Trusty cinema reviewer Brian Gibson gives the low-down on his favourite films of the year
Paterson (Jim Jarmusch)
Day in, day out, Paterson, a bus driver in Paterson, NJ (the setting and title of William Carlos Williams’ epic poem), whittles away at his lines in a little notebook that his wife, an artist, encourages him to make copies of. An iridescent reflection of the quiet, steady work of poem-making. A big-screen study, in small moments, of serendipity, and a glittering distillation of Jarmusch’s wry, dry, urban-bohemian style.
City of Ghosts (Matthew Heineman)
Undercover and gone-underground reporting, journalism battles extremism to the death. The leaders of Raqqa are being slaughtered silently, a citizen-group reporting on ISIS in their occupied hometown, who flee after one member’s killed. Moving among safehouses abroad, they continue marshalling reports of ISIS’s medieval brutalities. Rarely has the information-war seemed so urgent and necessary, so horrendously high stakes.
Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig)
Screwball-comedy meets teen-picaresque in a California re-dreaming. Gerwig’s wry, wise, whimsical re-imagining of her final year of Catholic high-school in Sacramento only confirms this story as a marvelous coming-of-artist tale.
Loveless (Andrei Zvyagintsev)
This allegory-meets-thriller bathes us in a family, and society, in meltdown. Slow, steady push-ins mirror in-wrought passions as the spiritual void of Putin-era Russia ripples out, out, out.
A Ghost Story (David Lowery)
Reframes and re-views grief as dissociative, dislocating, time-looping, and all-shrouding—especially for the lost one, lingering behind, draped in a sheet with forlorn eyeholes, waiting and waiting in the house that he last lived in. Waiting for … solace?
Lady Macbeth (William Oldroyd)
Corset-grippingly restrained, this mid-Victorian thriller (based on a Russian novel) reimagines Shakespeare’s anti-heroine. A slit-eyed, amoral gaze at one young wife wresting back power in straitened circumstances.
Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve)
Villeneuve’s eerie-sublime sequel, more introspective, existential, and atmospherically arthouse than its replicant-forefather, is haunted by allusions—to the Bible, Pygmalion and Galatea, Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” even Pinocchio. Hover cars through a future where desire’s virtualized and biological love’s a strangely nostalgic new hope.
Graduation (Cristian Mungiu)
Innocence is lost as a father—working Romania’s quid-pro-quo system to help keep his daughter’s scholarship to an English university—must teach his child the corrupt way of their world. Shame, moral taint, and suspicion seep out as Mungiu knifes us up to the hilt in a society of cracked and cracking-apart façades.
The Other Side of Hope (Aki Kaurismaki)
The Finnish master-chef cooks up deadpan comedy (including restaurant shenanigans) and refugee-drama as delectable fusion-food. Syrian migrant Khaled’s struggle to stay in a country so bureaucratically indifferent to him is told with quiet, searing power.
Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan)
A clock-ticking thriller of a war-retreat film, harrowing and harrying. Its minimalist approach (scant dialogue), maximalist scope (sweeping panoramas of: anxiously waiting soldiers, flotillas, a besieged town), and cross-cutting (through the span of a week and swaths of sea and sky) beach us among British forces’ great escape from the continent, June 1940.
My Life As A Zucchini (Claude Barras)
All sweetness-and-dark, this stop-motion animation about orphans and abandoned children brings together puppets, crayon-colours, and hard-won sentiment. So much tender emotion’s baggage-packed into these 65 minutes.
Honourable Mentions: After the Storm; Aquarius; The Salesman; Get Out; Divines; Wind River; Logan Lucky; Logan; mother!; The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki
Special small-screen mention: True-crime TV documentary-series The Keepers (Ryan White).