Manchester by the Sea ★★★★★

Casey Affleck is stunning in Kenneth Lonergan's exquisite Manchester by the Sea, a quiet, poignant and often very funny study of loss and recovery. Lonergan has now directed three beautifully sketched portraits of human fallibility, his unfussy, observant style stealthily establishing him as one of American cinema's modern masters. His films can appear shapeless, but they are infused with the authenticity and messiness of real life. Manchester by the Sea is less ambitious than Margaret but it is more focused and achieves a rare level of intimacy and emotional truth in the myriad and subtle ways it reveals pain and conflict that coarse beneath the surface. And if La La Land boasts the year's best opening sequence - an explosion of colour and joy - then the plaintive final image of Manchester by the Sea may represent the most perfect closing note to any film I saw this year.

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