Best Films I’ve Seen in 2016 (Part 1)

With every dark moment in our lives, usually there are moments that there are some moments that make life worth living, and in the case of movies, alongside every disaster, every atrocity, every travesty, every film that is witless, hopeless, lifeless, gutless, mindless and pointless; there are films that are stir you on every positive whim and in 2016, there are many films that did that to me. So much in fact, that I have to expand my list to 25 entries with a boatload of honourable mentions. Here’s the first part of my jive top films (in no particular order) that I truly loved in 2016.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Deadpool, A Bride for Rip Van Winkle, Creepy, Hush, Blue Jay, La La Land, Over the Fence, The Tenants Downstairs and many more…

1. THE RED TURTLE

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One of the most beautiful experiences in the cinema I have ever witnessed. This isn’t a film that captures you from the very first frame, but if you allow it to flow through you and you embrace it, you’ll never want to leave. Such a simple story told with this much beauty and this much heart within such a short running time, I knew from the second the end credits started, I knew this film would be on the list. Exploring themes of existentialism, survival, courage, love through a dream-like lens and even with childlike wonder, The Red Turtle is a film that I wish I watched more than once in the cinema, because I don’t think a home viewing would cut it for me. It’s that beautiful.

2. MUSTANG

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I absolutely loved this movie. The acting was great, the storytelling was incredibly immersive and Erguven’s direction was great with adding realism and poignancy to the lives of these young women. I also appreciated that this is not a completely dour experience, as there are many moments of mirth that make it entertainingly endearing i.e. like how the aunt goes to great lengths not to have her nieces caught out. Wished that I could have watched this earlier during Sydney Film Fest, but luckily it was released in cinemas.

3. THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN

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The best film about teen film about coming-of-age in recent memory. I loved everything about it. The fantastic performances from the cast, the sensitive direction from Kelly Fremon Craig, the subtle subversiveness of teenage film tropes, the realistic approach to the storytelling and  the characters, the laugh-out-loud comedy, the poignant dramatic arcs and the fantastic music choices, like the use of a song about certain dickheads fits the scene so perfectly. It’s just a shame that very little saw the film when it was released. Let’s hope the Australian release, people will flock to it. See this film!

Hailee Steinfeld should’ve been a star already and this film just clinches her talent. As for Hayden Szeto (who is barely marketed in the promotions at all), he’s a revelation.

4. SOUL MATE

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This was a film that I expected very little from, considering that films from the China-market just irk me, despite my better judgement. But this film surprised me in almost every single way. The story involves the typical tropes that come with youth dramas like love triangles, jealousy, friendship, love, but director Derek Tsang’s approach to the material is thankfully subversive to the point that it almost turns the genre on its head. Like how there’s no passive-aggressiveness whatsoever and how cliched scenes deliver a surprising punch to the gut.

But the film wouldn’t be anywhere near as effective as it is without the astounding performances from both Zhou Dongyu and Ma Sichun. The two both won Best Actress at the Taipei Golden Horse Awards and rightfully so.

Read the full review here.

5. AMERICAN HONEY

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Probably the most euphoric film I’ve seen all year. If director Andrea Arnold was given a chance to make her own Disney Princess film, American Honey would be it. More fantastical than her previous films while also retaining the requisite themes of approaching adulthood and finding love in hopeless places and getting terrific performances out of non-actors (Sasha Lane truly lives up to her character’s name), American Honey is my type of honey. And don’t get me started on the brilliantly well-chosen soundtrack. Seriously, don’t.

Read the full review here.

6. THE HANDMAIDEN

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The steamiest and extravagantly melodramatic film of the year, The Handmaiden had me grinning from beginning to end. With sumptuous cinematography from Chung Chung-hoon, a lovely musical score by Cho Young-wuk, the fantastic use of dark comedy sprinkled throughout and the incredibly game and spirited performances from the four leads. Kim Tae-ri, you may be a handmaiden and a petty thief in the film, but you are a star in my eyes.

As for the sex scenes, they are illuminating in both prurient terms as well as in puritanical terms. The arcs of the characters are all felt in these scenes and it’s all thanks to the actresses as well as Park Chan-wook’s approach in showing the characters in positions that are more about unification as well as titillation.

Read the full review here.

7. ANTI-PORNO

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A list of mine wouldn’t be a list without a Sion Sono film and again, he enthralls me. His latest film is a pinku film with all the trappings until it turns meta to the point that it gives a huge middle finger to female objectification and sexism. Hell, he also gives a huge middle finger to the tropes of Roman Porno itself, and it’s fascinating, haunting and joyful to watch. There is a dinner scene in the film that both made me laugh out loud and gasp in awe of how incredibly frank it was.

Read the full review here.

8. HOOLIGAN SPARROW

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I knew the huge problems and outrages in Communist China, but I didn’t even know how deep it went and director Wang Nanfu captures it with startling results. With thrilling and gripping footage that looks like it is straight out of a [REC] film, Wang bravely shows the incredibly seedy and corrupt side of Communist China. How she got away with the footage she got is just miraculous, let alone getting it out of the country. My hope is still with Ye Heiyan (the subject of the film) and the crusaders of her plight.

Read the full review here.

9. UNDER THE SHADOW

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I re-watched the film for the second time and the film improved quite a bit. I was able to appreciate the film more than just a pure exercise in scares. Not only does it utilize its setting and backdrop seamlessly into the story, they both add unpredictability and refresh horror genre tropes. The film also manages to take its influences (like Rosemary’s Baby, Repulsion etc.) and manages to make it new again. And with stellar performances from Narges Rashidi and Avin Manshadi, and wonderfully assured direction from Babak Anvari (his approach on less-is-more is masterful), Under the Shadow is the dark horse of horror in 2016.

Read the full review here.

10. I AM NOT MADAME BOVARY

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As much as I hate Chinese film censorship, some films out there thrive upon it as the restrictions improve on one’s creativity. And that’s where I Am Not Madame Bovary fits in. With Fan Bing Bing giving her best performance yet (she certainly plays up to the ridiculous proceedings with gusto) and Feng Xiaogang applying his trademark dry and satirical humour, it is a hilarious experience.

And yet, Feng stretches his directorial chops and aims for a more arthouse experience, and it adds to the story that it makes it feel more like a fable, rather than a dark comedy. The circular and the scroll aspect ratio certainly add to the feel. The downright cruel skewering of the Chinese government is just icing on the cake.

Read the full review here.

To be continued…

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