It’s the fifth annual PJH year in review (here’s 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015), and by now the 14 of you reading this have come to expect it at the tail end of January (a good six weeks after everyone else has weighed in and gotten fatigued by year-end lists lists lists lists lists) and full of something close to zero surprises. Still, it’s helpful to wrap everything up and put 2016 to bed — as we plunge into a 2017 that could bring anything from a coup d’etat to global meltdown to World War III (in which the USA is the bad guy). If that’s the case, hopefully we get a few more good films to escape with before the monsters in Washington shred the last fibers of democracy left flapping in the climate-changing wind.
2016 TOP TEN
1. 20TH CENTURY WOMEN — The best new release I’ve seen in 12 years and the one piece of cinema this year that reminded me why I even bother with this blog. I was hooked from the opening few shots, and already getting choked up before my seat was warm. Not much more to say than I did in my review, but if it’s playing in your city, do yourself a favor and enjoy it on the big screen: it’s an astonishing visual experience; it’s grand and evocative and eye-catching, which is something for a film that’s so nuanced in its writing and acting as well. A masterpiece by any definition.
2. THE LOBSTER — This was my #1 from May all the way until January, when Mike Mills snuck in at the last second to steal the top spot from a very deserving Yorgos Lanthimos dark comedy. It’s both trenchant and timeless, both scary and hilarious, and you’ve never seen anything like it.
3. EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!! — Proof that nostalgic period pieces imagine eras the way we remember them, not necessarily the way they were. I saw this once, almost 10 months ago, but remember it so vividly (or do I?) because of its hot-blooded humanism, overflowing empathy, and buoyant humor. Linklater has quietly made three of the decade’s best movies in a row (don’t forget BEFORE MIDNIGHT or BOYHOOD; who could?) and no list of the greatest American directors alive can exist without his name.
4. (tie) FANTASTIC LIES & O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA — Two magnificent documentaries from ESPN’s 30 for 30 that tackle nothing less than the issues of race, media, sports, and the American legal system. The former is a brilliant 90-minute look at the infamous Duke Lacrosse story by Marina Zenovich. She craftily structures the film like a clichéd sports movie with a rousing climax, but what she’s really examining is the uninformed mob’s desire to rush to judgment, and the thorny lines crossed when privilege meets injustice. Similarly galvanizing is Ezra Edelman’s 7.5-hour Oscar-nominated epic about Simpson. It gets even more outlandish as it goes along, but smartly presents an exhaustive argument that everything has context, and our national obsession with celebrity and race is inextricably linked to politics, history, and every lurid detail in between.
5. ALLIED — A decade ago you wouldn’t believe me if I were to tell you a WWII epic from Robert Zemeckis starring Brad Pitt would be one of the most ignored, forgotten, and under-appreciated films of the year, but I mean a fascist imbecile is our President and so that’s just where we are now. Every composition, camera move, and set design is so well-conceived and beautiful to behold. But it isn’t just a triumph of classical filmmaking — it’s an adoring melodrama with an emotional punch that’s both unpredictable and handsomely earned. They do make them like they used to. They made it this year. Don’t sleep on it.
6. NOCTURNAL ANIMALS — Two movies, two great works. Maybe Tom Ford can do something other than slim-fit suits? If you’re not in this for the luscious framing story about the power and purpose of art — how liberating it can be — then you’re in it for the novel-within-the-movie where Michael Shannon and Jake Gyllenhaal put on an acting clinic.
7. THE HANDMAIDEN — Park’s comeback movie is also about the freedom that comes when you no longer have to hide your identity (either national, sexual, or moral), and it’s couched in an exhilarating package of sensational photography, score, and storytelling. One of the most entertaining experiences of 2016.
8. GREEN ROOM — Nobody could have guessed when this came out that it would be a template for our future. Millennials are attacked by Nazis, and their livelihood is quickly in danger. But aside from its accidental timeliness, this is just a terrific rapid-fire piece of sustained tension. And what a shame that Anton Yelchin, who just kept getting better, was taken from us so young. See this as a tribute to him.
9. NOCTURAMA — I was going to hold off and see if this got distribution in 2017 (and then put it on my 2017 list), but so far it doesn’t have it, and it may never get it in Trump’s America. The “My Way” sequence is a standout, but almost every set piece in Bonello’s uncommonly sensitive look at the production and post-production of a terrorist act is a stunner.
10. HELL OR HIGH WATER — Leave it to a Scotsman to investigate the heart of America’s economic depression and tell a sharp, evenly-tuned story about a world that has given everyone a short shrift, yet the film leaves nobody out to dry. Roles both big and small are given three-dimensional treatment, thanks to Sheridan’s magnificent script and an all-star cast. A grand over-achiever.
Didn’t Quite Make the Cut: If I hadn’t included NOCTURAMA, then Kenneth Lonergan’s aching/funny MANCHESTER BY THE SEA would have snuck into the 10th slot and not been out of place. Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s CREEPY is an expertly directed horror curiosity. Keith Maitland’s documentary TOWER, about the mass-shooting in Austin by Charles Whitman, is audaciously affecting (with animated re-enactments to boot) and highly recommended. Houda Benyamina’s engrossing DIVINES sports a terrific lead performance from Ouyala Amamra amidst a surprisingly bleak but endearing story set in the Paris ghettos. A similar look at the forgotten underclass from a talented female director is AMERICAN HONEY, which divided audiences but remains a memorable experience at the theater.
And now, the requisite awards:
Best Director — Mike Mills, 20TH CENTURY WOMEN
Best Actor — Colin Farrell, THE LOBSTER
Best Actress — Annette Bening, 20TH CENTURY WOMEN
Best Supporting Actor — Jeff Bridges, HELL OR HIGH WATER
Best Supporting Actress — Lily Gladstone, CERTAIN WOMEN
Best Screenplay — Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou, THE LOBSTER
As usual, no Worst list. This world definitely doesn’t need any more worsts, and I don’t even like the concept of shitting on films on purpose. I’ll savage a bad movie in a review, but there’s no need to call attention to it again in year-end wrap-ups. Plus, I’m often lucky enough to skip the worst of the worst.
And that’s it. Please comment below with anything you want to discuss. Thanks for reading.