Top 25 Films of 2016
For the first time, ever, I broke 100 releases and by a decent margin. My 2016 viewing included 2 major film festivals (South by South West and Toronto International Film Festival) and 133 releases, yet I still more than have a handful of regrets. Not appearing on the list at least in part because I was unable to see them are: 20th Century Women, I Am Not Your Negro, Lion, The Salesman, Silence, and Toni Erdman.
The quality of films this year was exceptionally high, but I will try to keep honorable mentions to a minimum. It was a great year for animated film, though none ended up on the list. Miss Hokusai, My Life as a Courgette, The Red Turtle, Your Name, and Kubo and the Two Strings all were in contention. As normal for me, my list contains no real blockbusters, though Arrival just missed the cutoff. While three documentaries made the list, Weiner, Tower, 13th, and No Home Movie also stood out as some of the best in non-fiction film of the year.
- Fences – Denzel Washington
Denzel Washington and Viola Davis reprise their roles from the 2010 Broadway version of the same play. Their familiarity with the material results in some of the strongest performances of the year, especially from Davis who must be the front runner for the Supporting Actress award. That combined with a poignant story about race relations and toxic masculinity results in a film that would have been much higher on this list had it not been for an enraging epilogue.
- Cameraperson – Kristen Johnson
The most ambitious and least traditional film on the list, cinematographer Kristen Johnson put together a brilliant visual memoir through the scraps of her other works. Through these outtakes, a surprisingly intimate tale emerges. Though seldom actually on screen Johnson’s fingerprints are felt on every frame.
- Miss Stevens – Julia Hart
Probably the least seen film on my list, Miss Stevens was a small indie about a teacher who takes three of her students to a state drama competition. Carefully setting up and the subverting most tired clichés, Julia Hart delivers a memorable film about a heartfelt character.
- Hell or High Water – David Mackenzie
The highest grossing indie film of the year was not a film I anticipated making this list before seeing it. Wester action films are not traditionally my cup of tea. And yet the testosterone saturation in Hell or High Water was not too much of a deterrent. It was just a solid enjoyable film. Not the smartest or most artistically fulfilling film of the year, but well-acted, written, and executed.
- Lemonade – Kahlil Joseph
The Beyoncé Knowles visual album was a wonderful surprise. Executing a Malickian film better than Terrence himself could, Beyoncé with the help of Kahlil Joseph delivers a beautiful depiction of the torture a woman goes through after being cheated on. I’ve heard from people more in tune with the music community that Beyoncé’s presence can feel overbearing, but as a cinephile ignorant of her baggage, I think this is an amazing piece of art.
- Things to Come – Mia Hansen-Løve
The first of two Isabelle Huppert led films of the year on the list, Things to come depicts the life of a middle-aged woman who has her entire life fall apart. Despite the consecutive tragedies, Things to Come manages to avoid melodrama. Instead it shows how the main character puts her life back together and finds fulfillment in her freedoms.
- O.J.: Made in America – Ezra Edelman
The seven and a half our documentary miniseries about O.J. Simpson was a fun revelation. The balancing of race relations with the actual story of O.J. brings relevance to today outside of curiosity over the man himself.
- Elle – Paul Verhoeven
The second Isabelle Huppert film is much more difficult than the first. Blind viewers should be warned that the film opens with a rape scene and abuse is an underlying theme throughout. Huppert’s struggles to navigate the male dominated world post attack is reason enough to watch if you’re able.
- The Handmaiden – Park Chan-wook
The sexiest film on the list, The Handmaiden is a lesbian erotic thriller form the creator of Oldboy. A thief sells herself as a handmaiden to a Japanese heiress in hopes of helping to defraud her. Filled with twists and turns, it’s the chemistry between the two female leads that sticks with you. While at times the relationship feels slightly exploitative, the execution is well with it.
- The Witch – Robert Eggers
The best horror film since The Babadook, The Witch is a terrifying experience. Witchcraft wreaks havoc on a puritan family, and instead of finding strength in their religion, it only tears them further apart. Complete with one of the most unsettling horror scores in years, The Witch has held its spot near the top the entire year.
- Kate Plays Christine – Robert Greene
The last documentary on the list, Kate Plays Christine is like no film I’ve ever seen before. Under the false premise of an acting role, Kate Lyn Sheil begins the research to play Christine Chubbuck, the real-life news reporter who took her own life on national television in 1974. Under this framing technique, a much more human picture of Christine is shown than a talking head interview ever could accomplish.
- Sing Street – John Carney
One of the most fun films of the year, a group of young outcasts create a band in hopes of finding their place. Misunderstood by adults everywhere, the coming of age story keeps a levity about it which combined with a great new wave soundtrack keeps me coming back.
- Love and Friendship – Whit Stillman
Jane Austen and Whit Stillman are perfect together and I will hear no arguments against that. You can see my full review here: https://womanwithamovieblog.wordpress.com/2016/05/28/love-and-friendship/
- Captain Fantastic – Matt Ross
One of the few films I saw multiple times in theaters this year, Viggo Mortensen is amazing as the father of six children who he and his late wife raised completely off grid. Ross’s decision to neither vilify nor excuse Mortensen’s actions induce the level of nuance to let the strong acting carry the film.
- Sunset Song – Terence Davies
A gorgeously shot period piece about the strength of a young woman in a time where she wasn’t allowed any. Agyness Deyn’s portrayal of Chris is heartbreaking. The men in her life are cruel, but she soldiers on to live the best life that she is able.
- Certain Women – Kelly Reichardt
Kelly Reichardt very well may be my favorite active director. While some consider her films to be slow, the time that she gives her characters to breathe create the depth that makes them endearing. Even in the vignette styled Certain Women, each character feels fully formed and real. The end story starting the amazing Kristen Stewart and Lily Gladstone shines above the other two, but they are all great.
- Nocturnal Animals – Tom Ford
Arrival was good, but Amy Adams was better in Nocturnal Animals. See my full review here: https://womanwithamovieblog.wordpress.com/2016/12/18/movie-review-nocturnal-animals/
- Krisha – Trey Shults
This film actually made my list last year as well as I was lucky enough to see the premier at SXSW 2015. First time director Trey Shults shows a lot of promise on a minimal budget. From the opening long take to the unflinching close-ups of Krisha Fairchild as she unravels during a few days, Krisha was a great discovery and I look forward to Shults’s next endeavor.
- The Fits – Anna Rose Holmer
The story of a young tomboy Toni who leaves the comfort of her brother’s side in the boxing gym to join a dance troupe was a wonderful story of identity and finding one’s place. Sprinkled with a mysterious series of fits, the troupe offers Toni, played by Royalty Hightower who was a revelation, The Fits was a great female driven coming of age story.
- Manchester by the Sea – Kenneth Lonergan
Number six starts the first of the films that I consider to be the year’s masterpieces. Casey Affleck is the Oscar frontrunner as the unsure new guardian of his nephew after his brother passes. Forced to confront his history in Manchester, Affleck is devastating as the uncomfortable yet compassionate Lee Chandler.
- Paterson – Jim Jarmusch
Jim Jarmusch channels his inner Charlie Kaufman in this quiet poetic slice of life. Adam Driver plays Paterson a bus driver and poet in the City of Paterson. A love letter to small town life, the entire film plays like a poem. Patters fill every moment and beauty is everywhere.
- Moonlight – Barry Jenkins
Four may be criminally low for this film which is topping most lists, and its relatively low place, but I mean no disrespect. The three-part story shows the life of a gay black man growing in a hyper masculine world. The masculinity results in pain and suffering for Chiron until years into adulthood, he is finally able to find comfort. The final third of the film is the strongest of the year.
- American Honey – Andrea Arnold
The three-hour road trip film of a young woman looking for an escape. She joins a group of traveling magazine sellers and heads off on a trip that changes her life. While on her own she grows, loves, and fails. Sasha Lane is the breakout performer of the year, and Shia LaBeouf continues his curious straddling between genius and insanity. A fun soundtrack finishes the recipe to make American Honey amazing.
- La La Land – Damien Chazelle
The most fun I’ve had in theaters this year, it barely managed to fall from the top slot. You can read my full review here: https://womanwithamovieblog.wordpress.com/2016/11/25/movie-review-la-la-land/
- Jackie – Pablo Larraín
This should be no surprise after my review the other day which you can read here if you missed it: https://womanwithamovieblog.wordpress.com/2016/12/18/movie-review-nocturnal-animals/
2016 was an amazing year for film. Here’s hoping that 2017 can compete, and that I can see even more films this time. 150 shouldn’t be out of the question.