2016 in Review: The Best Films of the Year

Jackie, Nocturnal Animals, Arrival, and The Apology rank among 2016's best films.

And so another year comes to an end. 2016 is an odd year at Cinemablographer is a year of highs and lows at Cinemablographer. The smaller coverage at this blog is in part due to new commitments and opportunities at POV and in part due to bartering time in the current climate of film coverage. I’m definitely at a crossroads of wondering where I fit in wondering what purpose this blog serves at the end of the day.


2016 in Review: The Best Performances of the Year

Amy Adams, Natalie Portman, Isabelle Huppert and Jeff Bridges give some of 2016's best performances.
Say what you will about the movies of 2016, but these last few days end a year for great screen performances. This year also marks an improvement in great parts for women as the list for lead performances is overwhelmingly stacked towards great female roles. Here are Cinemablographer.com’s picks for the top ten supporting and lead performances of 2016.


Cameraperson: Not Just a Fly on the Wall

(USA, 102 min.)
Dir. Kirsten Johnston
Courtesy Films We Like
There’s a notion in documentary that positions a filmmaker to a fly on the wall. It comes up with observation and verité, and while the image offers a fair likeness for the vantage point with which a camera sees action, the phrase doesn’t do justice to the people behind the lens. Cameraperson offers an intimate personal odyssey as camera operator Kirsten Johnson proves that, unlike flies, cinematographers aren’t merely observers. They are a part of the action as much as they are a witness or recorder of it.


Contest: Win 'Tumbledown' on Blu-Ray!

Love is in the air this holiday season as Rebecca Hall and Jason Sudeikis team up for the warm, winning cottage country romance Tumbledown. Tumbledown comes to home video on Tuesday, December 27th from VVS Films and Cinemablographer has Blu-rays to give away! Cinemablographer Claus has one more gift to giveaway before tumbling down the chimney—answer the trivia below for your chance to win Tumbledown!


Who Knew the Google Could Be So Soul-Searching?

(Australia, 118 min.)
Dir. Garth Davis, Writ. Luke Davies
Starring: Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara, Sunny Pawar
David Wenham, Dev Patel, and Nicole Kidman in Lion, an Entertainment One release.
Photo: Mark Rogers

The extraordinary homecoming of Saroo Brierley gets a lively adaptation in Lion. This take on Brierley’s A Long Way Home gets an enthralling jolt of life under the director of Garth Davis and in the care of some gifted actors. Brierley’s memoir reads more like a series of collected blog posts than it does a book, which is fine since it tells a great story, but A Long Way Home lacks a magical spark as the author’s prose simply recounts the events in here’s-what-happened fashion. Lion, however, gives Brierley’s story a pulse as Davis makes the viewer feel Saroo’s story to experience his loss and then his sense of peace while finding his way home.


2016 in Review: The Best Canadian Films of the Year

It’s time to tap the trees and pour the maple syrup. The year for Canadian film ends on a much-needed high note as Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World makes the Oscar shortlist for Best Foreign Language Film and puts Canada back in the Oscar race. This vindication for Dolan’s film highlights that there are more great Canadian films this year than most people say there are. While the overall output of Canadian film might have be lower and, comparatively, weaker than previous years, there are easily two dozen Canuck films from 2016 that go beyond. More would be better, but let’s celebrate the good.


Canada Advances in Oscar Race

Nathalie Baye in Xavier Dolan's It's Only the End of the World.
Shayne Laverdière, courtesy of Sons of Manual
The shortlist is in and we're on it! Congratulations are in order to Canada's Xavier Dolan for finally making the Oscar shortlist with our submission It's Only the End of the World. This year marks Dolan's third time representing Canada after 2009's I Killed My Mother and 2014's Mommy did not advance in the race. (The latter of which was a heavy favourite.)

2016 in Review: The Worst Films of the Year

In a year more defined by letdowns than bad films, Voyage of Time, Suicide Squard, and others take the cake.
It’s now time to start bidding adieu to 2016 here at Cinemablographer. It’s been a fun year, but also a tougher one for various reasons. One upside, and to some extent silver lining, of being so busy and dealing with accelerated aggressiveness from a number of publicists is that there simply wasn’t enough time or energy for this blogger to review everything. The bad films are often the first ones to go since there isn’t much pleasure or point in writing a negative review when there’s a huge pile of okay-to-great movies waiting for write-ups. However, 2016 is not without its duds.

Notes from the Screener Pile: 2016.4

More notes from the screener pile as we move through films! (A good batch!)

(Chile/Agentina/Spain/France, 108 min.)
Dir. Pablo Larraín, Writ. Guillermo Callderon
Starring: Luis Gnecco, Gael García Bernal
Pablo Larraín is having one heck of a year. The Chilean director opens his third feature film of 2016 after The Club and the outstanding Jackie with the artfully impressive Neruda. This film, which is Chile’s hotly tipped contender in the Best Foreign Language Film race, is an unconventional biopic about the famed/notorious Latin American poet. As with Jackie, Neruda doesn’t take a by-the-numbers approach to its iconic subject. Instead, it explores into the essence of Neruda’s persona and his complexities. It’s only fitting to create a work of poetry in order to depict a poet.


Notes from the Screener Pile: 2016.3

More award season catch-up: cranky blogger edition!

I, Daniel Blake
(UK, 100 min.)
Dir. Ken Loach, Writ. Paul Laverty
Starring: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires
I, Daniel Blake

I, Daniel Blake might be the weakest film ever to top the Cannes Film Festival. It’s absurd to think that this ham-fisted sob story netted Ken Loach his second Palme d’Or if one considers that Elle, Toni Erdmann, and The Handmaiden were all in competition. Hell, even It’s Only the Endof the World is better.

Toronto Film Critics Announce Canadian Film Noms

How Heavy this Hammer
The Toronto Film Critics Association announced the three finalists for the Rogers Best Canadian Film Award. TFCA kept the contenders within a small radius by nominating three Toronto filmmakers: Kazik Radwanski's engrossing character study How Heavy this Hammer, Hugh Gibson's raw and powerful The Stairs, and Matt Johnson's found footage film Operation Avalanche. The latter nomination is arguably as much (or more) a vote of confidence for Johnson's outspokenness about the state of Canadian film. The winner will be announced at the TFCA awards in January and nets a prize of $100 000 with the runners up receiving $5000.


Oscars Predictions: Round 2 - Golden Globe and SAG Edition

Sorry for neglecting these! Oscar predictions and commentary have kind of flatlined here, simply because I've been trying to see all the films. Here are updated Oscar predictions with quick stabs at the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations coming out this week. La La Land, Moonlight, and Manchester by the Sea are sitting about even with each of them taking a major critics' prize last week. However, the recent waves of critical kudos are products of debate. Voters in these groups don't sit around a room and form a consensus whereas the critics' groups are forming a narrative in which Moonlight is becoming a champion for diversity in addition to being an overall great film. I think Moonlight has the most to prove here given that it's the film that critics are generally rallying behind, but it might be a victim of over-hype. Arthouse audiences love it too, so can it break out and be the little film that could? On the other hand, bigger films like Arrival should show their strengths and shake things up. Remember: at this point in recent years, The Social Network, Zero Dark Thirty, and Boyhood all seemed like the films to beat.


Contest! Win 'Florence Foster Jenkins' on Blu-Ray!

Meryl Christmas, dear readers! The great Meryl Streep returns in Florence Foster Jenkins and gives one of her best and funniest performances to date as the aspiring singer who can’t carry a tune. (Read the Cinemablographer review of Florence Foster Jenkins here.) Florence Foster Jenkins comes to home video on Tuesday, December 13th from eOne Films and Cinemablographer has a Blu-ray to give away as a holiday gift! Answer the trivia below for your chance to win Florence Foster Jenkins!


The Sneak Attack

Miss Sloane
(USA/UK, 129 min.)
Dir. John Madden, Writ. Jonathan Perera
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Michael Stuhlbarg Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alison Pill, Sam Waterston, John Lithgow
Jessica Chastain stars in Miss Sloane.
Courtesy VVS Films.

“All you’re missing is a dick,” says a sly Congresswoman (Christine Baranski) to cocksure lobbyist Madeleine Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain). Liz Sloane might be the most badass character of the year, but don’t make the mistake of assuming that her strength comes from her masculinisation. She’s simply a driven career woman who cuts through the bullshit and looks wickedly good in a pantsuit. Jessica Chastain is ferocious as the often unlikable lobbyist, and Miss Sloane offers audiences the new icon of Pantsuit Nation for the era of “nasty women” and rotten politics.


Dark and Stormy Waters

Manchester by the Sea
(USA, 137 min.)
Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan
Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, Kyle Chandler, Gretchen Mol
Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea.
Photo by Claire Folger, Courtesy of Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions

Manchester by the Sea is a beast of burdens. There’s enormous weight to this new film by Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count on Me and the embattled Margaret) and it’s a lot to bear. The film, painful and often authentic with its life-like emotions and hunger, crushes and moves a viewer. In the vein of Todd Field’s raw and devastating New England nightmare In the Bedroom, Manchester by the Sea shows how grief cripples, transforms, and ultimately heals a person.


'The Swamp Has Risen': John Madden Talks 'Miss Sloane'

Jessica Chastain stars in Miss Sloane.
Courtesy VVS Films
Academy Award nominated director John Madden (Shakespeare in LoveThe Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) returns in top form with Miss Sloane. Miss Sloane is an explosively topical thriller that stars Jessica Chastain as a cutthroat lobbyist named Madeline Elizabeth Sloane who takes on the unlikeliest competitor of all—the gun lobby—in the case that will define her career. Coming out on the heels of the upset defeat of Hillary Clinton in this year’s American presidential election, Miss Sloane is an ironically cutting look at how women must fight to survive in an environment traditionally dominated by men.

TIFF Names Canada's Top Ten

Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves.
Courtesy of K Films Amerique
Nine out of ten features. Not a bad head start for seeing the north.


Notes from the Screener Pile: 2016.2

Longer reviews are coming soon, but here are some more cap-cap-capsule notes from the screener pile as award season bingeing continues!

(USA, 120 min.)
Dir. Antonio Campos, Writ. Craig Silowich
Starring: Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts, Timothy Simons
Before Howard Beale became the mad prophet of the airwaves, a local news reporter in Sarasota, Florida blew her brains out on the evening news. It is believed to be the first suicide on live TV. This tragedy gets a fully-loaded dramatization in Christine, which brings a wallop of a performance from Rebecca Hall as the ill-fated Christine Chubbuck.


'Not Another Camelot...'

(UK, 99 min.)
Dir. Pablo Larraín, Writ. Noah Oppenheim
Starring: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Billy Crudup, Greta Gerwig, John Hurt
Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy in Jackie.
  Photo by Pablo Larrain. / 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

“I believe that the characters we read about on the page end up being more real than the men who stand beside us,” says Jacqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman) to Life magazine reporter Theodore White (Billy Crudup). Jackie Kennedy, Mrs. Kennedy, Jackie O, or however one recalls her, is one of those American figures like James Dean or Marilyn Monroe who is known more as an icon than as a person. Jackie completely humanises the First Lady with the pink pillbox hat and it does so in the most unexpected ways.


Notes from the Screener Pile: 2016.1

Running a bit behind this year, but thank goodness for screener season to help Cinemablographer catch up on award season hopefuls and some quality titles.

The Birth of a Nation
(USA, 120 min.)
Dir. Nate Parker, Writ. Nate Parker, Jean McGianni Celestin
Starring: Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Aunjanue Ellis, Penelope Ann Miller, Jackie Earle Haley, Dwight Henry, Aja Naomi King
Nate Parker as Nat Turner in The Birth of a Nation.
Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Nate Parker certainly has potential as a director, but The Birth of a Nation doesn’t quite merit the thunderous hype from Sundance. As first features go, its ambition outsizes its finesse as Parker’s story of Nat Turner, a Virginian slave who led a rebellion against the ruthless plantation owners and slave drivers of Southampton County, as the filmmaker’s inexperience in writing and direction tells Turner’s saga with a mix of powerful, underdeveloped, and stilted scenes. Parker’s film borrows heavily from other dramas that cover similar terrain, for lines of dialogue, like an auctioneer’s sales pitch for slaves, seem to be ripped verbatim from 12 Years a Slave, while the haunting fantasy images of Parker and co. caked in white dust are straight from War Witch. As Parker leads the Gangs of New York bloodbath and the film climaxes with an exaltation for Turner, Parker’s admiration for this historical figure is strongest in his performance as the rebellious preacher.


Contest! Win Tickets to the Toronto Premiere of 'Miss Sloane' with Jessica Chastain and John Madden in Attendance! (Contest Closed)

Bust out your Sharpies and selfie sticks! Jessica Chastain is coming to town! Chastain joins director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) for the timely new Toronto-shot political thriller Miss Sloane. Miss Sloane opens in theatres December 9 from VVS Films, but lucky readers may join Chastain and Madden as they walk the red carpet in style for the Toronto premiere. Answer the trivia below for your chance to win tickets!



(Canada, 78 min.)
Dir. Vincent Biron, Writ. Alexandre Augre, Marc-Antoine Rioux, Erik K. Boulianne, Vincent Biron
Starring: Étienne Galloy, Alexandre Lavigne, Constance Massicotte, Simon Pigeon
Teens these days grow up in a strange environment. The quartet of adolescents in Vincent Biron’s Prank are born and bred in the Petri dish of selfie culture. These kids have short attention spans, big egos, and huge concerns for viral impact. They know nothing about life, though, living in the bubbles of their tightly defined social circle and equally myopic social media sphere. As they pass the time doing numbskull tricks and posting videos on the Internet, getting their jollies off on likes and viral teasing, Prank punks a generation by letting them play a lark, but revealing that the joke is ultimately on them.


Ang Lee's High Frame Rate Flop

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
(USA, 110 min.)
Dir. Ang Lee, Writ. Jean-Christophe Castelli
Starring: Joe Alwyn, Garrett Hedlund, Vin Diesel, Steve Martin, the fakest Beyoncé you’ll ever see, Kristen Stewart
Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn), dancers, and Alabama State Marching Hornets in TriStar Pictures' Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk.
Photo by Mary Cybulski, courtesy Sony Pictures Entertainment

“Ang, this looks terrible,” says a producer during a conversation that surely must have happened at some point while screening the rushes for Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.

“This is fine,” replies Lee, not unlike the dog who, in a popular meme, finishes his coffee while the room around him engulfs in flames.


'Window Horses' is Visual Poetry

Window Horses (The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming)
(Canada, 88 min.)
Written and directed by Ann Marie Fleming
Starring; Sandra Oh, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Nancy Kwan, Don McKellar, Ellen Page
Rosie and Mehrnaz in Window Horses.
Photo courtesy of the NFB.

“The more you learn about others, the deeper your understanding of yourself. This is the journey we are all on,” says wise Iranian poet Mehrnaz (Shohreh Aghdashloo) to budding Canadian poet Rosie Ming (Sandra Oh). As they tour the colourful flowers of Iran, Rosie’s host illuminates her on the rich history that makes the country the land of poets.


At Seventeen...

Being 17 (Quand on a 17 ans)
(France, 116 min.)
Dir. André Techiné, Writ. André Techiné, Céline Sciamma
Starring: Sandrine Kiberlain, Kacey Mottet Klein, Corentin Fila
Corentin Fila and Kacey Mottet Klein in Being 17, a film by André Techiné
Courtesy Pacific Northwest Pictures

Legendary French director André Techiné (La belle saison) returns to the screen with Being 17. This invigorating love story yields a strong May-December romance behind the camera as the 73-year-old director pairs up with up-and-coming filmmaker Céline Sciamma (Girlhood, My Life as a Courgette). Together, the pair writes a film of fresh vision with a master’s hand. The leisurely-paced and richly characterised drama is a sharp, provocative, and revitalising coming-of-age and coming-out-of-the-closet romance.


'Tag-Teaming It': James L. Brooks, Kelly Fremon Craig, and Co. Talk 'The Edge of Seventeen'

Kelly Fremon Craig and James L. Brooks on the shoot for The Edge of Seventeen.
Courtesy VVS Films.
“The great thing about being in Toronto,” says producer James L. Brooks, “is that every film you see is somebody who is not being stereotypical. Everybody is marching to the beat of their own drum and that is so great to see.”


Loving: A Film of Quiet Tenderness

(USA/UK, 123 min.)
Written and directed by Jeff Nichols
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga
Loving is a film of quiet tenderness. This subdued and nuanced film from Jeff Nichols (Mud, Take Shelter) offers an unfussy and uncontrived dramatization of the marriage of Richard and Mildred Loving. Richard (Joel Edgerton), a white man, and Mildred (Ruth Negga), a black woman, have an unlawful marriage under Virginia law. Their love leads to a prison sentence in 1958, which becomes a choice of forced exile when the Lovings leave the state, rather than part ways to serve a year in jail. This decision leads to a landmark human rights case and an incredibly timely film about love, equality, humanity, and compassion.


Two Lovers on the Run (Again...)

Mean Dreams
(Canada, 108 min.)
Dir. Nathan Morlando, Writ. Kevin Coughlin, Ryan Grassby
Starring: Sophie Nélisse, Josh Wiggins, Bill Paxton, Colm Feore
Josh Wiggins and Sophie Nélisse star in Mean Dreams.
Elevation Pictures.

Mean Dreams is the third entry in this year’s unofficial “two lovers on the run” trilogy of Canadian film that includes Bruce McDonald’s Weirdos and Kim Nguyen’s Two Lovers and a Bear. It’s the lesser of the three films. While the other two films have a similar note of formula in their basic premises, McDonald and Nguyen use their familiarity to turn genre convention on its heel and offer something fresh and new. Mean Dreams director Nathan Morlando knows the benefits of such an approach given his own take on gangster films in his breakout feature Edwin Boyd, which gives the genre of jolt of electricity. There’s nothing really new to Mean Dreams, though, and despite the picturesque beauty of the film, Morlando’s eagerly awaited second feature is something of a disappointment.


EUFF Review: 'Live'

(Romania, 97 min.)
Dir. Vlad Paunescu. Writ. Mihai Manescu, Vlad Paunescu
Starring: Rodica Lazar, Tudor Chirila, Crina Tofan

Despite the many opinions that good journalism is dead, Live offers a rousing look at good, solid investigative news in the contemporary media landscape. The film stars Rodica Lazar in a strong performance as Ema, a gutsy tabloid journalist and host of a popular trash TV show. Ema takes cues from 60 Minutes and The Jerry Springer Show alike by fusing shrewd investigative journalism with the sensationalism of meme-friendly confrontations and viral videos. She brings guilty parties face to face with their victims and accusers, and she uses the gotcha! reveals of hidden cameras to solicit surprised outbursts from the audience. With live viewers, Ema knows how to deliver justice in the courtroom of network TV.


EUFF Review: 'A Noble Intention'

A Noble Intention
(Netherlands, 115 min.)
Dir. Joram Lürsen, Writ. Frank Ketelaar
Starring: Gijs Scholten van Aschat, Jacob Derwig, Thomas Cammaert, Rifka Lodeizen, Zeb Troostwijk
A Noble Intention tells a timely slice of history for the age of gentrification and condofication. Canadians often like to look to Europe as a model for smart ways to build cities for people, rather than for cars, but this Dutch period piece dramatizes an episode of urban renewal that mirrors much of what is happening in cities today. History loves to repeat itself.


'Denial' in the Age of 'Nasty Women'

(UK/USA, 110 min.)
Dir. Mick Jackson, Writ. David Hare
Starring: Rachel Weisz, Timothy Spall, Tom Wilkinson
Rachel Weisz stars as Deborah Lipstadt in Denial.
Elevation Pictures
Deborah Lipstadt’s story remains another ominous tale that’s all too relevant in the age of Donald Trump. The case recalls a lawsuit that began in 1996 and ran until 2000 in which British writer/hack academic David Irving sued Lipstadt and Penguin Books for the author’s 1993 publication Denying the Holocaust. Lipstadt’s book shares some rather unflattering words about Mr. Irving’s insistence on repudiating the crimes committed by the Nazis against Jews and other “undesirables” in the events of World War II. Nowadays, he might call her a “nasty woman,” or something to that effect, for being so brash as to take a stand or speak her mind. In an age of racist presidential campaigns and unfiltered opinions, the fight that Lipstadt brings to her defense makes for a rousing and essential courtroom drama.


Animal Farm

Dawn (Ausma)
(Latvia/Estonia/Poland, 90 min.)
Written and directed by Laila Pakalniņa
Starring: Antons Georgs Grauds, Vilis Daudzins, Wiktor Zborowski, Andris Keiss, Liena Smukste, Girts Krumins, Rudolfs Plepis, Ivars Brakovskis
Dawn, Latvia’s submission to the Best Foreign Language Film category at this year’s Academy Awards, ends with a horse taking a casual shit as a team of farmhands walks towards the rising sun. The camera holds on the offending—nay, poetic—turd for a generously lingering moment as chickens flock to it. Bathed in the glowing morning light, which looks heavenly in the wonderful black and white cinematography by Wojciech Staron, the horse patty offers a warm meal for the chickens. They nibble on the steaming turd as the workers march into the distance and their hymn to Soviet Latvia provides mealtime entertainment before the credits roll. Tsai Ming-liang, eat your heart out.


'Lavender' Dillydallies - With a Chill

(Canada/USA, 92 min.)
Dir. Ed Gass-Donnelly, Writ. Ed Gass-Donnelly, Colin Frizzell
Starring: Abbie Cornish, Diego Klattenhoff, Dermot Mulroney, Lola Flanery, Justin Long
Abbie Cornish and Diego Klattenhoff star in Lavender.
Courtesy Pacific Northwest Pictures
Let the birds sing, dilly, dilly, And the lambs play
We shall be safe, dilly, dilly, out of harm's way

Writer/director Ed Gass-Donnelly returns with another tale of small town murder songs in Lavender. The lullaby that haunts this film is the nursery rhyme “Lavender’s Blue.” It might be a childhood staple, but these rhyming lines of “dilly dilly” have long roots in horror that help add an extra chill to Lavender. Whether they appear in operatic adaptations of The Turn of the Screw, repeat themselves in Brad Fraser’s play Unidentified Human Remains and the Nature of True Love, or are sung consolingly in the latest take on Cinderella, this kiddy ballad isn’t exactly soothing. It’s downright eerie, especially when used as a haunting refrain.


Win Tickets to See 'The Edge of Seventeen' in Canada!

Hailee Steinfeld is all grown up. The True Grit and Pitch Perfect 2 star gets her first true starring role in the warmly funny coming of age film The Edge of Seventeen. (Read the Cinemablographer review of The Edge of Seventeen here.) Steinfeld stars as Nadine, a totally award teen in a tiff with her bestie Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) in this winning comedy written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig and produced by three-time Academy Award winner James L. Brooks. The Edge of Seventeen opens in Canadian theatres November 18 from VVS Films and readers in select Canadian cities have a chance to attend a sneak peek. Answer the trivia below for your chance to win tickets!


Contest! Win 'Milton's Secret' on DVD!

Canadian icon Donald Sutherland comes home for the inspiring family drama Milton’s Secret. The film is based on the popular children’s book by Eckhart Tolle. Milton’s Secret is now available on DVD from eOne Films and Cinemablographer has a copy of the film to give away to one lucky reader. Answer the trivia below for your chance to win Milton’s Secret!

Blu-Ray Review: 'Imperium'

(USA, 109 min.)
Dir. Daniel Ragussis, Writ. Daniel Ragussis, Michael German
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Toni Collette, Tracy Letts, Sam Trammell
VVS Films
Imperium dramatizes a slice of the world that’s all too relevant in the era of Herr Trump. This chilling look at white supremacy and domestic terrorism through the eyes of an undercover FBI agent is like an observant video shot covertly at one of the Donald’s political rallies. When the White House hinges on such violent and hateful rhetoric, Imperium disconcertingly shows the power and influence of words when radicals and extremists avidly seek an outlet for their rage.


Scratch, Scratch, Scratch

(Canada, 78 min.)
Written and directed by Ashley McKenzie
Starring: Andrew Gillis, Bhreagh MacNeil
Werewolf’s claws scratch, scratch, scratch, but they don’t cut deep. This disappointing first feature from Ashley McKenzie might get under the skin of some viewers with its stark, bleak, and episodic portrait of recovering addicts. For others, though, Werewolf might be akin to nails on a chalkboard with its whiny protagonist, lethargic pace, and nonsensically random visual style. There’s obviously a great stab at something here, but whatever it is, Werewolf just doesn’t work.

'Citizen' Lacks Distinction

The Distinguished Citizen (El ciudadano ilustre)
(Argentina/Spain, 117 min.)
Dir. Mariano Cohn, Gastón Duprat; Writ. Andrés Duprat
Starring: Oscar Martínez, Dady Brieva, Andrea Frigerio, Belén Chavanne, Manuel Vicente, Nora Navas, Marcelo D'Andrea, Iván Steinhardt

The new Argentine “comedy” The Distinguished Citizen ironically lacks distinction. This unwieldy mess of a film backfires with its aim at black comedy and delivers some escapades that are frequently obnoxious and only intermittently funny. It’s an awfully mean-spirited quest for humanity.


Tanna: Into the Heart of the Inferno

(Australia/Vanuatu, 100 min.)
Dir. Bentley Dean, Martin Butler; Writ. Bentley Dean, Martin Butler, John Collee
Starring: Mungau Dain, Marie Wawa, Marceline Rofit
Admittedly, all I know about Vanuatu is that it offers the setting for at least one season of Survivor and that Werner Herzog visits some nifty volcanoes at the island nation in his outstanding new documentary Into the Inferno. These volcanoes form the backdrop of Tanna, a visually stunning and eye-opening drama shot and set on the island of Vanuatu, as outdated customs get voted off the island. Tanna, a co-production between Australia and Vanuatu (and the former’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film in this year’s Academy Awards race), is a rarity of a film. Not only is it shot entirely in the Nauvhal language, the film is made in close collaboration with the people of Yakel, a small village on the island of Tanna. It’s their story told in their own words.

Shina a Light on Sasha Lane

American Honey
(UK/USA, 163 min.)
Written and directed by Andrea Arnold
Starring: Sasha Lane, Shia LaBeouf, Riley Keough
Courtesy Elevation Pictures
Andrea Arnold shines a light on a great new talent in American Honey. Newcomer Sasha Lane is a diamond in the roughness of Arnold’s passionate but ultimately exhausting fourth feature. Lane debuts as Star, a runaway teen in the American South who escapes an awful home life by joining a bunch of kids travelling the country selling magazines. Nobody buys magazines anymore, but her white trash boss (Riley Keough), decked out in the skankiest Confederation flag bikini ever found at in an inspired costuming binge at Wal-Mart, isn’t the sharpest of entrepreneurs. There are moments of genuine greatness in American Honey as Arnold, Lane, and the talented cast delivers a spot on observation of ho-hum millennial life and the restlessness of a generation.



(USA, 100 min.)
Dir. Ava DuVernay, Writ. Spencer Averick, Ava DuVernay
Courtesy of Netflix
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction,” reads the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of American. Selma director Ava DuVernay reads this clause, which was introduced to abolish slavery, as further evidence of America’s systemic racism. 13th, DuVernay’s new doc, forms a strong argument that smartly hinges on that first comma and the word “except” that so tragically graces the Constitution. The film situates the explosion of the Black Lives Matter within the country’s ongoing history of racial prejudice.


Oscar Predictions: Round 1 - Once More Unto the Breach

Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) in La La Land. an Entertainment One release.
Once more unto the breach. The award season grind returns earlier than ever. There’s barely a frontrunner and there are still two full months of moviegoing left to enjoy, but critics’ nominations are already coming out and screeners are trickling in as campaigns swing into gear. Let us start by crossing our fingers in hopes of a much more civilised and enjoyable year of Oscar fodder, and begin by looking at the three main stages of the year award-wise: pre-festivals, festival season, and late-breaking game-changers.


'Fritz Bauer' a Timely Slice of History

The People vs. Fritz Bauer (Der Staat gegen Fritz Bauer)
(Germany, 105 min.)
Dir. Lars Kraume, Writ. Lars Kraume, Olivier Guez
Starring: Burghart Klaußner, Ronald Zehrfeld, Michael Schenk
On the heels of last year’s admirably assembled and Oscar-shortlisted snooze-fest Labyrinth of Lies comes a much more satisfying take on the fight to bring Nazi war criminals to justice. The People vs. Fritz Bauer dramatizes the story of a prosecutor who played an essential role in building momentum for the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials. As Fritz Bauer (The Reader’s Burghart Klaußner) hunts Nazis in search of justice for the atrocities of the Holocaust, his quest illustrates how easily one can lose sight of righteousness while pursuing it.


Contest! Win Tickets to See 'Bad Santa 2' Across Canada! (Contest Closed)

Ho! Ho! Ho! Cinemablographer is making a list and checking it twice, giving movie tickets depending on who’s naughty or nice! Readers on the ‘naughty’ list are in good company this Yuletide season as Billy Bob Thornton returns to the Santa suit in Bad Santa 2. Bad Santa 2 opens Wednesday, November 23 from eOne Films, and Cinemablographer has tickets to sneak peeks around Canada! Answer the trivia below for your chance to win tickets!


The Nip of the North

Two Lovers and a Bear
(Canada, 96 min.)
Written and directed by Kim Nguyen
Starring: Tatiana Maslany, Dane DeHaan, Gordon Pinsent, John Ralston
Courtesy eOne Films

“Two lovers walk into a bar,” says Lucy (Tatiana Maslany) during an intimate moment of Two Lovers and the Bear. Lucy offers this rambling joke that includes a bear, an octopus, and a crapload of word vomit, and while one cannot remember the point or punch line of her story, this pause in Two Lovers and a Bear is the moment in which the film all comes together. This elusive new drama from Oscar nominee Kim Nguyen (War Witch) is an odd little octopus. Like Lucy’s joke, it takes a leisurely pace to arrive at its destination and when it hits home, one doesn’t quite understand what just surmised, but it’s uniquely satisfying. It’s a cold and enigmatic film that envelops the viewer like a big ghostly bear hug.


African Film Festival of Ottawa Returns with 'As I Open My Eyes'

As I Open My Eyes (A peine j'ouvre les yeux)
(Tunisia/France/Belgium, 102 min.)
Dir. Leyla Bouzid, Writ. Leyla Bouzid, Sophie-Marie Champion
Starring: Baya Medhaffer, Ghalia Benali, Montassar Ayari
This year’s African Film Festival Ottawa opens with Leyla Bouzid’s drama As I Open My Eyes. The film is Tunisia’s official submission for Best Foreign Language Film to this year’s Academy Awards, which is a nice get for a fest in its second year even if the title is unfortunately absent from the list of films accepted by Oscar as eligible to compete. Let not awards consideration be your guide and appreciate the film as a nice, nuanced, and wonderfully acted coming-of-age tale about life in Tunisia before the Revolution.


'The Lockpicker' is an Unnerving Study of Grief and Alienation

The Lockpicker
(Canada, 94 min.)
Written and directed by Randall Okita
Starring: Keigian Umi Tang, Storie Serres, David Woroner, Jordan Gray, Madi Langdon
Randall Okita delivers on the promise of his short films with his first feature film as a director, The Lockpicker. His previous short, The Weatherman and the Shadowboxer, posed a tough act to follow with its brilliant experimental form and innovative design, but Okita upholds the visionary richness of his shorts while filming on a much larger canvas. It’s a departure, too, in that The Lockpicker is as visually minimalist as the shorts are aesthetically complex. Ninety minutes of screen time and the commercial demands of feature filmmaking don’t necessarily allow for the same formal experimentation, especially when one works in Canadian dollars, and The Lockpicker displays an intuitive and economical approach to the medium. One can do more with less.


Get Swept Up in 'Sand Storm'

Sand Storm (Sufat Chol)
(Israel, 87 min.)
Written and directed by Elite Zexer
Starring: Lamis Ammar, Ruba Blal, Hitham Omari, Khadija Al Akel
Courtesy of TIFF
Get swept up in Sand Storm. This efficient whirlwind of a film from Elite Zexer is sparse and powerful. It’s Israel’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars this year and it could go all the way if the folks on the nomination committee dig Toni Erdmann as little as the Cannes jury did. There’s nothing to fault in this small film with a mighty heart as Zexer creates a delicately heartfelt story about a mothers and daughters.


Operation Can Con

Operation Avalanche
(USA/Canada, 94 min.)
Dir. Matt Johnson, Writ. Matt Johnson, Josh Boles
Starring: Matt Johnson, Owen Williams, Josh Boles, Krista Madison, Jared Raab
Courtesy of eOne Films

Operation Avalanche brings to the screen a conspiracy for the Canadian film scene to rival the allegedly false moon landing that it dramatizes. This new found footage flick/mockumentary is the latest film from Matthew Johnson following his breakout hit The Dirties and it comes to theatres following a ten months of controversy and conversations fuelled by Johnson speaking out against Canadian film pillars like TIFF and Telefilm Canada for their allegedly conspiratorial practices that determine who gets anointed in terms of support and funding. He says that the same established filmmakers receive tax dollars to churn out commercial films that aren’t doing Canadians any service. Bruce McDonald, Patricia Rozema, and Deepa Mehta all just made their best films in years, but here comes Matt Johnson and Operation Can Con to rouse the members of the Toronto New Wave from their slumber.


Docu-Thriller Peeks Behind Korea's Curtain

The Lovers and the Despot
(UK, 98 min.)
Dir. Rob Cannan, Ross Adam
Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Who knew that Kim Jong-ill wanted to be Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, and Leni Riefenstahl rolled into one? North Korea’s notorious supreme leader is at the centre of the fascinating documentary The Lovers and the Despot, as is his unexpected love for film that fuels this enthralling story. This stranger-than-fiction docu-thriller unravels a wild tale. It’s a thrilling cinematic caper, but also a uniquely revealing glimpse behind the curtain of one of the most secretive countries in the world.