The Lobster (2015)

Impression: The acting is as deadpan as it gets, the premise and situation absurd, yet there is some uncomfortable truth behind it all.  The authorities hunting down singletons in a shopping mall, the policing of all emotions and actions, the strict enforcement of all rules, and the existence of rules that govern everything.  It can be translated as a commentary to any set of rules we blindly follow as a society, or it can be read as a commentary on marriage as an institution. The best part is that even people who reject the mainstream, and live outside its rules, feel the need to set up their own rules. Which are just the antithesis of the main stream: everything the mainstream is, the rebels are its opposite. Yet, they are just as brutal about enforcing their rules, and in both cases violence is perpetuated by society on the individual. Any deviations from the rules, or even thinking about deviating from the rules, is strictly punished. This movie stayed with me for weeks. Yorgos Lanthimos is one of the most original thought provoking directors working right now. His other movie, Dogtooth was perhaps even more disturbing at creating a world with its own set of arbitrary but strict rules.
Facts:  A dystopian version of reality in which everyone who is not married is forced to do so, or will be turned into an animal of their choosing.

Lion (2016)

Impression: I have a soft spot for India and all things Indian. So, the colorful street scenes and full trains, and bustling city life make me smile. But there seems to be something somewhat patronizing about having a poor kid be rescued by rich Australians, only to grow up romanticizing poverty. But it’s hard to criticize, since it’s based on a true experience of one man, and reflects his reality. The plot was compelling and well paced, and kept you rooting for little Saroo to make it through the many obstacles to safety, and then for grownup Saroo to find his family.   Myself, having a kid the same age as Saroo in the beginning of the story, possibly made me even more anxious and worried for his safety than the average viewer would have been. At times, it felt almost like a thriller with a tiny protagonist.
Facts:  True story of a 5 year old Indian boy who gets lost at a train station, survives amazing adventures in a city where he does not speak the language and eventually gets adopted in 1980s Australia.

High-rise (2015)

Impression: Very, very odd. The 70s costumes, hairstyles, cars and furniture are all spot on and in full glory. In the intro scene you realize that something has gone very wrong in this building. The story then backflashes into a series of interconnected snapshots of inhabitants of the building interacting. The main character lives somewhere in the middle floors (middle class), there is one strong character in the  low floors (featuring a Che Guevara poster in his bedroom!)  and the ‘architect’ on the top floor (featuring a large garden with horses and goats in his rooftop garden). There are also more minor characters than one can possibly take in. Eventually it all descends into chaos, so that the goings on on screen resemble the scattered plot structure. As soon as the film ended, I had to read more about it, because it was just so strange, and I felt like there was something I must not be getting.  Once I learned it was based on a book, it seemed clearer that perhaps the movie was better understood having read it. While I am still not completely sure what it all meant, it’s definitely a film that visually stays with you for days.
Facts: Things go very wrong very fast in a London 70’s dystopian high-rise where the floor you live on is a very literal social status descriptor.

The Handmaiden (2016)

Impression: This movie ticks so many boxes for the elements I like in movies: beautiful people in beautiful places, unexpected twists and turns, funny and weird. During the first hour you think you know where it’s going: it seems like a very beautiful, but straight forward, and slightly cheesy period piece. Once part 2 starts, you realize that everything that just happened can be completely reinterpreted with a help of a few pieces of background information you’ve just been given and nothing is as it seems.  A sign of a great movie is when a run time of almost 3 hours feels like no time at all has passed. This is one of those movies.
Facts:  A Korean/Japanese period piece/comedy with unexpected twists and turns reminiscent of The Sting, but with a lot more explicit sex scenes and general weirdness.
Extra: I saw this one as well at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival. I  was sitting next to this Haitian couple and during the sex scenes only, the woman felt compelled to narrate and comment on what was going on in great detail, which made it a little awkward.

Moana (2016)

Impression: Disney seems to have their formula down. Set your movie in a magical and beautiful far away land. Check. Start with a badass girl and a strong desire for something not easily achievable. Check. Add funny and cute sidekicks. Check. Add clever dialogue designed to have parts that appeal to both: kids and adults. Check. Mix it up! And voila, you get a movie that’s pretty hard not to enjoy.  Because, what kind of person doesn’t like beautiful magical places? Or badass girls on a quest? Or laughing? Or clever dialogue? I sure do!
Facts:  Disney hero quest featuring a strong-willed girl protagonist, set in the islands of the Pacific.

Loving (2016)

Impression: Solid, well acted, and well shot movie that keeps your interest, told in a straight-forward manner. The problem with this kind of movie is that you know how it will end. Maybe some events on the way to the inevitable will be unexpected, but there is not much that can happen that will surprise you. That’s not to say that it’s not important that a movie which paints a picture of that time and place and the popular sentiment of the time be told. It is, it’s just difficult to make it into a great instead of just a very good movie.  One fact that blew my mind was realizing that inter-racial marriage was still an issue so recently, and one court intervention just 10 years before I was born.
Facts:  Based on a true story of an inter-racial marriage between Richard and Mildred Loving that challenged late 1950’s miscegenation laws by bringing their case to the US Supreme Court.

Moonlight (2016)

Impression: It’s not just the story which is heartbreaking and poignant and timely.  The director is a true cinema geek, every little detail from the music to the amount of sweat on actors’ faces has been carefully thought out.  He said his favorite director is Claire Denis, and it shows. This film is a film buff’s dream come true (the cinematography, the music, the acting, the casting, everything). It’s as close to a perfect film as I’ve seen, and as close to a European film I’ve seen from an American filmmaker.
Facts: A coming of age story centers on Chrion, a quiet, poor, black kid growing up in a tough neighborhood in Miami, and follows him through to adulthood in a sequence of heartbreaking vignettes.
Extra: I saw this film at the Toronto International Film Festival. I started crying about 1/2 way into the movie and kept at it until after the Q&A ended. The audience stood up and clapped and kept clapping until Barry Jenkins asked them to stop. He took a bunch of questions, all of which he answered with a lot of depth and thought. Finally, a man raised his hand for the last question. Before he answered, Barry Jenkins said “Is that Jonathan Demme?” It was! He said “You, know if you didn’t tell us to stop clapping, we’d still be clapping.”