And now for everyone’s favorite part of the year, the assigning of semi-arbitrary numbers to complex works of art! Don’t worry my list-negative intro, I wasn’t going to wuss out on a year-end best of list this year, the handful of movies I haven’t seen yet be damned. Make a list! Check it twice! Put your name on it! Every critic knows this is part of the job, and I accept that, the impossibility of assigning quantitative rankings to emotions notwithstanding. I stand fully behind each and every one of these rankings, and the personal, subjective reactions that led to them. As always, if you disagree, I will fight you.
Oh hey wait, before we cut each other up, let me to hedge a little bit and tell you about some films that didn’t quite make the cut:
Everybody Wants Some!!: Linklater’s latest ended up being a heartfelt love letter to college life and trying to enjoy both art and sports, even if I almost walked out during the horrendous first 10 minutes and one of the characters (the wacky pitcher, played by Juston Street) felt like he wandered in from a different movie.
Jackie: I almost universally loathe the idea of the sumptuous biopic, but Pablo Larrain’s Jackie managed to go a little further than what we already knew and at least offered a take on its subject and her mystique, even if it never really questioned our need for her mystique. That would’ve made it great instead of just good.
The Nice Guys: A little too goofy in the final act to make my top 15, and sort of a “Shane Black Fans Only” affair, but a lot of fun nonetheless. Especially if you’re firmly among that group like me. Might be one of my all-time favorite Russell Crowe performances. He makes it even realer than it feels like Shane Black even intended. –
Buster’s Mal Heart: An apocalyptic ennui fable starring Rami Malek from Mr. Robot, this was one of the strangest movies I saw all year, in a good way. It’s not due out until next year, but I’m putting it here for you to remember when it does. Better and cleverer than The Lobster, IMO.
Arrival: Since this one’s showing up on everyone else’s list, I feel more compelled to explain why it’s not on mine. The answer is, I thought it was more an artful restructuring of existing alien-arrival narratives than a new one, albeit with some truly genius design flourishes. The central conceit felt like a clever justification for a trope it didn’t need in the first place. All that being said, it looked fantastic, and goddamn can Villeneuve set a mood.
Zero Days: Alex Gibney’s documentary about the stuxnet virus may not have been the most perfectly constructed of the year, but it may go down as the most relevant. Watch it if you want to be terrified. For best results, pair with Werner Herzog’s Lo And Behold.
The Witch: With its meticulous recreation of period dialogue, intense cinematography, and brilliant horror-movie-by-way-of-actual-beliefs-at-the-time construction, The Witch might’ve been the year’s most competently crafted movie. The only thing keeping it off the actual list for me is the fact that the people it depicts are so deeply unpleasant. God, what an unsexy time period. Even some of the actors, like Kate Dickie, seem like they specialize in being off-putting. Anyway, it tried to depict a nightmare and the only real knock on it is that it succeeded too well.
The Accountant / Hell Or High Water: This was a really good year for straightforward genre action films. The Accountant was probably the silliest of them, Hell Or High Water the most serious, but they both made action movies seem easy, the way it should be. The Accountant actually managed an ending that was legitimately touching, to a film about Ben Affleck as an autistic accountant assassin superhero. That is simply remarkable, and I fervently hope it becomes a franchise.