The Best Films of 2016
As usual, I missed a lot of (potentially) great stuff in 2016. I never caught Chevalier, the second and third Arabian Nights, Cosmos, Swiss Army Man, A War, Weiner, Sully, Night of Cups, 13th, Mountains May Depart, Certain Women, and Our Little Sister, among many others.
Also not on this list are Silence, Paterson, Neruda, Julieta, Toni Erdmann, Personal Shopper, Ma’ Rosa, The Salesman, Things to Come, The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki, Little Sister, Hidden Figures, and others, which didn’t release for me to see in 2016.
That said, 2016 was a great year for cinema. Hell, I think every year has been a great year for cinema, so I guess that makes 2016 no exception. Here are my 25 favorites, in no real order, but with some notes indicating a few very favorites, of this past year.
I just love how efficient in basically one location this film is. Great blocking and amazing tension. Close to throwback exploitation, but the characters are actually developed. One of my five favorites of 2016.
Another of my absolute favorites of the year. This film is indescribable. No one else could have made it. It’s so rhythmic, and that color sequence is bold, daring, and totally amazing.
Three in a row that would be in my top five. This movie is so uneasy. There’s a monologue that’s unnerving and hard to listen to. It goes on for so long. I haven’t been in a theater that was that uncomfortable in that moment in a while. Really unique look. Maybe my favorite of the director’s films (though I haven’t seen Neruda yet).
Watch this film on a big screen with a crowd and a few beers. It’s hilarious and shows Maddin at his finest.
I felt like this Coen Bros. was underrated when I watched it, but I’ve seen it on other year-end lists. It’s what you expect from them – the clean, crisp style; the mannered acting (though here it’s as much Hollywood-throwback as Coen-style); and the dark underbelly.
What a surprise this film was. I watched it on a whim and totally bought into it. The dinner scene is one of my favorites of the year.
Another surprise for me. Caught this one with no expectations. Reminiscent of The Exiles. It’s a tender, beautiful film that really values realism.
Took me a little bit to love The Treasure but it stuck with me. I like it as much for its subversion of film expectations and genres as for its typically Romanian New Wave characters and slightly absurd circumstances (I feel like there’s a lot of “naive guy caught in kind of odd, but not outlandish situation” in the RNW).
Is this on most people’s 2015 lists? It was a 2016 film for me. Tough experience. Worthy risks. Amazing sound design.
What an imaginative, fresh film. Maybe some could complain that its metaphor is heavy-handed but even if that were the case (I don’t think it is) it’d be done away by the beautiful compositions, great performances, and sense of dread.
This film went to places I didn’t expect from its beginning. A simple concept that unearths something nearly romantic between two brothers.
I love a good western and this is one. One of the best fistfight scenes I’ve (ever?) scene, another underrated Ben Foster performance, and some damn fun heists.
Another top five; I expected this to be the film that got the typical “everyone loves it at first and then it gets a backlash” movie, but I think that’s more likely to be La La Land. Lanthimos’ incredibly deadpan (if they’re flat to some, then they’re missing the humor, I think) performances and the beauty he finds amidst some serious dystopia is great. Plus, the fact that this is his most accessible film says something about his filmography.
Scary stuff. Should be getting more talk. Great use of the horror genre as a social vehicle and some real, legit nervous tension.
An easy top 5 for me. Has a film featuring an all black cast with a lead gay character ever had this exposure in American cinema? A nearly perfect movie.
Like The Treasure, I didn’t immediately love Aferim! but its rigor, the brutal ending, and the vistas stuck with me.
Verhoeven in fine form. Elle is funnier with him than it would be if anyone else had made it. It disrupts its flow, intentionally, about 2/3 of the way through and shifts from mystery to character study.
A realism companion piece with Songs My Brother Taught Me. American Honey is raw. It should probably win some kind of editing award. How do you get performances like these?
Maybe, on a different day, this is also top five for me. Corbet’s directorial debut is frightening. Along with The Fits, The Club, and Krisha it’s a horror film that’s not really a genre-horror film. Best score of the year (and that includes Mica Levi’s work in Jackie).
Some of my favorite camera direction of the year. One location, amazingly moody digressions (the dogs, the watching porn scene, arm wrestling) that really set such a unique tone.
This movie feels old school. It’s pretty simple and feels like a script that could’ve really tried to be more clever than it needs to be. Instead it’s a churning story that just keeps moving steadily to darker places.
I don’t know how people write dramas like this (the same is true for Frantz). It’s so wordy. A lot happens, but then a lot doesn’t happen. Lonergan breaks flashback “rules” to amazing results and pulls at heart strings in ways that don’t feel cheap or cheesy at all.
This film feels way simpler than it is, a testament to Ozon’s direction. I think Frantz is maybe like Elle and The Treasure in how many genre directions it points, and how many different paths it instead takes. This film is sleek and skillful.
One of the darkest on this list. You can feel the sweat and the greasy sunscreen in Suntan. It’s the first time in awhile I’ve heard a theater collectively gasp.
The one on this list I watched the most recently, and I’m glad I did. Viktoria accomplishes so much, somehow merges too halves that are so unique, and feels both warm and angry at the same time.
I Also Really Liked (and didn’t really get to blog about):
Wiener-Dog (Solondz, 2016)
Aquarius (Filho, 2016)
Christine (Campos, 2016)
In Order of Disappearance (Moland, 2014)
Theeb (Nowar, 2014)
Arabian Nights: Volume 1 – The Restless One (Gomes, 2015)
The 10 Best Films That I Saw For the First Time in 2016 That Weren’t Made in 2016:
As always, a fun but difficult list, in part because I limit myself to 10. This list somehow doesn’t include An Oversimplification of Her Beauty, Boiling Point, Dragon Inn, A Touch of Zen, The 12 Chairs, and Zero Focus, all of which are absolutely fantastic films. Numbers 3 – 5 could have really gone almost any way. Number 1 and 2 were basically both #1, and are both among my favorite films of all time.