STinG’s Movies of 2016

 

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2016 has basically been a year where most of the movies I’ve found to end up on my Top Ten, especially in the top four slots, have had more personal resonance to me than any of them really being overall perfect crafts of cinema. Which is a nice way of saying 2016 was a year that was… conflicting. It was so severe to me in life outside of movies that I ended up digesting a lot more movies simply out of comfort. Emotional exhaustion is not a good state in which to qualify a whole year of movies, but man… there were slim pickings to begin with, even when I was being kind and enjoying works I didn’t expect to like.

2014 and 2015 had such excellent mainstream and popcorn fare and 2016’s summer was… absolutely middling. And one should never expect the prestige season to harbor anything that’s not peddling for Oscars, but the Best Picture slate obviously leave a lot for want when one truly gets a good look at it. When I literally have to dig for great movies to watch, I don’t… really complain because that’s how I do anyway, but I like digging for great movies anyway, but it doesn’t translate into a good year.

Let me put it this way: Mad Max: Fury Road and The Grand Budapest Hotel are moneymakers that people all over the world knew. This year… I dunno… maybe the only animated film on my Top Ten will be something y’all will recognize but so many movies people want to parade as high water marks like Zootopia and Arrival just seemed average to me. There was very little challenging cinema, nothing that was a true gamechanger to the field after our past two years.

Anyway, that’s enough Debbie Downing… let me slowly work my way up to the best…

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WORST MOVIES OF THE YEAR
5. Independence Day: Resurgence – You think maybe the fact that this movie retreads the same horrifically boring story beats of the first without Will Smith to pad it means people realize that original movie is terrible too. Guess not.
4. Batman: The Killing Joke – The comic book was already a very poor bit of storytelling that Alan Moore even knew was terrible, adding the random saturday morning cartoon at the beginning of the movie to pad its running time only ruined the structure of the film and ended up giving Barbara Gordon even less autonomy than she already had.
3. Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party – Dinesh D’Souza’s ever continuing odyssey of how liberals make him the saddest. But, y’know, given he had a scene in 2016: Obama’s America where he BRAGGED about arguing there’s no systemic racism in America, I’m glad he finally recognized it was a thing. I’d assume as he tries to brand the Democratic Party on that.
2. Norm of the North – Holy shit, people think this is a good movie to show their children.
1. Yoga Hosers – Watched this to celebrate my friends being married by Kevin Smith himself. I would not let the man who made this movie marry me. There is nothing about this that felt like they were actually trying to make this movie.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT
Readers are more than aware of how upset I am that The Birth of a Nation was found to be more of the vanity project of Nate Parker than an accurate portrayal of Nat Turner’s angry revolt against his oppressors, let alone the revolutionary portrayal of the blood that it takes to fight off systemic corruption and racism. Boy, do I wonder how fired that Fox Executive is. Remember how this was the front-runner to Best Picture early in the year?

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MOST “HUH” CASTING DECISION
Charlotte Gainsbourg – Lars von Trier’s Favorite Muse, Daughter of Serge Gainsbourg – has a role in Independence Day: ResurgenceBecause sure.

WORST MOVIE I’M LOVING ANYWAY
Gods of Egypt will never be taken seriously by anybody with its megazord battles and the inconsistent size of its Gods and I’m fucking fine with that. It’s a broken terrible video game of a movie with faulty mechanics. Plus Chadwick Boseman is just the best as a flamboyant Thoth as the expositional tutorial of a character.

BEST ACTION SCENE
Say whatever you will be saying about Captain America: Civil War (and I’m already hearing it), but the final fight scene between Iron Man, Captain America, and Bucky accomplished something no other Marvel film was ever able to do: give emotional weight (and physical weight) to just one man trying his hardest to kill two men he felt betrayed by and those two men trying their hardest not to die, aided by two of the best line deliveries Robert Downey Jr. ever gave in the role: “I don’t care… he killed my mom” and “So was I.”

FUNNIEST SCENE
The Mermaid‘s scene of police officers trying to continuously Liu Xuan’s description of a mermaid followed by their uncontrollable laughter at his tale feels like exactly the reaction I’d have to the story which made it super funny to me, right down to the ineptitude at drawing.

CUTEST SCENE
Come on, you know damn well you’d have made a movie calendar of a kitten like in Keanu if you had the chance. Relle accomplished all of our fantasies with his photoshoot scene and the results:

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BEST MUSICAL MOMENT
Green Room, I’ve been warming up to for certain. But it brought out the smile in me as a punk rocker who got jumped by skinheads in high school once and has always had a closed fist policy with Neo-Nazis to witness the Ain’t Rights open up their set on the inflammatory and direct Dead Kennedys’ classic “Nazi Punks Fuck Off”. Enough to make this supercede a year of musicals that were pretty enjoyable – especially Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping and La La Land.

BEST MOMENT
The pounding percussion soundtrack in the Exorcism scene of The Wailing brings such arresting momentum to the pain of the characters trying to deal with its presence and the unnerving bloody ritual that takes place adjacent to their exorcism only amplifies the intensity of the film from that moment forward til its credits. It’s a moment I could not forget and one I looked forward to when I rewatched the movie.

BEST SIA SONG FROM A MOVIE
Sia has been making rounds as far as even writing Rihanna’s song for Star Trek Beyond and as a unrepentant semi-closeted Sia fan that made me happier than it should be. As for my favorite, I have no clue what “Waving Goodbye” really has to do with The Neon Demon but it was the perfect salutation to the shitty year that was 2016.

BEST SONG
Speaking of Popstar, I will never ever ever ever forgive the producers for not submitting “Finest Girl (Fuck bin Laden)” as a contender of the Best Original Song Oscar. It’s certainly not a deep critique of imperialism or war nor does its mixing of politics and banal pop music very sensible unless it’s trying to insult some of my favorite artists… which is a bad move. But it IS an outrageously funny song in all of its absurdity.

GUILTIEST PLEASURE
The Barn looks like exactly the type of average, amateur, cliche-o-mat movie you’d pick up if video stores were still around. There’s very little exceptional about it. But it nevertheless has that earnest Halloween feel in spades and I had a lot of fun watching it. In any case, a lot of its flaws only heighten how much personality the low-budget horror film about friends having to open. And those monster costumes are hella fun.

FAVORITE ANIMAL CHARACTER
We got Black Phillip, we got the crabs from The Red Turtle, we got the cutest lil baby bird in Piper, the adorable cat in Keanu, and yet my biggest love goes out to the great “Steven Seagull” in The Shallows for being the perfect co-star to Blake Lively’s fight for survival.

FAVORITE CHARACTER AND FAVORITE BREAKOUT OF THE YEAR
It’s insane to me that a movie can be as kinetic as Anne Rose Holmer’s The Fits and yet have the director rather have trust enough in one character’s controlled chaos of body movement as Royalty Hightower’s portrayal as Toni to be the center of all that energy, even when it’s clear Holmer can frame like a motherfucker. In any case, Holmer is my favorite breakout presence in 2016 film and Toni – especially with the aid of being a fellow boxer – is my favorite movie character of the year.

BEST COUPLE
No offense to Ryan Gosling’s chemistry with Emma Stone, which is fantastic in La La Land as it is in the rest of their exploits, but my dawg… when he gets hit in the face by Russell Crowe in The Nice Guys, it’s love at first site in my eyes. Crowe is a obviously easy at being a dangerous brute in his sleep while Gosling does emasculated pain really really well. That scream when his arm is broken.

BEST POSTER
The Handmaiden‘s poster was something I KNEW I wanted in my room from the very beginning that I saw it…. all around with its re-enacting of the main tale of the story in cultural fashion.

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BEST SHOT:
From Woody Allen’s Cafe Society, Vittorio Storaro + Digital Cinematography =

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WORST SHOT
Because I will not rewatch Sea of Trees unless I have to, I will re-enact it on my computer:

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BEST SURPRISE
Listen, shark movies as a rule suck. Or at least, they used to as they were all just lesser versions of Jaws. But I did not expect The Shallows to be the breezy effective minimalist thriller that it was, only distracting itself enough for the audience to invest in Blake Lively’s survival and otherwise just a movie about fear of the shark’s ever fatal presence entrapping us in the middle of the beach for a good hour and a half.

BEST COMEBACK
I liked Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla more than most people, but I’m much more happier to see my favorite giant monster make his big return in Japan as the star of the latest episode of The Thick of It directed by Anno Hideaki, even if we insist on calling it Godzilla: Resurgence. Also the best use of titles in any movie of the year.

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BEST CAMEO
Speaking of Gareth Edwards, Rogue One has a lot of flaws that I won’t pretend are there but one thing even it’s detractors must admit: Vader possibly also had the SCARIEST NON-HORROR SCENE (OR PRESENCE) showing up at the end to mow down helpless Rebel soldiers trapped in a hallway with him, indiscriminately and violently. The moment that lightsaber flashed red at the end of the hallway, you knew you were finally getting the monster you hadn’t seen since 1980.

WORST CAMEO
Remember those flaws Rogue One had I was talking about? Vader’s first scene talking smack with Ben Mendehlson before making a James Bondian quip about force chokes. Could have done without that.

BEST LINE
“The noodles got soggy… I knew this job wouldn’t be easy.”
-Acting Prime Minister Satomi Yusuke (Hiraizumi Sei) in Godzilla: Resurgence (written by Anno Hideaki)

BEST POPCORN FILM
Sure, The Conjuring 2 is a little too long than it should be and it doubles down on being Christian prop hagiography (practically a plot point now with scenes discussing the “con artist” status of the Warrens). But that doesn’t stop it from being a very effective work of classical horror tropes made in the most digestible manner ever (James Wan showing how many 1970s horror movies he saw) and with just the slightest invention in how those scares and atmospheres present themselves as another compelling haunting case. And while the Amityville Horror scene could certainly be cut out of the movie with no harm to the product (and frankly recent events close to my family and community made the shotgun rampage hard to watch the second time around), it’s nevertheless a nice creepily-shot and made short film in its own right.

MOVIE I WILL RE-WATCH THE MOST
Knight of Cups is the first Blu-Ray of a 2016 release I bought at all and certainly already the movie I’ve been watching and re-watching the most. Bored rich white guy trying to find out why he can’t fuck his way into a soul is definitely the most basic story Terrence Malick has ever dealt with, but it’s nevertheless something with which Malick re-shapes into something barely recognizable as a traditional narrative (I’m not even sure it has a true chronology) and some of the most inventive cinematography work of all time. Emmanuel Lubezki got bored with his Oscar-winning lighting and decided to see what’s new to play with and it makes L.A. look like something not of this Earth.

MOST IMPORTANT MOVIE
So many pictures about race relations yet none of them are able to make their argument about their thesis as well as Ava DuVernay’s 13th, one that refuses to align with any of the candidates of the 2016 election (unlike D’Souza or Michael Moore) instead only to implore people become more read about the systems they elected in place and how they affect race in America horribly. Its pessimism is unfortunate, but its urgency is also unmistakable. Certainly more imperative a watch than I Am Not Your Negro or O.J.: Made in America (which… should not have the Oscar nomination it has. Not because it’s good but… guys… this is a tv show… guys?…).

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

  • American Honey – Andrea Arnold has followed in the footsteps of Wim Wenders to map the heart of America.

  • A Bigger Splash – A bunch of gorgeous superstar personalities all coming together to reveal not how empty their lives are, but how asphyxiating their desire for drama is.
  • Embrace of the Serpent – Imperialism destroyed by the presence of Karamakate.
  • Evolution – Kafka on the shore. Or at least his nightmares of what he’d find on that shore.
  • Hail, Caesar! – It’s the version of A Serious Man with Catholicism and Hollywood instead of Judaism and Math. A lesser version? Yes. But still hilarious.

  • Jackie – It’s just a potent mental presentation of grief and how it hurts to cover up enough of it to be a presentable griever, doubling as the hardest character study to cut into.
  • Knight of Cups – Like I said, I’ll watch it again and again.
  • La La Land – Fuck the backlash. Go home.
  • Love & Friendship – The movie Whit Stillman and Kate Beckinsale were born for.
  • Piper – Have I not mentioned how FUCKING CUTE that bird is?

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SPOILER ALERT – MOVIE MIAMI WILL EAT ME ALIVE FOR NOT HAVING ON MY TOP TEN:
… Moonlight.

AND NOW THE TOP TEN MOVIES OF THE YEAR

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10. Lemonade (prod. Beyonce, USA)

Sometimes you just have to admit you probably should have gotten to something sooner. All my friends who I trusted demanded that I get to witnessing the visual accompaniment to my favorite album of the year but I took until the last second and so this visually arresting work of social narrative might have just missed the Top Ten. It’s no secret that I love socially conscious work, even as cyclical as this might have been as a work, but the fiery passion of this visual album, mixed with its range of stylistic decisions (many of them in homage to previous cinema, including an unexpected callback to Tarkovsky’s The Mirror of ALL THINGS!) makes it standout amongst many of the social message pictures to have come in such a tumultuous time.

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9. The Eyes of My Mother (dir. Nicolas Pesce, USA)

Imagine if Tarr Bela decided he wanted to make a slasher film. The Eyes of My Mother is what you get, perhaps except with more intensity and gutwrenching visuals than the director of The Turin Horse would have wanted you to suffer through. Still the narrative patience (even for an 80-something picture, this thing honestly crawls to make you as uncomfortable with the imagery as possible) and some of the sharpest cinematography I have seen all year in crisp black-and-white landscape make on the pro-side of this very divisive film.

Also, I am extremely proud to have been name-dropped by former Dream Theater engine aka One of the Best Drummers Ever Mike Portnoy for recommending this movie to him (which I knew he’d love as a lover of sick films).

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8. The Wailing (dir. Na Hong-jin, South Korea)

And yet still The Eyes of My Mother is unable to take the top slot of best horror movie of the year when Na is able to give us an ambitious mix of small-town study, landscape cinematography showcase (which only adds to the creepy isolation of said town), domestic drama about the strains of a parent being unable to help his child in anyway, and damn impressive genre horror film. And none of these are exactly things other movies haven’t done before – hell, I’d exhaust myself listing movies that mix all four – but The Wailing is something that fires on all cylinders working to mix the four into a complex, devastating, and rich exorcism tale, certainly my favorite exorcism picture of all time. Coming from the same year as The Fucking Conjuring 2.

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7. Elle (dir. Paul Verhoeven, France/Germany/Belgium)

I honestly was always intrigued, but still very anxious about the concept of a film on rape where the victim is… shall we say, complicated. And yet Paul Verhoeven – a way too intelligent filmmaker for his own good – and Isabelle Huppert – an actress who lives for challenging roles that make her take her due from the viewer without cheating out brilliant performances – are a fucking miracle to work with, it seems. Shortly after being entertained as all hell by Love & FriendshipElle takes everything already great about that comedy of manners and turns it into one where we witness a true sociopath at the center and everybody except one figure in her life are just idiots for her to control and move around. And as uncomfortable as the film is, it works. It’s funny and it’s unapologetic for the idea that women don’t need to fit certain roles or be defined by elements or events around them. Which is probably how the central Michele is able to be such a moving figure regardless of how reprehensible her actions are.

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6. Kubo and the Two Strings (dir. Travis Knight, USA)

Laika has outdone itself… possibly. I didn’t see this movie in 3D, but nothing could hardly beat how perfectly Coraline utilized those dimensions to invoke the viewer into the wonder of its lead character. Nevertheless, the craftsmanship behind Kubo‘s ambitious designs – including the giant skeleton battle and the fight in the rain in the middle of the ocean – are impeccable enough to prove that Laika is still best-in-show of the big animation schools these days. Nevermind the tender sincerity behind its ideals on storytelling and grief and how the two can be intertwined to calm the soul enough that its extremely forgiving ending becomes the pitch-perfect emotional moment for the film to close on. I have not been so moved by an ending since The Grand Budapest Hotel and this time it was bittersweet rather than sobering.

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5. Francofonia (dir. Aleksandr Sokurov, France/Germany/Netherlands)

There are some people who will say this is just a less impressive version of Sokurov’s breakout film Russian Ark, replacing the Hermitage Museum for the Louvre. To this people I say, get the fuck out of my face with that shit. Bruno Delbonnel shot this movie and when Delbonnel is shooting, you will definitely be looking at things with a brand-new eye no matter how familiar you are with the Mona Lisa. Not to mention that Sokurov just seems to have a lot more intellectual exercises to throw out in this picture, wrapped up by a historical recollection of the Louvre’s status during World War II that interests the WWII reverent in me. Nah, this is probably the denser picture out of Russian Ark, if not the more impressive film, and I feel like Sokurov’s puts more of his soul on screen here than his whole career preceding it.

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4. Cameraperson (dir. Kristen Johnson, USA)

So here’s where it really becomes obvious that I am into movies that have the personality of its filmmaker in spades and Johnson maybe labors that concept a bit too much in Cameraperson, but she also makes up for it by hiding her interests and voice behind a kaleidoscope of images of life in all possible corners of the world you can think of… all captured from a lifetime of trying to bottle lives in documentaries and movies. And in turning such a plethora of footage into an autobiography, it also ends up being a succinct portrayal of moviemaking in itself and what it brings out of the people who give their lives to telling stories, both as the subject and as the storyteller.

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3. No Home Movie (dir. Chantal Akerman, France/Belgium)

And as though the more depressing sister film to Cameraperson… I don’t know what this movie is doing on this list so high. It feels wrong. It is essentially the suicide note to one of the greatest filmmakers we’ll ever be blessed to have witnessed, as we had lost her near the end of 2015. But I do know, I have to talk about it. Because Akerman has made in No Home Movie one of the most painful portrayals of a heavy truth in life: that sometimes we feel lonely even around the people we love and that even that emptiness won’t make it hurt any less when those people leave us. A personal work that still in its dryness (and dryness is the name of Akerman’s career game) is able to feel pained to anybody who encounters this film.

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2. The Lobster (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos, Ireland/UK/Greece/France/Netherlands)

I mean, it’s cold and distanced so I don’t think it’s for everyone, but it was also extremely funny to me, impressively alien and surrounding without any re-design of the world we ourselves lived in, unsubtle in its insistence that relationships are impersonal and it’s just another demand from society that you sacrifice your identity, and I was in the middle of a breakup when I first saw it at the Miami Film Festival so I was open to such a jaded yet funny movie.

So, yeah, basically watch this when you just went through a breakup and it will be a goddamn miracle if it’s not in your number one.

THE NUMBER ONE FILM OF 2016 For STinG BEING…

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  1. Toni Erdmann (dir. Maren Ade, Germany/Austria)

So, once again… when you see a movie at the perfect time, it’s gonna hit you no matter how hard you avoid it. I saw Toni Erdmann shortly after spending a good amount of my summer with my Dad and our relationship has been strained for a long while for reasons that are frank – we come from separate worlds and we don’t really know how to communicate at all, let alone with each other. Still that summer, in which my trip to see him wasn’t spurred by his presence in New York City where he resided for years but a separate emergency that was taxing on me, meant we spent a lot more time in each other’s presence than we had probably had since I was a kid. My Dad is not at all similar to Winfried, in fact, probably the polar opposite in every way.

Still, the story of two separate worlds of father and daughter having to fit together and find a way to conform one of these souls to the other’s worldview in order to save her from being overwhelmed by a harsh world (in Toni Erdmann‘s case, a social/business world that doesn’t take her seriously as a woman) is going to hit places for me that it probably would not have hit if it hadn’t happened after that summer. And I’m not going to pretend that’s the only reason this movie is at the top – it’s sharply written not only in terms of its relationships but its commentary on global attitudes, especially Germany’s two splits of old ideals and new ideals in the context of the world. It has two incredible performances at the center of that relationship between Peter Simonischek and Sandra Huller. It’s goddamn hilarious, even if those scenes of hilarity are exactly the kind that make this the WORST movie to recommend to my dad. But I’m also not going to pretend this movie wouldn’t be this high without that context.

Again, when you watch a movie at the right moment… especially certain scenes at the right moment…

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You’re gonna be helpless in your response.

Anyway, that’s 2016 in a nutshell and here’s to 2017!

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