Oh lists. Anyone who knows me well knows I can't stand them. They're arbitrary and meaningless and the reason why I'm last in line to post mine this year is because, boo hoo, I really didn't want to do one. But I'll be a good sport, because the one thing lists are good for is making me reflect on what I was fortunate to see this year. It wasn't my best year, clocking in at just 53 new films (again, boo hoo me right?), and as I've stated before, I liked many and loved almost nothing. But here we go, my top ten, as of...7:00ish pm on Thursday, December 28th, 2016. As always, these are in absolutely no order except my number one. Honorable Mentions:
The Fits (dir. Anna Rose Holmer) and Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (dirs. Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone)
The Fits I had to squeeze in seeing before making this list. It's a first narrative film for Holmer and a stellar effort. The film does something special to the traditional coming of age story, making it a little bit mystery, a little bit school drama/comedy, and adding just the faintest pinch of horror. Three things that embody the tween/teen experience. It features a great performance by newcomer Royalty Hightower as well as skilled camera work and writing from Holmer. The Fits is also only about 75 minutes so there's no excuse not to check it out!
Any film that skewers the current celebrity-centric hellscape we inhabit today is gold in my book and Popstar fits the bill. I'm not really a "laugher" even when I find things amusing but there were some moments in this film that cut through my morbid exterior. But the real gem never even made it to the final cut (NSFW):
Soon after seeing The Edge of Seventeen I revisited Ten Things I Hate about You and forgot how much I missed films like it from the 90s and early 2000s. What this film does is completely revitalize a genre that was dead in the water. Craig imbues every scene and every character with realness and sincerity while staying true to the classic tropes of the genre. And Hayley Seinfeld gets my vote for one of the best performances of the year as Nadine:
Really what makes Nadine so special is she speaks the language of anyone who has ever paused in front of their mirror and asked themselves, “Why are you always like this, why can’t you just … XYZ.” As adults, we are able to manage our lowered expectations of what we can change about ourselves, and even learn to appreciate the stuff we can’t. As a teenager, there is little self-love, and Nadine feels it more acutely than others. Steinfeld’s performance allows us to easily sympathize with her, but we are also allowed to not like her at times too, which is refreshing and makes for a more complex character on screen.
9. Zootopia (dir. Byron Howard and Rich Moore)/Kubo and the Two Strings (dir. Travis Knight)/Moana (dir. Ron Clements et al.)
Yay for animation, the one good thing that came out of this year. I am shocked at how nuanced and intelligent Zootopia is, Kubo is a work of art, and Moana keeps the Disney's "princess" legacy alive with another beautifully acted, sung, and animated film. If you don't like animation, I'd give these a try anyway. If you still don't like animation, then I can't help you.
8. Eye in the Sky (dir. Gavin Hood)
Again, another surprise that came early on in the year. Eye in the Sky is a great snapshot at the current web of war and bureaucratic responsibility and all the crap that goes on before the poor soul behind the gun can pull the trigger. It's a race against the clock, tense and taut little thriller that will make you question even more our trajectory towards drone strikes and faceless killing of civilians if it means getting the bigger prize.
7. I, Daniel Blake (dir. Ken Loach)
I don't know why this movie got to me like it did, but GD did I get teary watching this. I should know better than to watch films with trigger topics like old men and struggling single moms not able to get the assistance they need from government programs. It's never easy watching imperfect but ultimately good people just trying to live their lives and take care of their kids and getting hit with roads blocks every step of the way. And just when these characters start seeing a light at the end of the dark tunnel, Ken Loach, that rat bastard, really smacks us in the emotional groin. As much as it hurts to stay mad at the end of a film, I appreciate the courage it takes to make a not so happy ending that leaves you determined to do something.
6. The Handmaiden (dir. Chan-Wook Park)
There isn't one director I can name where I've enjoyed (or seen) all of their films, but Chan-Wook Park is fast becoming one of those directors for me. The Handmaiden is an exceptionally well done heist that aside from having an entertaining story is drop dead gorgeous to boot. It's so much fun to root for characters that ultimately "win" in the end and the conclusion to this film is rewarding as hell...and pretty damn sexy too.
5. Elle (dir. Paul Verhoeven)
I was probably more uncomfortable watching this film than any other film I saw this year and all the more so because I ended up really liking it. Its dark humor, its subversive handling of rape, and its use of an "unlikable" protagonist (I actually love her), all melded together in just the right ways to stick with me long after I had seen it. I'm not sure how you go about discussing taboo emotions that can surround rape, such as sexual fantasies that empower the victim against her rapist, but this film manages to at least open that door and explore other complicated reactions to a horrific crime.
4. 10 Cloverfield Lane (dir. Dan Trattenberg)
I love small scale sci-fi thrillers that pack even more punch than bigger budget films in the genre. Yet again, here is another film from earlier this year that managed to stay resonant with me until the end. So often with sci-fi films the big "twist" is never as revelatory as its buildup (my biggest problem with Arrival) but 10 Cloverfield focuses on the slow-burn, where every clue or new piece of information is the twist we think we've been waiting for. Ryan's mention of the themes surrounding Mary Elizabeth Winstead's character are also reasons to love the film, as well as John Goodman's turn as a truly lovable sinister man.
3. The Lobster (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)
I think this movie technically came out last year but oh well, it's another morbid, darkly funny film. It also is making me fall in love with Colin Farrell again (along with this turn in Fantastic Beasts). It basically takes a creative writing prompt from 2nd grade, "What animal would you want to be and why?," and takes it down a dark path that sheds a light on our societal feelings towards single people and relationships in general. The humor in this movie is so spot-on and Farrell'd delivery is my everything.
2. Certain Women (dir. Kelly Reichardt)
I usually hate movies that are a slow-burn, but if this isn't the most well-crafted slow burn of a movie then I don't know what is. The film is a series of vignettes about three women living in small-town Montana. Their stories are at the same time singular and reminiscent of many, and while they don't know of each other in the world of the film, their lives intersect in interesting ways. Michelle Williams, Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, and newcomer Lily Gladstone are all phenomenal in highly understated roles. I've never been to Montana, but this film feels more Montana than even I could imagine it to be. Reichardt's camera work is really something special and a key to making even long-drawn out scenes engaging to watch.
1. Moonlight (dir. Barry Jenkins)
Like so many films I saw this year, I didn't know how much I enjoyed Moonlight until I saw it again. Everything from the performances, especially Ashton Sanders as Chiron, to the direction, to the writing is perfect and in full command and understanding of the language of filmmaking in my opinion. This is the year's best made film hands down. That's all there really is to say about that.