Mr. Reed’s Metaphysical Neighborhood Presents the Best Technical and Artistic Film Work of 2016


On Tuesday, January 24, the  Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announced the 2017 Oscar nominees. Three days later, I am finally getting around to finishing up my own lists of favorites from last year. I already posted my “best film” and “best acting” lists, so today’s post – about the (often) unsung artists and craftspeople who are essential to the filmmaking process – completes the triptych. Most of the time, the movie’s hyperlink will take you to my review, if one exists (and if not, I have a note explaining where the hyperlink takes you). I also hyperlink the artists’ names, as well (mostly to IMDb, but sometimes to their own personal websites), so you can see what other work they have produced over their careers. In the case of best score, I link to the movies’ soundtracks on Amazon or iTunes, as well.

For each category, I stick to 5 candidates, in alphabetical order. These are the films where I thought that the work in that particular area truly enhanced the quality of the movie. Enjoy, and feel free to leave comments after you look it over!

Best Screenplay (adapted and original, combined):

Best Cinematography:

Best Editing*:

[*2 of these are documentaries – Cameraperson and The Last Man on the Moon – which are among the hardest kinds of films to edit, given the huge amount of material to work with, from which one must, somehow, extract a coherent story.]

Best Production Design:

Best Visual Effects**:

[**Too many people to mention all, so I have simply hyperlinked, next to the title, to the movie’s crew page on IMDb page, where you can look at the multitude of people involved in the many visual-effects teams.]

Best Original Score***:

***plus The Lobster for best choice of previously composed music (particularly Beethoven’s String Quartet in F Major, Op. 18, No. 1, Adagio affettuoso ed appassionato)

In Marvelous “20th Century Women,” a Boy Becomes a Feminist

20th Century Women

20th Century Women (Mike Mills, 2016)

Halfway through 20th Century Women, I asked myself if the film would pass the Bechdel test, that (somewhat) tongue-in-cheek method of analyzing movies based on whether there are multiple female characters who talk about more than their relationships with men. Not even Alison Bechdel, herself, thinks we should evaluate works of art according to this sole criterion, but it can be helpful as a way to gain perspective on the many ways in which women are so often diminished on screen (and everywhere else). The new film from director Mike Mills (Beginners) has three strong female characters, yet each is defined in the story, at least initially, vis-à-vis her interaction with the teenage boy at the center of the narrative. Nevertheless, I would still call it a profoundly feminist movie, since it celebrates not only the achievements of these women, but also the boy’s appreciation of them as fully three-dimensional beings. His adolescent angst may drive the plot, but it’s the catalyst through which the women confront their own evolving lives.

As much celebration of Mills’ own mother as anything else, 20th Century Women is primarily a showcase for the wonderful Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right) who plays Dorothea, born in 1924 (the story takes place in 1979) and divorced mother to 15-year-old Jamie (played by relative newcomer Lucas Jade Zumann), whom she had when she was 40. They live in a ramshackle mansion in Santa Barbara, California, joined by tenants Abbie, a 24-year-old freelance photographer played by a pitch-perfect Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha), and William, a 40-something handyman doing renovations on the place, played by an appealing Billy Crudup (Jackie), both of whom help give the place a friendly community vibe. Their makeshift family is completed by a neighborhood girl – two years older than Jamie – named Julie, played by the ever-talented Elle Fanning (The Neon Demon). After an accident sends Jamie to the hospital, Dorothea decides she may not be enough for him. She’s tried bringing William in as a strong male figure, but kind and sensitive as he is, there’s no chemistry there. So, instead, she asks Abbie and Julie to step in, proposing an arrangement where the three of them will, together, provide the support to Jamie that Dorothea feels he needs.

The experiment doesn’t go smoothly, but does provide many opportunities for gentle humor and reflection on the struggles of women – self-identified feminists and otherwise – at a crucial juncture in American history, just before the consumerism of the Reagan era took over the country’s ethos. We’re even treated to the final minute of Jimmy Carter’s infamous “Crisis of Confidence” speech to place us firmly in that era and its shifting socio-politico-cultural terrain. Indeed, time is of the very essence: peppered with stills and clips from throughout the last century, the movie is a meditation on both the passage of time and the varying speeds at which our lives go by, depending on the moment, as Mills manipulates the frame rate of interval scenes to accelerate the action. In addition, Dorothea, Abbie and Julie each represent a different stage of life, their birth dates given in clear title cards, and their biographies delivered in voiceover. Bening, Gerwig and Fanning work beautifully together, as they do with Zumon and Crudup. At times funny, at other times poignant, 20th Century Women is always engaging and rich in meaning, honoring both the women in its story and the actresses who play them.

Mr. Reed’s Metaphysical Neighborhood Presents the Best and Worst Films of 2016

[For an explanation of my blog post title, check out my “best of” list from 2013.]

Below you will find lists of my favorite films of the year, divided by narrative (fiction) and documentary (nonfiction) formats (I do not separate animated films from either genre, and there are examples of at least one animated film in each category). This is the first time I have broken down my lists in this way, and it largely has to do with the sheer number of documentaries I now watch and review in my position as lead film critic for Hammer to Nail, which makes me want to highlight even more of the great work being done by the 21st century’s exceptional nonfiction filmmakers. As always, the main factor that motivated me to include a film among my favorites is whether or not that film surprised or moved me; was there something in it that reached deep down into my cinematic soul and woke me up as I watched it, even if the film as a whole may have had some flaws (perfection is a subjective reality, anyway).

Not all of the movies mentioned received some kind of theatrical or online release in 2016, though most of them did; a few may still be looking for distributors after making their festival rounds. Where I have previously written reviews of a movie (whether for Hammer to NailFilm Festival Today or this blog), the title of that movie is hyperlinked to my original review. If I only wrote a brief capsule review of a film after seeing it at a film festival, then I link to that write-up, however short it may be. Where I have not (yet) reviewed a film, I have hyperlinked the title to the movie’s Rotten Tomatoes page and written a (very) short description of it, just to explain what I admire (or don’t).

If a film that you, yourself, saw and liked is nowhere mentioned here, then it is possible that I did not see it (or saw it and liked it, but not enough to include among my favorites, or saw it and, of course, did not like it). As many films as I watch every year, I do not see everything; Swiss Army Man is but one example of a movie I missed. If you have questions about any omissions, feel free to comment and/or send me a note. And really, what separates the “Top 10” from the “runners-up” is very little.

Enjoy! Over the next three weeks or so, as always, I will publish a separate list of the best acting and technical/artistic achievements of the year.

Top 10 Narrative Films of 2016 (in alphabetical order):

Best of 2016 Narratives Part 1

Best of 2016 Narratives Part 2

  1. Captain Fantastic
  2. Certain Women
  3. Hell or High Water
  4. La La Land
  5. Loving
  6. Manchester by the Sea
  7. Moonlight
  8. Rams
  9. Toni Erdmann – Perhaps excessively long (perhaps), this delightful German film is nevertheless a profound (and very entertaining) meditation on familial bonds that features one of the best uses of nudity to ever grace the silver screen.
  10. 20th Century Women – Mike Mills (Beginners) delivers a loving fictional portrait of his mother that is also a tribute to the strength of women, of all ages, everywhere.

2016 Narrative Film Runners-Up (in alphabetical order):

2016 Narrative Runners-Up Part 1

2016 Narrative Runners-Up Part 2

  1. Claire in Motion
  2. The Edge of Seventeen
  3. Fences
  4. The Handmaiden – Bound meets Rashomon in this  twisted Korean period thriller from Chan-wook Park (Stoker) that offers us a satisfying frisson both sexual and intellectual.
  5. Hunter Gatherer
  6. The Lobster
  7. Miles Ahead
  8. Moana
  9. Silence – An adaptation of Shūsaku Endō’s 1966 novel of the same name, this chronicle of the plight of Portuguese priests in 17th-century Japan is director Martin Scorsese’s best work in years.
  10. Zootopia

Top 10 Documentary Films of 2016 (in alphabetical order):

Best of 2016 Documentaries Part 1

Best of 2016 Documentaries Part 2

  1. Cameraperson
  2. Chicken People
  3. In Pursuit of Silence (linked to my interview with director, which includes a brief capsule review)
  4. The Last Man on the Moon
  5. Newtown
  6. Plaza de la Soledad
  7. Salero
  8. Tower
  9. Under the Sun
  10. Weiner

2016 Documentary Film Runners-Up (in alphabetical order):

2016 Documentary Runners-Up Part 1


  1. Abortion: Stories Women Tell
  2. Almost Sunrise
  3. Audrie & Daisy
  4. The Bandit
  5. The Dwarvenaut
  6. The Eagle Huntress
  7. The If Project
  8. National Bird
  9. Ovarian Psycos
  10. Sonita

Documentary and Narrative Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):

Worst Films of 2016 (in alphabetical order):

Stay tuned for more posts in the week ahead, where I will list my favorite performances and technical achievements of the year, as well.