In no particular order, here are the movies that made us cry, laugh and scream at the screen this past year. Here’s to more movie magic in 2017.
Manchester by the Sea
Manchester by the Sea‘s magic lies in more than the sum of its parts: yes, Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams’ nuanced performances are note-perfect—imbuing their characters with the right kind of pathos—director Kenneth Lonergan’s script is subtle, smart and remarkably affecting, the cinematography is crisp, muted and respectfully immersive. But what makes Manchester by the Sea more than a melancholy story of family, death and hope, is the tender way in which its individual elements elevate it into a carefully-constructed, unforgettable masterpiece.
An exquisite ensemble effort, Moonlight should be experienced, not retold. Hypnotic in its execution, Moonlight is that rare coming of-age story that plays out like a poetic art piece—intimate, heartbreaking, relatable. But to say Moonlight is about any one thing—the most obvious being the tough coming-of-age of its central character, a black gay male growing up in Miami—would be to discount what makes the movie so triumphant: its vital portrait of African-American culture is a universal, observant and deeply emotive document framed by cogent yet understated cinematic fluorishes.
Director Trey Edward Shult made waves as soon as Krisha—his first full-length feature film—hit the festival circuit in early 2016. And with good reason: Krisha is an incredible film—a brisk, jagged family drama that is, at once, as intense and difficult as it is emotive and humane. Home for Thanksgiving after a decade away from her family, Krisha is ready for reconciliation. Or is she? A seen-before premise gives way for a brutal, honest and poignant character study that plays as a gut-punch of emotional distress.
Antonio Campos’ growing oeuvre is reflective of a strong sense of vision, and a penchant for stories fueled by dramatic protagonists that write their own destiny through actions they direct yet, have no ability to control. Such is Christine, a chilling character study based on the real-life story story of Christine Chubbuck, a newscaster for Sarasota, Fla. based WTOG and WXLT-TV who, in 1974, took her life on air. Like Chelsea from Campos’ Buy It Now before it, Christine‘s titular character is a provocative, tragically complex anti-heroine trapped in the crosshairs of ambition and a damaged psyche. Grim without being sensationalist, Christine rises above its narrow subject matter to question complex matters of identity and self-worth.
Things to Come
Things to Come was not Isabelle Huppert’s only movie that debuted this year—it was her fourth, in fact—but it was the one where she turned in her most affecting performance. Mia Hansen-Løve’s restrained, powerful drama—in which Huppert plays a Parisian academic whose life is rattled by a series of life-altering events—is a contemplatively nuanced reflection on middle-age, tempered with a profoundly moving performance by Huppert. But the movie is as much about Huppert’s controlled, gutsy performanceship as it is about Hansen-Løve’s penchant for crafting emotion without devolving into pathos.