Apart from the reminder that I make no attempt to aim for objective quality, I’ll dive right in.
But deciding that I didn't like ending on a bad note, I'll start this year with my “spilled coffee list” – the worst or most disappointing films I wasted my time on this past year. Spooks: The Greater Good was just like extended, poor quality, TV. I wanted to like Deadpool because of its wit, but it was wrapped up in so much thorough tastelessness, I couldn’t handle it and shut it off. It seems to me there comes a point when bad taste is dehumanizing. Finally, Hologram for a King wasn’t a terrible movie, but it was so disappointing that I wished I hadn’t bothered.
The honourable mentions for this year are: The Lady in the Van, Eye in the Sky, Louder than Bombs, Sing Street, and Passion of Augustine (coincidentally all European films in English, except the last, which is a Canadian film in French).
Then before starting my top ten proper, I will point out that I haven’t seen the following that I suspect may all have had a good chance of making my list: Manchester by the Sea, Paterson, Silence and Loving.
Here we go:
10. Stanford Prison Experiment – This is not a pleasant watch, but I’ve been waiting for an accurate classroom version of one of the world’s most intriguing (and unethical) psychological experiments. In spite of my familiarity with the experiment, watching it drove home how potent (and potentially evil) institutional or social definitions of roles are. Considered accurate by Zimbardo, the experimenter, in spite of its unflattering depiction, this is an important film.
9. Snowden – This is another important film. This one is more fun to watch, though the anger and paranoia it can arouse may not be pleasant. This is a great companion to Citizenfour (documentary version); the pros and cons of each complement each other well.
8. A Perfect Day – A unique film that somehow manages to provide a comedic, while somehow realistic, “day in the life,” feel to NGO work in the sort-of-postwar Balkans.
7. I, Daniel Blake – It is all that Vic says it is, but I could only rate it at 7th because of its slowness and the pain of the frustration in watching it. Thank goodness for Ann, the warmhearted bureaucrat to help ease the pain. In fact, the inclusion of several key sources of goodness in what would otherwise be a lifeless world is incredibly important to the film. It makes you ache for those who are crushed by workers who feel like following policy without empathy is their only option. Lord help us - flexibility should be considered a spiritual gift.
6. Arrival – I had hoped that this one would be higher on my list. I loved parts of the film that were done with unique excellence, but there was too much time wasted on the “flashbacks” when that time could have served better making the flow of the last half hour work. Great addition to and development of the genre though.
5. Room – This was a fascinating watch. Never have I seen a room full of viewers so engaged as they were during the pivotal scene in the middle of the movie. Everyone at our movie night was engaged with their body and their heart. Add to that some excellent insight into parenting and child development and you have a strong and unique film.
4. Hunt for the Wilderpeople – A fun romp the way only New Zealand’s Taika Waititi can do it. This is the kind of comedy to share with groups of friends. It’s quirky, warmhearted, quotable and a great example of what a “feel-good” movie should be.
3. Brooklyn – This one was borderline in terms of belonging to last year’s list. Excellently made and acted, it has the feel of an old-fashioned classic. The themes and conflicts are also classic and universal. Just solid.
2. A Man Called Ove – First a complaint: since when is the old curmudgeon in a film only four years older than myself? Then a warning: there are suicide attempts which though treated lightly, in keeping with the film’s comedy genre, are realistic enough that they could really bother some viewers. After that it is all good. And what makes it deserving of a place near the top of the list is that it provided just a little healing after watching the depressing election south of the border. I will overstate the point: the movie depicts what is necessary to respond to the reality of what’s going on down there (and apparently to some extent in Canada, if Conservative candidates like O’Leary and Leitch actually have real followers). And I saw it in what might be the best little independent theatre I’ve seen, just a few hours away in Brunswick, ME.
1. Captain Fantastic – When a movie can entertain and inspire you, something is going right. As Vic says, this film may not always confine itself to the entirely credible, but what it does is provide something of a parable of what honest (and a little crazy) parenting could look like. The title’s role does not seem obvious when watching. I don’t think the two words are ever said together. There is, however, something fantastic about the character of Ben beyond Viggo Mortensen’s fantastic acting. He is nowhere near perfect; he’s way too intense for my taste. But how often do you see that kind of intensity combined with an honesty and an openness to criticism. And admit it: aren’t there lots of days when you want to run out into the woods and stay there?
I might just point out that a higher percentage of my films than normal are comedies this year. It's possible that I needed this.
Finally, there were two great films that should have made my list last year but didn’t because I saw them too late: Spotlight and The Salt of the Earth are both excellent and should not be missed.