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.
I managed to catch Nova Scotia arts reporter extraordinaire Stephen Cooke before his trip to Australia for the holidays. Due to a strike you might have heard about, he says he hasn’t seen as many films this year as he would’ve liked, but he still had a few titles to celebrate. For those who don’t know, Cooke is an award-winning journalist currently filing with Local XPress, and he’s my excellent cohost on the film podcast, LENS ME YOUR EARS,
This conversation has been edited and condensed.
Flaw In The Iris: So, what’s on your list?
Stephen Cooke: I jotted down a few titles that stuck out for me. No particular order, there’s no film that I chose as the best of the year, I don’t think. But I’ll start with the Coen Brothers and Hail Caesar! I liked it even more the second time I watched it—it improves on multiple viewings.
I enjoyed all the games they’re playing with the era, and the timeline. You could go, “Oh, that didn’t happen then.” Hey, it’s fiction, so just let it happen, and it’s comedic, so it’s happening on purpose. And just this jab at old-school Hollywood and the studios, and it’s a return to some ground they’d covered in Barton Fink to a certain degree, but from a different angle. The star-driven perspective, rather than a screenwriter.
FITI: I loved all the musical numbers. If the Coens never do a full-blown musical, I feel like it’s OK now that they’ve offered up Hail Caesar!.
SC: I’d love to see Ralph Fiennes get a Supporting Actor nod for his role as the director here. That scene was one of the funniest of the year.
FITI: It’s never going to happen, but that would be great.
SC: No, of course not.
FITI: OK, and what else?
SC: The Lobster was high up there, just for a really odd take on relationships. I didn’t see Dogtooth, so I don’t have a good frame of reference for this director’s other work, but I loved the absurdity of The Lobster, the overt fable in the storytelling, which is hard to pull off and they did it very well. And a great cast.
FITI: It amazed me by existing, frankly. It’s so weird. And it polarized people, which I also liked. In this era of audience-tested-up-the-wazoo Hollywood product, it was so different.
SC: In a lot of ways it harks back to the work of Luis Bunuel, That Obscure Object of Desire and The Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoisie, films that weren’t afraid to take an absurd premise and run with it. And I think that’s something that has mostly vanished. It was an aspect that was there if you wanted to see it, especially in foreign film, but it’s fell by the wayside. Aki Kaurismäki is a filmmaker who indulges in that kind of thing. But it’s nice to see it full-blown here and go along for the ride. Green Room is another I want to mention. It’s hard-hitting.
FITI: It will definitely be on my list.
SC: There are still images from that film reverberating around my brain pan. I certainly enjoyed the films of Jeremy Saulnier leading up to Green Room, but this one as a thriller making use of very little space and economic storytelling, it was so well-done. The punk-rock aspect of it I really liked as well.
FITI: I love that you can get The Ain’t Rights t-shirts now.
SC: The Witch was a film that stayed with me. I don’t know that it was universally loved, but we talked about Roger Ebert and his impact on us in our podcast, and the notion of a film taking us to a new place and creating its own world really came into play here. It’s a factor I always look for, and that was certainly true in Green Room and The Lobster. Here that early-colonial, pre-revolutionary frontier America has never seemed so terrifying. As it must have to the people who lived there.
FITI: It must have. A place of monsters. The edge of the world.
SC: If people in our age are worried about Bigfoot, imagine what these people must have thought was lurking in these uninhabited woods that stretched for miles and miles. And the costume design, the dialogue, the archaic way of speaking this film captures so well. It’s not completely foreign, but it goes some way to try and capture the mannered way that people spoke at the time.
I appreciated the effort to capture that without overplaying the hand. And parts were terrifying. Those twins and the goat freaked me right out. It’s so unusual to get something fresh in the horror film field, and this one was that.
I also liked The Handmaiden, from Korea.
There’s so little erotic cinema out there, to see it done with such style in a thriller format…normally you go see a Lars von Trier film and you never want to have sex again. In this case the filmmaker took it in a whole other direction. The look of the thing is so lush and cinematic. I saw it at the Atlantic Film Festival, and any time something amazing happened, you could hear local cameraman Jeff Wheaton somewhere in the back yelling, “Cinema!” It was great, really enjoyable. I saw it with Rob Cotterill, and we were both sitting there with our jaws open given what we were seeing on the screen. It really is a big screen movie.
I also have Moonlight on my list. It’s an easy choice and is on so many end-of-year lists. It’s just really well-acted, and it’s a simple tale of a boy growing up and you see him played by three different actors at three different stages of his life. It’s just a really moving film. A character portrait handled really well.
I don’t know if it was influenced by the Satyajit Ray films from India, like the Apu trilogy, where you see a boy grow into a man over three films. This is that trilogy boiled down into one film. It wasn’t until I thought about it later, but I think there is a deliberate homage going on there. Those films are remarkable and can’t be touched, but Moonlight at least aspired to that and did a good job getting there.
Also Don’t Breathe, as a pure genre exercise.
I had a lot of fun with that, it’s the Sam Raimi-est film this year, like the vintage Evil Dead movies. I think Raimi had a producer role, and the picture really did have me clenching my arm-rests through the film, digging my nails into my skin.
And I think that’s pretty much it.
FITI: Did you have anything you saw, new or something you caught up with that you was more obscure that you think people should see?
SC: Well, I think this is a film from last year, but I finally saw Calvary, with Brendan Gleeson, which just showed up on Netflix. It’s got amazing performances all around, especially from actors known as being comedic, seeing these people in dead-serious roles. It’s funny, Chris O’Dowd was in Tim Burton’s Miss Peregrine as the rather dour father figure who isn’t terribly well-written. He could have been played by anybody, and why would Burton pick a comic actor for this role? And then I saw Calvary, and now I know why they picked him because he’s so good in his part there. In Miss Peregrine he doesn’t have any magic powers so he’s sort of hung out to dry. Burton isn’t interested in him.
FITI: Yeah, I like that filmmaker, John Michael McDonagh. I really enjoyed The Guard. Calvary is a film I need to catch up with myself. So, what’s your wish for 2017, a trend you’d like to see more of?
SC: Definitely more work by female filmmakers, both internationally and locally.
At the Atlantic Film Festival we saw Werewolf and Maudie, and Ariyah and Tristan’s Inevitable Break-up, a first time feature from director Koumbie, who made it for a little over $1000 in just four days as part of the 1K Wave Program, from Women in Film and Television Atlantic. It’s a great program and hopefully it’ll give a chance for women to get up to the next level—I’d like to see more of that, and those directors get bigger budgets for their next projects.
I’d like to see maybe fewer sequels and franchises, and maybe for the Marvel well to run dry. I don’t think it’s going to.
FITI: Well, maybe not right away. They’re still on schedule to deliver two or three movies a year for the next two or three years.
SC: Well, it’s starting to wear at the seams a little bit. As much as I liked Doctor Strange, it could have been better in some aspects. They devoted a lot of time to the cosmic stuff, and that worked well. But the romantic subplot went nowhere.
FITI: Yeah, a sense of formula tropes, now that they’ve delivered over a dozen of these shared universe films.
SC: They don’t need to wedge every bit of the formula into each of these films. I’m hoping the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel isn’t a dud, but I’m not going to get my hopes up.
FITI: We’re recording this on the day the first Blade Runner 2049 trailer is released. I found it quite beautiful looking trailer from Arrival director Denis Villeneuve, with a touch of the original Vangelis score. Are you excited to see another Blade Runner?
SC: Denis Villeneuve can do no wrong at this point. He’s a very thoughtful director.
FITI: Though Arrival wasn’t on your list.
SC: I liked it. I might need to see it again. It’s a film I didn’t love more the more I thought about it. And it’s really tough to have a film with Jeremy Renner in it reach my Top 10. But I’m willing to give it another look. It was nice to see some intelligent sci-fi, though it wore its influences on its sleeve, the Solaris meets Close Encounters thing. With Blade Runner, well, he can obviously handle genre material in a fresh way, so that is something to look forward to.