Film festivals are gong shows. There are massive lineups, expensive tickets and generally very few opportunities to interact with the stars of your favourite films. For journalists it's even more annoying because you have to deal with junkets, canned interviews and a schedule that is masochistic at best. But even with all that, VICE still managed to do some cool shit. We went camping with the cast of Blair Witch, hung out on the beach with the team behind Nigerian indie film Green White Green and took some directors fishing. And yeah, we watched a shit ton of movies too. Here are some of favourites.
Simply put, the most astonishing second film of 2016. Barry Jenkins, who made a huge impression with 2008's
Medicine for Meloncholy
, takes a humongous leap here in his groundbreaking tale that, in three chapters, meditates on the life of Chiron, a sensitive and remote kid who grows up to become a muscle bound dope hustler in Atlanta. Born black and gay in Miami's crack ravaged Liberty Hill district during the 1980s, he encounters bulling and poor parenting the likes of which destroy many men, but Chiron puts on the masks of hyper-macho, performative black masculinity and keeps on steppin', the movie revealing such poses for the coping mechanism that they are in a world simply not designed for us to thrive without some struggle. The film recalls Wong Kar-Wai's
superficially perhaps but it is, in its audacious, sonically and visually arresting way, a thing completely unto itself, a new modern American masterpiece that will go down in the annals of both black and gay cinema as a classic.
Ben Wheatley's 70s tense, electrifying shootout is one of the most electric and fun movies I've seen in a long time. Taking place almost entirely in a rubble-filled warehouse, windowless and almost suffocating in its enormity, the film moves quickly and never takes itself too seriously. Armie Hammer, Brie Larsen and Cillian Murphy headline an ensemble cast that play off each other perfectly. There's not a moment of the film that drags or seems out of place.
Manchester By The Sea
Manchester By the Sea, which tells the story of a man (played by Batman's brother, Casey Affleck) named Lee Chandler who gets stuck raising his brother's hockey bro child/typical teenage shithead Patrick (Lucas Hedges) after his brother (Kyle Chandler) dies suddenly, does an amazing job of skipping the bullshit. By bullshit, I mean the tropes, cliches and habits that seem to dominate modern films in its genre. The Wes Anderson craze is not here — this is not your typical film festival bombshell. For most people, watching Manchester By The Sea will likely cause some deja vu. The way it's shot and scripted is so plainly lacking in poeticism that it feels like the characters on screen weren't acting at all. Many of the scenes from the movie may remind you of moments in your life where arguments didn't always resolve themselves, or people you loved didn't necessarily make sense at that time. It avoids the trope of two messed-up, unconventional souls needing each other to heal (Lee himself has a lot of that to do, but you won't know why right away — the movie slowly unravels that until the big reveal), and let's the audience know very quickly that these characters may never get along. Not only that, but it doesn't try to equalize that burden by helping characters find solace in abstract places.
In one of his best movies in a decade (alongside Trigger), Bruce McDonald goes full Canadiana with his 1970s teenage road trip Weirdos. The tale of two ostensibly lovelorn 15-year-olds, Alice and Kit, hitchhiking from Antigonish to Sydney to hit a beach party and meet up with Kit's estranged mother is sort of like a low-key Maritimes version of Dazed and Confused. Lovingly shot in black-and-white, from the onset, the film gives off a lower-middle class Leave it to Beaver vibe, which belies the teenage drug use, dysfunctional family drama, and questioning sexuality. Under McDonald's direction, the kids have a very natural chemistry, with aloof Kit (Dylan Authors) playing off nicely against the more confrontational Alice (Julia Sarah Stone, who looks and acts like a young Maggie Gyllenhaal). The teenage drama, however, is treated with the same importance as that of Kit's separated parents (Molly Parker and Alan Hawco), which makes the feel-good moments feel very earned.
Legendary no wave filmmaker (and musician) Jim Jarmusch has followed up his cooler-than-cool post-punk vampire movie Only Lovers Left Alive with possibly the nerdiest topic ever: a film about a bus-driving wannabe poet. Admittedly, Jarmusch has also worked a Stooges doc (Gimme Danger) into the mix for this year's festival circuit as a logical extension of the critically adored undead love story, but Paterson, which stars Adam Driver (aka Kylo Ren) as the eponymous wordsmith, is maybe a more fitting follow up. Themes of creativity, individuality, and the multiplicity of relationships run through both films. With Paterson, the quiet, almost 1950s vibe of blue-collar working man and stay-at-home wife is contrasted with aspirations of creativity: both through Paterson, who pens near-perfect free-verse poems on breaks from driving yet shows them to nobody, and his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), whose eccentric fashion sense and free-spirited musical and culinary abilities easily seek (and find) an audience. This is, however, a Jarmusch film about a poet, and moves at a snail's pace through Paterson's daily routines of driving, writing, and hanging out in his mostly black neighbourhood, where not much ever really happens. Patience is definitely required, but it is rewarded.
Bryan Cranston had had a number of notable big-picture roles since his nuclear finish on Breaking Bad some three years ago, but Wakefield has to be his best — if not most natural — as of yet. It's also, in many ways, a call back to his days as Walter White — Cranston's character, Howard Wakefield, is a just-OK lawyer from Connecticut who has had enough of life and decides to run away from everything. His marriage with his wife (Jennifer Garner), his kids, his job. He decides to become a missing person — except he's not actually missing, he's just hiding in the attic above the garage on his property.
The concept seems laughable at first — like a lost episode of Louie, or a straight-to-DVD comedy starring Vince Vaughn — but it turns out to be a quite poignant look at identity and self as a middle-aged man. Howard doesn't actually have to be anybody, he can just be this man in this attic on his property, watching his wife and kids go through life. He is, however, bound by the trappings of masculinity and ownership over his family — from his new hideout, he watches his wife and kids to make sure they aren't up to anything that he wouldn't be comfortable with. In many ways, it's a harkening back to the later episodes of Breaking Bad, where Walter White has to go against his own grain for the sake of his family (as revealed at the end, really just for the sake of himself).
Whether Cranston gravitates toward these roles purposely or he seems to be just caught in their orbit is up for discussion — regardless, one thing is for sure: Wakefield, because of Cranston's hard-on for playing men in midlife crisis', is a pretty enjoyable feature film that normally wouldn't have been much more than a short film experiment.