I’m fortunate to know a group of people as passionate about film as I am. They’re students, programmers, filmmakers, screenwriters, bloggers, critics, and journalists. In this space, when I reference people I know whose opinions I respect—and who often hold positions contrary to my own—that’s who I’m talking about. The debates and conversations are always enriching.
As the year is wrapping up, I’ve invited them to contribute to Flaw In The Iris, and a few have kindly taken me up on it.
These are the questions I asked:
1 ) What are five features you enjoyed in 2016?
2) Name a film that was under-appreciated or under-seen, and why it deserves to have a higher profile.
3) If there was something you didn’t see enough of in 2016, what would you like to see more of in films in 2017? Or maybe a filmmaker who you miss? A cinematic wish for next year.
Tara Thorne is next. She reviews movies for The Coast in Halifax and CBC Radio in New Brunswick. She also has a gift with the social media.
This conversation has been edited and condensed.
Tara Thorne: How do you want to do this?
Flaw In The Iris: Any way you like. Everyone I’ve talked to so far has approached it differently.
TT: How about I give you my top three, three to one, and then we have a general chat?
FITI: OK, sounds good.
TT: Third for me would be Paterson. I loved it so much at the film festival but it hasn’t come out here.
FITI: No, but I’m sure it’ll get some late-season, Oscar-qualifying limited release.
TT: Jim Jarmusch movies are hit-and-miss for me because they’re so art house. Did you see when the Simpsons went to Sundance and they kept running into Jarmusch? He was like, “I bet you I could eat this onion without crying.” He takes a bite like it’s an apple. It’s so weird. But I loved the vampire movie.
FITI: Only Lovers Left Alive. Yeah, I loved it, too. So good.
TT: It was one of my favourite movies that year. I thought it was so well done. This, I watched it with Lee Anne Gillan and we were just joyful the whole time. I think Adam Driver is just a gift. A lot of people only recognize him from Star Wars, and he’s going to be this big weird star. Maybe not. He’s in that new Scorcese, too. He’s a thinking-man’s actor who can also do blockbusters. I think he’s so interesting.
FITI: He’s amongst the Dustin Hoffmans of the world.
TT: Totally, not conventionally handsome but there’s an attractiveness, obviously, or he wouldn’t be an actor. His part on Girls is really explosive and volatile. And here he’s so gentle and quiet. And his wife was such an idiot! She is ridiculous. But he loves her so much. It’s what he signed up for, he loves this idiot. He doesn’t like the dog and that was the only thing he ever says: “I don’t like you Marvin.” And then the poetry stuff, well, I don’t want to ruin it. There are two things that really happen in the movie, and the really devastating one he wasn’t even devastated by because that’s not the kinda guy he is. I just liked it so much.
FITI: I really did, too. I saw it at the festival here. I loved its thoughtfulness. It’s charming and funny and it has turned up in these conversations a couple times. One thing that’s been mentioned is the two kids from Moonrise Kingdom on the bus.
TT: Yeah, and the duality everywhere. I’m not sure why. Maybe the philosopher who shows up at the end is supposed to give you the key, but I didn’t get it. Nor do I care.
FITI: I think it’s about the invisible threads of the universe, patterns we’ll never understand. If you really wanted to go there, he’s Adam Driver playing a driver.
TT: Number two for me was I think a lot of people’s one slash two, and that is Moonlight. I saw a Barry Jenkins movie called Medicine For Melancholy in 2008 and I highly recommend it. Barry and I are actually Twitter friends because they showed Medicine For Melancholy at Dal last year so I tagged him and said, “Can’t wait to see this movie again.” We started DMing and I said, “You should come to Halifax.” I didn’t ask him what he’s working on—I’m sure it’s annoying because it’s been a long time between movies.
Well, the thing he was working on is so beautiful. It’s going to win so many awards. It came at a really important time, especially for America. With indie films, you can’t plan that. You can plan Arrival coming out the week of the American election, and be like, “Look at the lesson this movie taught us all.” And I loved Arrival. But you can’t plan when an indie movie is going explode on the festival circuit. And it really did. I read that none of the actors who played Chiron met until after the movie. Jenkins didn’t want them to meet each other.
FITI: That’s astonishing. He did great work with these actors.
TT: Yeah, and another movie that’s quiet and thoughtful, with long pauses. There are a couple heightened moments. It’s kind of like life. Life can be really quiet.
FITI: But given what’s happening in American politics, choosing this film almost seems like a political act. It really goes against a lot of conservative attitudes. So, your number one?
TT: A second feature by a director who made a terrific first film, Whiplash. La La Land is my number one movie of the year. By a notable amount. It opened in New York and Los Angeles last week and I read a couple of reviews that said, “No, this is too twee, we don’t need jazz shit dancing at this time in life!” I disagree. I think it’s exactly what we need.
I saw it at TIFF, at the Princess of Wales Theatre in downtown Toronto. It holds maybe a thousand? Two thousand? You go and stand in line and it goes a full block. I didn’t know if I was getting in, but I did. The film opens in a traffic jam on an LA freeway and people just start getting out of their cars and dancing and singing and it looks like a single shot. It’s not but it looks like one. I’m a nerd for shit like that. It’s a whole number, a whole old-timey, MGM 50’s-style musical number. At the end of it, people in the screening at 1pm on a weekday, people applauded! Like they were at a Broadway show. It is so infectious and so beautifully done.
A lot of the criticisms I read of Whiplash were that it was a very masculine movie. Two dudes competing and the one girl who has lines is thrown away. Which I would agree with, but that was the story we were watching. This I feel Damien Chazelle really tries to readjust for that. This is Emma Stone’s movie. He gives her a bunch of lady roommates, they all have their own numbers. Of course, Ryan Gosling’s a beautiful singer and piano player and dancer. I love the Gos. And it’s actually really melancholy. It just took me through all the emotions. Is it politically important, does it have anything to say? No, but I think it will win Oscars because people really love it.
FITI: Well, there is certainly a tradition of the Academy rewarding films about Hollywood.
TT: Like The Artist, which I fell asleep in. And people thought a silent film craze might get started after that.
FITI: Yeah, that’s not a movie I ever need to see again.
TT: But I would love to see musicals get resurrected. But they’re really expensive. Yet superhero movies are $200 million a pop, and no one blinks an eye at that.
FITI: Because they make their budget back the first weekend.
TT: Exactly. So, I think if you’re going to do it you need to do it like this, so sincere and earnest. It’s not a gimmick. At Christmas, people are going to love it.
FITI: I’m excited. I kept my fingers crossed it would come out here on December 25. So that’s your three, thank you for those. Anything else that was in contention?
TT: I want to talk about two popcorn movies and I bet you’ve seen them both. I know you have.
One is Ghostbusters. It’s hard to sit here now and think about how much bullshit went on around that movie. It was so ridiculous. It’s not a good movie. It’s not. In the same way as Dirty Dancing‘s not a good movie. Love Actually is not a good movie. But they’re amazing, I love watching them. For me, Ghostbusters is about proving people wrong, and Kate McKinnon becoming a movie star.
And thats really important. On Halloween people are posting all these photos of their little girls dressed up as Holtzmann. You think representation isn’t important? Look at this. And Kate is an out lesbian. Holtzmann is a very queer character. They never say it, but she really is. So you’ve got a queer lady, you’ve got Leslie Jones, you’ve got Melissa McCarthy. Different types of women. There’s no romance. They kind of hit on Chris Hemsworth a bit but it isn’t serious. There’s so much that was important.
FITI: And they’re not sexualized at all. And when was the last action adventure movie where a group of women were the leads and not sexualized? Charlie’s Angels? Nope.
TT: Literally wearing coveralls! Hemsworth, too. I don’t have a favourite superhero, but Thor is my favourite because he’s the funniest. Chris Hemsworth is actually funny. That scene where they interview him about his dog named Mike Hat? He improvised all of that. I just enjoyed it so, so much. I’m glad it existed.
The other one I want to mention is The Shallows, and I hope you have some thoughts on this.
FITI: Yeah, that’s cool. I liked the movie. I don’t know that it made a huge impact on me, but it was really impressive how it was carried by this one performer…
TT: Who’s not known for that.
FITI: She did a terrific job. The special effects as well. You need to be convinced the shark is a real threat, and they didn’t take the Jaws route. They show the shark, but they showed it convincingly and frighteningly. It’s a good little monster movie.
TT: And a tight eighty minutes. They didn’t waste any time. They found great ways to keep it inventive and keep it moving. The bird was funny. I would rank Blake Lively tied for third in terms of Traveling Pants. Talent-wise. Actually, she would be officially third now since Rory, Alexis Bledel, was so bad in the new Gilmore Girls. Rory is officially fourth.
FITI: Anything else?
TT: I really loved Arrival. I didn’t think I was going to. All my favourite girls keep going to space, or space-adjacent. But Jeremy Renner is there, and that’s not a face I like to look at.
FITI: And he was really unlikable in this one.
TT: Yeah, like he’s a nerd but he’s super-ripped because he’s Hawkeye. Just cast someone else. Cast a convincing math professor.
FITI: I generally have time for him as a superhero, or in the Mission Impossible movies. But in this he’s grating. He needs to find a way to be a more attractive screen presence and here he isn’t. I don’t know what he’s doing, but it isn’t working in this role.
TT: But Amy Adams, you can hang anything on her and she’ll carry it.
FITI: I saw Nocturnal Animals this week.
TT: The reviews were so bad I steered clear.
FITI: It’s entertaining, a genre picture. A thriller with an overlay of LA art world satire, which is an awkward amalgam. But Adams is great. She’s the thing you pay attention to. At the end of the day it’s just a revenge thriller. It’s not nearly as sophisticated as Ford’s first movie, I don’t think. If you’re an Amy Adams completist, you should check it out. She plays someone we haven’t seen from her before.
TT: I want to mention a couple of coming-of-age stories, and one is The Edge of Seventeen. Wonderful movie. I read a really good tweet that said it is a movie no one is talking about now, but in 25 years will be the subject of rapturous oral histories. And someone said it’s better than anything John Hughes ever did, which I think is quite the stone to throw.
FITI: It is, because really, I think…
TT: It couldn’t exist without Hughes, yeah. But you know, Hailee Steinfeld, I know she’s an actor but I mostly know her as a singer, because she’s a pop star, too. It was one of those things where I was at TIFF and was offered an interview with the director and James L. Brooks.
TT: And I’m like, yup, I don’t care what it is. James L. Brooks was consequently taken away from the interview after I saw the movie, but I didn’t even care because I loved it so much. And the director was really cool. It was the closing film at TIFF this year. Every direction you thought it would go it didn’t go. Woody Harrelson didn’t creep out, ever. Every place it went was just the right place.
FITI: I totally agree. The casting was just right, the nerdy guy was actually lovely, so sympathetic.
TT: And the doink guy that she just wanted to make out with or whatever, even he wasn’t in the wrong when he said, “OK, I’m just going to park the car.” And she’s like, “What are you doing?” “You sent me this sex message, what do you think we’re doing?”
FITI: But her confusion is so understandable because he has no experience. She’s getting all these signals from the culture around her and making decisions she thinks are the right ones. But she just don’t know. The thing I loved about her is that we empathize with her right away. She’s a misfit, she’s only got one friend. She feels out of place all the time. Then her friend hooks up with her brother and she immediately starts making bad decisions, alienating everyone around her. You want to scream at the screen, “Please stop.”
TT: And even her brother wasn’t a dick. And the friend wasn’t, “Fuck you, I’m going to do this anyway.” She was like, “I’m sorry, I really like him. What do you want me to do?” I actively liked there was no villain. Even Mean Girls has Regina George.
FITI: Totally. Everyone was a human being.
TT: The other one I wanted to mention is American Honey, Andrea Arnold’s film. While I loved it, it’s two-and-a-half hours, so I don’t really want to see it again. She cast this girl from Panama who had never acted before as someone else who does dumb things through the whole movie but nothing ever happens that you think is going to happen. But I felt like I was watching a documentary.
FITI: Yeah, it has that energy, that zeitgeist energy, like we are seeing something very now, very present day, from a unique perspective. And I like the idea of a British director coming to the United States to make a movie about America, from that outsider perspective.
TT: And Shia LeBoeuf was really great. He has a good grounding presence.
FITI: I liked Elvis’ granddaughter, whats her name… she’s really good. She has a movie star quality.
TT: Yeah, Riley Keough.
Now, my number 10 is a bit of a cheat because I’ve seen it in movie lists and TV lists. OJ: Made In America. It’s all I’ve talked about since I saw it.
FITI: Yeah, I totally agree. It blew me away. I saw it on TV the first night and had to clear my schedule to make sure I was home every night it was on.
TT: It’s really astonishing. And there’s so much to talk about in terms of race and gender, and the times we live in and how it hasn’t really changed since then. He clearly, obviously did it. I was in high school at the time of the trial, and had no understanding of racial dynamics or what an interracial marriage meant to anyone, especially in LA with a famous athlete. I wasn’t alert to that stuff. And the tabloid culture… I firmly remember knowing that Ron and Nicole were having an affair. But they didn’t fucking know each other at all! Poor Ron Goldman. He walked up at the exact wrong time. There’s so much in this. It’s eight hours. The editing must have taken months and months.
FITI: It opened my eyes to the specific problems in Los Angeles with the Rodney King thing, and how that influenced how the jury made its decision. And then the celebrity culture side of it, the role OJ played in America.
TT: And Nicole’s 911 calls. And it’s like, I have 17 years of SVU under my belt, and it’s clear that he’s escalating! With each call. And because he’s famous the cops protected him. And he beat her up all the time. That old lady juror, and they ask her if it mattered to her that he beat her up, and she was like, “No, that was her fault.” Jesus Christ. Now I haven’t seen The People Vs. OJ, I don’t watch Ryan Murphy productions, I think he’s a hack. But he said casting Christopher Darden was really hard because black men hate him for being on the other side. And Darden is clearly the missing piece in the documentary. Marcia was pretty awesome. OJ: Made In America is so important. It is one of the best films of the year.
FITI: It guess it opened in cinemas first so it qualifies for the Oscar.
TT: It should win.
FITI: Did you had anything you saw that you think deserves more attention?
TT: I’d say Maggie’s Plan. I really like Rebecca Miller. I think she makes terrific movies. Kind of like Nicole Holofcener. They’re about a very specific demographic, which is usually affluent older white people, but ladies.
FITI: I haven’t seen the one she shot in PEI…
TT: The Ballad of Jack and Rose. That’s probably, I’d say, her weakest one. This one the concept was so good. Greta Gerwig having an affair with Ethan Hawke. He leaves Julianne Moore and Gerwig is like, you’re the worst, and tries to send him back. Julianne Moore plays this crazy Danish lady, which I’m sure you really liked.
FITI: Well, yeah, except her accent was pretty bad.
TT: Her Newfoundland accent was pretty bad, too. She’s not quite the Streep we want her to be. But she’s really funny when they’re stuck in the woods in Quebec and she’s like, “Are we going to die here?” Other than the scene of everyone singing “Dancing In The Dark” with Kathleen Hanna and a bad French accent, other than that scene, I loved it so much. Greta Gerwig is my favourite working actor. I feel like Maggie’s Plan has been kind of forgotten, but it’s a great Sunday afternoon type of movie.
FITI: I didn’t love it as much as you, but I don’t love Greta Gerwig like you do. I mean, I have liked some of her stuff, but some I haven’t.
TT: One more thing I want to say, a surprising popcorn movie I didn’t expect to like: Deepwater Horizon. It felt like it was 20-minutes long.
FITI: Felt like I was being beaten up in the movie, it was so thrilling.
TT: And Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg have the Boston bombing movie coming out, it’s called… Patriot’s Day, for fuck’s sake. Again, it’s something I probably wouldn’t want to see but because of Deepwater Horizon, now I do. I mean, Kurt Russell, what a delight! Poor bud, blown out in the shower. That big piece of glass in his foot. And even the scale of it. They pull back from the rig itself and you see the fire and holy shit. I think maybe it didn’t connect with me that people actually died. But the way they dispensed the information—here’s what you need to know about why it blew and why it’s BP’s fault. They did it in a really inventive way.
Peter Berg is very good at being manly but not macho. Kate Hudson had nothing to do in it, but it’s not her fault, there’s no time. But it’s not a bunch of tit jokes and guys drawing dicks on each other’s faces. It’s guys doing their jobs.
FITI: As an exercise in suspense it is one of the year’s best. I like that feeling of being wrung out. But I’m enough of an environmentalist to feel that in some ways they buried the lead, that the real story is what happened after, the massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico. But I have to credit the film. It’s so well done.
TT: What was Malkovich doing? His accent was so weird.
FITI: I think he was supposed to be Cajun. I think. I don’t know for sure.
TT: It was a nice bit of levity.
FITI: What are you looking forward to in 2017?
TT: 20th Century Women. I assume it will be opening in January. I know you’re a big Mike Mills fan.
FITI: I am. I interviewed him for his last picture Beginners, a film I really liked.
TT: And I interviewed him for Thumbsucker, the film before that. But this has Greta, Annette Benning, Elle Fanning? A Fanning, the better one. And I don’t know who else. I don’t really care what the story is. Sign me up.
FITI: Yeah, it’s set in the ’70s in some Los Angeles suburb. Looks great. I try and see all those releases before I publish my Top 10 List, but if I do it’ll come out pretty late.
TT: In this market you can’t do it. Your list will come out in March.