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The Independent Film Community Picks the Best Films of 2016

We asked our friends and colleagues in the indie world to share their favorites.

Clockwise from left: “Sieranevada,” “Aquarius,” “Moonlight,” “Maurice”

Jason Ishikawa, Cinetic Media

I’m honestly a little bummed at how agreeable my list ended up being. There’s a lot on here that I would qualify as familiar pleasures made by filmmakers that elevate them.  Erotic thrillers by the best in the business: Park Chan-wook and Paul Verhoeven, to masters playing the standards.

And of course there are some films that hit you with a bolt of blue, nothing beats Toni Erdmann in that respect. I back loaded a lot of films so I’m still grappling with Scorsese and Raoul Peck’s film and a few others.

“Fire at Sea”
“Hail, Caesar!”
“The Handmaiden”
“O.J.: Made in America”
“Manchester by the Sea”
“Toni Erdmann”

Honorable Mentions: “Aquarius,” “A Bigger Splash,” “Cemetery of Splendor,” “Everybody Wants Some!!,” “The Jungle Book,” “Kubo and the Two Strings,” “Louder Than Bombs,” “I Am Not Your Negro,” “Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures,” “Midnight Special,” “My Life as a Zucchini,” “Rams,” “Right Now, Wrong Then,” “Tale of Tales,” “Things to Come,” “The Treasure”

“A Bigger Splash”

Ryan Krivoshey, President & Founder, Grasshopper Film

Admittedly, this has been a busy year and I have not seen everything I should have (at least not yet). But from what I’ve caught, these were my ten favorite films (from those that opened theatrically this year and excluding any that we’re distributing):

“Toni Erdmann”
“The Treasure”
“Mountains May Depart”
“Happy Hour”
“Cemetery of Splendour”
“I Am Not Your Negro”
“No Home Movie”

Favorite TV Show: the 2016 election. Because, really, nothing even came close.

Favorite Repertory Surprise on the Fest Circuit: “The Story of Night” (1979) by Clemens Klopfenstein, a sixty-minute black-and-white film shot over 150 nights across Europe, when the cities were empty and devoid of life. Just stunning. Seen at the Locarno Film Festival.

Resolution for 2017: For everyone involved in this crazy business, in one form or another, to keep moving it forward, despite of (or in spite of) what’s happening around us. 

David Laub, A24

*Please Note: I have decided not to include A24 titles on my list, though many of my favorite films of 2016 were released by the company, such as “Moonlight,” “American Honey,” “20th Century Women,” Krisha” and “De Palma,” among others.

Here is my top 10:
1. “Manchester by the Sea”
2. “The Salesman”
3. “Jackie”
4. “Silence”
5. “Hail, Caesar!”
6. “O.J.: Made in America”
7. “Hacksaw Ridge”
8. “Hell or High Water”
9. “Sing Street”
10. “Julieta”

“American Honey”


Blandine Mercier-McGovern, The Cinema Guild

In alphabetical order. Cinema Guild releases — more than a few of my favorite films of the year — are unmentioned.

“American Honey”: Sasha Lane electrifies.

“Black Girl”: a gorgeous restoration of an essential work.

“Dawson City: Frozen Time”: a luminous cinematic marvel by master Bill Morrison.

“Embrace of the Serpent”: Mesmerizing throughout. Its Oscar nomination made me want to keep fighting the good fight. Then the 2016 shortlist happened…

“I Love Dick”: provocative and whip-smart. Amazon, please pick this up!

“La La Land”: for its dazzling mise-en-scene.

“Little Men”: a witty treat with hidden depths.

“Staying Vertical”: audacious and unforgettable. Giraudie continues to amaze.

“The Girlfriend Experience”: for its arresting photography and performances.

“Toni Erdmann”: Whitney Schnuck’s performance in one of the year’s best.

Also loved: “The Woman Who Left”, “After Love”, “Safari”,” Do Not Resist”.

Resolution: Continuing to acquire with guts.

Looking forward: Catching up on many 2016 favorites I didn’t get a chance to see, including “I Am Not Your Negro,” “Paterson,” “The Handmaiden”; releasing our exciting theatrical slate; SXSW; new discoveries and partnerships.

Tim League, Founder and CEO, Alamo Drafthouse

I always have a little bit of internal strife as to how to tackle a top ten list. This year, I tried to hone in on those films that left me thunderstruck, films that were wildly original, broke from the expected and delivered genuine goosebumps.

“Arrival”: I was staggered and well pleased that Paramount green-lit a project this contemplative at such a high production budget.  I look forward to Villaneuve’s deft touch as he now tackles the beloved franchises of Blade Runner and Dune.

“Elle”: Bold, audacious and masterful work by both Verhoeven and Huppert.  My favorite post-movie conversations of the year.

“The Handmaiden”: We hosted a Q&A with Chan Wook Park at Fantastic Fest this year.  When asked, what is the creative relationship with your editor, he looked perplexed and answered… “I am not sure I understand.  I storyboard every shot, every angle, every cut, and then I shoot the film.  I deliver the storyboards and the footage to the editor, and he executes my vision.”  That answer speaks to the precision and craftsmanship on display in “The Handmaiden.”

“La La Land”: The final montage might just be the most potent cinematic expression of star-crossed lovers in the history of cinema.  Hyperbole?  Probably, but this movie punched me in the gut hard.  I love it so much.

“The Lobster”: Yorgos Lanthimos has a lot to say about the nature of “true love” and attacks the subject from opposing directions: from satirical commentary to genuine heart-string plucking… and then back again.  This and “Swiss Army Ma”n tie for my favorite visionary worlds of 2016.

"The Lobster"

“The Lobster”

“Manchester by the Sea”: Tis an undeniable performance by Casey Affleck and perfect direction by Kenneth Lonergan.

“Moonlight”: Hollywood delivered the triple threat of heartache and impossible love with “Moonlight,” “Manchester” and “La La Land” all within a month of each other.  All three are wonderful, near-perfect films in very different ways.

“Swiss Army Man”: Thankfully, the Daniels transcended their Sundance “fart joke” press.  Their film was of course audacious, hilarious and wildly flatulent, but a layer deeper was also a devastating portrait of loneliness and introversion.

“Toni Erdmann”: What begins as a somewhat standard drama/comedy becomes infused with the undeniable absurdist charm of the titular protagonist Toni Erdmann. The joy of spontaneous karaoke, Bulgarian monsters and awkward naked partying transform a simple heartwarming tale into the feel-good German comedy event of the century.

“The Wailing”: I wish more audiences experienced this masterpiece by Hong Jin-Na.  160 minutes zip by in a completely-bonkers, triple-crossing, demonic-possession whodunnit.

The assignment was to whittle down to a top ten, not a top 34. Some of the decisions were tough, so I also highly recommend these additional 24 films: “American Honey,” “Chevalier,” “The Club,” “Deadpool,” “Eddie The Eagle,” “Greasy Strangler,” “Green Room,” “I Am Not Your Negro,” “The Invitation,” “Kubo and the Two Strings,” “Loving,” “The Nice Guys,” “Nocturnal Animals,” “O.J.: Made in America,” “Presenting Princess Shaw,” “Rams,” “Rogue One,” “Sing Street,” “Tale of Tales,” “Tickled,” “Weiner,” “White Girl,” “The Witch,” “Sausage Party”

And I’m sorry to say I missed these, so take my list with a grain of salt. You probably already have. I intend to catch up with as many of these as possible over the holidays: “A Bigger Splash,” “Barry,” “Cameraperson,” “Les Cowboys,” “Divines,” “Eisenstein in Guanajuato,” “Jackie,” “Krisha,” “Lamb,” “The Little Prince,” “Love and Friendship,” “Monster With 1000 Heads,” “Morris From America,” “Mountains May Depart,” “Other People,” “Star Trek Beyond,” “The Treasure”

As for resolutions and what I am anticipating in the new year, I’m ready to get back to work.  Details on the our new company are imminent.

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