Let’s get one thing straight: 2016 was a great year for movies.
It certainly didn’t feel that way in the doldrums of the June and July, when audiences found themselves staring down the barrel of the worst summer movie season in years. But while the larger movies fell on their faces, the smaller movies flourished, proving that the only people who think cinema is dead are people who only see movies with numbers and colons in their titles. To carve out my top 10 of 2016, I had to work down from a list of 33 contenders and to be quite frank, I feel like a garbage human for leaving certain movies off this list. But here we are. Liking too many great movies is an excellent problem to have in the grand scheme of things.
Naturally, there were some movies I simply didn’t find time to see and others that barely missed the mark. I don’t want to make excuses and provide a laundry list of everything I didn’t see because that’s not going to do anyone any good. However, I will say that High-Rise, The Lobster, Hail Caesar!, The Handmaiden, and American Honey all narrowly missed this list and will be included in my full top 15, which will be published as part of /Film’s overall site top 15 in the days ahead.
Jackie isn’t a movie about the life of Jacqueline Kennedy, former First Lady of the United States and the widow of President John F. Kennedy and anyone looking for a traditional biopic is in for a shock. Jackie is a movie about grief, that demon that tears you open, spills your insides, and infects your mind as you and your loved ones rush to stop a bleeding that no one can see. Director Pablo Larraín superb film puts history under a microscope, ignoring the big picture in favor of tiny moments. Jackie is raw and immediate, chaotic and messy, leaping through its timeline and reflecting the scattered, grief-stricken mindset of its title character. It’s stressful portrait of shock and anger and bargaining – how do you grieve a loved one when the whole world is watching? As Mrs. Kennedy herself, Natalie Portman gives the finest performance of her career, taking what could have been a laughable imitation and transforming into the Jackie Kennedy we never saw and have always wondered about. Time dulls pain. The decades transform trauma into trivia. Jackie is reminder that real people breathe between the pages of your history textbook. They love and hate and weep. And they remember.
If you look at its component parts, Sing Street should have been a treacly disaster. However, writer/director John Carney showcases a gentle and thoughtful touch that elevates its movie-of-the-week premise into something joyful and beautiful, a testament not only to music, but to youthful rebellion and the joy of creation. Yes, this is a movie about a group of awkward teens who create their own rock band in ’80s Dublin as part of a dopey scheme to impress a cute girl, but it’s really a tale of self-discovery, personal awakening, and that one moment in your life when you realize that the system wasn’t built for you, doesn’t deserve your respect, and god damn it, you’re going to wear make-up to school and not care what anyone else has to say. Fighting against the system is hard and difficult and will leave you battered and bruised…but man, it sure can feel good. The songs are terrific, the performances sharp, and the hopeful conclusion well-earned. In one of the year’s best supporting performances, Jack Reynor creates an older brother for the ages.
Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room is the single most intense movie released this year, a horror film that drops you in a pot of water and increases the heat so slowly that you don’t realize how truly, powerfully fucked everything is until your skin has started melting off. Call it a detailed profile of a Bad Situation: members of young punk rock band witness a murder after performing in a white supremacist venue and lock themselves in the green room as the equally desperate neo-Nazis on the other side of the door plot to leave no witnesses. Each injury looks like it hurts. Characters die painful, humiliating deaths. Every heroic rise to the occasion is tempered by recognizably human desperation. Everyone makes poor decisions. Green Room never feels like a typical Hollywood thriller, instead choosing to focus on the inexplicable decisions that real people would make in a claustrophobic siege where neither side knows quite how to get out of their situation. It’s chilling, grotesque and, like a bizarre article you’d read out loud to your shocked friends after stumbling across a local news link, darkly hilarious. How the hell did that happen? Green Room provides the answer.
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