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.
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Written by David H. Schleicher