Here are the first 5 movies in my list.
1. La La Land
Lively, colorful, and sweet, Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land” tries old and new things together to entertain us. While clearly influenced by numerous classic musical films such as “An American in Paris”, and “Singin’ in the Rain”, the movie is as fresh and vibrant as recent modern musical films like “Once” and “Sing Street”, and it is an utter pleasure to watch how it delightfully and skillfully dances on the line between fantasy and reality along with its two engaging lead characters, who are charmingly played by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Maybe this is a mere piece of entertainment as fluffy as cotton candy, but its sweet, jubilant spirit is infectious to say the least, and we definitely need more of such good musical films which can excite and rapture us like this superlative work.
The opening scene of Paul Verhoeven’s new film “Elle” is so striking and disturbing that you cannot help but admire how firmly and effortlessly he and his lead performer Isabelle Huppert establish the overall tone of their movie without any fatal blink. They are willing to shock and disturb us right from the very first shot, and we can clearly discern that they are fully prepared for going all the way for more challenging things to unnerve and fascinate us. While he is no longer that bloody naughty boy who made “Robocop” and “Total Recall”, the movie shows us that Verhoeven is still a master filmmaker who can play the audiences like a piano, and he and Huppert did a terrifically provocative job here in this unforgettable thriller film.
3. Little Men
Intimate and sensitive in its low-key approach, “Little Men” quietly shines with small precious moments to be appreciated for the keen depiction of the emotional undercurrents flowing around and between its two young heroes. The director Iran Sachs maintains its gentle, thoughtful attitude even when their relationship is inexorably affected by the conflict between their parents, and we come to emphasize with not only them but also their parents, while fully understanding their respective positions in a difficult situation with no easy solution. In short, this is one of the small gems of this year you cannot miss.
4. Things to Come
Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve, French film “Things to Come” is brimming with the sense of life moving forward for not only its middle-aged heroine but also others around her. Regardless of whether she likes it or not, things are bound to change as life goes on, and the movie is both humorous and touching in its sensitive and thoughtful observation of how she slowly comes to accept that undeniable fact of life as going through what may be another turning point in her life. In her another superlative performance in this year which is as good as her dark, edgy performance in “Elle”, Isabelle Huppert fully embodies her character’s personal crisis and following emotional journey while never spelling them out too loud, and that is why the last scene of the movie is quietly powerful with what is shown on the screen. She does not signify much, but the plain but graceful final note of her performance speaks volume, and that is more than enough for us.
5. After the Storm
In his new film “After the Storm”, Hirokazu Kore-eda presents another delicate family drama which is alternatively humorous and touching, and it is surely a pleasure to watch how his story subtly rolls along with its characters. Through the episodic glimpses of their daily life during summer days, the movie lets us get to know and understand its four main characters bit by bit, and we find ourselves involved in its bittersweet mix of humor and pathos as it arrives at the expected narrative point. Like many of Kore-eda’s family dramas such as “Still Walking” and “Like Father, Like Son”, the movie is undeniably powerful in its gentle, thoughtful observations of small but genuine human interactions, and its final scene makes a good point on how we can be nice and kind to each other in our life.