The Best Films of 2016


Much as I hate to bring such a stunning film year to a close, there’s a small pleasure in being able to move on to what 2017 has to offer. And finally here we are: my Top Ten of 2016!

Well, and then some. With so much quality to choose from, it seems rude to only limit it to ten. Okay, I’m lying, I just can’t stomach shutting out a few films completely. And it’s worth considering that the entire lineup could shift with time – especially the film right outside this list, Martin Scorsese’s hard-to-pin-down Silence. Here are my top fifteen films of 2016:

Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) und Mia (Emma Stone)

15. La La Land
A vibrant meditation on longing both backwards and forwards, dreams and regret. Likewise the film looks back on cinema history while being a modern take on genre. While La La Land recalls the films that inspired it, that idealization is a smart reflection of how its central lovers long for only the perfect, uncompromised version of their passions. Buoyant and beautiful, its feet are firmly on the ground while its head is in the stars.


14. Aquarius
More than just a stunning performance by Sonia Braga, Aquarius is an enraged living thread from the past to the present that demands a just future. No one person’s story is theirs alone, witnessed in the film’s eyes reaching beyond the protagonist into her family and community – her struggles being that of a country entire. It moves like the waves of the ocean that Braga emerges from.


13. The Witch
Religious fundamentalism, sexual repression, and the unknown make a chilling devil’s playground for Robert Eggers’s sterling debut. What makes the horror all the more potent is the family tragedy at the center that stirs genuine emotion. It gets under your skin and envelops your brain, like a demon distracting you with a knife while it slips a noose around your neck. *insert “live deliciously” joke*


12. The Lobster
Yorgos Lanthimos’s satire on social cues and institutions was my most revisited film of 2016, sticky in its minor flaws and frustrations but immediately absorbing. Every laugh comes with two cringes, but the film isn’t without its humanity (even if it comes with two cruelties). With the year’s best ensemble (special kudos to Rachel Weisz’s battering ram narration), The Lobster is an excellent choice.


11. The Handmaiden
Part Merchant Ivory romance, part kinky potboiler, this shapeshifter was more thrilling than anything at the multiplex this year. Graced with a lead performance by Min-hee Kim as slippery as the film itself, the film is packed with layered genius throughout. Not your father’s costume drama (unless it’s the one hidden in his sock drawer) – refreshingly subversive and calmly twisted, The Handmaiden wraps you up in its tentacles until you squeal in delight. It clawed and scraped and tooth-grinded its way to my top ten, but alas

Okay, but onto my real Top Ten…

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In Review!: “The Handmaiden”

In a masterful feat of adaptation and reinvention, South Korean provocateur Park Chan-Wook transports Sarah Waters’s Victorian-era novel Fingersmith to colonial Korea under the Japanese occupation with The Handmaiden. The resulting alterations make for a divine pairing between opulent period piece and twisted kinkfest. Chan-Wook loses nothing of his provocateur status in such a stately framework, the film being one of the most audacious and entertaining films of the year and the most beguiling of his career (apologies to all Oldboy fans out there). One of our modern masters has something of a new calling card.


One of the many triptychs seen this year, the film unfolds over three chapters that shift perspectives between petty thief Sook-hee (Tae-ri Kim) and her would-be con Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim, in a masterfully modulated performance). What follows is a thrilling guessing game of lust and deception where the rug is constantly pulled out from under the audience as to who is deceiving who. Throw in a crooked Count leading the deceit (Jung-Woo Ha) and a mysterious Uncle (Jin-Woong Jo) looming over Lady Hideko and you’ve got a real party. The film doesn’t miss a beat while expertly juggling more components than the audience can perceive at once. It’s part potboiler, part harlequin romance, and part gothic horror – but even playing in familiar tropes, the film feels entirely unique.

Continue reading “In Review!: “The Handmaiden””