That’s about right isn’t it? Twelve months that none of us will forget about anytime soon? It’s OK, you don’t have to answer that…I’ve seen the meme being tweeted the last few weeks.
All I know is that for me, this was such a dizzying year…one that was difficult from the opening tip, brought me some glorious highs, and one of the very worst times in my life. However, I cannot say that I wish I’d never gone through it. I have a different outlook on the world than I did twelve months ago, and I even feel like a stronger person.
Much of that came from the world around me, but I feel like a bit of that came from the films I watched too.
While I watched fewer films than I have in recent years, the ones I experienced took me to different places. Some of them made me feel like a kid again, others helped me mature. When I think about how many more I still need to catch up with in the winter and spring ahead, it leaves me optimistic.
But it’s true, folks – I am optimistic for the future, and for who I will grow into thanks to the films I’m yet to watch.
That’s the part of me that won’t change, gang. That part of me that always wants to be dazzled, moved, and enlightened by two hours’ traffic.
So let’s hold on to a sliver of optimism, shall we? The past twelve months might have been tough on all of us, but they brought us so many incredible titles like the ones above and the ones below.
Ryan’s Top Five Films of 2016
#5. LA LA LAND
This year has had a lot of people nostalgic. Some for their teenage years, some for their childhood, others for days gone by where things seemed simpler or better. But nostalgia without application can be both wasteful and dangerous. We can look back on what others didn’t appreciate – maybe what we ourselves didn’t appreciate – and get lost there. We can abandon forward momentum in the romance of how great things used to be.
LA LA LAND is about the balance between who we were and who we want to be. It doesn’t want us to take down all of those pictures we tacked on the wall as adolescents, but wants us to surround them with new ones – perhaps even better ones as we grow more aware.
This movie is not a descendant of Fred and Ginger, nor of Gene Kelly. It is something that wants to combine the past with the present in the hopes that it can lead us to something of a better future. It understands that the choices we do not make are still our own, and may ultimately still take us somewhere we want to be…and if ever there was a time to remember that, it’s now.
#4. AMERICAN HONEY
I can feel your contempt from here. That’s fine, I’ll own it.
In 2016 we were given a lengthy, claustrophobic, snapshot of America that is less concerned with the who than it is with the what. Who these kids are isn’t really any of our business; we don’t care when we see them in a shopping mall, why should we care when they’re on our movie screen?
For me though, spending time in this reality reminded me of how many parts of America have so little going for them. How much of it lives as working poor, and just what sort of half-baked plans they are willing to go along with to get out. It’s a depiction of teenage escapism and dashed dreams. For many, it was an excruciating experience…which just makes me love it that much more.
Many of us live well away from this world, in complete comfort. Our want for more explanation or greater nuance betrays the fact that sometimes there just isn’t more explanation or greater nuance. The world is made up of a lot of people who live very different lives than us in ways we don’t want to expose ourselves to. This movie is filled with those sorts of people.
One short film of eleven movements. Each small vignette telling the tale of an emotion as a relationship cracks, a woman examines who she was and who she is, then contemplates if she wants to pick up the pieces…let alone put them back together. All of it wrapped in some of the very best music to arrive in 2016.
This year, one of the biggest pop stars in the world challenged our notion of what an album could still be, what a film had to be, what life is like inside a celebrity marriage, and what it means to be a woman of colour in America now. With lyrics and imagery that are freakishly charged, Beyonce fuses song and film in a way we have seldom seen by any artist…let alone one so driven for representation. This is a story of empowerment, of the individual, of women in America and specifically women of colour in America.
This was a film that tapped into something in the zeitgeist. I dare anyone to name me the villain’s name in CIVIL WAR, and yet everyone knows what “Becky With the Good Hair” represents. That has value. Take the artistry and execution the film employs and the value grows exponentially.
Whole swaths of people don’t believe in film anymore. Whole other swaths of people don’t believe in albums anymore. To make so many care about a well-crafted film of a well-crafted album is a monster achievement during a career that has been marked by monster achievements.
#2. O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA
If LEMONADE was the light, then MADE IN AMERICA was the darkness.
It doesn’t take much to dedicate five hours of conversation to the Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman murder trial. When court proceedings drag on over one whole year, there’s lots to talk about. Careers were made on that court case, culture was shaped. But what does take considerable filmmaking talent is to use that case as a touchstone for where we are with America today. It takes tremendous storytelling skill to make the dots connect, and to pace it all out in a way that makes five hours feel like five minutes.
What MADE IN AMERICA takes pains to lay out is that race in America drives everything. That there is black and white, but there are also perceptions within each side. When one person transcends the perceptions, then they become an important piece in the game – and make no mistake, it is a game. One side puts a point on the board, prompting the other side to even the score.
So Rodney King is answered by O.J. Simpson; Barack Obama is answered by Donald Trump.
What none of us could truly understand twenty years ago was that the O.J. trial was an encapsulation of all of this….a deep dark encapsulation. To explore this two decades later, and underline its surprising relevance, is bold. It shows where America is, where it’s at, and perhaps most-frighteningly, where it still has to go.
“Who is you?”
This might be the most timely question in 2016 America. In an age where identity is being discussed like never before, a film that explores it becomes equally timely. Is you what others say? Is you who you build yourself up to be? Is you how you were born…or maybe how you are wired? It’s a difficult subject for anyone growing-up. It’s even more difficult for a man of colour growing-up. It’s tremendously difficult for a gay man of colour.
So MOONLIGHT is a message movie right? Well, yes and no. All of those ideas are packed inside, but on the surface it is quite simply an elegant, handsome coming-of-age film. It’s a film about surrogate fathers, surrogate mothers, friends lovers, and everything in-between. It’s a story of men and women who don’t normally get their stories told on-screen, and it happens to be told in stunning fashion.
They say that the very best films are the ones that stay with you, and I can’t think of a moment over the last three months of moviegoing when MOONLIGHT hasn’t stock with me. It’s a story of so much love, so much beauty, so much trust…and it arrives at a time where the world is in short supply of all three.
MOONLIGHT has the patience to let us think about who we is, and if we haven’t figured that out yet, it’s here to help us on that journey. What’s most incredible is that we don’t even deserve these things in a movie…not now…and yet we got it anyway.
Other films on my shortlist for 2015 include 13TH, ARRIVAL, CAMERAPERSON, CONTEMPORARY COLOR, THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN, GREEN ROOM, HUNT FOR THE WILDER PEOPLE, INDIGNATION, JACKIE, KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS, THE LITTLE PRINCE, LION, MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, MISS SLOANE, THE NICE GUYS, PETE’S DRAGON, SING STREET and SWISS ARMY MAN, WEINER and THE WITCH .