My top picks from the movies we watched last year. As always, the movies may be old, but my viewing was brand new in 2016.
Cloud Atlas (2012)A set of six nested stories spanning time between the 19th century and a distant post-apocalyptic future.
I was stunned at how good this film is. I was amazed at how it would jump from person to person between stories, from moment to moment, and we always knew what was going on, where we were in the story and (most importantly) WHY those moment were parallel. (Ok, maybe not for the first third of the movie. That was the learning phase.)
And by the end, I was in awe that we were watching six completely different genres of movie, along with all the other connections. (Full review here.)
Bridge of Spies (2015)Insurance lawyer James Donovan is tapped by the government first to defend Rudolph Abel for being a Soviet spy, then to go to Berlin and negotiate an exchange of Abel for American U-2 pilot Gary Powers.
An engrossing drama that pulls us back into the Cold War years or, as in my case, evokes all the spy novels I read about that era. I really appreciated the reminder that it is tough-minded, ethical people with the ability to see the big picture who helped keep an even keel then.
3:10 to Yuma (1957)Dave Evans (Van Heflin), a small time farmer, is hired to escort Ben Wade (Glenn Ford), a dangerous outlaw, to Yuma. As Evans and Wade wait for the 3:10 train to Yuma, Wade's gang is racing to free him.
This was a fascinating encounter between two men who have chosen the opposite ways to approach life. Both have regrets, both wrestle with how to live — all in the context of this lean Western. And I never knew Glenn Ford had such a subtle, wicked, serpent-like performance in him.
Tell No One (2016, French)Eight years ago, Alex's wife was murdered.
Today she emailed him.
Fast paced, excellent thriller. (Full review here.)
Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman (2015)I picked this up because my husband loves documentaries and race cars. I expected to tolerate it but instead I fell in love with this well rounded, subtle picture of a deeply private man. (Full review here.)
Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)We were both delighted way beyond expectation by this classic comedy. We knew Alec Guiness played 8 parts but we didn't expect the wonderful script full of nuances which left us slightly shocked (in a happily funny way). We didn't expect the subplots which gave the film comic depth and kept us interested. We didn't expect the skill with which Dennis Price and Joan Greenwood smoothly played their parts. We certainly didn't expect the twist at the end.
This is definitely a movie that isn't watched enough these days.
Departures (2008 Japan)When Daigo is laid off of work he and his wife move back to his family home in a small town. Misunderstanding a job description, he finds himself being trained as an "encoffiner" to prepare corpses before their cremation. This puts him in an uncomfortable position since handling the dead is a taboo subject for Japanese.
By turns poignant, funny, and moving, this is one I've thought of a lot since I saw it. (Full review here.)
The Train (1964)When the Allies are close to Paris, a German officer becomes obsessed with getting a trainload of French art back to Germany. The French Resistance recruits the stationmaster (Burt Lancaster) to help keep the art from leaving France.
A WWII action thriller which pushes us to consider the price of art, national identity and culture against that of human life. I can't stress how excellent Paul Scofield was as the German officer.
Hell or High Water (2016)Two West Texas brothers begin robbing banks but they aren’t typical robberies. They only take loose bills and target branches of one particular bank. They are pursued by a crusty Texas Ranger (Jeff Bridges) nearing the end of his career.
This is a heist film crossed with a modern Western. It was everything we hoped it would be and more. The opening with the deliberate framing of the three crosses begs the question throughout the film — is there a "good thief" and what does that mean beyond the easy Hollywood cliche of good intentions?
The Petrified Forest (1936)A lonely "last stop" gas station near the Petrified Forest brings together a sophisticated wanderer, a young girl longing for adventure, and a gangster who is smarter than he looks.
This classic is known as the film that got Humphrey Bogart noticed, a precursor to film noir, and the first film where the gangster is an American. None of that prepared me for how modern it felt (Slim's character was completely unexpected), how funny it was in places, how artfully it was written, and how wonderful all the acting was. And, yes, Humphrey Bogart was absolutely wonderful in it.
Central Intelligence (2016)A former picked-on nerd, turned CIA superspy, goes to his high school hero for help on his latest mission.
Its a buddy movie, it's an action movie, it's a comedy, and it's fairly predictable. Also, there is some vulgar humor. But it's not really about jumping through high rise windows or quelling knife wielding opponents with a banana. Though those things do happen.
The heart of this movie is about friendship, heroes, bullying, and knowing what matters in life. That heart is what won me over. As well as Dwayne Johnson who, as so many have pointed out, makes the biggest difference with his sweet smile, sincerity, and comic timing. It's fun and it's got The Rock. What more do you need?