Being mentally challenged. Being transgender. Being imprisoned, a father (and all around badass) or a dandy vampire. Oh, and they’re actors and directors too. Here are five of the most interesting male creators/performers I saw in 2016.
– – – – – – – – –
5) Linas Phillips
After watching Rainbow Time I was stunned to find out that Linas Phillips wasn’t only the star of the film, but the writer and director. However, my surprise wasn’t because he was a triple threat. His portrayal as the mentally handicapped Shonzi was so convincing that my mind began to race, thinking about how Los Angeles couldn’t be the kindest place for him to pursue filmmaking. “How was he able to get people to invest in his project?” I thought. “How was he able to prove himself to skeptics?”
I was wrong. Phillips was just so damn good playing the role that I was fooled into thinking he couldn’t be anyone else. His background is in comedy, experimental theater and work with special needs children, so he was fully aware of how to portray and fine-tune every nuance of his character. No easy task, but holy shit- he really pulled it off.
To watch Rainbow Time, click here.
4) Sean Baker
Although Sean Baker is a director rather than a performer, his films have a fresh immediacy and candidness that is setting him apart from the ret of the pack. He is an ace at capturing the comedy, frustration, fights and tender moments in the most unexpected places and with the most unlikely stars. His gauzy but acid-tingled Starlet charts the unlikely friendship between a fledgling actress (Dree Hemingway) and a curmudgeonly older woman (Besedka Johnson) she accidentally rips off. His follow-up, Tangerine, centers on two transgender women (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor) who tear through town trying to substantiate if one of their boyfriends has cheated. Both are alternately hilarious and touching, and what’s more- Tangerine has the distinction of being the first feature filmed on an iPhone.
Both of these films have garnered attention and acclaim, making me wonder what Baker will choose to film next. Whatever it is, it will be from an unlikely point of view.
3) Peyman Moaadi
I chose Camp X-Ray as one of my favorite films last year, and most of that is due to Peyman Moaadi. He turned in a performance that is filled with frustration, patience and humor. A lesser actor would have turned his character into a martyr.
This year I watched his collaborations with director Asghar Farhadi, About Elly and A Separation, in which he plays two entirely different characters. In Elly he is the somewhat irresponsible jokester of a group but one of the only ones who keep it together when they’re struck by tragedy. In Separation he plays a man accused of injuring a pregnant woman and lying about it, but that is only a thread to tug when it comes to unraveling his motivations. While his work in X-Ray remains my favorite, I’m more than curious about what he will be doing in the future. I’ve contemplated watching HBO’s The Night Of just to see his supporting role in it, but I wouldn’t mind seeing him star in something instead.
2) Taika Waititi
This is a funny admission: I wasn’t a big fan of Taika Waititi’s first two films, Eagle vs Shark and Boy, so I had to be talked into watching his vampire mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows (in this case he split directing duties with Flight Of The Conchords’ Jemaine Clement). An hour and a half later I was in love, and over the course of the year I’ve watched it again and again, introducing it to others who haven’t seen it. It’s not only a welcome addition to vampire films that don’t suck (Byzantium, Only Lovers Left Alive), but a story about outsiders learning to accept other outsiders and broaden their worldview. It’s also absurdly hilarious and most of the soundtrack is gypsy music.
This encouraged me enough to try out his latest film, Hunt For The Wilderpeople, which was equally as engaging, funny and centered on outsiders. In this case it’s a juvenile delinquent (Julian Dennison) and his “foster uncle” (Sam Neill) who disappear into the New Zealand brush after a series of accidents and misunderstandings, triggering a massive manhunt for them both. Needless to say, shenanigans ensue and everyone in the theater was cracking up.
1) Michael Shannon
I’ve been a fan of Shannon’s since seeing Jesus’ Son and Cecil B. Demented in the early 2000s, but it’s getting more and more difficult to keep up with him. He appeared in ten films this year and I’ve only seen two of them, with more on my list to come (Frank & Lola, Loving, Nocturnal Animals in 2016 alone). In the meantime I was finally able to see some of his best work in Take Shelter, which was as blistering as it was sympathetic. There was also something unexpected in the way he brought an insecurity and needly vulnerability to his Elvis in Elvis & Nixon.
What I found striking is that Shannon often played fathers in the films I saw this year (Shelter, Midnight Special, Young Ones), and in each case he doggedly goes out of his way to protect his children. This leads to different endings for each character, but his intentions remain the same. He is known for a face that often reads as a rather stoic, at times inscrutable mask, but there is always something teeming underneath. What I’ve enjoyed about Shannon is how he’s able to telegraph his vulnerability through his actions and often without words, belying everyone’s first impressions. It’s a special talent.