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by Robert Horton

Contributor

Video: Framing Pictures – February 2017

Film critics and Seattle film mavens Kathleen Murphy, Richard T. Jameson, and Robert Horton discuss the 2017 Oscar race in the February edition of Framing Pictures, just the thing to prepare for the presentation of the Academy Awards on Sunday, February 26.

These discussions are held in the screening room of Scarecrow Video on the second Friday of every month and are free to attend. The Seattle Channel records and presents many of these a few weeks later on the Seattle Channel.

You can also watch it on the Seattle Channel website.

Keep up with the discussion at the Framing Pictures Facebook page.

Review: A United Kingdom

As variations on “We can’t see each other anymore” go, this film’s plot has novelty: After enjoying a wonderful first date in postwar London, the young woman makes it clear to the young man that she would like to see him again. He hesitates, clearly preparing to tell her the truth about something. The sad thing is, he explains, his grandfather was a royal personage and his parents died young, so he really must return to his native country and be—you know—the king. This is not the beginning of an Ernst Lubitsch comedy from the 1930s, but a slice of history based on the story of Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo, from Selma), the royal heir of Bechuanaland—now called Botswana—and Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), the Englishwoman he married.

In A United Kingdom, the marriage of a black African man and a white British woman is an important part of the plot, and for the first half-hour or so it appears this is what the film will be about.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: The Son of Joseph

It is always exciting when a filmmaker comes out of nowhere with a fully formed and distinctively new way of seeing the world. It adds intrigue, and a certain amount of wonder, when that filmmaker is in his 60s. Actually, Eugène Green was a youthful 50-something when he made his first feature in 2001, but it’s his two most recent pictures that have garnered international exposure: La Sapienza, a 2014 look at a married couple against a backdrop of architectural history, and his latest, The Son of Joseph. Green’s style is formal, almost stilted: Characters pose in front of luscious European settings, reciting their lines with sincerity but little melodrama; when the conversation becomes especially intimate, the people speak directly at the camera. Most movies use naturalism as a way of getting to something real. Green goes the opposite direction, with the same goal.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: Toni Erdmann

Movie comedy lacks a wild streak. We get funny films occasionally, and certainly there are performers who can get nutsy in short spurts—as Melissa McCarthy’s instant-classic White House press-briefing sketch on last weekend’s Saturday Night Live proved. But the storytelling in most comedies now is tame and tidy, or merely a framework in which comedians can improvise. It’s so rare that a modern comedy takes off in the style of a His Girl Friday or Some Like It Hot, where the story devices accelerate and the whole thing goes aloft in a dizzying and demented trajectory. Silver Linings Playbook is a notable recent example of that kind of glorious madness.

The German film Toni Erdmann, Oscar-nominated in this year’s Best Foreign Language category, is a true wild one. It doesn’t achieve craziness in the rocketing manner of a Hollywood screwball comedy, but by its own slowly zany method.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: I Am Not Your Negro

Public intellectuals,” as a species, once roamed the American airwaves. If you flipped on a talk show in 1963 or 1971, you might easily have heard Norman Mailer or Lillian Hellman or William F. Buckley orating at great length and with enormous erudition on the issues of the day, whether the subject was modern art, baseball, or the Vietnam War. There was the presumption that some people were so learned they could spout off on just about anything and come up with penetrating thoughts.

We’ve pretty well demonized the term “intellectual” in America since then—certainly no political candidate would ever dream of using the word as a self-description.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: Julieta

He is now 68, but in recent years Pedro Almodóvar hasn’t been making films like an old master. His astonishing The Skin I Live In (2011) blended identity politics with Frankenstein and The Island of Dr. Moreau, in a mix that apparently disturbed even his ardent fans (I think it may be one of his greatest films). I’m So Excited (2013) was either too silly or not silly enough in its embrace of zany comedy. But then who wants Almodóvar, once the bad boy of international cinema, to behave like an old master?

Like it or not, Julieta has an unmistakably masterly touch. This is a controlled, sure-handed drama, made so that every scene is in place. The acting is uniformly excellent, the production design impeccable. Almodóvar’s expressive use of color is wonderful to watch—he might be making a Technicolor Hollywood melodrama in the 1950s. I wonder if this mastery itself could explain why the movie, strong in many ways, also feels just a bit vacuum-sealed.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: 20th Century Women

There’s a talking dog in Beginners, the 2010 movie that won Christopher Plummer a supporting-actor Oscar. To be precise, the dog speaks in subtitles, which might make the premise easier, or possibly harder, to take. As a general rule I am not opposed to talking-canine scenarios; for instance, the title pet of the cult picture A Boy and His Dog makes a strong argument for the idea. But in Beginners, it was one thing too many in a film that already pushed the boundaries of cuteness.

Its writer/director, Mike Mills, returns with 20th Century Women, a movie with an attractive premise and cast. It’s set in 1979—a cool time to be young, despite what you may have heard—and it puts three distinctive actresses at the forefront of a coming-of-age story.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: Paterson

If Paterson, New Jersey, already seems overblessed with great poets—William Carlos Williams and Allen Ginsberg both laid claim to the place—Jim Jarmusch believes it may have room for one more. In Jarmusch’s Paterson, the bard in question is a bus driver, an agreeable young man who organizes his life according to a timetable. He has to; he’s a bus driver. But he also writes poetry, and periodically we see his poems projected on the screen. They are written in the off minutes of his job, and they have the beguiling lightness of words written in off minutes. Despite the appearance of casualness, we can see that these words are carefully and precisely chosen.

That is of course a description of the peculiar charm of Jarmusch’s own movies, which—from Stranger Than Paradise to his 2013 gem Only Lovers Left Alive—have projected a superbly crafted shagginess. Paterson joins this list, and is one of the most pleasurable movies in recent memory.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: Hidden Figures

If it were more purely about the workplace and less about the homefront, Hidden Figures might have an even stronger case for shining a light on unknown American history. The history in this case surrounds NASA and the lives of three black women who set a new standard for the status of African-Americans in the space program. The three women only occasionally overlap, but we meet them in an outstanding opening scene as they carpool to NASA’s Virginia site in the early 1960s. A minor problem stops the car, which is really no challenge given the mechanically minded women driving it; the ladies bide their time with jokes and easy, confident banter as they tinker with the engine. Then a police cruiser stops by, and the freeze that descends over the scene is immediate. The cop isn’t especially menacing; but these are black women and a white police officer in the Jim Crow South, and that is enough for instant watchfulness.

A terrific moment, which though defused sets the tone for what is to come. Throughout Hidden Figures the reality of being black and female is presented as a struggle that never ends.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Parallax View’s Best of 2016

Welcome 2017 with one last look back at the best releases of 2016, as seen by the Parallax View contributors and friends and a few special invitations.

Sean Axmaker

1. Elle (Paul Verhoeven)
2. Cemetery of Splendor (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
3. Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan)
4. Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie)
5. Sully (Clint Eastwood)
6. The Handmaiden (Park Chan-wook)
7. Neruda (Pablo Larrain)
8. Paterson (Jim Jarmusch)
9. American Honey (Andrea Arnold)
10. Our Little Sister (Kore-eda Hirokazu)
Could have made the list on another day: Arrival, Don’t Think Twice, Hail, Caesar!, Jackie, La La Land, The Lobster, Love & Friendship, Moonlight, The Neon Demon, The Witch

Pure moviegoing joys of the year: Sing Street (John Carney), Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waititi)

Performance of the year: Isabelle Huppert in Elle

Worst film of the year (in a year when I managed to skip most of what everyone else has branded as terrible): Nocturnal Animals

Also a list at Village Voice, plus lists of Best Restorations / Revivals of 2016 and Best Blu-ray/DVD Releases of 2016

Sheila Benson

1. Moonlight
2. Paterson
3. Toni Erdmann
4. Manchester by the Sea
5. I, Daniel Blake
6. Elle
7. Loving
8. The Handmaiden
9. A Bigger Splash
10. Aferim!
Also a list at Village Voice

David Coursen

It includes only films screened in D.C in 2016. Numbers 5-7 were shown only once; the others had more extended runs.
1. Manchester by the Sea
2. Mountains May Depart
3. No Home Movie
4. Moonlight
5. The President
6. Sieranevada
7. Behemoth
8. Little Men
9. Remember
10. Sully
Honorable Mention: Mustang, Certain Women, The Handmaiden

No D.C. venue saw fit to screen the monumental Out 1: Noli me Tangere, so it’s not included. But even in the diminished format of a Netflix streaming and with all the ludicrous writhing and moaning, it’s such a grand and heroically ambitious muddle that I likely would have made it a rather incongruous neighbor of Moonlight.

John Hartl

Moonlight
Manchester by the Sea
Indignation
13th
Captain Fantastic
The Lobster
Hell or High Water
A Man Called Ove
The Innocents
La La Land
A second 10: Florence Foster Jenkins, A War, Love & Friendship, Family Fang, Take Me to the River, Arrival, Weiner, Southside With You, Snowden, Sparrows.

Robert Horton
(originally published in Seattle Weekly)

1. Aquarius
2. Our Little Sister
3. The Fits
4. Cemetery of Splendor
5. Things to Come
6. Everybody Wants Some!!
7. Sully
8. Paterson
9. Green Room
10. Aferim!
Runner-ups: My Golden Days, The Lobster, American Honey, Les Cowboys, Certain Women, Disorder, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight, The Love Witch, Love & Friendship.

Richard T. Jameson

I have some key 2016 releases to catch up on, so this alphabetical listing simply celebrates ten films I liked a lot.
American Honey
Aquarius
Arrival
Cemetery of Splendor
Elle
Green Room
Hell or High Water
Manchester by the Sea
Paterson
Sully
Things to Come

Oh … that’s eleven.  OK, so it’s eleven.

Jay Kuehner
(originally published on IndieWire)

1. Toni Erdmann
2. Cemetery of Splendor
3. Aquarius
4. Kate Plays Christine
5. Neon Bull
6. Happy Hour
7. Right Now, Wrong Then
8. Homeland: Iraq Year Zero
9. Certain Women
10. Moonlight

Moira Macdonald
(originally published in The Seattle Times)

In alphabetical order:
Arrival
Fences
The Handmaiden
Hell or High Water
The Innocents
La La Land
Loving
Maggie’s Plan
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight
Other movies I loved, any of which might have made the first list on a different day, were L’Attesa, Certain Women, Christine, Dark Horse, Don’t Think Twice, Finding Dory, Little Men, Love & Friendship, Our Little Sister, Southside With You, Tower.

Andrew Wright
(originally published in Salt Lake City Weekly)

1. Paths of the Soul
2. The Fits
3. Shin Godzilla
4. Elle
5. Hell or High Water
6. Green Room
7. The Witch
8. Tower
9. Manchester by the Sea
10. Arrival
Also a list at Seattle Screen Scene and links to reviews of select films here

Filmmakers

Megan Griffiths (director, Eden, Lucky Them, The Night Stalker)
(originally published in The Talkhouse)

1. Moonlight
2. American Honey
3. Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell
4. Uncle Kent 2
5. Free in Deed
6. 13th
7. Captain Fantastic
8. Manchester by the Sea
9. Lamb
10. The Lobster

John Jeffcoat (director, Bingo: The Movie, Outsourced, Big in Japan)

This is one bizarre list. It shows I have kids and I didn’t get out much in 2016! And that TV continues to stay strong (sorry I cheated with the TV shows).
Captain Fantastic
Deadpool
Storks (biggest surprise, I may have been drinking)
Doctor Strange
Cameraperson
Minimalism
Rogue One
Goliath
Silicon Valley
Stranger Things (my favorite)

Jennifer Roth (executive producer: The Wrestler, Black Swan, Laggies, Blood Father)

Alphabetical order because I kind of liked them all equally.
Certain Women
Gimme Danger
Green Room
Hell or High-water
I, Daniel Blake
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight
Paterson
Sing Street
Weiner

Lynn Shelton (director, Humpday, Your Sister’s Sister, Laggies)

There were many films that I didn’t get a chance to see this past year so this list comes from a limited survey. That being said, I feel very strongly about every one of them.
Moonlight
13th
The Lobster
Victoria
Arrival
American Honey
Moana
Kubo and the Two Strings
Hell or High Water
Atlanta *
*this is not a movie, it is a TV show on FX, but it is so anti-television in its cadence and cinematography and writing that I felt a very strong urge to include it in this list.

Rick Stevenson (director, Magic in the Water, Expiration Date, The Millennials)

La La Land
Captain Fantastic
Moonlight
Hell or High Water
Fences
Hidden Figures
Manchester by the Sea
Love & Friendship
The Lobster
Silence

Programmers

Beth Barrett (Interim Artistic Director, SIFF)
(originally published on IndieWire)

In no order, here are 10 works that really affected me in 2016:
Tower
La La Land
Stranger Things
Captain Fantastic
Moonlight
Tickled
Kedi
Midnight Special
Arrival
The Handmaiden
Every year I resolve to see more, champion more unknowns, and challenge myself more. Going into 2017, I resolve to make sure that the stories of the world keep getting seen.

Courtney Sheehan (Executive Director, Northwest Film Forum)
(originally published on Seattle Screen Scene)

1. Kaili Blues (Bi Gan)
2. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)
3. Fire at Sea (Gianfranco Rosi)
4. A Rendering*
5. Los Sures (Diego Echeverria)
6. Right Now, Wrong Then (Hong Sangsoo)
7. Cameraperson (Kirsten Johnson)
8. No Home Movie (Chantal Akerman)
9. Crumbs (Miguel Llansó)
10. Tower (Keith Maitland)
Not yet released: Lily Lane, Ma, Rat Film, The ChallengeKino OtokThe Black PinMy Own Private WarStarless Dreams
Recalling 2015’s best unreleased films, all of which subsequently played Seattle in 2016 except for The EventAbove and BelowCemetery of SplendorMen Go to BattleUncle Kent 2, My Golden Days, A War, The Event
*The only short on this list, by LIMITS, or Seattle-based choreographer/dancer Corrie Befort and sound artist/musician Jason E. Anderson. Video shot and edited by Adam Diller.

More Seattle lists:

Mike Ward has been polling Seattle film critics for the Seattle Film Awards for a few years. The winners for 2016 will be announced in early January. UPDATE: Winners announced January 5.

Seattle Screen Scene invited film critics for their own compilation.

Polls / Lists

Village Voice
Time Out London
Slant
Sight and Sound / BFI
Roger Ebert.com
Indiewire
Film Comment

Other lists

2016 additions to the Library of Congress National Film Registry
Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell’s Ten Best Films of … 1926
A Year of Loss (David Hudson remembers those we lost in 2016)

Robert Horton on The Finest Films of 2016

While everybody else wonders whether 2016 was the worst year since 1968, or simply the worst year ever, the conversation in the world of cinema has brightened of late. Yes, for much of the movie year, 2016 was declared calamitous. Maybe movies were dead, or maybe were they merely much worse than television. And then (as always) a bushel of terrific, smart, challenging films arrived in the final weeks. From the vantage point of December, cinema looks very much alive.

The biggest disappointment of the movie year was Hollywood itself, and not just because Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are calling it quits, devastating as that may be to our lives. The cycle of remakes and sequels was more relentless than ever, and they seemed emptier this year than usual. Of the superhero genre, only Deadpool showed signs of life … by ridiculing the clichés of superhero movies, And it made a lot of money doing so. Meanwhile, a would-be franchise starter, Warcraft, offered more fun than anything on the Marvel slate, but flopped in the U.S., although the international market—crucial to a blockbuster’s success now—saved the day.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: La La Land

It aspires to gossamer and moonbeams, to bygone eras of jazz and black-and-white movies, to Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse. It has scenes of people breaking into song and dance in the middle of dialogue. They used to call these musicals.

How can any movie lover, or any civilized person really, be against La La Land?? Let me try to explain. The idea is swell, and the spirited efforts of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone—neither known primarily for song-and-dance prowess, though both have experience in those departments—are, for sure, spirited. There are even moments where the musical-drama format (this isn’t exactly musical-comedy) slips into blissful gear, especially when a rambling nighttime conversation above the lights of Los Angeles morphs into a dance duet that feels truly earned, playing out in a single unbroken take that carries us into the old-fashioned movie paradise that the film is aiming at.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: Miss Sloane

At the heart of Miss Sloane—and a cool heart it is—lies a question. Why does the title character walk out on her lucrative career as one of D.C.’s highest-paid lobbyists to join an underfunded nonprofit in its quixotic attempt at changing some gun laws? The question keeps the movie from falling into the easy do-gooder outline of Erin Brockovich. Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain, all stiletto-heel precision) might possibly be stirred by a sense of social justice, but she might also just want to win a game that everybody tells her is unwinnable. We’re talking about an alpha female who isn’t content with mere victory—she gives you the impression she also wouldn’t mind hearing the lamentations of women (and men) on the field of battle. It’s crucial to this movie’s crisp watchability that we’re not sure what motivates her battle plan. Maybe battle is just her thing.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: Old Stone

The spirit of film noir lives on in Johnny Ma’s Old Stone, a downward spiral set in contemporary China. In the outline of the classic noir, a person makes one wrong move which sets in motion an inexorable series of disastrous events: Fred MacMurray sells a fishy insurance policy to Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity; Tom Neal picks up a good-looking hitchhiker in Detour. The bitter irony in Old Stone is that this particular spiral is set in motion when a man makes a right move—or at least a generous, unselfish one. His gesture, in trying to save someone’s life, brings down a rain of Biblical calamities.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly