Rounding out our written year-end lists is our newest team member Ken’s top ten films of the year, along with some under-appreciated and hidden gems from the year.
DISCLAIMER: It should be noted that I have not yet had the time to catch up on many of the year’s acclaimed releases, so this list could be considered very much in-progress; a snapshot of where I am at the end of December.
1. La La Land – This movie is great. You’ve heard how great it is. Everyone has said how great it is. I’m just one more voice.
2. The Witch – A movie which achieves maximal suspense by expertly harnessing the potential of the unspoken and unseen. It slowly draws you into its ensnaring traps, and then keeps pulling and prodding until an unexpectedly explosive finale.
3. Mountains May Depart – A powerful mediation on the passage of time and its effects on both global and personal scales.
4. Take Me to the River – One of the year’s best directorial debuts, a minimalist exercise in suspense which builds tension with overwhelming efficiency.
5. Weiner – This is the kind of movie that is ideal for the documentary skeptic, showing that real life truly is stranger than fiction, and just as engaging to watch as well.
6. Sully – A well-mounted examination of how instantaneous public attention and extensive scrutiny can affect a person, chaired by a fully devoted performance from Tom Hanks
7. 13th – Lyrical, well-researched, and utterly compelling. A comprehensive look at how the problems and struggles of the past are less often eliminated and more often disguised and re-birthed.
8. Divines – This story of youth in Paris’ working-class, minority circles is directed with a crisp fierceness, written with a thorough ambition, and acted with confident vigor.
9. Sing Street – John Carney gets a lot of flack for the rustic emotional beats of his films, but he more than makes up for any shortcomings in his style with genuinely engaging stories told with a flurry of awe-inspiring sequences. Sing Street is no exception to this rule.
10. Southside with You – This dramatization of the first date of the future president and first lady is undoubtedly charming, but there’s a meaningful undercurrent of race, class, and society, manifest in both lengthy dialogue exchanges and subtle nonverbal interactions, that makes it much more than just a bit of cute speculation.
Now, here are a few movies from last year that struck me as particularly worth mentioning. I didn’t like them quite enough for inclusion on my top ten list, but they each carry their own pleasures and successes, and it’s a shame that they’ve been seemingly ignored. As of this writing, all of these titles are available for streaming on Netflix in the United States. They are listed here in alphabetical order.
– Blue Jay – Mark Duplass and Sarah Paulson star as two middle-aged people who reflect upon their teenage romance upon reuniting in their hometown. At first, it’s fun to wander down memory lane, but some old skeletons in the closet soon find their way out. Blue Jay is a simple, short drama, but explores its characters with a consistently engaging fervor.
– Cemetery of Splendour – A small hospital in rural Thailand has seen an influx of patients, in the form of soldiers with an odd sleeping disorder. Writer/director Apichatpong Weerasethakul uses this setup to explore a highly experimental style, and while his brand of slow minimalism can be off-putting at times, there are some legitimately fascinating perspectives to be seen here, as he increasingly blurs the line between reality and fantasy.
– Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party – Writer/director Stephen Cone’s work has often focused on adolescence in religious-conservative environments, and Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party is no exception. A closeted teenage boy, the son of a preacher, celebrates his seventeenth birthday party with friends and family, as the ideas of the past collide with ruminations on the future. There’s never an apocalyptic clash, of course, but Cone gradually ratchets up the tension throughout the runtime, and through the eyes of his main character, shows the difficulties of reconciling those fronts.
– My Golden Days – A young man comes of age in western Europe during the dying days of the Cold War. The plot is simple, but co-wrietr/director Arnaud Desplechin crafts a complex character portrait, showing his protagonist maturing during a time of tumultuous world change. Much like in history, seemingly minor events and behaviors of years past become fundamental aspects of a current identity, and there’s much to be seen from this vantage point, gazing into a life of good and bad possibilities.