MY FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2016

In the past 14 months if ticket stubs and memory is to be believed I saw 50 films in a cinema. 7 of them were released in 2015 for that year’s Oscar race even if I came to see them in Australia cinemas in early 2016; they were Youth, Steve Jobs, Spotlight, The Force Awakens, The Big Short, The Hateful Eight and Brooklyn. There were a handful films I saw more than once and they were mostly blockbusters Batman Vs. Superman, Rogue One and with far more enthusiasm Deadpool and after seeing The Force Awakens twice in December 2015 I went back for third, fourth and fifth helpings. There’s only one other film I’ve seen five times at the movies and back then I had a lot more diverse social circle. Whatever the flaws of Star War 7 and Deadpool there was real love and affection that drove me back to them to watch rather than waiting months for release on some other platform.

I didn’t see the well-received Australian made Hacksaw Ridge directed by Mel Gibson whose personal faults have never pushed me away from his work – I look forward to seeing his latest effort but weekend after weekend I shook my head and made a different choice or stayed at home. Hell or High Water is a different story, I wanted to see it but by the time I suspected it must have hit our shores I found out I had missed the boat by a couple of months when I was very busy with work. My best friend has the best tastes in popular culture and has led me to many a great film I would have ignored. He’s pointed out Your Name is one to see and fellow bloggers have also praised it. I hope to find out for myself soon. I am interested too in the collaboration of Isabelle Huppert and Paul Verhoeven with the film Elle. I’ve barely seen any foreign films and certainly none of the well regarded ones this year. Like Room from last year I’m interested in Manchester by the Sea but just don’t feel like seeing a movie that will make me more depressed at the moment.

So it seems silly to really sit here and write a list of my Favourite Films for the year. Yet I found it kind of interesting to see I’d written a review on my site of every film I’d seen in the cinema and two that were original content for Netflix. Films I hadn’t seen at the movies but were 2016 releases like Triple 9, Zootopia and The Secret Lives of Pets didn’t encroach on a hypothetical top 10 so why not rank them.

One final disclaimer, these are not the 10 best but my favourite films from the year. Yes I am trying to grade them on artistic merit but films that made me feel more are going to see their stocks rise and how I feel about them is going to link back to what appeals to me personally I’m afraid. In a way it’s easier to pick a Top 5 than a Top 10 because of this.

The 43 films were as follows and I’ll even belatedly throw in a star rating based off Ebert’s 4 Star system.

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The Founder January 18th 18 Likes 393 Views ***

 

Hunt for the Wilderpeople Published August 11th 24 Likes 99 Views ****

Eye in the Sky Published March 29th 8 Likes 96 Views ****

Bad Moms Published October 11th 14 Likes 66 Views ***

Deadpool Published March 17th 6 Likes 61 Views ****

Star Trek: Beyond Published August 20th 14 Likes 56 Views **1/2

Batman vs. Superman Published April 1st 7 Likes 56 Views ***

Sully Published September 27th 13 Likes 55 Views ***1/2

Suicide Squad Published August 26th 15 Likes 53 Views **1/2

 

Arrival Published February 8th 15 Likes 49 Views ***1/2

The Girl on the Train Published February 3rd 13 Likes 47 Views ***

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Published September 6th 12 Likes 47 Views ***

Jackie Published February 10th 12 Likes 46 Views ***1/2

Finding Dory Published August 20th 10 Likes 44 Views ***

Moonlight Published February 12th 15 Likes 42 Views ***1/2

La La Land Published February 2nd 13 Likes 42 Views ***1/2

Love and Friendship Published August 29th 14 Likes 41 Views ***

Ghostbusters (2016) Published August 20th 10 Likes 41 Views **

 

Fences Published February 18th 17 Likes 39 Views ***1/2

The Siege at Jadotville Published February 13th 14 Likes 39 Views ***

The Nice Guys Published August 10th 11 Likes 39 Views ***1/2

Eddie the Eagle Published April 23rd 7 Likes 39 Views ***

Hail, Caesar! Published April 20th 11 Likes 35 Views ***1/2

Office Christmas Party Published February 17th 10 Likes 34 Views **

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie Published September 30th 14 Likes 34 Views ***

Jason Bourne Published August 25th 9 Likes 33 Views **1/2

Central Intelligence Published August 14th 14 Likes 32 Views **1/2

Captain America: Civil War Published May 27th 7 Likes 30 Views ***1/2

 

The Accountant Published February 9th 17 Likes 28 Views ***

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back Published January 18th 13 Likes 25 Views **1/2

Alice Through the Looking Glass Published August 10th 12 Likes 24 Views **1/2

Zoolander No. 2 Published March 29th 2 Likes 24 Views **

Blair Witch Published January 18th 9 Likes 22 Views ***

X-Men Apocalypse Published September 29th 11 Likes 21 Views ***

The Boss Published April 22nd 4 Likes 21 Views **1/2

The Huntsman: Winter’s War April 21st 7 Likes 21 Views ***

Doctor Strange Published January 18th 11 Likes 20 Views ***

Sausage Party September 30th 9 Likes 20 Views **1/2

 

Rogue One Published January 13th 11 Likes 18 Views ***

Bridget Jones’s Baby Published January 18th 11 Likes 17 Views **1/2

Kung-Fu Panda 3 Published February 17th 7 Likes 13 Views **1/2

 

Hidden Figures ***1/2 Published at http://scenestr.com.au/news/movies-and-tv/hidden-figures-review-20170223

 

Out of them I’ll go into a bit more details about some that deserve an Honourable Mention and those that are my 10 favourite films of 2016 – for now.

 

Honourable Mentions

 

Image result for bad moms gifsBad Moms Published October 11th 14 Likes – 66 Views ***

The best popular mainstream gross out comedy of the year and centred around motherhood no less. After years of watching guys do it, it’s nice to see the girls proving they can be as irresponsible, self-centred and crazy as the boys. “Kunis, Bell and Hahn share a nice chemistry in this film with Kunis holding it all together as the lead, Bell doing some inspired physical comedy and Hahn stealing the show by doing whatever the hell she wants. A late scene where she explains motherhood to Kunis gives the film heart and a message. All the best gross out comedies have these two qualities. There’s been a few comedies released this year, none of them had the audience laughing as much as Bad Moms. Do yourself a favour.

 

Image result for siege at jadotvilleThe Siege at Jadotville Published February 13th 14 Likes – 39 Views ***

A company of Irish soldiers faced an onslaught of a far superior force in war torn Congo in 1961. Their heroics have been made into a film sparing no expense from Netflix. Knowing this really happened and what they received upon their return gives this movie depth and heart. “The Siege at Jadotville is a real throwback to old war movies that your Dad loved to watch on a Sunday. Modern production values are there and a dry Irish sense of humour bleeds through every now and again but the cast are mostly types not people, the soldier with glasses, the sniper (Sam Keeley as Billy Ready), the gruff old Sergeant (Jason O’Mara as Company Sergeant Jack Prendergast). Their emotive faces tell enough and Jamie Dornan acquits himself well as Commandant Pat Quinlan who as a person gets the most rounded out beside the exasperating political figures.

 

Eddie the Eagle Published April 23rd 7 Likes – 39 Views ***

Eddie the Eagle is cookie cutting filmmaking about sports and underdogs and yet it charms the hell out of you just like its hero. Eddie the Eagle was a very special underdog indeed and Taron Egerton gives a wonderful performance while Hugh Jackman charms as a gruff coach who didn’t exist in real life. “Eddie the Eagle implausibly showed up at the 1988 Winter Olympics as Britain’s sole Ski Jump competitor. His performance was so significantly behind the second last place getter that a new rule was instituted making it more difficult to place in the sport for the Olympics. There are those to this day who were embarrassed that he was there and confounded by his popularity. That’s because they don’t know what it’s like on that factory floor or in that office cubicle. Eddie had dreamed the impossible dream and we like dreamers. We need them, when they achieve something they keep our dreams alive. They make anything possible, thank you Eddie.

 

Batman vs. Superman Published April 1st 7 Likes – 56 Views ***

Both this blockbuster and Rogue One were flawed beyond belief but neither was boring and in light of the growing conveyor belt sameness of Marvel’s work and other disappointing blockbusters for the year I can’t help but reflect that the good stuff in these films should be recognised. Zack Snyder has created a dark downbeat nonsensical universe in his DC films which has completely missed the point of Superman as a hero. However Batman and Alfred Pennyworth yet again star on the big screen and play a new variation of their characters and relationship with humour, charm and action. The best fight scene with Batman ever put on screen is in this movie, it just doesn’t feature Superman. The hypocrisy of the ‘heroes’ actions and the comical motivations deflate the film but this is still a vision that is unique and oddly compelling. “Yet when he [Christopher Reeve as Superman] said “I never lie.” you not only believed it but you believed in the possibility and rightness of such a thing. He felt pain being belted into a building and outright desperation whenever Lois was threatened. Yet he was inherently good and awesome as a symbol too. Cavill strutting into the Senate hearing halfway through this film could’ve been an opportunity for Superman to say something but alas…

 

Related imageRogue One Published January 13th 11 Likes – 18 Views ***

Rogue One has a lot of good ideas that shed new light on the Rebel Alliance and the Empire from the original Star Wars. The ideas for all the characters are interesting too but barring the comic relief of Alan Tudyk as K-2SO they never become too emotionally involving. The technical proficiency of the action and special effects though shine throughout and the third act purely on a spectacle level maybe the most epic and satisfying of the year. “We are told who they are rather than shown half the time and when we are, we just don’t care. The plot is always moving from planet to planet and set piece to set piece that the characters themselves barely get a chance to interact and grow relationships. We know they are inherently good people and we do want them to succeed but we are not scared for their safety and that is a huge misgiving for this type of film.

 

Image result for the girl on the trainThe Girl on the Train Published February 3rd 13 Likes – 47 Views ***

A sexy thriller (seriously there’s like at least 4 or 5 sex scenes and they’re all sexy), that flirts with gender politics and has a mandatory neat twist. Elevated by the cast, none shines better than Emily Blunt who is on fine form here. “The film works strongest when dealing with perspective and prejudice, why do the other women stare at Megan in yoga class. Are they threatened by her beauty or do they know something about her character? Is she highly sexual or do others like to imagine so? Is she a victim, a manipulator or something more sinister?  The answer is of course the same it has always been, the same it has been for most men and women since time immemorial. She is not one thing or the other.

 

wtf tina fey whiskey tango foxtrot kim barker robert carlockWhiskey Tango Foxtrot Published September 6th 12 Likes – 47 Views ***

I sent an application to the United Nations once saying I wanted to go work in Afghanistan. I never got a reply. Watching Whiskey Tango Foxtrot reminded me of a time and place I wished I’d found myself a part of even if I should have done a lot more than wish if that’s what I really wanted. When the call came for journalist Kim Barker she answered it and the resulting film about Kim Baker delights as a workplace war comedy starring the talented Tina Fey and allowing Margot Robbie and Christopher Abbott to shine in supporting roles. “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot tells another story from the War on Terror, it invites us to laugh and then maybe to think but mostly the coda for the film is to live your life to the full, embrace the challenges, get through them and then move on and live your life the best you can now. Like in war. Operation Enduring Freedom ended on the 31st December 2014. US Troops remaining in Afghanistan serve as part of the ongoing Operation Sentinel’s Freedom.

 

Image result for jackie movieJackie Published February 10th 12 Likes – 46 Views ***1/2

Natalie Portman’s performance is on key throughout this challenging film which breaks down how a lot of the Kennedy myth was put together but may only truly be enjoyed by those who believe in the power of it for better or worse. A haunting moody piece about grief and how we react to it, the film is also slow paced at times but can’t be faulted for demanding full attention from its audience. “Grief stricken at the loss of a husband who cheated on her, cool and collected at times and at others almost hysterical certain facts long known but never pondered come forward. She held her husbands blasted apart head in her lap all the way to the hospital. What the hell does that do to someone? Less than a week later she marched through Washington with world leaders despite all kinds of security concerns that an assassin could target them again. She took her kids to the coffin and she trained her son to salute it with the whole world watching. Why was ensuring President Kennedy’s legacy so important in helping her grief for an imperfect man that she loved?

 

Related imageMoonlight Published February 12th 15 Likes – 42 Views ***1/2

Split into three distinct moments in one young man’s life, Moonlight shows clearly what legacy the action of loved ones can have on a child’s development. Despite the cost of bullying and betrayal that Chiron endures there is hope at the end of this story. Hope for his life is just beginning. “Left to fend for himself, a drug dealer named Juan notices him one day and befriends him. Why he feels compelled to do this is only hinted at but he is played by Mahershala  Ali whose performance looms over the rest of the film. He is the only positive male figure the boy nicknamed Little will ever have teaching him how to swim in one beautiful scene of the boy being cradled in his arms amongst the waves. This is a hard man who shows this boy nothing but gentleness, the most obvious answer to why is he immediately recognised something in Little of himself and wants to protect the innocence he has lost but this man is a criminal and there are limits to what he can do. Perhaps we’re all protective of children and their fragility, there is a scene where Chiron asks what a certain word his mother called him means and it kind of breaks your heart.

 

Image result for lala landLa La Land Published February 2nd 13 Likes – 42 Views ***1/2

Arguably the best looking film of the year, I wonder how much came from digital enhancement. With two winning lead performances from Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone who share fantastic chemistry the film delights with big musical numbers that make the best use of modern technology. Ambitiously adding subterfuge to his own movie writer/director Damien Chazelle also offers up a film about artistic ambition and the struggles that come with daring to dream. The ending was not expected but is powerful and heartbreaking. Suckers for perfect happy endings beware but hopefully at the very least this encourages Hollywood to make more musicals and one with the modern possibilities engaged here. “The film opens up on the disused freeway ramp where parts of Speed were shot with an impromptu dance number by many stuck in LA traffic with a one take tracking shot over several vehicles and choreographed dancers. It’s kinda awesome but has little to do with what the rest of the film will be about.

 

THE TEN

 

10. Captain America: Civil War Published May 27th 7 Likes – 30 Views ***1/2

When you’re the big dog, people like to kick you if they smell opportunity and Marvel have become so successful it’s tempting to take for granted what they do except nobody else seems to be doing it nearly as well. There are missed opportunities, there’s no distinct visual style here and we suspect a little too easily that everything is going to be alright no matter what the stakes. Yet these guys always bring it back to the characters and never more so than here. Everything Captain America does here is for a childhood friend who he served together with in war and thought was long dead. Tony Stark well you’ll have to see the film but this plays off eight years of world building throughout the franchise and nobody else is doing that with their franchises. They lack the patience and they lack the heart. Plus that airport scene.”Which is fine because the film is not really about the Sokovia Accords, it is about Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and what lengths Steve Rogers will go to protect his friend and fellow veteran while at the same time Tony Stark is trying to protect the Avengers as best he can. Stark and Rogers have always been at odds with their contrasting personalities and world view points. There is an extra layer there in the sense that Rogers is partially a creation of Howard Stark’s and a friend of Tony’s Dad. He’s perversely both father figure and rival son for Stark Senior’s approval. The ground work for this had been laid previously and in this film finally gets paid off.

aliens scifi spaceship arrival9. Arrival Published February 8th 15 Likes – 49 Views ***1/2

Arrival is a thoughtful blockbuster about the need for us to communicate better with each other and with the outside world. A film that plays with the concepts of time as it tells a simple universal story of hope, fear, love and loss. Oh yeah there’s aliens in it too. “It feels right and real that contacts with aliens would be set up in a tent city with dimly lit rooms and the lime green shading of a hospital full of tired middle aged bureaucrats questioning each other’s ideas on a regular basis. The aliens themselves are always seen with a sense of wonder (their design is original and interesting too), how to get to them starts off in a simple fashion but is suitably otherworldly and unnerving.

Image result for fences movie8. Fences Published February 18th 17 Likes – 39 Views ***1/2

This is a hard movie to watch at times but it always feels real even if set bound like the stage play it originally was. There are rich themes about mortality, legacy, fathers and sons, husbands and wives, infidelity and the history of race in America. The central character is hard to watch at times, hard to understand, hard to forgive and we share in that challenge as audience members with the characters around him who are part of his life. This is writing and performing of the highest level and Denzel is so good as Troy Maxson but it is Viola Davis in one powerful moment articulating the limits and trials and hopes and dreams of 1950s housewives everywhere that is devastatingly beautiful and painful that makes this film such a must see. “As the film goes on Maxson inhabits scenes he‘s not even in, after watching him with his family throughout we grow to feel some of their emotions. As he winds up for another lecture we shake our heads at the repetition and the lack of self-awareness and yet when he’s gone we feel the lack of his presence as keenly as the family does. We understand perhaps that for better or worse we are who are fathers made us and whether they did us proud or said they loved us we want to make them proud and we do love them.

7. Hail, Caesar! Published April 20th 11 Likes – 35 Views ***1/2

A movie for people who love the movies made by people who love movies too. Set in 1950s America there are parallels to today’s world, call-backs to the type of films old Hollywood produced and that wonderful intelligent witty dialogue that we’ve come to expect from the Coen brothers. Plus look out for Alden Ehrenreich who steals the show and whose star is on the rise. As a film buff I loved it. ” Yet this is not a film that exclusively looks back with rose tinted glasses, the Red menace of the Cold War evokes the same fear that ISIS does now, there is a Latino starlet Carlotta Valdez (Veronica Osorio) hoping for the same opportunities afforded her white co-stars, this is the era of McCarthy which may remind us a little that we now tear ourselves apart with political tribalism and humming in the background when Hollywood is in the final bloom of its Golden Age is the advent of stars demanding more and television only a few years away threatening the revenue streams that were taken for granted.

6. The Nice Guys Published August 10th 11 Likes – 39 Views ***1/2

What a year for Ryan Gosling, in La La Land he sang and danced and proved Emma Stone and him should make another five films together. Nominated for an Academy Award for La La Land, his best performance this year gone is as a washed up Private Investigator, flawed father and comic relief to tough guy Russell Crowe. He is fearless in this film at being funny and get the word out because we need more movies like this. A tough fun throwback to the period it is set in of 1970s film noir by writer/director Shane Black. “Crowe with his impish smile and easy charm points to possibilities, the film’s best scene maybe in a park late at night with Healy talking to the younger Ms. March. She tells him you’re not a bad person and the look on Crowe’s face says he wants her to believe it.

5. Sully Published September 27th 13 Likes – 55 Views ***1/2

Sully has a lean runtime as it is but in search of drama they beefed up the PTSD angle of the flight crew and positioned the crash investigative team as antagonists. It might have been more interesting to go into more detail of his wife’s story or that of the flight attendants relayed in Sullenberger’s memoir but no matter. Whatever its flaws, Clint Eastwood has directed the best action set pieces of 2015 – yeah you fucking heard me. I wept not one tear for Jyn Erso or Batman but when that ferry arrived at the wing I felt my face crack. As someone who has read a lot about the story, the things that he got right honour so many who lived through this on that fateful day. It’s an extraordinary story rendered justice and pathos on the big screen by two of America’s icons. Eastwood and Tom Hanks. “Sully is an American hero. We should cherish that simple reassuring fact until the end of time that such things can be true and real in this day and age. Yet Chelsey Sullenberger is also a man, a quiet professional of considerable skill and talent but a human being with flaws and doubts like the rest of us. Clint Eastwood’s film accepts both these truths can co-exist but has something to say about how each responded to the events of January 15, 2009.

4. Hidden Figures Published February 24 at Scenestr ***1/2

Hidden Figures is a Hollywood rendering of an important story of bright African American women who broke down career barriers and overcame racial prejudice in a volatile time for America socially. With a rocking soundtrack from producer Pharrell Williams, great humour and pathos there are scenes that may not have played out like this in real life but they’re satisfying and emotionally moving. “Whether it is Costner smashing down a segregated toilet sign, Parsons comically reeling at Henson’s insight or a several female calculators led by Spencer marching into the new computer room to run it. Contrived though it may be, it is uplifting storytelling and aspiring for young girls out there interested in science and maths that have been wrongly told that’s not their strong suit.

3. Hunt for the Wilderpeople Published August 11th 24 Likes – 99 Views ****

Every year there’s always a film that surprises you and comes out of nowhere to become one of your favourites. A story of one boy camping out in the New Zealand wilderness with his ‘uncle’ the film boasts a great sense of humour, wild characters, an involving family unit in flux and the best car chase ever put to film in New Zealand. “His name is Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), he’s a big kid who’s had it a bit rough, he’ll tell you he doesn’t care about anything, ready to argue with anybody who puts him down and he’s constantly using words from pop culture to describe himself as a bad-ass street kid. Aunt Bella sees right through him in 10 seconds flat. A home maybe the most important thing you can give a child and by that I don’t mean a nice house to live in. Bella (Rima Te Wiata) lives with Hec (Sam Neil) who was a wanderer who used to live in the woods before he met her. Kids are not the only ones who need a good place to call home.

2. Deadpool Published March 17th 6 Likes – 61 Views ****

We don’t get great blockbusters as much as we like to think; the superhero genre has been with us for a while now and needed a shake-up. A film like Deadpool made against the odds cannot be celebrated and praised enough no matter how much money it makes. This was hands down the most fun I had at the movies last year, witty and meta in a way I could only have dreamed about in the past with well-made action sequences and characters who had well defined and believable relationships. A gem. “T.J. Miller as Wilson’s best friend Weasel has his moments which are a bit like his comedy. His acceptance speech at the Critic’s Choice Awards last year was awesome but the guy just doesn’t always do it for me and that’s true here too. I suppose since this is a review I should probably be more articulate in my opinion of Miller but  I really would rather write about how amazingly hot Jennifer Garner is. I mean seriously those cheekbones, that smile. By the way Jenny there was absolutely nothing wrong with the black one.

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1. Eye in the Sky Published March 29th 8 Likes – 96 Views ****

It turns out the first great film of 2016 was for me the greatest film of 2016. Released so long ago it never had a shot at the Oscar race the fact remains this is a near perfect film dealing with current discussion points about drone warfare, counter terrorism and the intertwining of the battlefield with politics. It boasts the late great Alan Rickman’s final performance but the film belongs to Helen Mirren as military commander ordering a strike and Aisha Takow playing a little girl selling bread on a street corner in Kenya. “Missiles hovering high in the sky waiting for civilians at trade deals to come and answer their phones. Boys selling cheap plastic buckets to act as a cover story for an agent while he operates multi-million dollar miniature drones to fly inside a safe house. Bread in a wood fired oven potentially being a death sentence. Gavin Hood’s film powerfully conveys a brave new world with the same old truths of human nature. We want to raise our children in peace, go to work, come home and see them playing in our yards. But war has always existed and people die in wars.

Well as always thank you for reading and I encourage you to mention in the comments your favourite films of the year and why. As Oscar nears it’s interesting to note how many of the Ten are not in contention at that ceremony. Of those that are, I found this video about them from Screen Junkies very amusing.

-Lloyd Marken

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SULLY: THE MAN IN THE AIR

Image result for sullenberger united states air force

Sully is an American hero. We should cherish that simple reassuring fact until the end of time that such things can be true and real in this day and age. Yet Chesley Sullenberger is also a man, a quiet professional of considerable skill and talent but a human being with flaws and doubts like the rest of us. Clint Eastwood’s film accepts both these truths can co-exist but has something to say about how each responded to the events of January 15, 2009.

On January 15, 2009 Flight 1549 took off from La Guardia airport in New York City. At 2,000 feet before levelling out of ascent multiple birds struck the aircraft disabling both engines immediately. They never got higher than 2,800 feet with the major urban population of New York City beneath them. In 200 seconds the plane had landed on the Hudson river, a feat of piloting in itself which was truly extraordinary. From the point that the plane hit the water to the point where all survivors were on the pier was 24 minutes. To have had anybody survive such a landing would have been remarkable. It was in the dead of winter in the northern hemisphere, the conditions meant that the odds of at least somebody perishing were extremely high. Five individuals were injured or hospitalised but no one perished. All 155 souls on board survived the water landing and immediately the story of the Miracle on the Hudson raced across the world. The incident was the inverse of September 11, 2001. An incident involving an aircraft and New York City where good prevailed, professionalism and heroism saved the day, people were rescued not murdered.

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At the centre of it all an airline pilot who had served in the United States Air Force, a Texan who had learnt to fly at 16 in a crop duster over clear prairie skies and had that cool 70s moustache from the golden age of air travel. In other words-America. Knee deep in casualty reports from Afghanistan and Iraq, and the fall out from the Global Financial Crisis here was the story New York, America and the world could feel good about. The movie Sully understands this but also understands that the word survivor is not used randomly, everybody on board went through an ordeal and they would happily have never gone through it if given the choice.

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Saying Tom Hanks portrayal here is his most low key does not give credit to his Captain John H. Miller or Jim Lovell but Sully is a very shy man at heart and Hanks embodies that. Not a perfect physical match for the real man American’s favourite everyman movie star was the inevitable choice and the role comes at the right moment for his age and in his career. There could’ve been more interesting choices but none better. The rest of the cast is superb, Aaron Eckhart is so laid back as co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles that it may be taken for granted how good his performance is. Looking more like his real life counterpart than Hanks, Eckhart is laidback but more expressive than his co-star. Skiles had only just qualified on the Airbus but was a Captain in his own right demoted due to airline cutbacks (basically experienced and overqualified for the job he was doing). A lot of focus and attention has gone the way of the man who said “My aircraft” and took the controls and not much to the co-pilot and Skiles has weathered that with good humour and grace but Sully will be the first to tell you there were two men in that cockpit that day and both did their jobs superbly. I was pleased to see Skiles as a buttress of support in this film and a calm assertive figure in the narrative. Watch a scene where Skiles makes it easy for Sully to meet him downstairs. Eckhart is so natural as the character that beneath a brown moustache long term fans of the actor have failed to recognise him. Possibly too low key for an Oscar run hopefully some lauded film critics society will tap Eckhart for his performance here and give him an award.

 

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Eastwood always an actor at his best when dialled down gets similar performances form a wealth of character actors including Molly Hagan, Ann Cusack, Jamey Sheridan, Valerie Mahaffey but Laura Linney who shined against type in Mystic River is wasted here. Reduced to playing scenes of calling each other across the other side of the country Hanks and Linney do well. We get that his wife is part of his strength, we feel their isolation and we see how disruptive the investigation and media attention was to the family. These scenes convey a lot that is important to know but they are conventional wife scenes in these kinds of films. It would be fair to suspect there was more to it in real life; Sully’s wife is in her own right a strong, layered and inspiring woman. Image result for sully filmYou won’t get half of that from this film and that’s nothing against Linney. Faring not much better are the air hostesses who played the biggest role in evacuating the plane in a timely and safe manner. Their professionalism is conveyed in telling body language. As the lights fade out in the plane they move forward with a smile telling people to keep their seatbelts on before surmising to each other we’re turning back. But blink and you’ll miss just how important it was that Doreen Welsh (Molly Hagan a long way from Herman’s Head) wounded by the crash with water streaming into the back of the plane got passengers to turn around head out through the forward exits. More justice is done to the calm professional and earnest work done by FAA Air Traffic Control Specialist Patrick Harten. Harten’s scenes are done with minimal fuss and lots of close ups on the actor Patch Darragh. Calm, professionalism, minimal. Those words get used a lot to describe the actions and demeanour of people in a crisis who come through. It’s difficult to not repeat them throughout a review of this film or a recollection of this story. These people were calm and professional and did their jobs with a minimum of fuss.

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As filmmaker Clint Eastwood’s films often bear these hallmarks too, the ‘action’ sequences cut all music, bear few flourishes with camera movement but have a grounded real world approach. Compare the nightmare Sully has at the beginning to the actual water landing later in the picture. There is no music played, the insides of the aircraft have been painstakingly recreated to be as true to what was there on the day as possible. The effect is to put you in that moment as best they can and to not do anything that will remind you – you are watching a film. Weeks after Suicide Squad, it is a joy to see effects in service to story and action that is both moving and involving. If the special effects house has done a decent if not mind blowing recreation of the flight then several practical effects cannot be faulted. Considering how difficult it is to recreate such a scene that few saw the achievement of the effects is in keeping with the tone of the film.

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Clint Eastwood is 86 years old this year and it’s fair to suggest maybe that every film he makes he is putting forward his views on the world as a parting message. The director has been doing that since at least Unforgiven and maybe even all the way back to Play Misty for Me and he’s rebelled against expectations again and again. White Hunter Black Heart was not a jovial biopic about a beloved Hollywood director making his greatest film, at the height of Rambo mania Heartbreak Ridge was mostly a service comedy and surprisingly romantic, Gran Torino which promised Eastwood reclaiming his star persona had something to say about the cyclical nature of violence and Million Dollar Baby was not just a heart-warming sports movie. Sully is not just about two pilots landing a passenger jet on a river. Clint Eastwood is not a director known for his subtlety but his images have haunted throughout the years. He chooses exactly the second the first ferry arrived to rescue the first passenger off the wing to play music. There wasn’t a dry eye in the theatre I attended at that moment, subtle can be overrated sometimes. Hanks plays Sully’s relief at hearing the magical number of survivors in the hospital with a noticeable turn of his face and holding back tears. Yet look afterwards when Hanks walks over to a window and holds his tie around his shoulders like a man finishing a long day at the office.  Image result for sully and skilesSee Eastwood line up a shot of Hanks ascending the ferry stairs with the plane in the background. Some of these choices are more nuanced and when they are not they are truly moving. The adults are making a blockbuster today kids so just sit back down and learn a thing or two.

A couple of themes resonate, Eastwood celebrates the human factor of what the cockpit crew did, when technology failed them, rather than going through the PAM or worrying about the odds Sullenberger ‘eyeballed’ it. Eastwood wants to celebrate a man making the call in the heat of the moment and backing himself and places the Safety Board investigating the landing as villains who don’t know what it is to have been there. Their hard 180 reverses throughout the film are the kind of black hat obviousness that Eastwood is famous for, you may recall how repugnant Hilary Swank’s family was in Million Dollar Baby.

Eastwood also plays up the dichotomy of a man being celebrated in the media as a hero as he is being torn apart behind closed doors with his reputation, pension, career and life’s work on the line while trying to quietly endure post-traumatic stress. You get the sense despite Katie Couric’s presence that Eastwood doesn’t think much of the media. At one point a journalist stands on the river and reports live to the camera that the people on the plane located behind him “Have minutes to live.” It’s a subtle dig by Eastwood standards but the message is clear “Look at you standing there doing nothing.” Theodore Roosevelt once said “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly.

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Eastwood clearly celebrates Sully as the man in the arena but he places alongside him Skiles, Welsh, Donna Dent, Diane Higgins, Harten, the ferry crews, every passenger on that plane, the members of the NYPD, FDNY and USCG, the nurses, doctors and ambulance staff. The best of New York, of America, of humanity. These are things to be cherished and not to be lost as people who grew up in dustbowls, defeated Nazis and built the jet age give way to a generation who have never known the Middle East without war, the proliferation of unstable employment, reduced economic growth and social isolation. The world is troubled, as it was and always will be but we can meet any challenge if we remember who we are. At our best we’re Chesley Sullenberger and his team. Heroes.

-Lloyd Marken