by Sara Michelle Fetters -
SGN A&E Writer
Let's get this out of the way first: 2016 was a tsunami of horrific news. David Bowie. Muhammad Ali. Gene Wilder. Alexis Arquette. Kenny Baker. Charmian Carr. Edward Albee. Leonard Cohen. Bill Nunn. Curtis Hanson. Anton Yelchin. The Lady Chablis. Alan Rickman. George Kennedy. Robert Vaughn. Gloria DeHaven. John McLaughlin. Tony Burton. Bud Collins. Prince. Vilmos Zsigmond. Doris Roberts. Pat Summitt. Vanity. Ron Glass. John Glenn. Harper Lee. Morley Safer. John Saunders. Garry Marshall. Ken Adam. Abe Vigoda. Douglas Slocombe. Martin Rosen. George Michael (on Christmas Day, no less). These are just a handful of the names we lost during the past year, the ones who meant arguably the most to me and helped in some way make me the critic, movie lover, writer, journalist and person I hope I am today. Don't know who they are? Look them up. You won't regret it.
Then, as I sat here writing a piece on the best and worst films of 2016, came the ultimate double-whammy. First Carrie Fisher, just two days after Christmas, succumbed to complications from a heart attack she suffered traveling back to the United States from London. One day later, her mother, the immortal Debbie Reynolds, also passed, leaving me barely able to function, let alone capable of trying to write a puff piece about this past year's cinematic offerings.
Fisher, more than just Princess Leia in a quartet (soon to be quintet) of Star Wars movies, was also a fiercely talented author and mental health advocate who refused to shy away from controversy, proudly standing up for what she believed in and felt no matter what the consequences. Reynolds, more than just the luminously talented girl-next-door who brightened up films like Singin' in the Rain, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Susan Slept Here and Bundle of Joy, made me (and likely everyone else) smile at just the thought of her, the actress' energetic, take-no-prisoners personality making the world a better place just by being a part of it.
Together, this was as potent a twosome Hollywood has ever had the pleasure of knowing. What made it even better, both knew their relationship was hardly perfect, their bickering back-and-forth and the pressures both could put upon the other fodder for Fisher's magnificent 1987 memoir Postcards from the Edge, later made into an outstanding movie by Mike Nichols starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine and released to theatres in 1990. They were real in ways celebrities just weren't supposed to be, and as such were a constant inspiration for fans of all shapes, sizes, ages, ethnicities and backgrounds. While one would like to be remembered as having been drowned in moonlight and strangled by her own bra, the other would likely be up with the youngest in the audiences from dusk until dawn, singing 'Good Morning' with happy enthusiasm come what may.
With all that being the case, it just feels silly to look at 2016's motion pictures and say, this one was great, this one was bad and these others? Well, these others were just so-so. But that's sadly the job, and even with the depression and heartache I'm feeling right at this second I still feel the need to push on through.
It helps considerably that there were a lot of truly great films released this past year, a handful of which I'm likely going to be talking about, pondering and reveling in for a long time to come. But where most will be talking about how a bunch of major Hollywood tent-poles released over the summer stumbled, underperformed or outright tanked, or spending a lot of time looking at Disney's $7-billion box office year or discussing whether or not Warner Bros got their extended universe of DC comic book features off to a good start with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, I think it's more fun to look at the glorious wonders that flew in from overseas or were released by the upstart independents. Amazon Studios came out of the gates blazing with titles as diverse as Manchester by the Sea, The Neon Demon, The Handmaiden and Love & Friendship, while A24 cemented their status as the most risk-taking indie in the business what with releases like Moonlight, American Honey, Certain Women, Swiss Army Man, Green Room, The Witch and The Lobster. Glorious stuff, across the board, and while not all films met with universal acclaim (and the box office to match) they still provided so much food for thought just thinking about them now brings a happy smile to my face.
So, with that in mind, and with a heavy heart still grieving for all the magnificently talented artists, musicians, writers, journalists, athletes and icons we lost this past year, here are my picks as 2016's best motion pictures. The Force was strong with all of them, and even when the stormy clouds chase everyone from the place, I've still got a smile on my face just thinking about each one. Guess that means I'm singing in the rain (and I'm perfectly okay with that).
1. The Innocents (d: Anne Fontaine)
Fontaine's intimate epic of faith, science, resilience and sacrifice, inspired by a true story, is a monumental achievement, this post-WWII saga of a French doctor (portrayed brilliantly by Lou de Laâge) coming across an abbey filled with pregnant Polish nuns an unforgettable stunner that held me spellbound first frame to last. Masterful.
2. Hell or High Water (d: David Mackenzie)
Writer Taylor Sheridan follows up his masterful script for last year's Sicario with this remarkable modern Western, Mackenzie orchestrating the dual stories of a pair of bank robbing brothers (Chris Pine, Ben Foster) and two grizzled Texas Rangers (Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham) with dexterous ease. Unforgettable.
3. Moonlight (d: Barry Jenkins)
Jenkins' sophomore feature is a powerhouse tale of Black masculinity, gender, sexuality, parenthood and poverty that transcends easy genre clichés to become something timeless, powerful and intimately universal. Few films achieve the eloquent subtlety this motion picture does, its final images a haunting aria to togetherness, forgiveness and love that is as important as it is essential.
4. Love & Friendship (d: Whit Stillman)
Featuring a career-best turn by star Kate Beckinsale, Stillman's adaptation of Jane Austen's novella Lady Susan is a whip-smart whirligig of pithy humor and witty insights that cuts to the bone like a sharpened razor coated with arsenic. Calling it all brilliant is a decided understatement.
5. 13th (d: Ava DuVernay)
In the wake of one of the most contentious and controversial (and in some corners downright depressing) presidential elections in U.S. history, DuVernay's explosive documentary takes no prisoners as it ravages through over a century of racial exploitation and politics, the director laying things out like a crack prosecutor aiming for a quick conviction. Just extraordinary.
6. Under the Shadow (d: Babak Anvari)
Anvari's terrifying debut is an unsettling look at warfare and motherhood that just so happens to add a supernatural antagonist to the mix, a young Tehran mother doing all she can to save her child from having its soul destroyed as her doctor husband is out on the front lines trying to save lives during the Iran/Iraq War. An unsettling tour de force worthy of multiple viewings.
7. Certain Women (d: Kelly Reichardt)
Reichardt takes Montana author Maile Meloy's short stories and makes something intensely lyrical out of them, this three-pronged story of women doing what they can with what they've been dealt a moving masterwork that grows in power and intimacy as things move along to their quietly powerful conclusion. Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart and newcomer Lily Gladstone are all superb.
8. Hidden Figures (d: Theodore Melfi)
Melfi's incredible sophomore feature just keeps growing in resonance the more I ponder it, this story of three astonishing African American women who just so happened to be instrumental in making sure NASA sent John Glenn into orbit positively spectacular in every which way that matters. Make no mistake; I love this movie, every single solitary mind-blowing second of it.
9. 10 Cloverfield Lane (d: Dan Trachtenberg)
Coming out of nowhere, this lightning in a bottle apocalyptic thriller is a three-character chamber piece of paranoia and tension where up is down, down is up and sideways gets spun up on its head as if the world was being disassembled into a billion little pieces. John Goodman gives one of the year's best performances, and even if Oscar ends up refusing to recognize it as such history sure as heck likely will.
10. Pete's Dragon (d: David Lowery)
Disney's remake of their fondly remembered, but not actually all that great, 1977 favorite is an unanticipated gem, director Lowery crafting a heartfelt, irresistibly timeless marvel that could go down alongside The Black Stallion or E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial as a must-watch family-friendly classic. At the very least, the film is a brightly burning candle on the water that illuminates the way to entertainment ecstasy well worth keeping lit.
A Second Twenty-Two (because I can)
A Monster Calls, Arrival, The Edge of Seventeen, Fences, The Fits, I, Daniel Blake, Indignation, Jackie, Knight of Cups, Kubo and the Two Strings, La La Land, The Love Witch, Loving, Manchester by the Sea, Nina Forever, Queen of Katwe, Paterson, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Rules Don't Apply, Things to Come, Viva, The Witch
Rounding Out a Top 60 (i.e. 28 more)
20th Century Women, A Bigger Splash, A Hologram for the King, The Accountant, American Honey, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, Captain Fantastic, Disorder, The Dressmaker, Everybody Wants Some!!, Finding Dory, The Handmaiden, The Jungle Book, Little Men, The Lobster, Long Way North, Louder than Bombs, Midnight Special, Miss Sloane, The Nice Guys, Nocturnal Animals, One More Time, The Ones Below, Sing Street, Southside with You, Swiss Army Man, The Wailing, Zootopia
I'm not going to go into detail on these this year; I just don't have the energy or heart to tear anything apart, let alone films I felt particularly let down by. Let's just say these are the ten motion pictures I hope to never have to deal with again. I'm pretty sure nothing more needs to be said.
1. Mother's Day (d: Garry Marshall)
2. Norm of the North (d: Trevor Wall)
3. Cabin Fever (d: Travis Zariwny)
4. Passengers (d: Morten Tyldum)
5. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (d: Dave Green)
6. The 5th Wave (d: J Blakeson)
7. The Secret Life of Pets (d: Chris Renaud, Yarrow Cheney)
8. Ben-Hur (d: Timur Bekmambetov)
9. Allegiant (d: Robert Schwentke)
10. Satanic (d: Jeffrey G. Hunt)
Dishonorable Mentions (so try and avoid)
13 Hours, Alice Through the Looking Glass, The Angry Birds Movie, Assassin's Creed, Bad Moms, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, The Bodyguard, The Boss, The Boy, Careful What You Wish For, Cherry Tree, Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe, Collateral Beauty, The Devil's Dolls, The Forest, The Girl on the Train, Gods of Egypt, Hands of Stone, Happy Birthday, I am Wrath, Ice Age: Collision Course, Independence Day: Resurgence, Inferno, Intruder, JeruZalem, The Legend of Tarzan, Mark of the Witch, Me Before You, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, Now You See Me 2, Officer Downe, The Other Side of the Door, The Sea of Trees, Shut In, Suicide Squad, Tank 432, Trolls, Warcraft, Why Him?
Share on Facebook
Share on Delicious
Share on StumbleUpon!