Year in Review: Best of 2016

In Jackson Heights

In Jackson Heights (Fredrick Wiseman, USA)

Arabian Nights Trilogy (Miguel Gomes, Portugal)


Paterson (Jim Jarmusch, USA)

Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, Germany)

The Handmaiden

Green Room (Jeremy Saulnier, USA)

Happy Hour (Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Japan)

The Handmaiden (Park Chan-wook, South Korea)

Cemetery of Splendor (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand)

The Lobster

Tower (Keith Maitland, USA)

Arrival (Denis Villeneuve, USA/Canada)

Chevalier (Athena Rachel Tsangari, Greece)

The Pearl Button (Patricio Guzman, Chile)

No Home Movie (Chantal Akerman, Belgium)

Elle (Paul Verhoeven, France)

I, Daniel Blake (Ken Loach, U.K.)

Kubo and the Two Strings (Travis Knight, USA)

The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos, Ireland/Greece)

Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, USA)

Things to Come (Mia Hansen-Løve, France)

American Honey (Andrea Arnold, USA/UK)


Chevalier got me thinking—am I obsessively ranking things in an arbitrary hierarchy? Such is a rare film that goes straight into the heart of masculinity’s pathologically competitive nature. But I have always struggled with the idea of competition in the arts. Yes, there are going be films I like better than others. Hell yeah some films ARE simply better than others (e.g., Hugo > The Artist). But competition can also obstruct the way we see film (and filmmaking) as well. There is always a time and place for critical discourse but one should be mindful of falling into a pattern of constant one-upmanship, rendering art into a spectator sport.

With that said, the above are 20 films that I considered as last year’s best. Fredrick Wiseman’s In Jackson Heights, which I saw at the HKIFF, is undoubtedly my favorite. The documentary master’s tried and true style is perfect in capturing the multicultural and vibrant New York City neighborhood. Jackson Heights is the place where Dominicans, Puerto Ricans Jews, Muslims, LGBTQ and every color in the rainbow all live together as a community. “Live” is the keyword here as Wiseman’s seemingly unassuming style finds beauty in a truly American microcosm, bearing witness to the common folks’ struggle and flourish. This is the one film we should watch in the wake of a stunning presidential election.

The potent mix of bravado and creativity exploded in Miguel Gomes’s three-feature epic Arabian Nights—encompassing elements of fairy tale, documentary, satire, melodrama and social realism—diffuses the constant yapping about the imminent death of cinema. While I enjoy seeing the latest films by beloved directors in the likes of Jim Jarmusch and Mia Hansen-Løve, I find it equally important and exhilarating to discover works by new(-ish) filmmakers. Clocking in at five hours and seventeen minutes, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Happy Hour captivated me with the phenomenal performances of the four leading actresses who play out the ups and downs of four women in their late-thirties, as their seemingly peaceful lives begin to disintegrate. Meanwhile, Keith Maitland’s animated documentary Tower—a retelling of the University of Texas Tower mass shootings in 1966 (first of its kind in the country)—is surprisingly gripping and timely for a film about an event that happened 40 years ago.

Last year, film lovers mourned the death of many greats. Pioneering filmmaker Chantal Akerman bowed out with one last autobiographical video memoir, No Home Movie. Another intimate portrait that gives viewers a glimpse to her relationship with her beloved mother, Akerman’s swan song is as naked and piercing as some of her best films.

Lastly, this is what I shall remember 2016 by:

P.S. 2016 to-watch list:

Cameraperson, Silence, Aquarius….

Author: filmmonitor

Film Monitor is an independent film publication from Houston, Texas.

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