7. The Edge of Seventeen
A decent box office, great reviews, and some significant smaller-scale awards aside, not nearly enough people have seen writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig’s splashy debut, the coming-of-age comedy-drama The Edge of Seventeen.
It’s rare that a portrait of youth, from a female perspective, be rendered with such authenticity and affection––with last year’s similarly underseen film from Marielle Heller, The Diary of a Teenage Girl being another strong exception––with additional mad props gleefully going out to Hailee Steinfeld. As 17-year-old Nadine Franklin, Steinfeld shines, in a performance that will elicit both tears and 24-carat laughs as our depressed and anxiety-addled heroine.
Sincere, certain, and satisfyingly diverting, The Edge of Seventeen is a less mealy-mouthed update of The Breakfast Club. This fresh take is sure to spawn some savvy imitators, and if any of them are as thoughtful, nuanced, and sharp is this, then that’s a very good thing.
6. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
One of the funniest films of this or any year, this deliriously OTT musical satire from the Lonely Island comedy trio (Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone) was sadly and unjustly ignored at the box office. But, as with their previous big screen effort Hot Rod (2007), Popstar is sure to accrue a devoted cult following as the nonstop barrage of jokes, inspired cameos, and capaciously goofy grandeur is just too teasing and gut-busting to ignore.
Directors Schaffer and Taccone take the piss out of the popular music trade in a spirited mockumentary fashion that’s ably comparable to Rob Reiner’s 1984 classic send-up This is Spinal Tap.
Popstar piles on the merry-go-round comedy styles from sharp deadpan, milk-fed grossout, surreal convention –– could these lads be the heir to the Marx Brothers? –– to acerbic satire, the trials and tribulations of juvenile rap group The Style Boyz and their iconic frontman Connor 4Real (Samberg) is a nonstop barrage of calculated escapades.
If Popstar doesn’t have you wriggling in laughter and doubled-over in delight, you better check your vital signs and see a doctor tout de suite (hopefully you won’t be diagnosed with “soggy bones”). As far as consistent laughs go, Popstar is a title-holder from a gifted ensemble in their high-spirited prime.
5. Gimme Danger
Ohio-born filmmaker Jim Jarmusch makes a very persuasive argument that the Stooges are “the greatest rock-and-roll band ever” in his latest non-fiction offering, Gimme Danger.
Outrageous rock icon Iggy Pop, along with fellow Michigan natives Dave Alexander, Ron and Scott Asheton (and later joined by James Williamson) sprang from the bustling Ann Arbor scene, amidst the backdrop of the late 60s cultural revolution, and they pretty much invented punk.
Something of a raconteur, Jarmusch wisely lets Iggy reflect and share his biography of the band with a head-spinning enthusiasm (even though, as Iggy says directly to Jarmusch’s camera, “I don’t wanna be punk, I just wanna be”).
The stories that Iggy and company share are the stuff of peanut buttery legend, aided by effective use of stylized animation, a wealth of stock footage, and signature Jarmusch savvy. There’s also a heady mix of humor in this damn fine rowdy vintage.
Appellations aside, Iggy and the Stooges are weird and affecting virtuosos, as well as cultural heroes, and Gimme Danger is an effective, intelligent, in-depth, and marvellously executed film, and certainly one of the best rock documentaries around.
Perhaps best known for starring in and co-writing Ben Wheatley’s sinister comedy Sightseers (2012), Alice Lowe is a triple-threat with Prevenge as it’s writer, director, and star. This audacious feature-length directorial debut from Lowe, who was six-months pregnant during filming, is about Ruth (Lowe), an expectant mother convinced her baby wants her to kill an unhealthy amount of people.
Prevenge is a risky, pitch-dark one-off that’s full of black comedy, graphic gore, and plenty of pathos. Genre fans of course will delight in the urbane body horror that, perhaps owing to the rather mundane British environs, plays out with a gleeful ghoulishness.
A strange and often nightmarish distillation of Rosemary’s Baby as winnowed through Lowe’s impulsive, edgy, and intermittently murderous Ruth. Richly delving into the wonders of child-bearing and the preconceptions that go with, this is a sinisterly original freakout, sure to amass a devoted cult and find appreciative fans in those who enjoy horror spiked with contorted comedy.
3. Academy of Muses
An artful, even audacious co-mingling of didacticism, eroticism, longing, and auteur theory, the latest offering from José Luis Guerín––whose 2007 offering, In the City of Sylvia, is one of that decade’s finest little seen films––is an enriching celebration of art and literature appreciation.
Male-female dynamics are dissected by a likeable spur of a University of Barcelona philology professor—played by real-life philology professor Raffaele Pinto—who teaches a class on muses in art and literature (as a way to romance his female students) in this engaging, dialogue-driven docu-drama.
Featuring some of my favorite cinematic discussions––on topics ranging from mythological parables, deeply personal insights, and gender relations––since Louis Malle’s My Dinner with Andre (1981), Academy of Muses is an impressive cinematic coup with a great ensemble of actresses.
2. Always Shine
Director Sophia Takal and writer Lawrence Michael Levine weave a web of intrigue and psychological irascibility in this takedown of Tinseltown, Always Shine.
Two actresses, Anna (Mackenzie Davis) and Beth (Caitlin FitzGerald) leave Los Angeles for a weekend vacay in Big Sur hoping to reconnect their once fine friendship after a lengthy period of competitiveness and jealousy that’s all but driven them apart. Will their deep-seated loathing of one another be put to rest? Their toxic rivalry makes for a fascinating, unconventional, and upsetting deconstruction in an art house horror that could only exist in a post-Mulholland Drive universe.
And like that Lynch masterpiece, much of Always Shine hinges on the brilliant performances of the two leads, each giving tour de force performances in two very demanding roles. Self-reflexive, full of twists and turns, and impossible to predict, Always Sunshine is a deeply intelligible commentary on the superficial aspects of the Hollywood industry. Glorious.
1. Embrace of the Serpent
Man’s connection to nature, the tragic loss of a conquered people, and the mean mysticism that’s carried along with it are at the heart-stirring center of Ciro Guerra’s Heart of Darkness-like adventure odyssey, Embrace the Serpent.
The winner of Art Cinema Award in the Directors’ Fortnight section at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival––it wasn’t released cinematically in North America until 2016––this Amazon-set saga of spirituality and enveloping atmosphere is an opulent black-and-white affair that is fittingly plush in 35mm.
Yes, Embrace of the Serpent has won wide praise, and yes it won many awards, but it’s still an overlooked gem when you consider that weighty films of this sort mainly appeal to niche audiences and not the mainstream masses that ought to see it. As timely as can be, this is a picture that needs to be seen as widely as possible.
This is one of those great and tragic epic jungle films, like Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) or Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979), and like those films was also made under extremely difficult conditions made palpable by David Gallego’s immersive cinematography. The Colombian landscapes are as majestic as they are menacing, making the forests a crazy-quilt of textures and ancient radiance. This isn’t just cinema, it’s a feat of luminous and everlasting strength. Not to be missed.
Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.