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

2016-documentary-runners-up-part-2

  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.

 

SXSW2016, Part 7: The Final Post (Last Few “Hammer to Nail” Reviews and Interviews, plus “Roughly Speaking”)

Final SXSW Post Collage

Here are my final reviews and interviews from the 2016 SXSW Festival, published on Hammer to Nail:

Be sure to read my firstsecondthirdfourthfifth and sixth posts on SXSW2016, as well!

I also did a general festival wrap-up on Dan Rodricks’ Roughly Speaking podcast for The Baltimore Sun, where we played clips from my interviews with Burt Reynolds (about the documentary The Bandit), Andre Royo (about the narrative feature Hunter Gatherer) and Paul Reubens (about the latest Pee-wee Herman adventure). Here is that link. Enjoy!

SXSW2016, Part 2 (Monday-Tuesday, March 14-15)

The last two days of the festival have seen me continue with more of the same – movie screenings and interviews with directors and actors. Here are the reviews and interviews that have been published on Hammer to Nail since Sunday, March 13:

And now, below, are my thoughts on the two films I have seen on the ground for which I will not be writing reviews for Hammer to Nail.

Tony Robbins SXSW 2016

From l-r: Janet Pierson, Head of SXSW Film; Joe Berlinger, Director; Tony Robbins, subject

Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru (Joe Berlinger, 2016)

I am a big fan of the two documentaries by Joe Berlinger I had seen previously – Under African Skies and Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger – in both of which he demonstrated a commitment to journalistic principles that is sorely lacking in this, his new film. Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru is a film about the titular self-help goliath – a titan in both physical size and monetary wealth – about whose life and work I knew nothing before sitting down in the Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas, to watch the film. I assumed that, whatever the subject, I was going to be treated to a solid piece of filmmaking by a man whose credentials were more than solid. During his introduction to the film (pictured above), however, Berlinger quite explicitly stated that this was unlike his earlier work, as he had had a life-changing experience recently and was offering up a positive portrait of a man he has come to admire.

He wasn’t kidding.

But more than a “positive portrayal,” it’s an infomercial. Robbins has made himself wealthy by charging high sums for his six-day “Date with Destiny” workshops, in which he practices his own personal brand of physical, and psycho-, therapy. He seems genuinely interested in people, but since the film never offers up much more than surface-level storytelling, we have no way of really discovering anything other than what Robbins wants us to see. That such a man as Berlinger could make such a movie is, to say the least, disappointing.

sxsw2016learningtosee

Learning to See: The World of Insects (Jake Oelman, 2016)

In this beautiful documentary, which filmmaker Jake Oelman (Dear Sidewalk) has made as a tribute to his father – insect photographer Robert Oelman – we witness the transformation of a dispirited fifty-year-old Bostonian into a lively seventy-something visual chronicler of the South-American rainforest. Instead of going to one of Tony Robbins’ workshops (see, above), Dr. Oelman, a psychotherapist depressed by his work, took off in the 1990s for Colombia, where he fell in love with the people and the landscape. Soon, he bought a house, and has lived there ever since. As he settled in, he took an interest in photography, and eventually in insects, and began working with macro lenses to better capture the natural world around him. Now, over 20 years later, Robert Oelman is a recognized artist and documentary photographer, whose work is seen as vital in the global effort to draw attention to our rapidly vanishing biodiversity. As one expert in the film says, “Until you value something, you’re not going to undertake meaningful action to protect it.” Let this lovely little movie stand as a testament to Oelman’s vital contribution to saving our planet.

To read about how the festival began, for me, check out my first post on SXSW2016.