SAMANTHA MONTGOMERY (left) and Kutiman in ‘Presenting Princess Shaw.’.
(photo credit: MAGNOLIA PICTURES)
It has been a phenomenal year for movies.
There have been new movies from some world-class directors, both Israeli and international, among them the Coen brothers, Kenneth Lonergan, Cristian Mungiu, Avi Nesher and Whit Stillman. But many wonderful newcomers emerged this year and three films on this list were made by first-time directors.
I can’t remember a better year for films, both Israeli and foreign, in recent decades.
Some of these are still in theaters, while others are available on DVD and streaming sites, so enjoy.
Half of the films on this list are Israeli, and that isn’t about some desire to support local filmmakers. There were simply some wonderful Israeli movies this year. Several of these have already opened in theaters around the world, while others will be opening abroad in 2017.
As always, this list includes only movies that have opened commercially in Israel during this calendar year.
If I could have included films that are about to open here, I would have added the two movies that took the top prizes at the Haifa International Film Festival last October, Maysaloun Hamoud’s In Between, and Maha Haj’s Personal Affairs, which will be opening in January. The American film, Moonlight, which has gotten raves and Oscar buzz, will also be coming to theaters here in January. So it already looks as if 2017 will also be a good year.
1. Graduation – Romanian director Cristian Mungiu is best known for his 2007 film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. His latest movie tells the story of a father who gets caught in a web of corruption when he tries to help his daughter pass her final exams after she is the victim of a crime. The particular brand of corruption he encounters is Romanian, but the film tells a compelling, universal story.
2. Hail, Caesar! – The Coen brothers in an affectionate spoof of 1950s Hollywood, with George Clooney as movie star playing the lead in a Roman epic kidnapped by a group of Communist writers and – just see it, if you haven’t already. It also stars Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum and Josh Brolin.
3. Indignation – The best adaptation of a Philip Roth novel, about a Jewish freshman in a mostly gentile college in 1950s Ohio.
The first movie to come close to capturing the complexity and intelligence of Roth’s work, it is the directorial debut of James Schamus, a producer/screenwriter known for his collaborations with Ang Lee.
4. Love and Friendship – Whit Stillman (Metropolitan) is back with this adaptation of an early Jane Austen novella. Kate Beckinsale stars in this witty, very contemporary story of money and marriage.
5. Manchester by the Sea – A moving story set in small-town Massachusetts about an uncle who has to take care of his nephew after his brother’s death, directed by Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count on Me). It’s beautifully made from start to finish.
6. One Week and a Day – Asaph Polonsky’s directorial debut tells the story of a grieving father and how he gets through the first day after his son’s shiva. A mix of drama and black comedy, with amazing performances by Shai Avivi, Evgenia Dodina and Tomer Kapon.
7. Past Life – Avi Nesher’s 20th movie is one of his best. It tells the story of two sisters – one a musician, the other a journalist – in the late 1970s, who delve into their family’s hidden past, and learn as much about themselves as they do about their father. Joy Rieger and Nelly Tagar are outstanding in the leads.
8. Presenting Princess Shaw – Ido Haar’s documentary tells a Cinderella story for the digital age about the collaboration between YouTube artist Samantha Montgomery, a New Orleans singer, and Kutiman, an Israeli musician.
9. Sand Storm – Elite Zexer’s first film is a painstakingly researched look at a Beduin mother and daughter and how they cope when the father takes a new wife. It won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and a host of honors around the world, as well as the Ophir Award for Best Picture.
10. Through the Wall – Rama Burshtein followed up her 2012 Fill the Void with this romantic comedy about a young, newly religious Hassidic woman who decides, after her fiancé breaks off their engagement, that she will find a new groom in just a couple of weeks. It’s truly funny, suspenseful and charming.