I contributed to Sight & Sound's Best Films of 2016, choosing five pictures among so many released this year, some I hadn't seen yet (the list was due in November), so I must add.
From the magazine:
"We asked 163 critics and curators to name their five top movies of the year – and atop what may be our most diverse annual poll yet, the runaway winner is a German comedy…" Read the full list here.
And here's my individual top five with five more added to equal a neat ten. A ten that could change in two days. Not in any order:
Finally saw Pablo Larraín's Jackie... now one of my favorite movies of last year. Maybe my very favorite. The tricky manner in which Natalie Portman plays her reality and artifice is incredible -- the sadness and horror, the control -- Jackie wandering around the White House alone like a living ghost... The direction and score are brilliant -- it moved along with her, matching her performance, and felt like grief -- the confusion of grief and how to control it. Nothing of what she says is exactly true and everything remains mysterious -- a woman with a reality and a persona, smashed in that moment, walking around with blood all over her suit, and then she had to gather herself quickly and put up the walls even higher.
The Lobster -- Yorgos Lanthimos
You don't require things in common to be in love. You don't need to be in love or out of love. You don't need to be with someone or without someone. You don't have to be married. It's OK to be alone. It's not OK to be alone, for some. Please consider this mordantly funny and heartbreaking allegory of the terrifying future -- dating sites and lists of requirements and everything that one person with supposedly all of the answers tells you or that dumb social media update about love or that one bromide-filled essay that tells you which way is the right way. Or those articles, lists and quizzes about who is a sociopath or are you an empath while you nod in agreement. And don't choose a lobster. Don't even choose a dog. Choose a raccoon. No one messes with raccoons, they're tough, they're cute as hell, they're street smart and they could give two fucks about you. They're also good to their kids.
Moonlight -- Barry Jenkins
A film so beautiful in story, struggle, love, connection, danger, drugs, race, masculinity, black masculinity, and one made more poetic by cinematography and performance, particularly by Trevante Rhodes, that one leaves the theaters with images and thoughts lingering. As Rhodes told Out Magazine: "Being a black person in America right now is shit, being a homosexual in America right now is shit, and being a black homosexual is the bottom for certain people. That’s why I’m so excited for people to see Moonlight. I don’t feel like there’s a solution for our problems, but this movie might change people. That’s why you do it — because you feel like you’re doing something that matters. This is someone’s story."
The Handmaiden -- Park Chan-wook
This really should rank as my number one, I was so taken with this movie's ambition, going beyond a thriller (this is Park Chan-wook -- he's going to go above and beyond -- I'm pretty certain he's a genius at this point), but the gothic power, eroticism, violence, delicious perversity and romanticism of this picture might make this his greatest work. And that's saying a lot.
Hail, Caesar! -- Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Watch it again. As with every Joel and Ethan Coen picture, there's a lot more going on here than wacky comedy and Hollywood hijinks -- chiefly many questions about spirituality, politics and movie making (watch Jesus on the cross ask if he's a principle or an extra, consider the godhead, what about Das Kapital "with a K"... ).
And Alden Ehrenreich's singing cowboy Hobie provides some of my favorite moments in cinema this year, one being his casual lasso twirling before his set-up studio date. I'll quote the movie's most famous line, but it's as fitting as the Coen's "Accept the mystery" of A Serious Man: "Would that it were so simple."
Green Room -- Jeremy Saulnier
I thought this movie would be good, but I did not expect it to be this good. As in, so tense and funny and well acted (chiefly by the late, great Anton Yelchin, leading the proceedings with his smart, soulful eyes and genuine terror turned cynical fuck-it-all), that I even accepted elegant Patrick Stewart would lead a bunch of scumbags skinheads in the PNW woods. The last scene is met with the perfect musical punchlines of the year and did as much for Creedence Clearwater Revival as The Big Lebowski. "Sinister Purpose."
Elle -- Paul Verhoeven
The rape movie, as I've heard it called by some people. It's more than that, of course. It's a daring look at a woman who is not like most women in movies -- not merely because of how she handles the rape that opens the film -- but because of the way she talks, considers her actions, indulges her fantasies, excites her cruelty, reflects on her so extraordinary backstory that, in another movie, would seem easy and ridiculous (as in, "Oh, so this is why she's so weird...").
American Honey -- Andrea Arnold
Andrea Arnold is so good with young women in her movies, allowing them danger and sex and love and music and curiosity, that I watch her movies and wish I had her around when I was 15. I talked to a friend who didn't like this movie -- thought it was too American ugly -- the scruffy kids and their music all scummy to be scummy -- an outsider's version of America. I disagreed (also, I like "scummy" kids) and found so much beauty in those young ones, the filmmaking, just the way she allows them to take to the road and feel it, feel new love, feel fear, feel their sex, that the celluloid almost seems tangible. Like you could touch this movie. It's that vibrant and alive.
Weiner-Dog -- Todd Solondz
I do not recommend this movie to anyone. I loved it, so that sounds odd, but dear god, don't do this to yourself. This is the Au hasard Balthazar of our time and I warn people about that one too, though at least Bresson's beauty sweeps you away, somewhat. This one, though strangely beautiful (you've never wanted to laugh and cry so much at the longest, loveliest shot of dog shit you've ever seen), has a harshness that makes you grip the theater seat, wincing at what comes next.
And do not go if your pet is ill.
O.J.: Made in America -- Ezra Edelman
The five part documentary that deepens the headlines, the crime and the court case, and digs more profoundly into American race relations via one of our most famous fallen heroes -- O.J. Simpson. It's also historically important and deeply tragic (it also goes further with the fate of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman), merging great cinema with great journalism -- powerful, complex. I was riveted and, by the end, very sad.
Nocturnal Animals -- Tom Ford
I've not met many people who love this movie as much as I do, but I think Tom Ford managed a difficult feat -- crafting a nerve-racking thriller but a ridiculous nerve-racking thriller that has to know how absurd it is. It just has to. And if it doesn't, I don't care because the picture works -- both as an unreliable narrator story, telling of grief and revenge, and a look at an empty art world where we have no idea if anyone is as talented as they think they are. Is the novel Amy Adams reading, the one her poor dumped husband Jake Gyllenhaal wrote and dedicated to her any good? We don't know. It might be pulp trash but it's affecting her regardless (because who says trash can't affect us? Especially if it's personal).
Is she even any good at what she does? Is he the toxic man some critics claim he is? I don't know. Maybe she really did give up the love of her life and he's not that bad. Jake Gyllenhaal is so powerful in so many scenes against such hot hillbillies (they sure do dress cool, but hey, a very visual woman is reading this book, we're seeing what she's seeing) that you truly feel for him. And then there's Michael Shannon, who is both touching and funny, giving the movie both gravitas and a wink. I'm gonna trust Tom Ford on this one. He's seen The Eyes of Laura Mars. He knows this movie is scary, stylish, moving and also hilarious but he's not going to tell...
Also, Fences, Hell Or High Water, The Nice Guys, 13th and this list will probably change...
(Movies I have not seen that could alter the list: Silence, Toni Erdmann, Paterson, No Home Movie, Things to Come, Personal Shopper, Julieta...)
Here's my Sight & Sound to five DVD and Blu-ray picks, write-ups posted later in Sight & Sound:
One-Eyed Jacks (Criterion) -- Marlon Brando
Happy New Year!