10. The Invitation
This was a movie that I didn't have a chance to see last year at the Philadelphia Film Festival while I was frantically hoping that some quasi-horror would thrill me in the way that It Follows did a year earlier, but I completely overlooked this one, much to my dismay. Karyn Kusama plays with genre expectation here in an incredibly smart way that helps play up the tension on a scene by scene basis. And it all builds to such a fantastic conclusion that has stuck with me for months.
9. The VVitch
During a graduate course I took a class on the figure of the witch in literature, and a component of this class involved a trip to Salem, MA where I had the opportunity to look through the Salem archives that contained actual documents preserved from the 1600s when witch hunts in America ran rampant. Every single scene of this film reminded me so perfectly of the tours we took through old farms where houses from the time, small and compact, are kept intact, or from the testimonies that I spent hours reading. But The VVitch is much more than married to its realism, what is at the core of this film's greatness is just how tense it remains without ever really resorting to jump scares. Refreshing, thrilling, and thematically rewarding, even if the sacrifice of ambiguity is a bit less thrilling.
8. Swiss Army Man
Here we are once again, that one film about farting or whatever. But to speak of this in that context is hardly indicative of the final product and what it all amounts to during what is a fun twist on a buddy movie. There is a ton of heart, but mostly what stood out to me is the journey of self discovery. The ending I still do not know if I am completely sold on, but I believe the right decision was made. What really stunned me about this film, however, was the way it dealt with sexual acceptance and understanding. Or perhaps processing is the better word, especially since everything is in relation to self confidence. Which is a simple message, but twisted and portrayed in such a fantastic way.
7. Hail, Caesar!
What happened with the Coen's latest film, one that calls back to the golden age of Hollywood, but also juxtaposes it with modernity, is so funny and insightful, as tends to be the trademark of their films. Every actor gives such a charismatic performance, and even if the plot does not completely excite, what the Coens do so well rarely relies on the plot. It is about thematic complexity, and that is here, religiously and nationally, as ideas of each are explored and prodded at throughout. And there are so many genres they get to try their hands at given the nature of the film, which only further shows how talented the two of them are as filmmakers.
6. 10 Cloverfield Lane
The original Cloverfield is a movie that I do not like. At all. The shaky cam, the first time actors, the intentional obfuscation of the creatures throughout the film in order to create some fake tension or whatever. But despite sharing the name, having a new director and refocusing to a much different genre than half-baked creature feature, 10 Cloverfield Lane manages to inject itself with a ton of life. Helped by some amazing performances, especially good work from Goodman, the central plot is so well doled out, the reveals excellently timed, the movie is infused with life from the soundtrack to the shot composition, it's all very impressive. Sure, it may not be entirely fulfilling, but it's fun, and sometimes that's all you need.
5. Love & Friendship
Whit Stillman's latest is a Jane Austen adaptation, but of one of her lesser known works, and though these period pieces could be a bit stuffy, this fits perfectly with Stillman's style of comedy. In fact, some of the year's biggest laughs come in this film, the script being so tight and well adapted that it almost feels modern. Which I suppose speaks to the timelessness of literature, but also how bringing that to the screen is a triumph in itself.
4. Everybody Wants Some!!
I realize that this is a spiritual successor to Dazed And Confused, and the threads that connect the two tonally are there, but I feel like constantly mentioning that film does a disservice to what is Linklater's charming take on a raunchy 80's college sex comedy. There is, of course, a naturalistic tone to the script and the world that he (re)creates, but it does not come at the sacrifice of the film reaching for the universal. The time period, at the film's best moments, slips away and we see a vision that is timelessly American, regardless of whether or not you have ever found yourself in a sports frat.
3. Green Room
The world is always better with color, though the grim Green Room is hardly a celebration of the vibrancy of life. Instead it is a struggle to survive for a group of teens who find themselves wrapped up in what can, very delicately, be called a dangerous situation. But what is so impressive about this film, much like Blue Ruin before it, is how it takes a fairly basic premise and shifts the balances of power throughout. There's also a bit more heft here, while it is still thrilling, and chilling at many points in time as we are offered a glimpse in to a world of hatred and fear.
2. The Neon Demon
Nicholas Winding Refn is a stylist, though calling him simply that is a huge disservice to what he is capable of doing when he is at his best, as he is here when paired with another amazing performance from Elle Fanning as they set their sights on the world of fashion and beauty. Though it is also about absorption, a horror film that challenges our expectations and plays on the idea of innocence and perception. There are unsettling parts in Refn's glitter fueled daze of neon, but all with a purpose, so carefully constructed and rewarding.
It has been a fairly strong year for comedies, and strict genre films as a whole, but the return of Stephen Chow behind the camera with the 3-D Mermaid is likely the most I have laughed at a movie all year. He is undeniably a master of comedy, and though the politcal eco-politics are nothing revolutionary, the entire film is such a stunning and hysterical spectacle that it hardly matters in the larger context. There is no more fun I could think of having with a movie, and just like Chow's other greats there is plenty of physical comedy and misunderstandings that wring out more laughs than I could count. While still being heartwarming. A slippery slope the navigate, but Chow once again proves more than capable.
1a. The Lobster
Alright, so I had a bit of trouble here. On last year's list, The Lobster, Yorgos Lanthimos's debut English language feature, topped things as I had a chance to see it at the Philadelphia Film Festival; however, the distance between that screening and its actual release in the US was just so large, and this movie so wonderful, that I feel like it ought to be mentioned twice. It is audacious, hysterical, and emotional. There's a core understanding of humanity, tragic and depressing, that rivals both 1984 and Brave New World in key ways. It asks us what is love? What is connection? And is never shy about showing the answers and conclusions it finds. This is the best, most exciting theatrical experience I have had (and I have had the good fortune to see it twice now on a big screen) since Spring Breakers. The Lobster is a marvel.
There we have it. This was a tough list to make and a bunch of other things contended for spots, so I assume when I check in again in a few months things will change even more. Thus far 2016 has been really strong. Let me know what I need to catch up on prior to making another one of these below, and thank you for reading!
Comments are welcome and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure.
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© 2016 Richard James Thorne