I’ve seen a shitload of fine movies last year, and I intend to do the same in 2017. Here follows a list of ten movies that stayed with me the most, but I would like to mention a couple of movies that might have made this list if I had written it a day earlier or a day later or last week or next week.
These are Maggie’s Plan by Rebecca Miller, a Woody Allenish social dramady about New Yorkian intellectuals but from a female viewpoint, a lot less whiney and with a leading actress that I found so delightful, Greta Gerwig, whom I don’t think I have seen in a movie before.
The Lobster by Yorgos Lanthimos is a frightening but also darkly hilarious tale about ideologies – I think – with a great Colin Farrell and with Rachel Weisz, who is a Goddess.
Hell or High Water is just a brilliant and very atmospheric piece of Americana.
Toni Erdmann by Maren Ade is the strangest movie I saw this year. It is about a German man who visits his daughter in Bulgaria where she fires people for a living in order to help companies reorganise and maximise their profits. He invades her life, embarasses her in front of her friends, co-workers and business relations and often just sits there grinning like a giant imbecile, a looming, living reproach, seemingly trying to break her harness in order for her to become a human being again. Strangely touching and alienating and funny and quite clever.
Wayne Wang, he of Smoke, which was a huge art house hit in the nineties, made a Japanese film called While the Women Are Sleeping. It’s a very western movie but set in Japan, with an all Japanese cast, about a man fascinated by the young wife of an elderly man, played by Takeshi Kitano, who stays in the hotel he and his own wife are spending their summer holiday in. It all turns into a Kafkaesk mess.
The Bride of Rip van Winkle by Shunji Iwai is an intriguing movie about a young woman getting under the spell of an impostor who seemingly helps her when she is in deep trouble, but whose intentions are far from noble.
Anomalisa by Duke Johnson en Charlie Kaufman is the first existentialist stop motion picture I’ve seen. Beautiful, atmospheric and thought provoking.
I have seen a lot more great movies but I’ll leave it at this. On to our top ten.
10: Don Cheadle ‘Miles Ahead’
This is not a perfect film but it is a film with a throbbing heart and one that is heavily underrated. Cheadle is a very convincing Miles Davis in a film that is pure fiction but based on different episodes in Davis’ life: his assault and arrest by the police, defining the rest of his life, the shooting accident that left him with a limp and his stormy relationship with his first wife Frances Taylor, whom he abused and mistreated.
The brilliance of this movie is that Cheadle takes a few separate events, puts them together in a tight plot that is almost a thriller, something that maybe Alfred Hitchcock and Billy Wilder would make if they would merge. Making it all into a consistent whole is Davis’ music, mostly from the mid-sixties, when he was working with Gil Evans, giving the movie a feverish quality and intensifying the atmosphere.
9: Kiyoshi Kurosawa ‘Creepy’
What I find so amazing about Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s movies is that they are virtually always totally unbelievable, the premise is always something utterly bizarre, the plot twists are far-fetched and yet it takes him five minutes to suck me into his films like a black hole and be completely hypnotized for the next two hours or so and convinced that everything happening is completely logical within Kurosawa’s particular universe.
Creepy is about a neighbor who is indeed a total creep who kidnaps whole families and manipulates the family members into killing each other off. A former policeman, investigating a cold murder case he never succeeded in solving when he was still with the police, follows a trail that ends up at the door of the creep who is, and this is where it starts to get a little contrived, his own neighbor.
And guess what, that neighbor has set his sights on the former policeman’s wife. And they have a dog. And guess what happens to the dog. Nah, you guessed it wrong. This is a Japanese movie, not an American one.
8: Shinsuke Sato ‘I am a Hero’
There are two zombie films in this list, a Korean and Japanese one. Each of them seems to say something deep about respectively Korean and Japanese society, but they are hugely entertaining zombie flicks first and foremost.
I am a Hero is about, you guessed it, a bunch of people who are no heroes at all but simply have no choice but to act instead of blabbing their mouths spouting gratuitous opinions about Japanese society as they have done all of their preceding lives.
Because the zombie apocalypse has begun.
What made me laugh a couple of times during this rather grim and at times very bleak movie, is that the first thing the Japanese have to learn – and they have to learn it quickly – is to stop doing everything according to the rules to survive. It’s what they immediately and instinctively start doing once they turn into zombies: wipe their asses with the rules, as they have always wanted to do.
7: Keisuke Yoshida ‘Himeanole’
This movie grabs you by the nuts just when you thought it was safe to leave them unprotected. At first it seems to be a goofy romantic comedy about two dorks competing for a girl they don’t even have the slightest hope of even getting a glance from, then one of the two gets a little creepy, then the girl declares the other her love, which he can’t fucking believe and then it turns out there’s a third guy after her who is a completely deranged psychopath and then things get really fucking intense and serious and then you find yourself screaming at the screen: “ARE YOU FUCKING NUTS?! DON’T TURN YOUR BACK ON HIM! DIDN’T YOU SEE THE FRESHLY DUG GRAVE IN THE FRONT GARDEN?! WHY ARE JAPANESE POLICEMEN SO STUPID?!”
Well, you know what I mean.
6: Sang-ho Yeon ‘Train to Busan’
I don’t even like zombie movies, so why am I seeing so many lately? This one is amazing. It is set on a train to, indeed, a place called Busan but during the journey the zombie apocalypse breaks out and the main character and his young daughter must find ways to survive this misery.
At a certain point the train is separated into a zombie part and a non-zombie part, with some non-zombies left to rot in the zombie part.
It did not occur to me, until my world famous friend the Korea-expert Remco Breuker pointed it out to me, that this is an allegory for the tragic history of North and South Korea itself. And now I think the movie is even better than I already thought it was!
5: Hirokazu Kore-eda ‘After the Storm’
This one has all the ingredients of a vintage Kore-eda movie: an omnipresent character who we never get to see (a dead father, in this case), women who have no choice but to be strong because their men are too weak or to ill-disciplined to get their shit together.
The main character is the middle aged writer of a successful first novel he knows will never see a successor. Instead he works as a private detective spying on people cheating their spouses. He spies on his ex-wife too, whom he freshly divorced but is still in love with. They have a son and he desperately wants to be a good father, but he does not have it in him, although he loves him very much.
His mother tries to reconcile him with his wife by luring her into her home right before a big storm breaks out so the four of them are trapped during the night in her small apartment.
Kore-eda is one of my favorite directors. I interviewed him last year in Amsterdam, you can read it here, if you know Dutch. Nobody analyses human relationships better than Kore-eda does, with his eye for the subtler details and his sometimes harsh portrayals, that however never lack true compassion and warm love.
4: Jeremy Saulnier ‘Green Room’
The best thing in this nerve-wrecking thriller is the chilling presence of Shakespearean actor Patrick Stewart, known to the masses as the always reliable and wise Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek and the caring professor Xavier in X-Men.
Here he is a Cockney Neo-Nazi psychopath keeping the members of a punk band captive in the dressing room of a skinhead club after they accidently witnessed a murder there. He is not going to let them walk away and everybody knows it, but he can’t just break into the room either. So the punkers have to find a way to escape from that room, surrounded by Stewart and his band of heavily armed Nazi’s and a pit bull.
This movie is so intense you’ll feel like waking up from a terrible nightmare when the end credits roll, gasping for breath. Excellent performances by everyone, including the sadly deplored Anton Yelchin.
3: Chan-wook Park ‘The Handmaiden’
This movie is at least as colorful as the number one on this list and easily the most erotic thing I’ve seen last year. Or the year before that, for that matter.
It’s a period drama set in the twenties in Korea, about a maid servant working for a rich family whose daughter she has to seduce into marrying a swindler who is out for her money. The two women end up in bed together and then there is a plot twist and things get really weird.
Impeccable movie that is a joy to just look at, with a strong story and some really solid acting and superior mind-fucking.
2: Robbert Eggers ‘The Witch‘
What pleases me the most about this atmospheric horror film is its silence. All the meaningful events happen in the moments in between, surrounded by an overwhelming silence, a dark and looming nothing. It is what is not said that’s the most startling, that which is not shown is what digs deepest into our psyches.
Apart from this The Witch has strong, convincing characters, right from the deeply religious farmer who will not admit he is the worst farmer, the worst hunter, the worst husband and the worst father God ever saw fit to put onto his earth, down to the little children who get on everybody’s nerves.
Also, this movie is strangely touching. You can’t help but feel pity for everybody in this lost, doomed family. All locked inside themselves, held prisoner by the others, eager to be lured into any trap set out for them by the evil forces in those big, dark woods.
1: Jon Favreau ‘The Jungle Book‘
I missed this movie in the theatre, but I saw it on a really small screen on my flight from Tokyo, with a baby a few seats from me continuously crying, which drove a French woman into a flight rage. I hardly took notice of it, The Jungle Book totally absorbed me.
It’s perfect as a movie, it’s exhilarating and funny and touching and it has the best voice acting ever. I especially liked Bill Murray, who is hilarious and a little mean as Baloo the Bear and Christopher Walken as King Louie, making him a rather scary New York kingpin of crime from a bleak Abel Ferrara flick rather than a cheeky ape in an adventurous Disney movie.
The visuals are stunning, the animation is amazing, the movie never misses a beat, it’s like one of those little dances Christopher Walken always does. Jon Favreau is truly one of the great directors of today’s main stream cinema. You propably never saw his brilliant small film Chef. I suggest you remedy that.
Oh, and of course I had been rooting for Idris Elbas Shere Khan the whole movie through. Because he is right: the animals should have killed off Mowgli right away. Nothing good ever comes from tolerating a human in your jungle.