a film, I have hyperlinked the title to the movie’s Rotten Tomatoes page and written a (very) short description of it, just to explain what I admire (or don’t).

If a film that you, yourself, saw and liked is nowhere mentioned here, then it is possible that I did not see it (or saw it and liked it, but not enough to include among my favorites, or saw it and, of course, did not like it). As many films as I watch every year, I do not see everything; Swiss Army Man is but one example of a movie I missed. If you have questions about any omissions, feel free to comment and/or send me a note. And really, what separates the “Top 10” from the “runners-up” is very little.

Enjoy! Over the next three weeks or so, as always, I will publish a separate list of the best acting and technical/artistic achievements of the year.

Top 10 Narrative Films of 2016 (in alphabetical order):

Best of 2016 Narratives Part 1

Best of 2016 Narratives Part 2

  1. Captain Fantastic
  2. Certain Women
  3. Hell or High Water
  4. La La Land
  5. Loving
  6. Manchester by the Sea
  7. Moonlight
  8. Rams
  9. Toni Erdmann – Perhaps excessively long (perhaps), this delightful German film is nevertheless a profound (and very entertaining) meditation on familial bonds that features one of the best uses of nudity to ever grace the silver screen.
  10. 20th Century Women – Mike Mills (Beginners) delivers a loving fictional portrait of his mother that is also a tribute to the strength of women, of all ages, everywhere.

2016 Narrative Film Runners-Up (in alphabetical order):

2016 Narrative Runners-Up Part 1

2016 Narrative Runners-Up Part 2

  1. Claire in Motion
  2. The Edge of Seventeen
  3. Fences
  4. The Handmaiden – Bound meets Rashomon in this  twisted Korean period thriller from Chan-wook Park (Stoker) that offers us a satisfying frisson both sexual and intellectual.
  5. Hunter Gatherer
  6. The Lobster
  7. Miles Ahead
  8. Moana
  9. Silence – An adaptation of Shūsaku Endō’s 1966 novel of the same name, this chronicle of the plight of Portuguese priests in 17th-century Japan is director Martin Scorsese’s best work in years.
  10. Zootopia

Top 10 Documentary Films of 2016 (in alphabetical order):

Best of 2016 Documentaries Part 1

Best of 2016 Documentaries Part 2

  1. Cameraperson
  2. Chicken People
  3. In Pursuit of Silence (linked to my interview with director, which includes a brief capsule review)
  4. The Last Man on the Moon
  5. Newtown
  6. Plaza de la Soledad
  7. Salero
  8. Tower
  9. Under the Sun
  10. Weiner

2016 Documentary Film Runners-Up (in alphabetical order):

2016 Documentary Runners-Up Part 1

2016-documentary-runners-up-part-2

  1. Abortion: Stories Women Tell
  2. Almost Sunrise
  3. Audrie & Daisy
  4. The Bandit
  5. The Dwarvenaut
  6. The Eagle Huntress
  7. The If Project
  8. National Bird
  9. Ovarian Psycos
  10. Sonita

Documentary and Narrative Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):

Worst Films of 2016 (in alphabetical order):

Stay tuned for more posts in the week ahead, where I will list my favorite performances and technical achievements of the year, as well.