2016 Year-End Movie Review: Jason Zingale

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2016 will likely go down as one of the most depressing years in recent history, but that has more to do with a certain reality TV host being elected President of the United States, not to mention some particularly hard-hitting celebrity deaths, than the movies we watched along the way. In fact, despite the usual collection of flops, disappointments and general mediocrity, there were a number of great films throughout the year spanning a wide range of genres, which is evident in my own Top 10. Though I stand behind every choice on this list, it should in no way be considered definitive due to some elements out of my control (for instance, Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” not being screened in time) and an extraordinarily busy holiday season.

Best Films of 2016

1. “HELL OR HIGH WATER

For as old-fashioned as “Hell or High Water” feels at times, it’s a movie that deals with some incredibly timely themes, especially in a post-election America still reeling from the last economic depression. Following his little-seen 2013 gem “Starred Up,” director David Mackenzie delivers yet another engaging family-centric story (based on a script by “Sicario” writer Taylor Sheridan) that excels in its simplicity. It’s gorgeously shot, displaying both the beauty and sadness of its picturesque landscape, and features a trio of excellent performances from Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges. Nobody does unhinged quite like Foster, and this is easily Pine’s best work in years, but the movie ultimately belongs to Bridges as the devilishly funny, veteran Texas Ranger who would rather go down in a hail of bullets than be forced into retirement. Though the film follows a pretty standard cops-and-robbers formula, it does so with such razor-sharp proficiency and well-drawn characters that it succeeds not only as a terrific genre flick but a modern American classic in the same vein as “No Country for Old Men.”

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2. “MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

An incredibly moving, intimate and authentic story about a broken man who’s forced to confront his demons, “Manchester by the Sea” is the most devastating, heart-wrenching drama of the year. Casey Affleck is phenomenal in the lead role, delivering a subtle but powerful performance that showcases an actor at the top of his game, while Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler and relative newcomer Lucas Hedges all deliver outstanding work in supporting roles. Though the movie is sprinkled with quite a bit of humor (much more than you’d expect for the subject matter), “Manchester by the Sea” is primarily a portrait of grief and how it affects everyone differently. There’s no guidebook or one-size-fits-all remedy to mending a broken heart, and writer/director Kenneth Lonergan conveys that point beautifully amid the wintry, gloomy backdrop of his New England setting. “Manchester by the Sea” is heavy stuff, but for a film that deals mainly in misery, it never feels exploitative, and that goes a long way in earning your attention and respect.

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Blu Tuesday: Green Room and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on social media with your friends.

“Green Room”

WHAT: Down-on-their-luck punk band The Ain’t Rights accept a gig playing at a skinhead hangout on the outskirts of Portland. But when guitar player Pat (Anton Yelchin) accidentally witnesses a murder backstage, the band is thrust into a fight for survival against the club’s ruthless owner (Patrick Stewart) and his gang of backwoods neo-Nazis.

WHY: If Jeremy Saulnier’s slow-burning sophomore effort “Blue Ruin” announced him as a filmmaker to watch, then “Green Room” confirms that he’s the real deal. A brilliantly taut and grisly horror-thriller that defies genre conventions at every turn, “Green Room” is one of the most intense moviegoing experiences in recent years. There’s hardly a single wasted frame in this tightly-paced siege film, turning the screw on its characters (and the audience itself) with some nail-biting tension that doesn’t let up. The violence is gory but never gratuitous, while the lived-in performances – particularly Anton Yelchin’s frightened musician and Patrick Stewart’s surprisingly calm and rational white supremacist – lend an unsettling authenticity to the proceedings. The movie is at its best when the band is trapped inside the titular room, and although the suspense is slightly deflated once the action spills out into the rest of the building, becoming a more visceral affair where duct tape and a box cutter are the primary tools for survival, “Green Room” maintains its vice-like grip on the audience.

EXTRAS: There’s an audio commentary by writer/director Jeremy Saulnier and a making-of featurette.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Movie Review: “Green Room”

Starring
Anton Yelchin, Patrick Stewart, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner, Mark Webber, Macon Blair
Director
Jeremy Saulnier

Jeremy Saulnier’s sophomore feature “Blue Ruin” established him as a director to keep an eye on. The revenge tale was a brutal, dramatically rich and intense thriller. With his third feature, “Green Room,” Saulnier dials things up a few notches, delivering his most propulsive and unshakeable experience yet.

Pat (Anton Yelchin), Sam (Alia Shawkat), Reece (Joe Cole) and Tiger (Callum Turner) are members of the punk rock band The Ain’t Rights, a group barely scraping by to get from gig to gig. After an embarrassing performance at a Mexican restaurant, the group gets desperate and, against their better judgement, end up playing at a bar packed with white supremacists, led by the imposing but calm Darcy Banker (Sir Patrick Stewart). After the band members witness a murder in the green room (a.k.a. the waiting room for musicians), they must fight to survive the night with the assistance of Amber (Imogen Poots), a mysterious but incredibly capable and violent friend of the deceased.

With a brisk 95-minute runtime, Saulnier’s film is a well-oiled thriller without a single ounce of fat on it. Every scene, every shot and every character helps build this driving energy, which manages to keep growing throughout the film. There are no narrative pit stops in “Green Room” — it’s just mean and lean storytelling, rarely ever allowing the characters to catch their breath and collect their thoughts. This story is always on the move, even when the lead ensemble is stuck in the green room for a large portion of the film.

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