My Favourite Films 2016

1. Certain Women
by Kelly Reichardt
Kelly Reichardt's finest statement on loneliness and the search for our identity in other people. Those who make unfaithful mirrors. Whose eyes tell us that there could be more than the howling silence that sails past us when we sleep alone. More than the space taken up by someone who says "I love you" without feeling. More than the perfunctory identity granted women by men. More than the talk that just keeps quiet at bay. Lily Gladstone makes the most compelling case of all these emotional drifters but through resignation, but hope. The way her eyes glow with happiness, her jawline tightens ever so slightly with tense wonder and that nervousness, the embarrassment of possessing humanity that some of us can't hide. 

2. The Lost City of Z
by James Gray

Gray embraces his Fordian tendencies (grandiosity, painterly lighting, the poetry of stubbornness, stoicism and solitude) and out pours his most personal narrative in his least personal setting. New York is hung up like an old coat while he embraces the faded glory of European proving grounds, and the haunted jungles that so plagued his hero. The promise of a landscape that does not lie down before the conquerer, that fights with tooth and claw against reason. Who wouldn't be seduced by the idea of civilization where the strongest foreigners go mad? Gray is possessed by the addiction to discovery, and just as his hero could not make a rational choice in Two Lovers between safety and danger, the men looking for The Lost City of Z know they may never find it. Their madness is also their animating purpose - to look and be comforted even in never finding. The pull towards the unknown has rarely looked so lustrous, felt so engrossing, like you too could reach out and grab it. The most complete, old-style cinematic experience of the year. We'll never know what it felt like to watch The Searchers or Wagonmaster on the big screen in the 1950s, knowing that these films never existed before. Watching The Lost City of Z and Silence will have to do, for they conjure glories and majesty from an ancient longing for order with the same mastery of form. 

3. Knight of Cups
by Terrence Malick
I've already made this film my pet cause of the year because I felt it was going to be the most misunderstood, not only of the year's crop of arthouse heavy hitters (Malick is America's arthouse heavyweight champion of the world) but of his filmography. By now the issue is whether or not you see that his way of doing things is the purest and truest way (if, necessarily, not the right way. That doesn't exist) of doing things. Only Malick conducts the elements of cinema with this uncanny dexterity and certainty. Only Malick treats music, sound design, performance, set decoration, art direction, production design and choreography as leaves in a whirlwind, each piece helping to craft enough memories in a single second to last a lifetime of regret and ecstasy. Cinema has never been more fully expressive, more bitterly elegiac and laced with longing. There's a reason, even as he racks up the worst reviews of his career, every filmmaker puts a shot of hand in wheat. It's shorthand for poetic perfection. It's proof that you've been affected by what Malick does, even if you have no idea how he did it. 

4. Silence
by Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese may not have the abstract emotional register of Malick, but he does what he does (conventional narrative cinema, I don't think it's unfair to say) better than anyone else on earth. Every year they release his movies, distributors wisely place them at the end of the calendar so that we all may look upon the conviction and energy with which Scorsese maneuvers his camera, supercharges his montage (with fellow genius Thelma Schoonmaker ever at his side), and stages the players in his passion. With the gentle spectres of Mizoguchi, Kurosawa and Ozu guiding him, Scorsese gazes up and down at those who hide confusion and terror behind conviction. Andrew Garfield, Liam Neeson, Shin'ya Tsukamoto, Adam Driver and Yôsuke Kubozuka howl, moan, wail and bleed while in the throes of violent revelation, that even possessing the strength granted by a god leaves you weak enough to die alone. His silence is everywhere and it is only what we learn to fill it with that makes us whole. 

5. 'Til Madness Do Us Part
by Wang Bing
Wang Bing, like Pedro Costa, knows that the shortest distance is that which lies between a digital camera and its subject. The murky digital hellscape captured in 'Til Madness Do Us Part can only be its ugly self. The dank, cold asylum upon which he trains his eye (one of our most important in its ability to weather the sight of inhumanity) hides nothing from him. It cannot. It runs laps in the freezing cold of society's blindspot trying to conjure enough heat not to die and to remind the runner it is still alive. Injustice this grave has been allowed and will continue. The mad are ignored everywhere. It is only in allowing us a tiny window into their abject suffering that these few unfortunate bastards may have our empathy for a few short hours. They are real when he films them. In this world, that has to count for something because help is never coming. 

6. Manchester By The Sea
by Kenneth Lonergan
Much has been said about the film's treatment of grief, which is a monumental achievement, to be sure. But what's most interesting to me is the way Lonergan and his cinematographer, Jody Lee Lipes, resolutely refuse to valorize the circumstances through style. It could have been shot on film, lit splendidly, the New England sky an omnipresent observer of every humiliation. Instead Lonergan relies on the poignantly ordinary surroundings, the hopelessly realistic, in order to better communicate the true horror of enduring hardship. Life will not be beautiful to better contextualize your suffering. It will always pile on indignities. You will always be just a human, governed by your wretched frailty and the randomness of life and death. 

7. Cosmos
by Andrzej Żuławski 

Andrzej Żuławski left two gifts this year before leaving us for good. The first was a restored look at his definitive masterpiece On The Silver Globe. And the other was maybe his last fiction film (and, tragically, his first in more than a decade). Cosmos is a bite-sized blotter of the brutal Polish wizard's worldview and creative fixations. A film so alive you can practically hear the projector rattling with all the ideas spilling out. 

8. Crosscurrent
by Yang Chao
A gentle series of conflicts rendered as insignificantly but monumentally as stones on the bank of the Yangtze. China's artistic tradition (specifically the work of its Sixth Generation filmmakers, at which Yang Chao arrived near the end) presented as pages from a forgotten book, poems to invisible forces at work, drawing us further from who we were and what we knew. A ceaselessly gorgeous work. 

9. Little Sister
by Zach Clark
Zach Clark's ode to curing cluelessness is as adorable as it is thorny. Addison Timlin (heart-stealing, never better) burrows into her past life to find the brother cut adrift from his identity. History and family is thrown on like a costume to draw out the forgotten identity, itself covered in the costume of agony, of a destroyed self. How a film this resolutely tiny can feel so huge, so timeless, is a testament to the intelligence at work. Clark has discovered something about people, and it is profound and all-encompassing in its humaneness and generosity. 

10. Neruda
by Pablo Larraín 
Proof, as if any was needed, that art needn't lose an ounce of its power to its steadfast political conviction. That the two may enrich and empower each other and create something unforgettably human and poetic. Overshadowed by now by its more famous cousin, this is the Larraín film all others should be judged against, though he hasn't yet made a bad or dishonest film. It is as hopeful and tastily byzantine as Tony Manero was bleak and uncomplicated. 

11. Malgré la nuit
by Philippe Grandrieux
My patron saint up to his old tricks, painting on his biggest canvas in nearly a decade, letting his expressionism and bald experimentation take their place against his typically anguilliform noir, rather than superficially separating them. This film acts as a sequel to his voracious La Vie Nouvelle, also about displaced travelers chasing sexual gratification as a means to filling empty souls. Grandrieux's matured enough that regret and loss have become his masters, rather than a continuous searching. The difference between the pilgrims here and their earlier counterparts: they know the best they can hope for is to leave with their lives. Grandrieux's camera, meanwhile, is as razor-sharp and morbidly curious as ever. His cinema remains among the most jarring, haunting and gripping of the modern era. 

12. Sunset Song
by Terence Davies
The poet prince of modern cinema channels John Ford and James Joyce in its alternately soaring and lacerating quality this adaptation of a truly tough Gibbon novel. The heart of the land spinning reams of aching prose to combat the evil and violence in the heart of the men Chris Guthrie loves and loses. Davies' impressionistic gaze and bare, if complete, view of the human condition create something greater than the novel alone could have given us: the beauty of the land that Chris believes in and loves. If the land endures, Davies' rapturous treatment of it will not only endure but support and nourish us as long as we need it. 

13. And Nothing Happened
by Naima Ramos-Chapman
Aided by hellraiser Terence Nance, newcomer Naima Ramos-Chapman arrives with the force of a shotgun blast. As we finally get around to listening to oppression narratives from anyone other than the oppressor, works like And Nothing Happened will hopefully find us once a month because sweet jesus, preacher man, do we ever need them. Ramos-Chapman's film stirs together magic realism, surrealism, sensual horror and sweltering, excruciating truth in less than the time it takes most films to introduce their lead character. Chapman's dead stare says everything we need to know about the journey that survivors don't get to take, nearly as much as her response to the stranger in the hallway. There isn't a second not riddled with purpose, not alive with possibility, not blinking and sputtering from too much raw power shooting through its images. 

14. The Fits
by Anna Rose Holmer
Anna Rose Holmer's sleeper miracle gives power and voice to the quiet ones, the ones never asked what they're capable of. Royalty Hightower mesmerizes as a girl whose powers may be more than metaphorical. The pair find their own rhythm among the inexorable pull of the many on-screen dancers and the grey city drifting indifferently by. A spellbinding and assured tale of ordinary folks waiting for a phoenix to rise by example. 

15. Nocturama
by Bertrand Bonello
Bertrand Bonello cuts down on voluptuousness and trade unpredictable mise-en-scene for a genuine mystery in his story. His spatial exploration remains doggedly fascinating and enviable. Paris is an unexplored continent for his gaggle of handsome terrorists, a strange place to be feared and destroyed, so it's with no little irony that they believe sanctuary can be found in a department store, a grim pantomime of the bourgeois complacency they aim to shatter through their violent art work. Bonello finds his usual sensuality in a Gus Van Sant-esque headlong death spiral, and his erotic fixation only tightens when the body count rises. It should be irresponsible, but good cinema never is. 

16. 72 Hours: A Brooklyn Love Story?
by Raafi Rivero
I've been visiting Brooklyn for years now because some of my closest friends call it home. Thanks to gentrification I've seen many of its corners on film and TV the last few years, but I'd never really seen Brooklyn on film before this year. At the Black Star film festival I sat rapt, jaw wide, as a young director whose name I'd never heard before that day, showed me Brooklyn as if he'd been the first to ever train a camera on it. 72 Hours is a melancholy tale of realizing you cannot ever fit your arms around everything in your life, and you cannot take home with you when you grow to adulthood. Friends can look like obstacles when you sense comfort and childhood slipping away. This bittersweet love letter to a town itself on its way out of its past life will resonate for hundreds of years. It gets everything right. 

17. Kate Plays Christine
by Robert Greene
I've been watching Robert Greene play Russian roulette with a camera for years now waiting for him to find the full chamber and still he smiles behind the blindfold. No one in non-fiction takes more formal risks or is as brazen about the games he plays. He wants you to be unseated, to challenge yourself along with him. And after years of hearing him talk up 2001 and its psychedelic ilk, he's finally made a film as audaciously acidic and unhinged. Maybe it lacks the gentleness of Kati with an I and Fake it so Real or the assured Cassavetes-meets-Sirk magnificence of Actress, but this film has the kind of hallucinogenic edge that makes burns its images and sounds into your brain. I will never forget the anger in Kate's voice in the final reel, nor the sight of her applying scads of fake tan to become a victim whose fate she refuses to accept. Christine is a demon Kate will not let into her soul for fear the exorcism won't work. Kate Plays Christine is our meta reckoning. People are people, no matter what screen we see them on. Reality cannot be taken for granted because glass separates us. 

18. Cameraperson
by Kirsten Johnson
Co-opting documentary into abstraction so that it may function as autobiography, Kirsten Johnson's repurposing is unforgettably tender and raw. She finds a mirror in all those shots of men in suits preparing to look an awful kind of truth in the face and she stares into it, unafraid to once again be near madness and fear. The image brings us closer to making a friend of the truth. When her mother turns up, it's a reminder why she picks up her camera. The world's infuriating design can only be tamed if we create something for ourselves out of the misshapen fragments. Johnson's Cameraperson is a landmark of reclamation, a political and personal repudiation of our own helplessness. 

19. When It Rain
by Mimi Cave
Mimi Cave made her bones with brightly lit, pastel-hued music videos for interchangeable dance pop bands. When last year she made her first short film, it was a clue that there was more to Cave's neatly ordered chaos than met the eye. That chaos is front and center in her blistering video for Danny Brown's "When It Rain," a song that acts like a viking funeral for the city of Detroit. Cave's images of the desiccated town through warped-VHS and the funhouse mirror of pop culture detritus are shocking in their hysterical asymmetry. This ghetto three ring circus is every bit the rallying cry Brown's song required. 

20. Elle
by Paul Verhoeven
This film hurt a friend of mine, so I won't go on at length about why I like it. Everyone can decide for themselves. I think it's Verhoeven's best and I'll leave it at that.

21. Sieranevada
by Cristi Puiu
Puiu rediscovers the uncomfortable center of Romanian new wave tragicomedy with the uncompromisingly painful Sieranevada. Every player seems like they might be the one rational character in the melting pot of pettiness and insecurity, but it takes only ten minutes next to someone else for their own faults to come flying out. The perfectly patient, perfectly excruciating family holiday movie to beat the band, Sieranevada finds something to love and hate about everyone at the dinner table. His stable, stubborn form is the right method of unearthing frailty, and Sieranevada will go down in history as the most unappetizing and unsatisfying food movie of the new century. 

22. Francofonia
by Aleksandr Sokurov
Sokurov throws his stylistic handbook out the window and crafts an idiosyncratic window into his brand of love, finding the ugly desperation that led mankind towards its better angels. Whether through curious drone footage or choppy skype footage of artwork that could be lost at sea, he throws himself at the mercy of modern technology to tell the story of an age-old affection washing against a fractured, modernized connection to the past. An essay on fascism's connection to art (imagined ownership) and the incredible lengths the compassionate must go to in order to reclaim royal, public possession of human-made treasure. There is no torture too great to make our legacy sharable for as much of eternity as we can stake out. 

23. Always Shine
by Sophia Takal
Sophia Takal's terrifying story of rivalry gone awry is a tightly coiled study in minute contrasts. Like Melancholia without an apocalyptic excuse for the awful behavior between sisters, Always Shine gets under the skin of the almost famous. The world cuts lines between professionals and expects mere mortals to hop around them, delineating sociability from competition, keeping friendship through imagined milestones. Always Shine is so sharp and so horrific that even when its game is revealed, it doesn't allow you the intake of breath you'd need to compartmentalize. A terrifying marvel. 

24. O.J. Made In America
by Ezra Edelman
Though this film was mired in a pointless argument over whether its cinema or tv (spoiler alert: who cares?) we at least all seemed to agree that this is a remarkable feat of investigative cinematic journalism. OJ has fascinated us for years, and for a good reason: he accidentally found the line between black and white, and we demanded his blood for showing us the divide in the flesh. Edelman shows us the process by which America draws its lines and prepares for its ritual bloodletting. A quicker 8 hours you will not pass. 

25. Homosapiens
by Nikolaus Geyrhalter
A disquieting autopsy of our ambition, what the Secret Machines would call a 'graveyard of hope.' Geyrhalter's second glance at our one-time successes states its case with rousing simplicity, which ought to give even the hardest heart pause. 

26. I Am Not Your Negro
by Raoul Peck
James Baldwin, the saint we need, not the one we deserve, tells his own story through image criticism and sociopolitical analysis. Baldwin's righteous fury is even more potent now that we get to experience his work, rather than being alive as he was first diagnosing America's narcissism and racism. Peck, Africa's loudest and most accessible philosopher, magnificently contrasts Baldwin's unfortunately timeless words with the cultural artifacts that arose in response to the rift he and his ilk created by announcing their blackness. This is the art we've needed all along. 

27. Men Go To Battle
by Zachary Treitz & Kate Lyn Sheil
An ingenious little comedy of manners, it finds the humour in frontier surgery and the tragedy in the simple lack of things to do and talk about. American independent cinema used to produce a film like this a year, and now we must count our lucky stars we got this, a totally cracked Civil War odyssey starring nothing but charming, semi-evil blanks. 

28. I Had Nowhere To Go
by Douglas Gordon
Douglas Gordon meets his idol, a game and sardonic Jonas Mekas, and crafts him a biographical form worthy of his legacy. Just as Mekas invited his followers to discover meaning through the notes the aren't played, so to speak (lack of narrative, unfocused, avant-garde images and forms), Gordon tells Mekas' life story in darkness, the way the past must appear to pilgrims who want to know precisely the experience of understanding the wretched fortune of survivors and victims. A film Mekas would have programmed at any point during his lifetime, I Had Nowhere To Go is a love song to the harsh cold he trekked through to find himself and stay alive. 

29. The Witch
by Robert Eggers
A broiling kettle of resentment and the endless unknown scattered along the Z-axis, where Eggers perpetually gazes. A free and un-mocked feminine identity is as terrifying as the prospect of the uncanny running our lives. Religion is powerless in the face of unchained id and ego, of women having the power to be whomever they wish. And yet some would still sooner flagellate and die screaming than admit the limits of belief. The final minutes are a bold refutation of reason, because it's easier to embrace one's own fantasia of outright lunacy than to live by someone else's version of it. 

30. Hail, Caesar! 
by Joel & Ethan Coen
Joel & Ethan Coen dig once more into their bottomless bag of Hollywood ephemera and craft a joyous essay on Hollywood's tribalism and its imaginary trials and tribulations. Hollywood's biggest fantasy - that its moral turpitude was under attack from forces the government itself blew out of proportion and misunderstood - is given all the grammatical credence of its most lavish product. A delightful, robust lie, the best kind there is. 

31. Edge of Seventeen
by Kelly Fremon Craig
The James L. Brooks name in the "Producer" slot is a nice tell regarding the sort of feelings first-time writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig will be putting us through, but maybe not how profoundly. She's got an ear and eye for the milieu, the dialect, and the unforced naturalism of her teenage purgatory, and she found a cast who never once falters in their task of seeming like human beings and not models pretending to be awkward teenagers. Haley Richardson, who pulled off the same trick in the very good The Bronze, is a bundle of likable qualities, all of which mask her need to be accepted. Hailee Steinfeld is as perfect, as ridiculously talented, as she led us to expect her to be. Given a whole movie to act like hormonal imbalance personified, she is a star made of edges begging to be sanded down. She is one of our most wonderful talents and this is some of her finest work. 

32. Everybody Wants Some!!
by Richard Linklater
Richard Linklater's best and most fun film takes a stab at discerning the rituals involved in the creation and maintenance of cliques. A little lesson in our philosophical divide as Americans only learned through abandonment of self-consciousness. And this film is a delightfully unselfconscious romp through parties and rituals, finding the impressionable souls under the costume of subculture. Sort of like an inverted Coen Brothers film, its buoyant colours and incredible specificity reveal a joyous acceptance of possibility and of the breaking down of barriers. 

33. Things to Come
by ‎Mia Hansen-Løve
My friend, the critic Teo Bugbee, said that had she would have guessed the director of this film was in the winter of her life, because this seemed like it could have been someone's final statement before retiring. That was how rich and complex and understanding its worldview seemed to her, how full and considerate its conception of Isabelle Huppert's character was. And she's right. This is the kind of unforced character study it frequently takes years to learn how to allow yourself to make. Hansen-Løve has always had solid dramatic instincts, recognizing that it takes lifetimes for events to reveal themselves to be as major as they really were. This, her most relaxed and yet her most specific narrative yet, seeing the discourse Huppert seeks and relishes as solace and also new meaning following her divorce. Her independence stems from her pride in her own intellect - it shapes and strengthens her in her time of need. The connection she loses from those close to her is rebuilt through curiousity and talk, and yet the film's direction never relies on typical staging of conversation. It's as searching and hopeful as Huppert. 

34. The Son of Joseph
by Eugène Green 
That rascal Eugène Green turns the story of Jesus into an alternately farcical and jaw-dropping story of arts criticism. Mathieu Amalric plays a publisher who treats his unwanted son like a book he sees no merit in. Fabrizio Rongione is the father who adopts the boy, seeing life and potential in the young man. Both relate to him through their disparate approaches to the worthiness of art. One is ridged and wants only to be moved, the other believes beauty can be anywhere. The latter view informs the film's precise compositions and seemingly tangential narrative, building a world where transcendence could lie around every corner. 

35. A Quiet Passion
by Terence Davies
If the other Davies feast this year was about choosing to soldier on in the face of grief and hellish romantic circumstance, A Quiet Passion is what it looks like when we choose to luxuriate in death and misery, everyone's eventual lot. Steeped in Charles Ives' brand of atonal americana and accidentally trawling in D.W. Griffith in its pastoral Belgian suburban hamlets, A Quiet Passion is about the slowly unfolding grip of death and the sibilant mourners who pass us on the way to the grave. The futility of resisting its draw is tragic, yes, but Emily Dickinson's refusal to be cowed by the lies we're encouraged to accept instead of the inhumane truth is as bold a choice as the one to become a poet. Davies, with his looming man phantasmagoria and unapologetic earnestness, rages as roughly against the dying of the light. 

36. Midnight Special 
by Jeff Nichols
Jeff Nichols' Spielberg/Carpenter homage, a buzzing, tentative study of unlikely confederacy, is the sort of film I could watch any day of the week. Desperate people on a cross country road trip towards the supernatural, pursued by all and sundry, knowing no one would believe them if they tried to explain their purpose. That Nichols brings to this particular subgenre his homey sense of place (southern kitchens and bare motels), classically teary-eyed masculinity and unemphatic generic recombining, makes it all the more watchable. 

37. The Phenom
by Noah Buschel
If you were looking for a master class in Mise-en-scène (the latest iteration of the kind of formal perfection and kindness found in The Strange Little Cat, for example), this is your champion. Buschel quietly (very quietly) became the most assured and beguiling filmmaker working in American mid-budget indies. No image is incomplete, no edit wasted, no piece of production design is accidental or without divine purpose. A character's inner life is projected on every surface and spews out of the mouths of every ancillary figure in his life. The Phenom is a western without guns, a hero's journey over before it's begun. 

38. Tower
by Keith Maitland
A search for one kind of truth that invokes baldfaced fantasy and invention, this richly textured plea for understanding at a time when America had no psychoanalytic identity will captivate with both its gorgeous animation and its unconventional race for fact. Its undeniable horror is undercut by its hopeful coda, which justifies the whole operation even more than any of its singularly compelling drawings of resilience. 

39. Fire at Sea
by Gianfranco Rosi
Rosi's modernist non-fiction forms the link between the found elements in Antonioni's and the remnants of neo-realism that hung over even his most arch, austere studies of paralysis and urbanism. Here he welds a fictional construction to a story of immigration so unbelievably sad that its reprieves not only make the horror palatable, but are necessary to bring us to the edge of suffering. The flight for freedom and safety effects everyone, though we wish to keep the break as far from us as possible. This film shrinks the distance between tragedy as a news item and the real human cost. Both eyes must be open. 

40. 20th Century Women
by Mike Mills
Mike Mills shifts focus from his father (the hero of Beginners, even when he's not on screen) to the absence of a father, and the overwhelming, beautifully wooly presence of mothers and would-be mother figures. His dusty primary palette, the most honest way he can find to present the simplest facts of human interaction, reminds one of the zone between nostalgia and reality. Annette Bening, earning oscars and SAG awards with every puff of a cigarette, is the toughest and most lovable she's ever been, trying, in that wonderfully empathetic way of hers, to make sense of the world in which her only boy is growing up. She conducts a three ring circus of exploration and sexual tension (populated by Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning and Billy Crudup among others). It's greatest revelation is that one might be able to actually see the ways in which we grow apart and acknowledge them without lamenting the loss of closeness. Bening wants the world to stop so she can see her son grow up in slow-motion, but she can't be beside him and let him be himself at once. Honestly heartbreaking and resistant to mawkishness, 20th Century Women had me in tears. 

41. Under Electric Clouds
by Aleksei German, Jr.

A modernist sci-fi parable about the paradox of describing a national condition rendered inscrutable to outsiders thanks to a blanket moratorium on emotional honesty. German, Jr. has his father's feel for rhythm and his eye for composition, and, most importantly, his belief that the people who need to understand is bizarre narrative curlicues will find a way to make sense of them. 

42. The B-Side
by Errol Morris
Morris abandons his usual starkness and austerity to let the throbbing heartbeat of Elsa Dorfman and her open artistry (Mike Mills is probably a fan, I wager) affect his usual cold demeanor. Even a cynic like Morris melts in front of such a force for good. Some day we should all be so lucky to have our art be reflected in such gorgeous memories. To have our life's work show the best of the human condition. 

43. Journey Through French Cinema
by Bertrand Tavernier
The history of poetic realism and everything we did to lose it. I could describe its pleasures more, but I'd rather have each person experience it themselves. For me, this movie brought me back to Christmases spent with piles of dvds borrowed from college libraries, watching landmarks of French cinema while experiencing stressful developments of my own. The sparkling eyes of every doomed romantic giving me hope that my problems were temporary. Turns out the problems of the existential, the damned, the artist, they don't go away. 

44. Reluctantly Queer
by Akosua Adoma Owusu
Baldwin-inspired bravery from a filmmaker who should be better known. Owusu's gauzy intimacy is a tonic against the harshness of most narrative media, and her love for the black bodies on screen gives no small modicum of strength to the viewer who knows a window is also a powerful screen with an uncomfortable truth to display. 

45. Paterson
by Jim Jarmusch
Jarmusch's study of the mere state of being susceptible to poetic reinvention ought to be used to steel oneself against the endless tides of workplace tumult and American malaise. We need simplicity this seductive now that the world's gone topsy turvy. 

46. Age of Shadows
by Kim Jee-Woon
It should by now be no secret and no problem that Kim Jee-Woon wants to be Steven Spielberg. He's got a way with a shoot out, a knack for a setpiece, and a futurist momentum that brings Tintin and Indiana Jones swinging to mind. His latest may be his best yet, a rollicking spy story featuring Korea's great leading man Kang-Ho Song and a climactic bit of intrigue set to Ravel's "Bolero" that would make even Spielberg jealous. Engrossing from the word go, Kim's galloping style is as winning as it is powerful. 

47. Moonlight
by Barry Jenkins
This Hou Hsiao-Hsien-inspired triptych will appropriately go down in history as one of the greatest films about and featuring images of beautiful black faces and bodies, but it should also be remembered as fondly for focusing on the long road to loving and accepting one's self. There's been so much devastating writing on this film this year, but seek out anything about how this film showcased a culture not reflected by 99% of American cinema, or how it led someone to better love themselves. Movies like this, with that force of personality, are hard to come by, and they're rarely this gracious and gorgeous when they do show up. I'll be humming its colours for years. 

48. Fences
by Denzel Washington
Denzel, the shark of American cinema, takes a big, bloody bite out of August Wilson and tears away enough meat to nourish all of America. His cast (flawless Viola Davis most of all) help him bring the sweat-browed, booze-smelling, bruised-limbed world of Wilson's Fences to life, but make no mistake this is the Denzel showcase any fan would kill to consume. He and Davis huff and puff and nearly blows the screen down with their charismatic mortification. Not a dull moment, nor one where I wished that he'd attempted to ween some of the theatricality from the screen. This film is exactly what it needs to be. 

49. Aquarius
by Kleber Mendonça Filho
This lazy jaunt through the memories of an old firebrand is deceptively easy to get a grip on. Just when the live-and-let-live spirit seems to take hold, out come the termites and a fierceness of purpose that Filho allows his magnificent star demonstrate without breaking his own unhurried stride. All the better to point to her determination and let our awe rise from our guts. The ending will stay with you. 

50. Embrace of the Serpent
by Ciro Guerra

One part Wenders and two parts Herzog, Embrace of the Spirit x-rays the fundamentally enfeebled spirit of the adventurer. The infection of riches and conquest localized, Guerra makes an incision and lets greed, pride and gluttony seep out of the wound, hoping we may think twice before succumbing to our basest desires. That we need ayahuasca before we'd consider acquiescing to history's lessons does not bode well for the man who insists on mapping the uncharted, knowing there may gold waiting at the end of the river.  

51. The Alchemist Cookbook
by Joel Potrykus
Potrykus' latest tale of economic woe relies on the agoraphobia of The Evil Dead and Mad Max the way his excellent Buzzard reached with clawed fingers towards A Nightmare on Elm Street and Taxi Driver. Here the bootlegger spirit of middle america retreats to the woods to awaken demons who might make an impoverished life run with purpose. Potrykus, one of the great independent filmmakers of our time, lovingly films each ritual, can of cat food and each VHS tape that keeps our doomed hero alive and conjuring, as if they were the work of handsomely paid art directors dreaming up spoons in Hobbiton. 

52. The Clan
by Pablo Trapero
A miniature Scorsese opus (add this to A Bigger Splash and you'd get one whole) just thrilled to get to wallow in the mire of greed and violence. Trapero's white-hot camera ballet grabs you by the lapels and thrusts you into down the wrong path along with this family of pitiless dreamers who can't tell wrong from legal. A thoroughly immoral thrill ride. 

53. Love & Friendship
by Whit Stillman
Devilishly funny and ceaselessly charming, Whit Stillman's marriage to Jane Austen was written in the stars. Kate Beckinsale, in the role of a lifetime, fires bon mots as if from a gatling gun, her callousness and unforced arrogance more divine than can be accurately measured. Her delightful co-stars brings this world of inbred pomposity to squealing, choking life right along with her. 

54. Nine Behind
by Sophy Romvari
Romvari's debut short film is a small decanter of regret, gorgeously expressive black and white photography mapping a shared history lost, a connection left to wither too long. Hungarian cinema's past on the other end of a phone call, a metaphorical extension of a hand towards a political cinematic understanding of our own identity. Outside the window of the heroine are the forces that told her how she should be shaped. In her hand is the key to understanding who she was before she entered the world, and the art she reaches for to make sense of herself. An astonishingly assured start to what will be a remarkable career. 

55. Julieta
by Pedro Almodóvar
The first out and out melodrama Almodóvar has made without the aid of post-modernism or genre in over a decade is like a paper cut from a love letter. It introduces the enthralling highs of connection, then shatters the illusion and watches his drained heroine pick up the pieces. Her resilience and rediscovery of her self-respect replace the love story teased in the first act. This is a film about how amazing it can be to remember that one's life is one's own. 

56. Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids
by Jonathan Demme
The joy of concert documentaries rediscovered by the very man who proved that the simple act of watching a band at the peak of its powers could yield one of the most powerful works of art of all time. That smile, that diamond-bright smile lurking behind Timberlake's inhumanly pulchritudinous visage, that is the entry way to a night of chaste debauchery and synchronized swagger. Try not to have too much fun. 

57. The Shallows
by Jaume Collet-Serra
The goth over-thinking of Jaume Collet-Serra's films will always lay me right out. His blend of high-concept nerd mathematics (i.e. one drunk + 1 plane x 50 suspects, or in this case One woman + one shark - mobility ÷ communication) and stormy genre stunt-piloting will never cease to make me grip the edge of my seat and jump for joy when catharsis arrives. He plays his viewers like a telecaster. 

58. The Club
by Pablo Larraín 
Larraín plays with heresy and poetry (not to mention a mountain of symbolic classical music to make swallowing the pill easier) so that he might better mess around with our sympathies. He knows full well that what he's asking is despicable, so he doesn't even ask, he just takes. We will feel for these monsters, we will even smile when their little victories come up. And he knows we'll never look back to see how he did it. 

59. 31
by Rob Zombie
Rob Zombie's Rio Bravo (or maybe his Fight For Your Life), 31 tells the story of people who'd rather hang out and smoke pot who are forced to fight for their lives. It's the first of his films that feels genuinely like a fetish count, a relaxed and voluptuous checklist of his auteurist tendencies, refracting the 70s grunge of The Devil's Rejects, the surrealism of Halloween 2, the slow-burning satanism of Lords of Salem. In short, it's the Rob Zombiest Rob Zombie movie and an absolute delight for fans of his grimy cinema, a sort of anti-White Elephant art where every corner of the frame is an opportunity to remind his audience of the grindhouse tradition he continues. 

60. The Handmaiden
by Park Chan-Wook
Park Chan-Wook's liquid noir fever cabinets are some of Korean cinema's most consistently lurid delights. His latest the fearlessly sleazy The Handmaiden shows that he can take a plot worthy of Du Maurier and sell it like a pervert's fairy tale, replete with oddball symbolism like tentacles, poisoned cigarettes and yonic bells. Like a mix of The Postman Rings Twice and Lust, Caution with a cutting sense of humour that only Park could have engineered, The Handmaiden is a splendidly diverting lunatic fantasy. 

61. Yourself & Yours
by Hong Sang-soo
If you've seen any Hong from the last five years, you know the drill. Formal games, hilariously awkward confrontations and abandoned flirtation, and most of all men whose 'poor me' posturing never gets less funny. The world conspires to keep the Hong hero down (even breaking his leg off screen in this one, the funniest off-screen embellishment in a dog's age) and our director never relents, never stops punishing horny, lovesick fools with fantasies they'll never earn. Korea's Woody Allen has struck gold in his current mode and he doesn't look to be running out of ways to be charmingly wonky. 

62. Louder Than Bombs
by Joachim Trier
Sure, it's got Jesse Eisenberg, so it can't be perfect, but Gabriel Byrne, Isabelle Huppert and David Strathairn do more than enough to counteract his tics-only performance style. Trier's style, wherein we discover pages of prose in the silences and stares shared by people in denial, wrestling with depression, disappointment and longing, is one of the most ingratiating and engrossing in modern cinema. He finds a way to be literary with his images and editing without relying on self-consciously busy dialogue or lazily breaking the fourth wall. His modernism here gently mixes with post-modernism without ever commenting directly on itself, rather using the inescapable gaze of media in everyday life to show how difficult it is to do something as simple as grieve in private. The world is always watching, no moment, no matter how shattering, is ever private any longer. Louder Than Bombs is what I imagine a book by Sten Egil Dahl, the reclusive author from Trier's Reprise, would have read like. 

63. Under The Shadow
by Babak Anvari

This year's The Babadook is given power through a rich combination of Iranian repression and secrecy, left over from an endless war, and feminine fury escaping from a culture hellbent on eradicating a thousand identities. The looks a single mother gets may be the product of a demon or from a society used to following the orders of disrespectful men. It is no coincidence that the monster takes the form of the same cloth meant to mask the female essence of its central character. And it is no surprise this film is steadily gaining a cult following. 

64. The Little Prince / Moana
by Mark Osborne / John Musker & Ron Clements
Two films about young women, who through the example of lost boys, learn to love and discover themselves. They find their inner queen by seeing how far boys can fall on their way to becoming gods and kings, and do something different. They change, they grow, they're better. Boys can't really do that. It's nice to see two films made for children get that right and prepare them for the revelation that women will always be better and more compelling than men. 

65. Sully
by Clint Eastwood
Clint Eastwood puts a man in the empty chair and realizes that even heroes have doubts. His noodling guitar solo directorial style finally meets its match in a man who demands a no-frills chorus, as if Carlos Santana remembered the rousing mechanics of "She's Not There," and started recording pop songs again. His most focused and rewarding film in a decade or more, Sully puts aside politics and remembers the lives at stake when the Eastwood hero puts his spurs on, and how each one still echoes in their head. "It's a hell of a thing, killin' a man." Turns out saving one is a hell of a thing, too. 

66. Kubo & The Two Strings
by Travis Knight
Laika do not believe in half-measures. When they build worlds, they make every blade of grass sing with purpose. Their artistry has so far outstripped their heartstring-tugging ambition, but with Kubo they take a major step towards realizing it. It helps having Charlize Theron play the voice of the vanquished, laying tough love into both her young charge and we young-at-heart in the audience. The feelings are, thankfully, impossible to escape, much like the impossibly lovely artistry assaulting the eye at every turn. 

67. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
by Akiva Schaffer & Jorma Taccone
The Lonely Island's most grandiloquent feat of parody-as-love-letter yet, harbouring both a jaw-droppingly gorgeous production design and a secret affection for the garbage it lampoons, knowing only too well how the world melts for the right voice set to the best beat. Their Spinal Tap games are endlessly devour-able and this film may yet find its life in youtube-sized clips, but it should be experienced first as the messy, anarchic expose of our empty culture it was constructed as. 

68. The Ornithologist
by João Pedro Rodrigues
The Ornithologist is almost many things. It's almost a remake of La Voie lactée, it's almost a Pasolinian religious lark, it's almost a horror film, almost a road movie. What it is fully? A gorgeously erotic tale of religious confusion and loss of direction, animated by no greater purpose than what's over the next hill. As it should be. This black metal resurrection tale must be seen to be believed. 

69. I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House/ The Blackcoat's Daughter
by Oz Perkins
A double feature of slowly simmering stories of possession and loss of feminine identity, from a man with a fair bit of it hiding in his background. The remarkably unmoored performances Perkins gets from his leads (Ruth Wilson, Kiernan Shipka, Emma Roberts, Lauren Holly, and the music of his brother Elvis) showcase the keenness of feeling he brings to his horrific stories of isolation and fear. 

70. Staying Vertical
by Alain Giraudie
Picture perfect surrealist jocularity with a fleshy, uncomfortable edge, Giraudie makes literal the pain of creating when your brain keeps throwing you curve balls. His film keeps begging for order from the few characters and incidents spat out by a roving unconscious, and all he can think to do is burrow further into Freudian/Rankian gardens of bliss. When a man on a rowboat arrives at the third act break, begging for the script, it's too late, and who would want order at this point? The pointed chaos is more rewarding. 

71. One More Time With Feeling
by Andrew Dominik
Nick Cave takes one more turn financing a myth-ammendment after the howling braggadocio of 20,000 Days On Earth. Not even his narration seems friendly or on the side of a positive control of his once-elusive image. This is a film about grief, loss, pure and simple, and Cave and those closest to him submit to these interviews as a way in. Not to what they're feeling but what they can no longer express. Backstage banter and thwarted calm during abortive interviews here are what that insatiable lack feel like in the chest of the bereaved. This is not right, and it may never be again. This film will stand as a record of the cracks in several hearts, and what it feels like to soldier on despite them.

72. Loving
by Jeff Nichols
Nichols' discover a core of silence as a productive means of communication, rather than a pointed absence as communication. The howling wind outside an unbuilt house, the unsaid scorn from a mother's lined face, the promises broken by a country that never made them, the comedown after a violent road race yields no winner worthy of the name, the moistened yearning that falls from Ruth Negga's perfect eyes when life takes away all that gives her meaning. See it for Negga, but stay for those powerful silences. 

73. Daguerreotype
by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
One image late in the game tells me I'm not the only Grandrieux fan on this countdown, but that's not enough to make this film worthwhile. What sells it are the dirty silences, the pained longing for an unbelievable truth, because it would be easier than accepting the hand dealt by fate. Kurosawa's Creepy may be the gut-punch of his two most recent efforts, but this effulgent little haunting gets points for persistence and effortless beauty. 

74. Peter + The Farm
by Tony Stone
An endearing study of drudgery and micro processes as a way of dealing with enough grief to last a lifetime, let alone the unspoken moments of one film. Entire continents of pain are left ignored, resentments long since festered rising out of the bearded maw of a man who believes he's outlived his sociable usefulness. This is the American man at the end of his tether, and he doesn't even know it. 

75. Innocence of Memories
by Grant Gee
Gee's soft-focus narratives have become a low-key treasure in the world of modern non-fiction, and here he thrusts a glistening decadent framework over his searching images and gorgeously laconic rhythm. He remains in love with the factual underpinning of his existential quests, keeping him at once in the clouds and on the ground. 

76. 13th
by Ava DuVernay
A slam poet of injustice and systemic violence. Loses points for including the lies of bigots in its tapestry, but it still demands to be seen. 

77. Hell or High Water
by David Mackenzie
A truly terrible script relieved and pardoned by excessive, hungry performers and a director at the top of his game. Listen not to the facile economic lessons and instead let its action beats and immediacy jump down your retinas.

78. Don't Breathe
by Fede Álvarez
Álvarez doubles down on his mathematical/architectural control of genre here, as well as the squeamish reality underpinning each fantastical development. A knight of discomfort just itching to set our nerves on fire. The moment he gets handed the biggest budget imaginable, the more frightened (and more satisfied) we'll all be. 

79. The Finest Hours
by Craig Gillespie

A simple story of stolidly accepting that giving up is not an option. Gillespie finds his old school Hollywood craftsman and gives in to stiff-upper-lip scene construction and performance collection. This film would, ironically enough, never spring a leak. Casey Affleck has gotten a lot of attention for his flashier, more depressive work on Manchester By The Sea, but he's just as good here as a man who may be able to harness enough man power to keep tragedy at bay. 

80. Three
by Johnny To
Johnny To's operatic formalism gets another athletic workout in this pot-boiling tail of corruption. As my ride-or-die Tanner Tafelski puts it: nothing much happen until it does. In this case cops and doctors stare each other down in the care of a psychopath while professionals figure out a way to smuggle the downed man to safety. When the violence erupts, To takes it in like an anthropologist, drinking in every move of an arm, every trajectory of a bullet, every preventable mistake, every violent flourish. 

81. Jackie
by Pablo Larraín 
Perhaps too-portentous for its own good, this study in the micro-view of PTSD and the loss of control writ large across the American political spectrum has much to recommend it, not least of which is an arresting score by Mica Levi. Natalie Portman, a pillar of pink salt, drifts through ceremonial life, unable to grip the pieces that once made her whole, is a quivering mess of uncertainty. Larraín presents strong, totemic images to dwarf her as the world drifts away. A woman without the man who was both her confidant and shibboleth struggling to find a way back into the world she changed and affected as much as the demi-god she married. Acts of sympathy like this are still much needed; that it's luxurious and low-key as well instead of sweeping and titanic is a small blessing.

82. Hello, My Name is Doris
by Michael Showalter
Michael Showalter's tribute to women traditionally forgotten or lampooned by American cinema will break your heart in a few places. Sally Field and Tyne Daly ring ridiculous pathos by behaving just like the women you see in every day life that movies typically forget to love and care for. His care and sense of humour cushions them against the cruel world they rage against in their individualism and eccentricity.

83. Creepy
by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Kiyoshi Kurosawa, after years of treading into peculiar, off-beat genre waters, returns to the kind of horrific procedural on which he built his reputation. Creepy is his most formally precise work in decades, all the better to absolutely ruin your expectations and piece of mind. Deeply troubling and truly ruthless. 

84. Hidden Figures
by Theodore Melfi
Conventional to its very core but there is a design to that. Directors like Melfi are making up for lost time. Since the 90s Americans have been given stories about female empowerment and friendship, frequently through historical stories, as if to prove that women need to show their work to prove their worth. So by making a film this relentlessly upbeat and by-the-numbers skirts the inevitably tragic fact that films like this need to be made. But it also takes the noble suffering angle and makes it not about what black women endure, but that they know they deserve what comes of the endurance. About the proud march down the hallway. About the promise that someday, the worst, least generous white man in the building will be serving you coffee. Progress doesn't have to be over because the people in power won't include you in their conversations. Speak reason, know more than the oppressor, do not let their rules define you. 

85. Eyes of My Mother
by Nicolas Pesce
A hillbilly fever dream cut through with an inherited continental softness, an arch coating of near-surreal gentility wrapped around the menace like a sweet coating around a pill. A slinky, seductive psychosexual morass.  

86. 13 Hours
by ‎Michael Bay

Michael Bay's assaultive expressionism finally finds a funnel to make it palatable - an actual assault. Gone are the blackface jokes and pornographic middle American iconography. This film is focused and vicious and finds itself looking at the smoke-stained faces of survivors, and the typically gorgeous landscape, which in minutes turns from brochure to battlefield. Bay's interest is in accidents and for once he's orchestrating them, instead of appearing to allow them to take over the writing and design. The anger and confusion that mounts as every colossal development hits these he-men whose whole lives revolve around preparedness. 13 Hours is about the horror of not knowing the answer to questions that might mean the difference between life and death. 

87. Queen of the Desert
by Werner Herzog

Herzog's two modes got a work out this year. It's lovely seeing his philosophical inquiries age along with him. His globetrotting picaresques have aged into good taste and Merchant-Ivory derived awe. And like James Ivory, Herzog's finally come around to love for people sensing that expectations place limits on them that the world refuses. It's a calm resignation to the world's reaction to the human insects clamoring over its hidden depths and highs. Robert Pattinson as T.E. Lawrence is a particularly inspired choice for comapanionship in this navigation of the waters of middlebrow fantasy and Herzogian truth. 

88. Into The Inferno
by Werner Herzog
And then there's this side of Herzog, the spelunking, mountain-scaling conquerer/nomad/high priest. Herzog stands in awe of nature once more, the mountain that talks back, beckoning him to find meaning in the world that created and must now tolerate such a volatile force. The waves and patterns that ripple out from the volcano's existence are treated with the rye sense of humour that is by now the Bavarian maverick's stock in trade. A journey worth taking to a destination still unknown.

89. Mascots
by Christopher Guest
Christopher Guest's triumphant return to the form he revolutionized may be little more than a joke delivery system, but when you're in the hands of the best, it hardly matters. 

90. Shin Godzilla
by Hideaki Anno & Shinji Higuchi
In which a room full of young, frightened by committed professionals takes the place of one heroic figure. Anno and Higuchi combine their powers to tackle the issue of Japan's need for a new Godzilla in the wake of an American pretender, but also the need to respond appropriately, through not-too-flippant genre, to the state of Japanese morale. And they do both magnificently, maintaining the eccentric edges both possess independently. When our cancerous id strikes, it takes more than belief in a heroic other to keep it at bay. 

91. The Girl King
by Mika Kaurismäki

Mika Kaurismäki's quick-witted tale of royal decadence run amok is mostly a series of fleeting pleasures. The texture of royal bedrooms, the steely eyes of Malin Buska, the whisper-soft confidence of Sarah Gadon failing every second she's placed under scrutiny, the ululating abandon with which Buska fights for her individuality. They may not add up to a motion picture that will stand the test of time, but like Thomas Imbach's Mary, Queen of Scots, its momentary impressions will last a long time.

92. Mojave
by William Monahan
It's easy to sneer at William Monahan's pompous verbosity but the delight is in watching actors like Walton Goggins, Oscar Isaac and Garrett Hedlund wrap their maws around his insane, unpronounceable dialogue. Sure it's little more than a game for Monahan's enabling cast, but it's the kind of wonky nonsense I will always be game for, the b-side to the excellent, underrated Monahan-scripted The Gambler. Bad reviews are a bitch, brother. 

93. Frankenstein
by Bernard Rose
Bernard Rose shifts his attention from formally omnivorous Tolstoy and mercenary horror to tackle Mary Shelley in the most earthy, grotesque fashion imaginable. He's still dialectically voracious and his Frankenstein communicates in three or four tongues at once, having not forgotten the city-specific tales of horror he made his name on and the matter of detail that made them so unforgettable. 

94. Gods of Egypt
by Alex Proyas
The kind of near-camp delight that keeps Hollywood in my good graces. If they can greenlight gilded nonsense like this, they can do whatever other dumb thing they feel like getting up to the rest of the year. I defy you to watch without smiling. 

95. How To Tell You're A Douchebag
by Tahir Jeter
An absolutely dazzling update of the comedy of remarriage with no humiliation spared its ostensible hero. A hysterical exploration of why it's a good thing some guys don't end up with the girl. 

96. Outlaws & Angels
by J.T. Mollner
A scorching trip down grindhouse memory lane. 

97. The Settlers
by Shimon Dotan
Even attempting to describe the power of the monumental amount of work Dotan does here feels like a fool's errand. Like the shameless protestors in the film who cite the bible as if it were a deed drawn up yesterday, The Settlers will leave the uninitiated speechless. 

98. The Sound & The Fury
by James Franco

James Franco remains his only friend as a director, because no one else will slap him out of semi-consciousness. When he takes a bite out of a literary tradition he plainly believes he deserves a place in, look out because he finally wises up. Going for broke as the mentally challenged Benjy Compson (and aided by his usual compatriots Scott Haze, Danny McBride, Jim Parrack, Ahna O'Reilly, Tim Blake Nelson - the James Franco players), he gives himself the proper motivation to give his least handicapped, most invested performance. He's really acting, but even better, he's really directing too. His previous, formally relaxed experiments with classic literature had proven fascinatingly flawed, but never this confident. He finally arrived at a language that felt like his own. Here's hoping he doesn't give up on himself. 

99. The Laundryman
by Chung Lee
I don't know if I'll ever get over the pleasant sensation of watching a director figure out his mistakes and get a tight grip on his movie as it progressed. Its charmingly wonky premise seemed like one more too-cool idea it couldn't control or find a tonal home for, but then the film kept trucking along towards destiny and Chung kept getting better behind the camera. He shed the worst of his weaknesses and ended on a satisfying, emotional note. And it still has its action-comedy cake and eats it, too. 

100. Emelie
by Michael Thelin
Wunderkind Sarah Bolger is given the solo showcase she's proven she so richly deserved as far back as The Moth Diaries. Her trademark (to me, anyway) earnest demeanor is put to sinister use as she needs to seem unflappably invested in the fate of three children, two of whom figure out she'll stop at nothing to steal what she believes belongs to her. I could watch Bolger's bug-eyed babysitter play mind games and turn little boys to men once a month in perpetuity. Give her a franchise, already, and watch a pro scare maturity into the young. A transfixing performance treated as the gift it is by an eager director. 

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