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.
Welcome, one and all, to the newest episode of The Film Stage Roundtable, a spin-off podcast from the madmen who bring you The Film Stage Show. On this show, we discuss two theatrical-minded topics: our thoughts on food in movie theaters and assigned seating. Give a listen, and then share your thoughts on Twitter and Facebook. Let us know […]
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