Top Ten Movies of 2016 — Number Four


It is a pleasing irony that the year’s most accomplished film that looks to otherworldly being to drive its story is so beautifully, wisely attuned to humanity. Arrival is centered on visitors from across the universe who park their skipping stone spaceships in a perpetual hover a few stories about the terra firma of Earth, but the primary commitment is to the people who struggle through daunting communication barriers to understand the planet’s new acquaintances. As linguist Louise Banks, Amy Adams gives one of those performances that perhaps only she can: grounded deeply in qualities that are equal parts charisma, approachability, and casual authenticity. Her race to understand the aliens is against the ticking clock of the geopolitical anxiety of overlapping societies well-versed in ginned up mistrust. With a meticulous study of human nature that approaches the knowing clarity of classic Rod Serling, screenwriter Eric Heisserer (adapting a Ted Chiang story) crafts the narrative with a soundness that accentuates the eventual swerves into heady concepts of varying perception. The film’s chief storytelling twist arrives not as a shock meant to rattle the audience, but as another extension of the recurring theme of understanding the self and its place in an unfathomably complicated existence. Without compromising tension or momentum, director Denis Villeneuve delivers the rigorously complex story with a commitment to intellectual integrity and a rewarding curiosity about the the linking elegance of small gestures and profoundly majestic moments. At a time when movies are too often unable to transcend their aggravatingly excitable hooks, Arrival succeeds by boldly striving to be consistently more.

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