Monthly Archives: February 2017

Lyle’s Totally Subjective Top Ten Films of 2016

 

At first glance, the best films of 2016 seem to share a depressingly sad theme.  My top four movies included horrific family tragedies , separation, life effects of drugs and violence and, although expressed through a comedy, unrequited love. However, true stories like Hidden Figures and Lion provided enough inspiration to go around.  For me, great writing, casting and acting is what set these films apart from the others.  Some are easy and some are difficult to watch, but, I continued to think about them long after leaving the theater.

#1: Manchester By The Sea (Kenneth Lonegan)

If you can overcome the sadness, this is another great screenplay for Kenneth Lonegan (You Can Count On Me), who unexpectedly became the director of the film. The story and

Manchester By The Sea

#1 Manchester By The Sea

beautiful cinematography stand out as one of the year’s best. Casey Affleck’s performance as Lee Chandler is deserving of an Oscar and Michelle Williams brief, but compelling appearance enhances the story of a family coping with a tragic loss that has consumed their lives.

#2: Julieta (Pedro Almodóvar)

Writer-director,Pedro Almodóvar, who’s film resume includes The Skin I Live In, Talk To Her and Volver, continues his female themes with the more traditional story of Julieta with Spanish actress Emma Suárez, in the title role. A widow, Julieta is

Julieta

#2 Julieta

preparing to move on with her life and move to Portugal with her boyfriend before a chance meeting with an old friend of her estranged daughter changes everything.  We begin to understand Julieta as the film unveils her compelling story.

#3:  The Salesman (Asghar Farhadi)

Having become a fan of Iranian writer/director Asghar Farhadi after watching his last three films, I had to see The Salesman before compiling my list.  Another great, compelling story.  Emad and Rana are forced to leave their apartment because the building is collapsing and must find a new place immediately.  Their new landlord

#3: The Salesman

#3: The Salesman

failed to disclose that the previous tenant was a prostitute, working from home.  After his wife is horrifically attacked at the apartment, Emad becomes obsessed with finding the perpetrator.  It ends, focusing on the moral dilemma between revenge and forgiveness.  As they are dealing with the extended physical and emotional pain that jeopardized their relationship, Emad and Rana are performing opposite each other in a local production of Arthur Miller’s, Death of a Salesman.  A must see for film buffs and, for those affected by visual violence, it is only referenced in this film.

#4:  Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)

Moonlight follows the life of a young black man, growing up gay in a drug infested Miami neighborhood, the son of an addicted mother, portrayed courageously by Naomie Harris. It is not

Moonlight

#4 Moonlight

always an enjoyable film to watch, but reveals a human side to the drugs, violence and poverty that ultimately shape his life, but don’t change who he is.  This film has been branded with many notable supporting performances, all driven by Barry Jenkins’ screenplay and direction.

#5:  Cafe Society (Woody Allen)

I am always cautious of my “confirmation bias” with Woody Allen films, eager to enjoy because I expect to.  However, Cafe Society

Cafe Society

#5 Cafe Society

is a twisted love story set in New York and Hollywood, superbly cast with notably magnificent lighting throughout.  Kirsten Stewart seems to flourish under Woody’s style, turning me into a fan.  A period piece set in the 1930s, the design and lighting create an , “American craftsman” image.  Jesse Eisenberg nails Woody’s neurosis, on full display during his failed meet up with a novice hooker.  Note the lighting in that scene.

#6:  Paterson (Jim Jarmusch)

Described as a minimalistic depiction, I found Paterson to be uplifting and refreshing.  There is no antagonist in this film.  Poet-bus driver Paterson drives a route in Paterson, New Jersey. Director Jarmusch takes pains to reveal the lives of both Paterson the

Paterson

#6 Paterson

man and Paterson the town, as routine.  Paterson’s delightfully spontaneous girlfriend, Karen, her English bulldog Marvin and, of course poetry represent the trifecta of his world. His calm reaction to the only (somewhat)tragic event sends a message to us all. Trivia:  After Karen’s dream of having twins, Jarmusch includes various twins in future scenes, adding a mystical quality. On second thought, Marvin may be the antagonist.

#7:  20th Century Women (Mike Mills)

Annette Bening and Greta Gerwig are the two reasons that 20th

#6 20th Century Women

#7 20th Century Women

Century Women made my list.  The story of three women exploring new freedoms in the 1970s, much of it revealed through the behavior of the cynical matriarch Dorthea’s young son, Jamie.  Gerwig is a rising star and Bening deserved an Oscar nomination for her performance in this overlooked film. 

#8:  Hell Or High Water (David MacKenzie)

Two brothers, desperate to save their family’s land from bank foreclosure, set out on a series of small robberies of the foreclosing bank branches to come up with the money. Toby, played by

#8 Hell Or High Water

#8 Hell Or High Water

Chris Pine, is motivated to leave something to his son and estranged wife and ex-con Tanner seems to be in it for the fun. Soon, crusty small-town sheriff Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) is in pursuit and things get out of hand in a dramatic ending. I would like to see Jeff Bridges win an Oscar for his performance.

#9:  Hidden Figures (Theodore Melfi)

Why did it take over fifty years to learn about the significant contributions of these African-American women mathematicians to one of our nations most famous and heroic space flights?  Better late than never, they have been documented, through this film, in an insightful, yet charming way.  It reveals much about life for educated African

#9 Hidden Figures

#9 Hidden Figures

American women in 1964 Houston, Texas, including separate restrooms and lunch facilities.  I enjoyed the characters portrayed by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Kevin Costner as well as the closing footage of the real women. A story that is both inspiring and fun to watch, Hidden Figures is a deserving nominee.

#10:  Lion

Based on a true story,  Lion is the most inspirational film of 2016.  The story of young Saroo, a five year-old boy, artfully played by Sunny Pawar, who gets lost and miraculously survives, alone in Calcutta.  He is eventually adopted by a loving couple and has a normal childhood in Australia.  Decades later, a familiar smell

#10: Lion

#10: Lion

from his homeland has him yearning for contact with his birth mother and family in India  He sets out on a journey to find them and his story ends on a heartfelt and bittersweet note.

Others:  Toni Erdman, Captain Fantastic, LaLa Land, Zootopia, Nice Guys, Queen of Katwe, Elle

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Walt and My Autopian World

 

In 1955 suburbia, our quiet street was typically filled with young baby boomers seeking to play in the remaining after-school sun.  In the late afternoon, we would hear the recognizable unique sounds each parent used to call their kids to come home.  They ranged from whistles to something between a scream and a yodel.  Mine was simply a shout out of my name and these days, I had my parental alarm clock set at 4:00 pm, the time that the new Mickey Mouse Club television show began.

Walt Disney’s first major achievement in 1955, the Mickey Mouse Club had many diverse features that were presented in a very regimented way.   Firstly, it was anyone’s

The Original Mouseketeers

The Original Mouseketeers

guess on the outcome of cartoon Donald Duck’s daily ringing of the gong to introduce the show.  Sometimes the gong remained rigid, like a stone, leaving Donald to vibrate off the screen and other times it had the consistency of watermelon, surprisingly exploding on contact.  Then, there was clubhouse time with the original Mouseketeers including Cubby, Annette, Jimmy, the adult leader and one of my early crushes, Cheryl. The Mouseketeer activities changed daily, always woven within a fabric of wholesomeness.  They were the envy of every seven-year old that I knew.

Twenty minutes a day was devoted to special family serial dramas like “Spin and Marty” and “The Applegate Mysteries.”  “Spin and Marty” was about two boys who grew up on a cattle ranch, always finding themselves with strange conundrums to resolve, usually before their parents discovered them.   Disney always revealed his latest cartoons on the Mickey Mouse Club featuring Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy or Pluto, two mice, a couple of mutt dogs and an irritable, ill-tempered duck.  One of his most famous cartoons starred Goofy as a mild-

Disneyland (NBC, ABC, CBS) [1954-1990] aka The Wonderful World of Disney Shown: Tinkerbell

The Wonderful World of Disney Shown: Tinkerbell

mannered man-dog who became a crazed maniac when he got behind the steering wheel of a car.  This cartoon not only foreshadowed current life in the fast lane, but serves as a segue to the rest of my story.

Walt Disney used his new television show to market and promote a uniquely innovative and awesome new theme park, his second major achievement of 1955.  There would be nothing like Disneyland anywhere in the world and ample time on the Mickey Mouse Club and Sunday evening “The Wonderful World of Disney” television programs featured Walt himself, with models and drawings, looking like everyone’s grandfather, explaining new aspects that were well beyond people’s imaginative comprehension.  Anticipation throughout the country was so high that the grand opening was nationally televised, something unheard of in

Spin and Marty

Spin and Marty

1955.  Television personalities Art Linkletter, Robert Cummings and Ronald Reagan hosted the show, guiding the nation down Main Street and eventually into a jungle boat, a delta riverboat, a castle, then to Autopia in Tomorrowland, the attraction that I most coveted.

It seems ironic today that the opportunity to drive a car on a scale model freeway usurped my fascination with visiting far away tropical forests or the Wild West.  Like Walt, I saw freeways as alluring conduits that would enhance our freedoms and connect our communities.  Sustained with cheap, plentiful gas and enough

Ronald Reagan, Bob Cummings and Art Linkleter co-host Disneyland's Grand Opening

Ronald Reagan, Bob Cummings and Art Linkletter co-host Disneyland’s Grand Opening

rubber plants in the world’s jungles, the new freeways would be filled with families passing in shiny convertibles, waving to each other on the way to the beach or a picnic.  The obsession with driving clouded my memory of the Goofy’s “road rage” cartoon, Walt’s prophetic warning of the dark side of his mobile utopia.

While watching the grand opening show, I said, “Mom…”   Without letting me finish my thought, she said, “I’ve already talked to Aunt Naomi and we plan to visit her next spring and all go to Disneyland.”   My parents were in their twenties and probably wanted to go as much as I did.  This would be a dream for most kids in my neighborhood, but as a somewhat spoiled, only child, I complained to myself that our visit was almost a year away.  Maybe I would be too old for Disneyland by then.  Turns out I wasn’t too old, just too short.

The drive from Aunt Naomi’s house in Encino to Anaheim seemed to take forever.  Once we passed downtown Los Angeles on the 101 Freeway, their was nothing but orange groves and blue skies.  Most people had never heard of Anaheim, dtour02California before Disney selected the rural area for his ability to secretly buy up several large parcels under separate, newly created real estate companies, a feat he would repeat in assembling vast contiguous acreage for his Disney World theme park in Florida.   An enormous sign announced that we had arrived at the Magic Kingdom.  After entering the property,  traveling along a half-mile entryway to access the colossal parking lot, waiting for a tram to pick up and deliver us to the entrance, we were about to experience the dream.

Originally, Disneyland offered five categories of attractions ranging from A tickets for the more common rides to the E-ticket for those most popular and exciting.  To this day, the term “E-ticket” is a commonly used metaphor for describing something thrilling like “Surfing the pipeline was an E-ticket ride.”  My parents purchased the largest fifteen-ride book for

Original Disneyland ticket coupons

Original Disneyland ticket coupons

$5.95 Adult ($12.35 value) and $4.95 Child ($9.50 value) that included the following tickets:  one A ($.10), two B’s ($.25), three C’s ($.40), four D’s ($.70) and five E-tickets ($.85).  By comparison, in 2007, I treated my son’s family to a day at Disneyland, who now sells simplified general all-day passes.   Responding to my request for two child and four adult passes, the attendant responded, “That will be five hundred and thirty-six dollars, please.”   In 1956, the attendant would have requested the hefty sum of twenty-nine dollars and seventy cents for the same entry passes.

Since it was on the way, we went directly to the jungle boat ride in Adventureland, an awesome experience for my generation and a true E-ticket ride.  Surprisingly, the Autopia ride was only a C-ticket, but I wanted to drive those cars around that beautiful miniature freeway, and begged to go there next.

After rushing everyone through Fantasyland, by the Madhatter’s Cup and Saucer ride, we were soon standing at the

Autopia

Autopia

Autopia entrance.  Moments later, my lingering anticipation and excitement would crash like a lead balloon falling from the sky.  With a red arrow pointing to the bottom, the sign said “You must be this tall to drive the cars.”   I walked under the sign several times in disbelief.  I was two inches too short.  My only option was to ride as a passenger, arms crossed, bottom lip protruding and silent while my father drove the car, boring for him and humiliating for me.  C’mon, I  experienced this on the drive down from my aunt’s house.  The consolation that “there’s always next time” was not consoling at this moment.  An otherwise tremendous day was marred by this episode.  I had a bone to

The sign

The sign

pick with Mr. Walt Disney.

In 1959, we returned and I finally drove the small cars on the Autopian freeway, though at age eleven, some of the original excitement had waned.  Besides, other attractions like Tom Sawyer’s Island and The Matterhorn had been added, enough new imagination for any young mind to feast on.  Later in the day, we were walking in Fantasyland when my mother, grabbing my shoulder, pointed and said, “Look, over there.”  It took a few moments, but I soon realized it was Walt Disney, strolling through his masterpiece, holding the hands of his two grandchildren.   There was no crowd or entourage following him around.  We asked for a photo and he said, “Sure,” adding, “are you having a good time?”  “This is the greatest place ever,” I responded, deciding to put the Autopia incident behind me. He was forgiven. Few people had more influence on the my generation than Walt Disney and this small, barely focused photo, is a constant reminder of the wonderment that he created in me.

Walt and I, 1959

Walt and I, 1959

Epilogue:  It’s always nice to get through these childhood disappointments and laugh about them later.  But, really, two fricken inches!