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Merus

Best Films of 2016

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So is it movies of the year time? Eh, probably. The only one I might want to add is La La Land which looks interesting but odds are that'll be it.

 

I more consistently watched movies than TV shows this year; the only 2016 show I watched was Stranger Things, and I feel pretty good about making time for that. (Game of Thrones was good enough but at this point it better end competently or I'm going to feel like I should have checked out years ago.)

 

In order of release:

 

The Lady in the Van: I saw this with my mum and we had very different experiences. I watched a great little British film about a homeless woman who becomes reliant on a British playwright who's not nearly as charitable as he likes to think he is, and an exploration of the vast gulf between "doing good" and actually helping. My mother saw a horror film about a poor old lady who went mad and died and no-one did anything.

Zootopia: probably my favourite animated film this year. The back half of Zootopia is way ballsier than I expected from a global animation company, and it has a mystery plot that basically works. You can see the seams where they went through multiple failed passes and kept the two or three ideas that work, and like Frozen it's a little too obvious when they're about to do an inevitable reveal but it's still pretty great.

10 Cloverfield Lane: a taut little thriller about a woman trapped in a bunker with a man who may or may not be worse than what they're hiding from. Slightly spoiled by the last scene, but it's a movie that rests on the masterful performances of the leads.

The Nice Guys: a cracking Shane Black comedy about a world willingly getting worse and a few bad people trying to be better. Not as good as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, but it's more ambitious thematically than that film was.

Tickled: a truly incredible New Zealand documentary. A New Zealand journalist starts to investigate "competitive endurance tickling" to do a light news piece on it, and gets back a stream of homophobic insults, and then legal threats, from the production company. Peoples' lives have been ruined. The whole thing is vastly bigger and more organised than seems possible. And it's all to make videos of young men being tickled.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople: another great New Zealand film, this time a comedy about a kid who goes bush rather than get sent back to another foster home, and his adoptive father who goes out to save him. It's a real charmer.

Kubo and the Two Strings: a more traditionally structured film, sometimes to its detriment, but it's inventive and big-hearted in the right ways.

Arrival: excellent sci-fi about trying to establish communication with aliens when you know nothing about them, even why they're here. It has some really clever solutions for the usual problems with this setup, and it marks the first appearance I recall of shock jocks/conspiracy nuts in the stock role of the bloodthirsty antagonist who nearly fucks everything up because war's easier for them to understand.

The Founder: I'm real excited for Michael Keaton to have a career again, especially if he keeps turning in cracking performances like he does here, where he plays Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald's. It sometimes feels like it's trying to hit the famous beats in the McDonald's story without properly justifying it, but like The Wolf of Wall Street I think it's ultimately a really great picture of capitalism in the 20th century - compelling while also being deeply fucked up.

Rogue One: this is a Star War, and it's pretty good! It's easily my favourite Star Wars film, particularly thanks to its gritty tone and on-point action scenes and camera work. (I would like Star Wars a lot more if it hit the tone Rogue One hits more often.) There's stuff that doesn't work, particularly at the start, and it's weird how little of the teaser footage actually made it to the final film, but I still liked it a whole lot.

 

I also liked Deadpool, The Jungle Book, Ghostbusters, Midnight Special, Star Trek Beyond and Doctor Strange but they weren't on my top 10 for the year.

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My favourites of the year probably don't include many US movies this year, other than some indies. And I just saw La-la Land and Rogue One, while I don't know when Scorcese's Silence arrives in cinemas. But there have been some great European movies. Some of them may not be released everywhere, yet. I'll just list all the movies I gave more than 4 stars to (so 4 1/2 or 5).

 

Scarred Hearts by Radu Jude - nice follow up from the Romanian director who made Aferim! last year. This movie uses mostly static shots and portrays very realistic people in a tuberculosis hospital. It made me think of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest although I haven't seen that since my teens and they probably aren't that similar.

 

A Quiet Dream - a Jim Jarmusch movie by the Korean director Zhang Lu. A great slow story about 3 guys and a girl hanging around in the city.

 

Paterson - Jim Jarmusch doesn't disappoint with this really slow tale of a bus driver / poet played by Adam Driver. This is a very meditative kind of experience, maybe not for everyone.

 

Sieranevada - another Romanian movie, by Cristi Puiu. Takes place mostly in real time and mostly in an apartment where a family has gathered for a funeral and is waiting for a priest to arrive.

 

Zootopia - I don't have anything to add, but this has a really great story, especially for an animated film.

 

Toni Erdmann by Maren Ade. Unquestionably the MOVIE OF THE YEAR, if not the decade. I wouldn't be very surprised if Toni Erdmann would become a classic on par with the great works of Shakespeare.

 

Certain Women - another rather slow movie by Kelly Reichardt. It shows important episodes of the lives of three women living close to each other, but their stories never really connect that much. In some cases I would hold it against the movie to only superficially connect parallel stories, but it seems to work in this case. My second favourite after Toni Erdmann.

 

Hunt for the Wilderpeople by Taika Waititi is just a really good funny story of a boy and his father figure hiding in the bush from the government.

 

If I include movies I gave 4 stars to, those are still very good: Manchester by the Sea, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Gimme Danger, The Handmaiden, Endless Poetry, Hell or High Water, It's Only the End of the World, The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki (Hymyilevä mies), Neon Demon, The Have-Nots (Die Habenichtse), The Girl with All the Gifts, Tunnel (터널), Breath (Nafas).

 

And there are still some good ones if I include 3 1/2 stars:

A Decent Woman, Sofichka, Doctor Strange, Arrival, La La Land, Pete's Dragon, Ghostbusters, Graduation, The Nice Guys, Like Crazy (La pazza gioia), "Kiki, Love to Love", Mad, Eat that Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words

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I tend not to watch movies in theaters, and I also try to watch older films before newer films, so I've seen almost zero 2016 movies. Here are my reviews of every 2016 movie I've seen ranked from best to worst:

 

Hail, Caesar! - Lightweight and with lots of loose threads that get tied up in the narrative but not in any satisfactory matter, but still fucking hilarious, filled with great characters and set pieces. George Clooney is in his element as a befuddled dopey movie star and the scene with the three priests and the rabbi had me in stitches. It's one of my favorite Coen Bros. movies despite being less hefty than a lot of their movies, simply because it's sooooo much fun.

 

Zootopia - Honestly I think it runs out of gas and falls off in the last part, and I guessed the twist basically immediately, but everything else is spot-on. I liked all the little designs for the things that had to work for animals of various sizes, and more generally the movie was pretty. As everyone else has noted, great story too.

 

The Nice Guys - I was hoping I'd like this even more than I did, but I still liked it pretty well. Nothing will ever top Kiss Kiss Bang Bang I guess, but this is pretty good.

 

Ghostbusters - Really funny, but like Zootopia it sort of ran out of steam in the last act. I actually liked the action sequence, though, which was nice.

 

Captain America: Civil War - For whatever reason I like all the Marvel movies, even the shitty ones. This wasn't a shitty one but it wasn't really anything special. I don't really know why I like all the Marvel movies but whatever that reason is, I think that's the reason I like this movie. 

 

Star Trek Beyond - Jokes were good, everything else was yawn. It's hilarious how Kirk just continually fucks everything up and keeps getting rewarded for it.

 

 

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I think overall this was a very weak year (and also there were a lot of films I didn't see), but I still found 10 movies I really liked.

 

My top 10:
1. The Illinois Parables (dir. Deborah Stratman) - An experimental documentary in eleven chapters, about the history of Illinois (and by extension, America) as the history of people being crushed by "progress". But also more humor and weirder than that description does it justice. Great music choices. The only film that came out this year that challenged the way I thought about film.

 

2. The Witch (dir. Robert Eggers) - Perfectly told horror story, one part tradition and one part dazzlingly original. Scared the shit out of me.

 

3. Son of Saul (dir. László Nemes) - I have some misgivings about how this is structured (it's essentially "Holocaust: The Ride"), but this was one of the most moving films I saw this year and it's unique formal approach (most of the film is a close-up of the main character's face, with the horrors out of focus in the background) had a dual purpose of overriding the numbness of seeing a barrage brutal images onscreen and a tacit admission that we can't really witness the horrors of the Holocaust from a film, we can only eke out their meaning via the margins.

 

4. The Lobster (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos) - "In the beginning, we had to be very careful not to mix up I love you more than anything in the world and We're in danger." One of the funniest and most original movies I saw this year. Second half is a comparative letdown, but this is a savage satire on sex and dating.

 

5. Moonlight (dir. Barry Jenkins) - Completely lovely, sad, literary film. I was worried when everything I heard about it had to do with the newness of it being about a gay black man (because that part isn't new at all) but I was wrong because this is very fresh regardless.

 

6. Mustang (dir. Deniz Gamze Ergüven) - Turkish coming of age film that depicts blossoming womanhood as a warzone, with five sisters huddled together like soldiers in the trenches. Except also very warm and doesn't ignore the joy of childhood either, and especially how important that joy is when you know it won't last forever. 

 

7. O.J. Made In America (dir. Ezra Edelman) - It had a theatrical release, it counts. Edelman takes one of the most over-reported events of the 20th century and finds a compelling thesis that argues O.J. got away with it because he was both white and black. This is definitive but also this gets points taken away for cropping 4:3 archival footage to 16:9 (with some truly hideous results) and for succumbing a bit to sensationalism in it's final chapter.

 

8. Everybody Wants Some!! (dir. Richard Linklater) - I've seen this three times and I could watch it again right now. It's not quite the hang-out movie Dazed & Confused is (it lacks the same emotional wallop) but it's damn close, and that's very impressive.

 

9. The Love Witch (dir. Anna Biller) - Insanely faithful recreation of 1960's sexploitation films, with only just enough of a wink to play as a loving feminist parody of the genre. Truly one of the most baffling achievements in film this year. So many films these days try to emulate the aesthetic of the past (the Oujia sequel this year went as far to include fake cigarette burns between "reels", despite it being shot and presented digitally) but Anna Biller is a next-level genius at it, capturing even the editing rhythms. Your mileage may greatly depend on your connection to exploitation history and paganism.

 

10. Hush (dir. Mike Flanagan) - Just a top to bottom well-made horror thriller. I really like home invasion movies and this was a very well-made one. Almost nothing original about it (even it's central conceit, that a deaf woman doesn't know there's a man in her home stalking her, is mostly irrelevant after the first half-hour) but I enjoyed the hell out of this.

 

Honorable Mentions: The Handmaiden, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, My Golden Days, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, and Nice Guys.

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Skimming through films released this year it struck me how few left a lasting impression on me. There were a lot of "yeah, that was ok" films this year, some of which have been mentioned by others - quintessential examples being Captain America: Civil War and Star Trek Beyond. They're indicative of a year that was fine in terms of films to me, but mostly nothing special. With that in mind, I'll just quickly mention a few that haven't come up in anyone's list yet:

 

A War - Danish film about an army Captain who makes a questionable choice in the heat of battle and is then put on trial for it at home. Despite the sentence I just wrote, this film isn't really about what happens - I've described everything dramatic in terms of the plot simply by stating its premise. What it is, though, is a really solid exploration of a few characters linked by different intimate relationships - be they familial, romantic, or that of brothers in arms - and how we in western society continue to be deeply unclear about what we want from our soldiers.

 

For the Love of Spock - Documentary that began as a project of Leonard Nimoy and his son for Star Trek's 50th anniversary. After Nimoy's death, his son continued to develop the documentary as a story both of Spock's creation and evolution and his father's own life alongside the character. It ended up being a nice blend of interesting behind the scenes tales mixed in with touching family trivia and a seemingly quite honest look at a complex man and the inspiring character he embodied.

 

Deadpool - I include this as a talking point mostly because it's the anti-example to the "meh" inducers I mentioned earlier. While I didn't really get too excited by Civil War, and Batman v Superman was outright crap, this was a super hero film I genuinely got behind. It's never going to be in a Criterion collection (unless it kicks off a wave of R-rated comic book films, and please Hollywood that is not the lesson to take from it) but it was a film that was actually funny and exciting and charismatic, qualities that many other blockbusters only pretend to.

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Since we don't get world wide concurrent releases for all movies (and probably shouldn't as that would make for a boring one-faced world), some of my favorites from last year are on Patrick's list for this year and I'd like to second that Son of Saul, Mustang, The Lobster are all very good and maybe Embrace of the Serpent would also be of this year for many.

 

I so badly want to see Moonlight but have no info of an Estonian release yet.

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My favourite new film I saw this year was Ciro Guerra's Embrace of the Serpent (trailer). It flits between the stories of two Western explorers, thirty years apart, both seeking an ancient, mythic plant deep in the Amazon, a quest in which they're both assisted by the same sole survivor of an obscure, depleted tribe. It's beautifully shot in black and white, and has stuck with me all year.

I also enjoyed: 
Rams (Grímur Hákonarson)
Hail, Caesar! (Joel and Ethan Coen)
Long Way North (Rémi Chayé)
Kubo and the Two Strings (Travis Knight)
Weiner (Josh Kreigman & Elyse Steinberg)

 

There were several new releases I missed that I intend to catch up on as soon as I can - Arrival being one.

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I do not get the hype over La La Land. It didn't even make my top 20 of the year.

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2 hours ago, jennegatron said:

The best/my favorite movie I watched in 2016 was OJ: Made in America, but my second favorite was La La Land.

 

An activist friend has been raving about OJ and how it explicitly deals with race in a way that is very seldom or ever seen in anything that might reach a mainstream audience.  He's got me interested in it because of that. 

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Is OJ MiA actually a movie? Letterbox says it is over 400 minutes long. I thought it was a mini-series?

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It is, but they also released it theatrically at its full runtime, apparently.

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Yeah, OJ:MiA is a documentary miniseries that they had full length screenings for in part to allow for Oscars eligibility. It's phenomenal movie making & a successful effort of putting the events of the case & trial in conversation with the historical context of LA at the time the trial occurred as well as what happened in the decades preceding the trial.

 

I really only see movies that I know that I will like in theaters anymore. Besides OJ & La La Land, I also loved Edge of Seventeen, but didn't really see anything else that I loved or didn't like. (I liked CA:Civil War & Rogue One, but did not love them)

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OJ: Made In America really is amazing. The only problem is that it cuts all the archival footage to 16:9, which is occasionally really ugly and incoherent. It's so dumb that ESPN didn't trust TV audiences to understand why certain footage would be 3:4. It's bad enough when something like the HD re-release of The X-Files does it, but to crop so extensively on a historical documentary is just madness.

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