The Top 50 Films of 2016

40.) Fire at Sea – This documentary follows the mundanity of growing up unaware of the events occurring just outside your closed door, which is where the real power behind the film lies. The cameras open the door and what’s there knocking, pleading, and begging is a desperate migrant crisis risking life and limb for the promise of a better future. Fire at Sea is oblique and cutting with its unvoiced criticisms of the world at large, practically serving as a flare gun’s shot out into the worldwide cinema culture as a beacon for all of us to be true fishers of men. This one is extremely observational, and it’s as hard to watch as it is to forget.

Where to watch: Netflix

39.) A Bigger Splash – Temptation in paradise and past demons rise from the ashes in Luca Guadagnino’s sporadically brilliant A Bigger Splash. By combining a quartet of men and women from two different generations, the film almost seems to disregard outward age and instead hones in on the stage of each character’s inner development. A Bigger Splash contains some of the very best performances and directing of the year, and although it doesn’t end when we want it to, the story grants itself the freedom to finish on its own terms. That takes confidence.

Where to watch: Available to rent

38.) Peter and the Farm – Like a bucolic painting with a central figure desperate to break away from the canvas, Peter and the Farm is art that tries to punch you square in the jaw. On a little farm with a hard-working drunkard who’s prioritized the land over his own well-being, the doc captures the dwindling relationship between man and Earth, challening the control each and every one of us has over our own lives. In unforgettable fashion, this rough around the edges character study depicts the chaos of existence and the poetry of consciousness. At one point Peter says, “Life announces itself with force. Death slinks off.” There’s a correlated beauty in how the entire picture structures itself around such a profound statement.

Where to watch: Netflix

37.) The Neon Demon – Even if you don’t like the stories behind Nicolas Winding Refn’s perverse visions, it’s hard to diminish his eye for framing and color and visual tone. In The Neon Demon, his often blunt and insincere and pulsating picture dissects the idea and the perception of beauty with a handful of eager scalpels. Lust and love – or, if we’re being honest, the twisted perceptions of both – carefully drip envy into every ounce of our sense of self-worth, and Refn’s film is an unforgettable attempt to capture the hunger of a broken and forgotten soul who’s spent too much time looking in the mirror for reciprocated affection.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

36.) The Edge of Seventeen – Right up there with the work of the lauded John Hughes, from The Breakfast Club to Ferris Bueller to Some Kind of Wonderful, Kelly Fremon Craig’s keenly observed The Edge of Seventeen blends all of the standard Hughes beats together with a light-hearted Mean Girls garnish. It’s acerbic, it’s touching, it’s easily distressed. And then by the grace of time and the growth of the heart, it finds its true sense of self and runs towards a place of comfort and ease. PSA’s for high school students have never been this inviting, meaningful, or as open as this heartfelt journal entry.

Where to watch: Available to rent

35.) Newtown – This documentary wrecked me, and unless you’re some paranoid alarmist who sides with the unhinged Alex Jones and believe that this killing spree was a government conspiracy, then this movie will undoubtedly rip your heart in two. Newtown is a full-blown communal grieving circle, compounded by the testimonies of first responders who physically carry the sadness of this massacre on their shoulders. There’s nothing fancy about this movie; that’s because there doesn’t need to be. Watch and learn.

Where to watch: Netflix

34.) Paterson – When you’re a reluctant artist working a meaningless day job, you have to find a way to pass the time. And so Paterson – Adam Driver in the best role of his career – writes poetry inspired by his surroundings as he shuttles folks around on a Pennsylvania bus. Jim Jarmusch’s story packs his trademark quirks, and yet this film feels a bit different, so intimate and observed that you could liken it to the experience of waiting an hour in line to ride a rollercoaster. Most people would get antsy and frustrated. However, Paterson shows patience, and it’s a welcome busman’s holiday away from all of the hustle and bustle and noise.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

33.) The Innocents What is the value of prayer without action? Conversely, what is the purpose of action without prayer or secular moral concern? They elevate one another, as evidenced in the slow-burning, often painfully stagnant and rewarding French film The Innocents. In a Post-WWII climate, a convent of assaulted and pregnant Polish nuns meet with a French Red Cross worker, slowly allowing two different mindsets to find a place in the middle. This is a harsh, often traumatic picture to watch, full of unthinkable and irreconcilable choices. The Innocents somehow pulls off its tragic narrative with an uplifting tone.

Where to watch: Netflix

32.) Land of Mine – A white-knuckled true story that’s equally harrowing and meditative, Land of Mine crawls along beside its young cast of German boys clearing mines on a Post-WWII Denmark beach. The drama is nerve-wracking in and of itself, but the movie transcends those moments of stifled breathing to become something that imbues itself with humor and reluctant empathy. The cinematography has the look of a landscape portrait brought to life, and the endearing script brings naivete to an overwhelmingly grim situation. Roland Møller was deserving of Best Supporting Actor for his turn as the Danish Sergeant overseeing the removal process. His work is tremendously skilled. So is the film.

Where to watch: Available to rent

31.) Born to Be Blue – Towards the end of the story, Ethan Hawke takes his brilliant final bow on the stage as legendary trumpeter Chet Baker. It’s an incredibly dark scene when put into context; Baker, an addled addict, is forced to choose between the success of casually performing while high or taking the lonesome low road of sobriety. Onto the stage he goes. Born to Be Blue is an experimental and imperfect film that matches the spirited and deeply flawed soul of its tortured protagonist, and it’s another in a long line of underappreciated and unheralded performances from the true thespian Ethan Hawke. Addiction dramas rarely toss the curtain aside as blatantly or bluntly as this film courageously does. You almost wish that the art didn’t so closely imitate such a tragic life.

Where to watch: Netflix

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