Christopher Schobert’s Top 10 Films of 2016 (for The Film Stage)

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It’s always exciting to see my personal top 10 list for 2016 posted at The Film Stage. But it’s always difficult to call it “finished.” Here’s how things stand … at the moment.

Ignore any suggestion that 2016 was not a fantastic year for cinema. Moments linger (the campfire dance in American Honey, the final encounter in Certain Women, the Tracy Letts–Logan Lerman debate in Indignation, the first ten minutes of High-Rise, both “Camelot”-soundtracked sequences in Jackie, any scene that featured Ralph Fiennes in A Bigger Splash) and performances resonate (everyone in Moonlight, Emma Stone in La La Land, Kate McKinnon in Ghostbusters).

Choosing ten favorites and five honorable mentions is nasty business; I wish I could have included Warren Beatty’s Rules Don’t Apply, a ridiculously underrated film that does not deserve to be remembered as a flop. But it just missed the cut. (Also, I was unable to see Silence in time for end-of-year consideration.) What these fifteen films have in common is the ability to surprise, confound, and delight in equal measure. Let’s see 2017 top that.

Honorable Mentions

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10. The Nice Guys (Shane Black)

The Nice Guys

The finest film of summer was Shane Black’s non-blockbuster The Nice Guys, a wildly funny, seriously involving slice of 70s noir. Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe, and (soon-to-be-a-megastar) Angourie Rice are perfectly cast, and somehow the plotline seems fresh. It is such a satisfying viewing experience, in fact, that I found myself desperately hoping that it would kick off a franchise. That’s not to be, but that’s OK — we have The Nice Guys to enjoy forever.

 

9. A Bigger Splash (Luca Guadagnino)

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From start to finish, A Bigger Splash is beautifully disorienting. This tangled web of relationships and insecurities is highlighted by Tilda Swinton’s (voice-resting) rock star, and, of course, by Ralph Fiennes. He is a delightfully gyrating force of nature who is somehow not a lock for an Oscar nom. You’ll never hear “Emotional Rescue” again without picturing his moves. Even when offscreen, Fiennes’s aging record producer feels deeply involved. Clearly, Splash cements Luca Guadagnino’s place on the list of the world’s most exciting filmmakers.

 

8. Sing Street (John Carney)

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Like La La Land, the best moments of John Carney’s Sing Street felt charged by an almost relentless sense of positivity. What makes that accomplishment so remarkable is that much of the film is rooted in poverty, heartbreak, and sadness. That sadness, however, is balanced by some gobsmackingly fun music. And in the “Drive Like You Mean It” sequence, Sing Street truly achieves emotional liftoff. The film also takes the crown for must-own soundtrack of 2016.

 

7. American Honey (Andrea Arnold)

American Honey

Where did American Honey come from? It’s hard not to ask that question while watching Andrea Arnold’s film, an almost indescribably exhilarating teenage road movie. A cast of unknowns (and a never-better Shia LaBeouf) excels at making this crew of magazine-hawking teens seem startlingly real. It’s a long journey — over two and a half hours — but never drags. In fact, Honey seems to fly by, so intoxicating is its mix of fiction and (quasi) reality.

 

6. Paterson (Jim Jarmusch)

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In Paterson, Jim Jarmusch makes the everyday riveting. And much of the credit has to go to Adam Driver, whose bus driver-poet is quite unlike any artist we’ve seen onscreen before. The same can be said of his wife, Laura, played by a luminescent Golshifteh Farahani. It’s the most effortless film of Jarmusch’s career, and certainly the most moving. It also features the most unexpectedly heartbreaking scene of the year, involving Driver, Farahani, a poorly behaved dog named Marvin, and a book of poems.

 

5. The Handmaiden (Park Chan-wook)

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The Handmaiden is pure cinema — a tender, moving, utterly believable love story. It’s also a tense, unsettling, erotic masterpiece. There’s a palpable exhilaration that comes from watching this latest film from Park Chan-wook. From its four central performances and twisty script to the cinematography of Chung Chung-hoon and feverish, haunting score by Jo Yeong-wook, The Handmaiden is crafted to take your breath away. It’s hard to imagine a 2016 film with a better look, feel, and sound.

 

4. 20th Century Women (Mike Mills)

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Mike Mills’ 20th Century Women is wise, funny, and wholly original. This is the family drama reimagined, in visually intoxicating fashion. The performances stand out, especially Annette Bening and Greta Gerwig. Yet it’s Mills’ script that resonates strongest; there are a few lines from Bening that seem to capture what it truly feels like to be a parent. Interestingly, it seems 20th Century Women is already underrated.

 

3. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)

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Watching Moonlight is a wondrous experience. This coming-of-age drama following a young African-American male through three complex stages of his life never strikes a wrong note, and it always surprises. Barry Jenkins has crafted something extraordinary here, and it will be fascinating to see what he does next. In the meantime, let’s rewatch Moonlight, a film to be treasured and analyzed for years to come.

 

2. Jackie (Pablo Larrain)

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Pablo Larraín’s Jackie upends the traditional historical drama with bold storytelling, note-perfect performances, and a piercingly smart, emotionally probing script. The film belongs to Natalie Portman, but the entire cast stands out, especially John Hurt. With Jackie (and his other late-2016 release, Neruda), Larrain has deconstructed the film biography, and it’s thrilling to watch. It’s difficult to imagine a film about a recent historical figure that feels as emotionally affecting.

 

1. La La Land (Damien Chazelle)

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Damien Chazelle’s Los Angeles-set musical lives up to the the fall festival hype. And my goodness, that’s saying something. Wonderfully unrealistic, even its flaws (and there are a few) are endearing. The songs, the performances from Gosling and Stone (the look on her face when the Messengers’ burst into life in concert might be the most perfect reaction of 2016), and that opening are unforgettable. But these are all topped by its dazzling final sequence, which sees La La Land practically explode with a mixture of joy and melancholy. The result is a film that leaves the viewer in a state of bliss — high on the feeling that comes from great cinema.

Pondering ‘Ghostbusters’: A film as fun — and as essential — as anything else in 2016

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“Ghostbusters” is as deliriously pleasurable as any film I’ve seen in 2016. And I say that with no hesitation. It is, in fact, as good as the flawed but ever-watchable originals, and in some ways even superior.

Yes, the world-building can be a bit much, the villain is lame and poorly conceived, the cameos are fun but almost overwhelming, the adherence to the original film, especially, is a bit too snug. (Thrown out of the college/PO’ing the mayor/etc.)

But it’s FUN. And FUNNY. And so much smarter than its trailers, and its prerelease buzz, might have you believe.

The greatness of Kate McKinnon has been well-documented (and very well, by the likes of Wired and Vulture), but let me join the chorus: her Holtzmann is one of the most utterly delightful creations in recent cinema. You can’t take your eyes off her, and that’s due to McKinnon’s charisma. I have not been a “Saturday Night Live” watcher for some time now, so this was my first KM experience. My goodness. (I’ve been scouring YouTube for the clip of her lip-syncing DeBarge, but no such luck.)

All four leads are quite good, especially Leslie Jones, and it would be hard not to relish Chris Hemsworth’s performance as the wonderfully idiotic Kevin. Interestingly, it is the interplay of the four leads that I’ll most remember. The same is true of 1984’s “Ghostbusters,” a film that works so well mainly because of the charms of its cast and the novelty of its concept. The effects and the story were adequate, at best; the same is true of “Ghostbusters” 2016. And that’s fine. (Several reviews criticized the effects-laden finale. Um, it’s “Ghostbusters.” That’s pretty much how things are going to end.)

It pains me that many will remember the 2016 “Ghostbusters” mainly for the absurd, inane culture-war horseshit that’s swirled around the film for months. I feel sorry for the haters, those whose misogyny or backwards sense of nostalgia keeps them from seeing and appreciating something so joyful. It’s their loss.

Driving home after the film, I realized what makes “Ghostbusters,” for me, such a profound success: It’s something that 5 or 10 or 15 years from now I can imagine watching with both my daughter and my son, and finding as enjoyable as I do now. But more than that, I can see my daughter loving the fact that onscreen are four women who are presented as something beyond The Girlfriend/The Wife/The Secretary. They are the heroes, and they are science nerds, and they are hilarious. It’s probably clichéd to say that I’m more cognizant of such things after having a daughter. But it’s true. Today, I see more clearly than I may have before exactly why these representations are downright essential. And above all other reasons, that’s why “Ghostbusters” is a landmark summer blockbuster. Regardless of how much money it earns or what the final critic consensus may be, this is important. This means something.

Other random thoughts:

  • Loved the “Bababooey” shout near the end, surely wedged in by Stern Show super-fan Paul Feig.
  • The blink-and-you-miss-it tribute to Harold Ramis felt more resonant than any of the cameos, actually.
  • I truly hope the film’s box office is strong enough to earn a sequel. Similar to the upcoming follow-up to “The Force Awakens,” the set-up is complete. Now Feig and company can go in whatever direction they’d like.
  • Kate McKinnon. Kate McKinnon. Kate McKinnon.

25 from 2016! Favorites from the first six months

2016

We’ve reached the midpoint of 2016, and while the world itself is (seemingly) in shambles, things are lovely on the film front. That’s a terrible observation, but it’s true. For the most part, I think 2016 has been strong. Here, in no particular order, are 25 films I’ve enjoyed so far this year. There is some cheating, with a TV miniseries and a Studio Ghibli reissue on the list. But it’s my list, so I’ll allow it. (See more on Letterboxd, including my star ratings for each.)

High-Rise
The Lobster
The Witch
Sleeping Giant
London Road
Hail, Caesar!
Only Yesterday
Hello, My Name Is Doris
The Jungle Book
The Club
Mountains May Depart
Darling
The Family Fang
April and the Extraordinary World
Captain America: Civil War
Green Room
Midnight Special
Sing Street
The Night Manager
Dheepan
10 Cloverfield Lane
O.J.: Made in America
Weiner
De Palma
The Neon Demon

2016 releases of note that I still need to see:
A Bigger Splash, Eye in the Sky, Love and Friendship, A Hologram for the King, Everybody Wants Some!, The Meddler, Genius, Swiss Army Man, Maggie’s Plan, Finding Dory, Money Monster, The Nice Guys, Keanu, The Shallows, Triple 9, Free State of Jones, Demolition, I Saw the Light, The Invitation, My Golden Days, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, The BFG, Independence Day: Resurgence