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The Best Films of Summer 2016

Written by on August 24, 2016 

The-Best-Films-of-Summer-2016

“‘2016 is a bad year for film’ is just another way of saying ‘I really blew it when I chose what films to watch in 2016,'” producer Keith Calder recently said. Taking this statement to heart, as summer winds down, there’s no shortage of writing about how the season was a disappointment overall — but, on the contrary, there have been gems throughout the last four months, and we’ve set out to name our favorites.

All of the below films received at least one-week theatrical runs in the United States from May to August, and while some are still in theaters, many are now currently available to stream. Check out our favorites below and let us know what you most enjoyed this summer. One can also see our fall preview series, which just kicked off this week, here.

A Bigger Splash (Luca Guadagnino)

A Bigger Splash

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)

Blood Father (Jean-François Richet)

Blood Father 2

If this be the movie jail that Mel Gibson is destined to die in, it could be a whole lot worse. Blood Father, directed by Jean-François Richet (MesrineAssault on Precinct 13), works remarkably well as a grindhouse throwback, sporting a screenplay (from Peter Craig and Andrea Berloff, based on Craig’s novel) that’s better than it has any right to be. Though the running time is technically 90 minutes, end credits account for nearly a tenth of that. This is a quick B movie, full of practical effects that feel startlingly fresh and clever moments that are both smart and self-aware. – Dan M. (full review)

Cosmos (Andrzej Żuławski)

andrzej zulawski cosmos

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 of 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)

De Palma 3

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)

Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie)

Hell or High Water

David McKenzie’s Hell or High Water is a gritty, darkly humorous, and fiendishly violent neo-western. Or, in other words, the type of film you might expect from a non-American director working in the United States. It borrows heavily from the Coen brothers and Cormac McCarthy, but it does so very well, thanks largely to a terrific script from Taylor Sheridan, the red-hot actor-turned-screenwriter who broke onto the scene last year with Sicario. It might usher in a new chapter of the Cambridge-born director’s career having come back strong in 2013 directing an inspired Jack O’Connell in Starred Up. Indeed, this relocation to the States should go some way to explaining an enjoyably plastic impression of West Texas, where T-bone steaks are served only medium rare and people say things like, “Sideways don’t wanna meet me. Unless it wants to find itself at the short end of a long street.” Or something like that. – Rory O. (full review)

Hunt For the Wilderpeople (Taika Waititi)

Hunt For the Wilderpeople 1

If one imagines a real-life version of Up with a bit of Thelma & Louise thrown in, they get Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Taika Waititi‘s charming on-the-run adventure comedy. Based on Barry Crump’s book “Wild Pork And Watercress,” the story follows Ricky (Julian Dennison) as a rambunctious foster child on his last straw before juvenile prison. An expert in stealing, graffiti, kicking things, and many more offenses, he’s yet to find a foster family that can put up with him. – Jordan R. (full review)

Indignation (James Schamus)

Indignation

After helping filmmakers such as Todd Haynes, Ang Lee, and Todd Solondz shape their careers, James Schamus has finally made the leap from producer to director with an adaptation of Philip Roth‘s 2008 novel Indignation. The 1951-set feature follows Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman), a Newark-bred Jewish teenager heading to his first semester at a Lutheran college in Ohio. In doing so, he avoids the draft for the Korean War, which is claiming extended family and friends as victims. While a morally sound, eloquent, and confident individual, at college he grapples with sexuality and a distinct indignation, primarily inflicted by Dean Caudwell (Tracy Letts). – Jordan R. (full review)

Kaili Blues (Bi Gan)

Kaili Blues

At its heart, Bi Gan’s Kaili Blues is a meditation on the struggle between traditionalism and modernism. Through the story of one man’s journey through Chinese cities — Kaili to Zhenyuan — Bi focuses on characters who lament the people and ideas that they’ve lost as the world’s changed around them. But this is not just another screed against contemporary life; it finds a cruel beauty and gentle soul in the transition between elemental landscapes and the unfinished, industrialized future. And there’s personal serenity for some of these characters in being able to leave behind their old lives. – Michael S. (full review)

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