Here they are, the 20 best films I saw in 2016, in reverse order. It was an incredible year and the list could have easily included 30 excellent movies (films that almost made it include American Honey, The Neon Demon [Neon Demon examines the superficial with the subversively superficial — a film review], Certain Women [Certain Women suffuses message in low-key cinematic technique — a film review] and Swiss Army Man [Swiss Army Man balances humor and death for lighthearted existential enlightenment — a film review]). I welcome readers to seek those out as well, but these are the ones that mattered just a bit more.
Where available, there are links to full reviews to read my thoughts on these marvels of movie going in 2016. If I did not review it, I provide a paragraph of commentary or there is a link to a review by my partner in IndieEthos, Ana Morgenstern. Where available, movie titles link to the item description page on Amazon for purchase, rent or pre-order. If you purchase via the link provided, know that you are financially supporting this blog and helping us match our Knight Foundation grant. We thank you. You can also jump over to our “Support Us” page and send a donation in one click via Paypal or credit card. Again, we thank you.
Let the countdown begin…
Read my review. NOTE: catch a rare, one-night only screening at Miami Beach Cinematheque on Jan. 4
For all its seeming banality, Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson is really a film about miracles hidden in that banality. This duality is expressed in obvious symbolism, like the frequent appearance of twins. But on a slighter level it can also be found in the existence of sublime personal expression woven into the fabric of the everyday. From the witty meta fact that actor Adam Driver plays a bus driver named Paterson in a New Jersey city called Paterson to the his life as an anonymous poet who finds inspiration in the world around him. These things cannot exist without the other, and Jarmusch celebrates it all with equal reverence.
14. I, Daniel Blake
You won’t notice a manipulative score or flashy editing in I, Daniel Blake. What you will notice are people in all their complexities, be they charming or harsh, yet there is a sense that there are no human antagonists. The real villain is the innate cruelty of “the system” and how it continually lets down honest people who are only trying to survive. Director Ken Loach, who has trafficked in this concern through much of his career, knows how to make the point with incredibly graceful filmmaking, and he is in top form with his latest.
13. Things to Come
With a modest but precise film style that highlights the quotidian, writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve has a knack for bringing life moments into acute focus via stubborn bits of persona that resist change. In Things to Come, this tense relationship between the shifting qualities of life and personal refusal to grow comes to a head for a philosophy professor skating by on existence after her husband of 25 year tells her he has met someone else he would prefer to be with. Isabelle Huppert gives an astonishing performance as a women struggling to move forward as her world is continually upended by life changes, from death to birth to personal relevance as professor, mother, wife and daughter. The movie is currently showing at the Bill Cosford Cinema in Coral Gables through Jan. 5.
With an amazing score and mostly distant cinematography, 20th Century Women tells both an expansive and personal story of three women and two guys in the waning years of the Women’s Lib era, in 1979 Santa Barbara. Punk rock and new wave are dividing, as these five people deal with tensions of their own personal growth. Writer-director Mike Mills packs the film with information and perspective with a mix of flashbacks interspersed into an exuberant story of growing up where, in voice over, the film’s characters tag team in telling the audience about another character. It’s a brilliant structure that reveals a mutual love that is often not easy to express but also the impossibility of ever truly knowing the ones closest to you. 20th Century Women is scheduled open at the Coral Gables Art Cinema on Jan. 20
10. Toni Erdmann
Showing incredible growth since her previous feature, Everyone Else (2009), writer-director Maren Ade shows she still has a natural intimacy with her actors via loose, handheld camera work. With her latest, Toni Erdmann, however, Ade demonstrates a sense of humor that took this writer by surprise. This movie isn’t just funny. Humor becomes lifeblood for these characters, as a father (Peter Simonischek) tags along with his daughter (Ines Conradi) on a business trip to save her from becoming an icy corporate cog in the machine of capitalism.
Something incredibly profound is revealed in this video memoir by documentary cinematographer Kirsten Johnson. The images we experience via the camera’s lens can leave profound effects on the psyche. It goes to show that life through this filter of technology can be as real as life outside of it. From the terrors of genocide to the wonders of reincarnation via editing, Cameraperson is a wondrous testament to the power of moving images.
NOTE: Moonlight returns to Miami Beach Cinematheque on Jan. 7
In Cosmos, nothing is explained but all is revealed as Andrzej Zulawski’s final picture breaks down the break down of the failings of conscious efforts of communication. Using a wonderful sense of humor and an aesthetically beautiful cinematic style that bursts from the screen, Zulawski breaks the rules of straight narrative with wonderful aplomb. Beyond what these characters say (which is ultimately frivolous) are their actions and feelings. Fears, infatuation, bitterness, the specter of death all come to vivid life in this surreal exploration of how people try to relate to one another but fail.
2. Sunset Song