Cast Against Hype

Reflections on film and other forms of storytelling from a Swedish wannabe-storyteller…

Tag: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Intrepid Investigators, Intelligent Innovators and Insightful Invasions – My Favourite Films of 2016

So, these are the best ones. I think. From what I’ve seen in 2016. Also, bear in mind, these are films that opened in Sweden some time during the course of this past tumultuous year. In some cases, their world premieres took place in 2015. Just to clarify. And of course, I haven’t seen everything I should have. So, there you go. And here they are, my personal favourites: 

1. Spotlight (directed by Tom McCarthy)

A real old-fashioned drama about Old Media when it’s working they way it should. The truth just has to emerge, one way or the other. Behind one of the year’s least extravagant and eye-catching titles you will find of the most extraordinary and eye-opening pieces of storytelling. Comparable with ”All the President’s Men”, ”The Insider” and ”State of Play”. Actually superior to those distinguished works in some aspects. A true ensemble effort where the director seems to make himself invisible in order to emphasize everyone else – and the story.

2. Steve Jobs (Danny Boyle)

Not to be confused with a documented, definitve true story of the legendary innovator. But screenwriter Aaron Sorkin has done what he tends to do best: deliver almost annoyingly clever and multi-layered dialogue for intelligent but sometimes emotionally disabled characters, stuck within confined spaces.

3. Room (Lenny Abrahamson)

Claustrohopia, guilt, existential issues. What’s not to enjoy? And talking about confined spaces… A large portion of this film really does take place in one room. Is it above all a celebration of the power of imagination and creating your own world in order to endure extreme situations and prolonged suffering? Whatever it is, it works.

4. Where to Invade Next (Michael Moore)

Maybe not a straight documentary, devoted to presenting both sides of a story. Michael Moore – yeah, he’s back – is not even trying to do that. Who knew? But he cheerfully picks his favourite features from (mostly) European nations’ selections of benefits, and then proceeds to market those ideas to his own homeland. A kind of mischievous moviemaking that feels particularly welcome a year like the year that was.

5. The Revenant (Alejando González Iñárritu)

They really laboured in every possible way to make this film, and it shows, for better or worse. But the final result cannot be called anything else than a feat, an impressive ground-breaking work that needs to be rewarded. Like finally handing that Oscar to Leo. And putting it on this list.

6. Bridget Jones’s Baby (Sharon Maguire)

Not to be confused with ”Rosemary’s Baby”. Bridget is back! And we missed her, didn’t we?

7. The Big Short (Adam McKay)

OK, I still don’t get it, completely. How the world of finance works and what exactly went wrong with everything a few years ago. But they sure do try to educate us here. And entertain. Groovy.

8. Snowden (Oliver Stone)

Not as explosive as he used to be. More subtle. Still, Stone makes this highly relevant recent-history retelling pretty powerful. Once again, it’s not easy to figure out exactly how all of this works, in this case surveillance, but after this film you at least get the feeling it’s worth reflecting on.

9. Eye in the Sky (Gavin Hood)

A decision has to be made. Sooner rather than later. Literally, it has to do with life and death. But who exactly will have to decide? Again, surveillance is in focus, and specifically drones. ”Good Kill” raised the same issues recently, but here it’s even more intense and morally ambiguous.

10. The Nice Guys (Shane Black)

Back to the 70’s. And worn out private eyes trying to make a living. This is not the most pretentious production of 2016, but we need some of this stuff too sometimes, right?

 

Honourable Mentions:

Jason Bourne (Paul Greengrass), Hail, Caesar (Joel & Ethan Coen)

Disappointments:

Independence Day: Resurgence (Roland Emmerich)

You would think that 20 years of figuring out an idea for a sequel to one of the most financially successful cinematic projects ever, would result in something slightly more inspired than this. It didn’t.

Ben-Hur (Timur Bekmambetov)

I respect what they’re trying to achieve. It does have some good stuff in it, but as a whole it just never convinces me this remake was necessary.

The worst: The Do-Over (Steven Brill)

Dear Mr Sandler: You need therapy. Or a baby-sitter. Or both.

 

Films I wish I had seen already – but hopefully will sooner rather than later:

Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge, Son of Saul, A Bigger Splash, Deadpool, Doctor Strange, Nocturnal Animals…

Films  from 2015 I regretted not having seen before this time last year, but had the opportunity to see later on and turned out to be more or less as good as I hoped: Sicario, Rosewater and Wild Tales.

 

By the way, here’s my ’Best of’-list from last year. Just because.

Madness. Machines. Martians. And more Madness – My Favourite Films of 2015

Another year, another realization of how little I found time to write. About really, really important thing like films, for example… Now, as we’ve crossed over from 2015 to 2016, I feel compelled to, at least briefly, reflect on which of the films released really mattered to me – and maybe which ones turned out to be disappointments, duds or doomed beyond the possibility of salvation. Admittedly, I didn’t see enough, but here are the ten best that opened in my home country Sweden in 2015 and I had the chance to form an opinion about:

1. Mad Max: Fury Road (Directed by George Miller).

Yeah, basically it’s just one crazy car chase through the desert. But what a chase it is… What an attractive, beautifully realized madness is accomplished when Dr Miller defies retirement age, common sense, laws of gravity and just lets go. This year’s adrenaline rush – and best film in general.

2. Ex Machina (Alex Garland)

Artificial intelligence and natural charisma makes for a great combination in this cautionary (or maybe inspiring) tale of how a manipulative magnate and inventor meets his match in his very own creation. Smart, stylish and seductive like few other films lately.

3. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) Alejandro González Iñárritu

More inspiring madness when Michael Keaton tries to realize a risky stage production in a fascinating, unusually organic and vivid depiction of showbusiness-people and their fragile egos.

4. Beasts of No Nation (Cary Joji Fukunaga)

…and yet more madness, when ”True Detective”, and ”Sin nombre” director Fukunaga rushes head first into the jungle accompanied by a bunch of kids and a vision not everyone in his line of work would consider it worth the effort to commit to celluloid. This must have been a logistical nightmare. Also, often a nightmare to watch, but thank you Netflix for believing in it and bringing it out there.

5. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (Christopher McQuarrie)

Ethan Hunt meets his match in the form of Ilsa Faust (what a name!) in this fifth instalment of a franchise that improbably seems to get better every time. Of course, as a patriot I don’t mind there being two Swedish actors prominently placed in the midst of this particular form of madness. They even get to speak some Swedish here and there…

6. Calvary (John Michael McDonagh)

Father James (the one and only Brendan Gleeson) is genuinely committed to taking care of his parish, but that ungrateful bunch of mostly bitter and resentful village people don’t seem equally eager to take care of him. Or commit to anything at all, unless – in one case – the expressed desire to actually assassinate the priest, for no apparent acceptable reason at all. Slow-burning existential piece that somehow manages to be unexpectedly funny as well.

7. Kingsman: The Secret Service (Matthew Vaughn)

Hey, I do like the James Bond adventures and the somewhat serious turn they’ve taken with Daniel Craig as 007. Still, this naughty, unhinged homage to a slightly more boyish Bond era of the past made for exquisite entertainment with a lot of twists and turns – and some seriously over the top-ultraviolence presented with what’s usually referred to as tongue-in-cheek attitude. And buckets of blood.

8. The Theory of Everything (James Marsh)

Surprise! Stephen Hawking is actually a human being, like most of the rest of us! Imagine that! Well-written, well-directed, well-acted and well-just about everything-drama, about the supergenius scientist sage as a young man and a slightly older one. Not least seen from the perspective of his former wife, which adds a dimension at least I hadn’t come across before.

9. Kill the Messenger (Michael Cuesta)

It seems he really was on to something. Although not without his personal flaws, in the 1990’s investigative reporter Gary Webb started looking into shady connections between the CIA and drug cartels during the US proxy war against the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua roughly a decade earlier. For some reason, that wasn’t a popular initiative among some influential segments of society. ’Based on a true story’-type drama/thriller of a kind I tend to appreciate, and we don’t see enough examples of these days.

10. The Martian (Ridley Scott)

And they say the kid in ”Home Alone” was in trouble. Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) finds himself abandoned on Mars and has to find a way to survive until someone maybe, possibly finds out he’s still there alive and might consider giving him a ride back home. Inspirational NASA promotional rather than intriguing existential stuff like last year’s ”Interstellar” but nevertheless entertaining adventure.

Honourable mentions: The Imitation Game, Spectre, Selma.

Most annoying failures department: Terminator: Genisys. What went wrong, exactly? Trying to do too much at the same time? Confusing unnecessarily complicated story structures with epic ambitions? Joking around too much instead of establishing a concinving, appropriately dark and doomsday-oozing atmosphere such as what once worked so well in this particular universe? All of the above, to begin with. I could also mention… No, that’s enough for now. But I am concerned, especially if there is more to come.

San Andreas. This one is simply too stupid for its own good. Although some of the special effects are decent enough. A pity you’re not sure you want these characters to survive this disaster flick. The precious few we are supposed to care about, that is.

Some of the ones I haven’t seen yet but I suspect could have been real contenders for the Top Ten: Foxcatcher, Rosewater, Wild Tales, A Most Violent Year, Sicario… and judging from other reactions, Star Wars Chapter… yeah, whatever chapter it is this time, even though I’ve never been part of the ”Star Wars changed my life from an early age”-crowd.

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