The Best of 2016

10. Wild Tales (Damián Szifrón, 2015, reviewed March 14)
This anthology film doesn’t always deliver wall-to-wall hits, but the sheer energy and ambition of the project is more than enough to deliver a rollicking good time. With all six segments based around a tantalizing theme – revenge – Szifrón’s complex and gleefully dark sense of humor is capable of delivering some bleak laughs, all the better when we don’t feel good about what made us smile.

9. Sully (Clint Eastwood, 2016, reviewed September 11)
An undoubtedly traditionalist but rousingly efficient biopic, Clint Eastwood’s Sully is a well-mounted examination of how instantaneous public attention and extensive scrutiny can affect a person. Tom Hanks gives a fully devoted performance as Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, pushing through an overwhelming wave of relentless praise and interprofessional criticism. Could he have done things differently? Was this incident avoidable? Perhaps he will never truly know the answers to these questions, but he’ll certainly have to face them head-on.

8. Take Me to the River (Matt Sobel, 2016, reviewed September 19)
This stunningly efficient exploration of minimalist tension is a confidently directed look into sneaking paranoia and the toxicity of long-held secrets.  Take Me to the River’s stylistic assuredness is all the more impressive when one considers that this is writer/director Matt Sobel’s first feature film. With a taut script brought to life by a strong cast, including a wiry and layered lead performance from Logan Miller and an elusive Robin Wiegert in a supporting role, the movie is a shatteringly intense symphony of the horrors unspoken.

7. Weiner (Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegman, 2016, reviewed December 24)
Anthony Weiner’s sisyphean campaign to become the mayor of New York City is captured in painstaking detail, as this captivating documentary shows us the inner workings of a political machine in meltdown mode. Perfectly paced, and with an ever-present magnifying glass, this is the kind of movie that is ideal for the documentary skeptic, showing that real life truly is stranger than fiction, and just as engaging to watch as well.

6. 45 Years (Andrew Haigh, 2015/16, reviewed April 11)
Anchored by a dynamite performance from Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years establishes writer/director Andrew Haigh as a master in making films about relationships. The troubles at the center of this film may be rooted in the distant past, but Haigh is excellent in conveying to us how they are upending the central couple in the present day. It’s a slow film, and not everyone will get along with its deliberate style, but those not daunted by this format will find a richly rewarding drama.

5. Mountains May Depart (Jia Zhangke, 2016, reviewed November 7)
Writer/director Jia Zhangke philosophizes on the passage of time and its effects on us all in his wonderful film Mountains May Depart. Divided into three segments – set in 1999, 2014, and 2025, respectively – Zhao Tao delivers a great leading performance as a woman who finds herself navigating a number of storms in her life over the years, as we all do. What makes this film go from merely interesting to extraordinary is how Jia ties this intimate and personal story into the ever-shifting global landscape, and these micro-macro parallels provide some of the most meaningful observations on change and conflict that I’ve seen in any movie this year.

4. The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2016, reviewed September 17)
A devoutly puritanical family in 1630s New England believes that one of their own has been possessed by the devil. And then… well, I shouldn’t tell you any more. Robert Eggers’ The Witch is a movie which achieves maximal suspense by expertly harnessing the potential of the unspoken and unseen. It slowly draws you into its ensnaring traps, and then keeps pulling and prodding until an unexpectedly explosive finale.

3. La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016, reviewed December 30)
It seems redundant at this point to praise Damien Chazelle’s La La Land, because nearly everyone that has seen the film comes away offering lofty accolades. So I won’t mince words. It’s great, and you should see it, and you’ll probably like it, unless you really hate musicals. Or love stories. Or fun.

2. Inside Out (Pete Docter, 2015, reviewed January 25)
I’ve always found it interesting that animated films made for children are often just as, or even more, thematically rich as their live-action counterparts targeted at older audiences. A truly great family film reaches beyond its younger viewers and offers something for everyone, and Pete Docter’s Inside Out is no exception. It’s colorful, funny, and thoroughly entertaining, but also serves as a contemplative introduction to some heady subjects, tackling the daunting nature of emotional and personal development in warm and endearing ways.

1. Carol (Todd Haynes, 2015, reviewed April 30)
Patricia Highsmith’s great novel, The Price of Salt, has inspired a great movie, although it’s a shame that it took more than six decades for this story to reach the screen. However, with an outcome like Carol, it’s hard to argue that it wasn’t worth the wait. Todd Haynes gracefully and expertly directs Phyllis Nagy’s delicately balanced screenplay adaptation of the book, and Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett have their A-games on hand when bringing to life this gripping tale of a forbidden romance in the 1950s. With dreamy, lush cinematography and a sweeping musical score to back it all up, this is a film which succeeds on all fronts, creating a pensive glow which lingers long after the last frame.

And there you have it, the ten (or fifteen, rather) best movies that I reviewed this year. I’d like to thank everyone for their loyal readership over the last twelve  months. Onwards (and hopefully) upwards into 2017.