American auteur Richard Linklater has made himself into a great chronicler of the ordinary. Upon the uninitiated's hearing such a description, they might think they're in for the kind of dreary, plotless slog that gives indie movies a bad name. However, while Linklater's films are often plotless, they are also dense with intelligent dialogue, well-observed with the strange byways of life, and often profound in how he's able to translate the mundane into the transcendent. What are his beatific Before films other than two people talking to each other, but that kind of reductive classification is insulting to the layered and knowing portrayal of a relationship contained therein. Nothing happens in Boyhood, but there are few depictions of memory and the passage of time that can rival the powerful experience of watching it. In Everybody Wants Some!!, Linklater's latest, he's superficially at his most frivolous as he follows a team of college baseball players before the start of a new school year. Even here, in a film dedicated to finding something true in the mischiefs, rivalries, and grab-assery of care-free jocks, Linklater is true to form, making yet another irrepressibly alive, effortlessly entertaining masterpiece.
Stop-motion studio Laika cements their place as one of the top creators of animation with Kubo and the Two Strings, their fourth and most visually impressive film thus far. Though they release at a slower rate than Pixar, their only rival at this point, they have perfected the same universal, all-ages appeal while having a stronger overall batting average. With Kubo, Laika goes for spectacle without sacrificing emotional impact, making this a technical and creative achievement on par with any other 2016 release, animated or otherwise.
Joachim Trier's English-language debut begins with the most elemental of images: a newborn grasping his father's finger. Trier's camera lovingly captures this moment, and then he coldly follows the father out the hall as he runs into an old flame and lies about the reason for his being in the hospital. This is one parental relationship of several in the intimate Louder Than Bombs, all in various states of disrepair. Trier paints an elaborate and painful picture of fraying bonds without resorting to melodrama or histrionics, keeping his film at a level of affecting emotional truth.
Nabil Ayouch's harrowing tale of societal breakdown and the forces that emerge after the fall is required viewing for contemporary audiences. Horses of God is essentially the Saudi terrorists-in-training section of Syriana blown out to feature length. It adheres to that film's basic structure of economic privation and alienation driving aimless young men into the seductive arms of radical imams while adding a level of detail that Syriana's hyperlink structure made impossible.
Modern Westerns like No Country For Old Men meets a rural, low-key version of Heat in David Mackenzie's Hell or High Water. With its Texas setting and its equal time given to the crooks and the cops that are chasing them, Mackenzie's film, written by the increasingly impressive Taylor Sheridan, is buoyed along its fairly familiar path by a top-notch cast and a resonant backdrop of scheming bankers and post-industrial blight. A perfect fit for 2016, the film gives a voice to those who want to punch the powerful in the nose by any self-destructive means necessary.
Colombian director Ciro Guerra isn't going down a commercial route with his film Embrace of the Serpent. Filmed in black and white with dreamy, intersecting narratives that don't reveal themselves well into the story, Guerra is keeping the casual viewer at arm's length. Any initial wariness should be set aside, because Embrace of the Serpent is a rich, complex, and rewarding film that is absolutely worth enduring its surface-level difficulty.
Random projects from the MMC Universe.