Top 15 Films Of 2016 – Allen’s Picks
10) Knight of Cups
The year’s most underrated and dismissed film, Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups shows him delving further away from traditional narrative conventions for something more mystical, something more spiritual. No other filmmaker alive is as good at the simple act of observation as Malick is. He finds beauty in the grotesque, and the grotesque in the beautiful. He follows the existential journey of Rick (Christian Bale) a Hollywood screenwriter who has lost his inspiration. Through a series of relationships with women, the relationship with his father, his mother, and his brother, Rick yearns for meaning in whatever forms that may be. It’s an endless search for fulfillment. No other film this year has filled me with such wonder, such an awareness of life in all of its strange complexity. Some might charge this with being overtly pretentious, but I sensed something deeper than just pretty pictures. In his own way, Terrence Malick has created what I believe to be this generation’s La Dolce Vita (1960).
If Knight of Cups questioned the meaning of beauty in a lyrical, poetic way, then Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon explored it through the prism of a nightmare. Trashy, lurid, and unforgettable, the film took the greed of success to the extreme in this hypnotic horror/thriller. Elle Fanning stars as an aspiring model who moves to Los Angeles with dreams of making it big. As this small town bumpkin quickly moves up the ranks of the fashion world, those all around her become obsessed to be in her position. Bolstered by the fantastic camerawork of Natasha Braier and a pulsating score by Cliff Martinez, The Neon Demon comes alive the further it falls into the depths of depravity. We become locked inside a madhouse we didn’t realize we entered until it’s too late. We can’t take our eyes away from it until the final, shocking, hilarious moments. Nicolas Winding Refn has crafted a satire with razor sharp fangs.
Taika Waititi is good – I mean really good. He’s been an actor/writer/director for a while now, but in the last few years he has made a name for himself. What We Do In The Shadows (2014) was an excellent comedy, and yet he followed that up with an even better film in Hunt For The Wilderpeople. Filled with a ton of laughs and an even bigger heart, Waititi tells the story of a young juvenile delinquent (Julian Dennison) and his foster uncle (Sam Neill) as they make a daring escape from child welfare services in the middle of the harsh New Zealand terrain. With the authorities hot on their trail, the two must work together to survive in the wilderness. The relationship between them is central to the entire narrative – the way their bond grew surprisingly pulled at my heartstrings. It’s here where we see Waititi develop as a visual stylist. In camera placement and editing style, I couldn’t help but think of the similarities to Wes Anderson. Waititi has a lot of big things in his future, and I hope a part of that remains in telling these kinds of unique, entertaining stories.
How does one describe Chan-wook Park’s The Handmaiden? Sexy? Audacious? Visionary? They all fit yet none truly encapsulates what in the heck is going on in this movie. Adapted from Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith, Park Chan-wook takes us through a labyrinthine web of love, lies, and the power of spoken word. The plot centers on a handmaiden (Sook-Hee) hired to serve a wealthy heiress (Min-hee Kim) in Japanese-occupied Korea, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. Soon enough, we discover that people are not who they say they are, hidden motivations come to light, and loyalties are tested in ways that could only come from the twisted mind of Park Chan-wook. But despite how outlandish the material gets, there’s an underlying sense of compassion, an emotional connection develops where we least expect it. And that’s what drives this rollercoaster of a film.
One of the biggest tragedies that can befall a person is never being who they truly are. In Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight we trace the life of a young man who grapples with his innermost feelings versus the social pressures that force him to be something else. The choices and events that happen in his youth determine the man he becomes, and Jenkins does an incredible job of building that through line. Everything has a consequence, every experience shapes who we are. This is a story of words not spoken, of regret and longing for a human connection. The young man at the center of this film is confused, lost, angry, and sad. He wants what everyone else has, but his distrust and shame has pushed that desire out. This all leads up to a closing sequence that is as heartbreaking as anything you’ll see this year. I hope as many people as possible give this a chance, it shows how every person of every race and economic background share the same hope deep down: the hope for happiness.