For those of you who enjoyed the first half of my list of the year’s best films ( #’s 12-7), here are my Top 6:
(6) BRIGHT LIGHTS: This is a TV documentary on the very unusual mother/daughter relationship of two women that have been film royalty for several generations. None other than the sexy, witty and iconic Carrie Fisher and her classy, multi talented and Hollywood legend mother, Debbie Reynolds. I have never picked a TV movie as one of my top films of the year before, but this year I have made an exception. I actually saw this film at a screening several months ago, when both stars were very still much alive. I was fascinated by the complexity and machinations of their relationship. If you were as sad as I was when they both passed away within a day of each other, by seeing this film currently running on HBO, you will understand why. After many years of estrangement, these two very different women loved and needed the other so much, one just couldn’t live without the other. to prove what I am saying, they even lived next door to each other. Bright Lights is a very unusual love story, that of a mother and daughter, who were indeed each other’s very best friend. A 2011 film also currently running on HBO is a MUST SEE for Carrie Fisher fans. “Wishful Drinking” captures Carrie onstage making fun of the highs and lows of both her life, her loves, her mental illness, her addictions and of course,her family. If you missed it, please read my December blog on the passing of Carrie and Debbie.
(5) THE PEOPLE v. O.J. SIMPSON: AMERICAN CRIME STORY: Oh no, another TV movie, and this one was 10 episodes, but the time spent watching it just flew by. This is a chapter of of Los Angeles history, that many of us would like to forget. But, it was also an very important part of our lives for quite awhile some 2 decades ago. I said I didn’t want to watch this, but I did. My conclusion: This may be one of the best TV movies ever made. The original Roots from the 1970’s, and 1998 bio film of The Temptations are my other two favorites. The cast was very compelling with the most dynamic performances by Sarah Paulson as Marsha Clark, Courtney B. Vance as Johnny Cochran, Sterling K. Brown as Christopher Darden, and David Scwhimmer as Robert Kardashian. Seeing his daughters as children didn’t really alert us as to what was to come from them…or did it ? Nathan Lane, and Bruce Greenwood were also quite good. Reactions of the families and persons actually involved in this LA nightmare were mixed. Marsha Clark loved it, and attended the Emmy Awards with Sarah Paulson. The mini series won 9 Emmy’s total, Sarah won an Emmy and Golden Globe for her performance, and may have a SAG Award coming next. All 10 episodes will be running on Netflix soon.
(4) MANCHESTER BY THE SEA: Casey Affleck has always been my favorite Affleck. He is low key, and doesn’t seem impressed with himself which makes him just a regular guy. Casey was perfect for this role as a minimum wage unassuming janitor in Boston. However, this quiet guy has quite a history, and is totally depressed because of it. His older brother (Kyle Chandler), lives in Manchester, which really is by the sea, and we witness beautiful scenery both with the New England foliage, the boats, and of course, the sea. His brother also has a very precocious son (Lucas Hedges), who no matter what age, always seems much older than he is. His brother passes away when the son is only 16, and leaves instructions for Affleck to be his son’s guardian until he is 18. At this point in the film, the son is dangling at least two girlfriends, and may actually be a more mature well rounded character than his uncle. Affleck’s character is a very broken man, and feels he is extremely unqualified to take on the task of raising his nephew, even if it is only for two years. I can’t disclose any more as it would ruin it for you. Michelle Williams plays Affleck’s ex-wife, another very tragic character due to a shared past with Affleck. Manchester By The Sea is a slow moving somewhat depressing film, but somehow also sprinkled with humor, and a gorgeous aesthetic background, thanks to writer and director Kenneth Lonergan.
(3) HELL OR HIGH WATER: 2016 was a year full of political chaos, financial hardships for some, and confusion for many. Directed by David MacKenzie, Hell Or High Water is a modern day Western that taps into all of this, and more. Set in West Texas in a severe financial depression, Chris Pine, Captain Kirk from “Star Trek,” plays Toby, whose family farm will be taken away from his heirs if he doesn’t raise some money quick. His brother Tanner is a career criminal, played by Pine’s real life best friend, Ben Harper 3:10 To Yuma. Harper would normally steal the show as the crazy psycho that commands your attention, but Pine proves he really can act, as the very low key, yet sympathetic character, who has has decided he and his brother should rob every branch of the bank that is foreclosing on them, and only THAT bank. Lots of interesting common folk cross their paths during these sometimes violent escapades, but the one they really need to worry about, is a soon to retire sheriff, played by Oscar winner Jeff Bridges. An excellent cast, great contemporary plot, and colorful if somewhat authentic West Texas scenery make Hell Or High Water one of the very best films of the year.
(2) LA LA LAND: I have always thought the term “La La Land” not only insulted Los Angeles, but in some ways described it perfectly. If you read my blog on this last month, you already know this may be the best musical since Grease. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are the singing, dancing romantic leads, but Southern California should also get top billing. You will see Pasadena’s Colorado Bridge, the Hermosa Beach Pier, Griffith Observatory, Hermosa Beach’s Lighthouse Jazz Club/Cafe, the Warner Bros backlot in Burbank, the (now closed) Rialto Theater in South Pasadena, and the well known ramp connecting the 105 to the 110 Freeways. The ramp was totally stopped, of course, but set the stage for a fantastic opening scene. La La Land director Damien Chazelle did such an excellent job of featuring the famous and much loved locales of SoCal, some permanent changes may be coming to the Hermosa Beach Pier (not a very attractive pier until Damien tweeked it up), and the Lighthouse Cafe. Here are two links to Michael Hixon’s stories on this in ‘The Beach Reporter, Hermosa Beach’s historic Lighthouse Cafe is setting for ‘La La Land” and ‘Should Hermosa Beach add “La La Land” lights to its pier?‘ Although I didn’t like the ending of La La Land as much as the rest of the movie, I should have seen it coming. There are references to Casablanca and Paris all thru the film, with a similar result. In any event, La La Land is a love song dedicated to all of us who live here. Once you see it, you will probably agree.
(1) HIDDEN FIGURES: Our history books are sometimes lacking, and in this case it was a huge omission. When I first saw this movie, I thought, “It may be the best film of the year.” Several months later, I knew it was! Hidden Figures traces the lives of three black women that you probably have never heard of that worked for NASA in the 1960’s. If it wasn’t for them, astronaut John Glenn may never have gone into space. Glenn saw this film right before he died, and loved it. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae play the pioneers. Kevin Costner (a composite character), is their boss who finally realizes that women doing this type of important work are very special people, and shouldn’t be treated as 2nd class citizens. All give very strong performances.
Something you may not know, Oscar winner Octavia Spencer rented an entire theater this past weekend in LA, so that underprivileged families could see this important film. I love Octavia anyway, but that makes her even more special. However, remembering why she won that Oscar for The Help,I must admit, I would still not accept a piece of pie from her.