Picking a favourite film from an entire year is generally a tricky task. But this time around, the job was a relatively simple one thanks to Hungarian director László Nemes’s superlative debut feature, Son of Saul.
The film follows a Sonderkommando in Auschwitz desperately searching for the body of his dead son. With the camera trained close up on the haunted face of Saul – played beautifully by Géza Röhrig – for much of the running time, the horrors of the death camp surround him, and by extension the viewer, in an immersive and devastating way. It’s not a comfortable viewing experience, but it is an essential one.
Pablo Larraín’s The Club was equally, if not more, upsetting than Son of Saul. The Chilean is one of the finest directors working in cinema today and this one could be his best so far. A group of priests who are living together in a grim coastal town, having been ostracised by the Church, are forced to face up to their past sins when a deranged stranger arrives on their doorstep. Larraín conjures up a grey and morally ambiguous world, and the tale he tells is by turns odd, angry and compassionate.
A singular type of light relief was provided by Anomalisa, Charlie Kaufman’s stop-motion tragi-comedy about a motivational speaker stuck in a hellish hotel. It’s a work of quiet genius that manages to make loneliness and alienation seem very funny indeed.
Arrival continued the fine tradition of cerebral science fiction, bringing complex linguistic theory and profound observations about the human condition to its time-bending story of alien encounters.
The best documentary I saw was Weiner, which followed the politician Anthony Weiner’s disastrous attempt to become New York mayor in 2013. Two years earlier he resigned as congressman after revelations of lewd behaviour online. After assuring voters, and his wife Huma Abedin (a high-profile aide to Hillary Clinton), that he was a changed man, Weiner attempted to resurrect his career. It wasn’t long before his dodgy digital escapades were, ahem, exposed once again.
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