Ryan's Top Ten Movies of 2016
All in all, 2016 was a landmark year for cinema - one that saw the rise of new distributors and voices, allowing audiences more than a few truly inspired films. I can’t remember a time where I’ve been as consistently satisfied with the movies I caught at my local cinema as the later months of 2016 rolled on. While these are mostly arbitrarily ranked (this list changes every other day), I’d say the top four is pretty solidified. Here’s to 2017!
Probably the most stylistically ambitious film of last year, 88:88 destroys any preconceived notion of what cinema can or should be. It is the first feature film by 26 year old Isiah Medina, which is mind-blowing given how ambitious this thing is. The film is a portrait of impoverished life in Canada, ‘88:88’ being a reference to the number that shows up on appliances in your home when the power’s been cut. Medina’s craft is unorthodox to say the least, he constantly overlaps images and noise onto a single plain, creating a spectacular mix of pure light and sound. It’s spectacular to witness how this somewhat new filmmaker visualizes thoughts and feelings into a single image, creating a certain indescribable beauty that you won’t believe until you sit down and actually watch it.
9. A Bigger Splash
Set against a picturesque Italian vista on the shores of a Sicilian Island, the quiet Marianne (Tilda Swinton), a Bowie-esque rockstar, finds her past and present finally start to overlap. What follows is a mysterious, addicting, hysterical picture that, through all its inelegant exchanges and awkward glances, almost perfectly captures how people adapt: slowly, and then all at once. But more importantly this is a beautiful film about just how confusing it is to communicate; in life and in love and in loss. Oh, and more more importantly, there’s an extended sequence wherein Ralph Fiennes dances to the Rolling Stones. Probably the scene of last year.
8. 20th Century Women
A soon-to-be classic about... just figuring shit out. Mike Mill’s third feature deserves far more than anything I can write in a paragraph, but there’s a lot of honest, necessary truth in his portrayal of family dysfunction, how sometimes closing the door and turning off the lights and playing your music too loud is as valuable a form of communication as anything else. There’s a reason that I was crying from pretty much the first scene to the last, and I’m not sure I know what it is yet. It’s a deeply pleasant film, watching a cast of characters love and appreciate each other and over the course of two hours come to understand just why they do. One of those rare films where you could explain everything perfect about it or you could just cry in your bed for a while and eventually come to the same conclusion.
7. Swiss Army Man
In my third showing of Swiss Army Man I sat in an almost empty theater, its only two occupants being myself and a middle aged woman who looked like she just bought a ticket because she had 2 hours to kill. I remember I thought it was weird that she sat two seats down from me in an otherwise empty theater but in retrospect I’m glad she did. Our small talk ended before the previews began. We sat in separate seats and laughed at different jokes but Swiss Army Man is one of those movies that you can watch with a stranger and it still feels like you shared the same, indescribable experience. In its opening scene we were laughing together, and in its last, crying together. She got up from her seat when it ended, turned her head to face me, and before leaving, just said “thanks.” I’ll never forget that.
6. Kubo and the Two Strings
I can’t stress enough how deeply important this movie is. Its casting of predominantly white actors aside (which is stupid and unneeded and something we should be far past), it’s a visually breathtaking, narratively ambitious stop motion film that has both genuine entertainment and artistic value. I can’t remember a film that has so beautifully reminded me of the value that storytelling has in our lives. Death is permanent but art is too, those we’ve lost don’t just live in our memory, they exist in the canvas we paint on, in the lyrics we whisper, in the people we pass their stories on to. It’s a bittersweet tale of loss and love and how those two things are equally as difficult and equally as valuable. It’s the reason I love movies, is what I’m trying to say.
5. Manchester by the Sea
I think it’s the fear of living in the past tense that really struck a chord with me. It’s the story of a man trying as hard as he fucking can to not let grief consume him, and then the story of a man learning that sometimes that’s the only way grief works. And that’s okay. It’s as deeply heartbreaking and immensely true as you’ve heard, Affleck is a revelation here; his posture alone holds more weight than half of last year’s performances. He’s a bubble waiting to burst and perhaps the hardest part is that he never does. You’ll see the sadness in his eyes as he shatters his bedroom window, as he looks for his parked car in sub-degree New England weather, as his voice breaks when he insists that his ex-wife doesn’t love him anymore... as he questions if he does either.
4. Things to Come
I can’t think of any other film that so perfectly captures the feeling of stopping to catch your breath. Taking place somewhere after the unavoidable and before the inevitable, Mia Hansen Løve’s criminally overlooked fifth feature is an utterly stunning portrait of growth. Things to Come is an extremely mature and rewarding story about a newly divorced schoolteacher named Nathalie (played by the never better Isabelle Huppert) adapting to the world she’s just realized she lives in, learning to accept the present before she gets lost in the past or caught up in the future.
Beyoncé's first visual album Lemonade is an utterly groundbreaking work. While it could be categorized in the slew of great 2016 films about overcoming (or accepting) grief, Lemonade feels a lot bigger than that. Beyoncé classifies herself by the space she occupies here, with each of its 11 chapters tackling a unique theme while exploring aspects of the artist that define her, embracing Southern culture and referencing events like Hurricane Katrina and the Black Lives Matter movement. Part celebration of black womanhood and part dissection of Beyonce’s past and present, the film understands her cultural influence, her unique aesthetic, and the hard earned truth behind her notes. It understands that behind the music is an icon, and behind the icon is a woman: strong and beautiful and real.
2. Toni Erdmann
This is one of the most deeply tragic films I have ever seen. It was something I didn’t remotely expect when I finally sat down and watched it as all the buzz that I’d heard about Maren Ade’s nearly three hour family epic was that it’s hysterical. And don’t get me wrong, it is. In fact, it’s also probably one of the funniest films of last year; an extremely rewarding blend of physical and intellectual comedy, where a whoopie-cushion gag could come five seconds after a string of dialogue and it’d be hard to determine which one was funnier. But even through the rapid fire comedy I just couldn’t shake its melancholia as there’s a deep sadness living somewhere behind all its humor. Perhaps that’s why its so successful, because it’s a story of a lonely father who can’t seem to come to terms with the hard fact that his daughter outgrew him, so he puts on a wig and fake teeth and becomes someone he’s not to connect with his daughter again, because it’s the only way he knows how. This new public facade masks a deep longing to be a dad again. It exists on the divide between levity and melancholy, careening back and forth until you can’t tell the difference between the two. It'll leave you puzzled and bewildered and maybe even a little angry, but Toni Erdmann's final fifteen minutes are so truthful, so utterly mystifying, it'll be near impossible to remember the exact moment you fell in love.
I think Moonlight is the type of moviegoing experience that I’ve been searching for my entire life - that overwhelming experience of watching something and feeling like you’ve just seen a new color. It has a specific narrative - about a black boy named Chiron growing up in Miami, struggling with his identity and sexuality, but it tells a universal story - one about growing up, experiencing new feelings, the lifelong struggle of finding yourself. It’s hard to remember a film with such consistently beautiful performances, everyone here acts with such uncompromising honesty that it makes even adolescent, naive observations sound like aged truths. So many of Moonlight’s images are seared into my brain, so many passing glances and light touches that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. I’m glad this movie exists. I’m glad that in such a horrific time for our country we can share a film as delicate as Moonlight. As empathetic, as sincere, as thoughtful. I’m glad that a movie as important as this one can have such a wide release, and I’m proud to think of all the people in the world who will find this movie when they need it most.
The stories we tell each other matter.