Finally I’ve watched most of the films from 2016 I wanted to, consequently the delayed post! In case you are wondering, I’m going by IMDb year, which is the world premiere. I liked De Palma (documentary), Louder Than Bombs, Victoria, Land of Mine, The Lobster, Son of Saul and Knight of Cups. However, those are listed as 2015 on IMDb.
A year in which I disagreed a lot with the Oscars about what are the best films and performances although I do have four Best Picture nominees in the top 20. I’m allowing mini-series, feature documentaries and short films. At the end of the post, I’ve linked to year-end lists from other movie bloggers, which I find interesting to compare with, and also included my own personal awards for various categories. I’m not going to rank the top 20 as it’s a bit silly to say one is marginally better than another. The list would keep changing on every rewatch, but I did group them in top 5s, according to Foreign and English language. Hope I can inspire you to add something to your watchlist. Let’s get to it!
I, Daniel Blake (Ken Loach)
You know what you are going to get politically with a Ken Loach film, it’s no secret he is left wing and fights (much like Charles Dickens did) the cause of the lower classes. His latest, which is rumored to be his last, could be Loach’s most insistent and powerful, which addresses how poverty is also becoming an issue for the middle class and that the structure of the welfare system in the UK needs simplifying and humanizing. Is it manipulative filmmaking, provoking a reaction from the audience? Probably. But even so, I think it’s one of the most important films of this decade.
The Neon Demon (Nicolas Winding Refn)
I love the colors, the Cliff Martinez score, and overall atmosphere. My god that ending. I’ve never seen anything like that before in my life. On one level I admire the imagination and guts, on another level I felt sick to the stomach which never usually happens to me. I can’t erase those images from my mind and wasn’t able to sleep properly that same night. If a movie can provoke that kind of reaction it must have some merit. A cautionary tale about modelling and fame seeking.
O.J.: Made in America (TV Mini-series) (Ezra Edelman)
Five part mini-series. With only a casual interest in OJ Simpson, many of the facts about his life were new to me. The more I watched, the less I liked the guy. However the mini-series is completely engrossing and I couldn’t stop watching. I admire him as an athlete and his team effort humility deserves respect.
Once he retired as a pro American football player, he changed. He became a Jekyll and Hyde character who was charming in public, yet as a 30-year-old left his wife and children for an 18 year old model, and later beat up his new wife multiple times. He was a savvy business man who took advantage of his fame by making money from endorsements, a movie career, and other ventures, but also was involved in criminal activity and behaved like he was above the law.
The murder trial is obviously given a lot of attention and key moments are re-examined. The documentary did a good job of presenting racial tensions in America, which still resonate today.
Der kommer en dag (aka The Day Will Come) (Jesper W. Nielsen)
Best Danish film of 2016. Approach with caution, not for the squeamish. A compelling story based on actual events. I know I’m being manipulated into feeling pity for the children and hatred towards the school staff, yet it’s still very effective. The acting is superb and the characters stayed with me. This type of drama has been done before, but it’s still a vital historical document for future generations to learn from.
Zootopia (multiple directors)
Academy Award winner for Best Animated Feature. A Disney adventure with elements from the buddy cop genre. Cute animals and quite funny in places. There’s a clever allegory about the pitfalls of discrimination, which is eerily topical considering Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim remarks.
In Zootopia, the system is not the problem, it’s the individuals who are the problem.
”If the world is only going to see a fox as shifty and untrustworthy there’s no point in trying to be anything else” ”You are so much more than that”
Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie)
The Texas accents meant I didn’t understand everything, which may have impacted my rating. The story makes you care about the bank robbers, who have not been dealt a good hand in life. If you just want the thrills of the heists there’s that, but if you look a little deeper there is substance about small towns, capitalism, and hispanic reactions to racism. Besides that, there’s also a good amount of humor, especially the scenes with the grumpy old waitress and Jesus preacher on TV in the motel. Yet at the same time, a melancholy to the humor because it comes from a place of unhappiness.
Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)
Good performances that say a lot without the use of words. There’s a restraint reminiscent of European cinema. The more I think about Moonlight, the more it grows on me. I don’t mind what color the actors are, as long as there’s a quality story, and thankfully there is. You can empathize with the main character’s struggles. You might argue the film is too manipulative in encouraging us to feel pity for Chiron.
It’s debatable if the main character was too elusive, but could also be acknowledged as a strength by allowing the audience to contemplate their own injustice through a thinly-defined boy. And of course Chiron is written as a withdrawn character on the page. A quality the film has is letting the supporting characters have layers. You can be a drug dealer(Juan) or a drug user(the mother), yet that is not all you amount to. Interesting the adult Chiron takes on the persona of Juan whom he met as a child. Could be because he perceives Juan as a hero/father-figure, yet in the back of his mind he must realize the consequences of drug-taking due to his mother’s addiction. An odd choice of job given his past. The third act is the most captivating and André Holland as the adult Kevin delivered my favorite performance in the film, he made Chiron feel comfortable. Moonlight’s messages about tolerance of difference, acceptance of yourself, and the need for compassion towards the marginalized are significant. Not just because of Trump’s recent intolerance towards foreigners, but always.
Favorite quotes: “You ain’t got to love me, but you gonna know that I love you, do you hear Chiron?”
”I wasn’t never worth shit. Never did anything I actually wanted to do, all I could do was what other folks thought I should do. I wasn’t never myself.”
Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade)
Very well-acted. Peter Simonischek and Sandra Hüller I had never seen before, and both are given the role of a lifetime as Toni and Ines. It’s not laugh-out-loud, but there are moments that are amusing and emotive.
A compelling depiction of a father-daughter relationship, she is grownup, working abroad as a business woman, he misses her. There’s something here for the parent and for the child to take notice of and be reminded of. Dependency on family, being embarrassed by a parent, and becoming independent we can all relate to. Parents can struggle to let go and children can find it tough to find their own way while also trying to free themselves from parental authority.
The doubters could argue it’s overlong and you can sum up the essence of the story in a few words, but the emotional impact for the audience only comes from spending time with these characters.
There are surprising scenes, but also some repetition in the second half. There’s no doubt a reason for the distance between Ines and Toni which we must interpret.
American Honey (Andrea Arnold)
The door to door encounters are entertaining, and so is her adventure with the cowboys, and the truck driver scene. Wants to be an ‘On The Road’ for the 21st Century, and sporadically it’s great. Less compelling when the traveling sales crew are gathered, although those parts have strong moments too. The last scene elevates the film. Sasha Lane delivers one of the finest debut performances in recent memory and by the end of the film you feel you have been on a journey with her. Unfairly snubbed for Best Actress by the Academy. Say what you will about Shia LaBeouf’s personal life, in American Honey he shines in a supporting role. I love the use of music and to me is the best compilation soundtrack of 2016 (tied with the soundtrack for Everybody Wants Some!! )
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waititi)
Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt)
Based on short stories by Maile Meloy, I put Certain Women (particularly the third chapter) up there with Wendy & Lucy (2008) as the director’s best.
In the first chapter, Laura Dern (who seems to be starring in everything at the minute) plays a lawyer, Laura, who is too nice and finds it hard to say no. This leads to her facing awkward situations with a client. The film questions her professionalism and whether what Laura is doing is right or wrong. Specifically that she is a female lawyer.
The second chapter is the weakest of the three, centering on a family buying sandstone. I was struck by the wave Michelle Williams gives to the man in the window and his reluctance to respond. Perhaps the old timer doesn’t trust women. Perhaps there are other reasons.
The third chapter, and most memorable, sees Kristen Stewart as a commuting teacher, who after an evening class goes to a diner with one of the class attendants (a rancher). Lily Gladstone delivers one of my favorite supporting performance of the year as the isolated rancher. This last chapter is also about Stewart’s circumstances, trying to rise above what is common among her family who have minimum wage jobs.
Among Alex’s 15 Favourite Films of the year. Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon both direct and star in this under-appreciated light French/English comedy that is genuinely funny and charming. Put a smile on my face, with nods to the films of Jacques Tati and Chaplin. Possibly too whimsical for some viewers. I connected with the visual humor.
Arrival (Denis Villeneuve)
Based on the short story Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang. My initial reaction was this sci-fi starts well, but loses its way in the last act. Good mainstream entertainment and I was glued to the screen while it lasted. I disliked the coldness of Sicario, and there was definitely more warmth and humor in Arrival. The pacifist message of listening and understanding is important but also a bit preachy and corny. The motherhood theme had more depth.
Fences (Denzel Washington)
The screenplay contains some of the best written dialogue I’ve heard in a long time, even if it isn’t exactly new (adapted from the 1985 original). The actors sink into their roles really well though I wasn’t a huge fan of how they yell the lines which becomes a bit jarring for two hours straight. I had to take breaks every 30 minutes. Sure, it’s really just a filmed play but thanks to the oscar buzz, August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Fences is able to reach a larger audience who don’t go to the theatre. Worth seeing multiple times for the dialogue and performances.
Favorite quote: “I know what you mean, that’s all they care about that money, they don’t care about what’s right”
Elle (Paul Verhoeven)
A return to form for director Paul Verhoeven. Elle is an adaptation of Philippe Djian’s novel ‘Oh…’ A mix of thriller and character study. I could see people being repulsed because (as with 2002’s Irréversible) there are uncomfortable scenes of rape. Isabelle Huppert has a history of playing complex, damaged, difficult people, and this is no exception. She is loving in some moments, and compassionless and unpredictable in others, as we all are.
Verhoeven seems interested in how we perceive a victim. He wants us to empathize and yet makes her do unlikeable acts. Not all victims are likeable, but she remains fascinating for her elusiveness and morally dubious actions. Maybe her agenda was to refuse to be a victim. I’m not sure what role her career in the business world played, although it’s probable she got her confidence from her job.
Her erratic behavior, and refusal to involve the police and press was probably due to a troubled past. The ending is the weakest part and too tidy, real life rarely works out that way, but the film is thought-provoking and keeps you on edge. As another reviewer wrote: “you’re not sure who you’re rooting for”.
Lemonade (HBO TV special/visual album) (multiple directors)
Hold Up with Beyoncé in the lemonade dress and holding a baseball bat lifted the song to new heights. Her latest album gains so much from the visuals. Through creativity, the singer is coming to terms with her problems and her past. Specifically infidelity, but also other issues such as racial tensions.
As a commenter noted: Lemonade is worth many re-watches and there’s something new to pick up every time.
”Where do you go, when you go quiet”
”All the love I’ve been giving goes unnoticed. It’s just floating in the air”
The Love Witch (Anna Biller)
Recommended by The Vern. Unapologetically retrofies the exploitation films of 60s/70s, the lead looks almost identical to Italian giallo actress Edwige Fenech. I think manages to holds its own next to the movies it homages. Telling a story with gender commentary, about a witch who seeks true love. Using a cast of fairly unknown actors, I love the highly stylized production design which shows affection towards the films it was influenced by. A little long at 120 minutes, and some scenes feel self-serving, but worth your time. I think especially a female audience will connect with main character Elaine, whose emotions for the most part are rational and relatable. She is a flirty femme fatale, yet there’s a sense of someone lost and trying to find a companion. Sex appears to be a means towards love, but the men she meets seemingly can’t deal with the deeper emotions. Must be frustrating to be a woman in that predicament. Perhaps Elaine is just trying too hard to find a boyfriend or looking in the wrong places.
Ne m’abandonne pas (aka Don’t Leave Me) (TV Movie (Xavier Durringer)
An above-average and timely French made-for-TV movie. Brainwashing is the main theme, with a naive yet intelligent daughter caught between her family and loyalty to a boyfriend who is part of the terrorist organisation IS.
The focus is on her parents reaction and it’s quite disturbing to witness their teenage daughter’s rebellion and passion. At one point she rescues an item from a burning fire place, with no concern for the consequences. A captivating watch, dealing with important issues.
It’s Only the End of the World (Xavier Dolan)
Winner of the Grand Prix at Cannes. Family drama, adapted by Dolan from a play by Jean-Luc Lagarce. I was skeptical because of the mixed reviews, the low expectations actually are a blessing. I don’t understand why it’s at just 44% on the tomatometer. Held my interest throughout. I love the music video flourishes, use of colors, and close-ups. The character dynamics are intriguing. Antoine’s (Vincent Cassel) hostility and bullying is inappropriate, clearly he has been allowed to get away with this behavior for too long with no consequences. The only excuse he has is the hot weather is driving him nuts. Perhaps the parenting was too soft and his close-ones not firm enough. You understand why Louis got the hell out of Dodge 12 years ago. Yet you can also see it from the family’s point of view that Louis has shunned them for years. Like a Hemingway short story, there are things unsaid beneath the surface.
Favorite quote: ”What if I don’t only have words to answer? What if I have words to say”
The Night Manager (TV Mini-series) (Susanne Bier)
Based on a 1993 espionage novel by John Le Carré, I watched an hourly episode over six weeks, and each Sunday I looked forward to the next installment. Of course now it’s possible to binge watch. Very entertaining and and suspenseful, a return to form for Susanne Bier after a couple of so-so films. She won an Emmy in Outstanding Directing. Hugh Laurie plays against type as the ruthless and sometimes charming arms dealer, while Tom Hiddleston also convinces as the Bond-like night manager. The actors are on fine form, with Olivia Colman also delivering a strong supporting role.
The message of flooding the world with arms and the weapon industry making a fortune is still highly relevant, which John Le Carré talked about on the red carpet. The author also mentions it’s a long book which benefited from the long form.
Good but just missed my top 20:
Julieta (Pedro Almodóvar)
The Salesman (Asghar Farhadi)
The Handmaiden (Park Chan-wook)
Nocturnal Animals (Tom Ford)
Silence (Martin Scorsese)
Lady Macbeth (William Oldroyd)
Christine (Antonio Campos)
Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan)
The Red Turtle (Michael Dudok de Wit)
Indignation (James Schamus)
A Quiet Passion (Terence Davies)
Raw (Julia Ducournau)
Life, Animated (documentary) (Roger Ross Williams)
In the Blood (Rasmus Heisterberg)
Sing Street (John Carney)
David Brent: Life on the Road (Ricky Gervais)
Overhyped/overpraised by critics:
La La Land (Damien Chazelle)
Love & Friendship (Whit Stillman)
The Witch (Robert Eggers)
Your Name (Makoto Shinkai)
The Nice Guys (Shane Black)
Everybody Wants Some!! (Richard Linklater)
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Gareth Edwards)
One More Time with Feeling (documentary) (Andrew Dominik)
Captain Fantastic (Matt Ross)
Things to Come (Mia Hansen-Løve)
My 2016 awards go to:
Best English language Film:
I, Daniel Blake (winner)
The Neon Demon
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Best Foreign Language Film:
Toni Erdmann (winner)
Der kommer en dag
Lost in Paris (French/English)
It’s Only the End of the World
#6: The Salesman
Best Lead Performance (Male)
Peter Simonischek (Toni Erdmann) (winner)
Dave Johns (I, Daniel Blake)
Denzel Washington (Fences)
Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)
Andrew Garfield (Silence)
Best Lead Performance (Female)
Isabelle Huppert (Elle) (winner)
Sônia Braga (Aquarius)
Sasha Lane (American Honey)
Florence Pugh (Lady Macbeth)
Rebecca Hall (Christine)
#6: Amy Adams (Arrival)
Best Supporting Performance (Male)
André Holland (adult Kevin) (Moonlight) (winner)
Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals)
Tom Bennett (Love & Friendship)
Ben Foster (Hell or High Water)
Shia LaBeouf (American Honey)
Best Supporting Performance (Female)
Lily Gladstone (Certain Women) (winner)
Viola Davis (Fences)
Hayley Squires (I, Daniel Blake)
Naomie Harris (Moonlight)
Sandra Hüller (Toni Erdmann) (arguably lead but can’t find space there)
O.J.: Made in America (winner)
50 Years of Star Trek
From Bedrooms to Billions: The Amiga Years
*(I still haven’t seen 13th which likely deserves to be here)
Original song (written for a film):
Another Day of Sun (La La Land) (winner)
City of Stars (La La Land)
Try Everything by Shakira (Zootopia)
A Beautiful Sea by Ferdia Walsh Peelo (Sing Street)
Can’t Stop The Feeling by Justin Timberlake (Trolls)
What do my fellow movie bloggers think of the year in film? Here are their best of 2016 lists:
The Vern at The Verns Video Vortex
Alex at And So It Begins
Sati at Cinematic Corner
Ruth at Flixchatter
Alex at Boycotting Trends
Steven at Surrender to the Void
Josh at Cinematic Spectacle
Jordan at Epileptic Moondancer
Keith at Keith and the movies
Wendell at Dell on Movies
Niels at Blog of Big Ideas
JWFOREVA at Film and Nuance
Mark at Fast Film Reviews
Zach at Fade to Zach
Courtney at On the Screen Reviews
Jo at scribbles of stage and screen
If I overlooked your list, send me the link, and I’ll add here
What do you think? As always, comments are welcome.