As the IndieWire staff makes our more formal editorial lists for the end of 2016, we wanted to take the opportunity to celebrate not just the truly great and personal moments that we experienced thanks to pop culture, but some of the ephemera that might have slipped through the cracks, but was equally memorable.
Ahead, check out some of our parts of the year that was. Maybe you’ll even find something new to love, too.
Dana Harris, Editor-in-Chief
In alphabetical order:
1. “20th Century Women”
Mike Mills’ love poem to his mom is also a genuine portrayal of womanhood. Not bad for a dude.
2. “Author: The JT Leroy Story”
This was the first time I’ve been able to enjoy JT Leroy since the concept was revealed as a fraud.
3. “The Club”
Pablo Larrain’s first film of his extraordinary 2016. Its portrait of defrocked priests has compassion and humor while not letting these men off the hook.
4. “The Crown”
Never understood why anyone would want to be a royal-watcher? One binge later, now you do.
5. “Hell Or High Water”
The best waitress-in-a-diner scene since “Five Easy Pieces.” Set in Archer City, Texas, home to Larry McMurtry and “The Last Picture Show,” this film shares some of their excellent DNA.
Like this show’s perception of Los Angeles itself, Issa Rae and Larry Willmore’s comedy is peopled by characters who are deeply flawed and entirely real.
7. “The Jungle Book”
It feels like Jon Favreau created a new genre: Call it heartfelt CGI.
8. “La La Land”
Worth the price of admission for the opening and closing scenes alone.
A deeply personal story, told by a masterful young filmmaker, with a cast of discoveries. And, they’re all African American. And, it’s making money. It feels like a miraculous middle finger to the rest of 2016.
It’s hard not to be mesmerized by a train wreck, especially when it happens over and over again.
Eric Kohn, Deputy Editor and Chief Critic
Yes, I already released my official top 16 movies of the year, and do stand by them. But, boy, did it sting to cut some of the other contenders from my list, which I start to assemble in January. The more movies you see the longer the list gets; here are some must-see outtakes.
1. “Neon Bull”
Many filmmakers obsess over characters living on the margins of civilization, but Brazilian director Gabriel Mascaro has the rare ability to burrow inside their experiences. In two narrative features and a handful of documentaries, Mascaro’s filmography blends an textured storytelling with anthropological investigation. The newest of them, “Neon Bull,” offers startling proof of this talent. Mascaro’s vibrant depiction of Brazilian cowhands delivers a detailed look at a nomadic universe that’s simultaneously flamboyant and gritty. While technically a fictional narrative, it provides a bridge to Mascaro’s nonfiction background by emphasizing the sights and sounds of a contained environment. Lyrically involving and deeply sensual, “Neon Bull” showcases a full-fledged artist in command of his form.
2. “Captain Fantastic”
The first time Viggo Mortensen surfaces in “Captain Fantastic,” he’s covered in mud, presenting a trophy to his shirtless son moments after the teen butchers a wild deer with his bare hands. It’s a spellbinding image that epitomizes the oddball tribalism that Mortensen’s character, Ben, has developed with his isolated clan of six children in the Pacific Northwest, and immediately establishes the striking intelligence of actor-director Matt Ross’ feature-length debut. Despite a premise that could easily turn hokey or farcical — radical parent raises kids in the woods, then suddenly must face reality when he takes them back to civilization — “Captain Fantastic” manages to inhabit the utopian highs of Ben’s unorthodox world even as it falls apart. It’s a timely movie about living in a bubble and fighting to stay there.
Erik Simkins / Bleecker Street
3. “The Lobster”
It doesn’t take much to synopsize the fundamental weirdness of “The Lobster,” Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ marvelously offbeat English-language debut: It’s a movie set in a world where being single is a crime and subordinates get transformed into animals of their choosing. Perhaps understanding as much, Lanthimos gets that high concept premise out of the way upfront, establishing the plight of leading man David (Colin Farrell, mustachioed and pot-bellied, submerged in a wonderfully unglamorous turn), one of the unlucky bachelors in question. David is a hapless anti-hero less interested in rebelling against the system than simply letting it toss him around — until he wanders elsewhere and discovers love in an unorthodox place. Per usual with Lanthimos, the boundaries of a restrictive society were meant to be broken, and “The Lobster” excels at exploring the catharsis of escaping expectations.
4. “The Treasure”
This surprisingly warmhearted Romanian effort from “Police, Adjective” director Corneliu Porumboiu finds a good-natured blue collar worker invested in the peculiar effort to help his neighbor find buried treasure beneath an old family property. From the makings of a deadpan comedy, in which the high pitch wail of a metal detector becomes a hilarious audio motif worthy of Jacques Tati, “The Treasure” transforms into a bizarre thriller about Romanian bureaucracy — not unlike the ending of Porumboiu brilliant “Police, Adjective,” where the conclusion revolved around a superior officer forcing his employee to look up several words in a dictionary. In the case of “The Treasure,” Costi and his neighbor are warned of state regulations that force them to report any riches they find. Whether or not they discover anything of value, it’s bound to be subjected to the same drab rules that dictate their working class routine. Porumboiu manages to deliver this heady thesis with a disarmingly light touch, something we’ve never quite seen in other movies of its ilk. The triumphant finale suggests that victory lies not with material goods but the way we choose to perceive them.
An early poster for Greek director Athina Rachel Tsangari’s “Chevalier” features the cryptic tagline “a buddy movie without buddies,” which aptly describes the macho rivalries at its center. Tsangari’s inventive story follows six apparently wealthy men on a ship in the Aegean Sea playing a vaguely-defined game to determine which of them holds the greatest traits. It’s never entirely clear whether they’re all just messing around or feel a deeper urge to triumph in their eccentric contest. The only certainty is Tsangari — whose “Attenberg” was a lovely and unconventional coming-of-age story — has delivered another intriguing and thoroughly original character study, which this time serves as an apt metaphor for Greece’s larger problems.
Todd Solondz’s latest sad-funny window into the lives of lonely characters is a brilliant ensemble piece featuring some of his stalwarts (Dawn Weiner, this time resurrected by a solemn Greta Gerwig) and some welcome newcomers (Danny Devito as a disgruntled film professor who may or may not be an avatar for Solondz himself). But the real star of the show is a wandering daschund, a complete innocent who bears witness to so much suffering in the world as he changes hands while remaining blissfully ignorant of it all; by the end, his perspective is both enviable and wise, although Solondz leaves no room for happy endings. The gut punch of the finale is the most cynical statement of his career, and that’s saying something — partly, that this is one of the most exciting, radical narrative filmmakers working in America today.
The directorial debut of New York-based filmmaker Claire Carré, “Embers” (which quietly screened at a handful of festivals last fall and made its way to digital platforms this year) takes place in a post-apocalyptic future in which nearly everyone suffers from short-term memory loss. Imagine “Memento” by way of “The Matrix” and you might start to get an idea for this haunting, innovative drama, in which numerous characters deal with daily confusion. At the center of the movie is a heartbreaking romance featuring a wandering couple (Iva Gocheva and Jason Ritter) who keep waking up unfamiliar with each other or their surroundings. Carré infuses their scenes together with wondrous existential yearning, while cycling through several other alienated figures: a young child, a committed scientist, and a teen woman living underground with her memories intact even as she yearns to escape.
Brazilian director Kleber Mendonça Filho’s absorbing drama has a secret weapon: Thirty years after “Kiss of the Spider Woman” first brought her international acclaim, Sonia Braga delivers an extraordinary performance as the resident of an old Recife apartment building standing her ground in the face of avaricious developers looking to kick her to the curb. It’s the ultimate tough cookie role: Shrewd, domineering and confident against daunting odds, she turns an ageist threat into an opportunity to reclaim her youth.
“Nuts!” might be the closest we get to a documentary in the vein of Charlie Kaufman: It’s a seriocomic story of passion and desperation that transforms into something far more mysterious and provocative. Actually directed by Penny Lane (“Our Nixon”), this mesmerizing portrait of celebrity medical practitioner and radio mogul Dr. John Romulus Brinkley more or less takes place within its subject’s mind. Brilliantly combining archival material, voiceovers, contemporary interviews and a variety of hand-drawn animation, the movie deconstructs the process of self-mythologizing from the inside out.
10. “The Eyes of My Mother”
There was no greater discovery at this year’s Sundance than Nicolas Pesce’s black-and-white horror film, which conveys a nightmarish world equal parts David Lynch and Tobe Hooper. Peace’s studied compositions and eerie atmosphere convey a surprisingly intimate perspective on the life of a disturbed young woman raised in the countryside, where she forged a peculiar bond with the murderous lunatic locked in her barn. Oddly touching and terrifying in equal measures, “The Eyes of My Mother” conveys a sharp directorial vision that nods to the past while building an entirely freshly unsettling experience.
Michael Schneider, Executive Editor
One of the perks of the gig? Sitting down with actors, producers and executives to discuss TV – sometimes in front of hundreds (or, at Comic-Con, thousands) of screaming fans… and sometimes in front of jaded industry audiences. Either way, it’s a unique way to get a bit more insight into the personality and professionalism of some industry heavy hitters. Some come to play, some are a bit more introspective and some are… a bit crazy.
Here were my fave panels to moderate in 2016:
1. “The Good Place” Ted Danson, Kristen Bell, Mike Schur, Drew Goddard (San Diego Comic-Con, July 21)
What can I say, Ted Danson is a national treasure — and I told him that, an embarrassingly several times. Kristen Bell was great, and Mike and Drew are always hysterical. This year’s Comic-Con highlight.
2. Christian Slater (SAG-AFTRA Foundation, October 6)
Fun, playful and willing to chat at length about “Mr. Robot” and the evolution of his career.
3. Steve Harvey (NATPE, January 20)
Another fun one — this came just weeks after Steve Harvey’s infamous Miss Universe flub, and we had quite a time dissecting that and other things. A great way to kick off the year.
WATCH: A Chat With Steve Harvey (YouTube)
4. “The Simpsons” Matt Groening, James L. Brooks, Al Jean, David Silverman, Matt Selman (Google VR Event at YouTube space, October 14)
I could talk for hours about “The Simpsons” with “The Simpsons” crew. Always a pleasure, and I’m still not sure if Matt Groening was mocking me when he said my hair looked like Bart’s.
5. Pharrell Williams (Variety’s Inclusion Summit, November 1)
Interesting, introspective and passionate. Pharrell Williams wasn’t an easy interview, but when you get him going, he’s got a lot to say.
6. Damon Lindelof, Ali Adler, Melissa Rosenberg, Scott M. Gimple, Craig DiGregorio, Paul Scheer (Wondercon Showrunners Panel, March 26)
Nothing better than getting a bunch of chatty, amiable showrunners together to talk shop. The Wondercon Showrunners panel is always one of my favorites, because these folks rarely get to see each other and swap stories.
WATCH HERE: Wondercon Showrunners Panel (YouTube)
7. Kris Jenner and Todd Chrisley (NATPE, January 20)
Yes. This happened.
8. Katie Couric (Panel for Epix’s documentary “Under the Gun,” May 3)
This was a tough one, a difficult subject — and this was before the controversy surrounding the doc. But it was a good conversation, and one that offered hope (well, before the election season really got under way) that perhaps the tide was turning in the gun debate.
9. Endemol Shine’s Charlie Corwin, Warner Bros.’ Mike Darnell, FremantleMedia’s Trish Kinane, NBC’s Paul Telegdy and WME’s Sean Perry (HRTS newsmaker luncheon featuring reality TV execs and producers, May 24)
We made some news with this one, getting Telegdy to admit on the record that “The Apprentice” was pretty much the launching pad for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Trust me, he heard from Trump pretty quickly!
10. “Salem” stars Janet Montgomery, Shane West, Seth Gabel, Iddo Goldberg, Elise Eberle and executive producers Brannon Braga and Adam Simon (San Diego Comic-Con, July 22); and “Salem” stars Shane West, Elise Eberle, Joe Doyle and executive producer Brannon Braga (Savannah Film Festival, October 28)
So nice, I did ’em twice. “Salem” isn’t for everybody — just ask the elderly couple that walked out of the “Salem” screening at the Savannah Film Festival. But the stars couldn’t be friendlier.
Anne Thompson, Editor at Large
1. “The Jungle Book”
Jon Favreau and screenwriter Justin Marks took Rudyard Kipling’s classic tales of Mowgli and his brothers and, with help from James Cameron and Martin Scorsese’s go-to VFX master Rob Legato, created a seamlessly natural digital world with many vibrant animal characters — and one live boy (Neel Sethi). Maybe Favreau makes it look too easy. This isn’t fantasy-world “Avatar.” This is digital India. He calls up fond memories of Disney’s 1967 animated musical, weaving in a couple of songs and creating a grand set piece led by Christopher Walken as a giant ancient orangutan (gigantopithecus, to be exact). Actor Favreau playfully kept Sethi responsive and interested, throwing surprises at him. So what if this is a family film? Audiences around the world recognized its universal appeal to the tune of $964 million. Favreau is one of the most capable directors working in Hollywood. Who else would credit his research on the scruffy sleeper comedy “Chef” with helping him to learn how to work with VFX houses? This movie is up there with “Avatar,” “Life of Pi,” “Gravity,” and “Mad Max: Fury Road” as a cinematic groundbreaker for the ages.
2. “Manchester by the Sea”
Everything went right on this New England heart-tugger. With his third feature, writer-director Kenneth Lonergan, master of the telling detail, weaves a careful tapestry of grief and family and disconnectedness, leaning on a real town and a superb cast led by Casey Affleck as Lee, a depressed, shut-down Boston janitor given the care of his beloved nephew (Lucas Hedges), who’s having a pretty good high school year back in Manchester when his father (Kyle Chandler) suddenly dies. Slowly, Lonergan lets us know, via organic flashbacks, what happened to Lee and his ex-wife (Michelle Williams), who are forced to see each other again. That’s the scene that sets grown men crying.
3. “Toni Erdmann”
It’s a treat to come across something utterly unexpected, even if it’s almost three hours long. On her third feature (which was robbed of a prize at Cannes but is Germany’s Oscar entry), writer-director Maren Ade, working with gifted theater actors, crafts an unpredictable and hilarious father/daughter comedy. When I interviewed Sandra Huller and Peter Simonischek — she’s a workaholic corporate businesswoman who is mortified when her shaggy-dog retired father keeps trailing after her in toothy disguise as his alter-ego Toni Erdmann — they were still affectionately arguing about their characters. Ade is not surprised; she likes to keep the audience guessing, too.
William Earl, Digital Director
1. “The Eric Andre Show”
In a year that made no sense, Eric Andre kept the crazy flowing with his increasingly unhinged persona. But just when his unwashed, disheveled character threatened to fall out of reality completely, we’d always have Hannibal Buress, Kraft Punk, or some other weirdo there to pull us from the brink.
2. “The Neon Demon”
Praise be to Nicolas Winding Refn for not caring about the audience. Many critics cried out that this film was boorish, self-indulgent, and flat-out stupid, but I found it a lush, brilliant nightmare jaggedly ripping a hole in the entertainment industry I love and loathe. Ferocious and divisive, it was never anything less than a spectacle.
3. Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo”
This year was meltdown after meltdown for Kanye West, and I hope he comes out of it in one piece. As a souvenir, he delivered one of the most splintered, joyful, sensual, and disgusting records of the last decade. Every West album is an event, and this was as dense and alienating as they come.
4. “We Hate Movies” podcast
Pretty much the entire day at IndieWire NYC is spent talking about film, and discovering the unabashedly silly podcast “We Hate Movies” was a way for me to funnel my passion into something light and comfortable. Anchored by four lifelong friends who work in different ends of the entertainment business, it allows me to turn off the stress of the day during my train ride home.
5. Mica Levi’s “Jackie” score
I find biopics to be, by and large, hopelessly boring, but Mica Levi’s compositions for Pablo Larraín’s “Jackie” had me sit up straight in my seat from the first notes. Natalie Portman was a wonderful acting angel in a career-defining role, but nothing will stick with me from that brilliant film like the dramatic strings that bucked any sort of convention or routine.
6. “Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy: The Making of Wes Craven’s ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street'” by Thommy Hutson
Did someone order a 352-page book all about “A Nightmare on Elm Street”? Well, I did. This one goes DEEP down the rabbit hole, but it’s my favorite franchise of all time, and I could read plenty more.
7. Roosevelt’s self-titled debut record
This German disco wunderkind delivered the year’s most carefree album of rump-shaking party jams. Catch him and his crack band’s sweaty live show while you can, before his other career as a DJ blows him up to stadium status.
8. “Stranger Things”
As a Stephen King fanatic, I swooned at this loving tribute to his key ’80s output. Even when the buzz machine got a bit deafening, the glee I first felt watching Jim Hopper sneak around corners, punching anyone he saw, was undeniable. Pure summertime joy.
9. John Oliver and Samantha Bee
When Jon Stewart left the airwaves and Stephen Colbert took a woefully ill-fitting job, John Oliver and Samantha Bee proved they were able to rise above the late night slog. I never thought these two would be heir apparent to “The Daily Show” I knew and loved, but crazier things certainly happened in 2016.
10. Beyoncé’s magnetic “Lemonade” performed live in concert
The film was brilliant enough, but there’s a deeper electricity seeing Beyoncé and her army of backup dancers nailing every passionate step aimed at the patriarchy, haters, and side chicks.
Kate Erbland, Film Editor
Photo by Stephanie Branchu. © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Biopics and fact-based features tend to rise to the top by year’s end (hello, awards season), but Pablo Larrain’s inventive and innovative look at the days immediately following JFK’s assassination through the eyes of his widow moves beyond its ostensible genre in every possible way. Star Natalie Portman owns both the film and her role; as Jackie, she is riveting, transformed and utterly without fear. Guided by Larrain’s assured directing, Stephane Fontaine’s gorgeous cinematography and Mica Levi’s original score, “Jackie” is extraordinary filmmaking by every metric. I adore it.
It is the most lauded film of the year for good reason.
3. “O.J.: Made in America”
I don’t care if it’s a feature film or a miniseries or an event television series, Ezra Edelman’s long-form documentary about the rise (and rise) and fall (and fall) of O.J. Simpson is simply one hell of an accomplishment. (Alternately, it’s the most lauded documentary of the year for good reason.)
4. “La La Land”
Pure delight. (It also gets even better – and richer – with each watch.)
5. “Toni Erdmann”
While some might ding Maren Ade’s Cannes favorite for its extra-long runtime, the uproarious examination of the fraught – and funny – relationship between an out-of-the-box father and his straight-laced daughter earns every minute, if only because every moment with Sandra Huller’s Ines and Peter Simonischek’s Winifred is a true pleasure. I’d watch a six-hour cut of this film, if only to spend more time with these indelible characters.
6. “Manchester by the Sea”
It’s all in the rhythm, as Kenneth Lonergan’s drama gives and takes in equal measure, mixing deep grief with real humor, blending the past and the present, and finding something like grace at the end.
No other film made me as purely happy – dare I say it, as joyful – as Jim Jarmusch’s ode to the everyday.
8. “Kate Plays Christine”
Robert Greene’s remarkable feature blends fact and fiction— and okay, I’ll stop myself right there. Seriously, the clever documentarian’s look at the tragic story of Christine Chubbuck led by the extraordinary Kate Lyn Sheil is an outstanding examination of not just what’s real and what’s fake, but how we find it, understand it and process it. Told through the lens of a tale that would be compelling even with a straightforward telling – it’s a funny coincidence that Antonio Campos’ “Christine” also bowed this year – in the hands of Greene and Sheil, “Kate Plays Christine” transcends.
9. “Pete’s Dragon”
Proof positive that the remake machine is fully capable of turning out touching, special and necessary offerings for all ages. (Also, I cried so much the first time I saw this film that a movie theater usher laughed at me and then apologized when I only cried harder.)
10. “The Innocents”
The term “underseen” might be overused in some circles, but Anne Fontaine’s latest film is unquestionably the one I find myself chatting up the most, typically to movie lovers who previously had no idea it even existed, and that’s a real shame. (The feature debuted at Sundance earlier this year, when it went by the title “Agnus Dei,” which may account for some of the lack of awareness surrounding it.) Based on a true story, it follows a young French Red Cross doctor as she is called to assist a convent of desperate nuns in post-World War II Poland, ultimately offering up one of the year’s most satisfying – and hard-won – depictions of female friendship and maternal devotion.
And while our year-end all-staff top ten lists are always open and available to entertainment and its many forms, there’s only one television series I’d feel compelled to add to my list – mainly because the amount of television I watch compared to films is so small, not as any commentary on the quality of our current television offerings. That is “Westworld,” which I was sold on from the first frame (and the last shot).
Honorable Mentions (in no particular order): “Everybody Wants Some!!,” “Krisha,” “20th Century Women,” “Love & Friendship,” “Arrival,” “Sing Street,” “Weiner,” “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” “Nocturnal Animals,” “Edge of Seventeen,” “Hail, Caesar!,” “The Lobster,” “Midnight Special,” “Loving,” “Chevalier,” “Popstar,” “Little Men,” “The Intervention,” “Off the Rails,” “Always Shine,” “Don’t Think Twice,” and “Hidden Figures.”
Liz Shannon Miller, TV Editor
1. The Opening Sequence of “La La Land”
I’m still a little bit on the fence as to how I feel about Damien Chazelle’s (theoretical) love letter to Los Angeles as a whole, but there was something transformative about the visceral joy of that opening musical number, which transforms an L.A. traffic jam into something magical.
2. The Cubs Win the World Series
As a casual baseball fan (to use the term generously), my usual pattern is to start paying attention at some point mid-September, and to drop out entirely once my team (go Giants!) was out of the race. Thanks to a couple of recent good years for the Giants, I’ve found myself watching more than in the decade prior, but never have I gotten swept up in a sports story like this before. Watching that final game, with the newborn son of a Cubs fan in my arms, was one of the most emotionally intense viewing experiences of the year. Little David will never remember watching the game, but I’ll be able to remember for him.
3. Lin-Manuel Miranda Gets Plastered on “Drunk History”
The creator of “Hamilton” might feel a little over-exposed at this exact moment, but the talented multi-hyphenate made himself vulnerable in a way few other might dare for Derek Waters’ delightful Comedy Central series, narrating the story of Alexander Hamilton while under the influence. Not only did Miranda prove to be a charming, giggly drunk prone to breaking into song at any moment (even crossing to the piano at one point, like the musical theater nerd he is), but Waters made a brilliant choice in calling in Alia Shawkat and Aubrey Plaza to play Hamilton and Burr, not to mention Bokeem Woodbine as George Washington. It’s one of the show’s highest achievements to date — like “Hamilton” the musical, it might just live up to the hype.
4. “O.J. Made in America”
As a professional binge-watcher, the opportunity to see all five episodes during its Tribeca theatrical premiere was mind-blowing and transformative, especially after spending 10 weeks diving deeply into “The People v. O.J. Simpson.” The weight and impact of that trial and the world which led to it has never been more clear. Perhaps we really did need 21 years to fully understand it.
5. “Better Call Saul”
Beautiful in its nuances. Daring in its subtlety. And god, Bob Odenkirk and Michael McKean were good in Season 2.
Ursula Coyote/Sony Pictures Television/AMC
6. “The Chris Gethard Show” Plays “One Man’s Trash”
Do not spoil yourself for one of the most delightful and absurd episodes of what is already perhaps television’s most delightful and absurd talk show. Just sit back and try, alongside guests Paul Scheer and Jason Mantzoukas, to guess exactly what is in the dumpster that the “CGS” staff has wheeled into the studio. Embrace the journey, and it could be the best 45 minutes of your life.
7. Reading the “Mr. Robot” book “Red Wheelbarrow”
It was 7:30 p.m. at night, about six hours after I thought I’d be done reading the Sam Esmail/Courtney Looney-penned “novel” technically set in between Seasons 1 and 2 of USA’s Emmy-winning drama, that I realized that I might be getting a little bit too into it. Specifically, it was when the office lights shut off while I was double-checking chapter and verse numbers on Bible psalms in order to make sense of one of the book’s embedded puzzles, that I knew I needed to extricate myself from the world into which I’d been drawn. Like the show itself (which featured no shortage of delights this year — ALF!!!!!), there was so much going on with “Red Wheelbarrow” that every moment of discovery was a thrill.
8. MTV’s “Mary + Jane”
It’s unlikely that this particular show will make any of Team TV’s official lists, but while I’m not personally a pot person, I became a really big fan of Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont’s absurd and smart new comedy. Kaplan and Elfont (who memorably wrote and directed the cult delight “Josie and the Pussycats”) have a knack for creating worlds for its shows that feel truly special, and episodes like “Sn**chelorette” proved that female-centered comedy could be as raunchy as dick jokes, with its own special edge. Also yes, it’s executive produced by Snoop Dogg, so it does know its way around weed culture. If that, y’know, matters to you.
9. Campbell Scott on “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll”
The brilliant absurdity of this Season 2 subplot, for me, justified seasons more of Denis Leary’s FX comedy. Tragically, the show was canceled later this year, and at this moment no video exists online from its penultimate episode, in which Scott (playing a loosely drawn version of himself) stars in a “Hamilton”-inspired musical about the Irish potato famine. But should you ever have a chance to watch it, make a point of it. “Potato!”
10. The “Ballers” Season 2 Finale
All season long, I’d been waiting to see just how hard The Rock was capable of balling. And he blew me away.
Chris O’Falt, Filmmaker Toolkit Editor
Disclaimer: Working with two film critics (Eric and David) who see everything and two writer/editors (Kate and Anne) who see virtually everything, there’s a huge asterisk on a personal top 10 like this. I’m betting I will love “Silence,” “Aquarius,” “De Palma,” “Sunset Song,” “Neon Bull,” “The Red Turtle,” “Everybody Wants Some!!” and many others once I eventually see them.
In my life before IndieWire I watched Littles turn into Blacks. What Barry Jenkins captures in this movie has so much emotional truth in it that I have never had a piece of art shake me to my core quite like “Moonlight.” And thank the film gods this isn’t a slice of miserabilist realism. “Moonlight” has been baked with poetry and hope, with a final 25 minutes that transcends plot to become the stuff of a great silent film or opera.
Too often times the yardstick by which indies are measured is how insightful, offbeat, unconventional, progressive, or edgy their scripts can be. This film, like others A24 put out this year, is a not so subtle reminder that the greatness of low budget American movies has always been the bold use of the medium itself.
2. “La La Land”
I don’t think enough has been said about how much Damien Chazelle just fucking went for it with this film. Musicals are like making three films at once — it’s an intense balancing act, which can be incredibly unforgiving to missteps. The margin of error Chazelle was working with is a tiny fraction compared to that of other 2016 filmmakers. And with all due respect to Justin Hurwitz’s songs (which integrate the emotion and narrative beautifully), this film doesn’t have rousing, foot-stomping music to propel the audience past such missteps. Yet, not once does Chazelle take his foot off the gas, and repeat viewings only reveal the layers and intricacies of how he conducted this masterpiece.
In a time when the doc community is engaged in a discussion surrounding issues of representation on screen, Kirsten Johnson blindly and bravely dove into the seemingly endless archive of her life behind the camera. Yes, Johnson made this film out of a personal need — triggered by a subject, who out of fear for her safety pulled the plug on a film Johnson was making — but the filmmaking world owes her a debt of gratitude for taking on such honest introspection. Rarely has as essential a film been made in recent memory.
4. “The Witch”
With the exception of Jennifer Kent (“The Babadook”), I can’t think of a modern feature debut by a director who is this in control of the medium. I just wish this early 17th century world — in which fragile male egos blame women, perceived to be witches, for their problems — didn’t feel so relevant today.
For those of us who don’t do yoga and can’t put down our phones long enough to be present in a moment, Jim Jarmusch has broken off a small piece of his soul (don’t worry, he’ll be fine, there’s plenty more where that came from) and made this gift for us, so we too can appreciate the poetry present in everyday life.
It’s helpful to think of Beyoncé the performer and the public person (which includes what she’s carefully allowed us to see into her private life) as a persona, similar to what a big movie star carries with her when she appears on screen. What’s so insane about “Lemonade” is the revealing, emotional rollercoaster, multi-dimensional, fierce and liberating role Beyonce has created for herself. If you had told me ahead of time she could take the devastation of Jay-Z sleeping with a white girl as a means to take a detour through the poetry of Warsan Shire, the historic struggle of black women, and swung up through post-Katrina New Orleans, well I would have condescendingly laughed. But that’s because I completely underestimated the depth of Beyoncé the artist.
7. “The Handmaiden”
Can a moving camera have a personality? Did it just smile while gorgeously sweeping through this deliciously lush set? If you’ve only watched a clip from Chan-wook Park’s masterpiece you might get the sense this is kitschy fun from a cinema geek with tremendous technical skill. What you’re missing is the work of a uniquely complex and immensely talented artist, who also isn’t afraid to have some fun.
8. “American Honey”
163 minutes of an extremely shaky handheld camera following a crew of young non-professional actors road tripping across America as they sell magazine subscriptions. Just. Shoot. Me. Now… Oh, it’s an Andrea Arnold film? Why didn’t you just say that!
9-13. “Elle,” “Krisha,” “Edge of Seventeen,” “Jackie,” “Toni Erdmann”
Honorable Mention: “Creative Control”
If director Benjamin Dickinson becomes his generation’s Kubrick, this film is going to look a lot different to us in ten to fifteen years. The black and white, not-so-distant-future world that Dickinson created with limited funds is one of the most visually exciting things I’ve seen this year. He’s also kicking around some big ideas, yet at the end of the day the emptiness of the protagonist left me cold. And no, I don’t always need to be made to feel warm, but after a second viewing I was left wondering if this was an ambitious director a) overshooting his mark, b) still circling a world view, c) feigning deeper meaning, or d) simply shouldn’t have cast himself in the lead role. I haven’t a clue, but I’m terribly anxious to see what he does next.
Honorable Mention: “Pete’s Dragon”
I’m someone who believes in 200 years the golden age of Hollywood will be universally held up as one of the greatest periods of artistic achievement, which is why it seems insane that I can’t find one studio film to make this list. Yet, I want to highlight this gem, which I think points to the hope for the future for studio filmmaking. Empowering (not just giving him the job) a director like David Lowry to find the humanity and magic of a story is what breathes fresh life into old stories. Watching this film with a young child was by far one of the best cinema going experiences of my life.
David Ehrlich, Senior Film Critic
I already enumerated my favorite 25 films of the year (and the most memorable moment of each), but since there’s always more to love about life — especially in 2016, baby! — here are a few other things that I enjoyed about the year that was.
1. The dance that evil Cara Delevinge does during the climax of “Suicide Squad.”
2. When Dinesh D’Souza’s “Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party” ended and I was able to resume living my life.
3. One of the world’s greatest filmmakers (Paul Thomas Anderson) joining forces with the world’s greatest band (Radiohead, obviously) and creating the year’s best music video.
4. The way that Mary Elizabeth Winstead says “what the fuck?” at the end of “Swiss Army Man.”
5. The intermission in “Wiener-Dog.”
6. “Quincy, we are going on a road trip!”
7. When “10 Cloverfield Lane” came out of nowhere and gave film the closest thing it’s had to a “Beyoncé Moment.”
9. Telling people that I saw “Hamilton.”
10. Seeing “Hamilton.”
11. The last four words of “Gilmore Girls.”
12. The Alamo Drafthouse finally opening in Brooklyn.
13. The Metrograph suddenly opening in Manhattan.
14. “Fleabag.” All of it.
15. The part in the “American Honey” trailer when Riley Keough says “You think yer spayshel?” It also happens in the actual movie, but it’s somehow even better in the trailer.
Hanh Nguyen, Senior Editor
1. “They’re good dogs, Brent”
This is @Dog_Rates. Friend and defender of doggos and puppers. Wears snazzy seasonal outfits. 13/10 Would follow.
@brant they're good dogs Brent
— WeRateDogs™ (@dog_rates) September 12, 2016
2. Election nightmare self-care through Triumph, Ana Navarro, Van Jones and Samantha Bee
Doing a media blackout wasn’t really in the cards for me considering my job, but I did turn to a few voice — some sane, some outraged, some canine — to navigate my outsized emotions.
3. Back to School filmography
Simpler times + straightforward angst + great soundtracks = my feel-good films. Go watch “Sing Street,” “Everybody Wants Some!!” and “Edge of Seventeen,” people.
4. Bryan Fuller’s Thanksgiving treat tweet to us all
— Bryan Fuller (@BryanFuller) November 22, 2016
5. Watching Martha Stewart try Funyuns
6. IndieWire’s “Turn It On” and “Very Good TV” podcasts
Both informative and entertaining (banter! games! dramatic readings!). Fully biased because they feature my colleagues and I occasionally guest.
7. Grandmaster Flash imparting the secrets of “The Get Down”
I really had no clue what DJs do, but after watching Flash looping the beat and base line at the Television Critics Association press tour this summer while cracking jokes and instructing TV critics how to do it all, I have a whole new respect for the musicality and coordination required.
8. John Turturro on “The Night Of”
HBO’s anthology crime series was compelling enough for its storytelling, examination of justice and mesmerizing star Riz Ahmed, but John Turturro’s character, low-rent lawyer Jack Stone, made my heart grow three sizes. I was sympathetic to his severe eczema (I know someone with the same condition) and was thrilled with his reluctant but eventual adoption of That Darn Cat. This is the last cat-related item on my list.
9. Revisiting Stars Hollow
I didn’t expect to be that nostalgic for the “Gilmore Girls” revival even though I had seen all of the original series, but there was something special about watching that first episode back at the premiere screening. Maybe it’s because that and the after-party were the most Gilmore-ish things ever: the ultimate theme viewing party that even Lorelai would approve of.
10. All the posters and tag lines for Key & Peele’s cat-tastic “Keanu.”
Ben Travers, TV Critic
Ben approached the assignment as his “best viewing experiences of 2016.”
“10 Cloverfield Lane”
March 10, MX Movies, St. Louis, MO
Company counts when it comes to the perfect viewing experience, and I was lucky enough to see this with my lifelong best friend…who also happened to be a “Cloverfield” mega-fan. So not only was watching the film exciting on its own, but the build-up and discussion following pushed it over the edge.
“Everybody Wants Some!!”
May 6, Cinemark Playa Vista and XD
On the other end of the spectrum, sometimes you’re just in the mood to go to the movies by yourself. Typically, the films that stand out on these solo excursions are private, intimate affairs, but it’s a testament to Richard Linklater’s rowdy and rousing spiritual sequel to “Dazed and Confused” that I left the theater floating on air, even without a few boisterous pals to split beers with afterward. As is his calling card, Linklater sneaks in a few moving philosophical thoughts, but “Everybody Wants Some!!” rides high on the exclamation points in its title.
May 13, The Landmark, West LA
Any film fan born far from New York or L.A. who has since moved there did so for one common reason: sitting in a sold-out showing of a hotly-anticipated limited release on opening night. “The Lobster” may not have stormed the country with its bizarre love story / cultural statement, but seeing it with a houseful of like-minded moviegoers made the experience feel all the more universal — and its message all the more haunting.
“The Leftovers” Season 2 Re-Watch
May 16, TV Santa Monica, CA
You don’t have to be in a movie theater to make memories, nor does it even have to be your first time seeing something for it to become your favorite experience with it. This was the case when I cajoled a few close friends into watch “The Leftovers”; their first time, my hundredth (rough estimate). Seeing their reactions, listening to their theories, and having the big, life-changing discussions brought on by Damon Lindelof’s perfect season of television — and maybe live tweeting about it without their knowledge — all made re-watching “The Leftovers” one of the best nights of 2016.
“The Nice Guys”
May 29, AMC Santa Monica 7
Themed movie nights are almost always a good idea, especially when fitting the theme takes minimal effort. So to watch Ryan Gosling act drunk and Russell Crowe drunkenly act (both of whom were the perfect shade of charmingly lit), my clever date snuck a thermos of whiskey into the theater. Splitting the bottle in less than two hours proved just the right tonic to pair with “The Nice Guys,” so I say again: company counts.
“BoJack Horseman” Season 3
July 6, Private Residence, Sherman Oaks, CA
The best television season of 2016 couldn’t have been hindered by anything, really (other than a slow internet connection), but it was certainly bolstered when watching alongside a fan eager to point out the many, many, many background jokes, pop culture references, and general hysterical mayhem on-screen. Watching this would have been memorable no matter what. Watching with two sets of eyes proved delightful.
July 21, A Friggin’ Boat, San Diego, CA
Just when you thought you couldn’t love Adam Reed and his merry cast of troublemakers any more, you get to sit on top of a boat in the San Diego bay and watch them drink heavily, swear at each other, and perform a live read of “Vision Quest.” With surprise cameos and audience participation, the night was like nothing I’d seen before and likely nothing I’ll see again.
“Manchester by the Sea”
October 10, Beverly Hills Screening Room
If you’re a morning person, there’s no better time to watch a movie. Sure, the call of the night can lend excitement to a premiere or make for a great date, but with fresh eyes and an alert mind, delving into a weighty drama feels all the more invigorating. And, when the the movie is as melancholic as “Manchester,” it helps to walk out into the sunshine rather than darkness.
World Series Game 7 – Chicago Cubs 8, Cleveland Indians 7
November 2, The Escondite, Los Angeles, CA
Dexter Fowler’s leadoff home run. Kyle Hendricks’ masterful 4 ⅔ innings. Jon Lester in relief. David Ross drilling a home run in his last game. The eighth inning tie. The ninth inning rain delay. The double. The save. Cubs win! Cubs win! It seemed like every Chicagoan living in L.A. on November 2, 2016 was in that bar that night, and I hugged every one of them. How can you not be romantic about baseball?
November 5, AMC Century City 15
The best film of the year is always an experience like no other. Barry Jenkins’ vision was that and more, transporting you out of the theater and into another world. Enough cannot be written about the power of this film, but I’ll leave it at that. What a year.
Graham Winfrey, Film Reporter
2. “Manchester by the Sea”
4. “American Honey”
5. “Certain Women”
7. “20th Century Women”
8. “Hell or High Water”
9. “Everybody Wants Some!!”
Steve Greene, Special Projects Editor
Sometimes, keeping up with the never-ending programming wave means that watching film and TV can often turn into an exercise. But amidst all the required viewing, there are those electric moments when something crosses your path and you say, “That! We need more of that!”
If 2017 means more things like this on our screens, we might just make it through.
One of the year’s most criminally overlooked gems. Part parable, part buddy comedy, part existential stage play, Ali Ahmadzade’s “Atomic Heart” is a filmmaking jolt, invigorating and audacious as it hurtles toward its enigmatic endpoint. Driving home after a night of partying, two friends fatefully encounter a mysterious interloper who could be friend, foe or a manifestation of something more all-encompassing. As its characters grapple with the influence of Western culture (in between singing breaks), the deserted, after-hours streets of Tehran become the territory for a battle of hearts and minds. All the bottled-up tension leads to a closing sequence that rivals any of 2016’s other on-screen thrills.
Forgiveness is a tricky thing for a show to truly embrace. As TV starts to wean itself off a dependence on antiheroes who can’t outrun their past, “Catastrophe” feels like a breath of fresh London air. Rob and Sharon are two characters whose life together began under auspicious circumstances, but their tribulations (whether through Season 1’s pregnancy or Season 2’s evolution into marriage and parenthood) always seem to come with a dose of sincere understanding. It’s a balance that seems threatened by the possibilities of a third batch of episodes, but until that comes, we’ll always have a dozen half-hour glimpses into a kind of love that straddles the sweet and the acerbic.
“The Chris Gethard Show”
If this wonderful corner of basic cable was solely the deconstructed talk show that keeps viewers, audiences and in many instances, the title host himself guessing, it would merit attention. But the finely tuned empathy engine that powers the show on a week-to-week basis makes it something truly worth celebrating. An inclusive forum that rejects no participants and embraces its weirdness like a big bear hug, it’s a hub for spontaneity that’s driven by its community of devoted fans. Come for the surprises of Diddy and a dumpster, but leave with a heart full of hope in the magic of a welcoming place.
The existence of a second season’s worth of the ups and downs of Rebecca Bunch prove that there is still good left in this world. Though the new theme song keeps its focus on Rebecca (that post-”Blam!” pause gets longer every time, I swear), the episodes aired throughout 2016 have found ways to enrich the supporting cast in increasingly entertaining ways. From “Having a Few People Over” and “Greg’s Drinking Song,” the show’s musical numbers prove that insight and absurdity aren’t mutually exclusive. This version of West Covina is filled with Spice Girls riffs and Burning Man send-ups, but it’s fueled by the core understanding that we’re all complicated people trying to get by, however we can.
“Embrace of the Serpent”
A beautiful and frightening testament to human nature. Ciro Guerra’s generational portrait outlines the consequences of miscommunication as clearly as the glass-smooth surface of the Amazon. Even as it hops between periods in one man’s life, it manages to stay sharply fixed on the ways in which we selectively learn from the past. Faith, knowledge and the fate of our planet all seem to hang in the balance of a single person’s story, daring us to listen closer.
Is there a show on TV with better timing than this one? The perfectly calibrated agonizing pauses, the knowing, wordless glances into the camera, all funneled through a view of life in London that couldn’t come from anywhere else. Phoebe Waller-Bridge earns so much immediate trust as a storyteller, through her performance and her writing, that it’s impossible to object to where the title character takes us. Grief, sisterhood, and the trials of an ever-shifting dating landscape are all singularly wrapped up in a six-episode run that feels as alive as anything else on either side of the Atlantic.
In an election cycle that confounded most of the country’s finest TV comedians, Samantha Bee brought a laser-focused dose of anger to the conversation. While other late-night hosts sought to glaze over each troubling development of national and world news, Bee voiced the anxieties of a number of groups and communities who were drowned out by the never-ending cacophony of bluster. The national conversation was derailed so many times this year, but “Full Frontal” showed a vital pathway to keep a watchful eye on the blind conductors and the faulty tracks.
On the heels of his low-key revenge thriller “Blue Ruin,” Jeremy Saulnier seems determined to bring impeccably crafted tension to every stop along the color wheel, sparing no fingernails in the process. Like Saulnier’s previous film, “Green Room” is a tale about how we process rage in America, whether it’s institutionally bred, festering quietly for years on end, or borne from the horrors of the moment. Despite its cavalcade of dark turns, there’s a note of resilience at its conclusion that lets a glimmer of hope shine through, however faint.
Few filmmakers made quite the statement with their debut feature efforts this year as Trey Edward Shults, whose Thanksgiving ballet “Krisha” is a feast for the eyes. Gliding through a carefully choreographed family reunion with Krisha Fairchild at its center, you can feel the history vibrating through every conversation. It’s a portrait made with such care that you can’t help but be eager to see what comes next — not just for this fictionalized family, but for the aunt/nephew star/director powering it along.
“Men Go to Battle”
Further proof that history isn’t meant to be told with the expectations of the present. Following two brothers tested and separated by the Civil War, there’s an authenticity of emotion that matches its period details. Against the backdrop of national conflict, the tiny triumphs and moments of understanding between its sparse collection of characters become the building blocks of a quiet story. It’s a beautiful tribute to members of divided houses, in all their forms.
Zack Sharf, Social Media Editor
There’s still a lot of movies and television I need to catch up on before I can confidently put together real top 10 lists of 2016. But I already know the five things I loved most this year, the things that truly reaffirmed my love for movies and television and brought my body and soul into a state of nirvana. That’s not hyperbole, and here they are:
1. “The Girlfriend Experience” Season 1 Finale
This is the most audacious and daring 30-minutes of television I have ever seen. That’s a big statement, yes, but if you watched “The Girlfriend Experience” (which, frankly, a lot more people need to do), you’ll know exactly what I mean. A normal finale would tie-up lose ends and story threads, but showrunners Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Seimetz did something completely different. They introduced new characters and a new story, dropping their protagonist into a situation we had never seen her before without any explanation whatsoever. In throwing viewers for a loop, they forced us to reckon with the full extent of the character’s season-long transformation, and it was a jaw-dropper like no other.
2. “Moonlight” Act III
What “Moonlight” achieves in its final act, titled “Black,” is something I’ve never felt while watching a movie or television show. Chiron’s entire life has built up to this one moment. He can no longer outrun his life or his identity. He must come to terms with who he is. No more pretending. The entire film and the character’s entire life builds to this one single moment of self-realization, and it’s a heart-in-your-throat discovery that leaves you completely knocked off your feet. Jenkins makes you feel the enormous weight of admitting to yourself what you’ve become and who you want to be, with all the pain it takes to reach that moment and the rush of freedom that comes flooding in after it. That’s why “Moonlight” is a landmark.
3. “Toni Erdmann” – “Greatest Love Of All” Karaoke Scene
Maren Ade’s “Toni Erdmann” is my favorite film of 2016. A love letter to the ways we use humor to connect and defend ourselves from the truth, it culminates in what has got to be the most transcendent film moment of the year: A show-stopping karaoke rendition of Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love Of All.” To spoil how this comes about and why would be criminal, but just know it’ll leave you on your feet in thunderous applause. You won’t have a choice.
4. BoJack Horseman, “Fish Out Of Water”
This near-silent episode of Netflix’s brilliant comedy series is going to top many of the best episodes of 2016 lists you see this year, and for good reason. The episode doesn’t just salute the great silent storytellers of cinema (it mixes the madcap energy of Buster Keaton with the beating heart of Charlie Chaplin), but it uses its silence as a way to further break down BoJack’s self-sabatoging ego. You don’t need dialogue to make a masterpiece.
5. The World-Building of “The Lobster”
“The Lobster” is memorable for a lot of things (Colin Farrell’s gut, anyone?), but I’ll never forget watching it for the first time and being utterly transfixed by its world building. Yorgos Lanthimos very carefully reveals his cards, gradually giving the viewer more information to process but never through exposition. We learn how this world works in ways that are funny, shocking and heartbreaking. If only every script trusted the audience this much.
Jude Dry, Digital Media Critic
It’s hard to know what to say about “Moonlight.” Of course, it is a brilliant and beautiful movie made by an indie filmmaker about a fairly taboo subject. But what’s most heartening about its success is that this is not tokenism or some reaction to controversy over that other black film. “Moonlight” stands on its own as a cinematic achievement of unparalleled proportions. That it happens to check some boxes Hollywood has left empty for far too long is just gravy.
2. The first episode of “Transparent,” Season 3
In the words of creator Jill Soloway as told to IndieWire, she “wanted wanted the episode to feel like we were throwing down a gauntlet,” and she succeeded. Rather than check back in with all of the Pfefferman clan, Soloway focuses only on Maura in the first episode, and sends her on a misguided adventure to a mall in downtown Los Angeles, looking for a trans girl she spoke to while volunteering at a suicide hotline. When Maura finds Elizah, a trans woman of color, she reaches out to her, saying “I’m like you,” but Elizah just stares back at her as she would any other stranger. She’s not like Elizah, she’s white, and Elizah doesn’t need her help. The rest of the season may have shied away from such important questions, but Soloway showed her willingness to respond to critics who say Maura, and by extension Soloway, is out of touch.
3. The dark humor of “The Handmaiden”
Bill Desowitz, Crafts Editor
It was a year when the movies tried to unite us and teach us more about empathy. (Unnumbered)
“La La Land”
“Hell or High Water”
“Manchester by the Sea”
Tom Brueggemann, Box Office Editor
In a difficult year, film struggled to keep relevant and vital against both external events and the question of whether it remains the most vital narrative visual medium. These films stand out among a range of other nearly equal ones in vitality.
Many of the most interesting films involved directors going outside their worlds, whether national or personal, to provide fresh points of views on familiar stories. In a year where tribalism on all sides and celebration of self and those like us was central, the best films showed a greater interest in more than just validating existing beliefs. At a time when film is no longer as central to our culture as in the past, some directors refuse to concede their ground.
In no particular order, these are ten films that among those that give me hope for the future:
“O.J.: Made in America”
The creative “La La Land” may define Los Angeles for moviegoers for a while, but this over-seven-hour-long documentary reflects better the day to day tensions at work for many of its residents. Among several superior films about race relations in America, this stands out for its discomfort factor as well as its fresh look at very familiar material. A tragedy, but its willingness to question preconceived notions on all sides provides a needed service.
America’s most undervalued mass audience director continues his recent resurgence (along with “Flight” and “The Walk”) with his gloriously ridiculous homage to World War 2 spy and romance films. No big scale director at work today is more at ease with his craft, with his earlier foray into animation liberating him to play even more with live action film. After “The Walk,” which seemed to use the high wire as a metaphor for directing (including its inherent obsessive insanity as a central element), Zemeckis tempts fate by rearranging history (the Blitz took place two years before its placement here), upending logical behavior, and tempting audiences to relive an era where charismatic stars use their appeal to give credibility to their characters. The best film of its kind since “Titanic.”
“No Home Movie”
The hope found in this documentary (the director engages her elderly mother in discussions of her experiences in the Holocaust) is perhaps belied by Akerman’s apparent suicide not long after. It will take some more time after her death to place this in the context of her brilliant career. The key word though is home, a central concept here as much as in her greatest work “Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Bruxelles.” She is away from her own home much of the time, remotely communicating via Skype, yet creates something that resonates intimacy, sometimes searing.
Andrea Arnold plays with the road movie, a quintessentially American cinematic genre, with British eyes and a female lead character, but also atypically with no clear destination or goal. It could have been a grim, tragic saga, but Star, the 18-year-old lead character here, in the middle of going nowhere manages to find her way, or at least her own internal Waze. This should be essential viewing for those struggling to gain a perspective on a disaffected working class generation, who no longer expect a life better than their parents.
Somehow managing to justify praise that would doom most films, this stood out as the rare American independent film that does more than just recreate its maker’s own world. Barry Jenkins accomplishes what Ang Lee failed to fully do with “Brokeback Mountain” — capture the struggle of a gay male in an unwelcoming community. But unlike that landmark film, it is about much more in its depiction of growing up with a troubled African-American mother in an economically deprived Miami neighborhood. Arguably the most accomplished American independent film since David Gordon Green’s “George Washington,” with which it shares a youthful hero and glorious, assured widescreen visuals set in the South. For those coming to it late after its overwhelming praise, it rewards a second viewing with a depth and resonance that its initial surface pleasures and episodic nature hide.
The best American indie director since John Cassevetes returns to form with “Paterson.” Adam Driver plays New Jersey Transit bus driver married to a woman named Laura who bakes cupcakes (who with no hint of anything unusual is played by a leading Iranian actress.) Paterson (his name and where he lives) lives a life of quiet inspiration as he dabbles in poetry shared only with his wife. This is a quiet film, even by Jarmusch’s standards, yet despite the absence of the sturm und drang in its contemporary urban setting, it feels like a time capsule of its time as much as Jarmusch’s seminal “Stranger Than Paradise” — and otherwise its equal. It includes a minor tragedy that is as sad as any event seen this year, but his ability to recover gives hope in a world that seems bleak at the moment.
This discovery out of heartland cinema (filmed in Cincinnati) was blessed by the revelatory wonderfully named Royalty Hightower. She plays an 11-year-old boxing trainee who shifts her interest to a dance team and choreography after seeing some older girls practice. In a year of elevated female roles, few have the grace and the grit that Toni here does, as she enters a new world with plenty of mystery, both normal for an ambitious girl her age and mysterious. (The fits are a form of mass hysteria that afflicts the team.) This gem stands far above most independent efforts and is the best debut feature of the year.
“Cemetery of Splendor”
Not quite at the level of Weerasethukal’s earlier great films, but still a major work from this master. As with all his films, it defies capsule analysis. Set in a northern Thai military field hospital where patients are beset with narcolepsy, the fact that it is set atop of royal cemetery adds to the intrigue. Its availability on Netflix after its minimal release, to be seen by potentially far more than Weerasethukal’s previous films, is a reason to celebrate this powerful but seemingly random outlet.
“Hell or High Water”
Perhaps the most traditional “American” film on this list was directed by the British John Mackenzie, working in the States for the first time. With a terrific script from Taylor Sheridan (“Sicario”) it melds classic Western tropes (bank robbers, a charismatic sheriff, revenge) in a contemporary Texas where banks have become an existential threat as much as a place to rob. It smartly but subtly alludes to two key Texas classics — “Bonnie and Clyde” and “The Last Picture Show” (Archer City, where the latter was filmed, gets a passing mention). And it uses its superb ensemble cast (led by Jeff Bridges, once again showing why he is the best American actor working today) to balance contemporary and retro touchstones.
This is a monumental effort, both as a comedy of extraordinary length (162 minutes) and dramatic depth. A globe-trotting German executive is in Bucharest, Romania. Those familiar with home grown movies made there won’t recognize it, a sign of how the multinational world is destroying distinctive individuality). She has to deal with her increasingly out of control retired father who shows up unexpectedly, taking on the persona of a tycoon. This amazing film has moments reminiscent of Chaplin, Tati and Blake Edwards, including the deep humanity and pathos that make the comedy more painful.
When was the last time a director had three films released in a single year, much less three worthy ones? Pablo Larrain accomplished this with his multiple and distinctive Chilean produced efforts. “Jackie” is by far the best known, but his locally-set “Neruda” was equally imaginative and original. And for me, the best of them was the barely released “The Club.” This Bunuel-ian tale of a remote bleak seacoast home for pedophile and other outcast priests was discarded by producer 20th Century Fox after it failed to make the Oscar Foreign Language cut, only getting a token release. Perhaps its overlap with “Spotlight” made it seemed like used goods, but its devilish and nonjudgmental look at a group of clueless souls and the former nun who rules their world deserved a better fate and is worth seeking out.