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What Was the Best Film of the 2016 New York Film Festival? — Critics Survey

From "Jackie" to "Paterson" and some unexpected points in between, a panel of critics single out their favorite films from NYFF 2016.



Fred Elmes / Amazon Studios & Bleecker Street

Every week, the CriticWire Survey asks a select handful of film and TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday morning. (The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?” can be found at the end of this post.)

This week’s question: What was the best film of the 2016 New York Film Festival?

Richard Brody (@tnyfrontrow), The New Yorker

This year’s festival is an overflowing cornucopia; when I grab for one film to hold up as my favorite, another falls into my hand. Better to mention one that meets the simpler, if arbitrary, criterion, most aesthetic invention per second: that would be Terence Nance’s fifteen-minute film “Univitellin.” Let’s talk about a word that its images bring to mind: mnemonic. Sixteen years ago, when I was having dinner with Jean-Luc Godard at an outdoor table of a hotel restaurant, he offered this praise of Alfred Hitchcock: “If he wanted to make an image of that man over there sitting across from us, he’d know how to do it so as to make you remember him.” That’s one of Terence Nance’s rare talents, too. He films simple situations — a woman leaving work, a man repairing a motorcycle, two people looking at each other across the aisle of a train, the man and the woman at a nightclub — and renders those moments indelible, adamant in their unique identity, without resemblance in the glut of audiovisual recording, impressed in memory as  themselves and nothing but.

Making images is more than images — it’s a sign and a sample of a wider spectrum of inner and abstract vision. Because of the mnemonic specificity of their images, Nance’s films radiate quietly outward into history at large. This one does so, too; and it’s fifteen minutes long.

Christopher Campbell (@thefilmcynic), Nonfics/Film School Rejects

Although I’m sure the question is meant to apply to new films, and get an answer of “Fire at Sea” or “13th” from the doc guy, but if I can be honest and look at the entire program, I have to go with the classics. I’m torn between “Battle of Algiers” and “Harlan County, USA,” both of them intense films about intense events, one of them dramatized but often feeling like a documentary and the other a documentary that is often more dramatic than anything scripted. It’s a tie.


READ MORE: The 2016 IndieWire NYFF Bible: Every Review, Interview, And News Post From The Fest

David Ehrlich (@davidehrlich), IndieWire

The best film at this year’s fest — and likely the best film of the year — was Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight,” but that might be old news for anyone who’s been following the festival beat. With that in mind, I’d like to give a special shout-out to Mike Mills’ “20th Century Women,” a beautiful film about the past, the future and how everyone needs to bridge the gap between the two for themselves (you can read my full review here).

Kate Erbland (@katerbland), IndieWire

Jackie.” I’m really not sure how there could possibly be much debate here — and I say that as someone who genuinely enjoyed everything I saw at NYFF, from the seemingly underappreciated “The Rehearsal” to the bonkers “Personal Shopper” to a bevy of features I previously caught, including “Paterson,” “Moonlight” “Manchester by the Sea” — because “Jackie” is extraordinary filmmaking by every metric. At the very least, star Natalie Portman is operating on a very different level than the rest of the (assumed) Best Actress field. She’s riveting, transformed and utterly without fear. That alone should recommend the film, but Pablo Larrain’s assured directing, Stephane Fontaine’s gorgeous cinematography and Mica Levi’s original score put it a cut above what is already a very fine field.


Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC), Vulture

Hometown pride! This was a very strong festival, and for American movies, one of the best NYFFs I’ve ever attended. I could easily have picked “Jackie,” “Manchester by the Sea” or “Moonlight,” all of which deserve every bit of praise they are getting. Instead I’ll take this chance to shout about a movie that does everything it does quietly and perfectly: Jim Jarmusch’s “Paterson.” It’s a film about poetry, and about wanting to create something, and about the virtues of living a quiet life as opposed to a life of quiet desperation.

Not only is Jarmusch (who made his NYFF debut 32 years ago) at the absolute peak of his skill, he has found, in Adam Driver, a leading man as impeccably attuned to his sensibility as I have ever seen, up there with John Lurie and Bill Murray. Usually when a movie gets called poetic, it means someone is trying to say there are nice landscapes and nothing much happens. But “Paterson” truly is poetic — it has internal rhymes and echoes, some verbal, some visual; it plays with the idea of circling back on itself; it has repetitions and variations; it proceeds in stanzas; and although it is delicate, its architecture is extraordinarily sound and well-considered. I fell in love with it, can’t stop thinking about it, and can’t wait to see it again.


Jordan Hoffman (@JHoffman), The Guardian

The best narrative film at this year’s NYFF was “Paterson.” The best documentary at this year’s NYFF was “I Called Him Morgan.” The best sui generis experience to be had in a theater at this year’s NYFF (or anywhere else for that matter) was “Dawson City Frozen Time,” which also made for great dinner conversation among non-critic folk on those rare occasions I’ve been allowed to roam free with the general populace.

Tomris Laffly (@TomiLaffly), Film Journal International, Film School Rejects

I always struggle with the idea of picking just one favorite from a festival. This was one of the strongest NYFF line ups in recent memory, and I either liked or loved almost everything I watched. “Jackie”, “Personal Shopper”, “I, Daniel Blake”, and “13th” are among the strongest. “Jackie” especially destroyed me. Plus, there are those exquisite films I saw elsewhere and loved, that were programmed as part of NYFF: such as “Fire at Sea” and “Moonlight”.

But I think I’ll go with Kenneth Lonergan’s “Manchester by the Sea”, which I first saw at Sundance last January. It’s still my favorite film of the year — a devastating portrayal of grief, written with such elegance and emotional precision.

What is the best film currently playing in theaters?

Answer: “American Honey”

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