Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

25 January 2017

Some 2016 Movies That Didn't Get Oscar Nominations

Recently I've been trying to finish up my 2016 list – I've seen 82 for the year and have another 42 to go – and since the Oscar nominations barely came out on Tuesday morning, I've mostly been seeing other stuff on my list, that is: films that I knew were not going to get nominated, but that I wanted to see. Here are some movies that were not on Oscar's radar that I got to see recently:

Chris Kelly's Other People. Gayportance alert! This film is about a television writer who moves back to his hometown because his mom gets sick. It features a lovely performance by Molly Shannon as the dying mother. This movie is really funny, like laugh-out-loud hilarious. It's a comedy about watching your mom die, so that is sort of an awkward story to tell, of course, but it is really sweet and the comedy totally works. I thoroughly enjoyed this.

Other People is also about dealing with a homophobic family, but this isn't really the focus of the movie, thankfully, and it becomes more of a film about getting older and figuring out how important family actually is or isn't for an adult queer who has moved to the city and attempted to leave the small town behind.

More gayportance! Andrew Ahn's Spa Night is a simple, sexy little film about a young Korean-American living in Los Angeles who is trying to figure out lots of things. More than anything else, Spa Night is a careful character study. We spend a great deal of time with the main character, played beautifully by Joe Seo, and this time is always compelling.

Spa Night is a coming-out, coming-of-age story, but the cultural specificity of growing up in this Korean-immigrant household makes this worth seeing. It premiered at Sundance last year and is on Netflix right now. It will be of interest mostly to gay men, of course, and probably not to anyone else. I was into it, though.

And then there's Andrea Arnold's American Honey, which is basically perfect. American Honey is so good that it is actually difficult to talk about it in normal paragraphs. Andrea Arnold, as you probably already know, is a superb filmmaker (her earlier Fish Tank is on Netflix and ought to be viewed immediately if you haven't seen it yet). Honey is a movie about the feelings of loss, desperation, desire, and disaffection that are so prevalent in the United States right now. For Arnold, a British director, to have come to the U.S. to make a film about USAmerican disaffection might seem an odd choice, but let me tell you: it works.

I read a critic somewhere who said that Andrea Arnold's films feel like her main characters feel (maybe Richard Lawson?), and that is absolutely true for American Honey, which is scary and weird, but also emotionally full and filled with delights. It boasts great performances by newcomer Sasha Lane (who was discovered by Arnold on a Florida beach), Riley Keough, and Shia LaBeouf, who proves once again that he is a terrific actor and probably the best actor of his generation. (Listen, I know the man is probably crazy, but he is ferociously talented.)

American Honey is about USAmerican poverty, about trying to find direction, in a country suffering from job loss and drug epidemics. It's about looking for love and affection as a way to redirect the pain of this poverty and unemployment and drug use. It's about scrounging for a buck and doing whatever you need to do to keep going. I loved this movie.

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