Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is not a kind film, and it is not an easy one. It is thoroughly dark and more than a little sad, but has some comedic moments. Perhaps the best way to think of it is as some kind of demented moral play – a grim farce meant to explore the depths of human depravity and whether there is any potential for absolution. As such, the film sets up a horrible situation, doubles down a few times, and then challenges the spectator. Along the way, the performances are outstanding, and though some of the characters feel stereotypical or one-dimensional, that’s the point. Three Billboards is a poignant look at despair and hope, hatred and forgiveness, and prejudice and love.
Leaning heavily on his music video roots, John Carney has concocted a captivating coming-of-age story in Sing Street. Though populated by a cadre of lesser-known actors, there are solid performances all around, and absolutely wonderful musical pieces. It is tangentially reminiscent of a small-scope Almost Famous, complete with a young man exploring the world of music, but in this case it is as a creator and not as a journalist. Further, Sing Street is much more family-life focused, and there is a decided follow-your-dreams lean to the theme of the film. But the undoubted strength of the film is its employment of music. Carney uses music for everything: characterization, relationship-building, thematic statements, and much, much more. Plus, the pieces are drop-dead fantastic, and the majority of the score is diegetic, which aids the realism of the film. Taken together, it is clear that Sing Street will contend with the very best films of 2016.
Very few films are capable of eliciting the full spectrum of human emotions, but one of them is Miloš Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. At times, we celebrate the joy of defiance as Randall P. McMurphy triumphs over Nurse Ratched. Other times, we feel frustration at the stifling institutional control. We even seethe with absolute anger. And ultimately, we weep at the tragedy inherent with the tethering of an individualist soul to an uncomprehending authority.