Tag Archives: Best of 2016

My 10 Favourite Films of 2016

It’s that time of year again. And maybe for the first time ever, I’ve managed to get my list out before January 1st (albeit just barely). There are some films I really wanted to catch up with before making a top 10 (Manchester by the Sea, Certain Women, Jackie, 20th Century Women), but I’m willing to “settle” for the 10 fantastic films I’ve already seen. So let’s get on with it.

Very honourable mentions go to Little Men, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, The Invitation, Dheepan, The Bad Kids, and Green Room.

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10. Hell or High Water

Director David Mackenzie took the grit and depiction of uneasy male family ties from his last picture, 2014’s Starred Up, and translated it into something that has had surprising resonance with American audiences with Hell or High Water. A lot of reviewers have honed in on the film’s geographic and economic perspective and dubbed it as something of “a film for Trump’s America” and while I see that argument, I think it sells the film short, or at least distorts some of the points that McKenzie is making. But even setting politics and social messages aside, Hell or High Water feels undeniably timely and reworks tropes of the western genre into something that feels fresh, which is no easy feat. Ben Foster and Chris Pine smolder on screen in just the right ways, and when the film kicks its plot into high gear, it’s both wildly exciting and an example of filmmaking at its finest.

the-edge-of-seventeen

9. The Edge of Seventeen

John Hughes comparisons have run rampant with this debut feature from writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig, and while I usually like to play the contrarian, I have to agree that The Edge of Seventeen is like a more modern and – dare I say it – more intelligent version of an ‘80s Molly Ringwald flick. The Edge of Seventeen perfectly captures the confusing, exhilarating, gross, and frustrating feelings that come along with being a teenage girl. Protagonist Nadine (played by a truly fantastic Hailee Steinfeld) is frequently unlikeable, but also thoroughly relatable. Her behaviour may not be excusable, but it is understandable, and Craig’s film explores how we can better relate to the people around us at any age. It’s heartfelt but never treacly, and funny but certainly never disposable.

paterson

8. Paterson

Paterson is the sort of strange, plotless movie that seems like it would embody all the worst stereotypes of about indie film. But with Jim Jarmusch directing and Adam Driver starring this film that is seemingly about nothing becomes something quite moving and almost haunting, in a way. Driver plays the titular Paterson, a bus driver in a small New Jersey town also called Paterson. (This is what I mean when I say the film should be thoroughly annoying.) Paterson explores this man’s simple life, his poetic aspirations, and his relationships, all amounting to a quiet yet memorable entry from Jarmusch. I hadn’t been sold on Driver’s abilities on the big screen, but he more than proves himself here, giving a complicated and layered portrayal to a character who could have been quite flat in the hands of a less sensitive performer.

10-cloverfield-lane

7. 10 Cloverfield Lane

I can’t overstate how thrilled I was to encounter a big franchise film that is essentially a three-person chamber play. The fact that it made over $100 million at the box office is just icing on the cake, and I can only hope that it’ll encourage more blockbusters like this. And financial successes aside, I found 10 Cloverfield Lane completely gripping. First-time director Dan Trachtenberg makes the most of the film’s claustrophobic setting and his fantastic trio of actors, perfectly crafting tension at every turn. Some people had a problem with the film’s third act, and while I don’t necessarily think the film NEEDED to go the direction it did, I understand WHY it did, and I found that part of the story compelling, too. More exciting leading roles for Mary Elizabeth Winstead, please.

6. The Wait

I’m still sad that The Wait has gone largely unnoticed this year, lovely and quietly complicated as it is. Co-leads Juliette Binoche and Lou de Laage are completely enchanting to watch together on screen, and the careful direction from director Pietro Messina only adds more glorious tension to this simmering film. So much goes unspoken in The Wait, but it’s all the more powerful because of it.

a-bigger-splash

5. A Bigger Splash

I think about A Bigger Splash possibly more than any other film I saw this year, and it continues to only goes up in my estimation on reflection. It’s not perfect and it’s definitely wacky as hell, but there’s something about it that really worked for me. Maybe it’s just Ralph Fiennes’ dance moves. Who knows. In any case, I think this is a film that’s sly in its social commentary, surprisingly moving, and a fantastic acting showcase for all four leads involved. Check it out if you haven’t already.

arrival

4. Arrival

I don’t think Arrival is as smart as a lot of people say it is. It utilizes some clunky narrative devices, and I wish some of its plot points were less “movie trope-y” than they are. I don’t even think it perfectly hits all the emotional notes it goes for. But here’s the thing: I don’t think I saw a more beautiful film this year. Dennis Villeneuve’s sci-fi vision feels like the sort of movie I’ve always wanted to see. (Blade Runner 2049, please come faster.) It does feel a little bit stuck in between a blockbuster and Villeneuve’s more arty instincts. But I’m glad that a movie like this is getting shown in multiplexes and being seen by a wide audience. Thanks to Amy Adams’ brilliantly soulful performance, it has Villeneuve’s signature character-propelled core that have also elevated Prisoners and Sicario above the genre fare they could have otherwise fallen into. I love his twist on genre expectations, and Arrival is a particularly beautiful example at that.

moonlight

3. Moonlight

This is the film that’s on every one of these damn lists, and here it is on mine. I had the opportunity to see Moonlight just before it screened publicly at Telluride or TIFF, so I was able to go in without expectations. What I found was a beautifully shot, uniquely structured, and wonderfully empathetic film. There is an elegance to Moonlight that is rare. Director Barry Jenkins unfurls the story so well that by the time the final third rolls around and Andre Holland (in my opinion, the standout performance of the film, though Mahershala Ali is also fantastic) shows up to charm the hell out of everyone, you feel like you’ve properly experienced the main character’s life along with him. I’m thrilled that the response to Moonlight has been so enthusiastic, and I’m keen to revisit it.

blue-jay

2. Blue Jay

So here we are at our final two spots. And first comes the film that was both one of the funniest and probably the single most moving movie I saw all year. Blue Jay was such a beautiful, heartfelt film. I absolutely adored it, and while I feel like I can’t succinctly articulate why, I attempted to do so at more length in my full review of it. It’s on Netflix now. Please seek it out.

louder-than-bombs

1. Louder Than Bombs

So I still have the same #1 film as I did when I made my mid-year list? How boring, I know. But nothing topped Joachim Trier’s English-language debut for me. It is a simple story, and could be boiled down to “white people problems” for some. But I found Trier’s examination of a family dysfunction so honest. It is both quietly brutal yet strangely hopeful. This is one of the few examples of the genre that manages to strike that balance, never falling into mopey melodrama or twee sentimentality. It feels honest – almost mundanely so – yet completely riveting from start to finish.

Top 10 Movies of 2016 (so far)

We’re now certainly past the halfway mark of 2016, but I wanted to take a moment to recognize some of the best movies I’ve seen from the first six months of the year. I know things are looking pretty bleak in terms of blockbuster fare right now, but if you’re looking in the right places, there’s been a lot of really good stuff this year. Here’s a look at my 10 favourites, so far.

Regrets on ones I’ve missed: Sunset Song, The Neon Demon, The Invitation, Hail Caesar

Love and Friendship

10. Love & Friendship

After watching Whit Stilman’s hyper-acerbic Damsels in Distress from a few years back, he never would have been the name I’d attach to a Jane Austen adaptation. But, as Love & Friendship shows, he actually might be the perfect person to take on the charm and subtle sass of Austen’s work. Whitman has a field day here loosely adapting one of the author’s early novellas, casting muse Kate Beckinsale as a self-serving widow who strikes up a friendship with a younger man (Xavier Samuel). The film is modern without feeling distractingly out-of-time and it manages to be both charming and scathing in nearly equal measure. Tom Bennett is particularly funny as the would-be paramour of Beckinsale’s daughter, but the whole cast here seems to embrace Stillman’s sly, cynical wit. Whether you love Austen or are decidedly anti-costume drama, there’s probably something for you in this unlikely crowd-pleaser.

Born to Be Blue

9. Born to Be Blue

Skittering just on the line of typical biopic fare, Born to Be Blue avoids succumbing to the worn-out tropes of similarly-themed films like Walk the Line and Ray. The film follows Chet Baker as he’s washed-up and looking for a come-back, and it succeeds partially because it focuses on such a specific time in the musician’s life. Writer-director Robert Budreau has a clear, melancholy handle on the material, and he does an excellent job of painting Baker as a fully-formed person, and not just a clichéd “troubled musical genius”. On top of that, Ethan Hawke’s performance as Baker is magenetic, and the film’s experimental, partially-fictionalized flourishes make it well worth watching. And that gut-punch of an ending? Most biopics would never have the nerve to end on such a dour, intimately authentic note.

Wiener-Dog

8. Wiener-Dog

Todd Solondz’ distinctive brand of miserabilist comedy won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and in fact, I didn’t think it would be mine until I made my first foray into his work with Wiener-Dog. Told in four distinct parts, the film follows its titular wiener dog through various stages of life and as she gets passed around to different owners. It’s a bizarre, dark, and frequently funny film, but I was surprised by the amount of heart it had, as well. Solondz’ insights on humanity obviously lean towards the cynical, but the empathy he shows his characters is what prevents the film from veering into the mean-spirited. This is especially apparent in the portion with Greta Gerwig and a never-better Kieran Culkin, which, as well as serving as a quasi-sequel to Solondz’ own Welcome to the Dollhouse, shows the depth of the director’s emotional insight.

Eye in the Sky

7. Eye in the Sky

Precise and even-keeled, one could almost accuse Gavin Hood’s Eye in the Sky of being boring. But his multi-layered look at drone warfare is an example of such tight storytelling that Hood somehow makes a film largely about military conference calls into an edge-of-your-seat thriller. Eye in the Sky takes place over the course of one day, showing how one seemingly small decision affects a huge swath of people – partly because it’s a decision that no one actually wants to take the responsibility to make. Is the film’s message subtle? No, not exactly. But with such taut storytelling conveyed by the likes of Alan Rickman, Helen Mirren, Barkhad Abdi, and Aaron Paul, the results are thrilling, often unexpected, and surprisingly affecting.

A Bigger Splash

6. A Bigger Splash

Luca Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash feels like it could be a stage play. It’s extremely character-driven and anchored by four very strong central performers (Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Matthias Schoenaerts, and Dakota Johnson), exploring heady themes and doing so without a lot of visual pyrotechnics. But then again, if you were watching this story on a stage, you wouldn’t get the backdrop of the gorgeous Italian countryside. And you certainly wouldn’t get flair and whimsy of Guadagnino’s camerawork, which really brings the film to life. This is a film that is moving not because of its relatively well-worn story about disaffected rich people who can’t get their personal relationships in order, but because of the way that story is told. And what a journey it is.

10 Cloverfield Lane

5. 10 Cloverfield Lane

Most people seem to agree that it’s been a real dismal year for blockbusters so far. But while 10 Cloverfield Lane’s relatively scant $15 million budget doesn’t exactly make it a blockbuster, it’s easily one of the best things that’s passed through the multiplexes this year. There are lots of fantastic things about this movie, not least of which is the fact that what is essentially an indie-minded cinematic chamber piece made over $100 million at the box office. 10 Cloverfield Lane is thoughtfully written, compelling, tense, and wonderfully acted. I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty much all I want when I go see a blockbuster, and it seems like audiences and critics were also fully on board. Perhaps Hollywood should take note.

Dheepan

4. Dheepan

After pulling off a surprise Palme d’Or win at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, Jacques Audiard’s latest, Dheepan, opened to surprisingly little fanfare stateside back in the spring. (To date, its total U.S. gross is a paltry $240,000.) This is a real shame, because I actually found Dheepan to be far more accessible than I was expecting. Granted, I realize that a French film about Sri Lanken immigrants (yes, there are subtitles) is going to be a tough sell to North American audiences. It was never going to be a big hit. But Audiard takes such a soulful and deeply engrossing look at the life of the titular Dheepan and his makeshift family as they start a new life together that I was completely sucked in from the start.

The Wait

3. The Wait

Juliette Binoche is always fabulous, and her performance in her latest European arthouse offering is no exception. The Wait marks the directorial debut of Piero Messina, who was perhaps previously best known for serving as assistant director on Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty. Messina proves to be a more than capable director in his own right here, making the most of his two lead actresses (up-and-comer Lou de Laage holds her own opposite Binoche, helping to turn the film into an enchanting two-hander), as well as the gorgeous setting that imbues the quiet film with a sort of haunting quality. I saw the film at TIFF last year, but it received such a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it theatrical release back in April that I won’t begrudge anyone who missed it entirely. But it’s certainly worth seeking out.

Green Room

2. Green Room

Okay, I’ll admit that my movie taste definitely trends on the side of indie. Some might call it character-driven. Some might call it boring. But even though Green Room is in some ways very much an indie film, it also in other ways very much IS NOT. This is a film that’s gritty and gruesome, taking a certain type of pride in the destructive path it leaves behind. It’s actually pretty difficult to classify, not quite falling under the “horror” title, but certainly influenced by many a cult film that has come before. Despite getting a fairly wide release, it never found much of an audience, which is a shame, as I really do feel like it would appeal to a surprisingly large variety of viewers. Rare is the film that manages to be both thoughtful and filled to the brim with thrills, but Green Room artfully and entertainingly strikes that balance.

Louder Than Bombs

1. Louder Than Bombs

At the risk of seeming too predictable – yes, here is another cerebral Jesse Eisenberg film at the top of my best-movies-of the-year list (see also: The End of the Tour in 2015, Night Moves in 2014, and The Social Network in 2010). And obviously, some of that does have to do with Eisenberg himself, who I like a lot as an actor (and he does turn in one of his most nuanced performances yet in Louder Than Bombs). But more than anything, I think he just happens to pick a lot of the types of movies that I’m drawn to. And Louder Than Bombs had a lot going for it for me from the start, being the English-language debut of Norwegian director Joachim Trier, whose 2008 debut, Reprise, I absolutely adore. He does it again here, telling an emotionally intricate tale of a family frayed at the edges. Gabriel Byrne is excellent as the family’s conflicted patriarch, as is newcomer Devin Druid, playing the petulant teenage son. Despite overall getting strong reviews, few seemed to love this movie as much as I did, but Louder Than Bombs has haunted me since I saw it at TIFF last September.