The Best Films of 2016

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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.

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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.

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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*

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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.

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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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Best Actor of 2016

I’m getting my Year In Review work started earlier than last year – and before the Oscar nominations arrive on Tuesday! Last year, my Best Actor choice was Michael Fassbender in the already forgotten Steve Jobs, but my choice this year will likely have much more staying power. What nearly made my lineup: a career-best Chris Pine in the underwhelming Hell or High Water, Andrew Garfield’s broken idealism in Silence, Viggo Mortensen’s Captain Fantastic watchability, Logan Lerman’s enervated and paranoid Indignation performance, and Jesse Plemons’s uncomfortable queerness in Other People.

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Casey Affleck – Manchester By The Sea
You could easily be wowed by Affleck’s immersion into profound grief and guilt, but it’s the cracks in his resolve that are most impressive. His evasion is by turns infuriating, devastating, and hilarious as Affleck finds unexpected tones throughout unremarkable moments. On the page, Lee is battling the expectations of others, but Affleck makes him at odds with himself.

Colin Farrell – The Lobster
Farrell’s minimalism goes a long way to balance out the film’s more misanthropic moments and absurdities. His plainfaced acceptance and dejection is consistently hilarious and helps the audience submit to the film’s concept. Just like the film, the stifled sincerity and compassion beneath the surface of his performance is both surprising and a crucial piece to the satire.

Ralph Fiennes – A Bigger Splash
An exclamation point of a performance, Fiennes is all drunken and self-justified id. With sultry chemistry for every friend, foe, and in-between (not to mention the damn camera), he’s sleezily schmoozing everyone – foremost, the audience. His questionable morals should be our first hint at the film’s intention, but like the film, he’s able to deceive us – those dance moves help.

Ethan Hawke – Born to Be Blue
Chances are you probably missed this Chuck Baker biopic during it’s quick and quiet release, but catch up to it soon: Hawke’s portrait of dying hope in the face of addiction and artistic submission is one of his most passionate and surprising performances. A rare performance that illuminates a real person beyond their persona and greatest hits highlights.

Denzel Washington – Fences
A massive performance defined more by its intense intimacy. Washington reveals a compulsive component to his wrongdoing, an unaware self-destructive streak and the powerlessness to prevent it. So lost in his own despair that he’s blind to the pain he inflicts, Troy all but begs for adoration, dominance, and reverance; Washington, however, commands it.

And the Winner is…

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