The most spellbinding movies of 2016


HARI SREENIVASAN: Now we continue our series on the best of the year in arts — tonight, what stood out in the world of movies.

Jeffrey Brown is back with our conversation.

JEFFREY BROWN: And for that, we are joined again by two of our steadfast and stalwart film critics, Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post and Mike Sargent of Pacifica Radio.

Welcome back to both of you.

ANN HORNADAY, The Washington Post: Thank you.

MIKE SARGENT, Pacifica Radio: Thank you.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, let's start with a quick roundup, a top five. Then we will go into a little bit more detail.


ANN HORNADAY: OK, top five.

Number one, "Moonlight," Barry Jenkins' coming of age story, "Manchester by the Sea," wonderful domestic drama by Kenneth Lonergan, "Hell or High Water," a terrific contemporary Western, a little father-son serial comic drama called "The Confirmation" Clive Owen, and then finally "O.J.: Made in America," the amazing O.J. Simpson documentary.

JEFFREY BROWN: Which also made our television list, but that had a film release.


JEFFREY BROWN: OK, Mike Sargent, your top five.

MIKE SARGENT: Well, my top five.

The top one is a film called "Arrival," which is a science fiction about aliens landing and us trying to communicate. Then there's Mel Gibson's "Hacksaw Ridge," which is about Desmond Doss, who won the Medal of Honor without ever having to fire one bullet.

Then I have "Purge: Election Year," which is the third film in the series. But the Purge is something that happens once a year in this future dystopian America where once a year you get to purge, and violence is legal for 24 hours. And this film actually does what the premise should have done in the first two films, and I really like it.

Then I have "Moonlight," which I love just probably as much as Ann did.

And then a film that I almost forgot called "Eye in the Sky" with Helen Mirren, which is the final performance of Alan Rickman, but it's a film not to be missed.

JEFFREY BROWN: Let's watch a little clip from "Moonlight." Then we will talk a little bit more about it.

ACTRESS: What's wrong?

ACTOR: Nothing. I'm good.

ACTRESS: No. I have seen good. And you ain't it. Stop putting your head down in my house. You know my rule. It's all love and all pride in this house. You feel me?

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, so, Ann, an unusual film in many ways, episodic, takes one man through three different actors.

ANN HORNADAY: Yes. Indeed, exactly.

It's a young boy's story, as you said, told in three distinct chapters, first when he is a young boy, then as a teenager and then as a young man.

And it's about a person coming of age in poverty, in this case in Liberty City, Miami. That scene that we just saw features Janelle Monae in an absolute breakout performance. And she's also in another movie that is out right now called "Hidden Figures."

JEFFREY BROWN: Known, first of all, as a singer, a musician, and now suddenly a great actress.

ANN HORNADAY: Exactly. She's just a great actress.

And it's just — it's a very tender, observant — as Mike said, it takes all the kind of tropes of a coming of age story and turns them inside out and makes them so intimate.

And Jenkins' kind of — his point of view is just a little askance, it's a little askew, so that you're not getting the conventional beats of a person's life. You're getting the in-between times, which are sometimes even more meaningful.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Mike, you singled out "Arrival." So, let's take a look at a scene from that.

ACTRESS: I need to see me.

ACTOR: She's walking toward the screen.

ACTRESS: Now, that's a proper introduction.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, what do you love about "Arrival," Mike?

MIKE SARGENT: I love pretty much about pretty much everything about this film.

It's a film that does what science fiction and good science fiction should be, where it says a lot about the human condition. This is a film that deals with the issues of communication, how and why we communicate, what the nature of that is, what the issues are between nations, how we don't get along and are on the verge of war throughout the story.

And it deals with time and just how we — what our relationship is to time. The movie is in many ways like a large "Twilight Zone" episode.

But it's beautifully shot. It's beautifully acted. The aliens are very powerful and meaningful. And I don't want to give too much away, but the way in which the aliens communicate is such in an imaginative — and it's just a beautiful film that to me works on every level.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, so we asked both of you also to pick an acting performance that stood out for you this year.

And, Ann, you chose Casey Affleck in "Manchester by the Sea." Let's take a quick look.

CASEY AFFLECK: I don't understand.

ACTOR: Which part are you having trouble with?

CASEY AFFLECK: Well, I can't be the guardian.

ACTOR: Well…

CASEY AFFLECK: I mean, I can't.

ACTOR: Well, naturally, I assumed Joe had discussed all of this with you.

CASEY AFFLECK: No, he didn't. No.

JEFFREY BROWN: What about it? What stood out there?

ANN HORNADAY: It's a very interior performance.

The thing about Lonergan's movies is that they're really about subtext. And when a movie is really about subtext, the actor has to bring it. The actor has to provide for the audience all the things, the subterranean emotions and feelings that are going on underneath the dialogue, as we just saw in that scene. And Affleck does it just brilliantly.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Mike, and you picked Viola Davis in "Fences," which is the Denzel Washington-directed film of the August Wilson play. Let's look at a clip from that.

DENZEL WASHINGTON: It's not easy for me to admit that I have been standing in the same place for 18 years.

VIOLA DAVIS: Well, I have been standing with you. I have been right here with you, Troy. I got a life, too. I got 18 years of my life just standing in the same spot as you. Don't you think I ever wanted other things? Don't you think I had dreams and hopes? What about my life? What about me?

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Mike, Viola Davis.

MIKE SARGENT: Well, Viola Davis, I have to say, is just one of those actresses who is transformative.

She becomes the character who she is in this. This is based on the play by August Wilson, and it's first in a series, a series of plays that he's done about black life in America during a specific period.

And Viola Davis is, though she's probably going to be nominated as best supporting actress for this, she really, whenever she's on screen, she just takes it. She's won an Emmy. She's won a Tony. And I think she may be one of those few actors who is going win all three and win an Oscar. She is just — she is not just someone who just you watch you act.

She moves you. And she really does in this film.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, how just quickly, before we go, give us something that maybe we just missed altogether that you want to recommend to us.

MIKE SARGENT: Well, I would recommend a film called "Tanna." That'S T-A-N-N-A.

"Tanna" is essentially a Romeo and Juliet story, but it's told by an indigenous people, indigenous actors. It's actually Australia's entry for the Oscars and it made the short list for best foreign film this year. It's a beautifully shot film.

It's in another language, but so much of it is about the dialogue and what goes on. They're star-crossed lovers in a tribe where you can't get together. And I have to say it's just — it's an amazing film.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Ann Hornaday.

ANN HORNADAY: This is a tough one because there were a lot this year.

But one that I really loved watching was called "A Bigger Splash." It's from the Italian director Luca Guadagnino. I think that's how you pronounce his name.


ANN HORNADAY: It stars Tilda Swinton as a rock star who is rusticating in Italy with her boyfriend/husband, I think, who is a filmmaker. She has laryngitis.

JEFFREY BROWN: Sound horrible, right, a horrible life, right?


ANN HORNADAY: No, it is just so luxurious.

And the scenery is beautiful.

JEFFREY BROWN: That's what I meant.

The clothes are beautiful, and she's beautiful. And then Ralph Fiennes shows up as the mischief-maker of the bunch. And he delivers, I think, one of the best performances, the most sort of playful.

And just watching him dance to a Rolling Stones song is worth the price of admission alone.

JEFFREY BROWN: OK, some of the films of 2016.

Ann Hornaday, Mike Sargent, thank you both very much.

ANN HORNADAY: Thank you.

MIKE SARGENT: Thank you.

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