Looking over this list, it’s interesting that nearly half of my choices made my Top 10 Films of 2016 (so far) list back in July. I suppose to some degree, 2016 gave us something to like throughout. Here are the 10 I enjoyed the most.
The Girlfriend Experience
Created, Written and Directed by Amy Seimetz & Lodge Kerrigan
TV dominates the conversation far more than film these days. And while this will always be a site dedicated to cinema, it’s worth mentioning that the finest television I saw in 2016 was Starz’s The Girlfriend Experience. The show, based loosely on Steven Soderbergh’s 2009 film of the same name, is about a law student’s (Riley Keough) discovery of the high-end escort service From the way the story was told (it’s a rare 30-minute drama) to its hypnotic look, The Girlfriend Experience was utterly entrancing from first episode to last. I watched Season 1 in a day, and spent much of that time trying to remember a TV show that left me so creatively inspired.
10. The Neon Demon
dir. by Nicolas Winding Refn
Sure, there were films of more substance in 2016, but The Neon Demon succeeded as fever dream cinema. A pitch-black dissection of fame, celebrity, and all that comes with it, the film was a grotesque experiment of the macabre. For better or worse, I couldn’t take my eyes off it.
9. The Handmaiden
dir. by Park Chan-wook
I initially had a hard time keeping up with The Handmaiden. I didn’t know if I could hang with the story, or if I even cared to. But once I settled into Park Chan-wook’s dark, beautiful, sexy, violent world, I fell into it like a trance. It’s Chan-wook’s most mature film yet. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.
8. The Lobster
dir. Yorgos Lanthimos
Yorgos Lanthimos cares none about convention. His films are darkly comedic takedowns of how we view the societal structure of family, children, relationships, and loss. No two-sentence description of The Lobster will do the film justice. But to say I’ve never seen anything like this film is a feat entirely of itself.
7. White Girl
dir. by Elizabeth Wood
If I’m lucky, I get one of these movies a year. A flick I’ve never heard of, that creeps up and destroys me. I found White Girl on Netflix last month, hit play, and was stunned for the subsequent 88 minutes. It’s a film about the destruction of youth and the recklessness of fun. What do you call fun when fun goes too far? A nightmare. And that’s what White Girl is: a poignant nightmare that dares you watch.
6. Hell or High Water
dir. by David Mackenzie
Hell or High Water is the kind of movie no one thinks will succeed. The film was made for just $12 million and then quietly released in August, with little marketing help from the distributor. But somehow, it caught on. People started talking, the film doubled its budget in gross, and it is now an Oscar contender. Hell or High Water is the underdog of 2016; it’s been one of my film pleasures of the year to tell everyone that they must see it.
5. Everybody Wants Some!!
dir. by Richard Linklater
I was nervous about Everybody Wants Some!! Richard Linklater was following Boyhood, one of my favorite films of recent memory, with an 80s-set college flick starring relative unknowns. It was foolish of me to doubt Linklater, as Everybody Wants Some!! is as funny, original, and rewatchable as damn near anything the man has made. A smile formed on my face during the film’s opening scene, and it didn’t leave until the credits rolled. Such a fun damn flick.
4. Knight of Cups
dir. by Terrence Malick
Knight of Cups is a visual poem, an abstract painting in motion. Your interpretation of it depends entirely on where you are, emotionally speaking. Its obscure nature isn’t for everyone, such is Malick’s way. I don’t know how to better summarize my opinion on the film than to say I understood it. I understood its intention and identified with its conceptual depiction of loss and regret. How does one start over? I haven’t a clue, neither does Christian Bale’s character. But you have to start somewhere. And somewhere is different for everyone.
3. Manchester by the Sea
dir. by Kenneth Lonergan
Manchester by the Sea isn’t a big film. There are no grand set pieces, the cinematography is standard, and the editing is clunky at times. But it has characters. Real, human characters who exist in a world where pain is paramount and anguish is every day. I knew each person in the film, because Kenneth Lonergan wrote them that way, and the respective actors played them that way. Not since Steve McQueen’s Shame have I seen a movie that better encapsulates the eternal regret one can suffer through.
2. Nocturnal Animals
dir. by Tom Ford
Nocturnal Animals trapped me right away. And once the horrendous highway horror scene was underway (still one of the scariest scenes I’ve ever watched), I was completely transfixed. I’ve never seen fractured love depicted in such a way as it is in Ford’s film. This was the only film of the year that I watched back to back (to back). Three times in row, in quick succession. And I know I haven’t stopped learning from it yet.
1. La La Land
dir. by Damien Chazelle
Musicals are my least favorite film genre. That’s not a blanket statement; I like some here and there. But by and large, I have trouble staying with them. To say I stayed with La La Land is a vast understatement. From its grand opening number atop a Los Angeles freeway, to its wonderfully shattering conclusion, the film had me. It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me smile and nod with delight.
Finding movies I love is harder nowadays. I don’t know what happened. Maybe it’s the movies. Maybe there really aren’t as many great films made today. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m getting older, priorities are changing, I don’t see as many movies, I’m less tolerant of typical. My movie tastes align with films that knock the wind out of me. Films that are hard to watch, that challenge me. La La Land wasn’t that. In a word, the film was simply delightful. It wasn’t dark and sad and foreboding, it was a love-set dream in the City of Angels, and I felt lucky that I got to see it. I felt lucky that I enjoyed myself so much while watching it. I feel lucky that I get so much pleasure from telling people how much I love it. La La Land is that rare movie that reminds me why I love movies. They don’t come around too much, but when they do, I feel so lucky that they came into my life.
Ten More I Enjoyed
Author: The JT Leroy Story
Kate Plays Christine