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Mainstream Chick’s Top Picks of 2016

It’s that time of year – when friends, family, and strangers in the elevator ask, “Hey, Did you see [fill in the blank]? Is it any good? What’s your favorite movie of 2016?” Well, here I attempt to answer those questions as succinctly as possible — with a countdown of my top ten movies of the year (12 if you count the ties), as well as a bunch of honorable mentions. They are films that resonated for one (positive) reason or another and represent a broad range of genres. Check ’em out!

Neruda

Chilean poet Pablo Neruda received a Nobel prize for literature in 1974 and is considered by many to be one of the greatest who ever lived. More poem than biopic, Neruda is a creatively told imagining of one portion of his life. In 1948, the Chilean government outlawed the Communist Party (prodded by the US government) and Neruda (Luis Gnecco) suddenly went from esteemed Senator to revered fugitive with the doggedly determined police investigator Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal) on his tail. It is through this chase that Neruda’s character and the wide influence of his work are revealed, and Peluchonneau is brought under Neruda’s spell. It is really quite wonderful!

Mainstream Chick’s 2013 Year in Review

I don’t particularly like lists – especially where movies are concerned because so much depends on what you’re hoping to gain, and the kind of mood you’re in. I generally want to be entertained. If I leave a theater happy, or at least content with what I saw, then the movie did its job. With that said, here’s my list of the best, worst and not bad flicks from among the dozens I happened to see in 2013. Click on the titles to see the full review (don’t worry – they’re short and sweet).

THE BEST:

1. The Way, Way Back 2. Rush 3. Side Effects 4. The Conjuring 5. 12 Years a Slave 6. American Hustle 7. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire 8. Saving Mr. Banks 9. Man of Steel 10. A 10-way tie among the following: Frozen, Philomena, Captain Phillips, Gravity, Enough Said, The Butler, The Kings of Summer, 20 Feet from Stardom, The Book Thief, Prisoners

Battle Royale

I am sure that most of you have heard of or read or watched The Hunger Games by now, but when it came out on the screen, I read a lot of posts that questioned its originality and referred to the Japanese movie Battle Royale, which came out in 2000, as the first of the kids battling kids to the death flicks. So I put it in my Netflix queue and pretty much forgot about it, but then it appeared in my mailbox and I had to watch and see if the comparisons were in fact fair.

Seriously, A Serious Man?

Seriously? That’s what I thought when I heard the Coen Brothers film announced as an Oscar nominee for best picture. It’s out on DVD now and I have to admit I saw it a while ago but I struggled with my review because all I wanted to say about it was “I hated it.” I can’t help but think that if anybody but Joel and Ethan Coen (Academy darlings that they are) had made this movie, it would never have been nominated for an Academy Award.

Sunshine Cleaning

I will repeat what I said before; what is the deal with Amy Adams? I don’t get it that she is all over the place, pretty much playing the same role over and over. In Sunshine Cleaning, she is a sweet, well-meaning girl who is not making ends meet and not having the life everyone thought she would when she was a popular cheerleader in high school. Here she is a single mom, with a married boyfriend, barely making a living as a maid. Her kid has some behavior problems in school and they suggest she put him somewhere that can deal with him, i.e. private school she cannot afford. The married boyfriend who is a cop suggests that maybe she could make more money cleaning up after dead people – some homicides, a suicide or two and lots of people who died at home. And so she starts her Sunshine Cleaning business and hires her deadbeat sister to help her.

Apres Vous

If you’re looking for a tasty little French romantic comedy, Apres Vous is just the ticket. Nothing deep here, nor laugh out loud funny, but the French have a way with the romances and I have a thing for Daniel Auteuil. Here he stars as a restaurant manager (Antoine) who saves a stranger in the park (Louis) from hanging himself and then tries to repair his life. He finagles him a job as sommelier at his restaurant but things get a bit more complicated when he decides to get Louis and his ex-girlfriend Blanche back together. Of course, he falls for her himself losing his own girlfriend along the way. He can’t tell the suicidal Louis, but cannot help himself and naturally Louis finds out.

Broken English

This is the epitome of a chick flick: Nora is 30-something single woman in New York City, friends are all partnered up, she only meets loser guys, she is feeling lonely, drinking too much, having anxiety attacks, and basically spiraling out of control. But just when it gets to the edge of too much, in pops charming Frenchman Julien. By now she is totally jaded and nearly pushes him away, but succumbs to his charms and allows herself to have a wonderful weekend with him only to find that he is leaving to go back to France. So what does she do? After a bit of soul searching and a visit to a psychic, she quits her job and heads to Paris to see him. Only she loses his number (and he has a name like Smith so no phone book.) Won’t spoil the ending, but it is mostly a fun little movie.

Australia

I kind of wanted to see it when it was in the theaters, but it didn’t stay around that long and I missed it. Glad I saved the 9 bucks. Australia is a mess. There are four writers credited and I suspect there were lots more. And Good God, it is long! And what is it really about? Who’s story is it? Is it the beautiful boy’s? He is the best part, but even there the story is a muddle. As for genres, it’s western/romance/war epic/political drama with a dash of the Wizard of Oz for good measure. And it is one layer of cliches on top of another. Oh, and about that romance — the chemistry between Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman is not even remotely there. The politically correct thread about the treatment of the Aborigines is just not that affecting. In fact, none of the epic qualities that they tried for really work. They have so many elements here to work with– the vast otherness of Australia, the archetypal evil rival cattlemen, the dark coming of the war, the upper crust English lady cum fish out of water meets outback Drover romance, the wickedly misguided white people stealing the Aborigine children — and yet there is no focus. They are trying to tell too many stories at once and end up seeming to say nothing.

Ikiru 生きる & Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles 千里走单骑

I rented two films this week that coincidentally both center on older men and fractured relationships with their grown sons. Why do so many men and their fathers have such stormy relationships? Is it a testosterone thing? Of course it makes for good drama, though I am not sure men go out of their way to see films that remind them that their machismo gets in the way of a close bond. (We’ll leave the mother-daughter thing for a later time.) Ikiru 生きる, “To Live” (1952), a classic from Kurosawa, deals with a career bureaucrat finding out that he has only 6 months to live, who when he realizes that his own son is not there for him, goes out to find meaning elsewhere. Riding Alone For Thousands of Miles 千里走单骑 (2005) by Zhang Yimou is about a Japanese fisherman finding out that his son who is dying of cancer doesn’t want to see him, so he goes to China to shoot a folk opera his son had planned on filming and ends up getting involved in another father’s and son’s relationship.