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The Best Films of 2016 (So Far)

Written by on June 28, 2016 

Best-Films-of-2016-So-Far-The-Film-Stage

Later this week, 2016 will cross the halfway mark, so now’s the time to take a look back at its first six months and round up our favorite films thus far. While the end of this year will bring personal favorites from all of our writers, think of the below 30 entries as a comprehensive rundown of what should be seen before heading into a promising fall line-up.

As a note, this feature is based solely on U.S. theatrical releases from 2016, with many currently widely available on home video, streaming platforms, or theatrically. Check them out below, as organized alphabetically, followed by honorable mentions and films to keep on your radar for the remaining summer months. One can also see the full list on Letterboxd.

10 Cloverfield Lane (Dan Trachtenberg)

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Forget the Cloverfield connection. The actors who were in this film didn’t even know what the title was until moments before the first trailer dropped. Producer J.J. Abrams used that branding as part of the wrapping for its promotional mystery box, but the movie stands perfectly alone from 2008’s found-footage monster picture. Hell, 10 Cloverfield Lane perhaps doesn’t even take place within the same fictional universe as that film — although a friend asked if it’s secretly a Super 8 sequel, and, honestly, you could think of it as one without contradicting anything in either movie. Whether the Cloverfield name fills you with wariness or enthusiasm, it would be unwise to burden Dan Trachtenberg‘s film with such prejudices. – Dan S. (full review)

April and the Extraordinary World (Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci)

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Most writing on Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci‘s April and the Extraordinary World speaks as though they’ve adapted one of revered Frenchman Jacques Tardi‘s graphic novels. This isn’t quite the case. What they’ve actually done is bring his unique “universe” to life with help from previous collaborator Benjamin Legrand (writer of Tardi’s Tueur de cafards) instead. Legrand and Ekinci crafted this alternate steampunk version of Paris as something inspired by the artist’s work rather than born from it. Tardi in turn helped by drawing original work later brought to life by Desmares’ animation team. The whole is therefore a culmination of its six-year production schedule populated by multiple creative minds working in tandem throughout. It may look familiar, but it’s very much brand new. – Jared M. (full review)

A Bigger Splash (Luca Guadagnino)

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Despite a loose script that justifies little, Italian director Luca Guadagnino’s follow-up feature to his glorious melodrama I Am Love is a sweaty, kinetic, dangerously unpredictable ride of a film. One is frustrated by the final stroke of genius that never came, but boy was it fun to spend two hours inside such a whirlwind of desires, mind games, delirious sights and sounds. Based on the 1969 French drama La piscine (The Swimming Pool), the story essentially begins as Marianne (Tilda Swinton) and Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) – a couple vacationing on an Italian island – get an unexpected visit from her former lover and record producer Harry (Ralph Fiennes), along with his daughter Penny (Dakota Johnson). Harry, a raging bohemian who still harbors affections for Marianne, and Penny, a confident Lolita-type who has her sights set on the hunky Paul, will make sure feelings old and new get kindled, leading to frictions that may end up being more than harmless. – Zhuo-Ning Su (full review)

Cemetery of Splendour (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)

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If it is by now redundant to say that Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul (who understands pronunciation troubles and insists people call him “Joe”) is truly in a class of his own, we might blame both the general excellence of his output — a large oeuvre consisting of features, shorts, and installations — and the difficulty that’s often associated with describing them in either literal or opinion-based terms. The further one gets into his work, however, the more his marriage of dense visual style with Thailand’s historical, spiritual, and mystical bedrocks will cohere. These images —often set in nature (with billowing winds and shaking trees adding to the atmosphere); almost always composed in long shot that emphasizes a self-conscious artificiality; and frequently running a few minutes each, sometimes several, to create a laid-back rhythm— are, for viewers Thai and non-Thai alike, a gateway to less-definitive thematic undercurrents. To put this in different terms for neophytes: observing his art is not at all unlike the intellectual stimulation of, say, confidently working through passages of a dense 19th-century novel. On a piece-by-piece basis, Cemetery of Splendour is a bit more straightforward than Joe’s other work. – Nick N. (full review)

The Club (Pablo Larraín)

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With his exceptional trilogy on the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship – Tony Manero (2008), Post Mortem (2010) and No (2012) –Chilean director Pablo Larraín proved himself a trenchant commentator on his country’s problematic past. He turns his attention to the problematic present in The Club, a scathing j’accuse directed at the institution of the Catholic Church that represents his most uncompromising and vociferous film to date. – Giovanni M.C. (full review)

Cosmos (Andrzej Żuławski)

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If there’s any way to synthesize the many pieces that form the bull-in-a-china-shop filmmaking that is Andrzej Żuławski‘s Cosmos, an adaptation of Witold Gombrowicz‘s novel, consider its status as his first feature in fifteen years. Might some sense of long-awaited release account for its why and how — the intensity of its performances, the force of its camera moves, the sharpness in its cuts, the bombast of its emotions? I’m inclined to think so, but it’s possible I’m only proposing this in search of a “what” — what’s going on, what he was thinking, and what we’re meant to take from any and all of it. Answers, if they do come at all, will only gradually present themselves, and they won’t arrive via exposition or, with some exception, clearly stated themes. A filmmaker who values the power of shock, but not necessarily thrills for thrills’ sake, Żuławski elucidates material with tools that announce themselves in their presentation — surprising camera dollies, fast pans, sudden cuts, overly prominent music cues — and raise complex questions about their relation to one another. – Nick N. (full review)

De Palma (Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow)

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Earlier this year, Kent Jones’ Hitchcock /Truffaut — a documentary on the famous interview sessions between the two directors — boasted perhaps the most chaotic, dignity-threatening queue of any film screened at Cannes. There is a craving for this sort of thing among cinephiles it seems and it’s easy to see why. Directors just seem to open up much more when speaking to one of their own kind. Brian De Palma, the subject of this fine documentary, says that they’re “the only ones who understand what we go through.” Over the last five years, fellow directors Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow shot over 30 hours of interviews with the movie icon and have distilled them down into this rich feature-length documentary. De Palma is a fascinating, revealing and compelling overview of a remarkably eclectic career, but it’s also a seldom-heard first-hand account of what it’s like to work inside and outside the Hollywood system. – Rory O. (full review)

Embrace of the Serpent (Ciro Guerra)

Embrace of the Serpent

I have a weakness for heart-of-darkness films, and Embrace of the Serpent ranks amongst the best (and most gorgeous) I’ve seen. It’s also the only one I can think of that successfully adopts a native perspective in charting the white man’s journey down the river, thus offering a moving elegy to the myriad cultures that were destroyed in the process instead of just probing into humanity’s vilest instincts. – Giovanni M.C.

Everybody Wants Some!! (Richard Linklater)

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Near the end of his essay for the Criterion release of Dazed and Confused, Kent Jones writes, “[Richard] Linklater has a keen, poetic memory for exactly how we did nothing.” Like the best American directors, Linklater understands that the roots of Americana are in a formless wandering, one that was as often about bullshit as transcendence. Everybody Wants Some!!, the spiritual sequel to his 1993 feature, is another rumination on transition, following the residents of a baseball house the weekend before classes at an unspecified college in 1980. It’s a weekend bacchanalia filled with rule-breaking parties, masculinity endurance tests, hotboxed bedrooms, closed-door hookups, and the flickers of a romance that could be about more than getting off. – Michael S. (full review)

Green Room (Jeremy Saulnier)

Green Room

If one appreciated the stripped-down brutality of Jeremy Saulnier‘s Blue Ruin, his follow-up Green Room is a whole other beast. In mostly one location, Saulnier is able to eke out every bit of tension possible and will have one squirming in their seat in a number of sequences. While it features a number of great performances — including a menacing Patrick Stewart and Imogen Poots’ best turn yet — it’s the late Anton Yelchin that carries it with a do-or-die scrappiness. – Jordan R.

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