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.