Outside of the theaters, 2016 was one of the most tumultuous years around the globe, especially politically with Brexit and a US presidential election that saw “the virulent madness” prophesied in 1976’s Network come to a red-hot orange, roiling, boiling head. The greatest of films often speak to the times in which they were made, and 2016 saw tumult of the artistic kind in cinema mirroring (whether intentionally or not) what had been bubbling up in society for years. If it proved anything, it’s that art is 50% the artist’s intent, and 50% the lens with which the audience views it through. Artists and audiences alike brought heavy baggage into the theaters, and we witnessed some potential masterpieces.
For me, the year’s most memorable film, Arrival, allowed the audience to breathe a collective sigh of relief at just the right time and showed us life is still worth living even when we know how (potentially horrifically) it will end. The lovely and melancholy musical La La Land arrived at the tail end of the year to remind us it’s still okay to dream big, even when those dreams don’t always play out how we originally hoped (hope is not a strategy…but hard work is). The masterful character study Moonlight showed humanity and beauty can still be found even in the most dire of circumstances, and the search for one’s true self is a continuing journey. The true-story Loving uncovered the most sturdy bricks for building a compassionate society are quiet dignity, grace, and steady determination to fight for what’s right. Then there was the neo-western Hell or High Water, which tapped into some of the same economic rage a certain political campaign did, and showed presciently that sometimes “what don’t ya want?” is what you accidentally bring upon yourself.
My Top Ten picks for 2016 have been chosen with some initial thoughts and links to my full reviews below:
- Arrival – d. Denis Villeneuve – “I breathed a deep sigh (of relief), as I instantly knew we were in the hands of a master at the height of his craft.”
- La La Land – d. Damien Chazelle – “It’s possibly the defining fluff piece of our times, and it is beautiful.”
- Moonlight – d. Barry Jenkins – “We leave the theater like Jenkins leaves the two characters of Chiron and Kevin. Quietly. Hopeful.”
- Loving – d. Jeff Nichols – “Nichols works with his usual cohorts…to produce a wonderfully shaded and complex work whose deceptively simple aesthetics provide the calm surface upon which big ideas roil underneath.”
- Hell or High Water – d. David Mackenzie – “And you gotta ask yourself throughout the film…what don’t the characters want? Bridges doesn’t want to go down in a blaze of glory…right? The bank robbing brothers (Chris Pine – the good one, and Ben Foster – the bad one) don’t want to hurt anybody…right? Nobody in West Texas wants to use their concealed gun, it’s just for protection…right? Well, maybe wrong…”
- Midnight Special – d. Jeff Nichols – “In this way, Nichols masterfully uses the science fiction genre as a vehicle to explore modern-day societal fears.”
- Nocturnal Animals – d. Tom Ford – “In a bizarrely humanist bent, it’s also an infinitely sad testament to the spectre past relationships and traumatic break-ups cast upon one’s ensuing life.”
- Eye in the Sky – d. Gavin Hood – “(It) offers no easy answers to the questions is poses. But make no mistake. Action will be taken. And the war machine marches on. “
- Cemetery of Splendor – d. Apichatpong Weerasethakul – “I would say you don’t want to go into a Weerasethakul film cold, but one of his somnambulist odes needs to be your first, so why not this?”
- The Invitation – d. Karyn Kusama – “What makes (It) so shocking isn’t how the party devolves into a horror show (anyone could’ve predicted this) but how much emotional trauma marks the terror and turns it all into a grand metaphor for grief and loss.”
- The Jungle Book – d. Jon Favreau
- Southside with You – d. Richard Tanne
- Sunset Song – d. Terence Davies
Notable Omissions (films I’ve yet to see that are showing up on a many Top Ten lists): Manchester by the Sea, Lion, Fences, Hidden Figures, Silence
Note to Readers: I’ve decided, in an effort to simplify things, to put an end to my Annual Davies Awards and instead do a more traditional Top Ten list of my favorite films from the year going forward.
Tell us what your pick was for Best Film of 2016.
What movies would make your Top Ten List?
Speak your mind and join the discussion by leaving a comment!
If you’re a fellow film blogger with your own awards, top ten list or 2016 wrap-up, share your links in the comment form.
Written by David H. Schleicher
Oh, no! I have a lot of catching up to do. I spent most of my free time either reading or sleeping this past year, or looking for a fulltime job. I hope to do better in 2017.
Fantastic work here David! I’ve seen all your own choices and over the past few weeks have been trying to reach my own finalization. I must tell you however that my own Number 1 film, INDIGNATION, based on a novel by New Jerseyite Philip Roth is a film that you MUST see. MUST. I believe I know your taste well enough to say you will adore the film, and it is sitting there on Amazon Prime to watch:
My own as per your request here:
1 Indignation (USA; James Schamus)
2 La La Land (USA; Damien Chazelle)
3 Manchester by the Sea (USA; Kenneth Lonergan)
4 Jackie (USA; Pablo Larrain)
5. Quand on a 17 ANS (France; Andre Techine)
6. The Salesman (Iran; Asghar Farhadi)
7. O.J. Made in America (USA; Ezra Edelman)
8. Paterson (USA; Jim Jarmusch)
9. Fences (USA; Denzel Washington)
10. Moonlight (USA; Barry Jenkins)
11. Under Sandet – Land of Mine (Denmark; Martin Zandvliet)
12. Love and Friendship (USA; Whit Stillman)
13. Krisha (USA; Trey Edward Shults)
14. Neruda (Chile; Pablo Larrain)
15. Aquarius (Brazil; Kleber Filho)
16. My Golden Days (France; Arnaud Desplechin)
17. The Arrival (USA; Dennis Villenue)
18. The Witch (USA/Canada; Robert Eggers)
19. Lion (Australia/India; Garth Davis)
20. American Honey (UK; Andrea Arnold)
Runners-Up: (in no particular order)
Things to Come
I Am Not Your Negro
Cemetery of Splendor
Hell or High Water
I, Daniel Blake
A Man Called Ove
Embrace of the Serpent
Thanks Sam, for your always erudite lists! I admit was taken aback when I saw you name Indignation as the film of the year! It’s been on my list to see, but I had no idea it had the potential to be such a monumental work…it’s assuredly at the top of my MUST SEE list now.
Krisha – as we have discussed elsewhere really is something else…it would make my ammended Top Ten, probobably right above Midnight Special (thus knocking The Invitation to Honorable Mentions).
Fences and Hidden Figures would surely make Honorable Mentions as well.
Manchester by the Sea I have still yet to take in, though based on much of the feedback from respected film goers, I doubt it would factor into the Top Ten.
The Salesman, I am dying to see! As with any Farhadi film…it risks knocking everything else to the slush pile 🙂