I stopped compiling Top Ten lists some time ago. So, indeed, have most critics. They won’t admit it, but any Top Ten list followed by “Ten More Best Movies,” “Ten More Movies I Loved,” etc., isn’t a true Top Ten list, it’s a Top Twenty Or More list. I used to do a Top Ten list, followed by “Elevens” (cute, right), but the whole exercise felt too constipated. I like what I like, and as long as we’re disrupting cultural norms in other ways let’s do away with the fussy and antiquated Top Ten list. With the handy-dandy Letterboxd site I can add to Favorites lists, and here’s where I’m at for 2016.
What makes a “favorite” movie. Sometimes it’s a memorable performance: Viggo Mortensen in Captain Fantastic, Sally Field in Hello, My Name is Doris. Tasty popcorn, doing what Hollywood can do best when it tries: The Jungle Book, Doctor Strange. Deftly crafted indies: Don’t Think Twice, Little Men. Movies that made me laugh: Toni Erdmann, The Lobster, Hail, Caesar! Movies that chilled me to the bone: The Witch, 10 Cloverfield Lane, the rattling Korean thriller Train to Busan. They can be confounding: I don’t know what to think about Jackie, a meditation on grief wrapped up in loose biopic clothing, yet it’s stayed with me, and Mica Levi’s richly varied score was among the most distinctive of the year. They don’t have to be great: Hidden Figures, which goes into wide release on Friday, is as conventional as they come, but doesn’t screw up an inspiring subject, one that brought tears to my eyes (it’s a testament to the real-life, unsung women of the title, and also to the late, great John Glenn, who was in their “orbit,” so to speak). But they can be great: Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, which spotlights (another) outstanding performance from Isabelle Huppert, is enormously impressive, and terribly daring. Or they can just be oddball movies that happened to work for me: Rules Don’t Apply was steamrolled like a hapless cartoon character, yet, somehow, it applied to me.
Some of these are now on home video, or streaming. It was a lousy year for Oscar-winning directors: Warren Beatty, Ang Lee (I’m almost alone in having seen his Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk in its optimum 3D HFR presentation, which didn’t perk up the dull, downcast storyline), Robert Zemeckis (Allied, a forgettable failure after a failure I loved, The Walk). Steven Spielberg’s The BFG will I hope find a wider audience–my kids and I were enchanted (such craft he practices, in every frame), and the Blu-ray is sterling. While we were all arguing the art vs. the artist, Mel Gibson escaped from movie jail, directing the stirring Hacksaw Ridge (which had the year’s great stand-up-and-cheer moment, as Andrew Garfield rescued his fallen fellow soldiers, and wasn’t Teresa Palmer just lovely on the homefront?) and starring in the awesome Blood Father, 90 minutes of action-packed B-movie goodness, the Bone Tomahawk of 2016. What do you have to lose on a rental?
A favorites list is also distinguished by what’s not on it. No La La Land–maybe a second viewing will do the trick for me, but it struck me as a slightly sunnier, West Coast version of Martin Scorsese’s New York, New York. This year’s The Artist? We’ll see. Liked it; not favorited. Scorsese’s Silence, another workout for Garfield (that’s enough atoning for those lousy Spider-Man movies), is respectable, remote, unmoving. Annette Bening and Greta Gerwig are aces in 20th Century Women–the whole ensemble earns praise, evoking a past that resonated with my own late 70s memories–yet it’s kind of listless, like Mike Mills’ other laudable trudge, Beginners. Liked them; not favorited.
And if you must, the naughty list. But please don’t see any of these movies. We can do better in 2017.