I briefly entertained the idea of doing both a “best” and “worst” list for 2016 in entertainment, but after giving it some thought I decided to just do a “best” list, because 2016 had enough well-chronicled bad shit to make a “worst” list redundant. There was a lot that I liked and even loved this year in entertainment, and I want to draw attention to those things. This list is in no particular order of quality or preference, because if I tried to rank them it’d be pretty arbitrary and largely irrelevant in the grand scheme of wanting to talk about stuff I like.
Also, all comments either on this blog or on social media to the tune of “but what about [film/show/etc.]” or “ew, why’d you include that” will be ignored. Make your own list.
10 Favorite Films of 2016
The Love Witch (dir. Anna Biller)
The Love Witch holds the dubious honor of perhaps being the most acclaimed film of last year that the fewest people truly understood. It’s been called a “cheap trick,” “vintage erotic cheese” and other phrases that really seem to misunderstand the film’s core intentions and appeal. Biller’s film about a woman, Elaine (Samantha Robinson, making one of the year’s best debuts) who relies on lethal love magic to make men love her in order to satisfy her pathological need to be loved, may utilize film languages that are no longer the pervading style to convey its points, but there’s nothing camp or kitsch about her deployment of them. The highly presentational acting style and sly deployment of color and costume design to influence emotion (Biller is also credited as the set designer and costume designer) draws the viewer into Elaine’s mental state, rather than distances you from it; its tragic ending feels both inevitable and earned. Biller doesn’t just make films; she crafts worlds of cinematic emotion from her sheer love of the form.
Moonlight (dir. Barry Jenkins)
Moonlight is why movies are still great. It’s shattering, it’s happy-tears-worthy, and it doesn’t try to bullshit you: it truly makes every effort at immersing you in its protagonist’s perspective while at the same time not glorifying it, but treating everything with a gentle, empathetic touch. Every character from lead Chiron (beautifully played by Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes at different ages) to his addict mother Paula (Naomie Harris, actively defying every cliché) to his drug-dealing father figure Juan (Mahershala Ali) is fully realized and truly human in ways that brought me to tears even thinking about the film later. It’s one of the best and most emotional film experiences I’ve ever had.
The Neon Demon (dir. Nicholas Winding Refn)
Oh, Nick. I love you. I love your blood-and-bone-strewn neon-soaked worlds of breathless dreamlike cool; I want to live in them even though that’d probably mean getting gorgeously dismembered. And I love The Neon Demon. Every frame of this gorgeously grody trash extravaganza has been burned into my brain ever since I first saw it, from the sexually charged first meeting between the quickly corrupted Jesse (Elle Fanning, otherworldly) and the jaded Ruby (Jena Malone, in the performance of her career) to the gross, tragic vampirism committed by Sarah (Abbey Lee, who needs to be in more movies) surrounded by broken mirrors to its outrageous finale full of necrophilia, cannibalism and self-evisceration. Refn’s compositions are so meticulously constructed as to be unsettlingly “perfect,” like magazine spreads photographed by Dario Argento; the sense that these beautiful images are moments away from being violently torn to pieces is palpable. While it’s often been derided for being “chilly,” there is a glittery heart underneath its glamorous trashy exterior, as I’ve previously written about; it’s just not in a place you’d expect.
Lemonade (dir. Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, various)
“Who the fuck do you think I am?” Beyoncé belts directly into the camera in the opening shots of the “Don’t Hurt Yourself” sequence. She’s talking to a husband who’s wronged her, but like pretty much all of Lemonade, that’s not the only person she’s talking to. Lemonade is Beyoncé affirming her blackness in opposition to efforts at claiming her by white audiences, standing against institutionalized misogynoir, grappling with her relationship to her father, and confirming her seat on the throne as one of pop music’s best auteurs. She deftly couches all of this within metaphors of betrayal in a long-term relationship, but her influences, from Julie Dash to Nina Simone to Warsan Shire (whose poetry she elegantly entwines throughout), and her fluid fluctuations in place, time and aesthetic (dig the Oshun-influenced intro to “Hold Up” where she emerges reborn and ready to fuck shit up from an embryonic cocoon of self-hatred) reveal the scope of her vision; a vision of black women fighting, loving, succeeding together in the world they built. “Nothing real can be threatened,” Beyoncé resolves in penultimate affirmation anthem “All Night,” and there’s nothing more real than this batch of Lemonade.
The Witch (dir. Robert Eggers)
2016 was so teeming with real-life horrors that the glut of well-made horror films that marked this year (and several in the recent past) oddly served as a form of escapism. The Witch’s pleasures, however, are not quite so simple. This deeply disquieting horror masterwork is a horrific examination of patriarchal religious societies, and its answers for overcoming these carefully taught values are not pretty. It shows you right up front what will eventually befall those who choose to “live deliciously” rather than follow the prescribed route, but it carefully, slowly builds to a bloodbath of an ending that forces you to ask: is that really so bad, compared to what you were getting before? Why not be a witch? That kind of daring, lingering question nagged at the back of my mind ever since I saw The Witch, and now I’m tempted to double-feature it with earlier pick The Love Witch to see what further gems that juxtaposition would reveal. Good luck on the Nosferatu remake, Mr. Eggers!
The Handmaiden (dir. Park Chan-Wook)
The Fits (dir. Anna Rose Holmer)
The Lobster (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)
Elle (dir. Paul Verhoeven)
The Invitation (dir. Karyn Kusama)
Film Runners-up: Arrival, Jackie, The Nice Guys, Hail, Caesar!, Love and Friendship, American Honey, A Bigger Splash, Kubo and the Two Strings
Favorite Male Performances: Alex Hibbert/Ashton Sanders/Trevante Rhodes/André Holland/Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) Colin Farrell (The Lobster), Ralph Fiennes (A Bigger Splash), Daniel Radcliffe/Paul Dano (Swiss Army Man), Ryan Gosling (The Nice Guys), Alden Ehrenreich/Channing Tatum (Hail, Caesar!), Logan Marshall-Green (The Invitation)
Favorite Female Performances: Isabelle Huppert (Elle), Natalie Portman (Jackie), Jena Malone (The Neon Demon), Royalty Hightower (The Fits), Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch), Judy Davis (The Dressmaker), Naomie Harris (Moonlight), Kate Beckinsale (Love and Friendship), Tammy Blanchard (The Invitation), Tilda Swinton (A Bigger Splash), Samantha Robinson (The Love Witch), Amy Adams (Arrival), Viola Davis (Fences), Kim Min-hee/Kim Tae-ri (The Handmaiden), Madina Nalwanga (Queen of Katwe)
Most Improved Directors/Writers: Fede Alvarez (from Evil Dead to Don’t Breathe), Travis Knight (from The Boxtrolls to Kubo and the Two Strings), Noah Oppenheim (from The Maze Runner and Allegiant to Jackie), Eric Heisserer (from Final Destination 5 and The Thing (2011) to Arrival), Justin Lin (from various Fast and the Furious atrocities to Star Trek Beyond), Rich Moore and Phil Johnston (from Wreck-It Ralph to Zootopia)
Most Improved Actors: Chris Pine (from almost everything besides Into the Woods to Hell or High Water), Stephen Lang (from Avatar to Don’t Breathe), Russell Crowe (from literally everything except Noah to The Nice Guys), Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman (from their respective piles of garbage to Zootopia)
Best Performance in a Bad Movie: Viola Davis (Suicide Squad), Janet McTeer (Me Before You), Mark Rylance (The BFG), Holly Hunter/Gal Gadot (Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice), Gerard Butler (Gods of Egypt), Lena Headey (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies)
Best Cameo Appearances: Anna Faris/Keanu Reeves (Keanu), Sigourney Weaver (Finding Dory), Seal/Mariah Carey/Nas/Joanna Newsom (Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping), Hannibal Buress (The Nice Guys)
The “A Ross Movie For Ross” Award: The Neon Demon, The Dressmaker, The Handmaiden, I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House
Directors I Look Forward to Following (that I wasn’t before): Barry Jenkins, Anna Biller, Karyn Kusama, Anna Rose Holmer, DANIELS, Robert Eggers, Oz Perkins, Andrew Ahn, Stephen Cone
Favorite TV Shows of 2016: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Insecure, American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson, O.J.: Made in America, Lady Dynamite, The Get Down, Bojack Horseman
Favorite Albums of 2016: Lemonade (Beyoncé), EMOTION Side B (Carly Rae Jepsen), A Seat at the Table (Solange), Freetown Sound (Blood Orange), Blackstar (David Bowie), Joanne (Lady Gaga), i like it when you sleep… (The 1975)