And here we are, the end of the end. Only two brave writers left standing, willing to take on my weakest questions. It’s all a bit deflating but so was this year. If you missed the past three days of erudite discussion, please head here.
Q: We’ve talked about the disappointment of blockbusters but what about genre pictures with more meager budgets? La La Land is playing now and receiving fairly positive praise despite the burden foisted upon it by the media to singlehandedly revive the Hollywood musical. This year saw its usual share of modest westerns and the occasional horror surprise. For my money, Green Room was a solid siege picture that I’m eager to revisit now that I think it presciently captured my emotional state on election night. And the Coens’ wonderful Hail, Caesar! was a great genre picture because it was a picture about genres. What do you think, which genre was best served in 2016?
Sean Gilman: I don’t know that I saw more than a couple films in any given genre this year, though the ones I did see were pretty strong. The pair of horror films from Korea, The Wailing and Train to Busan nicely encompassed the full spectrum of their genre, from the creepy supernaturalism of the former to the bloody action and suspense of the latter. The WW2-era spy films The Age of Shadows and Allied demonstrated an expert blend of suspense sequences and careful, thoughtful characterization in the former and a resolute commitment to movie star bodies over verisimilitude in setting or plausibility in plotting. The 19th Century English Lit genre (if that’s a thing) saw two truly great films, in the previously mentioned Love & Friendship and A Quiet Passion, while the Hong Kong action film had a bit of a down year. Johnnie To’s Three and Stephen Chow’s The Mermaid are too idiosyncratically auteur films to really fit as answers to this question. Sammo Hung’s My Beloved Bodyguard is graceful and at times quite lovely, while Trivisa, directed by a trio of young Hong Kong filmmakers and Chongqing Hot Pot, by Yang Qing, are solid thrillers, recalling some of the best work of the early 2000s Milkyway Image/Infernal Affairs era. The two best (non English Lit) genre films I saw this year involve determined women bending nature to their will: Anna Biller’s The Love Witch is a masterpiece of genre reconfiguration, of using a discarded generic form to make a vitally current film, while Jaume Collet-Serra’s The Shallows carries on Europacorp’s tradition of well-crafted, slightly absurd yet vastly superior knockoffs of higher prestige Hollywood films, in this case: Gravity with less pretension and more shark.
Ryan Swen: I must confess I’ve always been a bit skeptical of putting most films into neat genres, but one genre whose films I found especially delightful was the coming-of-age genre. Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party and The Edge of Seventeen were two great independent American films that hit entirely too close to home, especially since the former dealt with Christianity and the latter had an Asian boy as one of the key characters. Additionally, in parts of films as disparate as My Golden Days, Sunset Song, Manchester By The Sea, and even the last third of Mountains May Depart, renowned filmmakers took on this idea and put their own unmistakeable signature on it, which again calls into question the importance of genre.
Q: Let’s wrap up this look back by looking forward. We’ll dabble in a bit of prophecy. Of all the films released this year, which one do you think will still be talked about 50 years from now? Which film should join the proverbial pantheon?
Ryan Swen: It’s extraordinarily tricky to talk about what films will enter the proverbial pantheon, and even more to predict what will still be talked about (heaven knows many more people will still fondly remember Captain America: Civil War in ten years time than will have seen Certain Women), both in cinephile circles and in the general public. While I would wager all of the best films will be remembered, especially by auteurists, I feel that the only film that will join the pantheon is Toni Erdmann. Even though I haven’t seen it, its impact, epic length, and universal acclaim are impossible to deny, and after all, it seems like the films that get snubbed at awards now receive even more hosannas later.
Sean Gilman: Two of my leading candidates won’t be released in Seattle until next year: Toni Erdmann (which would be a leading contenders as well for my Best Actor and Best Actress awards) and A Quiet Passion. Setting those aside, Paterson might be Jim Jarmusch’s greatest film, like Stranger than Paradise and Dead Man, it’s a movie I want to crawl inside of and wander around forever.