2016 in Review: Top 10 films (that didn't screen in Amarillo)
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By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
As Amarillo movie buffs know, not every film screens here.
We're not alone: Some acclaimed flicks only play in New York and Los Angeles to qualify for an Oscar race or ahead of a VOD release, or only play on the festival circuit without finding a distributor.
The truth is, attentive Amarillo audiences can catch many of the year's best films in our theaters, as you can see in Part 1 of this list. And with the ever-shortening window between theatrical and digital release, the wait to catch many films really isn't terribly onerous anymore.
Well, so says the avowed Lubbock-hater who nonetheless drove south to see not one, but two of 2016's best-received movies.
But a look back at the year's greatest films wouldn't be complete without considering those that didn't actually flicker to life in Amarillo's theaters. I'm still surprised that two of them didn't, and I'm still hopeful that two more soon will, and the good news is, you can see eight of them now at your home.
1. Moonlight: Lyrical and haunting, heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful, writer-director Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s unproduced play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue is wonderfully universal in its specificity. We follow young Chiron through three stages of his life — a preteen (Alex Hibbert) who avoids his crack-addled mother only to find an unexpected protector and mentor in a drug dealer, Juan (Mahershala Ali); a teen (Ashton Sanders) constantly bullied in school and finding his hopes unexpectedly raised, then dashed; and a hardened man (Trevante Rhodes), following in Juan’s footsteps only to see his past unexpectedly resurrected. It’s somber and bathed in blue (the color and the feeling), but despite the despair Chiron often, justifiably feels, the film — which screened in November in Lubbock, but not yet in Amarillo — gives us valuable insight into the marginalized — inspiring, we hope, righteous empathy in its viewers.
2. Loving: Extraordinarily powerful precisely because it doesn’t swing for the fences, Jeff Nichols’ historical drama keeps its focus tight on the interracial Virginia couple whose marriage led to their arrest and banishment from their home state, a case that ultimately led to a Supreme Court ruling overturning anti-miscegenation laws. Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga shoulder the weight of the film — and the history — beautifully, with Nichols shooting everything in a muted tone that focuses us on their love, not on the hate surrounding them. This, too, screened in Lubbock but not, as yet, in Amarillo.
3. Krisha: This micro-budgeted family drama from newcomer Trey Edward Shults is one of the most searing films of the year, made all the more remarkable by the fact that Shults filmed it in his mother’s house in nine days with a cast drawn largely from his own family acting out a fictionalized version of one of its most traumatic moments. Shults’ aunt Krisha Fairchild, an actress who had never gotten her big break, stars as the title character, a recovering addict returning home for Thanksgiving for the first time in years. Told from her perspective and staged as a claustrophobic horror story with ratcheting tension, Krisha (available on Amazon Prime) is the kind of film that will have you proselytizing about it for weeks — or at least that’s what it did for me.
"OJ: Made in America" trailer
4. OJ: Made in America: Most audiences saw this insightful, meticulous documentary charting not just OJ Simpson’s career and fall from grace, but also how it contrasted and mirrored the African-American experience, when it aired on ABC and ESPN over the summer. But the 7 ½-hour documentary first screened at Sundance and got a brief New York / Los Angeles theatrical run, making it eligible for (and the frontrunner for) the Oscar for best documentary. The film, available now on Hulu, should be a Best Picture contender, too, thanks to director Ezra Edelman’s outstanding work.
5. 13th: Director Ava DuVernay’s follow-up to her masterful Selma is this documentary, available on Netflix after a brief, Oscar-qualifying theatrical run, that clearly lays out a case that a clause in the 13th Amendment, written to do away with slavery, actually maintains an American slave state through mass incarceration. Briskly paced but packed with information, DuVernay’s argument is convincing — and horrifying.
"The Lobster" trailer
6. The Lobster: Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ (Dogtooth) English-language debut, available now on Amazon Prime, is high-concept in the extreme: In the near future, single people are given 45 days to find a soulmate, or they are transformed into the animal of their choice. They can extend their time limit by hunting down singles living on their own in the wild. It’s utterly bizarre but totally captivating, with Colin Farrell cast against type as a newly single man who rebels against society’s rules, only to find himself falling for a fellow outcast (Rachel Weisz).
"Sing Street" trailer
7. Sing Street: Impossibly infectious and endlessly energetic, the latest modern musical from director John Carney (Once, Begin Again) is set in Ireland in the 1980s, as a group of teen boys form a band to, what else?, attract girls. Music — as the boys learn and as we are reminded — both provides a soundtrack to life and, when we’re lucky and open to it, can change a life, as well. Fans of ‘80s pop bands Duran Duran and Pet Shop Boys won’t want to miss this film, available now on disc and via digital outlets, but neither will fans of any kind of music, really.
8. Weiner: If I’d seen this documentary on Anthony Weiner’s ill-fated 2013 run for NYC mayor before November, before his name popped back into the news in what probably dealt the deathblow to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, it would have been painful enough. Seeing it on Amazon after Nov. 8 was very nearly an exercise in masochism. But the documentary, for which Weiner and now-estranged wife Huma Abedin allowed fly-on-the-wall access to filmmakers Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kreigman, remains utterly captivating viewing. I suppose it’s an overweening sense of hubris on Weiner’s part that accounts for the filmmakers’ access and, really, his entire career. But it’s Abedin’s pain, which turns thoroughly visceral as Weiner’s sexting scandals reemerge during the campaign, that lingers. The film could be just voyeuristic entertainment if it didn’t offer valuable insight into the media’s 24-hour obsession with titillation and scandal.
"The Fits" trailer
9. The Fits: Writer-director Anna Rose Holmer’s debut film, available on Amazon Prime, is as disorienting as the world it depicts — that of tween girls dealing with the transition to adulthood. The marvelously named and perfectly cast Royalty Hightower plays a tomboy in Cincinnati who finds herself less enthralled with the boxing lessons she’s been taking from her brother and more so with the all-girl dance troupe also practicing in the same gym. As she struggles to learn the moves, she witnesses the older girls succumbing to the mysterious seizures that give the film its name. What’s going on is never explained, but Holmer is clearly inspired by cases of mass hysteria among young women. The film doesn’t need to provide answers, though, when it manages to be so spellbinding without them.
"Everybody Wants Some!!" trailer
10. Everybody Wants Some!!: Director Richard Linklater’s latest is less formally ambitious than his epic Boyhood, but in returning to the loosey-goosey form of Dazed and Confused, Linklater still proves to be a master of mood. Set in the early ‘80s, Linklater follows a group of college baseball players (including Blake Jenner, Tyler Hoechlin and Wyatt Russell) for a few days at the start of school. There’s no plot to speak of, but there doesn’t need to be: The meandering ramble, available now digitally and on disc, is compelling enough without one.
Honorable mention: Other People, a funny tearjerker about a dying mom (the magnificent Molly Shannon); A Bigger Splash, a wild romp with Tilda Swinton and a devastatingly funny Ralph Fiennes; Tickled, a horrifically creepy documentary about ... well, that would spoil the surprise; Love & Friendship, director Whit Stillman’s take on an obscure Jane Austen story; and Indignation, a Phillip Roth adaptation with an astounding, 16-minute debate between stars Logan Lerman and Tracy Letts at its center.