My 9 Favorite Films I Watched for the First Time in 2016
2016 sucked. These nine movies don't.
- •It's Such a Beautiful Day (dir. Don Hertzfeldt, 2012; US)“It’s kind of a really nice day.” No other filmmaker shook me to my core in 2016 as much as Don Hertzfeldt. Between his 2015 short film World of Tomorrow (which I expect will one day find a sturdy spot on my list of all-time favorites) and this film, Hertzfeldt challenges his audience to question the cornerstones of life with him and his bizarre sense of humor and stick-figure aesthetic. While it began its life as three separate animated shorts, it comes together as one tremendous hour-long(!!!)
- •Children of Paradise (dir. Marcel Carné, 1945; France)Made against the Nazi occupation of Paris, this film is a sprawling romantic melodrama that speaks directly to the core of French ideals. Carné, in his masterpiece, weaponizes love, art, and emotion against oppression, tyranny, and cruelty. And then there’s Jean-Louis Barrault’s performance as a long-pining mime, one of the all-time greats. This is often called France’s greatest film; I think I’m inclined to agree: an almost unspeakably beautiful ode to art and everything it stands for.
- •The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (dir. John Ford, 1962; US)A poetic and political western from the master himself, this film boasts a remarkable cast, including the aging duo of James Stewart and John Wayne, a brutally vicious Lee Marvin, and a quietly moving Vera Miles, but it’s the script that makes this film transcendent. Perhaps above all else, its a melancholy examination of how myth helps forge the American legend of the western frontier. As the famous line from the film goes: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
- •Paris is Burning (dir. Jennie Livingston, 1990; US)Jennie Livingston’s exploration of the fast-fading Golden Age of Underground Ballroom Culture is a testament to the power of documentary filmmaking. Focusing on its subjects, world-weary yet optimistic, Paris is Burning becomes a vital, elegiac celebration of a lost generation of New York’s thriving LGBT community as well as an incisive examination of class, race, and gender at the end of the 20th century.
- •Kes (dir. Ken Loach, 1969; UK)Made on a shoestring budget and shot with a cast of non-professional actors mumbling their way through naturalistic Yorkshire dialects, Ken Loach took a story firmly rooted in its own time and place and crafted a timeless coming-of-age tale that finds its emotional anchor in the relationship between a little boy and his pet falcon. Quietly devastating.
- •Mommy (dir. Xavier Dolan, 2014; Canada)Mommy is equally emotionally draining and euphoric, with its achingly human examination of damaged people who try their best to love each other. While often far from subtle, Dolan never lets the film get too tonally out of control, and he carefully crafts every moment into a magnificent opera. The three leads are dynamite. It also used “Wonderwall” in such a way that made me weep. Part of me wishes I was kidding, but Mommy is just that special.
- •The Wind (dir. Victor Sjöström, 1928; US)Defying most genre constraints, The Wind marries the setting and symbolism of a western, the pacing and suspense of a horror movie, and the ending of a romance to stunning effect. At nearly ninety years old, this silent film still feels as fresh as ever, thanks in part to its protofeminist overtones and Lillian Gish’s magnificent performance. If, for some reason, you have any doubt as to Gish’s extraordinary talent, look no further than The Wind.
- •House (dir. Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1977; Japan)This is really something special. The cast of mostly amateur actors. The purposefully fake-looking special effects. That damn cat. That incessant main theme. There’s just so much at play here underneath the wacky surface–clearly there’s the echoes of the devastating effects of World War II on the Japanese mindset, but it’s also something of a horrifying coming-of-age fable, with a dash of feminist symbolism. I doubt there's any bloodbath more fun than this one.
- •Babe: Pig in the City (dir. George Miller, 1998; Australia/US)One part travelogue of a bizarre Fellini-esque metropolis, one part docudrama on the horrific living conditions of stray animals all over the world, one part essay on ethic and mortality, one part crash course on communism and its inevitable failure to the people. Pig in the City is an utterly visionary piece of work, all at once a shockingly dark family film and a universally resonant fable on the light and not-so-light sides of life.