Critics' picks: Adrian Mack selects the best films of 2016
Of all the films listed below, even the most orthodox is a portrait of a filmmaker who has relentlessly tested the boundaries of the Hollywood system. In one way or another, the rest are the work of artists no less committed to dropping the gloves and exploding expectations.
Korean genius Park Chan-Wook turns his baroque sensibilities on the lesbian-themed novel Fingersmith and produces a three-part tale—each with its own twist ending—that’s both formally dazzling and deeply kinky. I’m honestly not sure which of those two things made me hornier.
In a remote seaside town, five disgraced priests cool their jets while making barely perfunctory gestures toward contrition. Thrillingly gloomy and dead set on ambiguity, this Chilean take on the crimes of the Catholic Church proved to be a little too elusive for most viewers, and axiomatically much more haunting than the sturdy but overpraised Spotlight.
The rare American film that gets this particular milieu right, or at least right enough, Jeremy Saulnier’s thriller sends a down-at-heel, touring hardcore punk band into a remote nest of white supremacists in Oregon, where they make the never-wise move of opening their set with “Nazi Punks Fuck Off”. We’ve definitely come a long way from the Fabulous Stains.
A supernatural horror made by true believers. No other movie this year followed me out of the theatre quite like this Korean humdinger in which a small town becomes the locus of a very real battle between good and evil, not to mention a vein of low comedy that shouldn’t work, but does. See? Miracles are real.
The exhausting job of being a Brian De Palma fan gets the tribute it deserves in this simple but smartly assembled doc, in which the man himself walks us through a filmography that’s frequently as vexing as it is brilliant. Would an equivalent doc on any of De Palma’s more conventionally successful contemporaries be this much fun? Not even remotely.
Hell or High Water
Jeff Bridges snatches victory from the jaws of audience fatigue as a retirement-age Texas Ranger on the hunt for two small-time bank robbers—all while reckoning with a postcrash redistribution of guilt. It feels like someone’s getting away with it when the American mainstream lets a movie as unblinkingly honest as this one slip through the gate.
Looking like a bald, overgrown baby, Mark Proksch turns in the performance of the year—seriously—as an overbearing, often aggressive, always needy exorcist brought in to battle a J-horror-esque haunting in suburban California. More of an extended sketch than a film, but so giddily silly that I’ll be happy to rewatch for the rest of my life, probably.
A 20-something hipster ditches his douchey advertising job in Toronto and sets out to get real in the West Coast wilderness—whereupon The Interior, having been wildly audacious in its bid for laughs, becomes even more so in its attempt at scaring you shitless. A genuine original.
The Love Witch
Working the gonzo flip side to Robert Eggers’s The Witch, writer-director Anna Biller puts the occult revival through her Something Weird Video filter and gooses the grindhouse crowd with a devilishly clever feminist switcheroo.
The global arms trade and its enablers, from Reagan to Thatcher to Blair to Cheney to Obama—and that’s just the western wing of the industry—receives the raging howl of disgust it deserves in Johan Grimonprez’s untouchable doc, which manages to organize a staggering amount of material inside of 90 minutes, but also does it, hallelujah, with none of the hollow journalistic “balance” that’s allowed the other side to run rampant for the last century or so.