In July of 2016, I moved from Brooklyn, New York to Ann Arbor, Michigan. The biggest change was the sudden lack of film options (and the need to drive everywhere...driving is terrible). Ann Arbor is a cool, artsy town, but they don't get jack shit in terms of limited release movies. Cinema Detroit is the best option, but it's about 40 minutes away and only shows 2-3 movies at a time. I still work in NYC and travel there once per month, which is when I'm usually able to see the most/best films. I offer all of this up as a disclaimer for why I still haven't seen several of the bigger 2016 films (please forgive me).
2016 Top Ten:
"American Honey" by Andrea Arnold - I finally saw this movie after jealously listening to friends rave about it for the past few months. Andrea Arnold is one of my favorites, a director who consistently impresses me with her social realist perspective and willingness to take chances with form and actors. I don't want to write too much about it here because I'll be covering it later, but please, please, please see it if you can.
"Moonlight" by Barry Jenkins - This movie slayed me. It's beautiful, poignant, and raw - there are zero attempts to sugarcoat or downplay any character flaws or decisions. Also, is there anything Janelle Monáe can't do? I was pleasantly surprised to see that she has some serious acting chops (the table scene with young Chiron, Teresa, and Juan is when I made this realization).
"The Lobster" by Yorgos Lanthimos - I saw this about a year ago and still can't stop thinking about it. This film is like a Kafka novel come to life and I would like to watch it about 5,000 more times. I didn't see the ending coming and when it did, it was like a knife to the heart. Also, the music was perfect.
"Certain Women" by Kelly Reichardt - All of Kelly Reichardt's films are subtle and quiet, which might be why she doesn't get the attention she deserves. I feel bad listing this as my fourth favorite film of the year, because I really fucking loved it (but admittedly, a little less than Moonlight and The Lobster, which appeal more to my own personal aesthetic). I'll be writing about this one (and my undying love for Kristen Stewart) in January, so stay tuned.
"Cemetery of Splendour" by Apichatpong Weerasethakul - Holy fuck. To be fair, I knew I was going to like this film before I even watched it. I got into Weerasethakul toward the end of grad school and have obsessively studied his movies ever since. In my opinion, he's one of the most interesting living directors - someone who is continually exploring the possibilities of film as an artistic medium. My advice? Don't read anything about this film before watching it because any preconceived notions will ruin your experience.
"Edge of Seventeen" by Kelly Fremon Craig - Considering Kelly Fremon Craig is the person responsible for writing "Post Grad," that horrible Alexis Bledel shitstorm, I was skeptical about this movie. Happily, it far exceeded my low expectations and tbh, is better than the John Hughes movies that inspired it (unpopular opinion: I hate John Hughes). This film should be mandatory viewing for every person from the age of 13-25. Also, I'll write about it separately in January, so don't be disappointed by the lack of detail here.
"Toni Erdmann" by Maren Ade - Why isn't this movie getting more hype? Yes, it's too long and yes, the plot sounds like a stupid Adam Sandler movie in all of the synopses that I've read; however, please trust me and go see it because despite some of its flaws, it is awesome and will entertain you for the full 162 minute run time. I will write about this film in February, so check back then.
"No Home Movie" by Chantal Akerman (RIP) - Critics keep comparing this film to Jean-Luc Godard's "Goodbye to Language," but the form reminds me more of Jonas Mekas' "Outtakes from the Life of a Happy Man." If you've followed Chantal Akerman's career and enjoy her films, you owe it to yourself to see this; if you haven't, catch up on her oeuvre first because this film isn't a good place to start. I plan to eventually write about all of Chantal Akerman's films, so you should probably watch them all ASAP. Between Fandor and Filmstruck, I think you can find them all online.
"13th" by Ava DuVernay - This doc is gripping, outraging, and exactly what everyone needs to watch in the wake of a presidential election fueled partly by racism. There were some things about the form that I didn't love (the title cards, for example) but overall, DuVernay did a great job and I'm happy this film exists...but sad that the world we live in necessitated its creation. You're probably getting tired of hearing this, but I'll write more later.
"Cameraperson" by Kirsten Johnson - A brilliant idea for a film and yet no one is fucking talking about it. The footage for "Cameraperson" was collected during Johnson's years of working as a cinematographer on 25 different films. It could have been a disjointed mess and an annoyance to watch, but the editing (done by Nels Bangerter) was meticulous and the film feels very cohesive. More TK, but if you're looking for something to read now, check out this article.
2016 Biggest Disappointments:
"Neon Demon" by Nicholas Winding Refn - I loved "Drive," but hated this colossal sack of shit. I went to a screening at BAM followed by a director Q&A and let me tell you... Nicholas Winding Refn is a douche. Jena Malone and Elle Fanning - you're both better than this! If there's one thing I don't give a single fuck about, it's some white Danish man's thoughts on beauty.
"A Bigger Splash" by Luca Guadagnino - Tilda and Ralph, I love you both... but this movie was a mess and a waste of your talents. For starters, it was too long; there were several points where I thought it was over, but was mistaken. There were no ideas; this was literally a movie about nothing that tried to masquerade as a social commentary about important issues. The only good parts are Tilda's outfits + the awesome shooting location (Pantelleria).
"Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World" by Werner Herzog - I love Werner Herzog, but damn... this movie was too long and tedious as fuck (the chapter format didn't help). The interviews felt dated and weird and he often let his subjects ramble on ad nauseam about nothing. Oh, and don't get me started about the weird inclusion of the Nikki Catsouras story. That whole scene was shot in a bizarrely detached way and I really want to know what was up with all the untouched pastries.
Movies I Need to See but Haven't Yet:
- "Manchester by the Sea" by Kenneth Lonergan - Casey Affleck is a scumbag, so I don't want to pay to see this one
- "Arrival" by Denis Villeneuve - not typically my type of movie, but reputable people have told me I should see it
Update: I saw this and hated it.
- "La La Land" by Damien Chazelle -
I'm going to see this one at The Manor in Squirrel Hill with my mom on Christmas. Shout out to The Manor, the theater of my high school yearsI saw this on Christmas with my mom and generally liked it. Emma Stone was fantastic and the ending really redeemed the film; however, this article sums up my overall thoughts. Another whitewashed movie that will surely win a shit ton of awards at the Oscars. Who is surprised?
- "Loving" by Jeff Nichols
- "Jackie" by Pablo Larraín
- "Elle" by Paul Verhoeven - dying to see this one
- "Nocturnal Animals" by Tom Ford
- "Green Room" by Jeremy Saulnier
- "The Handmaiden" by Park Chan-wook
- "Paterson" by Jim Jarmusch - "Gimme Danger" was delightfully fun. I'll watch anything this dude makes.
- In the Shadow of Women by Phillipe Garrel
- "Cosmos" by Andrzej Żuławski
- "Fences" by Denzel Washington
- "Krisha" by Trey Edward Shults
- "20th Century Women" by Mike Mills - I listened to a Fresh Air interview with Mike Mills on my way home from Pittsburgh and he is super endearing. I'm hoping to see this film before the year ends.
Update: I saw this and loved it. It definitely deserves a place in my top 10.
Am I missing anything? I liked "Mountains May Depart" by Jia Zhangke and "The Salesman" by Asghar Farhadi, but they didn't make my top 10. "The Witch" by Robert Eggers was okay, but not memorable.