Alex's Top Ten Movies of 2016
The start of the year is usually the proverbial dumping ground for lesser movies, a way for studios to close contracts and get rid of embarrassing product. However, 2016 proved to be an exciting one. Right off the bat we had Deadpool, the Coen’s latest Hail, Caesar!, Zootopia, The Witch, Everybody Wants Some!!, and Terrence Malick’s long awaited Knight of Cups. Sure there were some duds and letdowns and there always will be, but 2016 turned out to be a wonderful year in film with a lot of compelling titles from around the world.
Unrelentingly suspenseful, atmospheric, and genuinely terrifying, I love The Witch!
While it didn’t make my top ten of the year I can’t overlook what a momentous film Arrival turned out to be. Intelligent sci-fi is always a treat and the widespread recognition this film has received is a cause for celebration.
I am a sucker for smart thrillers, and Maryland is tough and intelligent action film that touches on a poignant and relevant issue that plagues many. Its alternate title, Disorder, is a reductive misnomer that is best ignored.
The Boy and the Beast
Mamoru Hosoda has made some of the best animated films in recent memory and The Boy and the Beast is another fantastic title following Summer Wars and Wolf Children. Your Name has been frequently cited as a successor to the Miyazaki style, but I’d say you’re better off with The Boy and the Beast.
I struggled to omit this from the top ten of the year but "you gotta do what you gotta do". A visceral chiller from Jeremy Saulnier, I can't wait to see how he continues his career as a director.
Another one that was tough to edge out of the top ten list is a feature length film highlighting the career of its subject. If you love De Palma you'll love De Palma; the same could be said for detractors of his work as well; that's what makes a good documentary and this one is great.
Other titles of note include: Toni Erdmann, Crosscurrent, Midnight Special, Things to Come, The Wailing, Everybody Wants Some!!, Creepy, Aquarius, Christine, Kubo and the Two Strings, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Train to Busan, Julieta
10. A Bride for Rip Van Winkle
In the league of international cinema sometimes you turn over a rock and find a gem and that is exactly how I discovered this strange, but captivating tale of alienation amid the growing tech world and social media. Nanami (played by a melancholic Haru Kuroki) is a timid but kind woman whose life becomes a crash course through the rigors of ever growing alienation and social manipulation. Cut to 179 minutes A Bride for Rip Van Winkle is a sprawling tale from Shunji Iwai whose body of work include 2015’s anime The Murder Case of Hana and Alice, and New York I Love You, A Bride for Rip Van Winkle is impossible to define and metaphysically alluring.
9. Kaili Blues
This immersive experience and stunning debut feature from director Bi Gan is part dreamy travelogue, part crime story and part family drama with a hallucinatory aquatic submersion of time and space against the rural outskirts of mainland China’s Kaili, and Zhenyuan provinces. Kaili Blues is a remarkable film as well as being a historically notable debut feature as it feels like it was the work of a seasoned pro. Lead by the enigmatic Yongzhong Chen whose stone carved facial features speak volumes in itself. This is a commanding film of artistic prowess that should be requisite viewing for anyone who admires creative and bold filmmaking.
Love is devastating, childhood is hell, and reconciling your identity is indefinable; a sentiment that applies to anyone in life and something that Moonlight has expressed more passionately than any other film of its kind. Furthermore, it’s the first (that I've seen) to say that “it doesn’t get better.” A remarkable and compelling film that we’ll be talking about for years to come.
Paul Verhoeven has maintained a propulsive narrative mandate, and his pacing hasn’t slowed over the years instead getting more voracious and inflammatory. Isabelle Huppert has had an incredible career, but 2016 was an exceptional year for this actress (starring in four separate films in 2016) who lends one of the year's best performances in this psychosexual thriller. Elle is an incredible achievement from Verhoeven, and I hope he and Huppert collaborate on more projects because together they light up the screen.
6. Hail, Caesar!
Thankfully the Coen Brothers think the way they do because it's given us a treasure trove of sweetly silly and often hilarious comedies (occasionally interspersed with brutal crime stories). Their skewed vision is so assured and consistent I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s simply the way they see the world. Hail, Caesar! might be a feature length in-joke, and more power to them if it is because it’s a colorful romp that improves with each viewing. With an ensemble working at the peak of their powers to boot, Hail, Caesar! is endlessly charming and laugh out loud funny; I love this movie and all of its idiosyncratic tics and tocs.
5. La La Land
La La Land isn’t a throwback, parody, or an imitation, it’s a full-blooded modern musical, and that’s why it works so damn well. Damien Chazelle knows and loves music, and his film shows a genuine affection for a breadth of influences from the classic works of Stanley Donen, to the pastel worlds made so wonderfully by Jacques Demy, but La La Land is something special that works on its own merits. An Illuminating portrait of love and music and of course the love of music that looks at its shared mediums back and forth.
4. The Handmaiden
Park Chan-wook led the charge of the South Korean filmmakers that broke through in the early 00's, and he’s still at the top of his game with The Handmaiden. A sumptuously complex heist/con film that's not woefully erotic and fetishistic but laden with exquisite visual panache. A truly unique sampling even by the director's standards that like most great films defies any tradition and genre with such flinting style that the precision and articulate nature of the material veers on surrealism.
It seems like the elliptical montage cutting elaborated on in the later work of Terrence Malick has seeped into the larger film vernacular and Jackie is proof that we’re all better because of it. Jackie is somber, atmospheric, and brilliantly acted but the power of the always reliable Natalie Portman is a treasure. It's a film that proves that concise and intelligent biographical narratives don't have to be a “biopic.”
Martin Scorsese’s complex relationship with the nature of faith has never been so ingratiating or profound. Ever the modernist, Scorsese is just as at home in any habitat, and his high tourist realization is almost transcendental. Silence swallowed me physically and mentally for the duration of its 161-minute runtime. This is a fearlessly challenging and personal film that triumphs in being a reconciliation on the part of the creator as well as imbuing modernist expressionism in a setting that would typically revoke that very artistic temperament.
Silence's stylistic tendencies are aimed to a greater purpose in evoking a spiritual ascension that defies categorization; and is far more engrossing than tough guys, wisecracks, and blood squibs.
1. After the Storm/Our Little Sister (Tie)
I guess this might be considered cheating, but Hirokazu Koreeda is not only a masterful filmmaker but has an energy and momentum that is as admirable as his restrained artistry. He evokes a tone that feels like there’s always time to stop and smell the flowers. His aesthetic is unique, delicate and distinctly Japanese. Our Little Sister is brimming with life and love with a sincerity that emits from realist parameters; Koreeda involves us into the lives of his characters to a point where the connection we feel is almost spiritually affecting. After the Storm retains the director's trademark subtlety with a more plot-driven narrative (a washed up writer turned private eye struggles to reconnect with his ex-wife and son) realizing an imperfect modern family with such poignant, melancholic humanity. Never has a director been so adept at constructing and dismantling the complexity of human emotions, Koreeda is someone special.