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The incredible nuns of Les Innocentes (The Innocents)

The incredible, and incredibly complex, nuns of Les Innocentes

Though I might not have thought it possible, I managed to see even more films in 2016 than in the previous year—47 in theaters and 156 at home. Whether this was because the election drove me to seek out escapism wherever I could I don’t know. I have come up with what I feel is a fairly solid Top Ten below, but there are still plenty of critically acclaimed films I haven’t seen yet (see lists at the end of this post), so I suspect this list may shift somewhat in my first quarterly review of 2017. I was somewhat surprised to realize that not many films from the fourth quarter of the year appear in my Top Ten, but I recently rewatched seven of the films on this list and must say they all held up rather well and confirmed my first impression of them. I’m not sure that will prove to be true about The Light Between Oceans, so I imagine it will be pretty easy to knock that one off if need be.

Top Ten of 2016*
Les Innocentes (The Innocents)
Arrival
Love & Friendship
Hell or High Water
Maggie’s Plan
Green Room
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Ah-ga-ssi (The Handmaiden)
The Edge of Seventeen
The Light Between Oceans

While the subject matter at the heart of Les Innocentes is rather brutal, and the issues it considers morally complex, the film is remarkably hopeful and eminently human, displaying an incredible amount of empathy for its characters. Hope and optimism characterized many of my favorite films of the year, whether in the face of aliens from outer space, economic despair, or the trials and tribulations of high school.

And now… the awards!

Best Achievement in Filmmaking: Les Innocentes. I pretty much felt I had seen my favorite film of the year on leaving the cinema after viewing Les Innocentes and I’m still stunned this wasn’t either the French or Polish foreign-language entry for the Academy Awards (however, it’s not even on the Oscar eligibility list so maybe there was a problem with its production and/or release dates). The cast is superb, the cinematography stunning, and the treatment of its complicated themes deft and even-handed.

Best Achievement in Filmmaking (runner-up): Arrival. While the cast is uneven, the structure of this film is absolutely incredible. This is a script that in the wrong hands might have utterly failed, but Villeneuve makes it all work, ably assisted by an incredible cinematographer, masterful editing, a pitch-perfect score, and a nuanced performance by Amy Adams that only reveals its perfection upon second viewing.

Best Theater Experience: Green Room. Though wary of the potential gore—and there was gore—I was really looking forward to this horror thriller by Jeremy Saulnier, the director of 2014 favorite Blue Ruin. The crowd of critics and other guests was obviously excited as well and there was even swag at the screening. Plus, this is the type of movie that absolutely begs to be seen in a crowd. Terrific performances all around, including a Patrick Stewart like you’ve never seen him before and the late Anton Yelchin, gone far too soon.

Most Improved on Rewatch: Maggie’s Plan. I went into this rewatch not knowing if this film deserved a spot in the Top Ten, but instead I placed it higher than I ever imagined. A screwball comedy for our own time.

Performances

Best Ensemble (Drama): Les Innocentes. The nuns in this story could have all too easily blended together, but I felt I knew each one individually.

Best Ensemble (Comedy): Maggie’s Plan. While I don’t love that Julianne Moore is Danish for some reason, everyone plays their role to perfection here.

Standout Performances (Female): Amy Adams in Arrival and Kate Beckinsale in Love & Friendship

Standout Performance (Male): Colin Farrell in The Lobster

Best Supporting Performance (Female): Judy Davis in The Dressmaker

Best Supporting Performances (Male): Mahershala Ali in Moonlight and Tom Bennett in Love & Friendship

Standout Performances (Teen): Hailee Steinfeld in The Edge of Seventeen and Anya Taylor-Joy in The Witch

Best Debut: Madina Nalwanga in Queen of Katwe

Best Scene Stealer: Hugo Weaving in The Dressmaker

Best Hero/Heroine: Lou de Laâge in Les Innocentes

Best Villain: Rachel House in Hunt for the Wilderpeople

2016 VIP (Female): Isabelle Huppert for Elle and L’Avenir (Things to Come)

2016 VIP (Male): Ryan Gosling for La La Land and The Nice Guys

Production

Best Direction: Denis Villeneuve for Arrival

Best Directorial Debut: Kelly Fremon Craig for The Edge of Seventeen

Best Cinematography: Adam Arkapaw for The Light Between Oceans

Best Editing: Jake Roberts for Hell or High Water

Best Original Screenplay: Efthymis Filippou and Yorgos Lanthimos for The Lobster

Best Adapted Screenplay: Whit Stillman for Love & Friendship

Best Score: Jóhann Jóhannsson for Arrival

Best Production Design: Ryu Seong-hee for The Handmaiden

Best Costumes: Marion Boyce and Margot Wilson for The Dressmaker

Potluck

Top Five Pleasant Surprises:
The Dressmaker
The Edge of Seventeen
The Love Witch
Maggie’s Plan
Queen of Katwe

Top Five Feminist Films:
Ghostbusters
Les Innocentes
The Love Witch
Queen of Katwe
Zootopia

Favorite Scene: “What Don’t You Want” in Hell or High Water

Best Opening: La La Land

Best Ending: Moonlight

Best Ending (runner-up): The Invitation

Best Closing Credits: Ghostbusters

Best Use of a Song: “One More Try” by George Michael in Keanu

Best Teaser: Rogue One

Most Effective Trailer: La La Land

Biggest Disappointment: Jason Bourne

Most Overrated: Captain America: Civil War

Most Underrated: The Dressmaker

Most Miscast: Brad Pitt in Allied

Five Worst Films I Saw In Theaters:
Allegiant
Demolition
The 5th Wave
Jason Bourne
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Top Three Films I Hope Are Not Part of My Oscar Blitz:
Hacksaw Ridge
Nocturnal Animals
Silence

Top Ten Unseen 2016 Films I’m Most Looking Forward To:
American Honey
Cameraperson
Certain Women
Hidden Figures
Jackie
Krisha
Lion
Toni Erdmann
20th Century Women
Wiener-Dog

Past Perfect and Imperfect

Best of the (Oscar) Blitz: Mustang

Favorite (Non-Blitz) Films of 2015:
Appropriate Behavior
Meadowland
Phoenix
Respire (Breathe)
Tangerine

Favorite Films of the “52 Films by Women” Series:
Mustang (2015)
Les Innocentes (2016)
Respire (Breathe) (2015)
Maggie’s Plan (2016)
The Edge of Seventeen (2016)
Walking and Talking (1996)
Appropriate Behavior (2015)
Meadowland (2015)
The Love Witch (2016)
The Dressmaker (2016)
Dear Frankie (2005)
McFarland, USA (2015)

Favorite Rewatches:
Laura (1944)
Freaks (1932)
Star Wars (1977)
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
The Usual Suspects (1995)

Favorite “New to Me” Films:
The Old Dark House (1932)
The Unknown (1927)
Exotica (1994)
The Cat and the Canary (1927)
Blow Out (1981)

Worst “New to Me” Film (tie): Little Big Man (1970) and Ishtar (1987). Oddly enough, both starring Dustin Hoffman. Make of that what you will.

What were your favorite movies of the year? What have I missed that I absolutely must see? Let me know in the comment box below.

For more thoughts about what I watched this year, see my “Film Quarterly” posts: Vol. 2016, Issue 1, Vol. 2016, Issue 2, Vol. 2016, Issue 3, and Vol. 2016, Issue 4.

*The 2016 movies I saw this year are:
The Accountant, Ah-ga-ssi (The Handmaiden), Allegiant, Allied, Arrival, L’Avenir (Things to Come), A Bigger Splash, Captain America: Civil War, Demolition, Denial; Don’t Think Twice, The Dressmaker, The Edge of Seventeen, Elle, The 5th Wave, Finding Dory, The Fits, Florence Foster Jenkins, Ghostbusters, Green Room, Hail Caesar!, Hell or High Water, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Les Innocentes (The Innocents), The Invitation, Jason Bourne, Keanu, La La Land, The Light Between Oceans, The Lobster, Love & Friendship, The Love Witch, Maggie’s Plan, The Magnificent Seven, The Man Who Knew Infinity, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Money Monster, Moonlight, The Nice Guys, Queen of Katwe, Rogue One, Rules Don’t Apply, Sausage Party, Sing Street, Tallulah, 13th, Tickled, The Witch, Zero Days, Zootopia

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