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)
Love & Friendship
Hell or High Water
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.
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
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
Top Five Pleasant Surprises:
The Edge of Seventeen
The Love Witch
Queen of Katwe
Top Five Feminist Films:
The Love Witch
Queen of Katwe
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:
The 5th Wave
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Top Three Films I Hope Are Not Part of My Oscar Blitz:
Top Ten Unseen 2016 Films I’m Most Looking Forward To:
20th Century Women
Past Perfect and Imperfect
Best of the (Oscar) Blitz: Mustang
Favorite (Non-Blitz) Films of 2015:
Favorite Films of the “52 Films by Women” Series:
Les Innocentes (2016)
Respire (Breathe) (2015)
Maggie’s Plan (2016)
The Edge of Seventeen (2016)
Walking and Talking (1996)
Appropriate Behavior (2015)
The Love Witch (2016)
The Dressmaker (2016)
Dear Frankie (2005)
McFarland, USA (2015)
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)
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
Note to email subscribers, there is embedded video in this post that may not appear in your email. Please click through to the actual post to see the complete list of selections.