The year’s finest … and the dumbest
With this dubious year finally coming to a welcome end, and with Arrival, Elle, Hell or High Water and La La Land opening in January, herewith in no particular order, the best and worst films to grace Hong Kong screens this Gregorian year.
The very good
Set in an indeterminate future where un-partnered people are penalized for being single by being turned into animals, Greece’s Yorgos Lanthimos’ English-language debut is a pithy, clever, singular, funny and, ultimately, bittersweet romance and social satire. For those with an adventurous streak, the film is worth its every deadpan minute.
If you don’t like Sing Street, you’ve got no soul. Once director John Carney’s 1980s Dublin-set musical coming-of-age tale about an ambitious teen, his band and his dream girl is sweet without being saccharine, feel-good without being condescending and utterly charming all the way through. The band’s Cure phase is as riotous as it is toe-tapping. A true hidden gem.
Look up “European cinema” in a dictionary and Italian director Luca Guadagnino’s English-language spin on a 1960s French psychosexual thriller, this Tilda Swinton/Ralph Fiennes drama, is likely to figure as its definition. Shimmery, sexy, soapy, this is a movie for grown-ups and a long glass of water in a superhero desert.
Easily the standout from Hong Kong this year, Jevons Au, Frank Hui and Vicky Wong’s interconnected noir-ish triptych following a trio of criminal legends on the eve of the handover is the perfect blend of timely, clear-eyed metaphor and entertainment, and finally gives the underappreciated Gordon Lam a platform worthy of him.
Equally timely is Gianfranco Rosi’s heartbreaking and enraging documentary about the European — and really, global — migrant crisis as filtered through its impact on one small town and the coast guard workers who cruise the Mediterranean looking for refugees. A must-see for anyone considering themselves a good global citizen.
The really bad
In a year overstuffed with sci-fi sequels and spin-offs, Roland Emmerich’s follow-up to his 1996 blockbuster stands out for its dominating cynicism, laziness and utter ineptitude. The original may not have been a masterpiece, but its storytelling was efficient, the effects were great and it was, despite its jingoism, fun. Resurgence couldn’t even muster that.
Untested short filmmaker J Blakeson was at the helm of yet another attempt to cash in on the ongoing dystopian YA frenzy, a trend whose best-before date past with the second Hunger Games entry. Chloë Grace Moretz proves she’s not a movie star in this plodding, illogical alien invasion adventure, almost saved by an unintentionally hilarious river bathing scene.
If director Koji Shiraishi’s intention was to prove that Hollywood isn’t the only industry willing to create property crossovers as a way of extending the shelf life and revenue stream of its product, he succeeded. If he was trying to make a truly spooky Ring-Ju-on hybrid, he failed miserably.
Ang Lee’s latest is based on a satirical novel skewering the disconnect between war as perceived through media and by those on the ground. Typically, he delivers an earnest drama with no bite, little in the way of engaging narrative or compelling characters, and drops the technological ball he mastered (in Life of Pi) with 120fps/4K/3D overkill.
On top of being riddled with cliché and contrived coincidence, Jon M. Chu’s unnecessary sequel doesn’t understand basic science and technology, geography, or even its own nonsensical internal logic. The year’s most egregious abuse of top shelf talent — Jesse Eisenberg doing Lex Luthor-lite excepted.