Better late than never.
Not a good year for America, as you already know, but a good year at the movies. It took a while for me to catch up with the stuff I wanted to see, making this list get delayed and delayed. Hopefully the movies I saw in that time make the list worthwhile.
Now that that’s clear, let’s get to it.
#15: Little Men - Imbued with such charm and style, I really don’t see how you wouldn’t like Little Men, a tale of adolescent friendship that is intercepted by a real estate dispute between parents. It’s delightful from the very start, combining humor with reality and heartfelt with heartbreaking. Thinking about it now just makes me smile.
#14: Loving - In times of Trump, travel bans, and police brutality, a movie like Loving is what America needs. It’s mundane, real, barely even a biopic except for the small quirk of the average couple featured here being the one that took their battle to legalize their interracial marriage to the Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia. And yet that barely even matters in the end; what does matter is “I love my wife.” If Loving can make more people in the world realize this, then it’s the movie of 2016.
#13: Everybody Wants Some!! - Was there a better time in the movie theater this year than Everybody Wants Some!!? Those two exclamation points in the title sum it all up; it’s three days before college starts for a bunch of baseball players, the !! of life before the … of life. And yet it’s not just a party to be had: we see blooming romance and bromance, baseball playing (which is entertaining even if, like me, you’re not a fan of the sport), jamming in cars to “Rapper’s Delight,” and general hilarity. And while it seems like a “bro” movie, it’s nice to see one that transcends the stereotype.
#12: Tower - While it may sound like a gimmick to animate a documentary, Tower uses that gimmick to startling effect. This film is intense and striking, but yet every bit as engaging as watching history play out before you in live action. And sadly, this documentary about a school shooting at the University of Texas stays relevant; in fact, it just keeps getting more and more relevant.
#11: A Bigger Splash - With a simple storyline of a couple vacationing that is interrupted by their insane friend and his new daughter, A Bigger Splash manages to be both fascinating and fun, a balance that many movies do not bear to risk for fear of alienating their audience. This film is unapologetic in the best way, refusing to hold your hand and hoping you have the energy to keep up with it. I was totally in from beginning to end, seduced by the gorgeous landscape and the fantastic performances from every single cast member. Each character here is an enigma to be studied and thought about for a long time to come, and the different dynamics between each person fit the same bill. Plus, Ralph Fiennes dances with style.
#10: Cameraperson - For the first 15 or so minutes of Cameraperson, I was confused. The film jumped back and forth in time and location, didn't provide any context, and isolated me in a way that made me feel stupid. There’s not much plot to speak of: this memoir of director Kirsten Johnson’s career as a cinematographer is a loose and meditative piece. As the film went on, however, dots started to connect as each individual story connected to me emotionally. Slowly, I saw the common themes: the violence vs. the beauty, the long tangents that Johnson can go off on, the humor and reality embodied so well here. It's a list that will increase on multiple viewings because this film is just that smart. There’s so many scenes that are among the best of the year, and I can’t seem to get them out of my head.
#9: Paterson - Poetic in more than just the main character's writing, Paterson is a complete joy. Following Paterson, a poet living in Paterson, New Jersey, over a week as he drives his bus every day and comes home to his eccentric wife, the film is hilarious, real, and by the end, the world is so comfortable that you want to dive right back in. Simple is the obvious way to describe this film, but I want to throw out a different word: exquisite.
#8: Certain Women - I don’t know if you have heard of Lily Gladstone, but you better remember her name, especially if you’ve witnessed her incredible work in Certain Women. That’s not to say the rest of the cast -- Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams, Laura Dern -- aren’t outstanding, but this newcomer to the silver screen outshines them all. Just like Certain Women itself outshines pretty much all other anthology movies. Each of the three stories is as interesting as the others, as quietly engaging as almost anything else this year. It’s strong women putting up with idiots for two hours, and I couldn’t have loved it much more than I did.
#7: I Am Not Your Negro - Without analyzing or interpreting his words, I Am Not Your Negro convinced me that James Baldwin is one of the smartest people of all time. His eloquence is an understatement, and so director Raoul Peck doesn’t need to state it as he charts the creation of the rough draft of Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript, Remember This House. Even as a person who hates disruptive audiences, the applause that came after Baldwin’s most rousing monologues were welcome. That applause was necessary, in fact; how could you not clap after every single word uttered by the man? The profound power that I Am Not Your Negro has is the reason why you should see it, as well as its insane relevance.
#6: Jackie - It’s unfortunate that Jackie only received acclaim for Natalie Portman’s admittedly wonderful performance. This is a haunting, intriguing tale, one that manages to be subtle for such an on-the-nose storyline of Jackie Kennedy immediately after her husband’s assassination. It’s a work of art, one that takes a historical figure and turns her story into a character study while never exploiting her misery for cheap tears.
#5: The Fits - The fact that Anna Rose Holmer’s first feature was The Fits is a miracle. Every single frame of the film is composed, cinematic and beautiful. Royalty Hightower, in another incredible debut (this time as the lead character Toni), gives her character a subtle reticence as she tries to fit in with a girls’ dance troupe as the girls begin to suffer from an unexplained epidemic of shaking fits. The ending of the film is jaw-dropping and chilling. At 72 minutes long, there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t watch this precise, powerful debut feature.
#4: Elle - Isabelle Huppert’s performance in Elle is the best of the year. Her character, Michèle, is so utterly unbelievable as she reacts to a violent rape by doing nothing, yet Huppert makes me believe. Actually, Elle in general is unbelievable: it’s messed-up and provocative, but also funny, visceral, and completely unpredictable. It’s an absolute enigma of a film, an unforgettable ride.
#3: Moonlight - “Moonlight. You guys won best picture.” The unbelievable words spoken by La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz as the unbelievable ending of the Academy Awards played out were enough to get me off of my couch, whooping and cheering at the fact that an independent drama inspired by the films of Wong-Kar Wai and Claire Denis about a gay black man at three stages of his life had just won Best Picture. Not just that -- it’s the fact that Moonlight is all of those things and it’s still so damn good. Watching the trailer of Moonlight invoked more emotion in me than many films can do in two hours. The direction here is the best of the year, as Barry Jenkins fills every frame with power and beauty. Every scene has its own charms. Nicholas Britell’s score is exceptional. But I should stop talking -- it’s one thing to talk about Moonlight and another to experience it.
#2: Toni Erdmann - There’s no experience in a theater I’ve ever had like Toni Erdmann. The delightful German comedy starts off small, an intimate drama about a father struggling to reconnect with his corporate daughter and crescendos to a climax that had my theater rolling on the floor. And even when the laughter died, it came back as people giggled quietly. That’s how infectious this film is; a single giggle caused an eruption of raucous laughter. Then we collectively cried at an intimate little moment that was a perfect climax for the three hours. We sat for so long together, slowly being enraptured by this film’s perfect little world, and the perfect payoff caused us to bawl. I’d say watch Toni Erdmann, but you need at least 10 others in the room with you to experience my feeling - pure, indescribable bliss.
#1: The Lobster - The Lobster is hated by many. Friends, family, peers, and many other people related to me in some way have told me about their absolute distaste for Yorgos Lanthimos’ off-kilter dramedy about a dystopian world where you are shipped to a hotel to find a partner if you do not have one. It’s certainly not for everybody. But The Lobster is my favorite film of the year because it has everything that can make a film great -- romance, humor, emotion, ambiguity, thought, beauty, wit, blah, blah, blah. You may regret seeing The Lobster, as many have told me they have, but I guarantee a good conversation will come out of it.
FULL LIST IN REALLY LOOSE ORDER:
SOME OF THE MOVIES I WISH I SAW BEFORE MAKING THIS LIST: