5. The Birth of a Nation
Nat Turner (Nate Parker) was a slave born in 1800 Virginia. As a boy, he secretly taught himself the basics of reading. This was forbidden and punishable by death, but his master's wife, Elizabeth Turner (Penelope Ann Miller), shunned convention and taught him to read the bible. Nat's intelligence didn't get him far as he was put out in the fields to pick cotton after his master's death. Nat preached the word of God to his fellow slaves as he grew up. As Nat went from farm to farm, he witnessed horrors that shook him to the core. He also understood that he was being used. But Nat's interpretation of the bible was also changing. It gave him a new religious mandate to strike back against his master.
Nate Parker's The Birth of a Nation is a brutal, unflinching look at slavery. In a time when race relations have become the hot button subject in an election year, this film is a timely reminder of a deplorable shared history. It shows what evils man can perpetrate on another when viewed as beasts for pure exploitation. The institution of slavery was barbarism incarnate. It built the economic and literal foundation of the United States on the whipped backs of the oppressed. This historical event is an instance where the subjugated fought back with vicious indignation. The Birth of a Nation pulls no punches in telling this story in ghastly detail.
6. Nocturnal Animals
Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal are terrific in Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals. It is essentially two films in one, two stories that intertwine to slowly reveal the truth behind both. Adams stars as Susan Morrow, a wealthy and successful art gallery owner. She receives a manuscript, dedicated to her, from Edward (Gyllenhaal), the ex-husband she left in shambles twenty years ago. The book is a violent and disturbing tale, depicting her and a fictional daughter. As Susan reads the novel, we learn about the downfall of her previous marriage. The salacious nature of the story leads Susan to change her opinion about Edward. And cast her current life in a not so flattering light.
Tom Ford has taken the style that made him into a world famous designer deftly into film. His debut feature, A Single Man, was beautifully shot and acted. He takes a giant leap forward with Nocturnal Animals. The film is utterly captivating. It uses disturbing imagery, slick pacing, and dare I say, the best final shot of the year.