Directed by: Theodore Melfi Written by: Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi Runtime: 2 hrs 7 minutes
Hollywood loves BOAT, that is, films Based On a True Story, and few are as overdue yet timely as Hidden Figures. Based on the nonfiction book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly, it tells the story of a team of African-American women who worked at NASA and their integral roles in helping the U.S. advance during the Space Race during the Cold War era. Billed as ‘human computers,’ these women are the quintessential unsung heroes with an inspirational and important story to tell.
Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe star as Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson respectively. A trifecta of massively talented Black actresses who brought wit, grace and humor to their roles. The film is at times harrowing to watch and it made me sad and angry at the appalling treatments of Black people, especially women, during a time when racial segregation was still legally enforced in the country. The fact that this happened merely 50 some years ago literally gives me chills. Yet the film never descended into somber or depressing territory, but it was brimming with a defiant but hopeful spirit throughout.
Right from the opening scene when their car broke down and they had to deal with the white cop who arrived to question them instead of offering to help, there’s a lighthearted tone to the film. It’s not that the filmmakers are making light of the situation however, in fact, this is a crowd-pleasing film that’s told with equal amusement and gravitas. Even during a key scene where Katherine had to walk half a mile one way just to go to the colored bathrooms, drink from a separate coffee kettle marked ‘colored’ and endure constant belittlement from her colleagues, the film never felt too heavy-handed or overly-sentimental. There’s also the moment Dorothy was kicked out of the Virginia public library for venturing out of the ‘colored’ section. Spencer’s Dorothy remained dignified and defiant as she rode home on the bus with her young boys.
It’s hard to pick a favorite out of the three female protagonists, as they’re all excellent and given an equally compelling character arc. Henson’s Katharine seemed to have the largest arc of the three and it’s such a joy to watch her in the role. She had to act several scenes writing complex mathematical formula on a board in a single long take, and she managed to do it effortlessly and believably. All three women were convincing in their roles, their portrayals felt real instead of simplistic caricatures. The memorable male characters are Kevin Costner as the director of the Space Task Group, Mahershala Ali as Katharine’s love interest and Glen Powell as John Glenn. None of them ever overshadowed the women, but adds a perspective of the gender/racial issues of the time. On a side note, this movie made me curious to check out The Right Stuff now which chronicles the space race.
I’m glad I waited to do my top 10 list until January as this film merits a spot on there. Boasting beautiful cinematography by Mandy Walker and rousing music by Benjamin Wallfisch, Pharrell Williams and Hans Zimmer, film also looks AND sounds great. It’s an important film to be sure, but also a well-written and well-acted piece that’s as inspiring as it is entertaining. It made me laugh and cry, with an ending that made me want to get up and cheer. I certainly don’t mind watching this again.
I always wait until at least the first week of January before I made my top 10 list of the year prior, and this year is no different. Now, last year I combined my top 10 best and worst in a single post. This year I will just focus on the BEST list and do a WORST (or I’d say disappointing) list in a separate post. Fortunately my worst list is far less extensive than the best one, as I can only count with one hand the worst movies I saw this past year.
Now, I selected films released between January – December 2016, including the limited releases (i.e. Hidden Figures) which opened in select cities in December. Some of these might’ve opened internationally prior to 2016, but I’m using the USA release dates or the fact that they opened at a local film festival. As customary, this list is a cross between a ‘best of and favorite’, so the criteria is that these films made an impression on me, combining the virtue of being entertaining, deeply-moving, thought-provoking, and indelible.
So without further ado, I present to you my TOP 10 list (in reverse order):
One of the strangest films I’ve seen last year and it’s also one of the most original concept I’ve ever seen. Greek writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos who co-wrote the script with Efthymis Filippou created an intriguing commentary on love and relationship that’ll make you ponder about it for days. I’ve loved sci-fi concepts that’s more grounded in its presentation and the world the characters inhabit in this movie certainly looks plausible. It’s not a perfect film, but still a brilliant one that earns top marks for originality and thought-provoking ideas.
Most of you already know I love Jane Austen’s work, though this one is unlike her most famous work like Pride & Prejudice or Sense & Sensibility. This one is based on Austen’s lesser-known work where we have a saucy protagonist who is as deviously-cunning as she is impeccably dressed. It’s the first film by writer/director Whit Stillman I’ve seen so far and it’s a delight! I really enjoyed Kate Beckinsale‘s in the title role and a delightfully-hilarious turn by Tom Bennett, one of my fave discoveries of 2016. Funny, witty, and so gorgeous to look at, this is another Austen movie I could watch over and over for years to come.
When I saw the trailer for the first time I knew this is a role perfect for Viggo Mortensen who plays an intellectual free spirit, a Renaissance man who’s set in his ways. It’s a fascinating slice of an unorthodox family of seven, Viggo as the unconventional dad and his six kids, following the sudden death of his wife.Set in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, themes of parenting and coming-of-age blend seamlessly. Certainly a film that subscribe to the old adage that it’s the journey, not the destination, that really matters. Like The Lobster, it’s one of the most eccentric films I’ve seen this year, one that definitely left an indelible impression on me.
7. Hidden Figures
I haven’t got a chance to review this one as I just saw it last week. As soon as I’m done watching this historical drama, thought to myself that I’m glad I waited to post my top 10 list! Since this one had opened in limited release in December, it’s still technically a 2016 movie. Starring a trifecta of terrific Black actresses, Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe (who was also great in Moonlight), it tells a pivotal moment in American history in a heartwarming yet poignant manner. There are moments throughout the women’s journey that made me angry and sad, but the film is brimming with such uplifting optimism and hope. La La Land isn’t the only film that spoke about dreaming big, but the difference is, the visionary trio crossed race and gender lines to achieve what’s seemingly impossible. The quintessential inspirational film that every person, young or old, should see. As some critics put it, it’s a cinematic nourishment for the soul.
Ahhh, the critical darling of the year. It might’ve been around TIFF time last Fall when the buzz surrounds this modern musical started gaining steam. It never let up since that by the time I sat down to see it in mid December, I was a bit worried it won’t live up to such a potent hype. Well, thankfully it was indeed an enjoyable experience, with fun musical numbers, gorgeous cinematography and lively music. An unabashedly dreamy and stylish affair, I could see why it swept many off their feet. For me though, the romance wasn’t exactly swoon-worthy, but it’s the ‘fools who dream’ theme that resonated with me emotionally. It’s that key audition scene performed wonderfully by Emma Stone that I remember most about this film, the one that got me bawling as I felt as if the movie was speaking to me directly.
In a year full of animated features, Zootopia is the only one that deserves to be on my top 10 list (note: I haven’t seen MOANA yet). Disney is sort of catching up to Pixar in terms of storytelling. Its themes of overcoming prejudices feels as timely as ever, whilst still being an enjoyable ride from start to finish. I also love the fact that Zootopia is NOT an animated musical that occasionally burst into songs. The plot is more of an action mystery thriller that is as clever and quick-witted as the smart rabbit Judy Hopps, the movie’s adorable protagonist. It’s also chockfull of wonderful characters that are easy to root for, which made for a fun, enjoyable ride of a movie that’s also smart AND has a big heart. I always appreciate animated features that can cater to adults as well as kids, and Zootopia is certainly a great example of that.
There are few films that came out in 2016 that couldn’t have been more timely. One is my number 7 pick, and the other is this one. Unlike the more sensational Birth Of A Nation, which was plagued by rape allegations of its creator and star), the beauty of Loving is how personal it feels. It doesn’t come across as a ‘film with a message’, though it certainly contains a stinging commentary of race in America. The story is even more powerful because filmmaker Jeff Nichols focuses on the journey of Richard and Mildred Loving, instead of being concerned about making a political statement. Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton portrayed the Lovings with such quiet grace and sincerity. Theirs is a story that must be told, and the script, direction and performance all work beautifully to bring that to life.
Jeff Nichols and Denis Villeneuve are two emerging filmmakers in the past decade who have continually churned out excellent work. So it’s no surprise their latest work end up on my top 10 list. With any great science-fiction, the best ones are those that remind us of our humanity, and that is the case with Arrival. It’s rare to see a film that treads a familiar ground, aliens visiting earth, yet still manages to be original and truly thought-provoking. The linguistic aspect is something I haven’t seen before in a sci-fi movie, and it’s even more compelling when the core of the story is a deeply personal one. Amy Adams ought to have swept every award this year, I think she deserved it more than Emma Stone in La La Land. Her quiet yet affecting performance is superb here, she is truly the heart and soul of the film. The contemplative nature of the film is far from boring, in fact it makes it even more haunting and enigmatic. It won’t be a hyperbole to call it one of the best sci-fi dramas ever produced, and I think it will stand the test of time.
One of the biggest travesties of this year’s Golden Globes, and there are many, is that this film was NOT nominated in the Best Comedy/Musical category. Boy, I’d be hard pressed to find a funnier film than this one, made by yet another emerging filmmaker who’s a force to be reckoned with. Written and directed by Taika Waititi, it’s a riotous adventure movie I could watch over and over. Pairing a veteran actor, Sam Neill, with 13-year-old newcomer Julian Dennison made for a brilliant duo, I’d welcome a sequel with those two in another zany journey through New Zealand wilderness! It’s uproariously funny but also has a huge heart, not relying on crude gags masquerading as *comedy* Hollywood churn out these days. This is the only one of two films I gave a 5/5 rating this year, and it’s destined to be a comedy classic.
This is the second movie of 2016 that I gave a full 5/5 rating to. A poignant coming-of-age story of a young boy living struggling with his identity and sexuality, this film is masterfully-directed by Barry Jenkins. I have no qualms calling it a masterpiece, considering the challenge of using three actors to portray a single character, Chiron, in three different stages of his life. The transition between the three time periods is handled well, it never feels abrupt or jarring. The combination of newbie actors and established ones make up one of the strongest ensemble cast of the year, led by the charismatic Mahershala Ali.
Few films hit me as hard as Moonlight did. I was so emotionally-invested in Chiron and I often have tears in my eyes when I think about his arduous life journey. The films also deftly broke stereotypes, challenging our perceptions of what we think of masculinity, especially amongst the Black community. I was also in awe by the poignant, elegant and graceful storytelling style of a subject matter rarely depicted on screen. A triumphant film through and through.
Pretty much every movie that made my BEST list of the first half of 2016 would count as honorable mentions. So combined with those that were released in the latter half of the year, here are the 20 films released last year that I was impressed with (in alphabetical order):
There are still some highly-rated films that came out last year that I haven’t seen, yet… Elle, Manchester By The Sea, Fences, Jackie, Kubo and the Two Strings, 20th Century Women, Neruda, Silence, amongst others.
So that’s my BEST list of 2016. Thoughts on my picks here? I’d be happy to discuss ’em with you 😀