End Of The Year Almanac #1: Best Films Of 2016

best-of-2016

Sex.  Violence.  Science.  Counting Crows songs.  Here are eight of the strongest films I saw in 2016.

– – – – – – – – –

demolition

8) Demolition (2015)

Jean-Marc Vallée has been gaining notice for directing Oscar-contenders like Dallas Buyers Club (2013) and Wild (2014), but for some reason his little-seen and overlooked Demolition has been the most interesting work of his I’ve seen to date.  Although it isn’t earth shattering or revolutionary, it’s an interesting sketch of a man who is experiencing grief by struggling to experience it at all, then slowly falling apart and acting out.  It reminds me of Todd Louiso’s Love Liza (2002), in which Philip Seymour Hoffman reckons with his feelings by being absolutely reckless.  Jake Gyllenhaal does the same and adds to his recent streak of challenging and intriguing performances in Prisoners (2013), Enemy (2013) and Nightcrawler (2014).

For trailers or where to view, click here.

cold-in-july

7) Cold In July (2014)

If you enjoyed David Mackenzie’s Hell Or High Water this year or wonder what it would be like if Road House and neo-noir had a baby, then Cold In July is the film for you.  One of its best assets is its unpredictability, starting as one movie then becoming another and then another, which gives it an edge I haven’t seen in this genre for quite some time.  It also boasts rock solid performances from Sam Shepard, Michael C. Hall and Don Johnson, who is having as much fun playing bad and broad as he did in Django Unchained (2012).  When you find yourself in the mood for watching something gritty and fueled by some angry white guys seeking vigilante justice, look no further.  This is it.

For trailers or where to view, click here.

the-treacherous

6) The Treacherous (2015)

Without a doubt The Treacherous is the most depraved film I saw this year, based on King Yeonsan‘s absolutely batshit reign over Korea at the turn of the 16th century.  Kim Kang-Woo turns in an absolutely gangbusters performance as the King, who orders all of the beautiful women in his country to be taken to his palace and kept as his personal sex slaves, regardless of their class or marital status.  Needless to say this makes him more enemies than the ones he had in the first place, including his right hand man, Im Soong-Jae (Ju Ji-Hoon), who is fully aware the king is going mad and uses it to his advantage. Tons of backstabbing, murder and mind-bending sex ensue on an epic level.  Like seriously.  You don’t even know.

For trailers or where to view, click here.

experimenter

5) Experimenter (2015)

Fifty-five years ago Stanley Milgram conducted his most successful and controversial experiment, which indicated humans were highly suggestible to inflicting violence on others.  Experimenter profiles that time as well as what followed, but it isn’t the typical biopic for this kind of subject matter.  At heart it’s a film about the nature of curiosity and seeking.  It’s meta too.  Milgram (artfully played by Peter Saarsgard), breaks the fourth wall and calmly talks about what is happening, his intentions and what he’s discovering.  A welcome bonus is a cast of familiar faces playing the subjects and participants, some giving thirty second performances: Anthony Edwards, Jim Gaffigan, John Leguizamo, Taryn Manning and the late Anton Yelchin (one of his last onscreen appearances).

For trailers and where to view, click here.

victoria

4) Victoria (2015)

A lot can happen to you in a short period of time, and that’s a point Victoria drives home, unfolding in one long, dizzying 2 1/2 hour shot.  Our titular character goes out for a night of dancing, befriends some men and has one of those strange twilight-hour connections with her new friends as they roam the streets of Berlin.  But not for long.  Her desire for connection leads her into danger then through a series of breakneck decisions that may cost her everything.  And we see it all in one shot.  This is the real thing: a single, unbroken take that follows characters through a variety of settings, situations and on-location effects.  It was probably a logistical nightmare, but in the end it proved to be an astounding success.

For trailers and where to view, click here.

mommy

3) Mommy (2014)

I’ve seen some of Xavier Dolan’s films- I Killed My Mother (2009), Heartbeats (2010) and Laurence Anyways (2012)- and I know that’s just the beginning.  The guy is only twenty-seven years old.  After seeing Mommy I still don’t know how Dolan elicits such assured performances while filtering them through his inimitable style.  That’s part of why Mommy is on this list.  This film is unlike anything I’ve seen before.  The 1:1 filming ratio is a challenge but inexorably a part of the story.  The soundtrack choices are unusual for a film set in the 2010s (“Building A Mystery,” “Colorblind,” Wonderwall“).  The only familiar thing is Dolan’s recurring theme of an intense mother-son relationship, but the ending catapults Mommy into something entirely different.  Don’t believe the trailer for this one.  The experience of seeing it will be something else, regardless or whether you love or hate it.

For trailers and where to view, click here.

heaven-knows-what

2) Heaven Knows What (2014)

The Safdie Brothers may be on the rise, casting Robert Pattinson in their forthcoming Good Time and collaborating with Martin Scorsese on another venture, Uncut Gems.  From what I gather it was Heaven Knows What that tipped the scales in their favor, an unrepentant, fly-on-the-wall memoir of a young heroin addict in NYC.   It stars Arielle Holmes, who is a first-time writer and actor here, as well as a nearly unrecognizable Caleb Landry Jones as her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Ilya.  The film’s main strength is immersing you in a world that is completely unfamiliar (at least to some) until it becomes alarmingly real.  When that is compounded by the fact that Holmes actually lived this kind of life for several years it stays with you.  Heaven Knows What is a document of lives we don’t usually see up close and usually don’t want to see or have compassion for.  The Safdies’ gaze is pretty objective here, but the feelings surrounding it anything but.

For trailers and where to view, click here.

polytechnique

1) Polytechnique (2009)

On December 6, 1989, twenty-five year old Marc Lépine entered the École Polytechnique engineering school while armed with a semi-automatic rifle and separated the males from the females in a classroom.  After dismissing the men he said, “I hate feminism” and gunned down all nine of the women.  He continued his rampage throughout the school for another twenty minutes, shooting twenty-eight people and killing fourteen women in total.  Several survivors committed suicide in the aftermath of the attack, adding to the toll.

I’ve seen my share of films about school shootings, but Polytechnique is the only one I believe everyone should see.  Shot in stark black and white by Denis Villeneuve (the director of this year’s futuristic Arrival), it follows the perpetrator, victims and survivors through the events that changed their lives, as well as the repercussions and fallout that result from a hate crime.  It’s a haunting and beautiful film, not easy to watch, but overall a moving elegy on how to live and not live.  In the wake of 2016, a year filled with so much hate, it is going to stay with me for a long time- a testimony of tragedy and survival.

For trailers and where to view, click here.

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