CINEMA: List We Forget…
Celebrating the best in film for 2016.
JACKSON HOLE, WY – In case there weren’t enough high-profile deaths in 2016—Prince, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, democracy—this was also the year, we were told repeatedly in entertainment industry headlines, that cinema died. But around the margins of the franchises that tend to suck up all the media attention, there were plenty of wonderful movies—enough worthy ones that a top 10 list is merely the tip of the iceberg. If you’re looking for a place to start catching up on some 2016 greatness, I hope this’ll do.
10. Moonlight: Writer/director Barry Jenkins explores an African-American life in three acts—from grade school to high school to young adulthood—in this beautifully shot, phenomenally-acted journey into hard-wired cultural ideas of black masculinity.
9. Kubo and the Two Strings: Laika’s stop-motion features have always been a distinctive variation in the CGI kid-flick landscape, but this tale of a young boy on a quest to find the magical artifacts that can protect him makes a case for the transcendent, transformative power of storytelling itself.
8. Krisha: Trey Edward Shults used his first feature to create a star-making role for his aunt, Krisha Fairchild, as a 60-something recovering alcoholic trying to atone for her role as perpetual black sheep at a family Thanksgiving gathering, anchoring one of the great film portraits of an addict.
7. La La Land: It’s easy to scoff at Damien Chazelle’s attempt to revive a certain brand of melancholy movie musical, but this love story involving a would-be actress (Emma Stone) and a struggling jazz musician (Ryan Gosling) in contemporary Los Angeles becomes an unapologetic celebration of the idea of romanticism, and the euphoria that can be created by art that transports us.
6: Toni Erdmann: Even some people who love Maren Ade’s shaggy comedy—about a goofy music teacher (Peter Simonischek) trying to reconnect with his semi-estranged daughter, a corporate consultant (Sandra Hüller)—seemed to think it was another story about an uptight businessperson learning what really matters. There’s more complexity than that in the central relationship—and it Hüller’s best-of-the-year performance—even as Ade constructs several of the year’s funniest set pieces.
5. Weiner: Hell yes, this plays even more tragically depressing now than it did when it debuted at Sundance almost a year ago. Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg turn their study of disgraced congressman Anthony Weiner’s comeback 2013 New York mayoral campaign into a portrait of political pathology, of both a general, and very specific, kind. That this particular man and his pathology might have changed the course of a presidential election makes the story even more darkly fascinating.
4. The Witch: Writer/director Robert Eggers doesn’t mess around with ambiguity: The witch feared by the movie’s characters, exiled from their 17th-century New England town for the father’s fundamentalist beliefs, most certainly exists. The key to Eggers’ study of evil and obsession with sin may be in the subtitle “A New-England Folktale,” because the monster here is also a lesson to those wrestling with something we don’t fully understand, but know in our gut is real.
3. The Handmaiden: Park Chan-wook’s typically lush visual style adds a socio-political edge in this adaptation of Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith, set in Japan-occupied 1930s Korea. The narrative—about a thief working to facilitate a con artist’s efforts to marry an heiress—feigns and dodges multiple times through multiple points of view, on its way to an unexpectedly resonant tale of challenging corrupt patriarchy.
2. Paterson: The deadpan magnificence of Jim Jarmusch remains an acquired taste, but there’s a special soulfulness to this story of a New Jersey bus driver (Adam Driver) who writes poetry he never shares with anyone. The cyclical rhythms of the protagonist’s days build towards something almost heroic about finding art in every possible moment.
1. Cameraperson: It’s not exaggerating matters to suggest that Kirsten Johnson has created an entirely new kind of film art here, combining snippets of footage from her 20 years as a documentary cinematographer into an essay with a hypnotic momentum. Individual images are some of the most gasp-inducing in recent memory, all in service of a remarkable reminder of the real humanity behind every creative work. PJH
Eric D. Snider: It is often claimed that “Hollywood” (meaning “the movies”) is out of touch with reality. And maybe it’s true. After all, 2016 was a garbage year in real life but a terrific year for movies. It’s the first time my top 10 list has had two musicals on it. There’s hope for us yet!
3. La La Land
4. Green Room
5. Sing Street
6. The Witch
7. Pete’s Dragon
8. Manchester by the Sea
9. The Nice Guys
10. 10 Cloverfield Lane
MaryAnn Johanson: It’s been a great year for films telling stories we haven’t seen a gazillion times before: new fantasy realms exploring grief, bigotry and the stifling pressures of conformity; long unsung real-life heroes finally getting their moment in the spotlight; complicated and cranky women making no apologies for themselves; harrowing examinations of the trials of the downtrodden; and even an escape into song and dance that is sharply sensible amidst its joyful fancy. In 2016, even our entertainment got grim and bitter, and felt all the more pertinent because of it.
2. La La Land
3. A Monster Calls
4. The Lobster
6. A Bigger Splash
7. Miss Sloane
8. London Road
9. I, Daniel Blake
10. Hidden Figures
Andrew Wright: The discovery of inner power was a theme in some of 2016’s best movies, whether it was a little girl realizing her gifts in the beautifully rhythmic, intriguingly creepy The Fits, or a giant amoeba-lizard developing a horrifically staged knack for plasma ray destruction in Shin Godzilla. Nestled above the rest, though, is Zhang Yang’s Paths to the Souil, in which a group of Chinese villagers walk the snowy 1,000-plus miles to Tibet’s Holy Mountain, kowtowing with every step. In a sneakily impressive year, this almost indecently lovely, transcendent quasi-documentary shone the strongest.
1. Paths of the Soul
2. The Fits
3. Shin Godzilla
5. Hell or High Water
6. Green Room
7. The Witch
9. Manchester by the Sea