Another year almost over, another best movies list. While a lot of major tentpole films disappointed – Batman v. Superman, Jason Bourne, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back -, the smaller films – both indies and Hollywood productions – were largely impressive. Here’s a list of the films I find most memorable and I’ve enjoyed the most throughout the 2016.
5. The Revenant
Alejandro González Iñárritu’s follow-up to his magnificent Birdman is another showcase of incredible craftmanship and a unique vision. Aided by the stellar cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki, The Revenant tells the true but romanticized story of Hugh Glass. Glass – mauled by a bear, betrayed and left for dead, in that order – crosses an icy frontier to exact his revenge, a simple premise that proves to be thoroughly engaging because of a stellar cast led by Leonardo DiCaprio and a language of film that’s both enchanting and entrancing throughout.
4. RoomLenny Abrahamson’s Room – the adaptation of Emma Donoghue novel of the same name – is both a tense and endearing film. It’s a movie in which a unique situation slowly reveals the horrific act that preceded it, but the movie never becomes a depressing and overbearing slog. That has to do with Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay’s incredible performances, and the storytelling itself; despite the grotesque predicament Room‘s characters find themselves in, the focus is always firmly on the tight and tender bond between a mother and her son. And it’s beautiful.
3. Nocturnal AnimalsIt’s been seven years since Tom Ford’s first and previous directorial outing A Single Man was released. It’s a marvelous film: it’s beautifully shot and filled with haunting performances and a willingness to discuss topics we’d usually rather not. Exactly the same can be said for Nocturnal Animals, the story of Amy Adams’ Susan, who receives the manuscript of her former husband and starts reading it. Ford elegantly intertwines present, past and the manuscript’s fiction to tell a human story of nostalgia, guilt, what could have been and – ultimately – consequence. The results are mesmerizing.
Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival is not just a genre masterpiece. Yes, it’s a science fiction film, but what sets it apart is the touching human story at its heart. Both plot strands – one about the arrival of alien ships, the other a much more personal one – reinforce each other in beautiful and interesting ways, and really hit home thanks to a stellar performance by Amy Adams. Add Bradford Young’s gorgeous cinematography and Jóhann Jóhannsson’s haunting score, and you have a riveting scifi tale that bodes very well for Villeneuve’s next film: Blade Runner 2049.
1. The Neon Demon
With The Neon Demon, Nicolas Winding Refn has delivered a memorable, occasionally horrifying and – at times – laugh-out-loud funny film. It’s both dreamlike and nightmarish at certain moments, echoing the journey of Elle Fanning’s Jesse, a young girl who has moved to LA to make it as a model. It’s a film that keeps you on your toes at all times and has surrealism seep in slowly, until it shows its true face in its crazy and commendable third act. This drama/horror/satire is beautiful to look at and dissects certain elements of our society that aren’t so pretty. Because of it, it’s truly one of this year’s best films.
There you have it, my list. But what’s yours? Go ahead and leave your top picks in a comment.