Comprising a considerable amount of our top 50 films of last year, Sundance Film Festival has proven to yield the first genuine look at what the year in cinema will bring. Now in its 39th iteration, we’ll be heading back to Park City this week, but before we do, it’s time to highlight the films we’re most looking forward to, including documentaries and narrative features from all around the world.
While much of the joy found in the festival comes from surprises throughout the event, below one will find our 20 most-anticipated titles. Check out everything below and for updates straight from the festival, make sure to follow us on Twitter (@TheFilmStage, @jpraup, @djmecca and @FinkJohnJ), and stay tuned to all of our coverage here.
20. Come Swim (Kristen Stewart)
With her pair of career-best performances under the direction of Olivier Assayas, as well as working with Kelly Reichardt, Woody Allen, Ang Lee, David Fincher, David Gordon Green, Walter Salles, and more, Kristen Stewart has had no shortage of considerable filmmaking talent to learn from. She’s now helmed her first short, Come Swim, which utilizes a both impressionistic and realistic style to capture a man’s day. Set to premiere in the shorts program at this year’s festival, followed by a release by Refinery29, we can’t wait to see the results.
19. Kuso (Steven Ellison)
You may not have heard the name Steven Ellison, but we’re betting you’re familiar with Flying Lotus. In the past few years, Ellison’s music persona has been one of the most influential in the world of hip-hop, electronica, and whatever other genre he’s interested in at the moment. Following his short film Royal, he’s now made his feature directorial debut with Kuso, which follows the survivors after Los Angeles’ worst earthquake. Promising to be psychedelic fever dream, this will certainly be the trippiest film at the festival.
18. Sidney Hall (Shawn Christensen)
After his Oscar win for the short film Curfew, director Shawn Christensen adapted it into the feature-length drama Before I Disappear. For his follow-up, he’s amassed quite an ensemble. Sidney Hall, which stars Logan Lerman (who gave one of last year’s best performances at the festival with Indignation), Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Michelle Monaghan, Blake Jenner, and Nathan Lane, follows the life of a writer as we flashback to his dark past. That logline may not be anything new, but with the talent of this cast, we can bet it’s something special.
17. Columbus (kogonada)
Whether online (potentially at this very site) or on a Criterion collection disc, you’ve likely seen the video essay work of the artist known as kogonada. He’s now segued to feature filmmaking with his debut Columbus. Starring John Cho, the film follows his character in the wake of his father’s coma as he strikes up a conversation with a local woman as they venture around their midwestern town. With the director’s clear knowledge of film history, it has the makings of the kind of well-composed, relaxed feature that could delight.
16. Ingrid Goes West (Matt Spicer)
Staples at Sundance Film Festival the last few years, Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen have now teamed for their own comedy Ingrid Goes West. While the former star has proved her comedic talents numerous times, we’re looking forward to seeing what Olsen has in store in the film that follows an mentally unstable woman who ventures to Los Angeles to connect with a social media influencer. Featuring a score from Islands frontman Nick Thorburn, this is one comedy that could get dark and for that we look forward to it.
15. I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (Macon Blair)
One of the most exciting careers to witness on the rise the last few years has been that of Macon Blair. After breaking out under the direction of Jeremy Saulnier in Blue Ruin, he’s now made his directorial debut with I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore. Starring Melanie Lynskey as a woman who teams with her neighbor, played by Elijah Wood, to track down a burglar, Blair certainly seems in his wheelhouse to deliver a revenge tale in his unique language.
14. The Yellow Birds (Alexandre Moors)
After bringing his harrowing drama Blue Caprice to Sundance a few years back, director Alexandre Moors is back with a film of a bigger scale. The Yellow Birds, starring Tye Sheridan, Jack Huston, Alden Ehrenreich, Jason Patric, Toni Collette, and Jennifer Aniston, follows the disappearance of a solider in Iraq and the aftermath when the survivors return home. Co-scripted by David Lowery (whose next film also appears on this list), it has the makings of another intense drama set in a post-9/11 world.
After highlighting 50 films that we can guarantee are worth seeing this year, it’s time we venture into the unknown. Rather than regurgitating a list of dated-years-in-advance studio releases, we’ve set out to focus on 100 films we’re genuinely looking forward to, regardless of their marketing budgets. While some might not have a set release — let alone any confirmed festival premiere — most have wrapped production and will likely debut at some point in 2017, so make sure to check back for updates over the next twelve months and beyond. Be sure to keep the following one-hundred films on your radar (with release dates, where applicable). If you want to see how we did with our picks last year (potentially to shame us), head on over here.
100. The Discovery (Charlie McDowell; March 31)
One of the primary pleasures of Charlie McDowell‘s directorial debut The One I Love was his ability to realistically inject a dose of science-fiction into a relatable romantic drama. The director, along with writer Justin Lader, have now re-teamed for a follow-up in the same vein. The Discovery, which stars Jason Segel, Rooney Mara, Robert Redford, Jesse Plemons, and Riley Keough is a love story set one year after the existence of the afterlife is scientifically verified. That hook is all I need to make sure it’s on my must-see list at Sundance. For everyone else, Netflix will release it this spring. – Jordan R.
99. Euphoria (Lisa Langseth)
Following her Oscar win last year, Alicia Vikander not only picked up a major tentpole role in Tomb Raider, but also launched her own production company, the aptly named Vikarious Productions. It also hasn’t taken long for her to start their first feature as Euphoria will arrive this year. Vikander’s Pure and Hotell collaborator Lisa Langseth is writing and directing the English-language picture, which teams Vikander and Eva Green as “sisters in conflict traveling through Europe towards a mystery destination,” creating a project that the actor-producer calls “full of suffering but also full of joy, and squaring up to very important subject matter.” – Jordan R.
98. Woman Walks Ahead (Susanna White)
Along with new films from Xavier Dolan, Aaron Sorkin, and Niki Caro this year, Jessica Chastain is leading a 19th-century period drama titled Woman Walks Ahead. Directed by Susanna White (who last helmed this summer’s John le Carré adaptation Our Kind of Traitor), the script by Steven Knight (Eastern Promises, Locke) follows Chastain’s character as she leaves Brooklyn and heads to the Standing Rock Reservation in the Dakotas to helped the plight of a Sioux chieftain (Michael Greyeyes) to fight for his land. With Chastain continually giving great performances regardless of a film’s overall quality, this one is shaping up to be one to watch. – Jordan R.
97. God Particle aka Cloverfield 3 (Julius Onah; Oct. 27)
After the surprise announcement of 10 Cloverfield Lane this past year, it didn’t take long for attention to turn to J.J. Abrams and Bad Robot’s next mystery project, tentatively titled God Particle. Indeed, after some noncommittal answers from Abrams, it was eventually revealed in October that the movie would, in fact, be the third chapter of a loosely-connected series. That alone makes it an exciting offer – hopefully the filmmakers will continue in the steps of Cloverfield Lane and reveal as little as possible about the storyline, to keep it as mysterious as possible, although we do at least know that it takes place on a space station and involves an enigmatic “discovery” of some kind. (Which, perhaps, begs an alternate title: Cloverfield! In Space!) – John U.
96. Movie No. 1 (Josephine Decker)
Earning acclaim a few years back for Thou Wast Mild and Lovely and Butter on the Latch, indie director Josephine Decker is returning this year with Movie No. 1, a drama which stars House of Cards stars Molly Parker and Julee Cerda, as well as Miranda July. Following a young star who takes her theater director’s latest project too seriously, not much else is known about the film, but it’s safe to say a festival premiere is in the works for this year. – Jordan R.
95. Wildlife (Paul Dano)
In the span of just a decade, Paul Dano has worked with the likes of Paul Thomas Anderson, Spike Jonze, Ang Lee, Kelly Reichardt, Steve McQueen, Denis Villeneuve, Bong Joon-ho, Rian Johnson, and more. Presumably learning a thing or two from this batch of talented directors, he’s now making his debut behind the camera with Wildlife. The script, penned by Zoe Kazan and Dano himself, is adapted from the 1990 coming-of-age novel by Richard Ford, following a boy who watches his parents marriage unravel after a move and his mom falls in love with another man. Dano’s Prisoners and forthcoming Okja co-star Jake Gyllenhaal leads the film alongside Carey Mulligan, and we imagine it will pop up at fall film festivals. – Jordan R.
94. Slice (Austin Vesely; Fall TBD)
Not only did he have one of the most entertaining albums of last year, Chance the Rapper found time to lead an entire feature film. Coming from A24 and likely arriving in the fall, aside from a brief teaser and plot details, not much is known about the Chicago-set film following a werewolf pizza driver, but rest assured, it’ll be unlike anything else this year. Also, Chance’s character is named Dax Lycander if you needed any other reason to see it. – Jordan R.
93. Lizzie (Craig William Macneill)
While we imagine there will certainly be some announced this year, as of now, the only Kristen Stewart-starring film yet to premiere is the dark biopic Lizzie. Following the true story of a woman who committed ax-wielding murders in Massachusetts in the late 1800s, it’s got quite the hook. With Chloë Sevigny taking the lead role and Stewart playing her live-in maid, this has the makings of a daring look an little-known black mark in history. – Jordan R.
92. Small Crimes (E.L. Katz)
Cheap Thrills director E.L. Katz assembled quite the cast for his follow-up Small Crimes with Robert Forster, Jacki Weaver, Green Room‘s Macon Blair, Gary Cole, Larry Fessenden, Molly Parker, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau taking part in the thriller. Co-penned (along with Katz) by Blair, the Game of Thrones star plays the lead, a former cop who gets out of prison and returns to his hometown to start fresh, only to get entangled in the same hullabaloo he originally left behind. Having been shot over the summer, we imagine this one will get a bow at a midnight sidebar — perhaps SXSW, Fantastic Fest, or TIFF? – Mike M.
91. Unicorn Store (Brie Larson)
After working with Edgar Wright, Lenny Abrahamson, Destin Daniel Cretton, James Ponsoldt, and more, Brie Larson segued from her Oscar win to her directorial debut. Unicorn Store, which the first-time director also stars in and produce,s follows Kit (Larson), who moves back in with her parents and receives an out-of-the-blue invitation to the titular store that “test[s] her ideas of what it really means to grow up.” Also starring Samuel L. Jackson, Joan Cusack, and Bradley Whitford, Larson certainly has a knack for choosing projects, so we’re eager to see her directorial style. – Jordan R.
From January 4-9, New York’s Film Society of Lincoln Center will run a series titled Illuminating Moonlight, featuring works that inspired Barry Jenkins‘ Moonlight and were handpicked by the director himself. Included in this lineup is Wong Kar-wai’s Happy Together, which makes perfect sense. Wong’s film, like Moonlight, tells of gay love and communicates its characters’ desires through both dreamy impressionism and a genre-spanning soundtrack. But these two are related in another, less obvious way, and this connection has to do with the contexts in which they were made. Happy Together premiered on May 17, 1997, less than two months before the handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China, while Moonlight debuted on September 2, 2016, right as cultural backlash against liberal progressivism reached its greatest intensity in the unexpectedly massive show of support for Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump. Hitting screens as their respective societies were on the brink of potentially cataclysmic change, both films tell stories of displacement that resonate with larger destabilizations in the notion of nation as home — “home” here suggesting a place of stability, refuge, and rest.
For many Hong Kong-ers, the impending Handover further confused the already complicated idea of Hong Kong as home. Historically, the territory had passed through the hands of multiple sovereignties without any promise that it would ever be given full political autonomy, and the Handover seemed poised to continue this process. Exacerbating this worry was a fear that the Chinese government would curtail the hard-won freedoms that Hong Kong-ers had procured under Britain’s democratic governance; per the New York Times coverage of the Handover, the moment the clock struck midnight on July 1, “Hong Kong’s elected legislature was abolished [… and] a range of Hong Kong’s civil liberties were rolled back as new constraints were placed on the right to protest and association.” Being that negotiations over the Handover had been ongoing since as early as the mid-1980s, all these issues were already in the public consciousness when Wong started filming Happy Together. As such, although his film premiered before July 1, 1997, it spoke to anxieties that were contemporaneous with its filming and release.
In Wong’s film, future uncertainty and a lack of home are evoked almost from the outset. The central couple in Happy Together, Ho Po-wing (Leslie Cheung) and Lai Yiu-fai (Tony Leung), hail from Hong Kong — except the film is primarily set in Argentina, where Ho and Lai go in an attempt to repair their relationship. They get lost on the way, with great emphasis placed on their inability to read a map. By the time they arrive in Argentina, they are broke and thus marooned until they can scrape together enough money to leave.
By this point, Ho and Lai have already fought so much that they seem, at first, to be separated, but jealousy and remaining attraction keep the two within each other’s orbit — not securely at “home” in a relationship, but also not fully apart. “Let’s start over” is Ho’s go-to refrain whenever things get heated between him and Lai, and the words must have rung loudly for Hong Kong viewers in 1997. Such a chance was precisely what the Handover proposed, though the phrase also suggested a repetition of past failures, thereby inducing trepidation about the future. In one of the film’s most striking moments, Lai wonders what Hong Kong would look like upside-down, and we are abruptly shown images of the city presented as such, simultaneously foregrounding the film’s self-conscious engagement with the reality of the Handover and visually communicating the disorientation experienced by Hong Kong’s people.
When Happy Together was released, the motif of dislocated individuals tapped the feeling of precarious uncertainty permeating Hong Kong during the months leading up to the Handover. A similar tension has been charging the U.S. in recent years, reaching greatest visibility with Trump’s presidential campaign. When Jenkins began filming Moonlight, Trump had not yet announced his candidacy, but the political division we have been seeing in the headlines was a long time in the making. Though received wisdom would have people believe that America has moved beyond the racism, sexism, and xenophobia of yesteryear, the reality is that universal empathy and acceptance are still a long way off. For many minorities, Trump is simply the latest grievance in a long history of failed progress, even if, thankfully, some progress has still been made. Whether or not A24 intended for Moonlight to be released this close to Trump’s political ascendancy is uncertain. What remains clear, however, is that a sense of displacement evoked by the film resonates with the experience of many minorities living in the United States over the past several years, an experience that has intensified with Trump’s candidacy.
Moonlight, though working in a different national context and historical period, aligns powerfully with Happy Together in conveying a reality of dislocation. Chiron, the protagonist of Moonlight, is depicted as growing up in the same Miami neighborhood throughout most of the film, except it is clear that this place holds little comfort for him. When first seen, he is being chased by a pack of boys who call him queer, and the camera hovers just over his upper back the whole time, channeling the panicked kineticism of his movements. The cinematography in this scene evokes the opening long take in Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s Rosetta, and, like that film, Moonlight is about survival. The dominant culture in Chiron’s neighborhood holds certain expectations for how men should talk and behave, and because he does not conform to these standards, he is singled out and persecuted.
This attack of the minority by the majority reaches its devastating climax in the second segment of the narrative triptych, in which Chiron’s only friend, Kevin, is peer-pressured into beating him up in public. Earlier, these two shared a moment of physical ecstasy, after which Chiron seemed happy for the first time since the film began — he had found someone who loved the way he loved. When this two-person communion then breaks beneath the power of the dominant culture, Chiron not only loses a friend, but his entire sense of belonging, which had been tied to the one person who he felt truly understood him. By the start of the final segment, Chiron has retreated completely into himself, resigning his identity to the external forces dictating who he should (appear to) be.
Like Happy Together, Moonlight also conveys socio-emotional dislocation at the level of physical geography. As a child and teenager, Chiron technically lives under his mother’s roof, but her abusive, drug-fueled behavior renders the house inhospitable. Rather, he appears to spend most of his time at the house of a local gangster who functions as the father figure he never had. Chiron’s home that isn’t home comes to embody the character’s experience of displacement and, by extension, that experienced by many modern Americans.
If these films stopped at articulating the disorientation of the surrounding world, they would have emerged as powerful works of art. But both also end on hopeful notes, illuminating potential ways forward for the characters and, I propose, society overall. In Happy Together, Lai eventually earns enough money and decides to leave Argentina without Ho. After a few shots of him on the road, the film cuts to Chang, a Taiwanese student whom Lai had befriended in Argentina. When we see Chang, he is standing at a lighthouse at the southernmost tip of South America, a place where people allegedly go to dispose of their sorrows. Having earlier asked Lai to speak from the heart into a tape recorder, Chang has come to the lighthouse with the tape to perform the sorrow disposal on Lai’s behalf. After this brief interlude, the film returns to Lai, who has just arrived in Taipei, Taiwan. He visits the Liao Ning night market and stops at a food stand, only to see a photograph of Chang taped to the wall. Though Chang himself is not present, Lai has found Chang’s family. “I finally understood how [Chang] could be happy running around so free,” Lai narrates in voiceover after observing the conviviality of Chang’s parents. “It’s because he has a place he can always return to.”
Here, Lai is clearly describing the presence of a home in Chang’s life, and this description sheds light on his decision to pocket the picture of Chang before leaving the food stand. Just as Chang can always return to his geographical home in Taiwan, Lai can now revisit the photograph and the memories it conjures up and stands for. Moreover, Chang is a friend who, quite literally, was willing to go the ends of the earth for him. (Granted, Chang had himself wanted to visit the lighthouse to begin with, but the fact that he brought the recorder to the edge of the inhabited world is still striking.) Friendship and community transcend space and geography, and the playing of The Turtles’ “Happy Together” in the final scene reflects that: though Lai and Chang are physically distant, there is closeness in their shared experiences. If we interpret geography allegorically, as we have been doing thus far, we arrive at a slightly different, but not unrelated reading: although emotional displacement still exists for Lai and the Hong Kong people more generally, a sense of community provides some vital anchor.
Throughout this last scene, we see that Wong has strikingly decreased the frame rate so that images appear sped up, a marked departure from the aesthetic of slowing down that defined earlier portions of the film. Most of Happy Together is populated by flashbacks and Wong’s iconic step-printing technique, which visually evokes the sense of the past dragging Lai away from the present, disrupting his ability to move on. This final scene, however, rockets Lai forward at an almost reckless velocity. When one is “happy” and “together,” the future suddenly seems ripe for the seizing.
If Happy Together encourages finding alternate forms of community as a path to healing — rather than having Lai meet another Hong Kong-er, the film shows him befriending someone from a different country, which seems to be less a rebuke of Hong Kong than a metaphor for the kindred spirits that exist in unexpected places — then Moonlight calls viewers to directly confront the sense of displacement. By the film’s third act, Chiron is an adult drug dealer running business in Atlanta, another instance of geographical displacement signaling emotional dislocation. One night, he receives an unexpected call from Kevin, who is working as a cook back in their home city of Miami. Over the phone, Kevin asks Chiron to visit him and apologizes for the incident that drove them apart. Words alone can’t undo years of suffering, but Chiron is clearly shaken and moved by the call and decides to drop by Kevin’s diner. Right before he does so, he visits his mother in rehab, and their tearful exchange ends with Chiron forgiving her for abusive parenting — a moment of grace foreshadowing Kevin and Chiron’s own encounter, which begins tentatively but concludes with reconciliation.
For many living in 21st-century America, the impulse may be to angrily throw in the towel, but the progression of Moonlight suggests that grace and active conversation may be the key to making home feel like home again. Happy Together, though released twenty years ago in a different country, offers further perspective: in the event that forgiveness is not received and minority groups continue to be marginalized, community can be found in circles that exist apart from nationhood — for instance, women of the world can draw strength from each other and their male allies, and people of color everywhere can rally together against any instance of racism, even if their particular ethnic group isn’t the primary target. All of this should be common sense by now. What Moonlight and Happy Together do is make these realities not just sensed but felt, such that viewers may feel understood and even moved to action.
Near the beginning of Happy Together, Lai mentions that he had seen the design of a waterfall on the side of a lamp and wanted to visit the real-life Iguazu Falls that inspired it, but he and Ho were never able to find it together. A couple times throughout the film, shots of the waterfall appear, seemingly divorced from the plot, and Lai is repeatedly seen holding the lamp and gazing at the waterfall’s image. It is not until after he leaves Ho that Lai successfully makes it to the falls, and so it is only after Lai has unmoored himself from the dangerous seduction of the past that he is able to arrive at his destination. What must not be overlooked, however, is that it was a work of art — the image on the lamp — that kept Lai’s desire for progress alive long enough for actual movement to be achieved. Moonlight and Happy Together, and the best of art in general, similarly function as our lamps. They illuminate both present darkness and the road ahead, giving us hope and guiding us home.
Illuminating Moonlight runs from January 4-9 at Film Society of Lincoln Center. See more information here.
All caught up with our top 50 films of 2016? It’s now time to look to the new year, and, ahead of our 100 most-anticipated films, we’re highlighting 50 titles we’ve enjoyed on the festival circuit this last year (and beyond) that will likely see a release in 2016. While the first batch have confirmed dates all the way through the summer, we’ve also included a handful that are awaiting a date and some we’re hopeful will get a release by year’s end pending acquisition. U.S. distributors: take note!
Staying Vertical (Alain Guiraudie; Jan. 20)
Those only familiar with Alain Guiraudie’s sublime Stranger By the Lake, which finally brought the gifted French director to a (relatively) wider audience following a laureled Un Certain Regard premiere in 2013, will likely find themselves confounded by its follow-up, Staying Vertical. With his first entry in Cannes’ main competition, Guiraudie returns to the psychoanalytic mode of the features preceding Stranger, where he gradually and stealthily eroded the boundary between reality and fantasy to probe the complexities of human desire — particularly of the sexual kind — exposing the stifling effects of social norms and conventions to thoroughly bewildering results. – Giovanni M.C. (full review)
Dark Night (Tim Sutton; Feb. 3)
In many ways, writer-director Tim Sutton‘s third feature, Dark Night, exists in the same world as his first two films, Pavilion and Memphis. As we follow a collection of young men and women drifting through a long day in the American suburbs, many of the themes from his earlier work shine through — boredom as punctuated by anger, lust, and artistic ambition, to name a few. Where the day will end we already know, thanks to the film’s blunt title, a not-so-subtle reference to the 2012 shooting at a showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado. – Dan M. (full review)
Lovesong (So Yong Kim; Feb. 17)
Tender and haunting, So Yong Kim’s Lovesong is a carefully observed, nuanced character study beautifully written, directed and edited. Much of the action, like in her pervious features In Between Days, Treeless Mountain and For Ellen occurs at the edge of the frame. Exploring the bounds of motherhood, childhood and maturity, Lovesong is an impressive and observant feature in which Kim allows the relationships the breathing room they require for authenticity. – John F. (full review)
Contemporary Color (Bill Ross IV & Turner Ross; March 1)
For its combination of rocking performances from famous musicians (the line-up included St. Vincent, tUnE-yArDs, Nelly Furtado, and Byrne himself), the dazzling work of athletic, often high school-aged color guard teams (those flag- and baton- and rifle-waving types who perform synchronized dance routines), and the compelling success story that comes with their meeting in an arena — to say nothing of the presence / brand carried by the show’s mastermind, David Byrne — last year’s Contemporary Color tour is an exceedingly film-friendly show: a visual-aural presentation the likes of which most directors would be thrilled to have placed before them. That also makes it potentially dangerous territory: if the glut of bland concert movies are any indication, many of those same directors might be tempted to do little except observe, essentially having their subjects meet them 70% of the way. – Nick N. (full review)
Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas; March 10)
After Clouds of Sils Maria, Personal Shopper confirms Olivier Assayas as the director most adept at drawing the best out of Kristen Stewart. Here she follows in the footsteps of Maggie Cheung and Asia Argento, actors whose exceptional central performances prevented fundamentally flawed films by Assayas – Clean and Boarding Gate, respectively – from foundering altogether. Stewart’s achievement is arguably even more remarkable considering that for the bulk of Personal Shopper’s running time, her only co-actor is an iPhone. – Giovanni M.C. (full review)
After the Storm (Hirokazu Kore-eda; March 17)
Can our children pick and choose the personality traits they inherit, or are they doomed to obtain our lesser qualities? These are the hard questions being meditated on in After the Storm, a sobering, transcendent tale of a divorced man’s efforts to nudge back into his son’s life. Beautifully shot by regular cinematographer Yutaka Yamasaki, it marks a welcome and quite brilliant return to serious fare for writer-editor-director Hirokazu Kore-eda following last year’s Our Little Sister, widely regarded as one of the slightest works of his career thus far. – Rory O. (full review)
Free Fire (Ben Wheatley; March 17)
TIFF’s Colin Geddes was correct when introducing Ben Wheatley’s bottle episode of a film Free Fire with the words: “This will wake you up.” The gunfire alone risks perforating your eardrums as John Denver blares from a 1978-era van’s eight-track, but I think it’s the surprising wealth of comedy that ultimately gets the blood pumping and synapses triggering. Wheatley and wife/writer Amy Jump’s latest isn’t for everyone — fair warning to Hardcore Henry detractors, Sharlto Copley refuses to quit his shtick — but those willing to break free from a desire for plot complexity will undoubtedly be entertained. This is low-brow Reservoir Dogs, extreme genre action meant to energize you with an insane cast of characters hell-bent on killing each other on principle. Although that briefcase of money is appealing too. – Jared M. (full review)
Dean (Demetri Martin; March 17)
The most piercing comedy is often mined from the darker aspects of life, presenting our fears in a new, hopefully amusing light. While Demetri Martin‘s stand-up has tinges of this, represented in his lo-fi sketches and carefully constructed one-liners, his directing and writing debut Dean effectively melds, both on the page and stylistically, a dramatic backbone with his personal brand. – Jordan R. (full review)
David Lynch: The Art Life (Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes, and Olivia Neergaard-Holm; March TBD)
Before David Lynch was a filmmaker, he was a struggling painter, whose lifeblood was to “drink coffee, smoke cigarettes, and paint.” That’s what he dubbed “the art life,” and what an image – as featured in the many contemporary photos seen in this new documentary – it is, the bequiffed 20-something Lynch sitting back in his Philadelphia studio, composing transgressive abstract artwork. Bookmarked by footage of Lynch working on his latest paintings in his Hollywood Hills penthouse, the wonderful new documentary David Lynch: The Art Life showcases the artistic developments of one of America’s most singular directors. – Ed F. (full review)
A Quiet Passion (Terence Davies; April 14)
“You are alone you your revolution, Ms. Dickinson,” spouts a stoic headmistress in the opening sequence of A Quiet Passion, a biopic of 19th-century American poet Emily Dickinson and the latest work from proud Liverpudlian auteur Terence Davies. In the scene, young Emily has apparently rejected both a life in the seminary and the option to be a practicing catholic, a decision the famously atheistic director clearly vibes with. That sense of empathy and understanding with his subject is rife throughout this quietly cleansing and exquisitely considered film, which shows the writer from her late teens (portrayed by Emma Bell) through to adulthood (Cynthia Nixon) and old age. – Rory O. (full review)
Dare I say 2016 feels like a throwback to the stellar work of great auteurs doing their thing in the ’70s without fear of never working in the industry again? We have the science fiction, horror, and western genres all finding their way into awards conversation, and the best dramas have proven themselves to be both timeless in emotion and wholly contemporary when contextualized against our world’s state of political flux. Cinema has not only found a way to resonate in an inclusive manner; it’s also transcended surface appearances to start conversations we desperately need.
To my mind, there are six four-star films on this list, along with more than a few that could easily add a half-star to equal them. My inability to include La La Land, American Honey, and Captain Fantastic only proves that talk of 2016 being sub-par is completely unfounded. Once I catch-up to some foreign favorites (e.g. Toni Erdmann, Kaili Blues, Aquarius, and Your Name), I may have to remove some of the below titles, too.
If you’re willing to travel outside your usual genres and open your hearts and minds to work from those different than you, cinema has rarely been better than it is now. And with the state of affairs internationally being what they are, art will continue to thrive with complexity, beauty, and an intuitive means to engage humanity in ways that allow us to learn and evolve.
10. The Salesman (Asghar Farhadi)
I think writer/director Asghar Farhadi is getting better with time. His Oscar-winning A Separation may have put him on the map (his previous two films only found stateside release afterwards), but I’d argue he bested it with his follow-up The Past in 2013 and yet again this year with The Salesman. A searing relationship drama depicting the rapidly forming cracks tragedy reveals without sympathy, Farhadi exposes our propensity to let vengeance overshadow compassion. Set in the patriarchal system of Iran and Islam, a crime committed against his wife consumes an otherwise good-natured man. An objectively simple situation of victim and perpetrator becomes insanely more complex as ideas about the form and supplier of justice test our capacity for empathy.
9. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waititi)
Before he explodes next year thanks to the Marvel machine and Thor: Ragnarök, Taika Waititi presents the feel-good movie of 2016 with Hunt for the Wilderpeople. I still find myself randomly singing the “Ricky Baker Birthday Song” because it’s literally impossible to forget this story’s comedy-infused heart. A hilarious adventure with two of the unlikeliest of friends, this journey through the bush has seemingly disappeared from the awards conversation despite three performances worthy of at least a mention (Julian Dennison, Sam Neill, and the scene-stealing Rachel House). The first to admit how my tastes never fail to skew towards the heavy and depressing, it’s been an absolute joy to tell everyone I know about this flawless delight.
8. Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie)
I rewatched David Mackenzie‘s Hell or High Water to see whether I was rating it too high only to wonder the exact opposite. Impeccably made, acted, and paced, this western forces us to root for criminal and Marshall alike. Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan bottles an authentic country flavor at the border of right and wrong with a good man doing bad things for just reasons. It’s funny, heartbreaking, and exhilarating (despite its slow burn) in equal measure, its pieces falling as though fate was their only guiding hand. As politically charged as it is slice of harsh life, this weathered piece of Americana depicts the lengths a father will go to provide his children their streets paved in gold.
7. The Witch (Robert Eggers)
By far the number one horror film of 2016, Robert Eggers‘ The Witch is all mood and atmosphere. The sheer skill to create it of the time period with natural light and researched costuming/sets is enough to make it laudable, but the way in which it weaves its yarn of mystery and terror with a fantastical nightmarish tint renders it unforgettable (if you’re willing). The climactic reveal cementing whether or not what we’ve seen is vision or reality proves a bone-chilling delight, its cinematic pan from right to left eerily surprising yet thematically perfect. It’s one more wonderful example of humanity’s inherent evil through mistrust, zealotry, and fear. Love’s purity is no longer enough once pitted against self-preservation.
6. I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck)
No documentary about race in America is more important than Raoul Peck‘s I Am Not Your Negro. James Baldwin‘s writing depicts an experience at a time of great unrest and great change, but as his words progress we learn just how little has actually been altered besides our landscapes littered with tombstones of leaders and voices for equality cut down. This film is a living, breathing thing that provides a reality we as a nation have still yet to reconcile. It paints a picture of the fallacy of freedom we’ve condoned for far too long. It eloquently describes a broken system in desperate need of rehabilitation. And I’m not talking about the US government — I’m talking about humanity.
2016 may not have been a great year for a multitude of reasons, but if you spent a substantial portion of it inside a theater — more precisely, an arthouse one — there was no shortage of marvelous cinematic experiences to be had. Out of the 200+ plus releases from this year I watched, I’m at least positive on over half, and, as such, it was near-impossible to narrow it down to a top ten, plus five honorable mentions.
Missing the cut are a number of great dramas (Moonlight, The Handmaiden, Elle, Things to Come, My Golden Days, Embrace of the Serpent, Mountains May Depart, Wiener-Dog) and documentaries (I Am Not Your Negro, Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience, Kate Plays Christine, O.J.: Made in America, One More Time with Feeling) that could’ve made the list in any other year.
When all is said and done, here are the 15 films that most resonated with me this year. Along with the below feature, one can see a vague ranking of all (203) 2016 films I’ve viewed here, as well as my 100 favorite non-2016 films I watched for the first time here.
10. The Edge of Seventeen (Kelly Fremon Craig)
Say what you will about comic-book adaptations and the like, but there may not be a genre more tired in Hollywood than the coming-of-age film. Thanks to their relatively cheap budgets and aims to connect with a pre-determined movie-going (though even that is up for debate) audience, many often feel like they are hitting checkboxes and not much else. Enter The Edge of Seventeen, which depicts teenage angst with such pinpoint accuracy one wonders why it’s never been handled precisely this way before. A debut no less, writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig‘s script — which never dumb downs or generalizes the high school experience — is brought to life perfectly by Hailee Steinfeld in an emotionally honest performance that even outpaces her break-out in True Grit.
9. Kaili Blues (Bi Gan)
It’s not rare for an adjective such as “dreamlike” to be attributed to any number of films each year, but recalling the experience of seeing Kaili Blues many months ago quite literally feels like a dream I had rather than the memory of sitting in the cinema, watching a movie unfold. Bi Gan‘s debut is not just impressive for its 41-minute single take, but the serene, affecting way in which it is able to depict this specific landscape of contemporary China. In a world of cinema that aims to satisfy with every rapid new cut, Kaili Blues is one of the most refreshing, bold films of 2016. Sit back, let the images wash over you, and your worldview will feel anew.
8. Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party (Stephen Cone)
With a relatively small theatrical roll-out earlier this year, it’s likely you haven’t heard of Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party, but Stephen Cone‘s drama is one of the best films of 2016. Authentically capturing a conservative upbringing and the repression therein, it takes place over one day as we follow Henry (Cole Doman, in a wonderful break-out performance) and his group of friends — as well as adults from the local church — as they skirt around trauma, burgeoning sexuality, and more. Directed with a level of intimacy and emotional truth by Cone simply not present in most dramas — regardless of budget — it’s an essential watch.
7. Hail, Caesar! (Joel and Ethan Coen)
For being perhaps the most consistent American filmmakers working together, the Coens‘ relationship with Hollywood has been depicted in atypical ways throughout their career, most notably as a life-threatening nightmare. With their latest feature, Hail, Caesar!, they head back to a time in which they were never able to make movies to do just that. All while poking fun at the perpetual machine-like grind of studio output, we get to witness a handful of genres lovingly brought to life by the brothers. Some may call it scattershot storytelling, but every piece of this tinseltown puzzle works so impeccably well on its own that the cumulative effect makes for one of 2016’s most entertaining films.
6. Knight of Cups (Terrence Malick)
As with the rest of Terrence Malick’s filmography, especially as of late, I already fear I’m undervaluing its staying power upon first glance — or, as in the case of Knight of Cups, after a handful of viewings. The charges against its supposed lack of plot continue to baffle, as an entire film’s worth of storytelling can be found in each of the eight chapters, ranging from one of the more articulate renderings of Hollywood on film to the power of femininity. A recent rare public appearance is likely all we’ll directly glean from Malick for some time, but, with his last few features, he has bared open life’s deepest pains and offered up his interpretation of potential salvation. This sort of filmmaking audacity should be cherished.
For our most comprehensive year-end feature, we’re providing a cumulative look at The Film Stage’s favorite films of 2016. We’ve asked our contributors to compile ten-best lists with five honorable mentions — those personal lists unspool following this one — and, after tallying the votes, a top 50 has been assembled.
It should be noted that, unlike our previous year-end features, we placed no requirement on a selection being a U.S theatrical release, so you may see some repeats from last year and a few we’ll certainly be discussing more during the next. So, without further ado, check out our rundown of 2016 below, our complete year-end coverage here (including where to stream many of the below picks), and return in the coming weeks as we look towards 2017. One can also see the full list on Letterboxd.
50. Cemetery of Splendor (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
A note from Apichatpong “Joe” Weerasethakul to the audience of his Cemetery of Splendor at last year’s New York Film Festival offered little commentary, other than to welcome the audience into the show and let them know that, if they were to doze off during the screening, he hopes they have a nice dream. Apichatpong’s films play like tender, lucid dreams seducing the audience into a frame meant for contemplation and exploration; those seeking traditional narratives and aggressive, rapid-fire editing ought to look elsewhere. Cemetery of Splendor fittingly takes place in a land where the men have gone to sleep, stricken with hallucinations that grow indistinguishable from reality as a nurse, Jenjira (Jenjira Pongpas), comes into a state of awareness. His work requires both an open mind and an openness to being completely present within the screening room, surrendering to his cinematic hypnosis. – John F.
49. The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos)
The Lobster deploys immaculate control to keep its script, cinematography, and performances on the same wavelength of weird po-facedness. If it didn’t, this fable about love and courtship would just be off and not offbeat. Yorgos Lanthimos can craft a dark lens on society that no one else could imagine. The funniest movie of the year is the one in which no one smiles. A pudgy, bespectacled, sad sack Colin Farrell is the best Colin Farrell. – Dan S.
48. Kaili Blues (Bi Gan)
It’s not rare for an adjective such as “dreamlike” to be attributed to any number of films each year, but recalling the experience of seeing Kaili Blues many months ago quite literally feels like a dream I had rather than the memory of sitting in the cinema, watching a movie unfold. Bi Gan‘s debut is not just impressive for its 41-minute single take, but the serene, affecting way in which it is able to depict this specific landscape of contemporary China. In a world of cinema that aims to satisfy with every rapid new cut, Kaili Blues is one of the most refreshing, bold films of 2016. Sit back, let the images wash over you, and your worldview will feel anew. – Jordan R.
47. The Vessel (Julio Quintana)
Movies that wrestle with faith, religion, grief, and the melding of those three are not all that uncommon, but it is uncommon that they should approach these subjects in the same manner as The Vessel. Beginning from a place of immense tragedy before drilling down into the finer details of its effects, writer-director Julio Quintana‘s feature debut peers into every nook and cranny of sadness to find the ways in which it infects and alters its hosts. Shot with the sort of ethereal, haunted camerawork that makes one feel as though they are a ghost observing the soon-to-be-dead, this Terrence Malick-produced drama delivers a cinematic experience unlike any other you might find this year. – Brian R.
46. The Treasure (Corneliu Porumboiu)
Though regularly grouped with directors behind the Romanian New Wave, Corneliu Porumboiu exhibits a brand of social realism that is all his own. Dispensing with the shaky cam so popular amongst his peers, his fictional features capture the world through contemplative long takes, their duration and frequent immobility allowing for careful observations of the subjects’ relationship to their environment, which is always reflective of wider-reaching concerns. The Treasure, his fifth feature, is the latest gem in the director’s exquisite filmography — another tightly focused, minimalist, and enchantingly humane story of individual struggle within the broader social reality of contemporary Romania. – Giovanni M.C.
45. De Palma (Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow)
Directors Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow’s loving tribute to cinematic master Brian De Palma captures the pain and enthusiasm for creating art, and with a thoughtful eye for detail. Unlike many filmmaker docs — I’m looking scornfully at you, Ron Mann’s Altman — the entire oeuvre is covered, putting the full weight of De Palma’s career into context. Despite a stuffy talking-head documentary approach, the film never becomes stagnant, cleverly intercutting clips from De Palma’s works with his stories. These insights reveal even his most violent films to be achingly personal works of art, sprung from chapters of his own life story. It’s a charming and remarkably entertaining look at one of the most important and underrated filmmakers alive. – Tony H.
44. Things to Come (Mia Hansen-Løve)
Mia Hansen-Løve followed up a chronicle of her brother’s experiences in the French electronic music scene with a film even closer to home. Things to Come showed the young director examining the memory of her parents’ divorce and, perhaps, the choices her mother was faced with thereafter. Isabelle Huppert enthralls as the philosophy teacher who, after losing a mother and a husband, must reassess what direction her life is going in. Løve’s film not only understood the tragedy of life; it appeared to embrace it with thrilling defiance. Huppert’s performance might have been the greatest 2016 had to offer were it not for another from the same ageless wonder that appeared around the same time. – Rory O.
43. Divines (Uda Benyamina)
In a year bursting with remarkable debuts, this furiously envisioned and executed coming-of-age tale stood out for its emotional radicality which throws the viewer on a bona-fide rollercoaster ride inside the protagonist’s mind as she discovers sisterhood, romance, and the overwhelming hostility faced by young, ambitious daughters of immigrants fighting for a better life in France today. Divines‘ boldly physical forms of visual expression can seem overzealous at times, but what hot-blooded truths it speaks: from vindicatory highs to existential fears, the plight of the marginalized has seldom felt more real, their every instinct more raw, beautiful, valid. – Zhuo-Ning Su
42. The Invitation (Karyn Kusama)
Working from a script by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, director Karyn Kusama produces a glamorous thriller worthy of its posh Los Angeles setting. Logan Mashall-Green leads an attractive, talented ensemble as Will, a bereaved father who suspects sinister motives behind the dinner party organized by his estranged ex-wife (Tammy Blanchard) in the Hollywood Hills home they once shared with their now-dead son. When booze, drugs, and mysterious guests come into play, the film intensifies as misdirects and red herrings lead the viewer to question whether Will’s theories are justified or the product of a mind still reeling from loss. The breathtaking finale places The Invitation among a roster of recent films where paranoia and doubt are replaced with the realization that things aren’t just as bad as they seem – they’re much worse. – Amanda W.
41. Allied (Robert Zemeckis)
That thing we can’t take for granted: a film whose many parts – period piece, war picture, blood-spattered actioner, deception-fueled espionage thriller, sexy romance, and, at certain turns, comedy – can gracefully move in conjunction and separate from each other, just as its labyrinthine-but-not-quite plot jumps from one setpiece to the next with little trouble in maintaining a consistency of overall pleasure. Another late-career triumph for Robert Zemeckis, and one of the year’s few truly great American movies. – Nick N.
“Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover” is a proverb whose simple existence proves the fact impressionable souls will do so without fail. This monthly column (with a special year-end retrospective today) focuses on the film industry’s willingness to capitalize on this truth, releasing one-sheets to serve as not representations of what audiences are to expect, but as propaganda to fill seats. Oftentimes they fail miserably.
2016 wasn’t just a great year for films — the posters advertising them were quite fantastic too. That’s not to say we weren’t inundated at the multiplex with character sheets spanning Disney cartoon and photo-real superheroes to boring portraits on loud backgrounds, though. It was simply easier to ignore them.
I could put together a completely different list sorted by typography (The Alchemist Cookbook, La La Land, The Land, and Peter and the Farm) or illustration (Childhood of a Leader, Knight of Cups, Theo Who Lived) to include some of the other 60+ posters I shortlisted to choose from, but we’d be here forever. It’s a testament to the talent out there and the studios willing to take a chance on artistry above commodity.
The sheer number of worthy entries certainly made my job difficult this year, but that’s a wonderful problem to have. It was a joy going back to revisit so many of these selections as they will surely inspire future campaigns to come.
The Neon Demon
Leroy and Rose
on the Train
Tale of Tales
of a Nation
Valley of the
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Rarely does a wall art aesthetic transfer well to a movie poster — see this film’s follow-up campaign with too-perfect graffiti stenciling that distracts more than enhances — but WORKS ADV delivers one of the best examples ever with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The wrinkles look real. The rips look real. The removal of eyes erases humanity to see angry, determined scowls ready for war. I don’t know if the artists created these pieces in real world to photograph, but that level of authenticity will always trump digital manipulation talent. The movie may not deliver the fight of the century, but these sheets promise it.
Into the Forest
Few posters this year epitomize a film’s tone as well as Gravillis Inc.’s Into the Forest. The dark tint of despair. The tears of fear touching hearts as the faintest red in Evan Rachel Woods’ lips shows signs of life to fight for survival and retain hope. I love the photo crop and the weird reflection of trees at bottom hinting at a window’s reflection separating the women from the harsh unknown of a post-apocalyptic world. The hash-marked demarcation of time doesn’t overpower and the text is small yet bold to ensure we read what’s necessary against the bright all-caps scrawl providing one more personal example of humanity’s perseverance.
The Greasy Strangler
Say what you will about The Greasy Strangler‘s quality, but don’t tell me it isn’t unforgettable. The same can be said about its poster juxtaposing an ornate, proper façade against an eccentrically wild underbelly of irreverent humor and grotesque visions of violent madness. Showing the titular monster would be too easy — acknowledging where that vomit-inducing thing comes from is far scarier. Are these two wholesomely warped, stoically monochrome figures victims or killers? Does the gorgeously spray-painted title expose their identity, mark them as prey, or perhaps toe the line between both? Curiosity is piqued with but a glance, its rabbit hole of extremes beckoning us closer for better or worse.
Right Now Wrong Then
There’s a warmth to the melancholy of this bright magenta sheet for Right Now, Wrong Then. We can feel what I assume is the nervousness of a first date: her cautious restraint in mid-sentence and his complete focus. There’s a sad embarrassment to her expression as if she’s admitting some dark truth and yet the coloring and crop pushing our gaze down upon them adds a hope in how these two found each other within the world’s infinite expanse. We can more or less throw away the text box and laurels, absorb the word “genius”, and hone in on the green handwriting that both pops against and complements what’s underneath — the whole proving simultaneously delicate and bold.
I adore Jackie‘s poster: its elegance and regality opposite this intelligent and determined woman’s ferocity finally revealed. It’s a portrait of her fashion sense and grace, her innocence with hands clasped from nerves and perceptiveness in a glance off-frame at something more important than our gawking at Camelot’s queen. The red on red is oppressively sumptuous, the typography carefully separating actor and director via color and size so the large loops of a signature hugging its subject can sear into our minds. The art direction places Jackie Kennedy on the page despite Natalie Portman looking nothing like her. Shift your focus away slightly and you’ll swear this was a real portrait from 1962.
I filed Sword Master‘s stunning one-sheet away as soon as I stumbled across it on Twitter knowing its place on this list was assured. Whether photography or painting, its overhead composition beautifully captures two warriors thrusting swords with a watery, supernatural force. The wardrobe flutters from previous movements as each ready-to-uncoil pose is separated by the bold, bloody title cutting across the page. It leaves enough distance between them to wonder if they’ve just sliced the other in half or simply face off-camera foes. Chinese characters’ ability to be read vertically sets this apart from domestic ads on its own, every line of text complementing the orientation better than ours ever could.
Designer Vasilis Marmatakis outdoes himself on The Lobster after similarly minimalistic campaigns for Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth and Alps. The latter enlists a B&W photocopy aesthetic for texture whereas his latest utilizes it for the ability to intuitively merge negative space of background and object together. This is how Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz can simultaneously be in mid-embrace and yet completely alone. The imagery proves captivating and unsettling, the same dry wit of the film mirrored in print. We’re always longing yet always apart. Even when in physical contact with another, we remain forever on our own.
There’s a contemporary “wow” factor to Adam Maida’s Cosmos because it looks nothing like the movie posters gracing today’s theater walls. But there’s also a feeling of loving homage to the wildly illustrative work of Eastern European artists—namely Polish designers (seen here). It captures a look of pure artistic talent that shines a light on Maida as much as the film itself. We see his fingerprints in the non-conformity of its lettering and the combination of inverse-silhouette tree and Xerox face seemingly joined through analog methods with coloring applied by hand in post. It’s a shot of adrenaline to an often disappointingly stale medium.
A quick glance at InSync Plus’ Moonlight shows a portrait. A lengthy stay exposes the lines separating what’s actually three. This is its subtle brilliance since having a photo of each actor is meaningless when they don’t necessarily look anything like the others. It’s only through their performances (especially Trevante Rhodes’ uncanny hybridization of mannerisms) that we know them to be Chiron. This sheet strips each of their individuality to stand together as a single representation. They’re tinted “blue in the moonlight” to shine as a beacon of hope yet untouched by the struggles every life combats to cope, evolve, and survive.
As meticulously ornate and austere as the film, Empire Design’s The Handmaiden is breathtaking. It’s reminiscent of paintings by the likes of Hokusai (whose The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife is seen onscreen) — illustrative depictions of nightmarish beauty. The English version is given more freedom with its limp, hanging body and naked kissing; the Korean iteration more fluid and eye-catching with intertwined title and white-leaved tree. They’ve created a piece of art that can’t help but dwarf those by its side through shear ambition and skill. It’s a statement that lingers in one’s mind like posed actors in photograph never could.
What is your favorite poster of the year?
“A cinematographer is a visual psychiatrist — moving an audience through a movie […] making them think the way you want them to think, painting pictures in the dark,” said the late, great Gordon Willis. As we continue our year-end coverage, one aspect we must highlight is, indeed, cinematography, among the most vital to the medium. From talented newcomers to seasoned professionals, we’ve rounded up the examples that have most impressed us this year. Check out our rundown below and, in the comments, let us know your favorite work.
Arrival (Bradford Young)
At this point, it would be unfair to call Bradford Young an up-and-coming cinematographer. While it’s an accurate description in terms of his relative years behind the camera, the caliber of his work already feels like one of the most accomplished in the genre. Ahead of a Han Solo prequel, he got his first taste with sci-fi thanks to Denis Villeneuve‘s Arrival. An ideal match for the director’s sensibilities, he brings a realistic lens to this otherworldly plot. One of my favorite touches is a motif that begins with the first shot: tilting the camera down to convey prioritizing the people in front of us rather than focusing beyond the stars. For more, read our interview with him here. – Jordan R.
A Bigger Splash (Yorick Le Saux)
With Clouds of Sils Maria, Personal Shopper, Only Lovers Left Alive, and now A Bigger Splash, Yorick Le Saux is easily one of the most impressive cinematographers working on the international circuit. In something of a contrast from those earlier features, his contribution to Luca Guadagnino‘s latest picture is that it simply moves. With a cast as beautiful as the Sicilian island they are inhabiting, the DP photographs them with a sensuality missing in today’s American cinema. One only needs to view Ralph Fiennes rocking out to the Rolling Stones’ “Emotional Rescue” to get a sense of the dynamism Yorick Le Saux brings to this production. – Jordan R.
Cemetery of Splendor (Diego García)
The most surprising thing about Apichatpong Weerasethakul‘s oeuvre is that it invites you to relax. The long-shot / extended-take aesthetic and lack of narrative urgency, to which first-time collaborator Diego Garciá acclimates readily, might sound intimidating, but the mingling of an unhurried temperament with his films’ natural environments is immensely calming, and has a way of flattening (but not nullifying) more troubling dramatic components. Those should be turned over later; in the meantime, Cemetery of Splendor is a modern master in total control. Major credit to García for so gently carrying us along the way. – Nick N.
Certain Women (Christopher Blauvelt)
The immense emotional spaces left unexplored between the characters of Certain Women are idyllically conveyed through the cinematography of Kelly Reichardt‘s latest feature. Shot on 16mm by cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt, there’s both a humbling vastness to the American Northwest landscapes and a quiet intimacy during the tender dialogue scenes. It’s been nearly a year since I’ve seen this triptych and it’s a grand testament that I can still recall virtually every frame. – Jordan R.
The Childhood of a Leader (Lol Crawley)
Scale — in terms of both narrative scope and ambition — can be forgivably small in a directors first feature. When ambitions and ideas get too big, the result can often times become unwieldy. Yet Brady Corbet, in his directorial debut The Childhood of a Leader, manages to take both grand thematic ideas and cold aesthetic choices (courtesy of DP Lol Crawley) and balance them perfectly. The result is a European influenced character piece that is both engrossing and horrifying, evoking Haneke without adopting his voice. Not an easy movie, and not a perfect film, it nonetheless announces Corbet as an aesthetic and cerebral storyteller to keep an eye on. – Brian R.
Cosmos (André Szankowski)
Where we draw the line between director Andrzej Żuławski and cinematographer André Szankowski‘s individual contributions changes the conversation about their partnership, but I’ll just say this: more than a procession of truly lush and varied images, the movements in and between shots make Cosmos perhaps the year’s most intelligently photographed film, full stop – at least the one whose director-cinematographer pairing I’d most gladly see embark on a film twice its length. Thinking you’ve started going crazy hardly ever feels so good. – Nick N.
Disorder (Georges Lechaptois)
A psychological drama that goes to substantial lengths to visually convey the headspace of its lead, Vincent (Matthias Schoenaerts) — a PTSD-afflicted ex-soldier who is the bodyguard to a wife (Diane Kruger) and son of a wealthy businessman on a work trip — Disorder is one of this year’s most impressive feats in cinematography. As shot by Georges Lechaptois, his claustrophobic vision tracks Schoenarts’ physicality with a unnerving touch as the threat of terror creeps around every frame. When matched with the enveloping sound design, Alice Winocour‘s latest drama is not easily shaken. – Jordan R.
Embrace of the Serpent (David Gallego)
In Embrace of the Serpent, the character of Karmakate fully believes in a more abstract, ancient way of living. In this sense, Guerra’s approach is reminiscent of an earthier version of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s singular aesthetic. That’s not to say that ghosts lie at the fringe of the frame as observers, but rather that history and lore is a fluidly visible sensation that courses through each frame, informing the overall journey. Dreams aren’t just a gateway into the spiritual world; they’re a compass for an equally surreal terrestrial place. The jungle is not a place to travel through, but a place to submit. David Gallego’s camerawork throughout is deeply evocative, sinking into the endless quiet of the jungle and the contrasting chaos of its inhabitants with long tracking and dolly shots. – Michael S.
The Fits (Paul Yee)
The Fits, Anna Rose Holmer‘s visually arresting debut feature, hums with a stunning vibrancy and elegance rarely found in films dominated by so many interior locations. Cinematographer Paul Yee collaborated with Holmer on early music videos before gaining his first film credit as DP on The Fits. Yee delivers dazzling work in scenes often shot in a single take, following 10-year-old boxer-turned-dancer Toni (Royalty Hightower) who witnesses an outbreak of unexplained seizures spread through her entire dance troupe. The expressive scenes of dance rehearsal feel as hypnotically kinetic as the boxing sequences, Hightower’s slight frame ever amplified by Yee’s widescreen compositions. Hightower is in nearly every shot of The Fits, her piercing gaze locked on Yee’s lens in gorgeously vast, 2.39:1 widescreen. One of the film’s best moments even goes unnoticed in the background — that is, until Yee and Holmer finally allow your eye to be drawn to this hidden detail in a chilling reveal. There are few films as fiercely original as The Fits, and Yee’s camerawork is an essential element of that originality. – Tony H.
As a cinephile, few things are more sublime than finding back-to-back features that hit some specific thematic sweet spot. Drive-in theaters may not be the popular viewing spot they once were, but with the overwhelming accessibility we now have, one can program their own personal double bill. Today, we’ve run through the gamut of 2016 films to select the finest pairings. Check out list the below, and we’d love to hear your own picks, which can be left in the comments.
10 Cloverfield Lane and Green Room
A claustrophobic’s worst nightmare of a double feature, 10 Cloverfield Lane and Green Room share a similar strand of thematic plotting — a tyrannical force imposing their way on an innocent party — but it’s their directorial approach that truly makes them the ideal twins. Helmed by up-and-coming directors, Dan Trachtenberg and Jeremy Saulnier, respectively, there’s not a wasted shot in either film, both sturdily built to eke out each moment of grisly tension. If one wants to extend this to a triple feature, add in the less-accomplished, but still fairly thrilling Don’t Breathe. – Jordan R.
Dheepan and Fire at Sea
Europe’s immigration crisis was deftly, heartbreakingly captured in a pair of films this year, one in narrative fiction form from Jacques Audiard and another on the ground (or, we should say, sea) from Italy’s Gianfranco Rosi. While the Palme d’Or-winning Dheepan takes an unexpected left turn by its finale, what comes before is an immersive, painful look at the immigration experience. As for Italy’s Oscar entry, Fire at Sea, we can’t imagine a more immediate documentary on the subject will arrive anytime soon. By capturing the incoming immigrants hailing from Africa Lampedusa, Rosi leaves out all embellishments to pare down to the human suffering taking place right next to us. – Jordan R.
Nocturnal Animals and Hell or High Water
If you want 1.5 movies worth of west Texas-set desolation and crime, then this double feature will satisfy every last dusty bone in your body. Despite having similar subject matter and setting, the executions of Nocturnal Animals and Hell or High Water couldn’t be more different. As Tom Ford‘s film favors style and relies on Michael Shannon once more knocking it out of the park, David Mackenzie‘s feature, thanks to Taylor Sheridan‘s sharp screenplay, is a well-oiled machine that we imagine will age like a fine can of… well, anything but Mr. Pibbs. – Jordan R.
13th and I Am Not Your Negro
This year’s election confirmed that America still has a substantial ways to go before there is equality for all, and a pair of documentaries reflected the centuries of racism — both institutional and individual — that pervade the country. Ava DuVernay‘s 13th is a comprehensive exposé of systemic oppression at the hands of our government. Raoul Peck‘s I Am Not Your Negro is a fiery, poetic journey as we’re placed inside the mind of the late James Baldwin, bringing to life his unfinished novel Remember This House. To extend this to a triple feature, seek out Ezra Edelman’s sprawling documentary O.J.: Made in America. – Jordan R.
The Neon Demon and Always Shine
In any profession measured by outward appearance, insecurities abound. If one wishes to see a fairly intelligent, well-acted dissection of this psychological toll, there is Sophia Takal‘s Always Shine, featuring a stand-out performance from Mackenzie Davis. For a hypnotically stylish, albeit brainless jaunt on the topic, we have Nicolas Winding Refn‘s The Neon Demon. Both including a splattering of blood (or more) by the end, the finales of each daring to unravel what’s come before — but if you’re willing to take the plunge, each have their savage delights. – Jordan R.
Manchester by the Sea and One More Time With Feeling
“Grief changes shape, but it never ends,” Keanu Reeves once said. One fiction film, Kenneth Lonergan‘s Manchester by the Sea, and one documentary, Andrew Dominik‘s One More Time With Feeling 3D, this year captured grief with more searing, subtle devastation than most other films have this century thus far. “I can’t beat it,” Casey Affleck‘s Lee Chandler says in the film’s most cogent scene, years after his character’s initial trauma, while, for Nick Cave, with the wounds still fresh from his son’s tragic death, he painfully pushes through the creative process to reveal something raw, imperfect, and profound. – Jordan R.
Kate Plays Christine and Christine
The most obvious double feature of the year may have been difficult for many to immediately experience due to distribution, but Sundance programmed both Kate Plays Christine and Christine this year, each of which explores the on-air suicide of Christine Chubbuck — or, more accurately, the factors surrounding it. The former, directed by Robert Greene, takes a meta approach as Kate Lyn Sheil‘s preparation for a performance we don’t see gets deconstructed in fascinating ways. The latter, directed by Antonio Campos, is a more straightforward character study with a fantastic Rebecca Hall taking the lead. While there was no shortage of commentary on preferring one over the other, having seen these nearly back-to-back, I found them to inform each other in captivating ways. As a recommendation, I’d seek out Greene’s picture first; it enriches Campos’ work when one imagines what preparations Hall went through. – Jordan R.