Matt's Top Ten Films of 2016
2016 is finally in the books. After much soul-searching and marathon movie watching, I've finally seen every 2016 film that struck my fancy. Minus a few outliers that I did not have access to, I feel that this countdown represents my tastes to the full. Having watched over 80 releases from 2016, from the best of the best to the absolute dregs of cinema, it's been a better year than most, overall. So here you go, without further pomp and circumstance, my favorite films from the year that was.
Best Non-2016 Film in 2016
1982 d. Paul Bartel
In 1982, Paul Bartel released the now cult-classic dark comedy, Eating Raoul. The story of Paul and Mary Bland’s murderous mission (they kill local swingers and sell the remains) to open their own restaurant, Paul & Mary's Country Kitchen. This picture was a last minute blind-buy during the recent Criterion sale and it quickly became my most watched disc in the Collection. Having been a huge fan of Bartel’s 1975 crashterpiece, Death Race 2000, I knew I’d be in for a wild ride and Eating Raoul delivered in spades. Bartell and Woronov make a killer team and their collaborations through the years were always a blast and half. Constantly hilarious and dark, it’s one of the best black comedies of the 80’s.
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
Recently, Ang Lee has been pushing forward the boundaries of what a film can be or even do. He continues that trend here and to great effect, pushing technology forward without sacrificing story or character (James Cameron, take note). Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk may not be for everyone, but it's certainly a picture with a lot of heart and a lot to say, in addition to being technically impressive. Although seeing this in the full 120fps was a difficult task during its theatrical run, it has just been released on 4K Blu-ray - featuring the film at 60fps. This format is a sight to behold, and possibly the best looking disc in my collection. Lee has made better films, The Ice Storm or Lust: Caution among them, but this one will stick with you for a good while.
The Nice Guys
The Nice Guys, the wonderful 1970's era detective caper that NO ONE WENT TO SEE was one of the most entertaining times at the movie theater over the summer. Filled with Shane Black's signature witty dialogue, sympathetic characters, pitch-perfect performances (Crowe and Gosling have great comedic chemistry), and a story that will make your head spin, The Nice Guys fits snugly into the director's filmography.
"Remember, it's not a party. It's a movement." If that line, uttered by Patrick Stewart, doesn't give you pause and make you consider the state of affairs in America right now, I don't know what will. Jeremy Saulnier's latest gut punch of a cinematic experience is a haunting descent into terror with a fascist backdrop. It's unfortunate that Anton Yelchin passed away as his work was always stellar, however in Green Room he's on another level entirely. His final showdown with Stewart, who gives one of the best supporting performances of his career, is both abrupt and violent, much like the rest of the picture.
A devastating downward spiral with a pitch-perfect Rebecca Hall performance. Christine is a story of life passing you by and ignoring the help that's available. Moments of levity are continually interrupted by scenes of brutal revelation as Christine can't attune to the changing world around her. Rebecca Hall carries the proceedings with the grace we've come accustomed to at this point in her career, bouyed by a terrific supporting cast and assured direction by Antonio Campos.
10. Hell or High Water
Realism and grit to spare, the disenfranchised becoming the franchised. Hell or High Water subverts your expectations and delivers a cracking good story of two brother bank robbers and the Texas Rangers on their tail. Essentially The Big Short with cowboys and bank robberies, Hell or High Water is a highly entertaining indictment of the American banking industry. Chris Pine has never been better than he is here, but the character I latched onto was Jeff Bridges' Texas Ranger. A man at the end of his career, he shoots off at the mouth more than he probably should which makes the interplay with his partner, played perfectly by Gil Birmingham, a delight to watch. It gets to a point where you're rooting for both parties to succeed, the bank robbers and the law, which makes the climax so fitting.
A harrowing look at grief and loss. Jackie is disturbing, yet gorgeous, filled with images that wrecked me. Natalie Portman gives the performance of her career as the former First Lady, bringing personal tragedy to the forefront. Don't be fooled by the trailers however, as Jackie is not a "one-woman show." This wouldn't be half the picture it is without the ensemble that surrounds Portman; from her faithful assistant played by Greta Gerwig, to an award worthy turn by Peter Sarsgaard as Bobby Kennedy, it's a group effort above all else. Add in a mesmerizing score by Mica Levi (Under the Skin) and you have one of the best biopics to come along in recent memory.
8. Hacksaw Ridge
Hacksaw Ridge is a tour-de-force by all involved. From a stellar cast that includes Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, and Hugo Weaving, to gripping cinematography and a story that’s very easy to get behind, it's one of the most powerful war films in recent years. This is a picture that's swathed in almost repulsive levels of gore and violence, which led to numerous moments of shock and awe. I was impressed by almost every facet of Hacksaw Ridge, sure it’s a basic story of sticking to your convictions, but Mel Gibson doesn’t sugarcoat the horrors of war. And if we can count on one thing from Gibson, it's that he'll never sugarcoat anything.
7. Arrival/Nocturnal Animals
I never said I was fair, and yes, this might be cheating, but I can't help it. Amy Adams gave two of my favorite performances of 2016 in two vastly different films, taking the lead in Denis Villeneuve's Arrival and Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals. It seems that every decade there's a science fiction film that represents mankind as a whole and for the 2010's, Arrival is that picture. With a narrative of holding communication above all else, it's a message we need in order to prepare for the current state of things. Nocturnal Animals is an entirely different beast altogether; adapting a novel, much like he did with his first film, the superb A Single Man, Ford weaves a twisted tale of young love, murder, heartbreak, and revenge. Equal parts Cormac McCarthy and TV's Dallas (that's a compliment), Nocturnal Animals exists in a hyper reality that works to the film's advantage.
Essential filmmaking from one of our most essential filmmakers, Sully is the story of a man and a city that are incredibly good at their jobs. Old man Eastwood beat all of the young guns to the screen with his decision to film primarily using IMAX cameras, making this a technical marvel. Seeing this in IMAX and on 9/11 was a revelation; making the audience a part of the 'Miracle on the Hudson,' a masterstroke on Eastwood's part. We tend to take Tom Hanks for granted and that's understandable when he's always great, but he does something really special here. Portraying flashbacks with a pathos and commitment that's true to the man he's portraying. A New York film above all else, it's one of Clint Eastwood's best turns behind the camera.
A woman with a haunted past comes under attack and begins to hunt the man that violated her. We've seen this story before but never through the keen eye of Paul Verhoeven. The master of sexy suspense is back after a short hiatus and it's everything that fans of his filmography could want, and more. Highly disturbing but also empowering, Elle is astounding from start to finish. Isabelle Huppert gives the best female performance of 2016 as the embattled Michele Leblanc, taking the pain she suffers at the hands of her attacker, as well as the pain caused by her past, to become a force to be reckoned with, bringing the world around her to its knees. Seek out Elle if you can, it is a truly singular picture and one of Verhoeven's very best.
4. The Handmaiden
Ooooh boy, Chan-wook Park does not mess around. Previous to seeing The Handmaiden, the only other film by him that I'd seen was 2013's Stoker, and his 2016 thriller made me realize I've had a huge blind spot when it comes to world cinema. The Handmaiden is phenomenal in every way, featuring the tightest screenplay of the year. Park and cowriter Seo-kyeong Jeong tell this tale with incredibly well written characters and at least three separate twists (if I'm counting correctly), that all work perfectly. It's a picture that I can't wait to revisit in the future as it's a heavy film to unpack that's sure to reward on repeat viewings.
3. Manchester by the Sea
Devastating. That’s one word for Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea. A film of great personal tragedy and a life left in shambles, this is one of the most realistic looks at grief to come along in years. It’s a personal picture but also a universal one, as the sequence of events could easily happen to anyone of us. Here is a film that hits hard and keeps hitting until the credits roll, with almost no missteps along the way. It’s modern, and yet has an old-school feel to the character study, with Casey Affleck giving a career best turn. You feel for this character even though he’s such a closed off individual with no obvious urge to help himself. Michelle Williams might have an even more devastating arc than Affleck's character, as she suffers because of his mistakes. Their confrontation is harrowing and I was an emotional mess by the time it was over. Manchester by the Sea is both important and essential.
2. O.J. : Made in America
A classic greek tragedy told through the lens of race relations in America over the last 50 years. Ezra Edelman's nearly seven and a half hour documentary makes the smart choice by not just being about one man, but about every man. The story of Black America through the years and their relationship with O.J. Simpson, I didn't expect to enjoy this as much as I did. Having lived through the 'Trial of the Century' I figured I had had enough of this story. Oh, how wrong I was. This is major in almost every way, not taking any sides whatsoever. Everyone interviewed gets a level playing field, from the reporters to the plaintiffs to the prosecution, there's enough time for everyone to say their piece. For such a long picture, Made in America is endlessly rewatchable, and having seen this masterwork two times thus far, I'm eagerly awaiting my next visit. Even if you don't normally seek out documentaries, make this a priority, you won't be disappointed.
Simply vital. Immense yet intimate, Moonlight is a sadly relatable story for many in the LGBTQ community. Being made fun of constantly for something you cannot change is a trial that I myself have been through, and to see it reflected on the screen with such clarity took me aback. There's one conversation early on between Mahershala Ali's Juan and young Little that brought me to tears, this scene and many others, all cut very deep. It's a scene that could've sunk the entire picture but it's devastating in its simplicity. Covering up who you were was a part of my youth and unfortunately a way of life for many of my generation. Performances are stellar all around; the three actors who play Chrion are great, as are the supporting cast of Naomie Harris, Janelle Monáe, and André Holland. Special note for Mahershala Ali, who may not be the star, but gives the performance that I can't get out of my head. Moonlight is film for anyone who's ever questioned themselves and their place in the world.