Eye in the Sky

What makes this moody military thriller great for me may not be what makes it great for you. For me, it's this: The black Africans actually feel real and are a serious part of the plot, which is about two British officers using intelligence gathered by Kenyan secret agents to coordinate a missile strike with the US Army against Islamic terrorists based in a Nairobi slum. The Kenyans are on the ground, the Americans are in the air (or flying a drone from a base in Nevada), and the British are in London dealing with all of the politics. Directed by a white African, Gavin Hood, the movie is perfect for our ISIL and post-Brexit moment. CM


People tend to talk about religious oppression the way they talk about Nazi tanks rolling into Warsaw. This film, similar in tone and theme to Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel Persepolis, reminds us that doctrinaire faith is often more a matter of erosion than invasion, and in all cases it disproportionately harms the lives of women. In Mustang, the freedom that gets corrupted by degrees belongs to five intensely charismatic and hilarious young sisters who live with their grandmother in a remote Turkish village. Little by little, their spirits are thwarted and their lives brutalized by the increasing orthodoxy of the men who watch over them. SN


If you want to understand why France and Germany are the glue that holds the European Union together, and why Britain's exit is not such a catastrophe, I recommend watching this fictional/nonfictional account of how the Germans treated the French during WWII. This is one of the best films by the great Russian director Alexander Sokurov. It shows that the Germans were nowhere near as hard on the French as they were on the Russians, to whom they showed neither mercy nor respect. Russian life was worthless to them. As a consequence, a kind of unity prevails between Germany and France today that can never happen between the Germans and the Russians. The Russians will never forget the Siege of Leningrad. It lasted 900 days! CM

Michael Shannon as Elvis in Elvis & Nixon

Of all the people who have played Elvis in films, none has ever resembled him less than Michael Shannon, which gives the brilliant actor license to play to Presley's late-period batshit side with the zealous understatement-verging-on-menace that has become his trademark. The absence of resemblance makes it seem like Shannon is playing an Elvis impersonator who has gone over the edge into thinking he's the genuine article, which he is, which lends his every word and move a kind of derangement that is thrilling to see, especially alongside the much more conventional (though pretty good) impersonation of Richard Nixon by Kevin Spacey. SN


One of the oddest films to come out of France this decade has to be Cosmodrama, which is about a few men and women who are drifting through space in a spaceship that has, among other things, a bar and a nightclub. We do not know where they are going or why they are in the spaceship. They simply are there. They sleep for thousands of years, wake for a week or two, eat a little, fuck a little, drink a little, dance a little, talk about the structure and nature of the universe a lot, and then go back to sleep. And that's it! That's all there is to this wonderfully strange science-fiction film. CM

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

A 2015 release, technically, but it dominated the early months of 2016, and with good reason, because it was the rare reboot that actually sounded the same emotional note as the original source material. One of my best friends, who grew up loving Star Wars the same as all of us, was in the hospital when The Force Awakens was released, and it was increasingly clear that he wouldn't be getting out. I became fixated on the idea that his seeing it might hold some magical key—if not to recovery, then at least to alleviating the extreme discomfort he was enduring. Or possibly just to the galactic injustice of losing him. A mutual friend conspired to get his hands on a Mexican bootleg DVD and had it delivered to the hospital, and our friend saw it with his family. And balance was restored to the Force for a couple of hours. It wasn't enough, obviously, but it wasn't nothing. And that was something, at least. SN