Another year, another tough list to create. More than ever there was such a diverse set of films, and each one here is so different from one another. It’s hard for me to have absolutes because I love each selection here for different reasons, but that’s why I love going to the movies – it’s an artform that can speak to each of us in different ways, and from one film to another, you never know what you’re going to get. Each of these films touched me deeply, pushing the boundaries of narrative, imagination, expectation and innovation, and I can’t wait to see many of them again.
Runners up: Little Sister, Hell or High Water, Manchester by the Sea, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, The Bad Batch, Always Shine, The Wailing
In no real order…
Elle / Paul Verhoeven: The dark horse on this list. Paul Verhoeven is cinema’s eternal provocateur, and he really came out with something that isn’t going to sit well with a lot of people. Most are split on whether this is a revenge thriller or the portrait of a psychopath, but maybe the truth lies somewhere in the murky middle. A film that really digs deep into perverted male fantasy and gives us a woman who isn’t what other people define her to be. Also, Isabelle Huppert is perfection. FULL REVIEW
Hail, Caesar! / The Coen Bros: The first great film of 2016. I remember seeing it early this year and being totally blown away – it really stuck with me despite everything that came after, a funny, poignant comedy that only the Coens could deliver, and a beautiful statement about sticking to our guns, doing something not because it’s easy, but because it’s want we want AND NEED to do.
Swiss Army Man / Daniels: The only film on this list with fart jokes that will make you want to cry. This film is probably the first and last of its kind, a sweet, eccentric comedy about life, death and all the messy stuff in between. Daniel Radcliffe is an excellent corpse and he’ll have you in stitches while also making you reevaluate your life. No joke there. FULL REVIEW
The Handmaiden / Park Chan-wook: Every film from Mr. Park operates on its own wavelength, and this is no different. Explorations of female independence, sordid love story and heist film all rolled into one, this one continually subverts expectation at every turn, and we’re hypnotized the entire way through. FULL REVIEW
Nocturnal Animals / Tom Ford: For his sophomore effort, Ford turns in one of the most romantic and cruel films of the year. I don’t want to say too much a bout what’s going on here, but there are multiple layers to the story and it ends with a total gut punch. Also, the visuals are intoxicating and it’s hard not to get swept away in the film’s lavish beauty. FULL REVIEW
American Honey / Andrea Arnold: If there’s one film that perfectly captures the pulse of now, it’s this one. An earnest and raw road trip through middle America, Arnold captures the country’s desperation, isolation and differing ideologies, but also the hope that stitches it together. Great soundtrack, killer performances from Sasha Lane and Shia Labeouf, this ones a must see. FULL REVIEW
The Lobster / Yorgos Lanthimos: I saw this film twice and both times it hung over my entire being for almost a straight week. It’s extremely funny, but in the most painful way possible, a critique of a modern society bent on curing loneliness through torture (so to speak). It also speaks to our culture of instant gratification and how we lie to ourselves to create our own reality. Smart, piercing and impossible to forget. FULL REVIEW
Green Room / Jeremy Saulnier: Warning: watching this film may not be good for your heart. More than any other film in this list, I felt like I couldn’t physically breathe while watching it. Taking a deceitfully simple premise, Saulnier pits a punk band vs neo-nazis with merciless results. There’s more going on there than you think, and when it’s all over, you’ll be surprised by the low key dissection of primal urges and happy to still have your life. FULL REVIEW
Toni Erdmann by Maren Ade / Don’t Think Twice by Mike Birbiglia: These films end up being about totally different things, but they both use the nature of time to get their points across, plus share tonal similarities. Both are incredibly funny but also moving and devastatingly poignant. At a time when most comedies are taking the easy way out and trying to “out-gross” one another, these films use comedy as a reflection of painful, honest truths. They end up being very beautiful and leave us with nothing but aching hearts – that’s a compliment obviously! DTT FULL REVIEW
Moonlight / Barry Jenkins: This one seemingly came out of nowhere, but leaves a mark that sticks. Jenkins’ film is soulful and measured, an intense character portrait told through three distinct and defining moments in one man’s life. The poetry on display is pure, and by the time we get to the end, our hearts are overwhelmed.
One More Time With Feeling / Andrew Dominik: An ambitious undertaking, not just because the film dares to chronicle the aftermath of a tragic death, but because of how Dominik creates an epic mythology around Cave himself. The film is raw and intense, blending heartfelt musical numbers with intimate observations of Cave turning his grief into art. By all accounts, a film that feels like a bad idea, but ends up being the portrait of a brave artist staring down tragedy and turning it into strength. FULL REVIEW
La La Land / Damien Chazelle: Old fashioned awe and wonder told through a modern lens. By looking at the present with the earnest sincerity of the past, Chazelle has created a musical tapestry of joy, love and everything in between. The technical artistry on display is dizzying, and the musical numbers and performances are downright magical. You can’t not fall completely in love with this one. FULL REVIEW
Raw / Julia Ducournau: The most original film on this list, it feels like a lightning bolt, transforming adolescent angst and confusion into a heartfelt tale of cannibalism and sisterly love. Really. There’s no way to classify this one, it exists on a plane of its own, with two incredible performances from Garance Marillier and Ella Rumpf, stomach-churning gore and lots of laughs, this one’s got it all. Get ready to gag and have your heart touched at the same time. FULL REVIEW
Certain Women / Kelly Reichardt: While most films create extraordinary circumstances for their characters, Reichardt is the champion of the mundane, knowing full well its power and importance. There are three understated character portraits contained within this stellar anthology, each giving us incredible women who take the world’s terrible burdens quietly and with grace. The power here is in silence, what her characters don’t say, but rather what they do, and how they do it. A stunning film that allows women to just be themselves. No sensationalism, no tricks. FULL REVIEW
Arrival / Denis Villeneuve: I intentionally didn’t number this list, but if I had a number one, this would be it. Villeneuve’s is conjuring some dark magic for this one, a wonderfully understated film that speaks to the very zeitgeist, and how more than ever, we need to come together under a united front. It’s a film that dismantles language and fear with nuance and has a story structure that feels like a magic trick. Frankly, it feels like a miracle that this film exists, and it’s one that needs to be seen to be believed. Breathtaking. FULL REVIEW