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The Ten Best Adaptations of 2016

Some years it seems every critically touted film is a literary adaptation. This year has not been one of them. So many year-end top-ten lists boast original screenplays that it seems Hollywood is finally trusting its writers. What we’ve lacked in volume, however, we’ve made up for in creativity, playing witness to a host of hidden gems, sly winks, unlikely translations, and flat-out jaw-droppers. It’s also been an especially women-focused year – both behind and in front of the lens. All in all, while assembling her annual list of the year’s best adaptations, this lady critic has realized she’s got zero complaints.

10) “Denial”
The Holocaust is hardly a new topic in cinema, but Holocaust denial had never been tackled before Mick Jackson’s able adaptation about Holocaust denier David Irving’s 1990s libel lawsuit against American academic Deborah Lipstadt, played by Rachel Weisz in an orange perm, pantsuit, and braying New York Jewish accent. (Irving is played with feral glee by the great Timothy Spall.) Channeling a lively fortitude that challenges legal and moral relativism, this is an eminently satisfying procedural thriller about that rare moment when the system actually worked for David rather than Goliath. Continue Reading →

Melodrama, Distilled: ‘Julieta’

“Julieta,” Pedro Almodovar’s adaptation of the Alice Munro Runaway short stories “Chance,” “Soon,” and “Silence,” was meant to be his English-language debut. Instead, he rechristened the protagonist Julieta and swapped out Vancouver for Madrid, where he contrasted her quiet despair with the bright colors and patterns that are not only that city’s trademark but the Spanish writer/director’s trademark as well.

If at this point you are thinking, “Gosh, I didn’t know Almodovar had a new movie, let alone that he had adapted Alice Munro,” rest assured you are not the only one. Early festival circuit responses were so lukewarm that its regular theatrical release was buried, and it didn’t even make the Academy Award’s foreign-language short list. Certainly this film has not made any critical top-ten lists except my own. For while I agree with critics who claim this is “not Pedro’s best,” I happen to think his best film (“Todo Sobre Mi Madre”) is one of the best films ever made. “Julieta” is merely one of the best films of 2016. Continue Reading →

‘20th Century Women’ and Cinema Clubs

One of my favorite 2016 job was speaking at various cinema clubs throughout the Tristate Area, especially when they were screening films I dug. I especially adored “20th Century Women,” Mike Mill’s loosely autobiographical drama about his relationship with mom, sisters, and Southern California (in that order, basically). Here’s a transcript of a speech I gave about the film a few times.

I don’t know how many of you saw Beginners, which won Christopher Plummer a richly deserved Oscar, but that movie, which I adored, was based on director Mike Mills’ relationship with his father, who came out in his 70s after his wife, Mills’ mom, died of cancer.

This one is an autobiographical homage to Mills’ mother, and her matter-of-fact amusement grounds this film, giving it a depth that I hadn’t known I longed for in a director I already admired so much. Like the work of Wes Anderson and some other Generation X filmmakers, Mill’s films feel like a kaledescope or a collage or what younger people call “mix tapes.” Those droll photo stills–those quick montages of Jimmy Carter and red lipstick and punk rockers–make us feel like we’re pouring through a cool kid’s notebook or a terrific photo album, only for the whole country rather than a specific family. Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy