These are the films that never really saw their worthy light of day. Whether it was due to an unfairly lame box office performance, a violent barrage of negative reviews that was completely uncalled for, or a limited release that just wasn’t enough, these five movies struck a chord with me and deserve much more attention and appeal.
Disorder is a disturbing and tense PTSD thriller bolstered by a curiously sharp performance from Matthias Schoenaerts. Winocour establishes herself as an auteur to be reckoned with as she dives into thematic pools much stranger and more psychologically perplexing than most films of this ilk have dared to explore.
With seriously agile control, Jeremy Saulnier pulls endless unapologetic B-movie thrills from his fascinating, down-and-dirty filmmaking playbook. Green Room is Assault on Precinct 13 as scored by The Misfits, with the kind of horrific gore and violence that would give any sane person wild nightmares. To witness a nihilist-attitude punk band have to scramble to save their own lives is a visceral pleasure of bitter dramatic irony. Also, uh oh, this was accidentally the most prophetic film of 2016. So… bonus points?! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
It’s early 90s Steven Seagal overloaded on European street trash PCP. It’s home to the year’s best opening credits sequence. And it has the craziest death of an action movie villain in at least a decade. A representation of vulgar auteurism at its most bombastic and least commercially viable, Hardcore Henry‘s admittedly-puerile humor blasts as frequently as the entertainment value of its carnage aesthetics.
Colorfully demented anarchy in the U.K. hits newfound nerves of discomfort with the possibilities of capitalism and political freedom experiencing a catastrophic imbalance. Thanks to Ben Wheatley’s bizarro imagery, an eerily copacetic tone, and Portishead’s killer cover of “SOS” by ABBA, High-Rise has the ingredients to become a decade-defining cult classic, and then some.
Cianfrance’s latest film is an extra-ravishing portal to an era of much more serious and emotional romantic dramas that somehow lost its footing in finding a deserved appreciation. Vikander proves that her Oscar win was only the beginning, and Adam Arkapaw’s sumptuous photography paints intricate strokes to tell a tale of a tumultuous relationship that would affect anyone with a pulse.
I WAS THERE WHEN IT HAPPENED:
“The Mermaid recorded an opening day record of US$40.9 million, which is the biggest opening day for a Chinese film and the second biggest of all time there only behind the opening day of Furious 7. Through its seven-day opening week, it grossed a total of $275.1 million, breaking records for the biggest seven-day gross and the biggest-opening week of all time in China, and the third biggest of all time, behind Hollywood films Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Jurassic World. 12 days after release, the film became the highest-grossing film in China with CN¥2.45 billion. It became the first film to gross over US$500 million in China.”
Meanwhile, the details of The Mermaid‘s disappointing United States release are best described by Simon Abrams —
“Its American release is an afterthought for one reason: mismanagement by its American distributor, Sony Corporation of America. (In theory the film is distributed by Asia Releasing, a subsidiary that handles the release of Asian films in the US and Canada, but the print I saw had a plain old Sony logo in front of it.)
Sony ought to be ashamed for keeping such a good film from American viewers who aren’t already part of the Chinese diasporic community. Three of the four Sony representatives I spoke with didn’t even know that the company was releasing The Mermaid. The fourth rep told me that his company hadn’t thought to set up advanced screenings for US press, or even send out an email alerting them to the film’s impending release. I was told that the film had already gotten positive reviews—all pegged to its release in Asia—and that Sony didn’t expect it to interest many people, outside of Chinese or Chinese-American film fans.
This is the sad reality of foreign films in America today: the domestic marketplace is so hopelessly biased in favor of English-language films, most of them produced in the United States, that the second most popular movie in the world is treated as if it doesn’t even exist.”
And yet I was there, in the audience at the Rave Cinemas Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza 15 + Xtreme on a weeknight, a SoCal theater I had never heard of before, to see the latest Stephen Chow comedy/fantasy bonanza. The film is a strange, hilarious, and glorious mishmash of more genres than I can name in a single sentence. Chow is our Chuck Jones, and deserves the biggest worldwide audience.
HOT MESS OF THE YEAR:
Three of the most talented and most beautiful women on the planet acting alongside the most handsome movie star in Hollywood — there was no way any one of them could be swindled into saying turning down this project. Alas, it’s a competent but insanely silly PG-13 children’s fairy tale prequel-and-also-sequel to a movie that nobody liked, strung together like a series of glittery Tumblr GIFs, starring four people who are over 30. Who was this made for? What is this? Why is this? What?
Because assembling a Top 10 list is a very volatile operation, and the spillage has to land somewhere.
“Holy mackerel!” After giving his audience an exuberant tour through a gallery of some of the most iconic films of the 20th and 21st centuries, the jovial maestro of the macabre slinks out of a New York brownstone, having just left us with a blunt, no-bullshit blueprint of the fascinating mechanics of his mind.
Fede Alvarez delicately stages the anxiety of a precarious heist with the. most. elaborate. tension until a Mount St. Helens-sized twist erupts and levels the playing field for every character’s vulnerabilities. Engrossing and alarming all the same, Don’t Breathe was perhaps the most primally entertaining genre film of 2016.
Sensual thrills & endless, shocking twists punctuate the best Victorian-style thriller in eons. This had so many elaborate left turns that my head legitimately flipped inside out. If you’re not familiar with Park or his work, you should at least know that he studied psychology and Hitchcock in college. Consider this film is his thesis. He has visible control over every framing setup, camera dolly, pivot, and cut. And they all pay off in a shocking and sensual story of deception, romance, and power. It’s a stunning work of craftsmanship that represents the auteur theory at its most dedicated.
Lonergan, ever the dramatist extraordinaire, manages to score a triple play by substantiating an overwhelmingly emotional grief drama with a hilarious rhythm of humor and stinging personality. It’s a film with career-best work from Casey Affleck (that’s saying a lot) in perhaps one of the most well-rendered vessels of personal anguish since Five Easy Pieces.
A sensitive portrait of a man’s endless hunt for his own identity, Moonlight is just about as close as film can get to pure poetry.
The Catfish boys took a big leap forward and found a story that perfectly magnetizes to their obsession with the youthful craving for acceptance and thrill-seeking through multimedia platforms in the age of information. Nerve multiplies Nick & Norah and After Hours to deliver an endlessly entertaining ladder-climb of the digital frontier.
Jim Jarmusch’s casual study of people and places is pleasant in its simplicity and soulful in its subjectivity. It’s a film in which nothing happens, but at the same time, everything happens. Also worth noting: Marvin is a legendary movie dog.
I wish I had the opportunity to experience this film in a theater as a kid. It is a heartwarming, inspiring, and beautiful story told by artists who care. It’s very sad that such a thing of this size is rarity today, so let’s celebrate it forever.
The Witch is among the most frightening, fascinating, and very best horror films I have seen. The stubborn religious agenda of a 17th century Puritan family conflicts with the idea of latent sexuality, before any major precedents of behavioral and social psychology as we know them today have been set in stone. The results are absolutely terrifying. It is a film that is borderline impossible to recommend to anyone who can’t stomach pure terror.
Leads & supporting players, males & females, and old & young are all included.
Listed alphabetically by last name
TOP 10 FAVORITE FILMS OF 2016:
A stunning directorial debut with an absolutely fucking knockout performance from Morgan Saylor. Her lip quiver, smile, and running mascara can each launch a thousand ships. The team behind the camera really knows the value of a lingering close-up shot, and how gestures and facial ticks can sell a scene. This film is a wild and sweaty party that won’t let up. You won’t see stronger or more committed bravery anywhere else this year.
I went to college and lived in a house off campus with a group of competitive twentysomethings. I can confirm that this film is indeed very real, and enjoyably so.
Everyone’s favorite motley crew of comedians dared to make the most vulgar sendup of organized religion by way of fornicating animated food…and…succeeded. Sausage Party is so hilarious in its end-of-the-Roman Empire approach to the ridiculousness of faith that repertory theaters may already be preparing it for a double feature with the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man. Bill Hader as a drunk tequila bottle, Edward Norton’s Woody Allen impression channeled into the prose of a bagel, Salma Hayek as a lesbian taco asserting that “once you go taco, you never go back-o,” and condiments continually taking Nick Kroll’s remarks far too literally are just a few of many reasons that this a masterpiece.
To commit to the life of an artist is to commit to the expectation that you’ll be giving and receiving boosts to and from your peers along the way. It just helps if you do it with tap dancing shoes and a winning personality.
Portman defiantly portrays personalization of grief via dissociative emotions, while the vintage Arriflex 416/16mm texture adds its own adorning story of love and tragedy. Pablo Larraín’s case study of the absolute worst possible week in anybody’s life demonstrates the fragility of our capabilities and limits.
Our greatest living filmmaker continues to excel at decoding the many languages of life’s passions and pursuits. Silence is, in a way, the summation of everything that Scorsese has ever sought as a filmmaker: Religious anguish multiplied by the bells and whistles of what made the drama in John Ford’s The Searchers so captivating.
Stacked with equal layers of drama, horror, and shattering reveals, The Invitation is one of the finest and most chilling independent film offerings in years. The numerous red herrings are introduced and dismissed so frequently that, like Logan Marshall-Green’s character, you start to question just how much truth you’re actually witnessing. Ultimately, you realize that the real danger isn’t what’s threatening you, but what drove you there in the first place.
The trick to making a great documentary is to go beyond the inherent limitations of its format. Reshaping and repurposing the style of how your story is told will help the film be about more than just its subject matter. Robert Greene’s Kate Plays Christine is a documentary until it isn’t. It starts as a chilling experiment in research and preparation for someone’s own artistic ambitions, transforms into an investigative piece of emotional detective work, and finally ends as a confrontational case study of what we watch, and the challenges we face in how we watch it.
** The Invitation and Kate Plays Christine tie for fourth place because they both deal with the confrontations of those who shallowly instrumentalize grief for the benefit of an audience. Well, that, and because I couldn’t fit just ten films here. **
I am fascinated with films that feature the bodies and personalities of its characters–however hopeful, troubled, narcissistic, or passionate–in swimwear. I find that, more often than not, their narratives often go out of their way to strip away not only the clothing, but also the facades that disguise honesty and primal instincts. Frank Perry’s The Swimmer and Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers are the two key players in this niche subgenre I’ve claimed for myself. Luca Guadagnino populates A Bigger Splash with the brazen, sun-soaked bodies of actors who are incapable of being photographed plainly. And their presences, postures, and body language speak volumes about their past, present, and futures. A Bigger Splash is a testament to how a film’s use of movement and gestures can make a picture worth a thousand words.
To understand the criminal justice system, one must first understand present-day O.J. Simpson. To understand present-day O.J. Simpson, one must first learn about “the verdict.” To understand “the verdict,” one must first learn about Los Angeles. To understand Los Angeles, one must first learn about racism. To understand racism, one must first see O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA.
Improvised auteurism captures the essence of sprawled identity crises and a love/hate relationship for the ages. Andrea Arnold’s American Honey is this year’s most sublime film. Its improvisational attitude is a thing of beauty, and the sights, cuts, and sounds are to die for. It’s a honkytonk vision of the country that revels in catching glimpses of multiple identity crises of young Americans who are looking for nationalism, love, passion, and freedom.
EVERYTHING ELSE I SAW IN 2016:
Dirty Grandpa / Deadpool / How to Be Single / Zootopia / Knight of Cups / 10 Cloverfield Lane / The Brothers Grimsby / Midnight Special / Art of the Prank / The Jungle Book / Keanu / Money Monster / The Lobster / Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising / Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping / The Conjuring 2 / Central Intelligence / Independence Day: Resurgence / The Shallows / The Neon Demon / The Legend of Tarzan / Captain Fantastic / Star Trek Beyond / Jason Bourne / Suicide Squad / Hell or High Water / War Dogs / Sully / Blair Witch / Snowden / Goat / The Magnificent Seven / Headshot / The Accountant / Loving / The Purge: Election Year / Ouija: Origin of Evil / Doctor Strange / Jack Reacher: Never Go Back / The Comedian / Things to Come / Arrival / Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk / Evolution / Allied / Bad Moms / 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi / Too Late / Blood Father / Nocturnal Animals / Lion / Kubo and the Two Strings / A Monster Calls / Anthropoid / Rogue One: A Star Wars Story / Weiner / Hacksaw Ridge / Hunt for the Wilderpeople / 20th Century Women / The Edge of Seventeen / Moana / Passengers / Patriots Day / Lights Out / Live By Night