It’s that time of year. And by that I mean it’s the time when we all come together in unison to bitch and moan about the films that are the quantitatively “BEST”. That also includes comments of “you’re wrong” or “where’s [INSERT MOVIE NAME HERE] in this list” or most importantly “this list is bullshit!!!” and many other wonderful things you say because your point of view is the one that matters the most to you.
However, I like to take this moment to remember that rankings barely matter and most times can appear random, even to the presenter of said list (like this one).
I want to spend a moment to talk about the year gone by. It was a strange year for me. Many people put up this sign of “2016 was a bad year” and I had my troubles — which I’ve not discussed here at all, because I don’t think this is the correct space to talk about it. Also, I feel like if I had a arguement about people having bad years there are many out there who can beat me super easy (if you just watch the news).
This year however was a rough year for this blog. It’s really been the last few years. I’ve tried to figure out an equlibrium with the life I’m living now, let me be clear, it’s nothing special or remarkable to be complaining about why I don’t have time to write, to keep writing about film. I feel like my emotions towards this process is changing slowly and I feel that part of me that wants to keep doing it because I don’t have much else to go on right now. However, when I think about that and I remember watching the movies I list below I still feel those wonderful emotions and adoration of this whole world.
2017 will be an interesting year. I have a few ideas of what I want to accomplish and some definite hard steps I’m going to take to try and make it. I just hope that this strong willed statement that I’m making now isn’t forgotten by the person who I will be two weeks or a month from now as we all waiver in our new year resolutions.
Last year I joined up with the rest of the internet proclaiming I’d watch 52 new to me films directed by women and I failed in that goal only completing 27. A failure based on the goal I pointed to, but still an interesting experiment. Based on the small sample I did watch I can proclaim that while there are a few differences I feel it’s not much different to watching more non-America/Hollywood produced films. It’s like when people who only watch big blockbusters spend a week watching foreign films from around the world that don’t rely on the size of explosions. Or discovering the difference between Rush Hour and Police Story with how Jackie Chan makes movies and what stops him (other than age) in making them his way now. I do still believe in this concept of bigger representation in film and we should do better at making their voices heard and I will keep doing the little I always do to watch those movies outside of the normal popcorn money generating films that are made more to be consumed rather than to be interpreted and understood. This however, does not mean I will stop fawning over Marvel films (even with their racial based casting people keep discussing). It just means I like both things in their own measure. I wish the market wasn’t flooded with just Hollywood nonsense, but that’s barely in our control. Basically, I’m saying, I’ll do what I can.
Anyways, let’s get on with the listing.
I warn you. I plan on putting a lot of ridiculously hyperbolic qualifiers on all of the movies in the list below so prepare yourself.
20. THE INVITATION (KARYN KUSAMA)
This film hit me at a point where the year didn’t start to seem so special to me yet. I was reaching at straws and unsure of many things. In the, still attempting, plan of watching more films directed by women I had heard great things and luckily this was easily available. This film blew me away in how it played with my expectations. In some ways it plays like a regular thriller building tension attempting to just freak you out at the situation, in others it feels new and unlike the rest. I can’t quite put a finger on it but the film delivered on it’s reputation.
19. THE NICE GUYS (SHANE BLACK)
It’s nice to know that your friends are there around the corner waiting for you when you need them. In a year with a lot of crazed adventures there’s nothing more lovely than a Shane Black movie about two guys trying to get to the bottom of a missing person case that turns to murder and pornography with Ryan Reynolds and Russel Crowe presenting some of the best comedy you’ll see this year.
18. ALLIED (ROBERT ZEMECKIS)
I saw this movie almost imagining it would be middling. However, as it’s left me I keep dwelling on it’s structure and how beautiful that is. The film follows Marianne and Max who meet as two spies who team up to perform an assassination during the war. After this assignment they decide they want to have a real life together and get married in England. We continue with them as questions are raised of their loyalties to the crown and it never seems to let up. The emotional sensation of watching us switch loyalties from one side to another and questioning who’s spying on who was great. I actually didn’t think I’d love another Zemeckis movie again until this.
17. 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (DAN TRACHTENBERG)
Eight years ago we all opened the mystery box to a film that nobody had any clue what to expect and it was a quickly adopted favourite of all science fiction fans. Today we get the surprise sequel that feels like the best bottle episode of a TV show we already love. Trachtenberg creates a world where you almost didn’t need to call it a Cloverfield movie — and from reports it seems the script originally had nothing to do with the franchise — and in that way it would be easy to edit around and remove it from the world completely. However, I still love it for being in that world and I love the ways in which this film creates dread in survival.
16. GREEN ROOM (JEREMY SAULNIER)
Sometimes you like movies that just do what they do and do it well. I’ve already listed a few films here that involve a group of people being stuck in a place they don’t want to be and the film is about them clawing themselves out of it all. Here’s a movie where the most blood and violence is involved where nuances come up as you watch it more and more seeing things in the background that make you clearly care about this world and about these group of punk rockers that just happened to be in the wrong place and the wrong time and include knives and guns for good flavour.
15. GHOSTBUSTERS (PAUL FIEG)
I don’t believe there was a movie in 2016 that had me laughing as much as this one. This is the best version of improv comedy put into work, which is what everyone loved about the original film. You start with a simple premise — there are ghosts; and there are scientists who are able to capture and battle those ghosts — and put in people who are eccentric, driven and FUNNY and go with it.
From Kate McKinnon’s smirk to Kristin Wigg’s anxiety to Leslie Jones’ confidence to Melissa McCarthy’s loud nature and to Chris Hemsworth’s glasses I can’t stop finding it all just too funny. Is it overdone with bad plot devices? Yes. Does it try a little too hard to balance nostalgia with an updated world? Definitely. Is it so funny that you will miss jokes and have to come back again to catch the rest? Most certainly.
14. DIVINES (HOUDA BENYAMINA)
Here’s a film of two teenagers who are taking on the world in a fun natured way; and drugs. The film’s protagonist, Dounia, deals drugs and gets close with the intimidating pusher who controls the area she lives in and tries her best to grow up at the same time. This is one of those heart wrenching films where you don’t really not see it coming, but by the time it hits you its a surprise because you’ve enjoyed spending time with these characters and the way they all play together that you weren’t thinking about the methodical nature of the story.
13. THE HANDMAIDEN (CHAN-WOOK PARK)
Park Chan-Wook has been making me question my internal morality for the last decade or more, ever since I saw Oldboy after it was recommended to me by the guy who did the DVD roundup on G4TV. This film is sexually depraved and at the same time more progressive in how it handles sex than any other film I think I’ve watched in 2016. Watching as we get each of the three main players perspectives in how their plan to win over the next’s confidence and leave with the upper hand in the con of the century it’s a joy to move from piece to piece.
12. THE NET (KIM KI-DUK)
If you’re like me you’ve very few things you know to be fact, even if you don’t have all the pieces in front of you. The sky is blue, we’re all going to die someday, and North Korea is probably the worst country imaginable.
Kim Ki-Duk takes this idea to task as he introduces us to poor fisherman, Nam Chul-woo, who lives near the border. One day his engine fails and his boat drifts from North Korea to South Korea. He is then detained by the South Korean government and suspected of being a spy sent by the North to infiltrate and do spying things (I don’t know what spies do who aren’t James Bond). The film spends the next hour taking us through the process of having this man who sincerely has no political leanings or any poor thoughts about his country and just wants to go home to his family being interogated in the most harsh of methods only because of one simple fact, “can we trust what he says?” is constantly posed of everyone in the film. From Nam Chul-woo to the interogator, to the government, to the other detainee we meet later on; everyone. The film takes us down the rabbit hole and when we find ourselves on the other side we honestly can’t figure which way up is and I think we have alot to think about on that.
11. HELL OR HIGH WATER (DAVID MACKENZIE)
We’ve had a few westerns created in the last few years. This film feels like a western film if it was set today and we just imagined that Texas never changed. Two brothers are going on a heist spree in order to gain enough money to pay off the debt owed to the bank and are being chased by a curmudgeon of a Texas Ranger, Marcus Hamilton. This is the film that you play because not only is it tense, it’s exciting and it’s also funny. We watch on as Jeff Bridges teases his partner in ways that make me smile, Chris Pine and Ben Foster have a great play off one another as brothers and the film is littered with characters that will be hard to forget. Mackenzie also created a setting where we sit and ponder the world we are in as it harps heavily on the towns harshly affected by the crash of 2008.
10. MIDNIGHT SPECIAL (JEFF NICHOLS)
This science fiction film is one that almost isn’t sure that it exists in science fiction. Even with the government choppers it feels like something more quiet. They are chasing this father and son who’re racing to a place where he believes his son who can’t go in the sun and has unexplained super powers that we watch grow and become more controlled and understanding in ways that aren’t apparent to us other than it just is. We just watch this father caring for his son and trusting his son. Even when the film becomes more blatant about the science fiction of it all its Roy who keeps me vested in this film. Watching him keep pushing for this one task to be done because he knows it’s what his son needs and knowing that doing that makes him have purpose and happiness in ways I can’t yet know personally.
9. JULIETA (PEDRO ALMODOVAR)
Almodovar is a filmmaker I adore because the way he tells stories is unlike any other filmmaker. When he creates a film it feels almost as if he doesn’t care about the story, he focuses on character in ways that stories create themselves. Julieta is a film about a middle-aged woman who on the eve of her big move encounters an old friend that brings up old wounds in her past and forces her to cancel her plans in hopes of being reunited with her long estranged daughter. As we sit, with her, awaiting contact she begins to lay out the plot of how her life came to this point. However, it doesn’t feel like the everyday story that goes point to point but rather one where with every mention in the story we are more caring about the emotional state of our characters rather than serving the next thing to come in this tale of sorrow and depression. This film will haunt many, it creates a picture which is something many filmmakers wish they could do.
8. NOCTURNAL ANIMALS (TOM FORD)
This is film where it’s structure is served by it’s style and that returns to the top to serve it’s characters in ways that you can’t help but admire. We watch on as Edward delivers a book to his ex-wife, Susan, of a story of a man, Tony, who’s family is harmed and he enacts revenge. The film is entirely a woman reading a book and us watching the story of that book and then how it reflects back to the real world of Edward and Susan. I love this movie, and I only wish I could watch it again already.
7. HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE (TAIKA WAITITI)
This film is the legend of Ricky Baker and how he lived the Skux life with his Uncle in the New Zealand bush. It’s Taika Waititi harnessing the power of Wes Anderson in a story of two people who start out hating one another and becoming the best of friends while in the back lands running from Child Services and the police just trying to be free of it all. The film’s charm cannot be beaten by anything out there and is smile inducing in ways we only wish we could be to our friends.
6. ARRIVAL (DENIS VILLENEUVE)
If a new civilization visited us from another planet the thing we’d be trying as best as possible to do isn’t defeat it’s communicate with them. Watching a film about a people trying to make sure that they are perfectly understood and understand perfectly is so perfect I can’t imagine using the word perfect ever again talking about anything.
5. O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA (EZRA EDELMAN)
So many times I read/listen/watch the news of racially based acts occuring in America and keep myself quiet. Because I don’t believe that I can honestly contextualize what’s really happening, other than the obvious, in a way that would do the news justice. I would just be another person who doesn’t fully understand the culture and how to actually fix it decreeing how it’s wrong or dumb and that people should stop being both of those things.
In one fell swoop Ezra Edelman takes eight hours to give context to that same discussion and do it by focussing on the trial and life of Orenthal James Simpson. We are told about the context of the police and society of Los Angeles before that time and leading up to the years of OJ, the fame of OJ and the then following infamy. This film is shocking in ways that I couldn’t have guessed as someone that skirted the topic due to feeling like I didn’t have the whole picture. I feel like I’ve got a big piece now, and am frightened to see more.
4. WHITE SUN (DEEPAK RAUNIYAR)
In a small village in Nepal two brothers attempt to bury their father. The film places polotical and socialogical differences in front for all to see of what Nepal is post civil war with these brothers sitting opposed in all things and watching it be a place of tension deciding what is right versus what is tradition and done. The film shows us that at times when we want to be the most together and there for one another the world can still try to rip us apart with social constructs. One brother wants to respect his father while the other wants to make sure it’s done as it has always been done. It’s not that the first doesn’t care about his father, or his now estranged family, he just knows these old structures are not the only way to respect his father. He wants to be a dutiful son. The world impresses upon you ways to do that; in your heart you know how to do that. We want to follow our heart, and become frustrated when we can’t.
3. THE VVITCH (ROBERT EGGERS)
It’s interesting how in the last decade I’ve turned on horror as a genre. I used to shy from it, not due to fright, because I didn’t have a reason to love it. Slowly though, I’ve been guided out into the darkness to see what the genre really is. There’s little difference between horror as a genre and many others; it’s just an expression of fear. This film is a deep dark fear in the woods after a family is exiled from their town and must live in the outskirts near the woods where a witch is terrorizing them. The film is explicit and not at the same time. Even though we see the witch early on we’re not certain as to whether their madness is coming from any external factors or just their own distrust of being out on their own and not able to make it work. The film ends in such resounding terror and just giddy fright that I couldn’t contain myself. This movie is
perfection (sorry not allowed to use that word anymore) amazing.
2. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (KENNETH LONERGAN)
Quite possibly the most heart breaking film you’ll watch all year. This film remains a cut above the rest as it finds ways to present a tale of depression and survival through that while at the same time being uplifting and have a sense of levity that you’d never expect. It’s almost the perfect partner to last years The Martian, though presented differently. Just like Watney on Mars we watch as Lee is just trying to solve each problem one by one as they come to him and even though you can tell he must be overwrought with grief and many other heavy emotions he’s trying his best to focus on the next task at hand. In a better world, this would be my favourite of the year… but I’m bad at this and … you’ll understand.
1.LA LA LAND (DAMIEN CHAZZELLE)
So… it’s 2016 and Damien Chazzelle gave me a musical. I love musicals. I love their emotions. I love their happiness. I love their expression. I love their colouring. I love their ability to change from high to low in any sense (mentality/focus/perspective/style). I love that they seem to break film conventions of any other genre by allowing us to follow narrative and emotional states without making it feel like a film that just lays it out there for us. I love that mostly they don’t care.
This film was an easy mark to just be hokey. Be a film that wanted musical fans to love it for being a musical and ignore the rest or even bother making it good. This movie however, is fantastic. It’s warm and at the same time real. It’s about this relationship between Seb and Mia as they are budding artists in Hollywood trying to make something for themselves and it’s no different than any other rags to riches story. But in a film that opens with a grand musical sequence on the highway with people dancing on their cars saying “It’s another day” to us reveling in the “dreamers” and then talking about how we love the film is beautiful and it sits with me as I judge the rest for not making me want to pay the theatre owner all the money in my bank account just to hit play again, even if just for me.
Well. That’s the end of my superlatives and hyperbole for 2016. There are many films on others’ lists that aren’t here. There are one of two reasons for that: those people are wrong; or I’ve not seen it. You can decide which is more likely.
Here’s looking to a great 2017 and more great movies where another year has me questioning in March “these year’s movies suck…” and in December going “that person was wrong nine months ago”.