Summer 2016 movie roundup / Fall 2016 movie preview
Caveat: I didn’t see any kids’ movies, which by all accounts were some of the summer’s best offerings, even though I wanted & still want to see “Kubo and the Two Strings,” “The Little Prince,” and the “Pete’s Dragon” remake.
Best movie I saw this summer: HELL OR HIGH WATER, by a country mile. This little Western-that-could, about a pair of bank-robbing brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) and the Texas marshals (Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham) who pursue them, may be modest in ambition and not particularly original in concept, but it’s so well executed you hardly notice. From the pacing to the directing to the acting to the seamless modulation between humor and suspense, there’s not a single element that feels superfluous or out of place; this movie is tight as a drum.
Worst movie I saw this summer: SUICIDE SQUAD. The nicest thing I can say about it is it wasn’t as terrible as I expected it to be. Which doesn’t mean it was any good. Sadly, based on its boffo box office, we have almost certainly not seen the last of this franchise.
Best performance in a summer movie: Viggo Mortensen in CAPTAIN FANTASTIC. Movie was gently engaging even if it too often went for the most obvious beats, but it was Viggo’s lovely, subtly shaded turn as the would-be-raiser of young philosopher-kings that held the whole thing together. Deserves Oscar consideration, though probably won't get it.
And now, for the season we’ve all really been waiting for!
I’ve already kicked off the fall by seeing THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS, Derek Cianfrance’s adaptation of the bestselling novel by M.L. Stedman, starring Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, and Rachel Weisz – aka three of the most gorgeous people to grace the big screen today. Visually, the film matches their beauty, and is something of a throwback – a weepie that seems to be going for a sweeping English Patient cinematic vibe but doesn’t quite get there. Nonetheless, it’s a well-made film that’s clearly aimed at a grown-up audience (rather refreshing after a summer dominated by juvenilia), and features a luminous pair of performances from Fassbender and Vikander, who became a real-life couple while making the movie.
With that one behind me, here are the ten other films I’m most anticipating this fall, in order of release date:
QUEEN OF KATWE (Sept. 23)
Guess we’re about due for another Disney-produced “based on a true story” sports tale of an underdog who against all odds becomes a champ. In this case, however, the sport is chess, the underdog is a young girl from Uganda whose mother and teacher are played by the very gifted Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo, respectively, and the movie’s director is Mira Nair (“Salaam Bombay,” “Mississippi Masala,” “Monsoon Wedding,” “The Namesake”). Any one of those factors would have piqued my interest; the combination has my full attention.
THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN (Oct. 7)
To be honest, I didn’t love the book (I much preferred Gone Girl) and am skeptical about the casting of Emily Blunt, who’s fantastic but to my mind far too attractive and strong a presence to play the dumpy, self-hating protagonist. Still, I admit I’m curious to see if she can pull it off.
DOCTOR STRANGE (Nov. 4)
As an Asian American, am I irritated at the casting of Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One? Yes. But as a movie lover, I can’t ever be truly mad about casting Tilda Swinton in anything. And even as I bemoan the current glut of superhero movies, I admit I find the character of Doctor Strange more interesting than most of his Marvel brethren, especially when he’s played by Benedict Cumberbatch and facing off against Mads Mikkelsen, who makes all movies better. (Also, I generally tend to be much more receptive to new movie superheroes than returning ones.)
ARRIVAL (Nov. 11)
I’m not all that excited by the trailer, but I am intrigued by everything else about this movie’s pedigree: the sci-fi story, Amy Adams as lead, and a director (Denis Villeneuve, of “Sicario,” “Prisoners,” and “Incendies” fame) who really knows how to ratchet up the suspense.
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (Nov. 18)
Kenneth Lonergan (“You Can Count on Me,” “Margaret”) directs another movie about familial bonds, the kind that may strain and fray but somehow never completely break, and sometimes knit closer together. I am so there. Plus any movie with both Michelle Williams and Kyle Chandler (albeit in small roles) already has two things going for it. The real star, though, appears to be Casey Affleck’s lead performance.
NOCTURNAL ANIMALS (Nov. 18)
Haute couture royalty Tom Ford (“A Single Man”) returns to directing with what looks like a riveting and polished thriller-within-a-thriller about a writer (Jake Gyllenhaal) who may or may not be threatening his ex (Amy Adams) by writing a murder mystery that seems to be about them. Also, if you’re one of those unfortunate people who can’t tell Amy Adams and Isla Fisher apart, then this is the movie for you.
ALLIED (Nov. 23)
WWII film starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard as an exquisitely dressed couple who might be spying for opposite sides in the war? Also starring Lizzy Caplan and Matthew Goode? Yes, please. This movie looks to give The Light Between Oceans a run for its money for Prettiest Cast Who Can Also Actually Act.
LA LA LAND (Dec. 2)
This recently replaced “Manchester by the Sea” as my #1 most anticipated film of the year. How could it not? It’s an original musical romance by Damien Chazelle, the writer-director of “Whiplash,” one of my favorite movies of 2014, is set in Los Angeles (city of my heart), stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, and if the early teaser trailers and reviews from the Venice Film Festival are to be believed, looks and feels like a dream—the kind of dream you don’t want to wake up from. I only wish I didn’t have to wait till December to see it.
ROGUE ONE (Dec. 16)
At this point, I think I prefer the idea of a sub-narrative that takes place within the known Star Wars universe to movies that purport to expand the universe but really just recycle old canon narratives. (Sorry, “Force Awakens” fans.) Also, I like Felicity Jones. And see previous note re: Mads Mikkelsen.
20TH CENTURY WOMEN (Dec. 21)
I didn’t love Mike Mills’ “Beginners” as much as most people, but I did appreciate that it came from the heart and appealed directly to that core in all of us that’s just looking to connect with someone. And it’s hard to imagine him going wrong with a female-centric film that stars Annette Bening and Elle Fanning. (It’s true Greta Gerwig usually rubs me the wrong way, but I will try to give her the benefit of the doubt.)
Other movies I’m keeping an eye on: AMERICAN HONEY; THE BIRTH OF A NATION; VOYAGE OF TIME; MOONLIGHT; AMERICAN PASTORAL; THE HANDMAIDEN; LOVING; BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK; THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN; MISS SLOANE; FENCES; THE FOUNDER; JULIETA; ASSASSIN’S CREED; PATERSON