The MacGuffin’s Top 10 Films of 2016
8. (tie) Hell or High Water
From Sarah Ksiazek’s review: “While the setting and the lighter moments benefit it, it still is a damn good robbery film. It has some ingenious elements that make it smarter and keeps the audience guessing. Through the whole film, you know these two pairs of men are going to eventually converge. The entire film is leading up to the moment and when the final act starts the tension and anxiety is ramped up considerably, and it still has some surprises in store.”
8. (tie) O.J.: Made in America
Matt Voigts’ mini-review: “America devoted nine months of 1995 to the O.J. Simpson murder trial / trashy and appalling media circus, and why it deserves a Shoah-length documentary twenty years later at first seems absurd. Yet here we are in 2016, and O.J.: Made in America, a theatrically-released episode of EPSN’s ’30 for 30’, is an unnervingly relevant exploration of both O.J. and the America of then and now.
The film’s ‘talking heads and archive footage’ format is like that of any number of popular sports and true crime documentaries. Yet Made in America is exceptionally skillful in how devotes as much attention to the particulars of its story as it does to their social undercurrents. The backbone of Ezra Edelman’s narrative is how “The Juice” went from culturally ‘black’ to a translucent shade of ‘celebrity’ and back to black. He was palatable to America (white and otherwise) as an athlete, actor and professional nonthreatening black man; as an otherwise-beloved African-American murder defendant, he was easy to cast as a plausible victim of racism. O.J. had an amazing capacity to change parts of his identity that most people find immutable – such that, for a time, could even transcend well-evidenced acts of domestic violence and murder. He personally escaped justice due to the ample, unaddressed sins of the system. On multiple levels, the O.J. story illuminates the power divides of American race, wealth, and culture.
One doesn’t have too far at the threads that Edelman presciently highlights to see overlaps between 1995 and 2016: protests against a racially-biased and oft-fatally sloppy justice system; the public’s finicky choices of rage or willful ignorance at celebrity misdeeds; prosecutor Marcia Clark’s and Hillary Clinton’s struggles with media ‘likability’; a lousy yes/no vote that was treated as a vector for outrages larger than itself; the prosecution communicating a (superior, fact-founded) case most appealing to secure, middle-class professionals with the disinvested luxury of not feeling outraged. Defense ringmaster Johnnie Cochran even parallels a certain type of Internet commentator, fervently invested with equal fervor in both admirable civil rights pursuits and questionable pop culture bullshit. And ultimately, the exhausted jurors just wanted to go home, and the deep societal problems that the case highlighted remained, with some progress, for us to (hopefully) keep addressing in 2017.”
10. The Neon Demon
From Benjamin Nason’s review: “A cadre of bizarre characters like this seem plucked right out of a David Lynch movie. And that’s basically where the movie both succeeds and fails by its own accord. If one thing can be unequivocally stated about this movie and its creator is that it’s so full of egotism and narcissistic pretention that it has a hard time not basically eating its own ass. Nicolas Winding Refn even goes to the extent of monograming his initials into the title sequence of the movie, and then again at the end. Make no mistake about the nature of what’s being watched here though and all the pretention and heavy-handed subtext will flicker away, allowing for a seriously entertaining exercise in a purely visually and aurally stimulating experience.”