Sunday, January 01, 2017


Credit: Ben King/Broad Green Pictures ©
Liam Hemsworth and Kate Winslet in 2016's best unseen movie

Now to deal with the naval-gazing critical ritual of analyzing the quality (or lack thereof) of the previous year's movie output. Unlike most of my peers, I had an aversion to this exercise (and to movie lists in general) when I was a working critic and do it now only for contrarian reasons.

You won't find me rhapsodizing about "Manchester by the Sea," "La La Land" or "Hidden Figures" (all titles that I admire) or any of the other usual suspects of what the experts call "the awards season."  In the spirit of this site, today is devoted to movies ... "neglected and mostly misunderstood."

And, so, my marginalized perspective of 2016...
  • "The Dressmaker" ~ Jocelyn Moorhouse's eccentric ensemble comedy - black and bleak and thoroughly delightful - headed by a frighteningly clear-eyed and focused Kate Winslet is my favorite film of the year, the only movie that I've seen more than once.  It's a loopy revenge farce. Boiling mad, Winslet's Tilly Dunnage returns to Dungatar, the dusty Aussie town and the scene of her terrible childhood. She is out to even the score with the creepy townspeople who tormented her in her youth and levels the entire unpleasant town in a finale that tops DePalma's "Carrie."  The supporting cast includes the invaluable Judy Davis as Winslet's decrepit crone of a mother; Liam Hemsworth as a strapping hunk who moons over Rodgers and Hammerstein's "South Pacific" (and Tilly, of course); Hugo Weaving as a police chief with a fondness for women's clothing; an unrecognizable Kerry Fox as the schoolteacher who was Tilly's chief tormentor; Caroline Goodall as a woman with pretensions who returns to Dungatar to find a suitable wife for her son, and Barry Otto as the evil town pharmacist with posture so bad that it has to be seen to be appreciated.  "The Dressmaker," adapted by Moorhouse and her husband, filmmaker P.J. Hogan ("Muriel's Wedding" and "My Best Friend's Wedding"), from a novel by Rosalie Ham, was developed in 2000 but didn't go into production until 2014.  It played a few film festivals in 2015, attracting little interest, and opened to bizarrely dismissive reviews.  When the dominant gorilla (read: The New York Times) dismisses a film, all the subservient apes usually follow suit.
  • Ten other unlucky or forgotten titles worthy of praise ~  Woody Allen's "Café Society," Matt Ross's "Captain Fantastic," Yorgos Lanthimos's "The Lobster," The Coen Bros.' "Hail, Caesar," Luca Guadagnino's "A Bigger Splash," Susanna White's "Our Kind of Traitor," Derek Cianfrance's "The Light Between Oceans," Warren Beatty's "Rules Don't Apply," Max Showalter's "Hello, My Name Is Doris" and Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon's "Sausage Party." That adds up to ... 11?
  • Hero reduction has become a popular blood sport among critics and, this year, two solid films inspired by modern history were shrugged off, largely because their makers (both masters) are no long trendy.  Oliver Stone's "Snowden" and Clint Eastwood's "Sully" both present rare, fresh insight into stories that have been covered to death by our relentless 24/7 news cycle.  Refreshingly old-fashioned in their storytelling, both are compulsively watchable.
  • And now ~ ta-da ~ for the actors you won't find at this year's Oscarcast.  Best actor Hugh Grant / "Florence Foster Jenkins." Best actress Sally Field / "Hello, My Name Is Doris."  Supporting Actor Stellan Skarsgård / "Our Kind of Traitor." Supporting Actress Margo Martindale / "The Hollars." Bravo to them all.


George Till said...

I also saw "The Dressmaker" twice and hope to see it again. I know it received a very limited release but I had no idea that the critics dismissed it. I can't see why.

David Scott Chadwick said...

First time reader. Just found your site and like it a lot. Re "The Dressmaker," it really does fit the description "neglected and mostly misunderstood." I liked that it had so many characters. Sort of an Australian "Auntie Mame," only evil.

joe baltake said...

David- I like your "Auntie Mame" comparison. Yes, it like an evil variation, but I'd ad that it's deliciously evil.

Sheila said...

I saw "The Dressmaker," too, Joe, and liked it but not as much as you. Still, I don't understand why the critics wrote it off.

joe baltake said...

Sheila- A lot of it has to do with the day-to-day process of reviewing. Critics want to be honest but there's also an awareness that what they say about films is being observed by their editor, their readers and the studios. It's difficult not to be self-conscious and self-monitoring: Am I too positive? Do I like too many flms? Am I a pushover for movies? Am I too negative? Have I written too many pans? There's the famous situation of a critic for a major paper who was taken off the beat because he negatively reviewed a film that the top editor (and a majority of other critics)liked. Franchise movies are generally well-reviewed or reviewed carefully because they tend to be popular with a newspaper's readership and a critic does not want to appear to be out-of-touch with his/her readers. And so, when so many marginal films get positive reviews, your average critic usually saves his/her venom for the safest target - a film like "The Dressmaker." I'm sure any critic reading this will disagree. But then, critics don't take criticism as easily as they hand it out.