It's Awards Season again, and I've been quite cosy this winter watching screeners with my family. I think when we look back on a generation, we will always remember the kinds of films they made. There is something immortalised about the medium of film and how it can transcend cultures and be able to influence thought across many different national divides.
I've received a lot of brilliant films throughout the years due to my membership and affiliation with the Producers Guild of America, but there will always be a few films that weren't nominated which have really made a lasting impression on me.
A scene from Departure (2015) by director Andrew Steggall. His auteurist, nuanced vision depicts the human condition through the perspective of a teenaged boy.
This year, one of those films is from a debut director whose first feature film, Departure quietly swept through the film festival circuit earlier this year. There is something really deeply haunting and beautiful about this film. The structure of the film seems reminiscent of a Chopin nocturne as every scene has a specific kind of nuance and the characters are so detailed that one forgets that they were acting aside from the aesthetic navigation of its cinematography. When I first saw the Departure trailer, I was certain it would be one of those dull, predictable coming of age films, but I was quite surprised by the unusual composition of the storyline that unfolded like waves quietly rippling into the shore and its careful observation of human relationships. My analysis of the U.K. director, Andrew Steggall is that he will be one of the great auteurs of our era.
In the many screeners I received, there was definitely a united theme of historical precedents and the racial and class divisions faced by many Americans, in addition to the plight of the individual who rises up against all odds to follow their dreams. Films such as Moonlight, Hidden Figures, Loving and Fences paint different POVs of the African-American experience during the mid 20th century. I quite enjoyed Hidden Figures, and I think the story would resonate a lot with contemporary women working in male-dominated professions in the corporate and startup world today.
Taraji P. Henson plays Katherine Johnson, a child genius in Hidden Figures (2016) who ends up working for NASA on its space programme and who is the only woman in her department.
La La Land, Touched With Fire, Florence Foster Jenkins and Café Society all follow the lives of people who struggled against working in traditional professions to follow their artistic endeavors.
20th Century Women, Jackie, Allied, Silence and Sully attempt to reconstruct the life-altering moments in our collective history through the perspective of multiple characters. Martin Scorsese's Silence depicts the politically driven persecution of Catholics in East Asian nations, specifically in Japan, during the turn of the century. Religion becomes a secret savior when the majority of the population is living in poverty and the wealthy control the people through who they worship. It is that need for people to believe in something when they are suffering that leads to expansion of religion in this historical depiction of Catholicism. There are some memorable scenes in the Scorsese film, but I think his direction seems almost from that of an outside observer watching these scenes unfold instead of being able to solely focus nor identify with the POV of the main characters.
Adam Driver plays a bus driver who takes the same route every day and eavesdrops on the conversations of his passengers, perhaps as a metaphor for the role of contemporary politicians in the Jim Jarmusch film Paterson (2016).
This is the first year that I received screeners from Amazon Studios, and a couple that I received, Manchester by the Sea and Paterson, focus on the lives of working class Americans. In the latter film, the monotony of life may not be so different than the lives of high profile politicians, who probably have a similar routine of their own. Queen of Katwe and The Eagle Huntress both depict strong female roles set in Africa and Kazakhstan and Lion is an interesting tale of an adopted man finding his roots in India. I also received several animations: Kubo and the Two Strings, the Secret Life of Pets and Finding Dory which were a hit with my little cousins.
There were also a few thrillers nominated this year: Hell or High Water, The Girl on the Train and Nocturnal Animals. The latter is the second film from Tom Ford, the fashion designer who re-invented Gucci in the 1990s and launched his own label, then came out with a debut film in 2009, A Single Man. Tom Ford is one of those spectacular people whom you can't help but endlessly admire.
Tom Ford speaking at the Directors Guild of America about his second film, Nocturnal Animals (2016) last month.
I remember when I first received my copy of A Single Man during the 2010 Awards Season. It was around Thanksgiving and I had received the full DVD copy with all the director interviews instead of the usual screener copy. Aside from the fact that the film was beautifully directed and shot, it was just an incredible offering from a man who previously had never been a director in Hollywood. A Single Man was released several years before gay marriage would eventually become legalised and at the time, my father, a fiscally conservative Republican, didn't have any views supporting gay marriage. My family was living in Silicon Valley, and my dad had worked in the oil industry before setting up his own business, but he never had any connection or even had known anyone who had been gay, so his knowledge at the time came from scant media sources and sensationalised tales of debauchery and promiscuity depicting the homosexual population. However, after watching A Single Man, my father completely changed his mind on gay marriage, and after subsequently viewing all extra scenes on the DVD including all the interviews with Tom Ford, my dad turned to me during that Thanksgiving holiday as we were discussing all the films we had seen and he said, "Tom Ford is a great director." I think that is what a legendary director does - he or she has the ability to influence people's thoughts, to bring new perspectives and to unify people against division.
Colin Firth (left) on the set with director Tom Ford (right) in A Single Man (2009).
In any case, Nocturnal Animals, Tom Ford's second film is an intriguing, stylised journey that seems to be somewhat influenced by the films of David Lynch, with a graphic attention to sound; the turning of the page has a crisp, almost shrill attention to its pitch and resonance. The film veers between two perspectives - between the world depicted in the novel the main character is reading and the life of the main character. Quite frankly, I was more interested in the conversations occurring between people in the main character's life as opposed to the fictional thriller inside the novel one, which seemed to me a little grotesque. Although I don't think this film compares to monumental tone set by A Single Man, it is still an aesthetically interesting film to watch with beautiful cinematography by Seamus McGarvey, and I look forward to how Tom Ford will shape cinema in his next new series of films.
Amy Adams plays Susan, an art curator in Nocturnal Animals (2016).
For those of you who know me well, I am a huge fan of sci-fi, and two of the only sci-fi films for consideration for this coming year's Awards were Passengers and Arrival. I found the latter film very entertaining for many reasons, and the non-linear narrative had an interesting plot twist and showcases another strong female character. Like Nocturnal Animals, the Arrival features Amy Adams as the main protagonist who plays a doctor attempting to demystify an alien language that bends space and time. Although the plot seems like a compendium of many different unexplained phenomena, which may have not been entirely successful in its exposition, who doesn't like a movie with Amy Adams in it?
By Sierra Choi