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35 Directors Pick Their Favorite Movies of 2016

Sure, they loved "Moonlight" too, but from "Popstar" to "Childhood of Leader" some of your favorite directors shine a light on 2016 movies that aren't getting discussed.

The Childhood of a Leader

“The Childhood of a Leader”

IFC Films

Daniel Scheinert (“Swiss Army Man”)

20th Century Women

“20th Century Women”


“20th Century Women”

I laughed so much and so deeply at this excellently photographed and delicately captured movie celebrating a complex, beautiful, unforgettably enigmatic Mommy.


A  really good movie that makes science and linguistics look cool!  But best of all the movie lead me to read Ted Chiang’s short stories which I love love loved.

“Captain America: Civil War” / “Batman v. Superman”

I hate dead pedestrians and boring bad guys destroying cities.  I LOVED watching a movie where every super hero is super scared of stray bullets. “Civil War” was so fun for me against all odds and an oddly relevant movie for 2016 when our frighteningly divided world can’t find common ground. Meanwhile “Batman v. Superman” was my favorite train wreck of the year, complete with all the Batman dreams a boy could ask for, and Wonder Woman watching videos on her computer.

“The Greasy Strangler”

Saw this one while a little drunk in my home town of Birmingham, Alabama at Sidewalk Film Festival and the screening started with programmers passing out paper bags of Captain D’s fast food seafood.  Horrifying and one of my favorite theater experiences of the year.

“The Handmaiden”

This movie’s so sexy I was really uncomfortable watching it in a crowded theater, but it’s sexy for a reason.  It’s a twisting turning incredible piece of filmmaking.  Soft core The Prestige with a real thematic heart to it all.

“The Lobster”

So sad, funny, scary, romantic, cynical, and simple.  I’ve been trying to become a better writer and the more I think about “The Lobster,” I’m floored by the elegant simplicity of each scene and each unforgettable character.


So, like, no big deal but I got to eat at the diner from Moonlight a few weeks ago and the food’s not that good, but holy freaking cow this film blew me away.

“Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping”

Saw this twice in theaters, love the soundtrack, including amazing b-sides that weren’t in the film like “F*** Off” and “Should I Move?”

“Sausage Party”

A sophomoric collection of jokes with resonant philosophical ideas underneath all the ugly looking weiner and gina shaped food.  I was scream/laughing in the theater by the end.

“Take Me to the River”

It’s scary going to your new friend’s movie to see him do a Q&A afterwards.  Matt Sobel’s Nebraskan family reunion nightmare was my most unexpected treat this year.  It’s unexpected humor and relentless tension has stuck with me all year and I saw it in February.

Richard Tanne (“Southside with You”)

"Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping"

“Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping”

Universal Pictures

“Spa Night” (Andrew Ahn)

Like its protagonist, austere and meticulous on the surface but warm-blooded and soul-searching underneath.

“L’attesa”/”The Wait” (Piero Messina)

It is no surprise that the stunning and stunningly dramatic faces of Juliette Binoche and Lou de Laâge can sustain an entire film, what’s surprising are the expressively sensorial ways in which Piero Messina captures those two faces and their elemental surroundings in his indescribably original directing debut.

“Cemetery of Splendor” (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)

Lulls you into its story with the rhythms of realism and then awakens you with the pitter-patter drip-drops of the paranormal. Weerasethakul is a cinematic mystic.

“Hail, Caesar!” (Joel & Ethan Coen)

A veil of frivolity belies a mocking indictment of the Holy Trinity of consumerism: Hollywood, religion, and politics.

“Popstar: Never Stop Stopping” (Akiva Schaffer & Jorma Taccone)

Hilarious from start to finish, it updates “This is Spinal Tap” for the YouTube era by fearlessly and viciously skewering Millennial emptiness and complacency.

“The Purge: Election Year” (James DeMonaco)

A raging riotous blast of American Kabuki that features a head-turning performance by Brittany Mirabile as Kimmy the Freakbride.

“Chimes at Midnight” re-release (Orson Welles)

The ideal Shakespeare pastiche and Welles as Falstaff remains one of the great marriages of actor and character in all of film.

“Knight of Cups” (Terrence Malick)

The apotheosis of Malick’s cinema-as-consciousness experiment. A modern spiritual monomyth and a prayer for the future of moviemaking.

“The Neon Demon” (Nicolas Winding Refn)

Refn continues his gutsy crusade for filmic individuality, this time crafting a modern-day Los Angeles folktale that transudes through the screen with the eeriness and gruesomeness of a Grimm Fairytale. With stand-out supporting turns by Abbey Lee and Karl Glusman.

“Michael Jackson Journey from Motown to Off the Wall” (Spike Lee)

Here, Spike Lee directs with the same freewheeling idiosyncrasy that marks not only his narrative masterpieces (“He Got Game,” “Bamboozled,” “Malcolm X”) but also his growing body of documentary masterpieces (“4 Little Girls,” “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts,” “Bad 25”).  Lee’s buzzy bubbly tone and his time-transcending editing revivify the “talking-heads” documentary while he reanimates the thrilling period of coming-of-age and self-actualization of one of the greatest musician/entertainers the world has ever known.

This year, I made a movie, in part, about Lee’s own “Do the Right Thing;” sometimes loving another artist’s work isn’t enough, you need to make a movie about it. Ergo, this wondrous celebration of a film.

Nanfu Wang (“Hooligan Sparrow”)



“The Handmaiden”
“The Lobster”
“Best and Most Beautiful Things”
“La La Land”

Adam Wingard (“Blair Witch”)

Anya Taylor-Joy in “The Witch”

“Phantasm: Remastered”
“Hacksaw Ridge”
“The Conjuring 2”
“OJ: Made In America”
“The Witch”

That’s as far as my list goes. Lots of films I haven’t seen and a lot I didn’t care for.

Elizabeth Wood (“White Girl”)



For a filmmaker, I am startlingly impatient with films. Often I think I don’t like a film, but then later, I’m reminded of something about it that made me feel something. And that’s all I want from film, to feel something.

So…let’s start with the last film I saw in the theater: “Elle.” I was laughing out loud the entire time, it was so insane. I acted crazy for the rest of the day, maybe even the next, and that to me is always the sign of a powerful film, it alters my behavior. The end was kinda eh, but what do I know.

“Krisha” must have resonated on a very deep level because I reenacted it this year at my own family Thanksgiving, me in the title role! Perhaps it was a little too real. I’m from the midwest so spending time in those suburban Christian homes does a funny thing to me.

“The Fits” was incredible. I was smiling in wonder watching that film.

“Moonlight,” when I think about it I think of the baptism (oh wait that was a swimming lesson, but really is a baptism right?), the hand job, the music, Janelle Monae’s energy, the alcohol in the last act, the simplicity! Yes, mostly, the nuanced simplicity.

When I saw “The Handmaiden” I thought I liked it at first, then felt strongly that I didn’t, yet in the weeks to follow spent hours dreaming about how to make my house look more like that Japanese castle and felt that perhaps I am too closed minded.

“Nerve” by my BFF’s Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, so exciting. I saw it without all the video-game hacker-ish montages and special effects in an early cut, and seeing how it came together was so inspiring. And they let DP Michael Simmonds fuck with colors as much as he truly yearns to, it was gorgeous. But, the best part was probably my cameo :)

I watched Cassavettes last auteur film “Love Streams” over Christmas for the first time. I did sleep through one pivotal scene but it still blew my mind. What the fuck. I think that film made me want to make films more than anything I saw this year.

“Arrival,” oh my God saw it right after Trump was elected, sat on the front row, was sobbing hysterically in the first fifteen minutes. The world was ending! That’s what a movie should be. Loved it.

I saw the play “Encounter” on Broadway, it’s a one man show about a guy who has an insane experience exploring the Amazon in 1969, the details are fuzzy, but you listen to the whole thing on earphones and I kept my eyes closed and just tripped out.

The documentaries “Weiner” and “Tickled” both made me laugh so very hard. Real life is so much crazier than fiction. Brilliant, both of them.

Oh and my film “White Girl.” I saw it at least thirty three times this year and still laugh the whole time.

I saw “The Secret Lives of Pets” with my three year old the other day and was amazed, this is what kids movies are like these days? I don’t know if I liked it or not, I was just puzzled.

I know “Love” isn’t from this year, and everyone shat upon it, but I watched it the other night and it kept me up and made me depressed for days. I think that means I liked it?

There are so many movies I really want to see, “The Invitation,” “The Love Witch, “Light between Oceans,” old things, everything. I never get to watch movies. And when I do I fall asleep. My damn child! I’m so glad other people still watch movies.

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