Arrival is the Best Film of 2016 (So Far)

A review of the sci-fi drama "Arrival," plus local movie news and notes.




photo by Jan Thijs. © 2016 PARAMOUNT PICTURES. All rights reserved.
 

The period we once called the summer movie season has gone through a decade of unchecked growth. In the not-too-distant past, tentpole releases for the masses began on Memorial Day and were more or less wrapped up by the time school was back in session. This year’s began with the release of “Batman v Superman” on March 20; by some accounts, it ended last week with “Doctor Strange.”

A side effect: The best films of the year are being pushed later and later, basically into November and December. This time of year has always been the territory of the prestige picture, but the crunch is more palpable than ever. To wit: Until a few days ago, I didn’t know what I would’ve called the best film I’d seen in 2016. It might have been “The Witch” or “Hell or High Water.” At one point, I seriously considered “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” to be the best film I had seen since the calendar changed.

I don’t have that dilemma anymore. As of the moment, “Arrival” is the best film of the year.

The sci-fi drama from director Denis Villeneuve (“Prisoners,” “Sicario”) approaches a conventional movie trope — first contact with extraterrestrials — in an utterly novel way. Based on a short story by Ted Chiang (and adapted for the screen by Eric Heisserer), “Arrival” opens with a dozen sleek ships appearing at scattered locations around the globe. Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), an expert linguist, is called in to try and communicate with the creatures on board.

It represents one of the most deft treatments of a theoretical problem I can recall: in lieu of action-heavy scenes, this thriller creates suspense and nail-biting tension with sound, cinematography (by Bradford Young) and disrupting, uncanny imagery.

It’s a film that recalls Kubrick in the best ways, using all the tools of cinema to throw the viewer into a state of rapt confusion. Its story winds and turns and adamantly refuses to hold the hand of the viewer; this is a movie that will cause some to stomp out of the theater crying “confusing” or “pretentious.”

More importantly, though, it’ll cause patient, attentive viewers to call it “brilliant.”

Adams gives one of the best performances of her accomplished career, and Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker are excellent in supporting roles. I may well see a film over the next several weeks that edges “Arrival” slightly when it’s time to compile a year-end list, but at the moment, it is unquestionably the most moving and dazzling work I’ve seen in 2016.

This is absolutely a must-see.

*    *    *

Next year’s Carnegie Mellon University International Film Festival hosts a Sneak Preview event a week from today, as they’ll screen the Indian film “The Interrogation.” The tale of four Tamil laborers fighting to cling to identity and control their own destinies is based on a memoir by M. Chandrakumar; it is India’s official entry for consideration at next year’s Academy Awards (each eligible nation selects one film for consideration in the Best Foreign Film category). The film’s director, Vetrimaaran — an acclaimed creator of Tamil-language cinema — will appear at CMU’s screening. Click here for more info on the event.

*    *    *

The Montage: After 10 days of assorted, one-off events — with films ranging from “Seven Samurai” to “Spice World,” about as broad a variety as you can get — Row House Cinema this week pays tribute to the indie filmmaker Jim Jarmusch. “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai” and “Down by Law” are particular favorites of mine; the lineup also includes “Stranger Than Paradise” and Johnny Depp in “Dead Man.” Click here for showtimes ... Actress Mary Badham, nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of Scout in the timeless “To Kill a Mockingbird,” will appear this Saturday at the New Hazlett Theater, where Prime Stage Theatre is currently presenting a stage version of the tale. Click here for info and tickets, which are quite limited ... Speaking of Jim Jarmusch, his latest is a documentary on trailblazing punk icons Iggy and the Stooges. “Gimme Danger” is currently running at the Harris Theater; click here for showtimes and info.

 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

This month's best bets in the ’Burgh.
Take a Hike: 10 of the Best Trails in the Pittsburgh Area

Take a Hike: 10 of the Best Trails in the Pittsburgh Area

Lace up your sneakers or hiking boots and head outdoors for 10 great walks for spring.
412 Food Rescue: Revolutionary Repurposing

412 Food Rescue: Revolutionary Repurposing

Local nonprofit organization 412 Food Rescue is taking food that otherwise would be tossed aside and connecting it with those in need through-of-the-moment technology.
Spring Fashion: The Height of White

Spring Fashion: The Height of White

Fashion is white haute this spring with the best looks from local stores.
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


‘The Chainsmokers’ Forgot Spellcheck for Pittsburgh Concert

‘The Chainsmokers’ Forgot Spellcheck for Pittsburgh Concert

A mistake at the end of the duo's sold-out show earned them some good-natured teasing on social media.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Scratch Food & Beverage Has a New Executive Chef

Scratch Food & Beverage Has a New Executive Chef

Brandon Blumenfeld introduces an American gastropub menu at the Troy Hill bar.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Five Inexpensive But Memorable Date Spots in Pittsburgh

Five Inexpensive But Memorable Date Spots in Pittsburgh

These spots are tailored for couples who are looking for a simple, chill night out on Valentine’s Day (or any other day). If your significant other isn’t the type to be wooed by expensive wines and chocolates, this is the list for you.

Comments


Dive Bar & Grille Expands to South Side, Remains Charming

Dive Bar & Grille Expands to South Side, Remains Charming

The latest outpost of the small, Wexford-born chain isn't flashy, but offers good beer and grub.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
A Life Well Lived: Dan Rooney's Humility and Humanity

A Life Well Lived: Dan Rooney's Humility and Humanity

Delivering the Homily at Rooney's funeral, Cardinal Donald Wuerl acknowledged a longstanding Rooney philosophical belief: “You can get anything done if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Pittsburgh on a Plate

Pittsburgh on a Plate

The way to a beer lover’s heart is mapped out on notNeutral’s plate, which highlights Pittsburgh breweries (and other points of interest) across the city.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
A Refreshing Action Flick and a Redundant Thriller

A Refreshing Action Flick and a Redundant Thriller

Reviews of "Free Fire," "Unforgettable" and "The Promise," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Planning Proposals: The Element of Surprise

Planning Proposals: The Element of Surprise

This couple’s proposal story really takes the cake.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Rare Plants, Accessories, Up for Grabs at 2017 Garden Marketplace

Rare Plants, Accessories, Up for Grabs at 2017 Garden Marketplace

Hosted by the Penn State Master Gardeners, the free event, which includes the local daffodil society’s annual show, features exclusive and hard-to-find flowers, shrubs, fruit and vegetable plants and other garden accessories from a variety of vendors.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
A-Rod to Talk Baseball and Steroids at Slippery Rock

A-Rod to Talk Baseball and Steroids at Slippery Rock

Considered one of the greatest baseball players of all time, Alex Rodriguez also is one of the league's more controversial stars.

Comments