NOR­MAN WILNER’S TOP 10 MOVIES

When the world gets darker, the light of a movie pro­jec­tor keeps us sane – maybe that’s why this year was one of the rich­est for cin­ema in a long while. And by “cin­ema,” I mean “movies you see on a big screen,” which brings me to my top pick...

NOW Magazine - - MOVIES & TV -

ROMA AL­FONSO CUARÓN

Is there any­thing more punk than mak­ing a movie for Net­flix that ac­tively re­sists be­ing watched on Net­flix? How about mak­ing a mas­ter­piece? Cuarón’s au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cally tinged study of a young woman (Yal­itza Apari­cio) work­ing as a maid for an af­flu­ent Mex­ico City fam­ily in the early 70s might be his best film, which is re­ally say­ing some­thing about the di­rec­tor of Chil­dren Of Men and Grav­ity. It’s also a gen­uine mo­tion pic­ture event, pho­tographed in large-for­mat 65mm and mixed in mul­ti­chan­nel Dolby At­mos for an im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence that de­ploys emo­tional in­ten­sity in waves, like the sea tide slowly over­tak­ing sand on a beach. Sure, you can watch it on your phone. But please don’t.

IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK BARRY JENK­INS

Love was the sal­va­tion for the lost soul at the heart of writer/di­rec­tor Jenk­ins’s Moon­light; love may not save any­one in his fol­low-up, but it’s the thing that keeps them fight­ing. An adap­ta­tion of James Bald­win’s 1974 novel about a young Har­lem cou­ple (KiKi Layne, Stephan James) torn apart by the sys­temic racism that’s poi­soned their world, Beale Street is an exquisitely re­al­ized drama, with Jenk­ins and his amaz­ing en­sem­ble (which in­cludes Brian Tyree Henry, Col­man Domingo and the mag­nif­i­cent Regina King) play­ing small, pre­cise scenes about peo­ple re­fus­ing to give up their dig­nity in the face of in­dif­fer­ence. It’s dev­as­tat­ing, and it’s won­der­ful.

BURN­ING LEE CHANG-DONG

In his first film since 2010’s ex­quis­ite Po­etry, Lee coaxes an epic tale of dis­con­tent and re­venge out of Haruki Mu­rakami’s short story Barn Burn­ing, fo­cus­ing tightly on Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in), a young man adrift in Seoul who meets a girl

(Jeon Jong-seo) from his vil­lage but loses her to a monied play­boy (Steven Yeun, of The Walk­ing Dead and May­hem). And grad­u­ally, al­most un­no­tice­ably, Burn­ing shifts from one sort of movie to an­other, find­ing its pur­pose in the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of small de­tails we’re never al­lowed to fully un­der­stand – but which Jong-su chooses to in­ter­pret in the worst pos­si­ble way.

YOU WERE NEVER RE­ALLY HERE LYNNE RAM­SAY

Ram­say’s de­con­structed re­venge movie – based on Jonathan Ames’s more straight­for­ward novella about a fin­der of lost chil­dren – in­fuses stan­dard ac­tion beats with queasy dread and an un­nerv­ing oblique­ness. More of­ten than not, the worst things hap­pen just off-screen, where we can con­jure our own aw­ful vi­su­als to ac­com­pany the sounds of the hero’s trusty ball-peen hammer. As that hero, Joaquin Phoenix em­bod­ies a life­time of bru­tal­ity, car­ry­ing the weight of it in his weary eyes and hulk­ing frame – and so des­per­ate to make it all end that your heart breaks for the beast.

SORRY TO BOTHER YOU BOOTS RI­LEY

The new Black cin­ema pro­duces an­other mas­ter­work with Ri­ley’s first fea­ture, which nods to Robert Downey’s Put­ney Swope and Terry Gil­liam’s Brazil in its themes but feels wholly orig­i­nal in its ex­e­cu­tion, walk­ing a ra­zor wire be­tween cringe com­edy and po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism. Sorry To Bother You starts out as a so­cial satire about an aim­less Oak­land dude (At­lanta’s Lakeith Stan­field) try­ing to climb a cor­po­rate lad­der and mu­tates into a gonzo night­mare built on cen­turies of the cyn­i­cal ex­ploita­tion of Black work­ers by white masters, cor­po­rate or oth­er­wise. And some­how Ri­ley al­ways keeps the laughs com­ing – if only so he can choke them off in our throats.

MADE­LINE’S MADE­LINE JOSEPHINE DECKER

Decker’s elec­tri­fy­ing in­die ex­plores the push-and-pull re­la­tion­ship be­tween an ex­per­i­men­tal theatre di­rec­tor (Molly Parker), a teenage prodigy (He­lena Howard) and the teen’s mother (Mi­randa July), all of whom want very dif­fer­ent things from one an­other. It’s a show­case for the phe­nom­e­nally tal­ented Howard, but what Decker does be­hind the cam­era is just as dar­ing, and as art­ful, as what her dis­cov­ery does in front of it.

FIRST RE­FORMED PAUL SCHRADER

Schrader’s rein­ter­pre­ta­tion of Robert Bres­son’s Diary Of A Coun­try Pri­est for the age of the Amer­i­can mega-church is his best film in decades: like Martin Scors­ese’s Si­lence, it’s the work of a man who’s spent a very long time think­ing about his sub­ject. Here, it’s the con­flict be­tween mod­ern evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian­ity and the ac­tual teach­ings of Christ, as ex­pe­ri­enced by a tor­mented pri­est (Ethan Hawke, in a ca­reer-best per­for­mance) try­ing to min­is­ter to his con­gre­ga­tion while en­dur­ing his own pro­found suf­fer­ing. Not ex­actly a good time at the movies. But it’s bril­liant cin­ema.

WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGH­BOR? MOR­GAN NEVILLE

I don’t think it’s a co­in­ci­dence that sev­eral of my favourite movies this year fo­cus on char­ac­ters act­ing eth­i­cally and hon­ourably, even when it would be eas­ier to bend a rule or just look the other way. Neville’s cin­e­matic pro­file of Fred Rogers presents the life of the beloved chil­dren’s tele­vi­sion host as an in­struc­tion man­ual for how to be hu­man. In an age in­creas­ingly de­fined by ca­sual cru­elty, see­ing Rogers ex­tend com­pas­sion and em­pa­thy to every­one he meets – and turn­ing his own is­sues into teach­able mo­ments – is gen­uinely in­spir­ing.

ISLE OF DOGS WES AN­DER­SON

An­der­son’s post-apoc­a­lyp­tic com­edy set in a near-fu­ture Ja­pan – where a plague forces the cit­i­zens of Me­gasaki City to ex­ile their pets and strays to off­shore Trash Is­land, cre­at­ing a new four-legged so­ci­ety – caught some fire for its cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tions. But it’s a con­scious al­le­gory for sa­mu­rai movies that de­ploys its lan­guage bar­rier in a very de­lib­er­ate way. And Bryan Cranston’s rue­ful voice per­for­mance as Chief, a mas­ter­less war­rior dis­cov­er­ing what it means to em­brace a cause (or a friend) brings it all into fo­cus.

PADDING­TON 2 PAUL KING

If King’s first Padding­ton movie felt like magic, his sec­ond is ev­ery bit as de­light­ful, charm­ing and mov­ing, leav­ing the first film’s refugee al­le­gory be­hind for a some­what gid­dier tale, ex­plor­ing the ways in which the friendly lit­tle bear – once again, a dig­i­tal char­ac­ter voiced with per­fect dic­tion by Ben Whishaw – makes al­most every­one he meets a bet­ter per­son. There’s a warmth and a joy run­ning through th­ese films that over­whelms in the best pos­si­ble way, without ever tip­ping into syrupy ma­nip­u­la­tion. Maybe that’s just the dif­fer­ence be­tween trea­cle and marmalade.

HONOURABLE MEN­TIONS

The Bal­lad Of Buster Scruggs, Black Cop, Black Pan­ther, Can You Ever For­give Me?, Cold War, The Death Of Stalin, Eighth Grade, The End­less, Fail To Ap­pear, The Favourite, First Man, Ho­tel Artemis, Leave No Trace, Love­less, Mai­son Du Bon­heur, Mary Goes Round, Mind­ing The Gap, Per­mis­sion, A Star Is Born, Sho­plifters, The Sis­ters Brothers, Sup­port The Girls and Tran­sit. [email protected]­toronto.com | @normwilner

Roma de­serves to be seen on a big screen, not your phone.

Made­line’s Made­line is a mind-blow­ing head trip.

First Re­formed is Paul Schrader’s best in decades.

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