3 Brothers’ Essential Films of 2016

Arrival

The Prestige Pic

Arrival

dir. Denis Villeneuve

What It’s About: After mysterious aliens appear in twelve spacecrafts around the globe, linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is recruited by the American military to communicate with the aliens and discover the intent of their arrival.

What the Brothers’ Said: “As formally precise as you’d expect from Villeneuve, but as touching and even transcendent as a Terrence Malick film.” (Aren)

 

The Founder

dir. John Lee Hancock

What It’s About: A chronicle of Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), the manipulative salesman who transformed McDonald’s from a small burger joint in San Bernardino, California run by Dick and Mac McDonald (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch) to the world’s largest restaurant chain.

What the Brothers’ Said: An intriguing mix of heroic biopic and cynical satire about American capitalism.

 

Hacksaw Ridge

dir. Mel Gibson

What It’s About: The true story of Seventh Day Adventist Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield), who became the only conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism during the Battle of Okinawa in World War Two.

What the Brothers’ Said: Aren found it to be a fascinatingly specific look at war as well as a stirring argument for religious conviction and personal morality.

 

Hell or High Water

dir. David Mackenzie

What It’s About: Brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) set about robbing branches of the regional bank that foreclosed on their ranch, while a crusty Texas Ranger (Jeff Bridges) tracks them down.

What the Brothers’ Said: “This is the type of film cinephiles mean when they talk about real movies made for adults. It’s a good story told well, with thematic weight behind its entertaining cinematics.” (Aren)

 

Loving

dir. Jeff Nichols

What It’s About: An examination of the interracial marriage of Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred Loving (Ruth Negga), whose Supreme Court challenge struck down the ban on miscegenation in the late 1960s.

What the Brothers’ Said: Aren found it to be an artful and radically-unconventional biopic about interesting historical figures.

 

Manchester By The Sea

dir. Kenneth Lonergan

What It’s About: After his brother (Kyle Chandler) dies from cardiac failure, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) becomes the guardian of his 16-year-old nephew (Lucas Hedges) despite his desire to stay detached from the people around him.

What the Brothers’ Said: “A powerful film that never reaches for catharsis, but might accomplish it anyway.” (Aren)

 

Moonlight

dir. Barry Jenkins

What It’s About: A look at three chapters in the life of a young, gay black man growing up in Miami, Florida.

What the Brothers’ Said: “Moonlight is small and focused and beautifully particular in its storytelling and characters. It’s the type of delicate filmmaking that is rare about a cinematic character who is even rarer.” (Aren)

 

Sully

dir. Clint Eastwood

What It’s About: An examination of Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks), the airline captain responsible for the “Miracle on the Hudson.”

What the Brothers’ Said: Aren found it to be a sober look at the burden of heroism and the valour of everyday people.

 

Kubo and the Two Strings

The Multiplex

10 Cloverfield Lane

dir. Dan Trachtenberg

What It’s About: After a car accident, a woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up in the underground bunker of a mysterious older man (John Goodman) who claims to have saved her from an apocalyptic event that occurred above ground.

What the Brothers’ Said: “What’s most satisfying about 10 Cloverfield Lane is not so much the mysteries, but the attention paid to the filmmaking and the character development.” (Aren)

 

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

dir. Zack Snyder

What It’s About: After witnessing the destruction of Metropolis during Superman’s (Henry Cavill) fight with General Zod, Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck) determines to kill the Son of Krypton in order to save humanity from potential future devastation.

What the Brothers’ Said: “A film that can conjure that sort of awe in imagery and thematics (and not just on one occasion) is a special film, even if its ambitions don’t erase its imperfections.” (Aren)

 

The BFG

dir. Steven Spielberg

What It’s About: Young orphan Sophie is whisked away to the land of giants by the Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance) after she witnesses him roaming the streets of London during the Witching Hour.

What the Brothers’ Said: Anton and Aren found it to be a lovely evocation of Roald Dahl’s imaginative fancy and humour, containing the most elaborate fart joke in cinematic history.

 

Doctor Strange

dir. Scott Derrickson

What It’s About: After suffering an accident that cripples his hands, a brilliant neurosurgeon (Benedict Cumberbatch) travels to Nepal to unlock magic powers that’ll heal his hands and allow him to unlock the secrets of reality.

What the Brothers’ Said: “The film takes what might be seen as a second-tier hero and turns in one of the more satisfying debut films in the series.” (Anders)

 

Don’t Breathe

dir. Fede Alvarez

What It’s About: Three robbers rob a blind man who turns out to be less helpless than initially thought.

What the Brothers’ Said: “It’s a neat horror film that pushes a touch too far into the grotesque in its final act, but still manages to impress formally and viscerally.” (Aren)

 

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

dir. David Yates

What It’s About: In 1926 in New York, magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) sets about recovering several magical creatures that escaped his suitcase while the wizards of the city deal with a destructive magical force unleashed by a repressed wizard child.

What the Brothers’ Said: Aren thought it was a surprisingly robust return to J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world with appealing characters and timely themes.

 

Hail, Caesar!

dir. Joel and Ethan Coen

What It’s About: During the Golden Age of Hollywood, a studio fixer (Josh Brolin) searches for a kidnapped Hollywood star (George Clooney) and uncovers a contrived communist conspiracy.

What the Brothers’ Said: “It’s an exploration of the meaning of art and, ultimately, life, couched as a silly celebration of the Golden Age of Hollywood.” (Aren)

 

Kubo and the Two Strings

dir. Travis Knight

What It’s About: Young Kubo (Art Parkinson) joins a Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) in a quest to find the magical armour of his dead father and defeat his pitless grandfather, the Moon King.

What the Brothers’ Said: Aren found it to be a transcendent look at childhood resilience and the mystical power of storytelling.

 

The Mermaid

dir. Stephen Chow

What It’s About: A mermaid attempts to assassinate a corporate tycoon responsible for polluting her aquatic home, but ends up falling in love with him.

What the Brothers’ Said: Aren found it to be one of the funniest films of the year and the closest thing to a modern day Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton comedy.

 

The Nice Guys

dir. Shane Black

What It’s About: A low-rent private investigator (Ryan Gosling) and a hardened enforcer (Russell Crowe) team up to investigate the disappearance of a magnate’s daughter in late 1970s Los Angeles.

What the Brothers’ Said: “Shane Black’s The Nice Guys reminds us of what Hollywood comedies can look like if they’re movies first, joke-machines second.” (Aren)

 

Risen

dir. Kevin Reynolds

What It’s About: A Roman centurion (Joseph Fiennes) investigates reports that a Jewish dissident, Yeshua (Cliff Curtis), rose from the dead following his crucifixion for sedition.

What the Brothers’ Said: “With its novel neo-noir approach, Risen makes for a memorably conceived, if still fairly conventional, addition to the Jesus movie tradition.” (Anton)

 

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

dir. Gareth Edwards

What It’s About: A ragtag group of rebels and outcasts led by Felicity Jones’s Jyn Erso plan a heist of the Death Star plans prior to the events of A New Hope.

What the Brothers’ Said: Anders and Aren found it to be a thrilling expansion of the Star Wars universe beyond the saga films. An actual Star Wars “war film,” it offers exciting new locales and characters, while giving fans what they want.

 

The Shallows

dir. Jaume Collet-Serra

What It’s About: A tourist (Blake Lively) fends off a hungry shark after being injured in the shallows on a remote Mexican beach.

What the Brothers’ Said: Aren found it to be a formally astounding exercise in tension.

 

Zootopia

dir. Byron Howard and Rich Moore

What It’s About: A bunny police officer (Ginnifer Goodwin) teams up with a fox con artist (Jason Bateman) to uncover the mystery behind a series of attacks in multi-species metropolis, Zootopia.

What the Brothers’ Said: Aren found it to be a vibrant children’s detective picture with well-meaning social commentary.

 

Knight of Cups

The Arthouse

The Age of Shadows

dir. Kim Jee-woon

What It’s About: A Korean captain (Sang Kang-ho) agrees to become a double agent for Imperial Japan during Japan’s occupation of Korea in the late 1920s.

What the Brothers’ Said: Aren found it to be a blistering exercise in style and tension.

 

Born to be Blue

dir. Robert Budreau

What It’s About: A biopic about the late-life artistic resurgence of jazz trumpeter, Chet Baker (Ethan Hawke).

What the Brothers’ Said: Aren found it to be an artful biopic with a fantastic Ethan Hawke at its centre.

 

Cemetery of Splendor

dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul

What It’s About: Apichatpong’s regular collaborator Jenjira Pongpas plays a woman helping care for a group of Thai soldiers suffering from a mysterious sleeping sickness when she discovers a mysterious and mystical power in the hospital.

What the Brothers’ Said: Anders says that it is another masterful film from Apichatpong, exploring spirituality and politics through allusion to Thailand’s history.

 

Dheepan

dir. Jacques Audiard

What It’s About: A Tamil Tiger (Jesuthasan Antonythasan) assumes another identity in order to flee to France and become the caretaker in a suburban high rise complex.

What the Brothers’ Said: “Although overly ambitious, Dheepan is grippingly effective storytelling.” (Aren)

 

Everybody Wants Some

dir. Richard Linklater

What It’s About: A freshman baseball player’s (Blake Jenner) experience of the final days before classes begin at a Texan college in 1980.

What the Brothers’ Said: “It’s a film about expectation and community and understanding how you fit into the world around you. In short, it’s about the fleeting ecstasy of the end of adolescence.” (Aren)

 

Green Room

dir. Jeremy Saulnier

What It’s About: Members of a punk band (Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner) lock themselves in a remote venue’s green room after witnessing a murder by the neo-nazi owners.

What the Brothers’ Said: “Green Room is a distilled exercise in terror. By the time the blood starts spilling, it’s almost a relief, as the coiling tension has ravaged the viewer’s nervous system. It’s a great thriller from a director who’s only improving with each film.” (Aren)

 

The Handmaiden

dir. Park Chan-wook

What It’s About: A pickpocket (Kim Tae-ri) poses as a handmaiden to a Japanese woman (Kim Min-hee) in order to con her out of her inheritance.

What the Brothers’ Said: Aren found it to be a film as sensuous as promised, both narratively and aesthetically.

 

 

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

dir. Taika Waititi

What It’s About: After bouncing around foster care, Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) forges a heartwarming bond with a cranky older outdoorsman (Sam Neill) after they are forced to go on the run in the woods of New Zealand.

What the Brother’s Said: Anders found Waititi’s latest film effectively combines broad humour with touching drama. The result is a film that transcends its clichés to say something about family, land, and nation.

 

The Invitation

dir. Karyn Kusama

What It’s About: A grieving man (Logan Marshall-Greene) accepts the invitation to a dinner party hosted by his ex-wife (Tammy Blanchard) that slowly turns sinister.

What the Brothers’ Said: Aren thought it was an admirably-constructed slow-burn thriller with a satisfying payoff.

 

Knight of Cups

dir. Terrence Malick

What It’s About: A lyrical look at the experiences of a Hollywood screenwriter (Christian Bale) in the midst of an existential crisis.

What the Brothers’ Said: The Brothers thought it was a poignant and visually stunning evocation of The Pilgrim’s Progress and other esoteric sources, as well as an exemplar of primarily poetic (as opposed to narrative) filmmaking.

 

The Lobster

dir. Yorgos Lanthimos

What It’s About: A recently-divorced man (Colin Farrell) has 30 days to find a wife in a remote, lavish hotel in order to avoid being turned into an animal.

What the Brothers’ Said: Aren thought it was a confident exercise in deadpan, at turns both hilarious and horrifying.

 

Louder Than Bombs

dir. Joachim Trier

What It’s About: A father (Gabriel Byrne) and his two sons (Jesse Eisenberg and Devin Druid) struggle with the aftermath of the death of their famous photojournalist wife/mother.

What the Brothers’ Said: “Louder Than Bombs is intentionally oblique, but also honest and beautiful.” (Aren)

 

Love and Friendship

dir. Whit Stillman

What It’s About: Following Jane Austen’s novella, widow Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) schemes amid her friends and relatives to find herself and her daughter economically-suitable husbands.

What the Brothers’ Said: “Love & Friendship is a delightful little dollop of a film, but it’s more an example of clever writing than great filmmaking.” (Aren)

 

Mountains May Depart

dir. Jia Zhangke

What It’s About: A look at the life of a Chinese woman (Zhao Tao) in the years 1999, 2014 and 2025.

What the Brothers’ Said: Aren thought it was an ambitious and culturally significant look at generational growth.

 

Our Little Sister

dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda

What It’s About: After the funeral of their absentee father, three grown women discover they have a younger half-sister and invite her to move to the country to live with them.

What the Brothers’ Said: “[T]he film floats by enjoyably for its run time, drawing you into the character’s lives. It is only in passing that the significance and wisdom of the film sinks in and has one thinking, this just might be another masterpiece from one of the best filmmakers working in the world today.” (Anders)

 

Right Now, Wrong Then

dir. Hong Sang-soo

What It’s About: The story of a narcissistic film director (Jung Jae-young) visiting a small town and spending an evening with an admiring student (Kim Min-hee), told twice with slight variation.

What the Brothers’ Said: Anders and Aren thought it a hilarious look at the chance nature of romance.

 

Sleeping Giant

dir. Andrew Cividino

What It’s About: Three boys (Jackson Martin, Reece Moffett, Nick Serino) while away their summer vacation on the Sibley Peninsula of Lake Superior.

What the Brothers’ Said: “It captures the angry, awkward contradictions of male adolescence. Its visuals are ambling, unfixed—the camera quietly shifts and sways as the boys endlessly move about the landscape. It’s a beautiful film, but ugliness is shown alongside the natural beauty.” (Aren)

 

Southside With You

dir. Richard Tanne

What It’s About: A fictional retelling of the first date between a young Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers) and Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter).

What the Brothers’ Said: “At its best, Southside With You feels like Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy. It allows its characters to ramble on about race and life and their place within it without interjecting with plot or conflict.” (Aren)

 

Three

dir. Johnnie To

What It’s About: Holed up in a hospital ward, a police captain (Louis Koo), criminal (Wallace Chung), and doctor (Zhao Wei) enter a battle of wills to determine whether to operate on the criminal while the criminal’s crew schemes to break him out.

What the Brothers’ Said: “By the time guns start firing, To has already created a brilliant exercise in tension and opposing personalities. The brilliance of the shootout only cements how good the film.” (Aren)

 

The Witch

dir. Robert Eggers

What It’s About: A Puritan family expelled from their community succumbs to paranoia and sinister manipulation in the woods in 17th-century New England.

What the Brothers’ Said: An exceptional first feature film, “The Witch revitalizes the conventions of witch-lore for chilling effect.” (Anton)

 

O.J.: Made in America

The Hot Doc

Angry Inuk

dir. Alethea Arnaquq-Baril

What It’s About: Director Alethea Arnaquq-Baril’s personal argument against the ban on seal hunting and its effects on the Inuit.

What the Brothers’ Said: “Angry Inuk is as articulate and personal as an activist documentary can get.” (Aren)

 

Germans & Jews

dir. Janina Quint

What It’s About: A sociological examination of the relationship between German and Jewish citizens in modern-day Germany following the horrors of the Holocaust.

What the Brothers’ Said: “Germans & Jews is a fascinating documentary examining historical guilt and social reconciliation. It will hold particular relevance to anyone with German heritage.” (Aren)

 

HyperNormalisation

dir. Adam Curtis

What It’s About: A collage of modern society’s fractured reality and the advent of Donald Trump and Islamic jihadism.

What the Brothers’ Said: Anders and Aren found it to be an overwhelmingly potent look at the age we live in and the construction of our collective subjectivities.

 

Into the Inferno

dir. Werner Herzog

What It’s About: A portrait of various active volcanoes around the world and humanity’s scientific and mystical relationship to volcanoes.

What the Brothers’ Said: Aren found it to be a typically entertaining and visually excellent non-fiction diary by Herzog.

 

Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids

dir. Jonathan Demme

What It’s About: Demme (who has made such previous concert films as The Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense) films Justin Timberlake’s final concerts of the 20/20 Experience World Tour at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

What the Brother’s Said: Anders found the film joyous and thoroughly entertaining. It’s a concert film that cinematically showcases the impressive experience that is JT’s concert, while highlighting the roles of the Tennessee Kids backing band and dancers.

 

Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off the Wall

dir. Spike Lee

What It’s About: Through a combination of archival footage and interviews with musicians and friends, Lee shows how Jackson went from being the Motown child star of the Jackson 5 to creating his monumental pop statement of Off the Wall.

What the Brother’s Said: Anders found the film shows a man who was equal parts Gene Kelly, Marvin Gaye, and the Beatles, confirming Jackson as a brilliant pop star and one of the key artists of our time.

 

O.J.: Made in America

dir. Ezra Edelman

What It’s About: A meticulous chronicle of the murder case of O.J. Simpson and the personal, racial, and political context that surrounded and precipitated the crime.

What the Brothers’ Said: Anders and Aren found it to be the definitive documentary of the year and a powerful encapsulation of both the “Trial of the Century” and the sociopolitical fabric of America.

 

Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience

dir. Terrence Malick

What It’s About: The birth of the universe and the advent of humanity told through elliptical IMAX images and esoteric narration.

What the Brothers’ Said: Aren thought it was a stunning example of Malick’s visual power.

About Aren

Aren likes big movies and he likes small movies. He'll sing the praises of the latest Hollywood sci-fi epic while simultaneously lambasting people for not getting into Hong Kong cinema. He detests egotism in film and film criticism, but is a sucker for earnest spectacle. While he tends to skew more modern in his viewing choices, he thinks film looks best in black and white, especially when directed by Akira Kurosawa. His favourite genres are science fiction and animation, but he'll watch anything so long as it's interesting. He's a prairie boy, born and raised. When he's not writing about movies, he's making them. You can watch his 2013 sci-fi short QUANTOM here: http://vimeo.com/66512643. His email is arenbergstrom@gmail.com. His favourite movies are 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968), BEN-HUR (1959), BLUE VELVET (1986), THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (2001), MINORITY REPORT (2002), PSYCHO (1960), RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981), SEVEN SAMURAI (1954), SPIRITED AWAY (2001), and STAR WARS: EPISODE VI - RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983). His favourite directors are Hayao Miyazaki, Akira Kurosawa, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, James Cameron, David Cronenberg, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Terrence Malick, Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, and Johnnie To.