It’s futile to compartmentalize films from 2016 with a logline, but my favorite films of the year were as much therapy as cinema.
Though these titles are tonally and thematically disparate, they’re all wounded, whether the scar be spiritual like Silence or Knight of Cups, familial like 20th Century Women, Our Little Sister, Toni Erdmann, The BFG, and Manchester by the Sea or related to class and gender like Werewolf, Little Men and Certain Women.
But herein lies the beauty and Sisyphean tragedy of cinephilia. Just when we think we have cinema cornered and classified, it slips out of our grasp, constantly revealing more and more about the world we live in and how we view it.
Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann is deceptively sophisticated, a three hour German father-daughter-relationship comedy that suffuses a realist aesthetic with an episodic sketch comedy. It is one of the funniest films I’ve ever seen. No joke.
Knight of Cups
No American narrative filmmaker working in the last decade has expanded the possibilities of cinema more than Terrence Malick. His Tree of Life, To the Wonder and this year’s Knight of Cups have pioneered a whip-whirling montage aesthetic while articulating a vacuity begotten by most mainstream cinema: an isolation from what is true in our materialistic, post-modern hell hole.
Manchester by the Sea
In Kenneth Lonergan’s melancholic and moving new film, Lee Chandler moves back to the eponymous Massachusetts town when his brother passes away. Featuring an all-time great performance by Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea is an epic of incremental grief, the baby steps toward some kind of restoration that very few films have the patience to follow.
Our Little Sister
Few filmmakers believe in the human capacity for goodness more than the underrated Japanese maestro Kore-eda Horikazu. This is the story of three sisters who adopt their teenage half-sister following the death of their absent father. Our Little Sister extends as much grace and charity to its characters as they do to each other, but without diminishing the gravity of their sacrifice: to write their half-sister into their family history requires a level of forgiveness for their father and his damaging actions.
If The 400 Blows were about gentrification in New York City, it would look a lot like Ira Sach’s multi-faceted film about two teenage boys caught in the middle of their parents’ battle over a hike in rent. Many Vancouverites will be able to relate.
With three stories revolving around women in a cold, desolate Montana town, each one a recount of miscommunication or unrequited love, Certain Women is a film of indirect potency, of abstracted histories evoked through indecipherable gestures. There’s a mysterious, emotive quality to the film, one that can never be solved but is always felt.
Roald Dahl’s novel is adapted by Steven Spielberg as a full-bodied immersion into another place, another time, another reality. While also boasting the best fart joke of the year, The BFG is the story of two loners, an orphan girl, and an ostracized giant who couldn’t be any more different, finding solace in friendship.
Martin Scorsese’s formally masterful adaptation of Shūsaku Endō’s novel is a definite change of pace from the unkempt debauchery of his previous film, The Wolf of Wall Street. Trading in crooked stock brokers for 17th century Portuguese Jesuit priests in a Japan, Silence is both an anomaly in his oeuvre and a further exploration of his complicated relationship with the Christian faith.
20th Century Women
A comedic clash between first and second wave feminism and a boy’s coming of age in the middle of it all, Mike Mills reminiscence of late-‘70s Santa Barbara is nostalgic and relevant, oozing an ennui that extends all the way to the present moment.
The everyday battle for survival of a Cape Breton couple on the methadone recovery program is chronicled in Ashley McKenzie’s film, one of the strongest Canadian debuts of the last decade, a fully accomplished work of formal innovation and non-judgmental sensitivity.