Director: Maren Ade.
Starring: Peter Simonischek, Sandra Hüller. Germany/Austria 2016. 162 mins. German with English subtitles.
When Toni Erdmann premiered at this year’s Cannes, it received the highest-ever combined star rating from critics at the film festival. Undoubtedly one of the films of the year, Maren Ade’s tragicomic domestic drama is a very funny examination of the disconnect between estranged family members and the pressures of the corporate world; it is as surprising, oddly touching and amusingly mischievous as its titular character. Snaggle-toothed and bewigged, Toni Erdmann is the bizarre alter ego of Winfried Conradi (Simonischek), a divorced music teacher with a penchant for playing pranks. Concerned that his career-driven daughter Ines (Hüller) has become too serious, ‘Toni’ starts to randomly turn up and wreak havoc during Ines’s work meetings and social functions. What begins as an attempt at familial reconnection has consequences neither Toni nor the increasingly stressed Ines could have predicted.
Director: Barry Jenkins.
Starring: Alex Hibbert, Naomie Harris, Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders. USA 2016. 111 mins.
Ambitious in so many ways, Moonlight is the story of an African-American gay man growing up in a USA that is perhaps even more intolerant than ever. In only his second feature after the brilliant but undervalued Medicine For Melancholy, writer-director Barry Jenkins successfully employs three different actors to portray the same character at three different ages.
Charismatic newcomer Alex Hibbert plays the young, naive schoolboy living with his emotionally unreliable addict mother (Harris, Our Kind Of Traitor); Ashton Sanders (Straight Outta Compton) is the bullied teenager fully discovering his sexuality; and American football star Trevante Rhodes gives a breakout performance as the confident drug-dealing adult, a tribute to the role model who helped him endure his difficult upbringing. Never less than riveting, Moonlight is already being showered with richly deserved awards.
Director: Mike Mills.
Starring: Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Alia Shawkat, Greta Gerwig. USA 2016. 118 mins.
Writer-director Mike Mills (Beginners, Thumbsucker) draws from the well of personal experience for this Oscar-tipped tale of a boy growing up in 1970s California. Single mum Dorothea (Bening) wants to do right by her teenage son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann). To this end she turns to two very different women, punk photographer Abbie (Gerwig) and 16-year-old rebel Julie (Fanning), in the hope that they can teach him about life, love and freedom.
Director: Pablo Larraín.
Starring: Natalie Portman, Billy Crudup, Peter Sarsgaard, John Hurt, Greta Gerwig. USA/Chile/France 2016. 100 mins.
Blessed with stunning reviews from the 2016 Venice and Toronto Film Festivals, Jackie is an intimate and quietly harrowing study of the week following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, as seen through the eyes of his widow.
Natalie Portman delivers a performance of poise and power as Jacqueline Kennedy, fighting to hold onto her dignity amid the horror of losing her husband and the subsequent turmoil at the White House. Seamlessly making his English-language debut, director Larraín (No) burrows deep into Jackie’s psyche, showing a woman teetering on the brink. The supporting cast is highly impressive, including Peter Sarsgaard as Bobby Kennedy, Greta Gerwig as loyal aide Nancy Tuckerman, and John Hurt as the priest in whom Jackie confides. But this is Portman’s film, and might deservedly win her a second Best Actress Oscar after Black Swan.