2016 has now come and gone, which means that it is time to reflect on the best movies the year had to offer.
2016 may not have been the strongest year for movies as there seemed to be a lot films that disappointed or ended up being underwhelming. That doesn’t mean it was a bad year either as there were many a great films to appreciate and I am counting down the 20 best of them. So without further anticipation, here are the top 20 films of 2016:
Denzel Washington has proven to be a worthy director with his past efforts of Antoine Fisher and The Great Debaters, but Fences, based off of August Wilson’s famous play, is his finest work as a director yet. The film does certainly feel like a stage play since the film is set almost entirely in one location. While this does make sense, one could argue that Washington doesn’t transcend the play entirely on a cinematic level. At the same time; however, this is what precisely makes the film so great. To me, it makes the performances all the more impressive and showcases them a lot better, which is good because the performances are some of the best of the year.
Washington, who reprises his role from the Broadway revival of the play, gives one of his finest performances of his career. It is a brutally intimidating performance thanks to Washington’s sharp demeanor and commanding body language. His presence alone is pretty terrifying as his character is entirely unpredictable. This intensity is matched by Viola Davis, who also starred in the Broadway revival, who matches Washington’s fierceness with some sympathetically powerful emotional moments. The scenes Washington and Davis share are the highlights of the entire film. It may be a tad overlong, but thanks to the performances from Washington and Davis, as well as memorable work from Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adept, and Mykelti Williamson, Fences is a worthy adaptation of one of the most famous plays in history.
19. Cafe Society
Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart have always had wonderful chemistry whenever they are in a film together. This is true in the criminally underrated Adventureland and the thriller American Ultra (they essentially make that film watchable), but their work in Woody Allen’s comedy/drama might just be their best on-screen chemistry yet. At first it might seem like a traditional romantic comedy, but Allen does take a turn towards the middle of the film and went to places that I wasn’t anticipating. It does not go the traditional route and this decision makes the film feel fresh and new.
As mentioned before, Eisenberg and Stewart have strong chemistry as they make their romance scenes enduringly sweet, poignant, and they convincingly sell the scenes with humor and good emotion. While Eisenberg and Stewart are the highlights, Steve Carrell and Blake Lively also do good work here too. The film is also a pretty funny satire on the Hollywood system and the social elites associated with it. Plus, Allen does recreate 1930s Los Angeles and New York beautifully, and this is one of the best looking films of the year. There are some good laughs in it, but I was surprised of how emotional the film becomes. It is a film about the memories of the past and how memories are some of the strongest images we hold on to because they can recreate a time when there was happiness. Allen presents this idea in a simple, yet effective manner and the actors manage to get across the emotions in a quietly subtle way. Not Allen’s best work, but an above average effort.
Barry Jenkin’s tale about a man’s internal conflict of his sexuality is a tenderly poetic one. It does feel entirely human that features some of the best performances of the year. The three actors that portray the main character, Chiron, throughout his life (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes) all manage to seamlessly blend the characters qualities perfectly from the shy mannerisms to the emotional sensitivity when he is confused and exploring his homosexuality. Even though the actors do good work, each one of them individually manage to show Chiron’s development into a stronger and independent man.
The film is also littered with great performances from the supporting cast from Mashershala Ali, Naomi Harris, Andre Holland, and Jharrel Jerome. Each one of them gets their moment to shine and the chemistry they have with Chiron is filled with heartfelt emotion, and authentic depictions of the time. The film also certainly looks great with its almost dream-like depiction of Miami. I may not have liked it more than most, but I will still admit that the films strengths are really great.
17. Sunset Song
This gorgeously sweeping David Lean-esque romantic drama fell under the radar for most people. It is quite a shame because it is a fully engaging experience. This is mostly due to the criminally underrated lead performance by Agyness Deyn. It is a highly sympathetic one as the character goes through many hardships and traumas in Scotland just before World War I. Deyn manages to get across the sadness of her life very well, but also the hopeful nature that the future may be better. You cannot help, but feel bad for her since the future never seems to get better. It is a rather depressing film, but director Terence Davies does paint an authentic picture of this time period and the hardships that some of the people may have endured during this time period.
From its low lit houses, to its hay farms, Davies manages to really make you feel the bleak and lonely feelings of its main character. Yet, what makes Deyn’s performance even greater is that she also has a sense of her determination, and her development from a young school girl to an adult is compelling since it is one built on hope. It is a film that shows both the lowest points and the highest joys of growing up, and Deyn manages to show both of these with great believability. The film’s cinematography is some of the best of the year (I highly recommend seeing it one the biggest screen possible), and it really manages to stir the emotion of Deyn’s character. The hardships will come, but she will get through with optimism.
16. Hell or High Water
David Mackenzie’s film about two bank robbers and the sherif who chases them came virtually out of nowhere, but it was certainly a great surprise. The film is obviously a commentary on the current economic state with its main plot and the many shots of rundown businesses and foreclosed houses. Though the film may be a bit on the nose with this, it does feel rather timely and it does show the “dog eat dog” world that allows many to survive in the current financial state. Chris Pine and Ben Foster both give the best performances of their career thus far as bank robbing brothers. Their chemistry is an extremely strong one that is filled with compassionate determination for one another, which leads to some quiet emotion. Yet, they also have opposite character traits, which offsets them from each other perfectly and this leads to some great conflict. The bank robbing scenes themselves are filled with great suspense and tension (the final sequence, in particular, is brilliant staged). Plus, Jeff Bridges gives a performance that matches both Foster’s and Pine’s in terms of greatness. There is also a great scene between Bridges and Pine which showcases how talented these actors are. It came out during the summer and in a year where all the summer films seemed to disappoint, this one stood out as one of the best.
Denis Villeneuve has become one of the most exciting directors of today. After making some pretty memorable efforts over the last couple of years with Prisoners and last year’s Sicario, his latest work is a surprisingly relevant one. At first glance, it may seem like another alien invasion movie, but it is much more to that. Instead, the film is how one of the humans (a terrific Amy Adams) tries to communicate with the aliens, but the human population is always on edge that they will cause harm. Gee, sound familiar? This film makes a compelling case for the importance of communication and how it does ultimately effect our perception of others and of the world. This is certainly one of the best looking films of the year with its ominous sets and cinematography, and the score by the great Johan Johansson is effectively chilling. With all those elements, Villeneuve manages to present each scene with great passing tension and suspense.
The film, however, belongs to Amy Adams in a determined and tenderly sympathetic performance. Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker don’t fall to far behind though, as they too do memorable work. Plus, the film’s structure is great and brings a whole other layer to the film. It is a film to certainly watch twice. I wouldn’t be surprised if this film moves up higher on my list.
14. Hail, Caesar!
The Coen Brothers have directed some of the best movies of the 21st Century so far (No Country For Old Men, A Serious Man, True Grit) and Hail, Caesar! almost matches those films in terms of greatness. This film is a humorously acted film as the Coen Brothers satirize and lampoons 1950s Hollywood, the popular genres at the time (Westerns and Musicals), the fear of communism and its association with the entertainment industry, and the conservative nature of the industry at the time. The capitalist vs. communism allegory is also cleverly subtle. While it does come across as humorous (and there are some great laughs), the Coen Bros. don’t make it entirely negative either. They are paying tribute to the past, the Coens do manage to walk a good tightrope of playful satire and tribute.
That being said, the performance do get a lot of laughs from George Clooney’s big budget star, to Ralph Fiennes’ pompous auteur, and Channing Tatum is a delight in a Gene Kelly-esque musical number homage (perhaps one of the best movie scenes of the year). But it is the star making performance from Alden Ehrenreich, who manages to outshine pretty much everyone else from the cast, that is the highlight of the film. Much like the Western star he is satirizing in the film, Ehrenreich is funny and charming. As mentioned earlier, it may not rank up with the Coen Brothers’ best efforts, but it still is an enjoyable one.
13. Hacksaw Ridge
Mel Gibson has been a figure of controversy over the last few years. Say what you want about the guy, but there is no denying that he an extremely talented director and he has proven that again with this film. With most of the films that he has directed, Gibson manages to conjure up and mix strong emotion and exciting action. The first half of the film may come across as slightly hokey, but the actors do a formidable job at making it convincingly touching. Andrew Garfield (perfectly cast) gives a determinedly strong performance and his chemistry with a great Teresa Palmer is one of the strongest points of the film. The love that they feel for each other feels entirely real, which makes the later scenes of Garfield’s character going off to war all the more emotional. Hugo Weaving also does some underrated work in a pretty intimidating performance as Garfield’s father. Vince Vaughn also provides some great scenes in a rare dramatic role and his chemistry with Garfield provides some great drama. But it is the battle scenes that really do shine. They are gruesome, exciting, suspenseful, and well staged. I will say that these are perhaps the best battle scenes in any recent war film that I have seen. It does present a rather interesting conflict of faith vs. violence, and the struggles that Garfield goes through is quite compelling. Yet, Gibson also does show that there are many ways to represent your country beyond violence. You can be a hero for your country by sticking to what you believe in and helping others of your respective country. Well acted and well staged, it is good to have Gibson back as a director.
12. A Monster Calls
The last film J.A. Bayona directed was The Impossible, which manage to feature some great performances and heartbreaking emotion. Bayonne’s latest film, A Monster Calls, brings even more heartbreak and then some. This is a devastatingly bleak film, but an entirely smart one that teaches kids the idea of death, pain, and grief in such a sophisticated and though-provoking manner. Bayona manages to seamlessly mix the serious elements with the special effects driven fantasy scenes to great affect. The film is one of the best acted films of the year with Felicity Jones and Sigourney Weaver delivering emotionally charged performances. Jones in particular manages to get across the motherly love for her son that leads to tearful moments. The special effects on the monster look great (and Liam Nesson does good voice-over work). In fact the whole film looks great as the cinematography really creates the dreary atmosphere that the film is going for. Toby Kebbell also shines and this may be his best live action performance to date. It is, however, the emotionally complex performance by Lewis MacDougall that is the highlight of the film. He really does manage to capture a child confusion, sadness, and anger when it comes to death, and the way he comes to terms with it is wonderfully presented and creative. The more I think of it, the more I think it is one of the finest children films of the decade so far.
11. The Witch
2016 was a particularly strong year for horror films, but the one that was the most unnerving and frightening was Robert Eggers’ film about a Puritan family and their encounter with supernatural evil. What I admire most about the film is how Eggers manages to conjure up a creepy feeling by doing so little. He stays away from the cliches and relies most on haunting atmosphere and images to create a sense of dread and generates some genuine scares through it. Even when there is nothing actually scary or bad happening, there is always this sense of eeriness that never seems to let up as the film goes on. The wonderful shots of the characters being practically swallowed by the trees is a great symbolic use of how the terror and dread always seems to be present.
The film has a slow pace, but this certainly works for the films benefit as Eggers allows the creepy atmosphere and images to sit with the audience, and Eggers manages to build it more and more with each passing moment. The film also features one of the best breakout performances of the year with Anya Taylor-Joy, who manages to get across the heightened paranoia extremely well. Plus, we also got the best movie animal of the year with Black Phillip. This will certainly join the ranks as some of the finest horror films ever made.
10. Knight of Cups
As much as I liked this movie, I would be the first to admit that it is not Terrence Malick’s best work. He has certainly made stronger and better films (Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line for example) and this film may be the most indulgent film Malick has ever made (almost to the point of parody). That being said, this film resonated with me on a much deeper level than his previous films. It does follow the same style with his two previous films, The Tree of Life and To The Wonder, with the camera merely drifting and following the actors as they provide whispery voice overs and provide minimal dialogue. This will certainly frustrate a lot of people, but this style seems to work a lot better here .
The cinematography, which is beautiful, really provides a great underwater feeling for Christian Bale’s character as he is searching for his place in the world because he seems lost with who he really is. You really feel the emptiness that he feels at an emotional level. He tries to occupy his time with numerous women to at least make him feel something. These women; however, provide a profound idea of the unconscious choices we all make in life. Do we wait for our desired path or do we take charge for our own path? This is an extremely loose story, but, as mentioned earlier, there are compelling ideas present. We all seem to be searching for something, and something to hang to in order to keep going. But, as a visual metaphor shows, is this “something” always fleeting? Where is our place in the cosmos? Do are choices represent our place in the world? There are multiple ways to see this film and Malick presents it in an effectively subtle manner. Even after watching it twice, I know that more viewings will expose this film even more. Part philosophical/existential drama, part Los Angeles celebrity satire, part romantic drama, Terrence Malick may not be at his very best here and it may not be for everyone, but this film does manage to leave an impression when it is over.
9. The Nice Guys
There is no one better than Shane Black at making an enjoyable buddy cop movie. The real highlight here is the chemistry between Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. Both of these characters are completely opposite; one is a strong brute (Crowe) while the other always seems to have hapless luck (Gosling). This makes the characters offset each other perfectly and this leads to a lot of laughs. Each one of them provides great one-liners that really stick and are highly humorous. Even though the movie belongs to these two actors, Angourie Rice almost manages to upstage the two actors by also providing memorable humor and acting convincingly mature. She also has formidable chemistry with Ryan Gosling, and their father/daughter relationship is equally funny and heartfelt. Even if the story is a little convoluted, the acting and humor makes up for it. A lot of people complain that there are not enough originally movies coming out of Hollywood, but here is an original movie to give a chance.
8. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
The Empire Strike Back has long been considered the best Star Wars film (it is), but the films following it have yet to match that film in terms of greatness. Rogue One; however, is the first Star Wars film since Empire to almost match its greatness. What keeps it from surpassing that film is that the characters in this film are not as strong as the original characters and some parts in Rogue One feel a bit clunky. But there are moments in this film that are so strong and so great that all my qualms about the film simply evaporated. This is the darkest and most mature Star Wars film to date as this film has much more focus on the ‘war’ aspect of Star Wars as we get a great presence of the Empire in the Galaxy.
The action and battle scenes are very impressive (director Gareth Edwards seemed to have taken inspiration from Saving Private Ryan). The last act in particular is the best action sequence in all of the Star Wars films as it is extremely exciting, well shot, suspenseful, and brilliantly edited. I would actually call it one of the best action scenes of the decade. Plus, the film does make some surprisingly wise decisions that most film franchises don’t seem to make nowadays. This film takes that extra mature edge and it makes the film reach an emotional height that is highly satisfying. This is also the best looking (visual and cinematography-wise) Star Wars film by far. The acting is very strong as the ensemble has wonderful chemistry to make their rag tag team all the more likable (which helps makes the climax all the more exciting). The film also features the best Darth Vader scene ever and the film does tie into A New Hope seamlessly. Whether you are a fan of Star Wars or not, there is a lot to appreciate about this film.
7. La La Land
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have shown in the past that they have wonderful chemistry (just see Crazy, Stupid, Love for proof), but their work together in Damien Chazelle’s romantic musical drama sees the two actors at their very best. The musical numbers are well choreographed and the songs are well written and they do manage to get across some great characterization and emotion. Gosling and Stone (Stone in particular) do have formidable singing abilities that really drive home their characters’ respective feelings of happiness, sadness, and romance. There are points where this film is certainly a tribute to the musicals of the past, but this is really more about a love letter to the arts (specifically film, music, and acting) and the dreamers and artists who make those arts happen. This film shows that we need the arts because they make the world a much more beautiful place. They fill us with such feelings that are almost indescribable, and the best way to describe it as a feeling that is probably the equivalent of love. The romance element of the film is very strong that does provide moments of joyful sweetness and heartache. The way Chazelle paints the city of Los Angeles as a dream-like landscape is quite intoxicating and the way he blends all these genres is excellent. The ending is also one of the most emotionally affective endings of the year and one of the very best and turns this really good film into something great and memorable.
6. O.J.: Made in America
2016 saw a revival in the story of O.J. Simpson between the FX series The People v OJ Simpson (which is great) and Ezra Edelman’s eight hour documentary about Simpson, which chronicles the rise and fall of the infamous football star. Even though the film is almost eight hours long, it is a rewarding eight hours. The story of OJ Simpson is certainly an engaging one from his days as a popular football player, to the world famous trial, and the aftermath that followed. The film practically paints Simpson as a Shakespearean tragic-like figure. The film’s attention to detail and the various perspectives on him present an interestingly complex figure (which helps make the film engaging as it is). Plus, Edelman does make wonderful and thought-provoking commentary on the idea of the worship of the American celebrity and its relationship with race, racial identity, and how American race relations had a big effect on the now infamous trial. It is extremely fascinating look that really deserves an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary. Like I said, it may be long, but it leaves a haunting and impactful impression.
5. Manchester by the Sea
Even though he only has only directed three films, I would argue that Kenneth Lonergan is one of finest American filmmakers of today. You Can Count On Me was a well acted and poignantly affective drama and his second film Margaret is basically a near-masterpieces. Now comes his third film Manchester by the Sea, an absolutely devastating film that features some career best performances from its main cast. Casey Affleck has delivered some fine performances over the course of his career (The Assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford and Gone Baby Gone to name a few), but yet has long lived under the shadow of his brother Ben. I think this performance will finally put him over the top as he delivers a powerfully heartbreaking performance that I would call the best of his career so far. He practically excels in every scene he is in. What makes this film even better is that his performance is matched by Michelle Williams, who manages to deliver an equally harrowing performance despite her limited screen time. The scenes that she and Affleck share are the emotional highlights of the film and I was practically moved to tears as they portray grief in a highly convincing manner. The film also features a wonderful breakout performance by Lucas Hedges, who also shares some great chemistry with Affleck as they portray grief in both an emotional and a surprisingly humorous way. All the actors manage to get across all the emotions and feelings of grief convincingly; from the anger, to the confusion, and the question how to heal, the actors do manage to go back and forth through all types of emotions terrifically. How do we move on? Do we blame ourselves or others? Do we try and make light of situation by creating humor? Where do we go from here? Lonergan doesn’t try to answer these questions, and instead he shows that we just have live and keep going on, even it is hard. This feels so true to life and the actors, particularly Affleck, is great at portraying this. Just by his body language alone, you can feel the anguish and the sadness he feels. In some scenes, Lonergan lingers the camera on his actors to expertly drive home the strong emotion. When the film does call for some emotional scenes, Lonergan does not make them overly melodramatic, but they come across as genuinely human and are very affective. This is one of the most well acted films of the year and another worthy film to Lonergan’s resume.
4. Captain America: Civil War
The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has given us a lot of enjoyable superhero films (Iron Man and Captain America: The Winter Soldier are some of the best superhero films ever made). Captain America: Civil War; however, manages to surpass both those films. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo manage to make this the most emotionally investing and exciting MCU thus far. This is by far the darkest and most mature MCU film, which makes the stakes seem all the more exciting even though this film is on a much personal and smaller scale. The actors, specifically Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr., give their best performances so far as Steve Rogers/Captain America and Tony Stark/Iron Man respectively. Evans manages to show his headstrong determination and Downey manages to show a refreshingly and emotionally broken character this time around. The scenes involving them bring a lot tension, which makes the fight scenes all the more exciting and engaging. This film features some wonderful fight scenes that are well staged and well shot. The airport scene is, I think, one of the best action sequences ever put to film, and the final fight is one of the best climaxes in any superhero film that I have seen. The way the film also introduces Black Panther and Spider-Man is great and I can’t wait to see them again in the near future. Even though the majority of the MCU films have been enjoyable, the glaring flaw in pretty much all their films is that, with the exception of Loki, they cannot make compelling villains. Most of them are rather forgettable, but Zemo is actually a great villain in this film thanks to Daniel Bruhl’s unnerving performance and his understandably fleshed out motivations. This is one of the best superhero films in recent memory, and I now strongly believe the Captain America film trilogy is one of the best trilogies in film history.
3. Patriots Day
Patriots Day marks the third collaboration with director Peter Berg and actor Mark Wahlberg after Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon. While those two are good films, Patriots Day is the best Berg/Wahlberg film thus far. This is a highly emotional and harrowing film that perfectly captures the horror of the Boston Marathon Bombing in April 2013. The build up to the actual bombing is filled with great tension and Berg manages to actually make it quite terrifying. The aftermath is filled with some great action and truly suspenseful moments (the climax in particular is great and well executed). Berg really manages to get across the chaos and tension of specific moments and the actors manage to provide some great drama. Mark Wahlberg actually gives one of the best performance of his career as a Boston cop who witnesses the attacks. While he himself is hybrid of two different people, Wahlberg is impressive as he gets across the anger, sadness, and determination that is caused by the events. The film does use him in a smart way as well. He could have easily drifted into an action movie hero as he is featured in most of the major events, but Berg manages to keep his screen time at good length and this does make the film a bit more of an ensemble pieces, and the film manages to retain its sense of community that the it is going for because of it. John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, and J.K. Simmons also provide memorable work as the law enforcement trying to track down the people responsible. We also get decent amount of screen time with the two perpetrators, and the actors, Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze, are quite chilling in their roles. We also get a pretty tense scene with Melissa Benoit, who also is very good here. What the film manages to do very well is that it manages to balance the perspectives of the cops, the terrorists, and the civilians with great care. It may feel like a bit much in the beginning, but it does work to great effect towards the end. The cinematography is some of the best of the year as the film blends film with real life footage so good well. This really makes the film like a genuine docudrama. Berg also wisely doesn’t exactly make this the “America, f yeah!” film that it could have been. It highlights that there is numerous evil in the world. One of the more affective ideas of the film is the idea that while there is inevitable evil, we always have each other to pick ourselves up. This film is really more about the courage of the human spirit and that we continue to fight evil of the world, which is something that can be identifiable amongst a lot of people. It is a haunting film, but also a quietly moving one that good will always triumph over evil. It never feels insulting or exploiting nor does it veer to much into action movie territory. This a film that pays respect to all involved.
2. The Edge of Seventeen
Ever since Hailee Steinfeld burst onto the film scene with her Oscar nominated performance in True Grit, I have been waiting for her to reach that level of greatness once again. While she certainly gave a strong performance in Begin Again and was the best aspect of the average Pitch Perfect 2, it still wasn’t as good as her role in True Grit. Her performance in Edge of Seventeen; however, is the best Steinfeld has ever been so far. It is a highly relatable, sympathetic, and extremely likable performance that is one of the best of the year. The way she manages to balance both comedy and drama is very impressive. She does provide some very funny moments with her awkward personality and does manage to really create some genuine emotional moments when she wishes she could be different. Steinfeld manages to brilliantly embody and capture the portrait of a teenager from sarcastic attitude, to self doubt in terms of image, rebelliousness, and even some selfishness. She is really a well rounded teenager and not just a stereotype. Her feelings and personality are identifiable and honest. While she is the star of the film, there is a plethora of great supporting performances from Woody Harrelson as one of the best teachers in film history, Kyra Sedgwick, Blake Jenner, Hayden Szeto, and Haley Lu Richardson. This is one of the best films about teenage angst, identity, romance, and friendship I have ever seen and one of the best films to capture the highs and lows of adolescence.
Pablo Larrain’s biopic about the famous first lady is a just an extraordinary and absolutely great film. Most biopics about famous figures usually follow a familiar formula, in that they usually document their entire life. That is not to say those films are bad, some of them are really great, it is just that Larrain’s decision to focus on one particular moment is smart as it allows us to really see the person in this particular moment, as opposed to being rushed if it was a standard biopic. The film focuses mostly on the aftermath of John F. Kennedy’s assassination and how his wife, Jackie, dealt with it in the days following it.
The film is not entirely told in order either as a few scenes are set a few years prior to that fateful day. Larrain’s decision to really focus on this moment allows us to really feel the emotion for Jackie Kennedy in the days following it. This film is entirely anchored by a mesmerizing, multi-layered, and complex performance by Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy. This is without a doubt one of the best performances of her career as she manages to fully embody Kennedy and present a intriguing dynamic to the former first lady. She does make Kennedy a tad insecure about her presentation to the public and shows that maybe some of her appearance was all a facade. The idea of identity is featured heavily in this film and Portman manages to show these different identities terrifically. Portman certainly does make Jackie extremely sympathetic in such devastating scenes. The scenes immediately following JFK’s death features some of the best acting Portman has ever done. She does manage to capture the grief and sorrow with such great believable intensity that it basically pierce straight through your heart. Some particular scene that really shows this is immediately after JFK is shot and the scene where she has to tell her children that their father is not coming home. It is a quietly devastating scene that also shows that Kennedy also had to present a strong and brave face for her children and for the public. Certainly a hard thing to do since she wants to keep that facade and identity for the public. Yet, behind closed doors she drinks frequently to numb the pain. Understandable, but no way would she probably ever show the public that. Portman manages to brilliantly convey the heartbreak and confusion for the majority of the film. There are few scenes were you absolute feel the extreme sadness just by her body language alone as she provides subtle nuances that are just great.
At the same time; however, the film isn’t afraid in pulling its punches and doesn’t always portray Kennedy in a positive light. The film does have a framing device as a reporter (a memorable Billy Crudup) interviews Kennedy, and Kennedy practically controls what is going to be said. Portman does manage to have a convincing control in these scenes. The film makes a case for the importance of legacy since that is mostly how we are all remembered. Throughout the film, Kennedy tries to shape her and her husband’s legacy to the American people. She wants the public to remember them as great people (“there was Camelot”). It is an honest film of the appearance we show to the public and when we are alone.
Portman does command the screen, but she is backed up by some great supporting performances by Peter Sarsgard as Bobby Kennedy, who shares in Jackie’s sadness as he is upset that there couldn’t be more done. He is terrific and gives his best performance in quite some time. Greta Gerwig provides a likable performance as Jackie’s right hand person. There is also some interludes with John Hurt as a priest that adds even more layers to Portman’s complex emotions, and Portman manages to pull off the painful confusion during this traumatic time. Questioning why she could be punished by God despite her good nature. The film also looks great as it authentically feels like you have just been transported into the 1960s and provides a lot of memorable shots that really stick with you. Plus, the wonderful score with loud, overbearing cello really does really convey the extremely sad and heartbreaking emotions that Jackie is feeling. At times it feels dramatically melancholic, while other times it feels straight out of a horror film (which you could argue that this film is). The moments of joy in a time before Jackie’s life changed may never be captured again, but like all pain we must move on and keep going somehow, someway. This is film that hooks you from the very beginning and never lets up, mostly because of Portman’s great performance and an excellent script.
Honorable Mentions: 10 Cloverfield Lane, Everybody Wants Some!!, Green Room, Hidden Figures, Lion, The Lobster, Nocturnal Animals, Sing Street, Sully, Swiss Army Man, Zootopia