' Cinema Romantico: Countdown to the Oscars: 5 Moments That Made the Movies in 2016

Monday, February 20, 2017

Countdown to the Oscars: 5 Moments That Made the Movies in 2016


Is there anything more noxious than corporate team-building exercises, attempts by synergy shamans with powerpoint presentations and comprehensive handouts at the behest of higher-ups who do not care in any way, shape or form about who their underlings really are to force those underlings to forge some sort of faux-bond that could be severed at a moment’s notice since everyone - who are you again? - is expendable anyway. Ugh. In “Toni Erdmann”, however, which spends much of its considerable running time deconstructing and skewering the impersonality and inanity of corporate culture, the team-building exercise gets viciously, hilariously sent up, melding management training with an “Eyes Wide Shut”-style soiree which is gloriously WTF? as it sounds, finally, at long last, making “adaptability”, “problem solving” and “trust building” count for something real.


Pablo Larraín’s “Jackie” is based on a real person – that is, Jackie Kennedy, Mrs. John F. Kennedy, First Lady of the United States. But it is also very much not about a real person, more about a myth, the one she shrewdly sculpts to preserve her husband’s legacy in the immediate aftermath of his terrible death, but also her own myth, which we see her shaping during and after. You see this in the movie’s most incredible shot, during the famous funeral procession, which becomes not a march to the cathedral but to Camelot, which Larraín sets at a low angle, looking up, with the gleaming sun at Jackie’s one o’clock and her black veil fluttering in the breeze, revealing her face and then obscuring it again. No, it’s not new to demonstrate the power of the moving picture to allocate immortality but what the hell’s wrong with a finely rendered reminder? Nothing, that’s what, and that’s what this is. She is Natalie Portman; she is Jackie Kennedy; she is a Movie Star. 


There are myriad moments in Kelly Reichardt’s “Certain Women” that revel in reticence, but none more so than the anti-climactic cum climactic drive Lily Gladstone’s nameless Rancher takes in her truck. This happens immediately after she has made an impassioned if terribly awkward confession, kind of, to the lawyer (Kristen Stewart) on whom she has a crush. The lawyer, distracted and perplexed, does not even seem to quite know what is happening just as the Rancher does not quite seem to know what she is doing or saying, essentially retreating before she is even finished saying it. And once back in her truck, the whole spectrum of human emotion, every last one on the Emotion Classification chart, mixes and matches on the face of Gladstone, an astonishing rendering of how agony can lay us bare. 


So much of “Moonlight” is centered on the idea that the lives we lead are a product of the circumstances into which we are born, and no matter how much we may try to resist or get out, we are pulled in anyway, powerless. This is illustrated by the way in which the movie comes full circle in the plight of its protagonist Chiron, underlined by the way in which the camera often circles its characters, and vigorously brought home in the scene where Chiron’s self-appointed sort of mentor and emotionally fraught mother meet in the street. She needs to buy drugs; he sells drugs; he chastises her for buying drugs when she has a son; she chastises him for selling drugs when he looks after her son; so it goes. They stand there, her growling, him grimacing, both right, both wrong, a quick, indelible re-telling of a never-ending story.


As the 2016 American Presidential Election drew nigh and then unspooled, story after story appeared in all manner of publications about small town Americans being left behind and counting on our newly elected to President to remake this country the way it was. But what was ain’t coming back, it never is and it never does, and Texas Ranger Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham) in “Hell or High Water” coulda told you that. A Native American, he is subject to much pointed joshing from his not inconspicuous racist superior Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), most of which washes over Alberto, not because he’s indifferent but because his people have been screwed over so long, with so much of the screwing over coming so long ago that no one wants to be bothered to remember. Not that he is about to let Marcus forget. In a scene set on the corner of a four corner town across from a Texas Midlands Bank, Alberto can only shrug as Marcus laments the way of life dying all around them. “One hundred and fifty years ago,” Alberto says, “all this was my ancestors’ land. Everything you could see. Everything you saw yesterday. Until the grandparents of these folks took it. And now it’s been taken from them. Except it ain’t no army doing it.” And with that, he directs his index finger toward the bank.

“It’s those sons of bitches right there,” he says.

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