Meet the Patels (2015, dir. Geeta and Ravi Patel)
Ravi Patel is in his 30s and unmarried. So is his older sister Geeta. This fact is driving their parents crazy and they both have ignored their traditional views on the matter. For the purposes of this documentary, Ravi decides to humor his parents and let them lead him down the traditional path of Indian arranged marriage with the stipulation that he get the final say on things. This was funnier than most scripted comedies I saw in 2016 and is feel good while not being pandering or saccharine.
Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon (2015, dir. Douglas Tirola)
These days I don’t think we quite understand the impact that print media can have on socio-political issues. The counterculture of the 1960s was the percolator for the ideas that took the soft humor of the Harvard Lampoon and transformed it into a truly iconoclastic work of media. The documentary traces those early days to the big time of the late 1970s to present day where the prestige of the Lampoon has been heavily diluted by big Hollywood. There are a lot of problematic people here and the Lampoon is not presented as without flaws.
\Finding Vivian Maier (2013, dir. John Maloof, Charlie Siskel)
One of my favorite styles of documentary movies is when the filmmakers present the audience with a mystery and the film is how their investigation unfolds. Here we have John Maloof discovering an overwhelming collection of photographs and negatives then using crowdsourcing to uncover the artist behind the work. I won’t spoil revealing who Vivian Maier is other than you get introduced to an incredibly complex woman with a fascinating story.
Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (2014, dir. David Gregory)
If you saw John Frankenheimer’s 1996 adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau and thought the film was just laughably bad you haven’t seen anything. This film details the plans and ultimate failure of the original production, how ex-director Richard Stanley hung around despite being fired, how nature itself turned on the production, and just how such a horrifically terrible movie was made. This works as a nice counterpoint to last year’s Jodorowsky’s Dune as examples of great films that were never made.
Author: The J.T. Leroy Story (2016, dir. Jeff Feuerzeig)
I’ve never read any of the works written by J.T. Leroy but was vaguely familiar with their existence and autobiographical nature. Leroy was apparently a wunderkind, contacting a few author he liked as a teenager in the 1990s and submitting stories that came from his life as the child of a sex worker and as a transperson. Eventually, Leroy ends up in Italy meeting with Asia Argento to develop a film based on his work. However, something seems off and this documentary unfolds the entire convoluted, shocking, and captivating story of who Leroy really was.
DePalma (2015, dir. Noam Baumbach, Jake Paltrow)
Back in 2010 I did a two-month long look at the films of Brian DePalma going back to Sisters and up to present day, some films missed along the way but perfect for me to seek out at a later date. This film is simply an interview with the director intercut with file footage and clips from his films. He talks about the film industry and how you try and make the films you want, how you compromise with studios, and how sometimes you just settle for a smaller audience to make the movies you want. If you are a fan of his work then this is an essential film.
Weiner (2016, dir. Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg)
WTF Anthony Weiner?! I can remember being empowered by the former congressman’s firebrand speeches on the floor of the House. When the news came he was caught up in a sex scandal I, like many who liked him because of his policy views, tried to say we all do regrettable things and hoped he’d get a second chance. With this documentary and more recent news, it’s apparent that Anthony needs serious psychiatric help. In this surprisingly intimate film, we see the relationship between him and wife Huma Abedin as it faces challenges that push it to the breaking point. By the end of the film, it is very obvious his career as a politician is likely over.
Finders Keepers (2015, dir. Bryan Carberry, J. Clay Tweel)
You’ve seen the news items before. Usually under the banner of “News of the Weird” or tagged onto the end of the 6 O’Clock News as a fluff piece. This documentary takes one of those brief stories and explores the humans behind it. Shannon Whisnat was at an auction and bought a grill. He brought the grill home and found a human foot inside. The story of how this foot came to be in this grill is funny, shocking, and heartbreaking. Finders Keepers explores issues of grief, class, and humanity and truly surprised me with what a complex and touching film it was.
Tickled (2016, dir. David Farrier, Dylan Reeve)
Much like Finders Keepers, this starts out as a News of the Weird-type of story. Australian journalist David Farrier stumbles upon Competitive Tickling videos online and thinks it’s an interesting enough story to do a piece on and contacts the organization behind them. His reply is full of homophobic vitriol at the openly gay reporter and instead of dissuading him it strengths Farrier’s resolve to uncover what is really going on with these videos. This path brings Farrier and his co-director to the States and reveals a tragic story of the exploitation of the poor at the hands of a wealthy devil.
Welcome to Leith (2015, dir. Christopher K. Walker, Michael Beach Nichols)
Leith, North Dakota seems an unlikely place for an explosion of tension. When white supremacist Craig Cobb moves to town most residents don’t really know who he is. Once his background and intentions in buying up property are revealed the townspeople, all white save one, unite to push Cobb out. The filmmakers evoke a powerful horror film tone and let the tension simmer on screen. There are some genuinely frightening moments of confrontation at city council meetings between Cobb and the residents. He builds dossiers on these people and uses past tragedies as ways to push their emotional buttons. The film feels incredibly relevant as we struggle to figure out how to occupy the same space as people practicing vile beliefs.
My Top 10 Favorite Comics I Read in 2016
The Vision by Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez-Walta – Without a doubt the best take on The Vision since his creation and arguably one of the best comic runs we’ve ever had. From the first issue to the twelfth the story was tightly plotted and centered around characters. It ended up reading more like a wonderful HBO drama than a traditional superhero comic. Check out my review of the first trade here.
As I have done every year since 2005, I keep a list of every film I watch for the first time in a year. Here are the ten films that topped my list:
10) Super 8 (2011, dir. J.J. Abrams)
This was my most anticipated summer movie and it definitely delivered what I wanted: a return to the wonder filled Spielberg-ian cinema of the late 1970s/early 1980s. It wasn’t a perfect film in terms of an tightly written script, but it was a technically strong film. It also showed Abrams deft hand at recognizing the core elements of a style of filmmaking. I’d like to see him attempt to recreate other iconic mainstream directors’ styles in the future.
9) Blood Simple (1984, dir. The Coen Brothers
This was the only Coen Brothers film I hadn’t seen and I had avoided it for a long time. From production stills I was wary due to the very 80s specific production design. Being so used to a more stylized approach in their modern work, I assumed Blood Simple would be an inferior work whose purpose was more to develop what would be their future style. Was I wrong! Its as if these two men were born with an inherent ability to make perfect films.
8) Dogtooth (2010, dir. Giorgos Lanthimos)
I only became aware of this film with his Oscar nom in the Foreign Language category and was a bit apprehensive at first. What I discovered was a dark allegory that perfectly captures life in a “free” society. Depending on your perspective the film is about governments or the church or authority in general. Its also a great example of the strength of quiet European cinema. The events that unfold in the final minutes will linger with you longer than the majority of films coming out in your local cineplex.
7) Melancholia (2011, dir. Lars von Trier)
I am not a von Trier fanboy, more I admire the idea of what he attempts. I enjoyed Antichrist but didn’t fall in love with it. Melancholia is a different story. I expected a subversion of the sci-fi genre, but what it is here is actually a more faithful ode to science fiction literature than film. This is a short story made film, a perfect example of the fantastic being used as an overlay for a human story. It also has some of the most beautifully composed shots you’ll see in a film this year, particularly the opening montage.
6) Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1978, dir. Steven Spielberg)
This is another of those films that got away from me for a long time. I was very glad I watched this mere days before Super 8, as it got me in the perfect mood for that film. It also reminded me of what an amazing filmmaker Spielberg can be. Since the 1990s, he seems to have become a different filmmaker. While the work he does now isn’t terrible, there is a nostalgic side of me that misses the cinema of wonder. His films now seem more horrific (War of the Worlds, Minority Report, AI) or experimental (The Terminal, Catch Me If You Can, War Horse). Part of me would like to see this Spielberg come back one more time.
5) Rubber (2010, dir. Quentin Dupieux)
You will not see another film like this in your life: A tire comes to life and proceeds to go on a telekinetic killing spree in a world wherein the inhabitants seem to know they are fictional. There is very little to say about this film other than, just got to Netflix and watch it.
4) Red, White, & Blue (2010, dir. Simon Rumley)
This film is the perfect antidote to the mindless torture porn horror craze that seems to be a large part of cinema these days. The opening acts of the film are torturously slow and methodical. But there is a reason why we are introduced so completely to the three main characters. When the violence begins it doesn’t let up and it devastates the audience. Everyone is guilty, yet everyone could plausibly claim innocence. A horror film that will truly haunt you.
3) Amer (2009, dir. Helene Cattet & Bruno Forzani)
This almost wordless homage to the Italian giallo horror genre is one of the most beautiful looking films I saw all year. The film follows one woman from childhood through adolescence to adulthood using the framework of classic 70s European horror. Its incredibly interpretive and hypnotic. I popped it on one Sunday afternoon, expecting something that would simply serve as background noise. I quickly dropped everything I was doing and was fully absorbed.
2) Drive (2011, dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)
I first became familiar with Refn when I saw Bronson (2008) and was fairly impressed. Little did I expect a film of this level of style to emerge years later. Drive was able to capture the atmosphere games like Grand Theft Auto pray they can. Everything about the film felt exactly right, as if all LA Noir type films must be set in an 80s synth inspired environment from now on. It was particularly nice to see Bryan Cranston and a highly out of character Albert Brooks.
1) The Tree of Life (2011, dir. Terence Malick)
Tree of Life is a perfect example of film as art. First, its an incredibly personal work that shows how, as an artist becomes detailed and specific, they in turn become universal. Secondly, it has produced highly passionate and differing reactions. Its the sort of film that upsets some viewers because it asks them to participate on an intellectual level, something many films today do not. It does this, because it respects the audience’s intelligence. Malick is almost more of a composer than a narrative filmmaker, and he produces some very sweet music.
Since 2005, I have been keeping track of the films I watch each year. I also come up with a list of my ten favorite films (old or new) that I saw for the first time that year. Here’s the list, with the full list of all 232 I saw this year after the break. Feel free to ask any questions about films on the big list, my freakish nerd memory will be able to answer you.