OKC needs an art-house theater for top-10 films of 2016

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Oklahoma City needs an independent art-house theater, because the top-10 films of 2016 deserve an audience but might not find a venue in which to play here.

In Tulsa, Circle Cinema is that venue, located in the heart of their inner city’s revival, offering community and access year-round to critically acclaimed films. In Texas, Alamo Drafthouse in Austin and Dallas provides a similar blueprint re: successfully operating art-house movie theaters.

Hint for success in the art-house game: Sell liquor, beer and wine for audiences. Bonus: Show occasional blockbusters, because Star Wars. Also: Include nostalgic screenings of The Godfather and Halloween screenings of Friday the 13th 3D.

Currently, OKC’s theaters cater to big-budget blockbusters, the latest Star Wars showing on at least two screens. Add up screens dedicated to sequels and superhero franchises and voilà! No room for art-house cinema.

Critically acclaimed, the films on the following list are the story of us. These movies might play at our city art museum for a weekend, if we’re lucky. Occasionally, such films screen at AMC Quail Springs — maybe for a week, possibly two or three. Miss them because you’re working, though, and that’s that.

OKC needs an enterprising entrepreneur to recognize the economic and cultural value of owning and operating an independent art-house theater in our inner city. Whether in Paseo Arts District, downtown, the Plaza or Capitol Hill, 2016’s best films would feel right at home in an art-house theater located in the heart of our city.

Till then, 2016’s exceptional films:


10. Manchester by the Sea

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Casey Affleck delivers a strong performance in Kenneth Lonergan’s film about family and grief. Affleck plays Lee Chandler, whose brother, Joe (played by Kyle Chandler), dies, leaving Lee to raise his cocky 16-year-old son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). Well written, Manchester is quiet and unsentimental. Affleck’s at his best since Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

9. Arrival

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Tense and smart, Denis Villeneuve’s alien film asks deeply philosophical questions about language, love, science and global politics. Amy Adams is particularly effective as a linguistics professor tasked with communicating with earth’s extraterrestrial visitors.

8. 20th Century Women

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Lucas Jade Zumann plays 15-year-old Jamie, only child of Annette Bening’s 55-year-old Dorothear, in 1979 Santa Barbara, when President Carter warned Americans were experiencing, “growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives,” mourning “the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation,” realizing “owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning.”

Director Mike Mills’ 20th Century Women is a prescient, poignant film about a mother and son who attempt, alongside Greta Gerwig’s Abbie, Elle Fanning’s Julie and Billy Crudup’s William, to make sense of it all. Lovely performances.

7. Elle

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Powerful and gripping, Elle is about Michèle (Isabelle Huppert), successful owner of a video game company whose life changes when an unknown assailant rapes her. Too often, rape is a cliché plot device, reducing victimized characters to an excuse for audiences to watch on-screen surrogates exact violent revenge on the perpetrator. Paul Verhoeven’s film avoids such trappings, delivering a devastating critique of media, misogyny, sexism and victim-blaming.

6. Kubo and the Two Strings

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Animated beautifully, Travis Knight’s first film feels and looks refreshingly original and familiar. Think Legend of Zelda meets Spirited Away and something new.

5. Nocturnal Animals

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Gorgeous. Tom Ford’s second film is about a wealthy artist (Amy Adams) receiving an unexpected manuscript from her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal). Mesmerizing from frame one, Nocturnal Animals is a brutal satire on class, art and Hollywood, compelling with a lush score, layered acting and hypnotic images.

4. OJ Made in America

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ESPN made one of the best documentaries of all time with OJ Made in America, a searing, well-researched 10-hour examination of race, class, celebrity, violence, sexism and media in our country. Should be required viewing.

3. Jackie

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Intimate and haunting, Jackie is an absorbing, non traditional biopic. We’re with former first lady Jackie Kennedy during her husband’s assassination in immediate moments before and after. The score regal and disorienting, the images at once nightmarish and dreamy, Natalie Portman’s performance as Jackie and Chilean director Pablo Larraín’s camera humanize Mrs. Kennedy and our democracy in unexpected ways.

2. The Witch

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The scariest movie of the year, Robert Eggers’ first film is unforgettable. The story about a family in 1630s America encountering a witch recalls Kubrick’s The Shining in the best ways.

1. Moonlight

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Riveting. Truly, I’ve never seen anything like it. Maybe A Single Man, New Queer Cinema film Mala Noche or the documentary Tongues Untied. The story about a young black boy, bullied at school and in his neighborhood because kids think he’s gay, is so well-told, its performances so captivating, it’s breathtaking.

Honorable mentions (alphabetically)

  • 13th
  • The Handmaiden
  • I’m Not Your Negro
  • Loving
  • The Neon Demon
  • Paterson
  • Toni Erdmann
  • Weiner
  • Weiner Dog
  • Zero Days
  • Zootopia
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James Cooper is former president of Oklahoma Film Critics Circle and an adjunct film studies professor at Oklahoma City University. He teaches middle school and serves currently on OCU's arts and sciences advisory board. He also serves as a trustee for COTPA, OKC’s Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority.