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If “Manchester by the Sea” was a fairy tale, it would be the most downbeat one you’ve ever heard. Instead, it is a film that draws out every painful and saddening moment of its characters’ lives as they grieve the death of a beloved family member. In past reviews, I’ve tried to make clear that I have a special admiration for smaller, more personal films that are more concerned with character and story than spectacle. “Manchester by the Sea” should fit perfectly into that niche. And for some people it clearly did. The film is not only nominated for Best Picture at the 89th Academy Awards, but many critics have also declared it as 2016’s best film. I only wish I felt the same way.
British film critic Mark Kermode once said of “Pan’s Labyrinth” that if a film that good were to be released every 10 years, then he would happily carry on being a critic forever. That notion has guided me throughout my efforts in film criticism and has always been a reminder that I write reviews not because I wish to lambast terrible films, but because sharing my love for a truly exceptional piece of filmmaking is amongst my greatest pleasures.
After watching “Oldboy” and “The Handmaiden,” I think it’s fair to say that director Chan-wook Park, who directed both films, has a fascination with extremes. In “Oldboy,” it’s manifested through extreme violence, in “The Handmaiden,” it’s extreme sexual activity. Conceptually, there is nothing wrong with extremes in film, but they need to be justified or else films run the risk of coming off as gratuitous. So does “The Handmaiden” manage to justify its more intense moments? The answer: most of the time but perhaps not enough.
Continuing this Friday, the Hopkins Center for the Arts’ and the Dartmouth Film Society present their winter film series, which includes Oscar-worthy films, heartwrenching documentaries and — perhaps a little more unconventionally — exhibitions of live birds.
I love “Star Wars.” I always have, and I always will. And, like most fans, I was deeply impressed by how well Disney and J.J. Abrams managed to revitalize the franchise with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” whose success undeniably built up hype for the saga’s next offering, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” Yet despite the excitement, I had no real anticipation or expectations for the newest film. Nonetheless, as a “Star Wars” fan, I felt an obligation to see it. So I did. The verdict? “Rogue One” was decent.
Within the world of film, the Academy Awards (Oscars) represent the pinnacle of an actor or actress’s career. It is the one awards ceremony that really matters. Unlike other awards shows such as the People’s Choice Awards, the Oscars are voted on by Hollywood elites, which means the winners are being rewarded for their efforts by their peers, lending the ceremony a prestige that others lack. For this reason, many film critics now see the Golden Globe Awards as the appetizer before the Oscars, giving us some sense for which films may win the truly important statuettes next month. This is the perspective I intend to keep in mind as I share my thoughts on some of the winners and nominees of the 74th annual Golden Globes.
Who would have thought that the most impressive science fiction film of 2016 would not be “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” but instead Denis Villeneuve’s thought-provoking, psychological and deeply moving “Arrival.” Villeneuve has already proven himself to be an extremely talented director with films like “Incendies” and “Sicario.” Despite this, I was skeptical when early reviews called “Arrival” a new sci-fi masterpiece. Good films have a tendency to buckle under the weight of tremendous hype, and I was nervous that Villeneuve simply wouldn’t be able to live up to the mammoth expectations being set by the film’s early admirers. Yet somehow “Arrival” surprised me, finding a way not to meet my expectations but instead surpass them and engage me on both an intellectual and emotional level.
Five minutes. That’s how long it took for “The Girl on the Train” to completely bore me. Thirty minutes. That’s about how long it took for me to guess the twist ending for “The Girl on the Train.” Though for the sake of transparency, I should clarify. I had actually guessed the twist within the first few minutes, but at about the 30-minute mark I changed my mind and this second guess turned out to be correct. Incidentally, my initial guess would have made for a far more interesting film. “The Girl on the Train” probably isn’t the worst film I’ve seen all year, but thus far it’s certainly the best example of wasted potential.
Making a film about Barack Obama during his presidency is a bold move. Premiering that film only a few short months before the 2016 election — well, that’s just downright audacious. Releasing “Southside with You” during the current political climate is bound to stir up strong responses, so all I will say is this: I will try my hardest to keep my personal politics out of this review, but I also acknowledge that there are people who will dislike the mere idea of this film no matter what I say. And that’s fine, because for the rest of us, “Southside with You” has a whole lot to offer.
As Jeru the Damaja’s profanity-laced rap song “Come Clean” began to play over the opening credits of “Morris from America,” I could practically feel every person over 60 in the theater clench up inside. It didn’t take long for the couple behind me to walk out. When that happened, I thought to myself, “I’m going to enjoy this movie.” I can’t help but admire a movie that begins with a bang and weeds out any audience member not interested in meeting it on its own terms.
“Hell or High Water” may not be for everyone, but I think that’s honestly for the best. David Mackenzie’s newest film is strange, uncompromising, beautiful, confounding and frankly a breath of fresh air in a year full of films that have failed to live up to expectations. Perhaps this disappointing year was the key to “Hell or High Water”; I had no expectations for it, so I never assumed it would be one of the best films I’ve seen so far in 2016.
Documentary films and found footage films involve incredibly disparate processes. While documentaries are based on presentating fact, found footage films are based on distorting and altering pre-existing footage. Where one is logical and informative, the other is whimsical and entertaining. Tonight, two film classes — Film Studies 30, “Documentary Videomaking,” and Film Studies 47, “Found Footage” — will screen their term projects in Loew Auditorium.
“You don’t understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it.”