by Jaime Grijalba.
Welcome, one and all, to the list to end all lists (not really). This is a very very summarized version of the greatest films that I saw in 2016 (and beyond), considering that I didn’t see every praised and hailed film (and that I close my list the day of the Oscar nominations and until that day I had only seen three of the nine films nominated for Best Picture, if that’s a sign of anything, and in any case neither of them make it in my list), and I’m specially sad about missing some of them that I was really looking forward to, like films from Lav Diaz, Mel Gibson, Jee-woon Kim, Pablo Larraín, Martin Scorsese and a bunch of other filmmakers whose films interested me immensely but I just didn’t have access to them on time, or just had it, but didn’t have enough time and my cut-off date is really strict. Special mention to ‘Silence’ (2016) which I feel could’ve topped this list, but I’ll eventually see it in the next few days and then I’m going to be angry at myself.
Without much further ado, here’s the list of what are, to me, the best 20 films of 2016. This list could include anything from short films, TV mini-series, feature-length films, extra-long films, music videos directed by famous (or not) directors, anything that could be considered a film according to my very flexible standards (usually a YouTube video doesn’t count, but hey, anything can change in this world of ours). If a film you liked isn’t on the list it probably means that I haven’t seen it, because even though I watch a lot of films, I don’t watch everything and skip most things, but do ask anyway. And this list only features 2016 releases seen whenever and wherever, that means that there’s no 2015 or earlier release here, only pure original 2016 releases.
So, let’s start this madness, and let my reputation fall to the ground with all of you with my first few choices:
20. Kizumonogatari: I Tekketsu-hen (Kizumonogatari Part 1: Tekketsu) (Tatsuya Oishi, Akiyuki Shinbo)
Pictured at the top of this post is this film, the first part of a three-part Japanese animation series of films that was planned to be released between 2016 and 2017. Two parts were released last year, and the last one will come out in the next few months. The first installment of this prequel to the Bakemonogatari animated TV series (also directed by Akiyuki Shinbo, one of the most savage and creative animation directors of the past few years, and that has spun-off a lot of sequels and continuations, being this among them) gets into the list because it works on its own as an almost silent and abstract piece of animation that achieves its artistic highs when it combines both hand-drawn characters in digitally rendered backgrounds, that to some might be a jarring combination, but to me has always been an attractive way of both creating new compositions as well as cutting costs of animation and thus focusing more on the script and in being creative in its use of colors, perspective and how real the images might or might not look, and this animated film uses those elements to the max. In more than a few ways this might seem like an empty film, a visual orgy of calm landscapes with characters being almost a dot in the empty fields, combined with scenes where the blood spurts out in a ridiculous yet beautiful fashion, and because there are elements that kind of remind you of all the bad things that people say that anime is, but in the end, what is honestly in the fixation with female anatomy and crude lewd jokes and constant references to sex, but a honest portrayal of the mindset of a high-school boy, and at the same time a play on those stereotypes. As the film becomes more grounded into plot and what the aim of the protagonist is after he encounters the vampire girl that has no arms and no legs, it loses momentum because it needs to spend some time with dialogue. That’s why the second part, while equally beautiful, isn’t as appealing, because it spends a lot of time with battles and conversations that plan those battles out. I still expect the third installment, and I hope that it goes back to the strange quietness of this installment, which combines perfectly the weird editing (that uses landscape shots, with details of hands… and breasts, as well as words and base colors) with the funny characters and the stupendous use of color.
19. Short Stay (Ted Fendt)
There’s a sub-genre of American films that are weirdly fascinating about the awkwardness that is the pure social existence of the being, and I think that the compiled works of Ted Fent, which I saw in the Mar del Plata Film Festival last November, was one of those experiences that you can’t really forget because of how closely they hit to home. Fendt’s films are familiar because he makes them in a familiar way, he uses the 16mm aesthetic to bring it closer to the audience and to put its characters in a realistic light, because it is a format that here is mostly comparable to home movies over the experimental filmmaking that is usually associated with. Fendt’s films are approachable because they feature characters that are his friends and family, people that he himself had to approach to, be friends with, find in his common talks and walks around the streets of his home town, these are people that you find yourself understanding, no matter what they do, because they are near to you, and that’s only because Ted Fendt is near to them. I think that Fendt needs to outgrow the small circle of friends and colleagues that he makes his movies with, specially if he wants to grow as a filmmaker and artist, but at the same time I know that they’ll lose all this freshness and greatness and identifiable moments, because he will lose those elements as well as he walks stray from those things that he holds near, dear and close to his heart and sensibilities. There are many writers and critics that’ll try to compare this work to the one Fendt does as a critic and programmer, but I ultimately find this a futile exercise. This is the best feature debut of 2016 because Fendt is a filmmaker that has created his own tools out of practice and a clear vision of where to cut and how to shoot people from a distance, and because he can put on-screen the agonizing troubles that come from the absolutely awkward main character, from people who go around attending to parties that they know they’ll hate attending, people who assume too much from people just because they know each other, favors upon favors based on the flimsiest of relations, and a lot of elements that reminded me a lot of myself five years ago, when I was really really stupid. Today I’m only just stupid.
18. Rippu Van Winkuru no hanayome (A Bride for Rip Van Winkle) (Shunji Iwai)
You can read a review I wrote for Screen Anarchy here. I’ll try to talk about other things below.
I think that this is the best performed film of the year. There’s nothing that can surpass the power of Haru Kuroki and the roller coaster of a life that she experiences in the almost three hours of film that happen here. Same thing goes for Cocco, the famous Japanese singer and performer, who here projects her trajectory towards being one of the most highly regarded actresses of the medium, only and only because of how complex and complete her performance feels here. After all, this is a film about performance and how it can be transformed in a commodity and something that can be made commercial in the marketplace of a capitalism-run society, much like the one that Japan has turned into, and how that plays into the context of social networks and how much of them is actually an act put onto the rest of the people. The film is expertly divided in terms of the reactions that our main character has to the life that has been put on her to be experienced, much like as if it were an experiment in how our innocent lives can be damaging to others and at the same time blind, because of our intent to always step on the rest to be the best around, to have the best marriage, to have the best partner by your side, to be something that is the envy of the rest, but no one honestly cares, and thus we are living through her the punishment of not being aware enough of the discomforts of society. The film may sound like it preaches its lessons a bit too hard, but it doesn’t, it drives you to those conclusions through beautifully edited sequences that explore Kuroki’s face and her reactions to the events that surround her, while metaphoric at times, the realness of the emotions is what brings this movie as one of the most moving of the year.
17. Operation Avalanche (Matt Johnson)
Johnson surprised me with ‘The Dirties’ (2013) and made its way to my top 20 of that year, and now he makes it again in his second film which he also stars in, which at the same time serves as some sort of soft-remake of that first film. It’s about a band of rogue filmmakers who are obsessed with the equipment that they’re using and at the same time think that they can work out a plan that can both save the day and manifest enough independent thought so that they can be recognized as individuals among the crushing developments of society and the institutions in which they are immersed. This time they play CIA agents that infiltrate the NASA and find out that the rocket to the moon has enough malfunctions so it will never make it, so the plan that they have is to fake the moon landing, using the cameras at their disposal, sped up and slowed down footage, acting, art direction and clever tricks, all done on camera and for our viewing pleasure, all these things incredibly well done and so when we finally see the result of what they’re doing… we can see that there’s little if no difference to what the recordings of the moon actually are. Of course Matt Johnson has the advantage of almost 50 years of technology by his side, and we know that the moon landing wasn’t actually fake, and whatever it is that famous video about how the moon landing couldn’t have been possibly faked was totally refuted by a filmmaker that is even younger than me and could manage to come up with a sensible explanation and with footage to back it up that looks a lot like what we saw. But that’s not what this movie is about, though that’s what the plot wants you to think about most of its runtime. It’s about paranoia, and the sensation that we’re always being followed, and that in itself makes up for the funniest and at the same time tense scenes in the film, a constant vigilance that turns the characters into hysteric assholes that are funny to listen to, but at the same time that make you think about the real problems with secrets and how do they work in the context of an organization as big as the government of a country.
16. Busanhaeng (Train to Busan) (Sang-ho Yeon)
This is the best zombie film in more than a decade. I can’t think of something that goes to the length that this one goes in terms of spectacle and fun in a long time, as it uses the living dead only as a concept for set pieces to happen, having their abilities in mind (that, at this point, one can take for granted and can learn quickly if you’re not familiar with them). Thus, the film spends 20% of the time in plot and character, 50% in action, spectacle and fun, 5% on zombie exposition, 20% on tension and terror, and the last 5% on sappy feelings and moments that are supposed to bring some tears to the eyes of the viewers, but are maybe only groan inducing, which is honestly the only bad thing that this movie carries. As said, while the film isn’t entirely original in its treatment of the threat itself (they are zombies that eat flesh and carry a virus that is contagious, provoking havoc and some sort of apocalyptic scenario), it is original in its structure, which is aided by the place where it all happens: a bullet train that is traveling towards Busan. Thus, the people in each compartment are identifiable by strongly constructed characteristics, that at times might seem simplistic, but they each have a quickly assigned depth that make them memorable in their own way (which, in turn, makes us care for their safety and the fact that they are under possible harm), and it’s the movement from wagon to wagon, the closing of the doors behind, the attack of the zombies and how they move, how they can react to the sounds and the light that surround them, and the important part that tunnels play in certain set pieces make up for an enormous amount of elements which make the film playful and never boring. I still can remember the showing that I attended at the Valdivia Film Festival, the way that people cheered, clapped, laughed and cried at the exact moments that the filmmaker wished it happened. This is a crowd pleaser, the best kind that it can be, a film that can move audiences to jump and cheer for certain characters over others. A movie that people can be loud at.
15. Sieranevada (Cristi Puiu)
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the protagonist of this film looks a lot like Zizek, because every conversation and every theme seems as obsessed as the famous philosopher is with the concept of ideology. Romania is a complex country, from what I can see this movie shows to me, an ignorant in the politics of those European countries, and Puiu charges against everything and everyone, there’s no one that is right and everybody is wrong… but some are more wrong than others. This film feels prescient with its insistence on fake news, immigrants, conspiracy theories, ISIS and other terrorist attacks that are constantly being referenced, which even years after they happen, they still feel like they are now at the start of 2017 among the most urgent matters and more important events remembered daily. Beyond those elements, there’s a view of family relations, about what they mean and what are their honest use for our daily life, and the fact that Puiu can maintain a film almost three hours long about people complaining, fighting and finding out that you really can’t stand your family if it believes certain things. Puiu is the star here as he directs this chamber drama with great effect, managing to create accessible images that map out the apartment where it all takes place, managing to place every person in different rooms, having a clarity towards what’s going on, where’s everyone, who’s who and what they’re doing, and the fact that he does that with a cast of over 10 important characters that never stop talking, moving and stating their beliefs. There’s a sad element regarding the whole resistance that every member of the family has towards the thing that unites them, and how they don’t believe in anything that they’re doing, how they’re trapped inside this formality, the anniversary of the death of the patriarch of the family and no one truly cares about the traditions beyond the over-religious mother. A slice of life that turns into a mess quickly, much like every other family reunion.
14. Kurîpî: Itsuwari no rinjin (Creepy) (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
Yes, it is a dumb title, but it perfectly captures what is the main and most important feeling that the film slowly but surely inserts into you. This tense genre exercise that mixes mystery and horror wonderfully twists your perspectives, damaged by years of bad films and TV mysteries. It follows the tradition of the other two most known Kiyoshi Kurosawa horror films, ‘Cure’ (1997) and ‘Kairo’ (2001), which feature protagonists making the worst decisions possible in the context of a clear and absolute presence of pure evil in front of their eyes, as instead of trying to protect themselves and those whom they love, they confront it in a brave and very stupid way. While there’s a clear issue of foreshadowing in terms of one of the performances, the performance itself is a marvel to watch, from the tics of the face, the game that it plays with dropping casual hints (or red herrings), a maniacal speech, and always that fearful smile. When this movie was over, I realized that I had been tense all the way through, specially towards the final hour or so, which just piles on dread upon dread, bad choices upon catastrophes, I was basically shouting at the screen trying to make the characters do something else, and that kind of attitude could be negative to some, but to me that kind of interaction with the film is commendable and absolutely needed in a thriller like this. My stomach hurt after watching it, I was locked into it and at the same time I wanted to run away. This might be my favorite horror film of the year, in terms of pure feelings of dread and a cold sweat that drops in my back whenever I think of the ‘villain’, the place where it lived and the things that it had done. The direction by Kiyoshi Kurosawa is phenomenal, as expected from him, he always uses the entire space of the places where it puts its characters, and at the same time it forces them to the extreme, so they can go all out on their feelings and characterizations. Kurosawa aptly titled this film, because it is.
13. Umi yori mo mada fukaku (After the Storm) (Hirokazu Koreeda)
I can’t deny the absolute pleasure that a Koreeda film gives me. And this one manages to be somewhat a weird one. Can’t say that I’m an expert on his films, specially since they’re all very different from each other at least in terms of plot and the characters that appear in them. This one has a weird Takashi Miike/Sion Sono vibe for the type of characters that it portrays, as the protagonist is a frustrated novelist that is a detective trying to research for his novel, with a gambling addiction, divorced, but wants to see his son more than anything, even though he knows that he can’t pay for the money he owes the mother of his son in order to see him. The most interesting moments of the film come when we see this tall man coming to terms with his own problems and failures, while at the same time continuing being his own self, because he can’t help being a fuck-up. The big set piece that takes place in the protagonist’s mother apartment is just a segment of what ends up being a sad portrait of a sad man, but it is there that all the emotions finally flow, and the humor of the characters flourishes, while at the same time we see them coming to terms with each other’s personalities. It’s not a perfect film, but one that is so incredibly well performed and so wonderfully framed in the way that it chooses to show the narrow spaces, the night life that the main character lives at times. It feels like literature fodder, and most of the weight of the film is put on the dialogue between the characters, their characterization and all those elements where the visual things aren’t as important, but at the same time, the typhoon that happens (the storm alluded in the translated title), it brings forward a sound design aspect that is extremely interesting when contrasted with the dialogue. I love these kind of films that end up in a bittersweet note, that no matter what you do, you won’t win the lottery, but you at least bought a dream that lasts a week, as our main character says (and his son repeats).
12. The Nice Guys (Shane Black)
I remember starting to watch this film with the usual doubt with which I start seeing practically every action/cop/crime film, with quite a good amount of doubt in my heart, as I don’t see it as one of my favorite genres, not even close to that. So, when I found myself enveloped not only by the characters, the dialogue, but also by the beautiful way in which the 70’s are portrayed in this movie, but at the same time without bringing too much attention to it so it could be turned into a useless nostalgia driven film. Thus, I couldn’t help but fall completely in love with what this film had to offer to me, a simple man who was only looking for a good time. It is, by far, one of the funniest films that I’ve seen in a long time, and for sure one of the best of the year, hence its inclusion on the list. Everyone involved, from the main cast to the bit players, does an impeccable job in their respective performances, and in a perfect world it would be Angourie Rice nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar instead of, dunno, Nicole Kidman? But honestly no one cares. I’m really thankful that the plot of this film almost doesn’t make sense with all its turns and complicated unnecessary twists that does, and that the characters are all flawed to the point of exploitation of those flaws, and even the fact that they are so flawed that they turn to slapstick comedy to bring up the humor. It’s a film that at the same time plays with some heavy subjects about parenting, which makes the performance of Angourie Rice even better, and it doesn’t need a big emotional scene to sell those concepts in the middle of a comedy, it does it naturally and organically, putting the set pieces together, crafting interesting dialogue and having fun with it. You can talk about alcoholism and family auto-destruction in a comedy that features a fall from a ledge as a joke.
11. Hypernormalisation (Adam Curtis)
My first (and so far only, though I might need a new one) external hard drive is named Curtis after this filmmaker, whom I’ve wrong to consider, with each film released, more and more important in how he has this immense backlog of imagery, facts and news snippets that everyone forgot about and is able to connect them in a way that makes sense and absolutely nobody thought about beforehand. Yes, resistance is needed, yes, resistance is futile as long as it is done through the means of the fake world that the resistance tries to fight. This should be enough so that every criticism about the ‘woke’-ness of this documentary (which I think is anything but, it’s actually a pessimistic point of view that doesn’t achieve any awareness from the viewer as much as a hard slap to the face at being such a blind idiot and no continuing to be, because, honestly, we’re fucked). I can’t say much else about this documentary, its droning and never-ending monologue that lets the footage speaks for itself as it makes the connections is, in itself, enough indication as to why we lived that politically awful 2016 and we’re having such a politically awful 2017 so far. Its prescience of the phenomenon of fake news, weeks before it was mainstream news, should be enough to pay attention to what is being said, what is important to do, and to realize that we can’t really do that much, but hope that those in power are human enough to let us live in peace. You can watch this documentary/video essay here.
Woooo, the top 10 stars here!
10. Ang babaeng humayo (The Woman Who Left) (Lav Diaz)
The King of Slow Cinema released two films this year, and although I had access to his Berlin bound eight hour film, I wasn’t able to have time to watch it before making this list. But, luckily, I had the chance, for the first time, to see a Lav Diaz film without a pause or a stop for drinks, or to continue watching it the next day or the day after, which was a personal feat and goal for what was 2016. And, luckily (though at this point I can’t really doubt him) Lav Diaz does it again. This time he is inspired by classic literature to tell a story about the recent history of the Philippines, this time about the 1990’s, when there was a strange and wild surge in kidnappings. In the midst of this crime raise, Diaz tells a crime story, but forgets about showing any crime beyond those made by the institutions and those that hold power hostage from the people in the lower segments of society, and he only shows the horrors of those oppression-riddled people. It’s a story about the poor confronting the mistreatment of those who have the money and power, but at the same time it has many pulpy elements that drift it apart from the usual themes and images that Diaz uses in his longer films. This film has guns (not machine guns, as they had appeared so far in the hands of the military and the rebellion), song and dance sequences, references to real events and movies, among many others. There’s a transvestite character named Hollanda, and she steals the show with her warmth and optimistic way of seeing life, even though she’s always on the brink of self-destruction, but I think me liking that particular character and the way that she acts and her end of the road in the film is very personal, and I can’t really explain in a public manner why it moved me so much. A very moral and political film, just the way I like them.
9. Ah-ga-ssi (The Handmaiden) (Chan-wook Park)
My favorite South Korean director (at least until today) has released another major work of visual sensuality and genre trappings, and I can’t avoid being a fanboy and completely fall for it and all the complex nesting narratives that it proposes and the absolutely beautiful and astonishing design in every frame. A lot of that surface level beauty serves to hide the absolute wretched behavior of most characters, who deceive and try to betray each other at every turn that there is, which can be seen by the absolutely perfect performance that each party plays in front of the rest in reaction to the things that each knows, the plans that they’ve concocted together, and how those plans may or may not be carried in the promised way. It’s thrilling to see a film in which it seems that two women come together to finally be relieved of the poisonous interjection of men into their lives, and they free themselves without resorting to violence as much as they resort to their lies and their ability to make men believe their lies. They weaponize their bodies, their faces and their beauty as a way to subvert the trappings of society and that way they can live their love the way they want to. Some people have criticized the way that the sex scenes have been shot, but in the end, there’s nothing strange in the way they appear in terms of Park’s style and everything that surrounds them. They are immersed in a mansion of a wannabe Japanese lord whose only way to pry into the privileged parts of society is through porn, and thus he uses dirty talk, marionettes and strings to put on a show that will be pleasure enough to those nobles that he so hard wants to be a part of, and thus we are confronted with pornographic literature, pornographic pictures and pornographic acts performed in front of an audience; it is only logical, that since it’s the only thing that they know about, that the real sexual acts between the characters have pornographic characteristics, but at the same time they are fixated in the presence of pleasure and its attainment.
8. Anchiporuno (Anti-Porno) (Sion Sono)
I wrote a long article about Sion Sono, this film and my feelings towards it, and you can read it here. Here’s an excerpt of it:
“A similar combination of art and protest can be seen in Anti-Porno, which first establishes some rules and then, just as briskly, breaks them. Along with The Whispering Star (2015), it is among Sono’s most obscure films. Kyoko, played by Ami Tomite, is a young prodigy, who paints characters that she will later use in her novels. She is preparing for a big day of interviews and photo shoots, but has something else on her mind: she ponders the nature of being a “slut.” Her divagations are spliced with flashbacks of how she lost her virginity to a random man in the woods. Kyoko is over-sexualized, and sex is the most important thing in her life. She even uses it as a tool to denigrate and torture her assistant Noriko, played by Mariko Tsutsui. Yet Kyoko’s mental torment is evident, especially when she gets a journalist’s aid to penetrate Noriko with a strap-on, just to show her how she can become a “bitch.
When Kyoko becomes momentarily stumped, after reflecting on the place of women in Japanese society, we hear a man yell out, ‘Cut!’ Suddenly we realize that what we have seen thus far is a porn film that’s being shot with the newbie actress, Kyoko, who lied about her age to star in the porn industry. Noriko, the senior actress, complains about the amateur nature of the production, and the two women’s roles in this “real life” moment are reversed. The film ends with Kyoko covered in paint and screaming joyfully, as she gets more and more splattered with brilliant colors, with the walls and floors covered by the canvases that reinforce her earlier angry speeches. Ultimately, what is real and what is not doesn’t matter nearly as much as the visual or the political force of the film’s vignettes.”
7. El limonero real (The Royal Lemon Tree) (Gustavo Fontán)
I don’t know if it’s a sign of maturity or just a sign that I like certain things over others, but I absolutely despised Fontán’s earlier features, slow films that didn’t achieve anything and weren’t a look into an interesting contemplation over anything. This, on the other hand, is a completely different monster in his filmography, and one of the greatest films of the year, which sadly was overlooked in most festivals and other places where it should’ve played and now this film will have to travel far and wide to find its audience. Fontan’s film adapts one of the most complex novels by Argentinian writer Juan José Saer (who has been compared to Borges and Joyce), and from its opening moments it feels like we’re being introduced into a world from which the narrator’s stand point (the camera’s) already knows all, and we’re just following the lines and the words that Saer wrote about the area of Santa Fe and how the people of the river lived and tried to push forward in the midst of their own disadvantages. The film is focused on one day, the last day of the year, for a group of inhabitants of the area of Costaliné, who can only travel from place to place through boat and live their miseries without looking back on them, or at least our protagonist can do that, an old man who leaves his house early (after collecting some lemons from his sacred lemon tree) and leaves his wife behind to meet her brothers and sisters, who’ve come from far away to meet and celebrate the New Year’s Eve. In time, and without much dialogue or exposition we get to know that our protagonist’s son died when working in the capital city, and his wife still can’t celebrate anything as she’s still grieving. The film isn’t an adventure to get the woman to celebrate (though some try), but a profound look at how people can hide their own sadness. It’s a beautiful film, the sunlight shines through the trees, the places portrayed are wonderful, as if it they were hidden from the rest of the world, and the night scenes are scary and at the same time foreboding of the ills to come. It’s a simple film, with little narrative, with an attention and love to its characters as well as to the images that it possesses. One of the best Argentinian films of the last few years.
6. The Alchemist Cookbook (Joel Potrykus)
I might be the only one that will say this, but this film is better than ‘Buzzard’ (2014). The first time I watched it I scribbled down that I just was writing that phrase to remind myself that I actually watched and not dreamed it, and that in itself (upon a rewatch) became even more relevant, when the performance of Ty Hickson makes you doubt everything that you’re watching, and how the strange pace of the film (divided in chapters that mimic those of ancient books of magic and lore that should be forbidden) makes it stand out, specially because it plays some tricks on the viewers to give them a false sensation of certainty about what’s supposed to happen, but it quickly pulls the rug under your feet, and not only that, he mashes that with a maniacal scream, a laughing fit from a dead creature, an appearance out of the ordinary or a transformation that fills you with absolute horror. Sure, Kurosawa’s film may be the most effective horror film of the year as its suspense slowly fills you, but this movie is like having someone kicking you in the face every 15 minutes. Ty Hickson and Amari Cheatom work perfectly for this kind of film about the dangers of social movement through unconventional means, and they embody those political horrors through scares and horrors that seem to be out of ‘The Evil Dead’ (1981). It’s also a big step for Potrykus, who seems to step away from his usual humor literally in the span of his film. Sure, ‘Buzzard’ (2014) was no comedy when it ended, but one could still have fun with it. In this, his latest film, he slowly breaks away from those conventions, he has a genius scene of pure humor like the one between Amari Cheatom and Ty Hickson regarding cat food, and later have them fight over their own souls in a night scene that seems straight out of nightmares. Those two scenes don’t belong in the same movie, but Potrykus quickly changes gears as the horror becomes real, the experiments become more dangerous and the chugging of liquids and food becomes less funny and more a statement on the despair of the human being when confronted with the unknown.
5. Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade)
I think there are many people out there making more interesting and complete takes on the greatness of this film, and I can’t avoid thinking that I’ll just make an ass of myself if I try to write anything else but: watch it for yourself. (As if I haven’t been making a ridicule of myself so far with my far-fetched writing, my limited vocabulary and the choices themselves). So, here’s what I wrote on Letterboxd when I just finished watching it, with some additions and corrections.
A film about the inherent power of being spontaneous and weird. No wonder this is being praised from so many different angles and dispositions, whether it be for its humor, its sadness, its overall sense of what the meaning of life is, the power of its performances and how ambiguous it is about its own lessons, hence transforming itself into a complex work about what we really should feel and do regarding ourselves, our family and what we feel is right and wrong.
Even though it’s not necessarily a “funny film” it features one of my favorite line readings of the year: “I will arrest you for drugs”.
4. Aquarius (Kleber Mendonça Filho)
There’s something magical about a film that is over two and a half hours long and that once you start to recollect and think about what happened in it, you can’t think of much, as the film seems leisurely paced with its own story, at peace with its characters, their past and their decisions. In a way the film itself is a representation of Sonia Braga’s character, a woman with a brilliant past and a comfortable present, who is confronted with some nasty people and happenings that don’t discomfort her as much as make her angry, but not enough that she will stop being in control of the situation, but enough to answer with clarity and a force that will make everyone who watches the film absolutely speechless. What’s not to love in a film that so complexly tells a story of privilege through the lens of social justice and ‘what is right’ as Mendonça plays his cards through performance and editing to make you feel that what you’re seeing is what should be happening and nothing else. Because let’s not fool ourselves, Braga’s character is someone with privilege, a successful music writer that can afford living in a place like that must come from a very comfortable position in society, and it is only through her lovable position, speech and attitude towards the world that we are obscured of her privilege and we turn her into a victim that doesn’t want to accept that is a victim (more on that later into the list), and thus we accompany her as she’s confronted with the evil people that want to throw her out of the apartment in which she’s always lived, even though she knows she has the upper hand and never doubts that she will be triumphant, it is the extension to which the people from the new building go that sparks our own indignation, and it is through the identification in the audience of troubles and abuses similar to that, that we applaud Braga’s character as in the final scene she lays it all out, she sprays her bottled up anger and we welcome her in our leagues: this is a political film! This is amazing, give them what they deserve! It’s impressive the games that Mendonça plays here, and how he manages to dupe us, and at the same time satisfy us. The controversy of its placement in the Oscar shortlist by the Brazilian government is absolutely essential to the understanding of the film, it’s a film that lays out the class that is in power right now and what they could do to an entire country… instead of just a building.
3. O Ornitólogo (The Ornithologist) (Joäo Pedro Rodrigues)
Maybe the most spiritual film of the year, mainly because it is about the transcendence of one’s soul through the encounter of other people, self and the acceptance of one’s own mental disorder. It is through that we see the transformation of man through the biblical tests of temptation, violence and nature. It is certainly one of the most surprising films that I’ve seen in a while, because it seems that it exists only in its own reality of surrealist abstraction alongside an aesthetic that seems pulled straight from Grim fairy tales. It took me completely by surprise, specially by how gripping it is even though it’s a dry film at times with its leisure pace that in time turns swift in certain strange sequences, only to slow down again to take another look at the striking imagery that it sometimes manages to create through the use of light through the leaves, or the artificial elements like skulls or birds that deliver sacred messages. It does play like an allegory for the conversion of Paul to Christianity, but at the same time it riffs on that kind of stories about the existence of the spiritual world and the actual dimension of the human soul in terms of the other world, and what it all means. One has to be grateful that a festival film from Europe manages to be funny at times, romantic at others, and most thankful of all is that it’s always weird, and above all: Fun. There’s always something new being thrown every few minutes, and it’s maybe among the films that, if you’d tell me about it, I’d never suppose it would become one of my favorite films of the year. The homosexual aspect of the entire travel of the protagonist is understated and I love that that’s the path taken, one of natural happenstance above an abuse or a exploitation of the theme as if to make it about that.
2. Elle (Paul Verhoeven)
My favorite film of the year from August to November 2016. What a wonderful feat from the director of great science fiction films from the 80’s onward (and other films, I’m sure), and what an incredible experience to see the performance of Isabelle Huppert, who has suddenly been made Queen of the film world through this and other performances in the recent years. A complex film to watch and endure from its first minutes all the way to the end, a tale of the entitlement of the higher classes and how their struggles could be used in a film to become power fantasies for the rest. Here we return to the idea that I started in the blurb about ‘Aquarius’ and how the main character doesn’t want to be seen as a victim because it would defeat the view that others have of her, and because it would bring light to her past which she struggles to hide (though she later uses as a strange seduction tool, as if she was using her grief, empowering her and becoming more strong through its use for non usual reasons). The film starts with a rough rape scene, and the film returns to it and brings attention to its reiterations, but it is the face of Huppert who always bring us towards its understanding of its purpose and effect in her life, about how we should evaluate it and what we have to think. Sadly, there’s been some wrong and sadly almost misogynistic takes on this film that say that this film is a triumph of the so-called “anti-PC” thinking, that the fact that she doesn’t denounce the rape and later “enjoys it” (which is false for anyone who has paid attention to the film) is powerful and a little “fuck you” to the “feminazis”. Fuck them, this film is maybe among the most feminist that has come out in a long time, it features the empowerment of a woman through her own decisions, and not because she doesn’t make a denounce means that she isn’t a victim, it’s just her background which has damaged enough (due to the influence of men, specially his father) that she is fearful of even becoming something close to a victim.
1. Paterson (Jim Jarmusch)
I have a very personal problem with explaining why this is my favorite film of the year. I think that when I saw this with almost two hundred people in the same theater, I felt alone, transported to the world of the protagonist, to his mundane yet extremely beautiful life. I felt that it was a message strictly delivered to me. It isn’t common for me to find that a film was “made for me” as I’ve heard some annoying teenagers say either in real life or the internet, but it was as if there was a transmission from the future, and I had the fortune that it was directed by Jim Jarmusch and was transmitted to the whole world as well for it to be enjoyed. I feel that this film presents a premonition, if not an accurate representation of my future, something that I’ve maintained deep inside me since I’ve seen it, that I feel like I’m part of that place, part of what Paterson does, part of what Paterson is. I already feel ridiculous telling in this place that I’m in love and that I find definitive permanence in that love, that I find peace and that I feel completely content with the life that I’m having mainly because of that love. I have my aspirations, I have my goals, I have my values and I have all those things that I want to do: write, film, sing, present, program, play, read, see… yet, it is only with this love that I’ve found that I’m content in doing those, and I’m proud of what I’ve achieved thanks to that support, thanks to those things that appear in the edges of my life and that show me that I’m making the right choice. I might move out of my home soon. I might start a new life. And my new life is presented here in this film, a life of peaceful love, of small to no conflict, of a routine that’s birthed out of love and the absolute belief that it’s all you need to be happy.
Hope you enjoyed, hope this wasn’t cringey and… see you at the 10 days of Oscar, I guess.