We’re a few weeks past the halfway mark of 2016, and before summer winds down and Oscar season heats up, I thought it’d be fun to list the best flicks I’ve seen so far in this year. As always, release dates are based on American theatrical releases.
10. 10 Cloverfield Lane/Hush/The Shallows
dir. by Dan Trachtenberg/Mike Flanagan/Jaume Collet-Serra
Three modestly budgeted horror/thrillers (set mostly in a single location) that were far better than they had a right to be. Each film is anchored by stellar performances (John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Cloverfield, Kate Siegel in Hush, Blake Lively in The Shallows), and cruise by with smart thrills and genuine intrigue.
9. The Nice Guys
dir. by Shane Black
The only bad thing I can say about The Nice Guys (other than the gaps in logic it takes during the third act – but oh well, it’s a Shane Black movie!), is that it bombed at the box office. Having failed to turn a profit, it’s unlikely we’ll be privy to the hilarious chemistry shared by Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling again. I could’ve watched these characters mix it up for a least two more films.
8. Green Room
dir. by Jeremy Saulnier
As he proved with his magnificent debut film, Blue Ruin, Jeremy Saulnier’s violence is swift and exact, brutal and real. It typically comes from nowhere, but when it does, look out. His sophomore feature, about a punk band fighting for their lives in a neo-Nazi club, is the tensest film of the year so far. But damn, what heartbreak it is to watch the film’s recently deceased star, Anton Yelchin, deliver yet another great, singular performance here. He will certainly be missed.
7. Midnight Special
dir. Jeff Nichols
Jeff Nichols’ career is such a pleasant enigma. Since the release of his micro low budget domestic thriller, Shotgun Stories (still my favorite Nichols film), his films have risen in price and scope, never to the detriment of the material. Midnight Special was Nichols’ biggest film yet (but still only cost $18 million), but no less intimate than the rest of his work. I’ve only seen Midnight Special once, and I know that on repeat viewings, I’ll grow to appreciate it more.
6. The Invitation
dir. Karyn Kusama
A bunch of friends gather for a dinner party in the Hollywood hills. Things begin normal enough, but how long before the evening goes very, very wrong? After winning Sundance with her debut feature, Girlfight, director Karyn Kusama strained critically and commercial with her next two features (Æon Flux and Jennifer’s Body). Needless to say, it is great to see Kusama back in her indie roots.
5. De Palma
dir. Noah Baumbach & Jake Paltrow
This documentary about iconic director, Brian De Palma, is the way to showcase a single body of work. Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow interviewed De Palma once, and then intercut clips of every single film the man directed, in order. No fancy tricks, no shifty narrative – De Palma is a great documentary about a great filmmaker, told straight and simply. In a perfect world, Baumbach and Paltrow would make a new De Palma-like documentary every year, focusing on a different director every time.
4. The Neon Demon
dir. Nicolas Winding Refn
It’s hard to imagine any film from 2016 topping The Neon Demon in terms of sheer mind fuckness. Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest (and, in my opinion, best) film is a neon-infused head trip that has yet to leave my brain. The film entered and left theaters in the blink of an eye, which is shameful, because a movie this splendid looking deserved to be seen on the biggest screen (and heard on the best sound system) possible.
3. Everybody Wants Some!!
dir. by Richard Linklater
I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun at the movies. A huge smile formed on my face roughly 30 seconds into Everybody Wants Some!! (thanks to “My Sharona” blaring over the opening credits) and didn’t leave until the film was over. I also can’t think of another film that so quickly and clearly established so many different characters. Linklater’s own Dazed and Confused, which is the spiritual predecessor to this film, surely comes to mind.
2. The Lobster
dir. by Yorgos Lanthimos
Like Yorgos Lanthimos’ previous films, Dogtooth and Alps, plot details about The Lobster are best left discreet. Lanthimos is a master of presenting unique visions of the world in a believable way. To classify The Lobster as simply a mild sci-fi, or dark comedy, or tense thriller, would be to crudely summarize one of the most distinctive films in years.
1. Knight of Cups
dir. by Terrence Malick
This one will make it to the end. No matter what else I see in 2016, Terrence Malick’s latest visual poem will be on my Top 10 of the year. Knight of Cups is one of the best visual representations of depression, longing, and regret I’ve seen in quite some time. Its virtual lack of conventional narrative only helps propel its overall intention, which is, to me, for the viewer to put their own experience onto the film’s main character. That’s one thing I’ve always loved most about films: that they ask us to look inside ourselves, with ever out really asking.