This is going to be a long post but I hope you enjoy it 🙂
So once again, here we are. 2016 has been a crazy year to say the least.
This year’s movies have been a reflection of a sentiment that our individual voices are important, and that different parts and groups of society have equally important stories to tell. It is a reflection, also, of the way that individual’s struggle to define who they are perhaps even more so in our world today. In times like these, the most important and difficult question is possibly, ‘Who are we?’ and ‘Where do we belong?’
My favourite films of 2016 are coincidentally (or not) reflective of that internal struggle. These films explored who we are in some shape or form, and offered different interpretations. Prominent are themes like coming-of-age, sexuality, the way we approach the world and the impacts that our social environment has on us. Another trend among movies this year is genre-blending which I think deserves great artistic merit. And I say this every year…but it’s true, 2016 was a great year for movies. I gave my top 6 films a 10/10, which is the most I’ve ever given since I started rating films since 2014. Most of them really spoke to me, so maybe 2016 might even be a special year for film when I look back.
Anyhow, enough of the blabbering. Here are my best films of the year (click the title of the film to see my review)
Beautiful.Simple.Touching. If 2015 had Room, then 2016 has Lion. Based on the true story of Saroo Brierley, who lost touch with his family in India after being adopted by an Australian family. Lion adapts his own experiences years later when he decides to look for his long-lost family with the help of his dusted memories and Google Maps. I cried so much in the cinema and it wasn’t surprising everyone in the theater was too. It is an uplifting journey through a tumultuous past and the power of undying love and faith that makes Lion one of the most moving films of the year.
Victoria is a film novelty even without discussing the film itself. Shot between 5.42 AM to 7.56 AM, this is a one-take, one-shot film through Berlin. Through the lonely streets soaked by yellow gas lamps, and the strobe-lit underground night-clubs, Victoria follows the story of a Spanish girl who spends a night with a few German guys she meets. The result is a night of unpredictable fun and sobering reality. Part coming-of-age and part heist crime thriller, Victoria made me feel uncomfortable and extremely exhausted with a pace and tension never experienced before. By the end, I was visibly shaken. This throbbing in-the-now film is excessive and crazy with all its hard-living characters, but there is profound reflection to be found.
Fences, based on the play by August Wilson, is essentially about the failed American Dream and the people left behind in its ruthless reality. I liked the fact that Denzel preserved the style of a play and the dialogue which really is the heart and soul of the play. Fans of literarure will especially enjoy this. But it isn’t easy to watch. And still, even as it’s characters struggle to hustle in the world amid racial discrimination and systemic inequality, Fences shows that there is still value in living a life and there is joy to be found. Powerfully acted by Denzel Washington, Viola Davis and the rest of the cast, Fences is an ode to the hustlers out there.
American Honey, to me, is about roadtrip reflections, raging desires and rural America. As you can tell, it’s a pretty ambitious movie with a mixed bag of themes that intertwine and are frankly quite intriguing to me. Detractors of the film say it’s pretentious. But that always happens with films like that. It’s hypnotic even when it’s probably too long, and captivating even when nothing much seems to be going on. With a stellar modern soundtrack (mostly from unknown rap,country,pop bands), creative direction from Andrea Arnold and brilliant acting from Sasha Lane and Shia LaBeouf, American Honey is an open-ended journey of self-discovery underscored by the realities of social inequality in America.
If you’ve seen Oldboy, then you would be pleased to know that Park Chan Wook has directed another outrageous film in The Handmaiden. Adapted from the British novel, Fingersmith, The Handmaiden is as gorgeous as it is depraved. It is dark, stylish, sensual and sexually provocative film that encompasses deception, class system and indulgence. It isn’t just deep, I was into this film throughout…clenching my teeth and reeling in shock. As the film progressed, it became clear that whatever I knew was basically false, and it’s best just to surrender yourself to Park’s psychosexual thriller. Through layers of misdirection and perversion, you’d be surprised at what lies at the beating heart of this darkness.
The Red Turtle was the best animated film of 2016. Hands down. I’m not even going to preface this with some nonsense like ‘in my opinion.’ (I’m kidding but seriously…) This is,by far, one of the most soul-searching films I’ve ever seen. And to have that in an animation film takes a lot of gut. The story is actually very simple.But the simplest stories can be the most thoughtful. A man finds himself shipwrecked on an island that is pretty much cut off from any form of civilization. The protagonist is subject to life’s mysterious ways and the tides that catch him in its waves, sweeping him along its unknowable currents. At once a corporeal drama about our earthly existence and a surreal passage of life, The Red Turtle is immensely provocative, heartfelt and achingly beautiful.
The funny thing about Girls Lost was I saw this in ‘Art-House’ selection of films on a flight. At that point I was just really surprised the airline even had an art-house selection…what the heck?! Seriously, I wouldn’t have heard of it otherwise because it’s such a small swedish indie film that probably didn’t screen anywhere. It’s hard to even find it online, but if you feel adventurous, seek it out 🙂 Girls Lost is a sort of surreal mythic-esque film about a group of girls who chance upon this flower that gives them the ability change sex for a day. Girl’s Lost attempts to synchronize interactions with the outside world and the ones we have in ourselves. Amid the conflictions within our hearts and the nature of life, identity is a fragile thing constantly thrown about and unwittingly morphed. But we have to…as the film suggests(in my opinion)…hold on to the hope that we will one day grasp it and be make it ours. But there are so many ways you can view it, and I can’t wait to hear what you have to say.
For people that especially like films that upends traditional notions of gender and sexuality, this will be quite insightful.
Paterson is probably the most unpretentious film of 2016. No charades, plot contrivances and no person on or off screen that tries to sell you a story or an emotion; Nothing to tell you how you should feel or think. That’s why I love it so much. It just is. The story follows the life of a bus-driver (Adam Driver) and his routine at work, his conversations at the local bar, his love for poetry, his wife and dog. That’s it. Unremarkable? Well, you’d be surprised. Because it is in this very unremarkable mundanity of life, the drone existence of it all and its increasing meaningless (nilhilistic even) attributes that life is found. It is a celebration of the little things in our little lives. While the things we do may not be significant or grand, it carries all the weight of importance to our lives and the lives we touch.
Beautiful in simplicity, yet introspective and touching in unexpected ways. Extra points for the mega cute bulldog!
I take pride in my love for The Witch which was that film that some of the mainstream didn’t ‘get’. It’s this allegorical tale of tragic fate, the falsehood of our beliefs, religious and social repression, and the ambiguous nature of evil. It wasn’t a horror film. It was an intense and cerebral screwball. It was so great because it was so cynical. At the end, far from just creating doubt in its characters, the film has seduced us into the very same pit of doubt. ‘Evil’ becomes a hauntingly abstract figment…strangely elusive and yet sympathetically human.
There’s Freud and Nietzsche and all kinds of readings and interpretations you can take away from the film, I just really really LOVED it. You don’t see films like that, films that go very deep into psychoanalysis.
If you’ve read (and loved) Henry James’ Victorian classic, The Turn Of The Screw, then you have to watch this.
We’ve come to this point where I’ve been saying something along the lines of ‘I’ve never seen a film like that before’ for a number of films on this list. And well, unsurprisingly, I’ve also never seen anything like Moonlight. Moonlight is unconventional and groundbreaking but, more importantly, a timely breakthrough in the way minority groups are portrayed. It’s a story about a gay black boy and the difficulties he faces growing up in his community. Personally, I’ve never seen a film that spoke to me more than Moonlight has. And it’s not as if we come from the same place as the protagonist. But there is universality in this personal journey. It’s hard to describe a film about love, friendship, difficult circumstances, fate, the endless poignant search for who we really are. But if I could, in the same vein as how the movie ends, it’s this – We live a lifetime full of moments and sometimes, by choice or design, live moments that shape a lifetime.
A film that makes the emotions and interactions between characters its main subject-The result is a tender look at the human in every one of its characters and the same longing and affection we seek all our lives. Moonlight really touched me.
Top 20 inluding honourable mentions ranked 11-20
- The Witch
- Girls Lost
- The Red Turtle
- The Handmaiden
- American Honey
- Mustang (released in 2015 like Victoria, but I saw it in 2016. Fantastic film about female empowerment)
- Captain Fantastic
- The Little Prince
- Pete’s Dragon
- Under The Shadow
- The Invitation
- Nocturnal Animals