The Top 20 Films of 2016

(Scroll past my Top 20 Films of 2016 for a list of 10 honorable mentions, 10 of the year’s best documentaries, a list of standout performances, the most illuminating repertory screenings I saw in the Washington, D.C., area the past 12 months, the year’s best cinematography and 2016’s breakout performances.)Manchester by the SeaA tough sit, Kenneth Lonergan’s story of coping with loss is filled with note-perfect performances that will break your heart. So why did it barely crack my list? It’s … [Read more...]

Passion Projects Light Up Middleburg Film Festival

By Christian Hamaker“People love what other people are passionate about,” says a character in Damien Chazelle’s La La Land. That sentiment, from a film that was the Saturday Night Centerpiece screening of the Middleburg Film Festival, captured what made this year’s fest so notable: The stories behind the screened films and the emotional responses the movies evoked powered a festival that has quickly become a destination for passionate film lovers in and near the nation’s capital.Now in its fo … [Read more...]

Cameraperson Points Its Lens at Both Death and Life

A review of Cameraperson, directed by Kirsten Johnson.For 20 years, Kirsten Johnson has shot memorable documentary features about human suffering and the ravages of war (Pray the Devil Back to Hell, The Invisible War). Her new film, Cameraperson, collects snippets from her work on many of those features to weave a challenging tapestry—an odd hybrid of autobiography and catalog of infamy and human suffering—that threatens to become morose but which provide moments of transcendence and deep hum … [Read more...]

Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience Condenses All of Time to 44 Minutes

Review of Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience, Directed by Terrence MalickThe Terrence Malick surge continues. This blog has covered the filmmaker’s Knight of Cups from earlier this year and, even more recently, The Vessel, which he executive produced. The sudden burst of output from a filmmaker who took off 20 years between his second and third features has more than satisfied audiences hungry for his sincere grappling with nature, desire and the state of the human soul.The arrival of M … [Read more...]

The Vessel Proves See-Worthy

Review of The Vessel, Directed by Julio QuintanaWhen the BBC earlier this year polled 177 film critics around the globe to determine the best films of the 21st century, director Terrence Malick’s name appeared more than once. Of the four films Malick has released since 2000 (a fifth, Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey, just played at this year’s Toronto Film Festival and will release later this year in North America), two of them appeared on the BBC list: The Tree of Life landed highest, at #7, whi … [Read more...]

Identity Crisis Applies to More Than Just Characters in “Morris From America”

Review of Morris from America, Directed by Chad HartiganThree summers ago, writer/director Chad Hartigan’s This Is Martin Bonner slipped into theaters and, over three months, accumulated a miniscule $13,000 at the box office. It was gone from theaters by September of that year, but between its pre-release festival appearances and brief theatrical run, the film found favor with many critics—Christians included—who responded to the warm humanity of Hartigan’s story about a man trying to help a ju … [Read more...]

Kubo and the Two Strings Strikes a Masterful Chord

The summer of 2016 hasn’t been a great one at the movies, but just when the season should be ending with its customary August whimper of castoff titles aiming for one- or two-weekend cash grabs, it’s showing signs of life. Not only is adult fare like Hell and High Water getting raves from critics, but Disney’s live-action Pete’s Dragon has given families something they can enjoy together.To be fair, kids have had their share of summer movies this year. Finding Dory and The Secret Life of Pets d … [Read more...]

Potent Story Lacks Punch in The Innocents

Recent years have seen a revival of the religious drama that goes beyond the retellings of the birth, life and death of Christ. While Christians have been served stories like Risen and The Young Messiah (both supplementing what we know of the life of Jesus Christ from the best-selling book of all time), not to mention the likes of Heaven Is for Real (based on a best-selling book) or Left Behind (another best-selling book), another set of films from overseas has told stories of believers living … [Read more...]

Les Cowboys Exchanges Indians for Islam

John Ford’s The Searchers, an American classic, sits at #12 on the most recent American Film Institute’s Top 100 American Films list. A Western that explores ethnic hatred and family ties, the film is beloved by critics and highly regarded among fans of the genre.With Les Cowboys, director Thomas Bidegain transplants this American story to France, just before and after the turn of the 21st century. Instead of an uncle pursuing a niece he sees as tainted by her years spent with the Comanches, Le … [Read more...]

AFI DOCS Highlight Life, Death and Industries Struggling to Survive

The American Film Institute (AFI)—launched by Lyndon Johnson in 1967 to "enrich and nurture the art of film in America"—is probably best known today for its list of the Top 100 American films (issued back in 2007) or its annual list of the year’s best films. But for those of us who live near the AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring, Md., AFI has become one of the great champions of nonfiction filmmaking.Having rebranded its Silverdocs festival a few years ago as AFI DOCS, the institute showc … [Read more...]