The year’s finest … and the dumb­est

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - HK - By EL­IZ­A­BETH KERR

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.

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