They said 2016 was the worst year for movies in recent memory. But for every Batman v Superman: Yawn of Justice, there were at least two amazing works of genius clamoring for recognition. Some are simple movies of modest scale, others layered in ways we’ll still be studying years from now, but all prove that as long as the world has problems, there will be filmmakers confronting them. Here, in no particular order, are some of the best movies of what has been a most trying year.
If Moonlight were only a recitation of its subject matter—an LGBT coming-of-age story in a setting vastly underrepresented in film—it would have still been a brave undertaking and a fascinating watch. But writer-director Barry Jenkins takes the opportunity to dive deeper than the surface-level hardship (though it is still unflinching in this regard) to craft an elegiac, beautiful work of art about how our ideas about the world around us and ourselves first take root. Beautifully written, impressively acted and skillfully paced, Moonlight is the greatest achievement in filmmaking of 2016.
Always Shine flew under the radar in most markets, but Sophia Takal’s stylish, cathartic thriller was one of the most exciting offerings of the year. The film follows two friends, both actresses in L.A. at differing levels of success. The tension boils over on a weekend getaway, as identities blur and the performative nature of our entire lives—career, art, even friendship—is blown wide open. Takal may emerge as this generation’s Brian de Palma—keep an eye on this one.
The common refrain from those proclaiming the death of cinema is the prevalence of sequels and remakes. Lo and behold, one of the most imaginative films of 2016 is a reimagining of a Disney property, Pete’s Dragon. Virtually everything is different—including the total absence of outright villains to make more room for the resonant theme of family and belonging—and it is guaranteed to engage children in its silliness and adults in its emotional maturity. Definitely the most surprising success of the year.
Polish writer-director Marcin Wrona blends historical intrigue, political metaphor and involving characters with impossible-seeming ease in Demon, easily the year’s most inventive foreign-language film. The story follows the chaos that ensues when a horrific discovery leads a man to become possessed by a dybbuk—a spirit in Jewish folklore—at his own wedding. The various reactions by the guests indicate that all are aware of Poland’s horrific wartime history, and the lengths to which they go to explain away the supernatural occurrence parallel the ways the nation as a whole has forgotten its past transgressions. Powerful, ambitious and surprisingly funny, Demon is a gem waiting to be discovered.
To call The Fits genre-bending is to give the concept of genres too much credit. Anna Rolse Holmer has invented a style all her own with The Fits, a surrealist examination of gender, growing up and fitting in, with the appearance of a social realist drama. Set almost entirely in a fitness facility for children of all ages, where the men box and the women dance with the exception of our protagonist, The Fits is an act of cinematic subversion and pure imagination that is well worth your time.
The rest of the best: Manchester by the Sea, The Witch, Weiner (the documentary, not the man), The Lobster and The Neon Demon
Playing this week
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX
The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213
Assassin’s Creed, Collateral Beauty, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Fences, Lion, Manchester by the Sea, Moana, Office Christmas Party, Passengers, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Sing, Why Him?
Violet Crown Cinema
200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000
Assassin’s Creed, Collateral Beauty, Fences, La La Land, Manchester by the Sea, Passengers, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Sing