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2016   Introduction | List

2016 was a bleak year at the cinema, not in terms of quality—many wonderful pictures got released—but in terms of content. With the notable exceptions of The Handmaiden, Hidden Figures, and Moana, every film in my top twenty explores, with a distinctly downbeat tone, issues of death, grief, abuse, hopelessness, or the arduous search for identity. These themes were common even in most of the sci-fi and fantasy offerings, from Rogue One and Batman v Superman, to Midnight Special and Arrival.  Both the multiplexes and art houses were markedly death-obsessed.  My pick for the best film of the year, Manchester by the Sea, has jokingly been referred to as the most depressing movie ever made (though it’s hardly that). And the other major awards contenders—Moonlight, Hell or High Water, Hacksaw Ridge, Fences, Lion, Jackie, Loving, Nocturnal Animals, and Captain Fantastic—didn’t exactly send people out of the theater with a jaunty spring in their step. Even the critic’s darling and favorite of Academy members, La La Land is, on the whole, a rather melancholy affair. Indeed, it doesn’t require much imagination to read La La Land as a metaphorical eulogy for the art, industry, and experience of cinema, a form of popular American entertainment which may have long since passed away if not for the dwindling millions of us who keep it on life-support through our denial and dollars.

As is often the case, an astonishing number of movies released this year seemed to align with the prevailing anxious moods of the viewing public, even though the screenplays were written years prior and the productions green-lighted long before the start of 2016 and its various political upheavals, acts of violence, and cries of protest.   Just as many film-industry deaths occurred in 2016 as in a typical year, but the stature of those we lost hit most of us harder than usual. From the January passing of David Bowie and Alan Rickman to the one-two punch of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds in the final days of December, 2016 racked up a devastating memorial list of iconic stars and cinematic innovators: directors Héctor Babenco, Michael Cimino, Guy Hamilton, Curtis Hanson, Arthur Hiller, Abbas Kiarostami, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Garry Marshall, David Swift, and Andrzej Wajda; character actors Kenny Baker, Alice Drummond, Miguel Ferrer, Fyvush Finkel, George Gaynes, Steven Hill, David Huddleston, Anne Jackson, George Kennedy, Burt Kwouk, Bill Nunn, Doris Roberts, Andrew Sachs, Angus Scrimm, and Abe Vigoda; and legends Ken Adam, Patty Duke, Bob Elliott, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Florence Henderson, George Martin, Marni Nixon, Prince, Nancy Reagan, Peter Shaffer, Garry Shandling, Douglas Slocombe, Robert Stigwood, Peter Vaughan, Robert Vaughn, Gene Wilder, and Vilmos Zsigmond.

My personal experiences at the cinema, however, were excellent. The first movie I saw this year was Manchester by the Sea, whichI caught during my first pilgrimage to the Sundance Film Festival. I awoke early after a late night out, made way in the dark, cold, winter morning to stand in line for two hours in the hopes of catching an 8:30 a.m. screening of this latest offering from Kenneth Lonergan. I was one of the last ten people let in and rushed to our seats in the back row corner of the giant makeshift theater just as the opening credits began.  The conditions were not ideal, but the picture couldn’t have been more satisfying. After Sundance, I also attended the South By Southwest Film Fest for the first time, to cheer on three friends who each had features in competition—one of which, Transpeccos, won the audience award.  And at the end of the summer, my local cinema, the Somerville Theater, finally held their long awaited 70mm film fest. They took a huge financial risk, which paid off handsomely for them, and provided me the opportunity to see for the first time, in gorgeous 70mm, Disney’s Sleeping Beauty (1959), Richard Brooks’ Lord Jim (1965), and the venerable, all-star, epic, widescreen comedy It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).  This last film, presented in its intended Ultra Panavision, multichannel audio format, became one of my top twenty favorite screenings of all time.

While there may not have been much joy depicted on screen this year, I personally derived great amounts of pleasure watching it all.

My lists of the best work of the year... 

BEST DIRECTOR:
Kenneth LonerganMANCHESTER BY THE SEA
Barry Jenkins - MOONLIGHT
Chan-wook Park - THE HANDMAIDEN
David Mackenzie - HELL OR HIGH WATER 
Anne Fontaine - LES INNOCENTES

BEST ORIGENAL SCREENPLAY:
Taylor Sheridan - HELL OR HIGH WATER 
Kenneth LonerganMANCHESTER BY THE SEA 
Philippe Maynial - LES INNOCENTES
Robert Eggers – THE WITCH 
Asghar Farhadi - THE SALESMAN

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:
Seo-Kyung Chung and Chan-wook Park - THE HANDMAIDEN
Barry Jenkins – MOONLIGHT
Pedro AlmodóvarJULIETA 
Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi – HIDDEN FIGURES
Tom FordNOCTURNAL ANIMALS 

BEST ACTOR:
Casey Affleck - MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
Shahab Hosseini - THE SALESMAN
Joel Edgerton – LOVING 
Viggo Mortensen - CAPTAIN FANTASTIC
Chris Pine - HELL OR HIGH WATER 
Ralph Fiennes - A BIGGER SPLASH
Hugh GrantFLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS 

BEST ACTRESS:
Isabelle Huppert - THINGS TO COME
Viola Davis – FENCES 
Annette Bening – 20TH CENTURY WOMEN 
Sandra Hüller - TONI ERDMANN 
Ruth Negga - 
LOVING 
Lou de Laâge - LES INNOCENTES
Tilda Swinton - A BIGGER SPLASH
Taraji P. Henson - HIDDEN FIGURES
Natalie Portman - JACKIE 
Sonia Braga – AQUARIUS 
Julia Sarah Stone - 
WEIRDOS

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
Timothy Spall  DENIAL 
Mahershala Ali - MOONLIGHT
Lucas Hedges - MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
Issey Ogata – SILENCE
Stephen McKinley Henderson – FENCES 
Tracy LettsINDIGNATION
Sunny Pawar - LION
Jeff Bridges - HELL OR HIGH WATER  

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
Naomie Harris - MOONLIGHT
Kristen Stewart - CERTAIN WOMEN
Lily Gladstone - CERTAIN WOMEN
Michelle Williams - MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
Janelle Monáe - HIDDEN FIGURES 
Greta Gerwig - 20TH CENTURY WOMEN 
Angourie Rice - THE NICE GUYS

BEST DEBUT FEATURE:
Robert Eggers - THE WITCH 
Greg Kwedar – TRANSPECOS
Garth Davis - LION
Kelly Fremon Craig – THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN
Nate Parker - THE BIRTH OF A NATION

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY:
Stéphane Fontaine - JACKIE 
Rodrigo Prieto - SILENCE
Seamus McGarvey - NOCTURNAL ANIMALS
Vittorio Storaro - CAFÉ SOCIETY
Giles Nuttgens - HELL OR HIGH WATER 
Adam Stone - LOVING 
James Laxton - MOONLIGHT 

BEST EDITING:
Sang-beom Kim and Jae-Bum Kim - THE HANDMAIDEN
John Gilbert - HACKSAW RIDGE
Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon – MOONLIGHT
Thelma Schoonmaker - SILENCE
Julia Bloch - GREEN ROOM
Joan Sobel - NOCTURNAL ANIMALS
Joel Negron - THE NICE GUYS

BEST SOUNDTRACK/SCORE:
Mark Korven - THE WITCH 
Nicholas Britell‘s – MOONLIGHT
Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mark Mancina, and Opetaia Foa'i – MOANA 
Nick Cave and Warren Ellis - HELL OR HIGH WATER 
Jóhann Jóhannsson ARRIVAL
Anne Dudley - ELLE
Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans - CHRISTINE THE FITSTHE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:
I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO
BEST AND MOST BEAUTIFUL THINGS 
DISTURBING THE PEACE
TONY ROBBINS: I AM NOT YOUR GURU 
LIFE, ANIMATED  

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FEATURE:
LES INNOCENTES - THE INNOCENTS
THE HANDMAIDEN - AH-GA-SSI 
THINGS TO COME - L'AVENIR 
JULIETA 
THE SALESMAN - FORUSHANDE 

BEST COME BACK:
Mel Gibson - HACKSAW RIDGE

BEST SURPRISE:
Rebecca Miller - MAGGIE'S PLAN
Fede Alvarez - DON'T BREATHE 
Shane Black - THE NICE GUYS
Anya Taylor-Joy – THE WITCH  
Angourie Rice - THE NICE GUYS

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT:
GHOSTBUSTERS
ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY 
THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN
RULES DON'T APPLY
MIFUNE: THE LAST SAMURAI 
FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS

MOST OVERRATED:
LA LA LAND 
ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY 
ARRIVAL
DON'T THINK TWICE

BEST YEAR OVER ALL:
Isabelle Huppert: Every year is a great year for Isabelle Huppert, as she’s pretty much amazing in everything she does, but 2016 put the great French actress into a larger than usual spotlight. Though I was not a big fan of ELLE, and don’t consider it one of her great roles, there’s no doubt it brought her much deserved recognition outside the usual circles of French audiences, film critics, and American art house devotes. The fact that Huppert also turned in arguably the year's best performance in Mia Hansen-Løve’s wonderful THINGS TO COME (L'AVENIR), makes 2016 an especially great year for Huppert.