My 2016 or 24 films by 24verite

The official selection of the 24 films that marked the cinematic year of 2016.

Starting on a personal note, this is the fourth consecutive year that I’m preparing a list so I believe that, probably, I don’t have any more excuses to hate preparing lists! Unfortunately, 2016 was a truly disappointing year, I had a hard time to find films that really stood up and impressed me. Apart some exemplary exceptions that I wouldn’t call discoveries or surprises, the majority of the films were at least interesting but not that uniquely special to me. As it happens every time, I’m still missing some must-watch or best-film-of-the-year contenders but frankly I don’t have high hopes on these films either. I won’t try to be as pessimistic, as the year itself has already been, so I would try to focus on the positive elements. It’s important that there are still debutants that can catch my attention and can challenge the audience with new cinematic forms that give the needed edge especially during a dull year. What’s more important, is that some of my favorite directors seem that they have finally evolved and they deliver films that are clearly out of the box. Undoubtedly the greatest example of them is Maren Ade, whose career I’ve been following since her debut, The Forest for the Trees (2003), so now I’m thrilled that she’s been the centerpiece of attention. I just hope that it won’t take her another 6-7 years for her next film. Finally, I’m happy to see that despite Cannes’ overwhelming dominance in selection, smaller or not that big film festivals still manage to have their own discoveries, although this procedure has become even harder.

Regarding my selection, I have watched more than 150 films this year and of course only 24 can be presented here. As it is accustomed, the classification is not set in stone. I’ve tried to focus on strictly 2016 releases so probably some of them haven’t yet reached a theater near you. Nine filmmakers are here with their debut or sophomore feature films, four documentaries are among the 24 selected and for the first time there is no animated feature.

24. Boris sans Béatrice (Boris without Beatrice) by Denis Côté (Canada)

A demonstrative study on bourgeoisie and the upper-class decay. Côté returns to his roots through a misinterpreted, extremely personal and provokingly essay on the troubles of being a powerful mature alpha male. – Interview

23. Безбог / Bezbog (Godless) by Ralitza Petrova (Bulgaria)

Bleak harsh social realism. Petrova’s slow-burning debut depicts human misery in the rawest possible way as it evolves into an oblique drama of desperate redemption.

22. Albüm by Mehmet Can Mertoğlu (Turkey)

A seemingly lightweight approach towards the extremely conservative familial Turkish society. A balanced debut film that truly shines when reality surpasses the absurdity of the script.

21. Ilegitim (Ilegitimate) by Adrian Sitaru (Romania)

There is something rotten in the Romanian Holy Family. One of the bleakest comedies on the most delicate issues like incest, abortion and the never-ending troubling political past.

20. Midnight Special by Jeff Nichols (USA)

An extended X-Files episode pays tribute to Spielberg’s science fiction period with a touch of Nichols’ subtle narrative.

19. Aloys by Tobias Nölle (Switzerland)

Phone-walking can lead you to the most undiscovered paths of your inner self and allows you to feel connected with others through your personal revelations. Nölle’s debut breaks so many walls and rules as (his) fantasy slowly conquers slowly the reality.

18. Ah-ga-ssi (The Handmaiden) by Chan-wook Park (South Korea)

Period melodrama follows extremely disturbing and equally enjoyable paths. A treat by a real master of narration that satisfies the audience as the film always delivers pure entertainment while remains faithful into being visually pleasing.

17. American Honey by Andrea Arnold (UK / USA)

An insightful and fragile investigation of American Heartland’s white trash. Arnold creates her magnum opus by elevating her artistic signature as she is expanding her revitalizing poetic neorealistic approach of societies’ pariahs.

16. I, Daniel Blake by Ken Loach (UK)

Bureaucracy vs the people. Loach remains faithful to his ideas and delivers an impactful film that penetrates each western “civilized” society.

15. Bacalaureat (Graduation) by Cristian Mungiu (Romania)

Mungiu returns to his overexposed dysfunctional corrupted society as he observes the means that power can use to achieve anything. A ruthless society that can only produce rotten families or is it vice versa?

14. Weiner by Josh Kriegman & Elyse Steinberg (USA)

The best political campaign coverage of the past decades. Fly-on-the-wall meets a great storytelling and a powerful character that elevates himself every single moment as the system and his mistakes crush him. A pure US documentary at its finest.

13. Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea) by Gianfranco Rosi (Italy)

Rosi once again touches the verges of fiction with his extremely realistic sublime research on the refugee crisis. A subtle study with expressive characters that keep their true emotions as the documentary never loses the factuality of the events.

12. Já, Olga Hepnarová (I, Olga Hepnarová) by Petr Kazda & Tomás Weinreb (Czech Republic / Slovakia)

A stunning performance by Michalina Olszanska in an exquisite and provocative biopic that traces back and renovates all the elements that created the Czechoslovak New Wave.

11. Hell or High Water by David Mackenzie (USA)

Luckily, they still make them as they used to! Classic neo-Western, crime elements, straightforward storytelling, linear narration, standout characters. The truest Americana in years shot by a Scotsman.

10. House of Others by Russudan Glurjidze (Georgia)

A touching and visually impressive story that embraces the scars of the war and the past as the sublime drama evolves and captures both its heroines and the viewer. With her debut, Glurjidze proves that she’s a true heiress of the Georgian cinema tradition.

9. Poesía sin Fin (Endless Poetry) by Alejandro Jodorowsky (Chile)

The truest surreal poetic autobiography that only Jodorowsky could offer.

8. Homo Sapiens by Nikolaus Geyrhalter (Austria)

A post-apocalyptic dystopic documentary that through its minimalistic voidness and dominating detailed sound, becomes a realistic metaphorical sci-fi chiller of our future.

7. Évolution by Lucile Hadžihalilović (France)

An experimental horrifying coming-of-age fantasy so sharp and precise that cuts through its own characters. Hadžihalilović submerges herself and the viewer into her childhood nightmares following the New French Extremity’s bleakness and by keeping vivid the essence of Masao Adachi’s visuals.

6. O Ornitólogo (The Ornithologist) by João Pedro Rodrigues (Portugal)

The most sacrilegious bizarre low-key film by Rodrigues that never abandons his queer subjects as they are transformed. An allegory on the footsteps of Pasolini with an extreme Rivettian minimalism and Carax’s poetic distanced narrative.

5. Aquarius by Kleber Mendonça Filho (Brazil)

A controversial film that can drive the emotions while achieving to criticize the inequality of modern Brazilian society while mesmerizing Sonia Braga dominates every inch of the screen. An impressive sophomore oeuvre by a true auteur.

4. Toni Erdmann by Maren Ade (Germany)

Ade masterfully blends heterogeneous elements in her bitter hilariously depressing comedy that doesn’t hide its unconventional character. A coming-of-age film for adults during the most troubled social and personal period of ourselves.

3. Elle by Paul Verhoeven (France)

Verhoeven’s twisted reality reaches new levels with Huppert’s perversely cynical raped figure. The best comedy, drama or thriller of the year (?)

2. Malgré la Nuit (Despite the Night) by Philippe Grandrieux (France)

Dive into the immersive oneiric deafening void that Philippe Grandrieux masterfully sculptures. A captivating experience that pierces the senses and leaves you translucent afterwards.

1. Austerlitz by Sergei Loznitsa (Germany)

Europe’s haunting past needs to be revisited and become a common memory of everyone. Or is it just an epidermal approach that makes us immune to the dreary future? An essay on the lost memories and our new historical challenges in an industrialized society that still feels vacant. – Interview

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