This is my personal top 10 for 2016. That is, these are the films I enjoyed the most and they are those that I expect I will revisit the most in my future. There are plenty of movies I liked this year that aren’t in this post. Such is math (or whatever). The films below are ranked, but only loosely. And of course, I can’t rank films I haven’t seen yet (including 20th Century Women, which I’ve been looking forward to meeting for a while now).
10. Green Room
Directed by Jeremy Saulnier
Saulnier goes hard.
“…Green Room is sharp, dark, and relentless. Like the young rockers it puts through its neo-Nazi wringer, this intense film is brimming with violent creative energy, and it makes the most of its resources. Though its setting, premise, and scope are all limited, Green Room’s power as an in-your-face exploitation film is never in question. Saulnier’s horror thriller may not be as layered or as complex as his last film, Blue Ruin, but it will shred the nerves of its viewers all the same…Green Room isn’t for everyone, but it’s a well-crafted and tightly wound thriller that’s sure to leave a mark on those who see it.”
my full review
9. The Witch
Directed by Robert Eggers
“…This provocative and unsettling film is a dark period drama, an atmospheric psychological thriller, and a haunting fable all at once, and with it, Eggers makes it clear that he takes his craft seriously and that he is more than capable of presenting a fully realized vision…Though it’s Eggers’s first film, there is nothing timid about The Witch; in fact, it’s one of the most exciting and distinct directorial debuts that I’ve seen in some time…Though (appropriately) claustrophobic, The Witch presents themes and concerns that reach far beyond the family and the time that it depicts, and it contains complex characters who interact in interesting and well-developed ways. This slow-burning film also indicates a great deal of confidence on behalf of its director, who clearly has a knack for filling audiences with a deep-seated sense of dread. Whether such dread comes from fear of women, religious beliefs, or the untamed North American wilderness, there is not a single scene in The Witch that isn’t touched by it, and the result is a film that gets under the skin of its viewers and that succeeds on multiple levels….”
my full review
some thoughtson the film’s heroine and its use of gender
8. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Directed by Taika Waititi
A good time at the movies! Much fun was had! Many laughs were experienced!
“…Waititi is a talented and inventive writer, and he clearly has a knack for intelligent, quirky comedy. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is built on its characters, and it never forgets its story, but it never goes too long without a laugh either.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is genuinely funny. It’s also incredibly charming. There is something precious and undoubtedly touching about Waititi’s tale of accidental fugitives who develop an unlikely friendship. Even at its most whacky, it never lacks heart…”
a few more thoughts on the film
7. The Handmaiden
Directed by Chan-wook Park
The Handmaiden is far from perfect, but when it fails, it fails fantastically. Many will hate it, and it’s hard to dispute that the sex scenes are excessive. And yet, for others, Park’s latest will prove to be an absolute delight, a film that’s defined by a dizzying combination of indulgence and craft.
” The Handmaiden is a movie and a half—visually, narratively, and thematically. There is no lack here…Sapphic lovemaking? Check! Gratuitous violence? Check! Perverted old men, tentacle porn, revenge and betrayal? Check, check, check, check! And it all works—in its own gorgeous, erotic, and crazed way… This dark tale of love, sex, and abuse knows it’s too much for some, but those that it does seduce will get more than enough pleasure out of it for everyone.”
a few more thoughts on the film
6. Toni Erdmann
Directed by Maren Ade
I went into Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann knowing next-to-nothing about it or any of the actors in it. What I found was a unique, character-driven comedy that’s genuinely touching, funny, and full of personality. Instead of relying on tired comedic cliches, Toni Erdmann forges its own path to create a film with staying power that stands out from the pack. Even if the film’s ending does briefly threaten to undo some of the magic that comes before it, Toni Erdmann remains a film worthy of the time, hearts, and minds of its viewers. When I first watched it, I gave the film a 4/5 on letterboxd and moved on; but as the days went by, I found myself thinking about and liking it more and more, and I’m eager to revisit it when I get a chance.
For what it’s worth, Toni Erdmann has contains the single funniest film-moment I saw this year.
5. American Honey
Directed by Andrea Arnold
American Honey left me shaken and tired (and I love it for it). The film is sprawling and flawed, but so are the lives at it center. All messiness aside, Arnold’s film is beautiful, powerful, exuberant, and tragic, and Sasha Lane makes for a fiery and alluring center. While I would have appreciated some calmer camerawork and a slightly shorter running time, the film’s energy and enthusiasm are infectious, even as the film itself works to remind viewers of so much that is wrong with the country its characters traverse.
The people in this movie look a lot more like the people I grew up around than I’m used to, and several of them are from backgrounds that I know and understand. As film after film is dedicated to the quirky New York lives of those who are sad, but well-off, Arnold focuses on a cast of young people who don’t have access to certain luxuries that characters in those other films might take for granted. Importantly, Arnold never mocks her characters (even when viewers might question some of their decisions), and the film’s heart is considerably stronger for it.
American Honey on Blu-ray
Directed by Barry Jenkins
Moonlight is lovely, tender, and crushing. The cinematography is often gorgeous and the script is moving and respects its characters.While Mahershala Ali is quite good in the film (as the nominations he has received would indicate), Andre Holland, and Trevante Rhodes are just as good. Both of them give gentle, powerful, three-dimensional performances, and their work in the film’s final section elevates all that comes before it.
On one level, Moonlight is a timeless tale of growing up, navigating difference, and falling in love; but the film’s focus on the less-than-universal aspects of its protagonist’s life are just as, if not more important than all of that. Moonlight is about human connection, but it’s also about being black, growing up in financially unstable situation, and coming to terms with being queer. With Moonlight, Jenkins has provided a moving, exceptional movie and a representationally significant work of cinema. These characteristics are not, and never have been mutually exclusive, but its wonderful to see them brought together all the same.
Directed by Pablo Larrain
Jackie surprised me a bit. I tend to find biopics dull and narratively uninteresting, and I’m not the biggest fan of Natalie Portman. Fortunately, none of that mattered with this film. Jackie transcends the realm of ordinary biopics, and Portman gives one of the most complex and memorable performances of the year.
The best word to describe Jackie is ‘haunting.’ It’s a dark, eerie film that uses an iconic figure and one of the most notorious events in US history to tell the most effective ghost story of 2016. In Larrain’s film, Kennedy himself is a specter, while Jackie is a woman, a soldier, and a wraith. More than a mere dramatization of historical events, Jackie is an atmospheric work of cinema that fuses horror, character study, and melodrama. The film is also a mediation on the trials of being a woman, on the value of life (if there is one), on celebrity, and on the treacherous divide between the public and the private.
I saw Jackie twice, and it more than held up the second time around, and the movie also boasts my absolute favorite score of the year.
Mica Levi’s score for Jackie
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Only a master could have made this movie. Plain and simple.
With the exception of it’s miscalculated ending, and the less-than-ideal casting of Liam Neeson, Silence comes very close to perfect, even sublime. At nearly 3 hours, the film is surprisingly well-paced, and Scorsese tackles difficult, sticky subjects with a deft hand. This unsettling, overwhelming, and utterly beautiful film also contains some of the most impressive cinematography of the year and features Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver at their best.
Silence represents the single most rattling and the most transporting trip to the movies I had all year. Go see it if you haven’t yet. I don’t know when I’ll get a chance to do so, but I’m just itching to watch it again…
1. The Lobster
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
HILARIOUS. BEAUTIFUL. UPSETTING.
Since writing my initial response to The Lobster, I’ve watched it again, and I enjoyed it even more the second time. It’s cinematography isn’t as impressive as Rodrigo Prieto’s in Silence, and it’s musci isn’t as haunting or as original as Mica Levi’s for Jackie, but The Lobster remains my favorite film of the year all the same. It’s funny, dark, odd, and daring. It’s also intelligent, well-acted, and well-made. Beyond all that, the film has a distinct personality and refreshing approach to its subject, and it blends the tragic with the absurd so well that it manages to be incredibly endearing and devastating in a way that feels authentic and that challenges audiences to see people and relationships in a new light.
The screenplay deserves awards. Colin Farrell deserves awards too.
“…One of the most impressive (and important) things about The Lobster is just how effective Lanthimos’s world-building is. The universe in which the film takes place is fascinating and original, and Lanthimos immerses viewers and acclimates them to his world’s rules with incredible effectiveness and dexterity… …The Lobster [also] manages to flirt with the absurd without abandoning a reasonable and believable internal logic. The result is a film that benefits from immense creativity without sacrificing the piercing darkness that comes with intelligent examination of reality.
The Lobster does things differently. It’s odd and offbeat, and it doesn’t worry about dumbing itself down. The script is imaginative, daring, and even terrifying. The visuals are cold, stark, and distinct. The music hits viewers in the face and makes sure that they never forget the strange, dreadful world that they are in. Lanthimos’s characters—even when they appear for only a portion of the film—are also layered and incredibly human. So human, in fact, that they can be hard to watch.”
(I know The Lobster premiered at Cannes in 2015, but I didn’t get to see it then, and it wasn’t released in the US until May of 2016. It’s my blog, and time is a fiction anyway.)
Until Next Time
If you have your own top films for the year, I’d love to hear what they are. I look forward to meeting many more movies in 2017!