Before I post my official top 10 list for 2017, it’s time for me to briefly recap my extremely belated (like over a year late, yes I realize this) top 10 list for 2016, since I never quite got around to posting that one either. I realized I wanted to quickly mention them, since there were a lot of good movies on this list (I think overall I preferred 2016 to 2017 anyway- I could watch every movie on this list again right now) and I didn’t want to let them get away from recommendation, so here they are:
TOP 10 OF 2016
1. I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO
A superb, mesmerizing, brilliant documentary narrated in James Baldwin’s own words from his unfinished and finished works, in the subdued (for once) voice of Samuel L. Jackson. The movie is a trip through time and the history of civil rights, race relations and popular culture, especially the images we as consumers absorb and how it shapes our worldview and prejudices. I could watch it again and again.
A radically unconventional biopic from Chilean director Pablo Larrain, which stylizes the days after JFK’s assassination from Jackie Kennedy’s perspective, as played by Natalie Portman in a transformative performance. Intimate, personal, political and experimental, it’s a look at the American icon from an outsider’s point of view, which is sometimes the best way to see something new in the highly familiar.
In this era which seems to bring a new big budget sci-fi film every year (a good thing, as far as I’m concerned), this has been my favorite. Amy Adams carried the movie as a translator attempting to bridge the linguistics gap between humans and visitors from another planet. An intelligent and highly emotional script paired with Denis Villenueve’s deliberate, meditative direction leaves a devastating, yet hopeful impact.
4. TONI ERDMANN
German filmmaker Maren Ade really pulls off a hat trick here of making what seems like a highly familiar story (freewheeling dad loosens uptight, workaholic daughter) into something utterly new and different. The balance lies in the striking mix of tones, which veer from comedy to drama to flat out farce- moment to moment you think you know what might happen, but you have no idea how, and the meandering on through all 161 minutes is part of the boldness. How can a movie seemingly so familiar feel so completely new and unpredictable? It’s a triumph of originality and freshness of perspective.
5. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
Kenneth Lonergan’s tragic story of death, forgiveness and atonement manages to be life affirming in spite of the heavy weight hanging around the audience and Lee Chandler’s (Casey Affleck) necks. Sensitive direction and stellar performances from Affleck, Michelle Williams, and Lucas Hedges bring this one home hard.
A delightful movie about predators and prey struggling to get along together in a kind of animal populated Chinatown, this was one animated film that had a lot to say re: present day political parables, all the more remarkable for Disney’s famous avoidance of just these very topics.
7. SING STREET
John Carney is a guy whose talent lies in making modern original musicals- for me, this was the musical of 2016, not La La Land. A movie that felt effortless and non-oppressive in its cheery nostalgia for 1980’s Dublin, as a teenager tries to put together a band, win the love of a girl, and make his own music videos set to his own original tunes. It’s laugh out loud funny, charming, and just wonderfully openhearted from start to finish.
8. THE HANDMAIDEN
This South Korean psychodrama from Park Chan-wook is one crazy ride, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. A thriller that bounces from one point of view to another, a period film set in Japanese occupied Korea, and a passionate love story between two women, it blends genres like the best South Korean films and can veer so far into tastelessness that it comes right back around again to elegance and style. Tarantino’s got nothing on this guy. You’re immersed in full pulp and excess here, and everything is explicit, from violence and sex to riches and food. You can practically taste this movie in every frame, and it could not be a more deliciously guilty pleasure.
I fell hard for Deadpool’s filthy, subversive take on the superhero action movie, and the mile a minute gags, go for broke direction and over the top style didn’t take away its beating heart, which lay in Ryan Reynolds' Deadpool’s unabashed and unashamed love for his lady. Romance is jettisoned in all of these other action movies, while here it’s the driving force. What a romantic.
Vikram Gandhi directed this movie about young Barack Obama’s college years at Columbia University in the early 1980’s, and despite the obvious distraction of the subject matter regarding such a famous figure, Obama’s life experience was so different from any other American president that it provides for fascinating content in its own right. It becomes a movie about fitting in when you don’t belong to any one group, and a time capsule for early 80’s America, the country that produced a man like this in the first place. It helps that Devon Terrell is a dead ringer for a young Obama and gives a sensational and convincing performance, while Anya Taylor-Joy from The Witch, also gives a soulful turn as his first serious girlfriend, Charlotte.