As usual, my 10 best list looks quite different from critics’ lists from abroad, partly because I have seen more Israeli movies and partly because some movies released in the US and Europe have not opened here yet.
We’re just getting some of the more interesting year-end films in Israel, because these generally don’t have a global release date. The latest Star Wars movie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, is a prime example of a movie released around the world at once, to try to cut down on piracy. But we will have to wait three more weeks for Spotlight, for example, a fact-based drama about Boston reporters exposing how the Catholic Church covered up the pedophilia of many of its priests. I’ve read and heard rave reports about this, particularly from my friends who work at newspapers, so maybe it will be on next year’s list.
I’m only including movies that were released throughout Israel, and not movies that played only once or twice at local film festivals. If I were to include those festival movies, though, then Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, an unclassifiable and brilliant movie about Farsi-speaking vampires, would definitely have made the list.
As usual, there are several Israeli movies on my list and that is simply because some of the best movies I saw this year happened to have been made here.
1. A Tale of Love and Darkness – Natalie Portman’s directorial debut is a heartfelt and faithful adaptation of Amos Oz’s memoir, filmed in Jerusalem and acted in Hebrew. In addition to directing, she gives one of her best performances ever as Oz’s suicidal but loving mother.
2. Baba Joon – Yuval Delshad’s semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story about an Iranian family running a turkey farm in the Negev told a moving story, and told it with the confidence of a born storyteller.
3. Love and Mercy – A look at the life of the Beach Boys’ troubled genius, Brian Wilson, this compelling movie weaves together stories of his life in Sixties and in the more recent past, starring Paul Dano and John Cusack at different times in his life.
4. Mr. Gaga – Tomer Heymann’s look at the life of Batsheva choreographer and artistic director Ohad Naharin is as dramatic as any feature film. It includes rare home movies of Naharin and his late wife performing, as well as beautifully observed moments of Naharain working with dancers and clips of his most famous pieces.
5. Mustang – Five sisters in rural Turkey rebel against their strict Muslim family in different ways in this well-written and beautifully acted tragic drama.
6. Our Little Sister – A lyrical family drama by Hirokazu Koreeda, this beautifully photographed and acted movie is a joy from start to finish.
7. The Brand New Testament – A Belgian movie about a girl who imagines her father is God and she is Jesus’ sister. This film is strange, outlandish and improbably enjoyable.
8. Tikkun – This movie isn’t for everyone, but this surrealistic look inside the head of an increasingly unhinged yeshiva student by Avishai Sivan is brilliant and riveting. Tikkun won the award for best Israeli feature at the Jerusalem Film Festival, and won the Special Jury Prize at the Locarno International Film Festival.
9. Trainwreck – Is this movie a cinematic masterpiece? No. But was it the funniest movie I saw all year? Definitely. Amy Schumer wrote and stars in Trainwreck, which sounds like a typical rom-com but is anything but. In a stand-up routine promoting the movie, she said that when the producers decided to cast her in the lead (she had thought someone else would play the heroine), they told her to do three things: “Be yourself. Have fun. Stop eating food.” That’s a sample of her humor. All the lines I remember from the actual movie, I can’t quote in this newspaper.
10. Wild – Reese Witherspoon shines in this dramatization of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir about going on a solo, 1,000-kilometer solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. It might sound like a Hollywood formula about overcoming obstacles, but it’s a gripping film. Most of the movie is Witherspoon all alone, finding her way, and the scenery makes for a great co-star.