Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Ten Best Films of 2016: #6

I assign a film to the year in which it first plays a weeklong run in Los Angeles. Accordingly, a foreign Oscar nominee from one year that only comes to town theatrically the following year will appear, if anywhere, on the second year's list. Hence, in the sixth spot, Denmark's “A War,” from Tobias Lindholm, director of the thrilling “A Hijacking,” which put similarly themed same-year release “Captain Phillips” to shame. He reunites with co-lead Pilou Asbæk, who plays Claus Pedersen, a company commander on the ground in Afghanistan. After one of his men is killed while on a patrol, Claus undertakes regular patrols, even though commanders typically leave that duty to subordinates. Meanwhile, back home, his wife Maria (Tuva Novotny, first-rate) has her hands full with a daughter and two sons, the older of whom has begun acting out at school. (The child actors are terrific.) When Claus makes a decision in the heat of battle that saves a soldier’s life, his men exalt him as a hero, but the brass second-guess him and bring him home to face trial for the murder of Afghan civilians. The proceedings pit Søren Malling (the other co-lead of “A Hijacking) as Claus’ attorney against Charlotte Munck as the formidable judge advocate prosecuting him. Both actors are superb. “A War” is so intense that in each of its three fora – the war theater, the household awaiting Claus’ return, and the tribunal – there are scenes after which I had to exhale. It has that wonderful quality we saw in 2014’s “Force Majeure” of putting you in a series of ethical dilemmas and demanding to know what you would do in the moment. It’s the kind of movie you can see with friends and then talk about all through dinner. The first great film of 2016, chronologically: "A War."

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