Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Turning Off the Blinders: The Best Movies of 2016

2016 is the first year I can recall that most of us are eager to forget. It was filled with loss, deep division, and the most controversial presidential election of my lifetime. In addition to dealing with the discomfort of reading the news, I experienced a midlife crisis that led to a relationship ending and resulted in the most severe battle with depression I have ever tackled. There was no one to blame for any of the pain but myself, as I was collectively bottling everything up as if preparing for a disaster of epic proportions. But then one morning, a book showed up on the front of my car that offered a new perspective and caused me to send my stress stockpile out to sea. I realized that I had been approaching life from a toxic angle and that, no matter what I was faced with, I could deal with it in a productive and positive way.

As has always been the case in times of turmoil, I knew I could rely on the movies. And not only were they there for me throughout this endlessly soul sucking year, they brought with them much to admire, to unpack, to smile about, to cry about, to be scared about, to be thrilled about, and to reflect upon. Movie after movie left me exhilarated in ways familiar yet completely new, as filmmakers, seasoned and novice, brought their A-game as I have not seen in years. I was overwhelmed by the number of movies that found a way to leave a mark. So you can imagine my surprise when 2016 came to an end and there were critics that complained about it not being a "good" year. Huh? Surely they are mistaken, or they only went to the movies during the summer season, or...

It got me wondering if the dark cloud hanging over 2016 had somehow tainted the way people looked at the movies they saw. It certainly makes sense, but is also makes me sad, because the crop of movies that appear on the list below expanded my passion for the medium in an epic way. So much so that for the first time, I had to create a Top 30! Film critic Walter Chaw did his Top Ten with 50 movies, 5 in each slot. Although I applaud him for that, it felt like much too daunting of a task for me. As we enter into 2017 and an uncertain era for the United States, here's hoping our cinematic art finds fresh and exciting ways to challenge and entertain us. Because you never know...when it's all said and done, the movies may be our only escape. See you in theater!


Notably Missed: Fences, Right Now, Wrong Then, Toni Erdmann

Wish I'd Loved (in alphabetical order): The Accountant, The BFG, Captain America: Civil War, Free In Deed, La La Land, Nocturnal Animals, Rogue One, Sully, Triple 9, Under the Shadow

Honorable Mention (in alphabetical order): 20th Century Women, 31, Blue Jay, Donald Cried, Don't Breathe, Everybody Wants Some!!, The Fits, The Handmaiden, Hell or High Water, Hush, Kubo and the Two Strings, The Lobster, The Love Witch, Loving, Moonlight, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, The Shallows, Sing Street, Zootopia


30) Midsummer in Newtown dir. Lloyd Kramer
29) 13th dir. Ava DuVernay
28) 10 Cloverfield Lane dir. Dan Trachtenberg
27) Love and Friendship dir. Whit Stillman
26) Swiss Army Man dir. Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
25) Krisha dir. Trey Edward Shults
24) De Palma dir. Noah Baumbach, Jake Paltrow
23) Cemetery of Spendor (Rak ti Khon Kaen) dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul
22) Don't Think Twice dir. Mike Birbiglia
21) Green Room dir. Jeremy Saulnier


20) The Edge of Seventeen dir. Kelly Fremon Craig
19) Manchester by the Sea dir. Kenneth Lonergan
18) Elle dir. Paul Verhoeven
17) Midnight Special dir. Jeff Nichols
16) The Invitiation dir. Karyn Kusama
15) Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids dir. Jonathan Demme/
Lemonade dir. Kahlil Joseph, Beyoncé Knowles
14) Hail, Caesar! dir. Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
13) Little Sister dir. Zach Clark
12) Tower dir. Keith Maitland
11) The Nice Guys dir. Shane Black


10) The Wailing (Goksung) dir. Hong-jin Na

Police procedural thriller, slapstick comedy, and chilling supernatural horror gracefully collide in one of the few movies that earns its comparison to The Exorcist. Uncompromising and unforgettable.

9) Knight of Cups dir. Terrence Malick

Existential musings have never been this dreamlike and carried such a heavy burden. Malick continues to age like a smooth whiskey.

8) Little Men dir. Ira Sachs

Understanding the decisions of adults is hard...especially when you're a teenager. Sachs adds pathos to an overcrowded genre.

7) Jackie dir. Pablo Larraín

A haunting and visually lush portrait of grief. Natalie Portman mesmerizes as her Jackie fights to be not just a First Lady, but a strong and capable woman.

6) The Neon Demon dir. Nicolas Winding Refn

Femininity examined through a prism of colors, as Refn unflinchingly explores the way beauty is gazed through the eyes of both genders, and the ugliness that can result. Horrifying, intoxicating, and dazzling.

5) The Witch dir. Robert Eggers

The second of three movies in the top ten dealing with a struggle of faith, this one standing out for how it shows the sins of the father becoming the sins of his children, particularly a daughter at the age of womanhood. Harrowing in execution and undeniably tragic in its conclusion, there's never been anything quite like it.

4) Cameraperson dir. Kirsten Johnson

A career retrospective that carefully reveals itself as a snapshot of its creator. We are invited to see through Johnson's eyes as she connects us (and herself) with the lives of others, known and unknown. It's a remarkable achievement.

3) Silence dir. Martin Scorsese

A passion project that was well worth the wait, Scorsese has crafted a movie that effectively questions the necessity of suffering on behalf of a God who does not directly answer our cries for help. The filmmaker's life long search for answers translates to the screen with true conviction.

2) Arrival dir. Denis Villeneuve

Clever, thoughtful, and emotionally wrenching, Villeneuve has finally found a narrative that fully compliments his distinct visual style. It's a rare blockbuster that asks big questions and doesn't portray extraterrestrials as hostile. Amy Adams gives a performance for the ages. We are with her every step of the way, even when we're not sure which direction the movie will take us.

1) Paterson dir. Jim Jarmusch

The first time I saw it I greatly admired it. The more I talked about it and the more I thought about it, the more I loved it. Seeing it a second time only solidified what I already sensed...this movie is a masterwork. Jarmusch, a filmmaker always deeply connected to his characters, fully envelopes the audience into the life of Paterson (Adam Driver, perfect in every way), a bus driver who finds the magical moments in his job, appreciates his surroundings, and even takes time to write poems about them when he has free time. He lives with a dreamer (Golshifteh Farahani) who has different passions but still supports his as he encourages hers. Daily routine is portrayed as something to savor; all you have to do is open yourself up to the world to discover why. Like the poetry Paterson writes and reads, every moment of this movie flows through us, bringing with it a sense of calm and quiet happiness. This is Jarmusch at his wisest and funniest. The movie places us in a reality we don't want to ever leave. What an incredibly rare gift that is.

Thank you for visiting Hell and Beyond!

(c) Hell and Beyond, 2017.

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