The Top 50 Films of 2016

20.) Weiner – Going back over my notes, I specifically wrote that Weiner belonged in my top 50 but not the top 25. Boy was I wrong. Granted, the end veers off into TMZ territory, and yet this tragic character study takes on a whole different light in the present day. We’re not surprised that some politicians abuse their constituents for power, but the remarkable thing about this documentary is that the tormented Anthony Weiner even agreed to invite the cameras into his downward spiraling parade. Maybe he’s a sycophant or maybe he’s simply a masochist. Either way, Weiner doesn’t ask you to feel bad for a guy who can’t keep himself from being a bad guy. The picture takes us on a ride audiences don’t even want to be a part of, and his smarmy, effusively fake sense of forgiveness only comes into play when he’s been caught in the act red-handed. From the highest peak, Weiner falls from grace into a valley of death.

Where to watch: Available to rent

19.) Tower – Having watched Tower before and once again soon after the terrorist attack in Las Vegas – and yes, that was a terrorist attack whether you care to admit it or not – two things ring true. First is that humanity is deeply flawed, even ugly at times, and capable of killing and hating at the speed of an automated clip. Secondly and more importantly, like the interviews from the Vegas aftermath and the uniquely cinematic style with which Tower deploys its own recollections, we come to an understanding that life is a fragile and collective endeavor. This movie is full of fear and dread, exalting and exuding the best qualities of humanity through an championed sense of hopelessness and an unmatched amount of fearlessness.

Where to watch: Netflix

18.) Jackie – Pablo Larraín’s film isn’t for the faint of heart, and it’s not a very agreeable one either. This movie takes a strong approach and is confident with its stance, combining the hot-topic politics of the paranoid 60’s with a contemporary culture in dire need of consuming anything/everything. As such, Jackie is a rather timeless endeavor, and a piece of history told with such a distinctly stylish eye that it feels as if we’re watching the grainy and infamous Zapruder assassination tape told in a way that’s beyond post-modern. Jackie is a challenge of identity a reflection of self, and it forces you to reevaluate your own place in the world.

Where to watch: Available to rent

17.) The Salesman – The latest and almost greatest piece of dramaturgy from Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi does something rather remarkable; he’s made a movie intentionally structured and performed and likened to Arthur Miller’s quintessential Broadway show Death of a Salesman while still managing to be an involving piece of cinema. Unlike the clumsy and poorly blocked Fences from Denzel Washington, Farhadi blends the stage work and the minute moments without a noticeable seam. The biggest strength of The Salesman isn’t that it blindsides you, but rather that we see the wreck coming and continue to avoid checking the brakes. This movie hurts, and we feel the pain it deploys in place of airbags.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

16.) Moana – The more and more I watch the heroine’s journey in Moana, the more noticeable its blemishes become apparent. The movie has some issues with tone that simply can’t be overcome. But as much as I see the flaws, I’m increasingly enamored by the movie’s theme of destiny, its dedication to culture, and its willingness to wear its heart on both sleeves. Few scenes from 2016 were as powerful or as beautiful as when Moana parted the seas and bravely walked towards the film’s villainous creature, only to discover that the hate and the hurt have been of our own doing, and it’s emblematic of one of the decade’s most instrumentally gentle and fun animated films. If I ever have the privilege to be a Father, this will be one of my child’s empowering introductions to cinema.

Where to watch: Available to rent

15.) Manchester by the Sea – “I can’t beat it,” says Lee Chandler to his recently orphaned Nephew late in the film. The foe is grief, and Casey Affleck’s work as the ravaged beyond repair Uncle defies proper description. This man can act. Manchester by the Sea underwhelmed me on first viewing, but each time since, it’s grown into something that’s so humbling through its understanding and because it’s so in tune with the inner dialogue of despair that I can never shake its mundane aspects or its otherworldly appreciation for the process of hurting and healing. This film forces us – and its characters – to at least try and feel. I recognize and appreciate the shattering effort.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

14.) One More Time with Feeling – Anyone who saw 2014’s semi-staged and profoundly contemplative travelogue documentary 20,000 Days on Earth could have predicted that this new rapturous, deleterious, complexly black and white film about an artist as colorful as Nick Cave would be worth seeking out. And still, One More Time with Feeling is an even richer experience than you’d expect, reminding us what it means to feel sorrow and sympathy. No VH1 Behind the Music could ever come close to this rhapsodic magic. I’ve been moved to tears by its artistic beauty and its overwhelming sense of sadness every single time I’ve seen it.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

13.) Krisha – In his feature film debut, Trey Edwards Schults spikes the bowl of punch at a begrudging family Thanksgiving, introducing us – and perhaps, even himself – to the dark and unhinged depravity of uncooperative family members. Captured in one location, populated by actual relatives, and giving life to a narrative that feels inherently and uncomfortably personal, Schults flips the script on the stereotypical family reunion picture, and the movie is almost uncomfortable to watch because it feels so damn authentic in its Americana affront. Few filmmakers have ever had a stronger first feature.

Where to watch: Netflix

12.) The Handmaiden – Of all the films I saw in 2016, no picture was as technically competent or proficient as The Handmaiden. The cinematography, set design, costuming, the score, sound design. The cooperation between brilliant performances and even better direction is second to none, and this inexplicable, hypnotic, tantalizing latest feature from Park Chan-wook is another example of what can and should happen when a visionary director is given the budget and afforded the artistic avenue to create something remarkable. I could tell that The Handmaiden did everything right because it made me feel so dirty and so wrong. You become a voyeuristic character whether you want to or not.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

11.) The Lobster – In an over saturated and hyperbolic movie culture, filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos certainly knows how to stand out from the crowd. The Lobster is no exception. Lanthimos takes an obscure and high-concept plot – in this weird world, you only have so much time to find a mate, and if you fail you’re transformed into the animal of your choosing – and injects a biting critique of relationships, connectivity, and modern technology’s distanced immediacy. The Lobster breaks your heart and throws away the key, and the reason it feels so devastating is because it’s so willing to experience and sustain what it means to endure inner turmoil through physical pain. It’s a shockingly relatable piece of fiction.

Where to watch: Netflix

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