Best Films of 2016
By: Monte Yazzie
It was good year for film. Yeah, that’s probably a cliché thing for a film critic to say. But it’s true; when your top three films could each hold the first place ranking on a different day you know that there were quite a few really good films that came out this year. Making the obligatory end of year list very difficult to narrow down to a mere fifteen.
Film seemed all the more revealing this year; with all the changes in the political landscape and conflicts in society it was easy to figure those factors into many of the films. I always find it interesting to examine and re-examine film as time moves forward and changes occur in culture and society. Film is a reflection of our time; great artists create images and write words because of the influences around them. 2016 was a special year for film, however what I think was most important about film this year was how closely and effectively it analyzed elements inherent to all of us, aspects of communication, identity, religion, gender, history, and the political agenda. Here are the best films of 2016.
15. The Wailing
Meticulous in its method and steady in its execution, “The Wailing” is a horror film that manipulates expectations by pulling the viewer deeper into the abyss of the mystery but also the characters that are placed in such terrible settings. This combination of horror and character gives the film an unexpected emotional undertone that makes the scary moments all the more affecting.
14. Manchester by the Sea
Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams provide stunning portrayals in “Manchester by the Sea”, a film that can be a polarizing experience, but one that generates wonderful discussion. Director Kenneth Lonergan examines tragic events and how, no matter how much people may try, life moves forward with or without you.
13. Sing Street
The best way to describe “Sing Street” would be to compare it to a really good mixtape. It has a little bit of everything; dance worthy moments, sentimental trips, melancholy cuts, and uplifting hits. It also understands how these emotional moments relate with the ebb and flow of being a teenager.
12. O.J. Made in America
The five part documentary, from ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, is an exhaustive analysis of the O.J. Simpson murder trial coined “the trial of the century” which placed a real life courtroom drama in the American home. Though the success of the film doesn’t rest in its painstaking measures but rather in the examination of the American culture, the role of celebrity, and the history of an admired athlete.
11. The Fits
There is a moment in “The Fits” when a young 11-year-old girl turns an overpass into a practice space for her two athletic passions, boxing and dancing. It’s a raw, aggressive and emotional scene that frames this stunning first feature from director Anna Rose Holmer in the realms of a horror film and an adolescent coming-of-age drama.
10. Kubo and the Two Strings
What a good year for animation, with films like “Zootopia” and “Moana” getting lots of the attention, it was a stop motion animated film called “Kubo and the Two Strings” that was the standout. It’s a familiar fable about a young boy who goes on a journey and must face fears from his past. Though this common story done in the now uncommon and time consuming manner of stop motion artistry has a significant amount of heart but also some great insight into matters of friendship, family, and courage.
9. Green Room
People have different definitions of horror; some may call “Green Room” a thriller though I like to think of it as survival horror. Just like zombies in “Dawn of the Dead” or vampires in “From Dusk till Dawn”, Jeremy Saulnier’s film creates monsters out of a community of white supremacists. “Green Room”, like the band featured in the film, is the very definition of punk rock. It’s a film that understands the rules but decides to play by its own tune, a fast, aggressive, and stripped down horror tune that is a masterclass of tension.
8. The Lobster
Perhaps the most unique film of the year, writer and director Yorgos Lanthimos creates a surreal and eccentric allegory about relationships and the methods to which people find love. It’s unlike other films this year; a journey into surrealism and satire that is both humorously genuine and heartbreakingly bleak while consistently being diligently straightforward. Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz both give exceptional performances. It’s an experience that stays with you.
“Paterson” is so much more than the simplistic premise about a week in the life of a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey. It’s a film about the development of the poet, the rhythm of daily life, and the influences that shape and mold the structure of poetry. Adam Driver delivers a striking performance, one that is nuanced and restrained. Director Jim Jarmusch admires this kind of character, one that looks deeply into the world and through the ordinary to compose the extraordinary that exists.
Science fiction is the perfect genre to tell complicated stories. Director Denis Villeneuve composes “Arrival” to tell a story about the human condition, love, and communication. While aliens and the ominous spacecrafts linger in every trailer, the film isn’t so much concerned about those genre fascinations. It’s a film that subverts the science fiction genre in ingenious fashion, avoiding formulaic conventions and boldly going beyond the contemporary expectations that usually define science fiction films.
5. The Handmaiden
Director Chan-wook Park has made a career of making interesting, edgy arthouse films; though some moviegoers may consider his films more from the grindhouse than the arthouse. Still, film should be a vessel to tell challenging stories. “The Handmaiden” is a beautifully composed erotic tale of betrayal, forbidden passions, and blossoming love. It’s melodrama in its highest, most artistic form.
4. Hell or High Water
“Hell or High Water”, directed by David Mackenzie, is starkly comedic and absolutely visceral. It undercuts these themes with biting social commentary on the economic state while also utilizing genre characteristics from traditional western films, heist films, detective stories, and family dramas to create a film that is an effective blend of everything that makes going to the movies such an amazing experience.
3. La La Land
Three films in and director Damien Chazelle is just getting better every time. “La La Land” is an inspired musical with beautiful melodies and wonderful choreography, but even better is that it’s a character film that challenges the viewer to look beyond the happy-go-lucky moments and the cheery musical movements. “La La Land” is a film about the past and the future and how the decisions people make in the moment define their connection with both. It’s one of the best musicals of recent memory.
2. The Witch
It’s been a long time since a horror film has affected me the way Robert Egger’s film “The Witch” has. A film that lives and breathes on manipulating the atmosphere that it lives in, building dread and creating an environment that saturates any glimmer of light with darkness. It’s hard to call it just frightening or menacing, it’s something more, something darker and more authentic than those terms can embody. It’s a nightmare that you can’t wake up from, one that lures you into the blackened world and then forces you to keep going when you want to turn back. “The Witch” is the best horror film this year.
Director Barry Jenkins crafted the most beautiful and complex film of the year. “Moonlight” asks difficult questions to the viewer and doesn’t succumb to Hollywood. It tells entire stories with simple body language, a few verses of a song, the stillness of a camera that never flinches from a character. It’s a coming-of-age film, a film about sexual identification, a film exploring masculinity, a film that doesn’t surrender to easy stereotypes or simple exploitation. What “Moonlight” does is show the power that a film can possess, and how that power has the ability to transcend and destroy barriers of preconception.
A Monster Calls
I, Daniel Blake
Everybody Wants Some
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
A Bigger Splash
The Nice Guys
20th Century Women
Embrace of the Serpen