To get on my year-end list, a movie has to be one that thrills me while I’m watching it and one that I’m still thinking about a couple of days later.
- Hell or High Water
- Manchester by the Sea
- Toni Erdmann
- La La Land
- Eye in the Sky
- Frank & Lola
- Take Me to the River
The rest of my Best Movies of 2016 are: The Handmaiden, OJ: Made in America, and Green Room.
And these three would be on my list if they had been made widely available to US audiences through release in theaters or on video:
- The Memory of Water
- Lost Solace
Hell or High Water: This remarkably atmospheric and gripping character-driven crime drama is a triumph for screenwriter Taylor Sheridan. As it begins, we think we’re watching a very well-made film about white trash losers on a crime spree, but eventually, as we understand how original the characters are and how intricate the plot is, we understand that we’re watching a triumph of the perfect crime genre – and with an embedded political point of view.
Manchester by the Sea: Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan’s powerfully affecting drama about a man (Casey Affleck) disabled by grief and guilt. Can he step up and take responsibility for his teenage nephew? Affleck is brilliant.
Toni Erdmann: In writer-director Maren Ade’s woman’s perspective of a father-daughter relationship, Ade creates a totally original and unforgettable father character who takes prankstering into performance art. You might not expect an almost three-hour German comedy to break through, but I’ve seen it, and I think that it’s a lock to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Picture. Toni Erdmann opens January 20, 2017, in the Bay Area.
Elle: The extraordinary performance of French actress Isabelle Huppert makes the already subversive Elle into a Must See. Huppert plays the middle-aged businesswoman Michèle, who is raped in her home in the first seconds of this movie. Elle is likely to be controversial; Michèle’s reaction to the rape will not meet anyone’s expectations. At first, Elle seems like it will be a looks like a whodunit (who is the attacker?), then it shifts into a revenge fantasy, all the while remaining, at its core, an amazing study of Michèle, a character that we haven’t seen before. This is a woman who refuses to accept – and may not be capable of – victimhood.
La La Land: There’s a profound love story at the heart of La La Land, and it’s told with extravagant musical, visual and acting artistry. In dazzling performances, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling star as struggling artists (actress and jazz pianist) in contemporary Los Angeles who meet and fall in love. With his use of dance, original music and a vivid color palette, writer-director Damien Chazelle has created a landmark film.
Eye in the Sky: Thriller meets thinker in this parable from modern drone warfare starring Helen Mirren and with a wonderful final performance from the late Alan Rickman. Now available on DVD from Netflix and Redbox and streaming from Amazon Instant, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play and on TV PPV channels.
Chevalier: This Greek comedy from director Athina Rachel Tsangari is one of the funniest movies of the year and was the MUST SEE at the San Francisco International Film Festival. Obviously a keen observer of male behavior, Tsangari delivers a sly and pointed exploration of male competitiveness, with the moments of drollness and absurdity that we expect in the best of contemporary Greek cinema. VERY brief theatrical release in June. Chevalier is now available to rent on DVD from Netflix and to stream from Netflix Instant, Amazon Instant, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.
Weiner: The year’s best documentary, this is a marvelously entertaining inside chronicle of a campaign, a character study of Anthony Weiner himself and an almost voyeuristic peek into Weiner’s marriage to another political star, Huma Abedin. Screened at SFIFF, with a theatrical release in May through July. Weiner is available on DVD from Netflix and to stream from Amazon Video, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube, Google Play and DirecTV.
Frank & Lola: Michael Shannon and Imogen Poots star in this neo-noir. Is she a Bad Girl or a Troubled Girl? Screened at SFIFF; I can post my review upon its theatrical release, expected later in 2016 or even perhaps in 2017.
Take Me to the River: San Jose native Matt Sobel’s impressive directorial debut is entirely fresh. Not one thing happens in Take Me to the River that you can predict, and it keeps the audience off-balance and completely engaged. You can stream Take Me to the River on Amazon Instant, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play or rent the DVD from Netflix.
The Handmaiden: After a few minutes of this Korean period drama, we learn that it’s a con artist movie. After 100 minutes, we think we’ve watched an excellent con artist movie, but then we’re surprised by a huge PLOT TWIST, and we’re in for two more episodes and lots of surprises in a gripping and absorbing final hour. It’s also one of the most visually beautiful and highly erotic films of the year.
OJ: Made in America: The genius of director Ezra Edelman is that OJ: Made in America rights a media wrong by keeping a laser focus on the crime itself and setting out the societal factors that explain how this all went so far off track. The sideshow elements are shown to be what they really were – distractions from the greater truth of a domestic violence murder. You can watch the entire movie on ESPNWatch and on some other streaming platforms such as iTunes and Hulu.
Green Room: Another bloody thriller from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin) proves again that he’s the rising master of the genre movie. Very intense and very violent. Theatrical release in Spring. Available to rent on DVD from Netflix and Redbox and to stream from Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.
AND THREE MORE
The films on my formal list above have all had at least a brief theatrical release and are (or will be) widely available on video. I also saw the three films below at film festivals (actually, all at Cinequest), and they haven’t gotten a US release, either in theaters or on video. But they are as good as my other top films.
The Memory of Water: This Chilean drama explores grief, its process and its impact, and was the most masterful filmmaking achievement at Cinequest 2016. Exquisite.
Magallanes: Another Cinequest film, this Peruvian psychological drama is about those wrongs that cannot be righted.
Lost Solace: Writer-director Chris Scheuerman’s brilliant debut is a highly original psychological thriller. Premiered at Cinequest.