The Top 10 Films of 2016


Fantasy, escapism, homophobia, race, grief, politics, humanity, death, youth, sexuality.  This is how perfectly the top 10 films of the year portray the zeitgeist. It has been a remarkable year for cinema. The right films at the right time.

Here are the top 10 films of 2016.

1. La La Land

I wondered if the buzzy feeling I had for Damien Chazelle's love letter to Los Angeles would wane as the weeks passed, and it simply hasn't. I can clearly remember how it felt as my apprehensive heart began to melt, at first with the immediate warmth of the dazzling opening number and more slowly as Stone and her friends danced in the street on their way to their car to the ridiculous but interestingly enough realistic Hollywood party. It only took till Gosling's scene with his sister for me to completely cave. Every frame, every scene is magic. When Emma stone sings "The Audition" at the end I wept. I wanted her to succeed, although I knew what that might mean for her romance. From that song to the end is simply perfection. In a year of fantastic originality, "La La Land" is the best.

2. Moonlight

As with "La La Land" my expectations could not have been higher for "Moonlight." I remember when the trailer came out and everyone, including myself was stunned. Could this unknown variable become an Oscar contender? It certainly did. And could very likely win. Anchored by remarkable performances by Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes, Alex Hibbert, Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monae, Naomie Harris, Andre Holland and Jharrel Jerome...and beautifully written and directed by Barry Jenkins, "Moonlight" is a masterpiece. I still feel its importance in the whole landscape of cinema as I did back in 2005 with "Brokeback Mountain."


3. Jackie

I had the most difficult time putting my feelings about "Jackie" into words. It's as if we are watching an experimental character study. Something I feel an American director would never attempt. In one of the film’s highlights Oppenheim and Larrain imagine one of Jackie’s last nights in the White House. All alone, she plays “Camelot,” drinks vodka, smokes incessantly, all the while changing into what seems like every outfit she owns. This scene comes across as both believable and fantastic. Utterly plausible but also fantasy. It’s a fine line on which Larrain expertly balances throughout the entire film. “Jackie” is a cinematic work of art, and at its center is Portman, giving the performance of the year. It’s as if the Jackie we have known all these years has been completely deconstructed. Portman’s Jackie is created on the foundation of her grief. Everything else is delicately balanced on top of that. It is unlike anything I have ever seen. It is performance art in the most complimentary sense.


4. Manchester By the Sea

"Manchester By the Sea" has stayed with me ever since screening it at Indie Memphis in early November. It's actually gestated and grown in my mind over time. Lonergan is a genius who has an uncanny ability to completely envelop the audience into his intimate worlds. It's been over 12 years since I saw his "You Can Count on Me" and I can still remember what it felt like to be with Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo. It's not as if we are watching from a theater seat. It feels like we are sitting in the same room with these characters, and with "Manchester" that's not exactly a comfortable place to be. I think the distance of a few weeks allowed me to process this film's greatness. Casey Affleck gives the best performance by a male actor this year. As with Natalie, it is undeniable and transcends controversy. Michelle Williams is wonderful in her small, vital role as Randi. Kyle Chandler, Gretchen Mol, Heather Burns and Lucas Hedges are especially great as well. (I did feel as if Matthew Broderick's casting was a bit of a mistake, but that could be my own baggage.) But the film truly belongs to Lonergan and Affleck.

5. Swiss Army Man

I wasn't sure what to think about what I heard coming out of Sundance where "Swiss Army Man" had its world premiere. I've never been to Sundance, but a majority of what comes out of that festival is a little too twee for my taste. So, when I kept hearing farting corpse buddy comedy, I just wasn't sure. But I love Daniel Radcliffe and took the dive.

"Swiss Army Man" beings with Paul Dano, hopeless and stranded on a deserted island. Almost at the point of no return, he stumbles upon and befriends a dead body (Radcliffe)beginning a wild and weird journey that must be seen in order to believe. The film is wildly original in both its conceit and it's look at love, obsession, life, intimacy and friendship. I was concerned as the end of the film was approaching at how writer/directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan were going to end this ride, but it is simply perfection. 

6. The Edge of Seventeen

I would put "The Edge of Seventeen" near the top of my favorite coming of age films. Directed by Kelly Fremon Craig, we have one of several films on this list (see #3 and #7) with the perfect combination of director and actor, this time the fantastic Hailee Steinfeld as high schooler Nadine, who has to deal with her best friend falling for her brother.

I had a best friend in my twenties who truly became my 2nd half. I can remember the two of us hanging out at his Aunt's house in Nebraska, watching VHS tapes of Sarah Michelle Gellar on SNL, multiple episodes of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," and of course jamming out to the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears on our way to...well anywhere! We eventually left the small town were were living in and moved to NYC, not together, but kind of...just a few months apart...and our relationship began to unravel. In "Seventeen," when Nadine and Krista stop speaking, Nadine begins to question her existence in a way that I didn't have the nerve to do. Instead I spent years trying to force this square peg into the round circle that was my friend's life. And when I couldn't, instead of finding my own existence, looking inward, I went a whole other direction. I wish that, like Nadine, I had limited my questioning/journey to 2 hours in film time instead of 15 years. That all being said, I have stopped and changed directions. I have come of age, so to speak.

7. Elle

I have heard "Elle" described as a rape/revenge tale. And I could not disagree more. It is an exploration of sexuality and cause and effect. The backbone cause/effect being an event in Michele's childhood and the inciting incident cause/effect being the rape. The film is not about a rape or revenge, it is about, well, Elle! Huppert is indeed incredible as is the film. Talk about a perfect combination of actor and director. The space Paul Verhoeven creates for all the actors, but Huppert especially, is breathtaking. Having now seen Emma Stone and Natalie Portman's performances I understand who Huppert could lose, but surely the Academy will nominate her even thought the Foreign Film committee didn't see fit to nominate the film.

8. Closet Monster

I'm so glad that "Closet Monster" made my top 10. I had hoped very much to see it before year's end and was quite lucky to get a copy from Strand Releasing. Strand played a vital role in my life/love for queer cinema, releasing films such as "Psycho Beach Party" (my favorite comedy of all time!), "Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss," "Mysterious Skin," and "The Living End" to name a few.

"Closet Monster" tells the story of Oscar Madly (played by Connor Jessup), who as a young child experiences two traumatic/life changing events, one which I will not spoil here and the other the disintegration of his parents' marriage. As a teenager, Oscar strives to be an on screen makeup artist, applying to one college in NYC that he hopes will deliver him from his small town life and all the wounds that come with it, including his explorations with his sexuality.

Jessup is fantastic in this role as is both Isabella Rosselini (as the voice of a hamster!) and Aaron Abrams (Hannibal). I can't wait to see what writer/director Stephen Dunn does next.

9. Indignation

I had been looking forward to “Indignation” since it was announced that James Schamus (who helped bring us “Brokeback Mountain”) would write/direct the adaption of Phillip Roth’s novel and star Logan Lerman (who blew me away in “Perks of Being a Wallflower”)

“Indignation” is a the story of Marcus (Lerman), a Jewish kid who attends a small, Christian college, where he struggles with his burgeoning sexuality and its immediate repression.  Certain scenes  remain in my psyche. Of course, the scene in which Tracy Letts (the Dean of the college) verbally tortures poor Marcus as he tries to keep up and afloat is remarkable, as are all the sexual scenes between Olivia and Marcus-the one in the hospital in particular.  Marcus cannot overcome being completely spellbound by Olivia’s desire for him. It is wonderfully erotic and painful to watch thanks to the great performances.

10. Sing Street

"Sing Street," written and directed by John Carney is the first film I remember seeing this year (that year beginning after the Oscars, of course) and was one of the most unique and fun. It's one of those films that come year end just slips under the radar. Which is why I chose it as my 10th favorite film of the year when I could have easily picked 3 others as well. I thoroughly enjoyed John Carney's last film "Begin Again" and "Once" was my favorite film of 2007.  "Sing Street" is about a boy growing up in the 80s in Dublin who starts a band in order to impress a girl. Every actor in this film is fantastic, especially Ferdia Walsh-Pello as our band leader. Carney amazingly puts us in the minds of these kids by making us feel like we are on the journey with them, tapping into our own dreams and crushes and youth. 

Runners Up!
OJ: Made in America
Arrival
Loving

Honorable Mention
Hell or High Water
Fences
The Falls: Covenant of Grace
Julieta
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Toni Erdmann
Weiner

Better than given credit for:
Bridget Jones's Baby

Most disappointing film of the year:
Hail Caeser

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