Favourite 10 films of 2016

My favourite 10 films (slightly distinct from ‘best’ films, though some might be favourites because of their quality) would be:

10. ‘Miles Ahead’

I thought that the fictional stuff with Don Cheadle and Ewan McGregor running around like twats was knockabout funny. Praise be to any bio-pic that doesn’t take the cradle-to-the-grave route and who recognises that its subject might also be a bit of a prick.

Miles’ amazingly gravelly voice was what Tilda Swinton’s character was trying to avoid in ‘A Bigger Splash’. Miles had his throat operation in the 1950s and he was also told not to speak for a period but he got into a screaming argument with someone. Hence, his voice was permanently shot to pieces.

9. ‘Weiner’.

All of Weiner’s characteristics are in this film; all human life is here. His hubris, his arrogance, his argumentativeness, his lying but he also comes across wonderfully well too.

Up against a hostile crowd, he manages to turn them around in the space of a couple of minutes of well-chosen words. A stand-up argument with a member of the public took on a different hue when the Daily Show revealed (after doing a whole bit on Weiner losing it) that the citizen made a racial slur against Weiner’s wife, thus indicating too late that he hadn’t ‘lost it’ after all, so good on him for not taking that sort of nonsense from some stranger. It can be a balm to see people who think that they have licence and total free rein to bad mouth public figures have those public figures dissuade them of that notion.

Weiner was one of the few U.S. Democrats who actually took pleasure in grabbing the Republican stick out of their hands and using it to bash the Republicans back, with interest. Weiner, like FDR talking about Wall Street, welcomed the hatred and opposition: that’s when he seemed most at home whereas most U.S. Democrats come across as embarrassed for being alive.

I’ve never seen a politician look so relaxed and at home when dealing with crowds as you see with Weiner in this film. Whether it’s a parade or a music festival, Weiner looked like he genuinely loved being with the people. Having said all of that, the star of the film is Huma Abedin. She’s amazing. She could be a silent movie star or just a film star. Her body language was articulate beyond belief. She could ‘eye-roll’ with her whole body. Huma didn’t say a heck of a lot but you were in no doubt whatsoever at how furious, how nauseated, how tired she was of Weiner’s bullshitting and degeneracy.

No doubt that some would point to Weiner as the reason why Hillary Clinton fell at the final fence, when she looked like she was going to successfully bluff her way to the presidency before James Comey released his letter. They do have a point but boo-hoo, really. Many saw Hillary as a fatally damaged, weak and flawed candidate before Comey’s letter two weeks before election day.

Comey’s summer decision to not criminally indict Hillary was almost better for the Republicans than any other result. An indictment would have allowed the Democrats to parachute a Biden/Warren ticket that would have crushed the short-fingered predator (Wikileaks indicate that the DNC would have died before letting Bernie Sanders be the nominee). Instead, Comey hammered Clinton, damaging her further, yet he kept her in play for the Republicans to shoot at. And if people want to criticise Comey further for that decision maybe think about the fact that Clinton was allowed to run in the first place.

March 5th 2016: ‘Current Affairs: ‘NOMINATING A PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE UNDER ACTIVE FBI INVESTIGATION IS AN INCREDIBLY RISKY GAMBLE’

“The 2016 election has many bizarre aspects, but surely one of the most bizarre is the fact that one of the main presidential candidates is under active investigation by the FBI, and that this is somehow being treated as unimportant or inconsequential………..”.

For all of the bellowing about sexism and misogyny being Clinton’s downfall: firstly, those complaining knew that was the case going in and they knew that Hillary Clinton has always been terribly unpopular so, against a total menace like Drumpf, they still decided to risk working through their narcissistic issues when such a short-fingered maniac was the forfeit. Secondly, which other (male) prospective candidate would have even been allowed to run in the first place with the Feds all over them? Bernie Sanders, Jeb Bush, Donald Drumpf, Marco Rubio, the Zodiac killer would have all been told “No way!”.

Obviously, matters of guilt and non-guilt are matters for courts not political parties but any political party should have seen such a candidate as too high a risk, as being too potentially toxic. “We’re awfully sorry, Hillary, but we simply cannot take the risk of this all blowing up in our face.”. I wouldn’t like to see Hillary’s failings projected onto Weiner: that maniac’s got enough trouble as it is.

8. ‘The Assassin’

A strange film, in some ways. The trailer suggests something action-packed but it’s a lot more abstract than that. The mighty ‘Sight & Sound’ made it their film of last year (as they’d seen it prior to its actual UK release). I saw it twice and want to see it again. Like a dub reggae record, it almost takes everything out save for some echo-delay, some stabs at a keyboard and a bass line. It’s a fascinating film.

7. ‘Author: The JT LeRoy Story’

A jaw-dropping documentary about how easily things can spin out of control.

I suppose that there are different laws in the USA, probably under freedom of expression. In the U.K., people have to tell you if they’re going to tape a phone call and they can’t normally use the recording without your permission. Here, in this documentary, there are many calls from people who now look idiotic or venal or both. Seems strange. Sometimes you can see U.S. news playing someone’s 911 calls and you feel that it’s a disgrace that you can hear someone in their state of distress but there you go: that’s the U.S. constitution. The short-fingered, snake oil selling, bozo will probably start shredding it from 20th January onwards anyway.

A very well constructed documentary too. It only gradually shows its hand and fills in the blanks about how and why Laura Albert came to feel that hiding behind personas was the way forward. Still, Asia Argento, for one, must be sick at how she was left twisting in the wind by all of this mishegas.

6. ‘Arrival’.

For me, it’s a very fine film. I wasn’t sure as I was watching the first part, with its voiceover (thus indicating that the speaker will survive to tell the tale), its scenes that seem to underline the uncanny in bold – no one else round….no one else around here at college. At all – but the film coalesces into something both very entertaining and rather deep; something that reverberates around your dome for days, and that’s not only because of Jóhann Jóhannsson’s mighty work in his musical scoring.

As a sidenote, I also saw Jeremy Renner in a new light in a thriller called ‘Kill The Messenger’, on which he probably spent some of his accrued Hollywood capital as he co-produced it too. It’s about the journalist Gary Webb who lifted the lid on the CIA importing crack cocaine into the USA in order to fund the Ronald “Mad Dog” (McDonald) “Ray-Gun” Reagan sanctioned and facilitated murderous mayhem from those fun-loving psychopaths, the Nicaraguan contras. Check it out.

5. ‘Ghostbusters’.

Yes, seriously. I don’t know how it went down with the rest of the audience in the early morning screening that I attended as I was laughing too long and too loudly to judge.

I was predisposed to wanting to like it as I hate bullying and there was sexist bullying from many who plainly hadn’t seen the film. Saying that, dealing with the online bullying of Hillary Clinton supporters, oblivious and indignant to any idea that she might be a terribly weak and damaged candidate, might have negated that desire somewhat.

Strangely, there seems to have been a divide amongst those who did like the film: some liked it because of Kate McKinnon’s performance, others liked it despite Kate McKinnon. I’m in the first camp. Along with her SNL Hillary Clinton shtick, McKinnon’s been a star of the year, for me.

4. ‘Love and Friendship’.

‘There was me, that is Lady Susan, and my three stooges, that is Sir James Martin, Reginald DeCourcy and my daughter, Frederica…….’.

3. ‘Cafe Society’.

For me, one of Woody Allen’s very best. Everything massaged all of my pleasure centres. It was the normal 90 – 100 minute running time but it covered such a lot of ground. So very funny and extremely moving too. It was the first film that he’s shot digitally (normal digital not that rubbish Michael Mann-style digital that can look stunning-to-cheap-and-tacky in the space of one panning shot) and so some scenes in shadows seemed so well defined and intimate. It was his first film with Vittorio Storaro. I’m convinced that Kristen Stewart will be around for decades. With stuff like this and her work with Olivier Assayas, she gets better and better. Also, it looks like she’ll be starring in upcoming the JT LeRoy bio-pic.

2. ‘Bone Tomahawk’.

The writer-director S. Craig Zahler spins many plates, he’s also a cinematographer, a novelist and a death metal singer/musician and you can see evidence for all in the film. It looks way more glossy and expensive than it actually was, with all the actors working for scale (although a Benji Bakshi was the cinematographer). The dialogue actually has a literary sensibility rather than a Tarantino-style faux-novelistic impulse (someone really might be well advised to tell Tarantino to cease-and-desist with his tiresome ‘chapters’, I’d argue). And Zahler’s death metal chaos-and-terror traits come out in the final, bonkers section of the film. Some fine costuming and make-up too: I never spotted the great Richard Jenkins until the end and I never realised that that was Matthew Fox until the Blu-ray extras.

Additionally, ‘Bone Tomahawk’ has some amazingly effective sound design. The special effects work so well as they’re complemented by stomach-churning noises. Sound design is like a great pair of shoes when a scruffy bloke (i.e. 90% of blokes) has to smarten themselves up for an occasion. As long as they’ve got a good pair of shoes then that’s more than half the battle.

1. ‘Son of Saul’

‘Son of Saul’ is a great film. There was just enough technique and enough echoes of Elem Klimov’s ‘Come and See’ to protect and distance me from the sleeplessness and shakes I got after watching the ‘Night Will Fall’ documentary. David Mamet called ‘Schindler’s List’ an exploitation film  and ‘Son of Saul’ doesn’t fall into the same mode of allowing the viewer to drink in the details of the Nazis’ mind-boggling grotesqueries by its framing and its sound design, especially, among other elements. Immensely powerful film-making; a total assurance displayed when conveying atrocity upon atrocity upon atrocity.

(Special mention for Adam Curtis’ ‘HyperNormalisation’, which is on the BBC iplayer for another few months yet.).

Happy New Year to all. ‘Silence’ comes out over here in the UK on January 1st and then ‘La La Land’ a couple of weeks later. Super-excited; can’t wait.

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