I’m the damned fool who waits until the year actually ends before rolling out my Best Of… list every year, and that’s because I’m often able to squeeze in about a dozen or more films in the last few weeks of December, mostly stuff that others have told me is worth checking out that I either o or things that simply never came out locally. I also tend to do a great deal of re-watching in that timeframe, mostly in an effort to solidify my top 10.
I was genuinely shocked at how many great movies didn’t make my Top 10, or even my Top 20, as I was assembling this list. Even more shocked is the amount of horror films that made it. I often feel that after the top 5, the numbers don’t mean much, and that’s certainly true this year. Of my top 20, I saw 12 of them more than once.
All right, enough preamble. Here are my humbly submitted Top 20 best features. Please enjoy, discuss, debate…(side note: Since I was privy to seeing The Witch last year at a festival it made #4 on my best of 2015 list)
As always here’s a good chunk of Honorable Mentions that I found enjoyable and definitely worth a view.
- Florence Foster Jenkins
- Don’t Breathe
- La la Land
- Captain America: Civil War
- Lights Out
- Hell Or High Water
- The Conjuring 2
- KUBO And The Two Strings
- Shin Godzilla
- The Wailing
- The Brothers Grimsby
- The Boy
- Swiss Army Boy
- Finding Dory
- Hacksaw Ridge
- Suicide Squad (you heard me)
- The Infiltrator
- Pete’s Dragon
Random Shout out: Ouija Origin Of Evil
So yeah I just saw this film, and I just have to say something about this due to the major up in quality from its predecessor. So just about everybody agreed that 2014's Ouija, based on the popular contact-the-dead board game, was Garbage. But this past Halloween season's follow-up, Origin of Evil, is an altogether different beast—a sterling '60s-set period piece that's only loosely related to its predecessor, and one that manufactures terror by first making one care about its well-drawn characters. In this case, those are a mother and two daughters who, while running a séance scam out of their home, wind up in real supernatural trouble when the youngest of their clan (Lulu Wilson) makes contact with what she initially believes is the spirit of her dead father. Another superb chiller from director Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Hush)—mainstream horror's best new filmmaker—about the peril that can come from grieving lost loved ones, this stylish work is a throwback in terms of not only its setting, but also its preference for hold-your-breath suspense and unforgettable otherworldly imagery over cheap scare tactics.
20. Blair Witch
While this late-arriving sequel didn't blow the box office doors down, fans of the original may find themselves (un) pleasantly surprised by the scares cooked up by frequent collaborators Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, who genre fans know from You're Next and The Guest. Plot-wise, it's pretty much the same deal -- unprepared explorers wander into the Maryland woods and don't come out -- but the film also boasts several updates, and really cool ideas on expanding the Blair Witch mythology. A semi-subplot about "lost time" is pretty eerie; there's a tree-climbing sequence that's rather suspenseful, and the ending is not appropriate for any of you out there that get claustrophobic.
19. Doctor Strange
I’ve always known how far the artistry of cinema needed to progress to even begin stitching the realms that Stephen Strange moves between. This film pushed cinema forward – and I’m hearing it is just the beginning, with an appreciation of Psychedelic Cinema & art
18. The Lobster
Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos' The Lobster is one of the strangest movies in recent memory—and one of the most hilariously (and surprisingly profound) ones as well. In this pitch-black future-society saga, a single man (Colin Farrell) checks into a hotel where, by law, he must find a mate within 45 days or be transformed into the animal of his choice. (His preference? A lobster.) In that wacko locale, Farrell's lonely loser pals around with other equally strange sorts, and tries to forge a romance with a female counterpart, before eventually fleeing for the woods where anti-monogamy rebels are stationed. A deadpan dystopian comedy that also functions as a bizarro-world examination of love, relationships, marriage, and the basic human desire for connection, Lanthimos' film is that rare thing in today's cinema: an unqualified original. (Side note: If you really want to see weird an confusing go watch this director’s prior film Dogtooth. You’ve been warned)
17. The Invitation
Anyone who has attended an awkward dinner party filled with old friends and odd new acquaintances will appreciate what director Karyn Kusama cooked up with this slow-burning thriller. Things go from uncomfortable to bizarre to downright terrifying as the real reason for the ominous get-together becomes clearer. As Will (Logan Marshall-Green) works through emotional baggage, we work through the evident mystery. The Invitation caps off with a finale that's full of jolts, jumps, and unexpected twists.
16. The Nice Guys
Shane Black perfected the mismatched buddy-cop formula with 1987's Lethal Weapon, so it's no surprise that, 29 years later, he's delivered another bickering-duo gem set in the L.A. underworld. In this thoroughly amusing 1970s neo-noir comedy, Ryan Gosling is a bumbling private investigator that finds him paired with Russell Crowe's for-hire enforcer on a case involving a missing girl and a dead porn star. As they make their way through a seedy showbiz landscape, Crowe and Gosling prove an irresistibly combative, cantankerous pair, with Crowe's gruff exasperation clashing with Gosling's doofus bumbling. Energized by a dry, wry cynicism that borders on fatalistic desperation, The Nice Guys is an idiosyncratic crime romp that builds humorous momentum as it moves towards its mystery-unraveling conclusion. Plus, Gosling's impromptu Lou Costello homage is one for the ages.
15. Manchester By The Sea
Casey Affleck gives one of the year's most affecting lead turns as a Boston bachelor who, after the untimely death of his brother (Kyle Chandler), is saddled with custody of his nephew (Lucas Hedges) in Kenneth Lonergan's stomach-punch of a drama. That situation is created by tragedy, but it's not the only instance of traumatic loss addressed by this expertly calibrated portrait of grief and recovery, given that Affleck's loner—divorced from the mother (Michelle Williams) of his children—is already a deeply scarred individual with his own agonizing sorrow to shoulder. Affleck's muted embodiment of this fractured young man conveys volumes about misery, guilt and regret, and a sterling-supporting cast that delivers similarly unaffected, bone-deep performances matches him. They're further aided by Lonergan's natural evocation of his cold, grim New England milieu, and aided by a script that manages the not-inconsiderable feat of finding consistent humor amidst so much despair. Expect Casey Affleck as the Oscar front-runner this year with his performance.
14. 10 Cloverfield Lane
A movie where Mary Elizabeth Winstead finds herself locked in an underground bunker with an unhinged John Goodman who does such a great job here I’m holding out hope for a Supporting Actor nomination but I doubt it’ll happen. The dynamic could sustain a movie itself, but then things go and get extra freaky in the final stretch. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a very entertaining blend of psychological thriller, it is part Twilight Zone Episode, and straight-up science fiction, and holds up especially well to repeat viewings. I know because I just re-watched it. I don't make these things up.
A man comes to Poland to marry his bride at her family’s dilapidated rural estate, only to become possessed by an evil spirit known as a dybbuk (a Jewish demon), in this uniquely unsettling import from director Marcin Wrona (who committed suicide shortly after the film’s completion). Given its focus on long-buried secrets coming to terrifying light (in a country with a troubled history involving murdered Jews), the film resounds with historical and mythological weight, even as its bacchanalian action — its every character soaked by rain and drenched in vodka — comes across as akin to a malevolent matrimonial carnival.
Silence carries the weight of history, both that of its decades-long journey to the screen and that of the horrific events depicted within. But where some filmmakers would turn scenes of Christians being tortured and executed into a borderline-pornographic spectacle, conflicted Catholic Martin Scorsese quietly shoulders the burden of their suffering. Heaviest of all is the silence of the title—the awful void of unanswered prayers that overtake Jesuit priest Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) as his faith is tested time and time again. Traveling to Japan in search of their mentor (Liam Neeson), who is rumored to have disavowed Christianity and taken a Japanese wife, Rodrigues and his fellow Jesuit Father Garrpe (Adam Driver) are confronted with abject poverty and an oppressive government that condemns Christians to live in fear—desperate circumstances the fathers believe can be improved only by faith in God. Virtually devoid of comic relief and persistently bleak, Silence isn’t a fun film to watch. But it is a powerful one, with amazing cinematography too boot.
11. The Autopsy Of Jane Doe
Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch play father and son coroners who -- with required suspense -- come to realize that the unidentified corpse on their table has a long and freaky backstory. To say much more would spoil the flick's numerous twists and turns, but this is a very crafty, brisk, and efficient horror movie from Trollhunter director André Øvredal
Jackie is an unconventional, hauntingly lyrical snapshot of Jackie Kennedy (played by an astounding Natalie Portman) in the week immediately following the November 23, 1963 assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy. Framed by an interview between Jackie and a reporter (Billy Crudup), Larrain's masterful drama uses incessant close-ups to dig deeply into the conflicted interior condition of his subject, who finds herself both battling with grief and struggling to immediately lay the groundwork for her husband's legacy. Graceful and gripping, it's a period piece character study that cannily speaks to the way in which words—and, tellingly, also visual images—are the tools by which we shape history.
9. OJ: Made In America (best documentary)
A documentary that runs seven hours and 47 minutes, and is divided into self-contained chapters—is in fact a long-form TV documentary. Nonetheless, thanks to a limited theatrical run in May, Ezra Edelman's non-fiction opus is eligible for 2016 movie awards, and even in a year overflowing with gems, it stands head and shoulders about the rest. A titanic work of socio-cultural commentary that plumbs issues of ambition, race, fame, ego and denial, Edelman's masterpiece spends its first three immersive hours conveying the magnetic personality and triumphant athletic (and advertising) career of O.J. Simpson, as well as providing background on the contentious historic relationship between Los Angeles' police force and African-American community. That engrossing material is the appetizer for its subsequent in-depth look at the "Trail of the Century" and Simpson's eventual conviction on armed robbery charges, all of which is examined from myriad enthralling, incisive angles. Illuminating, infuriating and heartbreaking in equal measure, O.J.: Made in America paints a vividly ugly portrait of its notorious celebrity—and, in the process, gets to the rotten center of the culture that begat him. (The whole documentary is currently on hulu plus)
8. The Hand Maiden (Best Foreign Language Film)
South Korean auteur Park Chan-wook has made a name for himself with deliriously violent, sexually deranged revenge tales (Oldboy, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, Thirst, and 2013's English-language Stoker starring Nicole Kidman and Mia Wasikowska being my favorites). Thus, The Handmaiden finds him back in familiar terrain, given that it charts a con man's scheme to use a young female pickpocket to help him marry, and then commit to an insane asylum, a mentally unstable heiress—a ruse that gets hopelessly complicated the further it progresses thanks to a series of didn't-see-that-coming twists. Rearranging characters around his narrative playing board like a devilish chess champion, Park stages his material with serpentine sensuality and playfully grim wit, all while presenting a vision of femininity that, true to his prior form, is seductive, sinister and empowered. Come for the luxurious period décor, uninhibited carnality and ominous atmosphere, and stay for the octopus.
Bet you forgot this film came out this year didn’t you. I debated Deadpool’s place on this list. There’s no denying how great the movie is, of how hilarious and messed up things are at every turn. What landed it here, though, is the fact it’s become so damn influential. More than almost any big Hollywood blockbuster this year, Deadpool quickly embedded itself in our national consciousness. The character was already massively popular but the way he exploded onto the mainstream with a flurry of F-bombs and decapitated heads was undeniable and deserved recognition.
6. The Eyes Of My Mother
The Eyes of My Mother is another example of boundary-pushing indie horror done right. The story of a young girl whose response to a drifter’s murder of her mother (an eye surgeon) is to keep the man as her mutilated pet/best friend, Nicolas Pesce’s black-and-white directorial debut strikes a deranged tone that’s amplified by his precise imagery and laconic pacing. It’s akin to a gorgeous waking nightmare.
In the broadest sense, Moonlight could be called a movie “about being black” or “about being gay” or even “about being raised in the drug-ravaged Liberty City neighborhood of Miami.” But writer-director Barry Jenkins treats identity as more of a prism than a lens in his adaptation of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s unproduced play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. In three haunting vignettes, set years apart, Jenkins examines the complicated urges and influences within a young man, Chiron, as a friendly dope-pusher (beautifully played by Mahershala Ali) offers the kid some guidance, and an affectionate classmate helps awaken his sexuality. From moment to moment, Moonlight is small in scale. But its various echoes and callbacks coalesce into an at-times sweet, at-times heartbreaking portrait of someone who hesitates to articulate his desires.
4. The Neon Demon
THE NEON DEMON finds a way to feel chaotic and messy while still appearing polished. Refn’s observations about Los Angeles in general and modeling specifically alternate between the astute and obvious. But it’s with his themes of this world consuming this young woman that have impressed me the most. He has captured this world centered on beauty and promptly turns it into a pure horror show, complete with all the bloody trimmings. This film like most of his work will likely leave you conflicted and that’s good! Because it means you’re actually feeling something, which in my opinion doesn’t happen nearly enough in a darkened theater these days. I highly recommend this to any cinema buff. For the casual movie goer, approach with an open mind
3. Rogue One
Coming in right under the gun is the latest Star Wars movie, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Rogue One tells a story Star Wars fans have imagined for years, and executes it with the perfect blend of excitement and peril I expect from the best of Star Wars. One moment your jaw is on the floor from something unexpected. The next, every hair on your arms stands up at something beautiful and inspiring. It’s a rousing film that that I’m very glad exists.
2. Christine (Best Actress)
This was literally the last film in 2016 I saw, it is, Based on the life of newscaster Christine Chubbuck and directed by Antonio Campos, CHRISTINE is the devastatingly detailed account of a person in the quiet throes of depression, trying with all her might to hold it back by throwing herself into the work she cared so much about. The movie captures the period and the mood of the country quite faithfully, without getting lost in ’70s kitsch. But nothing about the film quite prepared me for the depth of the compassion and pain that Rebecca Hall brings to her role. Even when she was trying to relax and be social, she never truly dropped her reporter’s voice and sense of professionalism, which may have been a source of her downfall. Christine is as revealing, as it is tragic, and Campos and his team turn her story into a symptom of greater issues in the country than simply a singular event. This is a truly magnificent work. While I understand most award attention will be going to Natalie Portman this year, I feel this is the performance that deserves more attention.
It took two separate viewings. But the second this movie ended after the 2nd viewing, the contest was over. No other film this year left me as breathless and as desperate to talk about what I just saw. That’s what science fiction (when done right) does better than almost any genre—it gives us a language to talk about things we never even imagined... like a film about language that creates an extraordinary ability and the implications it brings. Everything about Arrival is beautiful, from its cinematography to its performances, but the ideas it presents truly set it apart from the rest. Welcome to main event Denis, all you have to do is knock BLADE RUNNER 2049 out of the park and you’re up there with the Nolans, and Scorsese’s in my book