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Year End Choices

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Year End Choices

When you’re wondering which of this year’s movies to watch on TV, here are eleven with the magic ingredients that hold audiences in the best of ways. Some are good but violent, some are good and tender, and some are rooted in the power of truth. All of them are good.

Sing Street. This story grabs our hearts and never lets go. Anchored by a girl and boy falling in love, their shyness and their talent are thoroughly contagious as they dream of a better life through their music. (PG-13)

Hell or High Water is a Western that transcends the breed with absorbing character portraits by a fine cast. Watch the relationships develop slowly among a ranger, his Comanche sidekick, and two brothers. All are good, especially Jeff Bridges. (R)

The Shallows – Blake Lively shows us what can happen to an accomplished surfer when she ventures into shark territory off the glorious Australian coast. She’s controlled in the danger, and the special effects are numbing. (PG-13)

Moonlight – The young son of an errant mother is bullied in school and lost wherever he is. Actors deliver an unusually grim story with astonishing skill. This is what emptiness can feel like.

Manchester by the Sea – Casey Affleck shows us what happens to a man who cannot recover from an early tragedy. The film moves slowly as it develops a quiet sense of time, place, culture, and tragedy in a beautiful seaside town. (R)

Nocturnal Animals – This a vicious vengeance story with such high quality direction, acting, and atmosphere that you will carry your fear right out of the theater with you. Amy Adams, who left her husband, reads his novel about what happened when he decided to exact revenge. We watch in surprise and horror. (R)

La La Land – This one follows the growth of a beautiful love affair while everything around it erupts in musical joy. The inspired acting of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling is the unexpected serious and moving thread that runs through all the fun. Don’t miss it.

The next four will stun you with truth and relevance.

Sully. Clint Eastwood directs with uncommon humanity and the gifted Tom Hanks shows us the inner decency of the reserved Captain Sullenberger in his extraordinary emergency river landing of a plane hit by birds. (PG-13)

Snowden. The story of the man who revealed the breathtaking breadth of the spying on American citizens in violation of their fourth amendment rights by the NSA. His warning to us: “The battlefield is everywhere.” (R)

Hacksaw Ridge. This is Andrew Garfield’s extraordinary performance as a heroic conscientious objector during WWII. Filmed in the heartbreaking realism of young men destroying each other on behalf of two countries that would soon become allies. (R)

Loving – Acted with moving understatement by Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton, this is the story of the Supreme Court decision that ruled that love, not race, is the determining factor in marriage. A quiet couple at the center of nationwide change.

Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Year End Choices
Word Count: 501
Date: December 25, 2016

 

La La Land

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

La La Land

It just doesn’t get better than this. Everything we have read about La La Land has been positive but it’s hard to find words to describe being transported by a movie that gets everything right – and then some. This one is all heart.

The opening scene takes us to a fabled Hollywood traffic jam where aspiring young actors abandon their stuck cars to sing and dance away their frustration in a wild burst of freedom. It’s a scene from a ‘40s musical brought to astonishing life by modern technology and wild freedom. The vivid colors of the cars and clothes are the blast off for what’s to come.

Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) meet when she is drawn from the street by the sound of his piano in a club. Theirs becomes a love affair that deepens through their art and their understanding of what is important to both of them. Each wants to help the other to succeed in personal dreams.

For Sebastian, that dream is his own club where he can preserve old-fashioned jazz. For Mia it is to win acting parts through auditions. Each sees the flaws in the other’s imaginings, and with subtlety and affection they encourage each other to reexamine their goals. Nothing about their romance is fluffy or conventional.

If their ambitions are the theme, the magic is harder to describe. A big salute to Damien Chazelle who wrote and directed this gift of a picture that wraps up the year 2016 for Hollywood. Of all the mistakes waiting to happen, he made none.

If ordinary movie stars had been cast in Chazelle’s script, the movie would never have soared in such subtle ways. But here are Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, not glamorous actors in the conventional sense, each willing and thoroughly able to show their own vulnerabilities and those of their characters. They express it all through thoughtful conversations. And then they dance. Have you ever watched two people fall in love while dancing in the sky?

What sets the fire is that their romance is rooted in deep respect for each other while their dancing expresses their magnetism. They are supported by a vast cast that enlivens the whole story from beginning to end. J.K. Simmons, Rosemarie DeWitt, John Legend and multiple dozens of extras who caught the mood set by director Chazelle.

Odd? A Hollywood musical with a gentle, serious story at its core? That didn’t happen seventy years ago. And yes, the singing and dancing by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling is all theirs, no subs. Gosling, who already played jazz guitar, learned to play the piano for this role and played all the piano parts himself. Damien Chazelle imagined this magic, and with his extraordinary cast turned it into a rare film that moves an audience into the realm of pure joy. And if that sounds sentimental, just go, and see how you feel when the final credits roll.