Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Japan
gentle and wonderfully human, Ryusuke Hamaguchi's epic film is
such a patient and understanding masterpiece that will understandably
be compared with Yasujiro Ozu. There is relevance in the comparison
but I was also reminded of the richness of another personal favorite,
Robert Altman. Comparisons aside Happy Hour is film that
both feels familiar yet is somehow deeply mysterious at once.
The Neon Demon
Nicolas Winding Refn, United States / Denmark / France
filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn has always made "interesting"
films and for me The Neon Demon is his best. This colorful,
stylish, darkly funny and even campy horror journey into beauty
and the LA fashion world is one that lingers with its profound
imagery, colors, and sounds. Like beauty itself, you can't look
Things To Come
Hansen Love, France / Germany
legendary actress Isabelle Huppert had a remarkable year with
two of the finest performances. In this gentle, reflective film
she seems the perfect fit to work with talented young filmmaker
Mia Hansen Love. Completely absorbing, Things To Come is
a delicate portrait of a woman set on discovering the world even
as the world seems resolved to move on from her.
Eggers, United States
in every way, The Witch is a masterful achievement in quiet
yet deeply moody horror filmmaking. There is a dual-layered richness
to this film that makes it so engrossing. For his feature filmmaking
debut writer-director Robert Eggers did incredible research in
capturing the historic dialogue which further heightens the atmosphere
of the film. The film makes perfect use of its woodland location
and it expressively uses colors and sounds.
Nichols is clearly echoing visual and emotional cues from classic
1970s/80s sci-fi films of John Carpenter (Starman) or Steven
Spielberg (Close Encounters of the Third Kind). Nichols
has such a terrific naturalistic style and he wisely layers the
film with a gifted blend of intrigue and tension. It's a film
filled with such grandeur and many recurring ideas that have become
trademarks of Nichols work.
Kusama, United States
paced and building, The Invitation is an intelligent and
layered character ensemble. Karyn Kusama did well with Diablo
Cody's script in the underrated genre-piece Jennifer's Body.
Here she's working on another level and establishes herself as
a significant artist. There is such an intensely building atmosphere
of dread and its a thought provoking film.
Sophia Takal, United States
Takal's study of a two aspiring LA actresses is less concerned
with satire then it is on feminine identity. It develops tension
before a tonal shift in the second half. Its easy to think of
Ingmar Bergman's Persona or David Lynch's Mulholland
Drive here, but Takal has a voice with this tense and unsettling
Knight of Cups
my least favorite film from my favorite living American filmmaker
Terrence Malick, but still a visionary work from a filmmaker who
since The New World and beyond has mastered a signature
cinematic language. Knight of Cups is Malick at his most
experimental which is sure to divide even more audiences.
Mike Flanagan, United States
horror filmmaking, convincing characters and a strong lead performance
as well as an effective home invasion setup. Mike Flanagan is
establishing himself as one of the great horror filmmakers.
Manchester by the Sea
Kenneth Lonergan, United States
theme of grief has been evident in Kenneth Lonergan's previous
two films (his touching debit You Can Count on Me, and
his lyrical masterpiece Margaret), but its clearly stated
here in this film - even if its from characters who have difficulty
expressing that grief outwardly. A heartbreaking film.
Love & Friendship
Whit Stillman, Ireland / France / Netherlands
Stillman has always seemed to echo some ideas from Jane Austen
and here he takes on his first Austen adaptation. Not the typical
Austen adaptation you'll see or even expect to see. As to be expected
of Stillman (or even Austen for that matter), its full of wit
In a Valley of Violence
West , United States
story of a vengeance seeking drifter passing through a small town
in nothing inventive. Ti West is known for his masterful work
within horror genre but here he proves his signature as a master
working within and ultimately beyond genre conventions.
Right Now, Wrong Then
Sang-sooi, South Korea
prolific filmmaker, Hong Sang-soo transcends the gimmicky conceptual
structure of this film. A deeply observant film, this has many
of Hong's familiar trademarks.
The Edge of Seventeen
Fremon Craig, United States
In her debut
film as writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig gives a relatively
recycled narrative a fresh, insightful, authentic and fully heartfelt
edge. Credit star Hailee Steinfeld for carrying the film as an
awkward teenager who's unpopularity has all to do with her own
The Love Witch
Anna Biller, United States
throwback/homage to horror and exploitation films of the 1960s
and 70s, The Love Witch is full of wonderful details and
visuals while also being a highly intelligent work.
Everybody Wants Some!!!
Richard Linklater, United States
sort of spiritual follow-up to Linklater's Dazed and Confused
is a sweeping and poetic work that further confirms Linklater
as one of American cinemas truly great filmmakers.
Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan
a filmmaker responsible for some of the greatest horror films
of his generation Creepy would seem a fitting title for
his latest film, a return to the genre after a short hiatus. This
film is surreal and suspenseful with a fittingly satisfying conclusion.
Denzel Washington, United States
Washington faithfully adapts August Wilson acclaimed 1983 play
with a soft touch, avoiding getting in the way as a director -
instead relying on the films theater-influenced settings, masterfully
poetic dialogue and incredible performances (including by Washington
himself as well as Viola Davis who is remarkable as the soul of
Robert Zemeckis, United States / United Kingdom
Zemeckis echoes some old Hollywood with this effective World War
II spy thriller. The concept is setup as camp yet Zemeckis directs
this script with a seriousness. The cast is perfect as Brad Pitt
and Marion Cotillard (one of my favorites!) are two of the biggest
and best Hollywood stars. Certainly not as important or masterful
as Zemeckis best films, but I really enjoyed this.
Collet-Serra, United States
its campy, but the film wisely embraces what it is and the result
is one of the most fun and nailbiting films of the year. Packed
with effective scares, a solid psychical performance from Blake
Lively, fine special effects, and stunning underwater and aerial
Kubo and the Two Strings
Knight, United States
its fourth feature, Laika Animation Studio continues to rise as
the potential leader in innovative American animation filmmaking
(particularly with the seemingly continued downfall of Pixar since
its masterpiece Up). Full of dazzling color this is a poetic
coming of age story.
10 Cloverfield Lane
Dan Trachtenberg, United States
loosely connected to 2008's Cloverfield (though perhaps
only in spirit, if at all?), 10 Cloverfield Lane is a film
that starts as one thing, then becomes something else by its conclusion.
That may not work for everyone but I was fully engaged by this
all the way through.
Microbe & Gasoline
Gondry , France
deeply touching and playful film in the typical signature of Michel
Gondry. This film is full of heart.
Hell or High Water
Mackenzie can sometimes be heavy handed with his metaphors but
it all works well here in this film that effectively uses time
and landscapes to its advantage.
La La Land
Damien Chazelle, United States
has attempted the movie musical before but with the success of
his Oscar-winning drama Whiplash, he had a budget and freedom
to make this. Its a film of some spectacular moments and I was
particularly engrossed in the moments shared with Emma Stone.
For whatever its worth, this will again bring Chazelle some Oscar
The Conjuring 2
James Wan, Canada / United States
Wan has become the master of the jump scare. This atmospheric
sequel again makes great use of Wan's eye for set design detail
and camera work to build a tension. Conjuring 2 is a great
sequel even if not on the level of the original (or Wan's greatest
Paul Verhoeven, France / Germany / Belgium
gives one of the years very best performances in Paul Verhoeven's
first French language film. Verhoeven direction is terrific and
the film has a stylistic wit.
Under the Shadow
Anvari, Iran / United Kingdom / Qatar
ghost horror film in an unusual setting. Babak Anvari directorial
debut, Under the Shadow is a horror film in which a mother
and daughter in Tehran are haunted by an evil force during the
Iran-Iraq war. This is a slow builder but very effective.
Nichols, United Kingdom / United States
works on several levels but its most effective as an intimate
romance of a couple that simply want to be alone with each other.
Top notch performances from Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga.
John Carney, Ireland / United Kingdom
quite on the level of Once, but John Carney's Sing Street
is another tender and funny film (without being overly sentimental).
Cemetery of Splendor
Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand / United Kingdom / etc
and mysterious as most of Apichatpong Weerasethakul's best films.
If you've seen Weerasethakul's films you know what to expect and
you will not be disappointed.
visually poetic work from a talented young filmmaker, Moonlight
has moments that are brilliant and some that are a bit heavy handed.
Overall a strong work from a filmmaker with a bright future.
Paul Feig, United States
not easy remaking a beloved megahit so credit to Paul Feig and
this cast for the result of this - which takes place in an alternate
universe from the original 1984 Ghostbusters. Its wisely
its own film and its very likable lead characters are unique and
not carbon copied from the original. I'm sure it will have haters
but I really had fun with this film.
Our Little Sister
Hirokazu Koreeda, Japan
all his films, the great Hirokazu Koreeda
evokes many of the early masters of Japanese cinema (notably Yasujiro
Ozu and Mikio Naruse). Set in Kamakura and layered in a multigeneration
family tale, Our Little Sister easily recalls them again.
But Koreeda is a great and unique
filmmaker in his own right and Our Little Sister has plenty
of his personal trademarks (from its opening shot of toenails
to its satisfying conclusion).
Origin of Evil
Flanagan, United States / Japan
a difference a director can make. This sequel to the horrible
2014 film, Mike Flanagan gives this film an intelligence and craft
that was lacking both in the first film and in many films of this
Clint Eastwood, United States
best film Eastwood has made since 2008's Gran Torino. Sully
is a very gripping, well crafted and performed.
The Purge: Election Year
James DeMonaco, United States / France
fitting and strong conclusion to a solid trilogy, The Purge:
Election Year follows the trilogy's best film (The Purge:
Anarchy) and while its a bit more heavy-handed in its political
awareness, Election Year offers a similar scope, tension
and sympathy for his protagonists.
Adam Wingard, United States / Canada
surprisingly effective sequel to the groundbreaking 1999 film.
This brings some new ideas to the Blair Witch world.
Ira Sachs, United States
very simple and authentic tale about a friendship that is tested
by a building lease contract dispute. Ira Sachs smartly directs
this with a simple and quiet touch.
Woody Allen, United States
Allen's latest is a period comedy/romance set in the Bronx in
the 1930s. Allen gives the film his own voice over narration (something
he has not done since 1987's Radio Days). Jesse Eisenberg
is excellent in the Allen-role and this might be his best film
since 2005's brilliant Match Point.
Denis Villeneuve, United States
is a good director and here he clearly echoes Close Encounters
of the Third Kind search for answers. Arrival provides
some narrative surprises along the way and Amy Adams gives a stellar
Bryan Bertino, United States
low-budget indie horror film is ultimately working on other layers.
Underneath the surface is a deep mother-daughter melodrama. Its
very metaphoric all the way to its conclusion.
Alex Lehmann, United States
wrote this script and it echoes the theme of regret that has been
at the center of many of his films. Here he stars alongside Sarah
Paulson as the two reflect on their past relationship. Blue
Jay is a simple and sweet film.
Alvarez, United States
Breathe has some narrative surprises to go with it's already
interesting concept. Fede Alvarez proved to be pretty skilled
with jump scare horror in his surprisingly good remake of Sam
Raimi's beloved Evil Dead.
Henry Joost / Ariel Schulman, United States
disease outbreak horror film, Viral is a film that reuses
many of the same narrative ideas of other films. Yet to the filmmakers
credit it still has a freshness mostly in its authentic handling
of its lead characters.
Rules Don't Apply
Beatty, United States
films of Hollywood showbiz are nothing new (especially this year)
but Warren Beatty's film Rules Don't Apply offers an engrossing
and layered portrait of Howard Hughes.
Rebecca Miller, United States
charming film lead by the always charming Greta Gerwig. The film
is at its best when not weighed down by plot.
All We Had
Katie Holmes, United States
Holmes directional debut doesn't offer anything innovative but
it is a film that feels personal.
20th Century Women
Mills , United States
follows up his excellent 2010 film Beginners with this
story of three generations of women in Southern California during
the late 1970s. Though in a different setting, it reimagines some
of the themes of adolescence that Mills has touched on throughout
his early career.
Chan-wook Park, South Korea
Park has made some great films (Lady Vengeance being my
favorite) but his lack of subtly often does not work for me. The
Handmaiden (set in 1930s Korea, during Japanese occupation)
gives him some material to be more effective and the result is
one of his better films.
Ilya Naishuller, Russia / United States
Henry is shot entirely from the perspective of the title character
using a series of stuntman cinematographers who wore camera helmets
for every shot. Its a bold and inventive tactic and the film is
so full of nonstop action.
Reichardt , United States
as compelling as Kelly Reichardt's previous films, Certain
Women takes her outside Oregon but the landscape and environment
is again deeply relevant to the characters.
Ethan and Joel Coen,
United Kingdom / United States
cartoonish Hollywood satire comedy from the great Coen brothers
Hail, Caesar! recalls some ideas they used in 1991's Barton
Fink. Not on that level but it is amusing and I'm curious
to see it again (as many Coen brothers films grow upon repeat
Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Belgium / France
from one of the Dardenne's
best films The Unknown Girl has admirable political and
spiritual intentions and I always respect Dardenne's
handling of characters.
Madden, United States / France
clear-cut star vehicle for the formidable Jessica Chastain who
delivers with a powerful performance.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Gareth Edwards, United States
One didn't fully engage me early in its it first half (though
I admit to only being a minor admirer of Star Wars films). However
I give the film credit for being the first Star Wars film since
the original three to be entirely a work of its own and not simply
rely on the nostalgia of the beloved original films.
Anne Fontaine, France / Poland
looses some steam in the final act but the build up in the first
half is strong enough to keep you engaged.
Hong-jin, South Korea / United States
direction is a little message heavy but if you can get passed
that the film offers some epic-scale blend of genres.
Ford, United States
of the problems I had with Tom Ford's previous film (A Single
Man) reoccur here, but there are some excellent moments and
great performances here.
The Mechanic: Resurrection
Dennis Gansel, United States
sequel is a step down from the first action film (2011's underrated
The Mechanic), but it stays mostly true to the characters,
narrative and action, avoiding becoming an overblown sequel.
Jane Got a Gun
Gavin O'Connor, United States
are moments here that soar but some over directon from Gavin O'Connor
hurt this film.
is Pedro Almodovar at his most straight forward, which is not
something you either want or expect from the autuer.
David F. Sandberg, United Kingdom / United States
For this film,
Swedish director David F. Sandberg turned his 2013 short film
into a full length mainstream studio feature. Its a very clever
horror concept but likely much more effective as a short film
as some ideas start to get tired.
To, Hong Kong / China
latest crime action thriller from Johnnie To is not his best film
but it offers some fine genre moments.
Peter Berg, United States
on the true story event from 2010. This film centers around the
first day of the tragedy (which lasted nearly 90 days in total).
The Little Prince
Mark Osborne, United States
film adpation is disappointing only because it's not a great film,
something the beloved books and story clearly are.
The Other Side of the Door
Johannes Roberts, United Kingdom / United States
with jump scares and typical horror tactics The Other Side
of the Door is not all that bad of a ghost story. Worth watching
for genre fans.
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Tim Burton, United Kingdom / Belgium / United States
Burton has long been one of my favorite filmmakers but he has
not made a great film since 2005's Corpse Bride. Some since
then have been ok - like this film, which is saved by its visuals.
The Girl on the Train
Tate Taylor, United States
a big fan of Emily Blunt and while she is admirable here I also
think she's miscast. This is difficult material to adapt on screen
but there are a bit too many flashbacks weighing it down.
Andrew Stanton / Angus MacLane, United States
lack of original concepts continues to plague them. Finding
Dory is not a great film but it does offer some dazzling animation
and even in their weakest efforts, I respect the way Pixar films
create emotions in their storytelling.
Greg McLean, United States
McLean once made one of the best horror films of the last 20 years
(2005's Wolf Creek). He has had a tough time following
up that film and while not awful, The Darkness won't help.
Jason Zada, United States
made the mistake of expecting too much from this film so I was
left disappointed and bored by the result. It follows a popular
trend of current American horror films putting a young women in
a foreign land. There is still some redeeming quality in the visuals.
The Jungle Book
Jon Favreau, United Kingdom / United States
remake of its beloved 1967 animation film is a mixed result. The
visuals and CGI animal characters are stunning but this films
falls short as standing on its own, mostly because it just seems
to be a live-action copy of the 1967 film.
Paul Greengrass, United Kingdom / China / United States
horrible but fans of the Bourne series will be left unsatisfied.
This one feels like a money grab for Matt Damon and the crew,
as the Bourne series was intended as a trilogy. Its setup to make
more films after this.
John Hillcoat, United States
has proven to be a good director of gritty films but this one
fails to be fully engaging despite a talented cast (Casey Affleck,
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Kate Winslet).
My 3 Least Favorite Films of 2016...
Where as in the past I would seek out every and
all new release, I've been more selective in my film viewing the
past few years - often avoiding films that don't interest me.
As such there are very few films I completely disliked this year.
In all, I saw just over 100 new releases in 2016. There were only
3 that I thought had no redeeming quality:
Up with the Joneses
Greg Mottola, United States
William Brent Bell, United States / Canada / China
Roland Emmerich, United States