Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The 50 Finest Films of 2016 - #40 - #31

The countdown continues, moving into the top 40 of 2016, and while ranking 50 films from a year might sound like a lot, when you see over 175 of them and you enjoy a majority, it's actually quite difficult leaving some really solid movies off of this list.

These are the films ranked 40 through 31:

40. The Handmaiden

Those that know the work of Park Chan-wook will know what to expect in one department of The Handmaiden, and that is style. Flat out gorgeous, stylish, perfectly framed, colorful, elaborated designed cinema. His most well known work to us Americans is Oldboy and his first English language feature Stoker, and even with the storytelling limitations of the latter, my god was it gorgeous to look at. The Handmaiden is a terrific movie in every regard, a psychological thriller that is puzzling, intricate and sexy. If you are looking for erotic cinema, forget that comically tame Fifty Shades stuff and watch this. I saw it at home and had to practically keep my finger over the stop button just in case my daughter woke up.

The Handmaiden is streaming on Amazon Prime.

39. Tower

I am always up for a good documentary and the subject matter of Tower, telling the story of when a man ascended to the top of the clock tower on the University of Texas campus and opened fire on random innocent people, would be horrifying and interesting no matter how the movie had been made. The decision to animate a good portion of the picture, including the all of the reenactments as well as a large portion of the interviews from people who were actually there when it happened, only adds to the experience by making it unique and somehow it manages to make the tragic nature of such carnage resonate on a different level entirely, especially when the animation suddenly flips to actual current footage of the surviving victims willing to participate in the film. The reality sets in and hits you like a ton of bricks.

38. Miss Stevens

A little under-the-radar comedy released in 2016 is Miss Stevens, a film about a teacher who chaperones a trio of high schoolers to a state drama competition. It's a movie that is small in scale but big in its ability to make characters you will care about, with their personal stakes and circumstances looked at through solid, clever dialogue and just a general warmth that will likely leave you smiling when the film ends. It's a gem that deserves to be seen, and it is streaming on Netflix now.

37. The Innocents

The film The Innocents takes place in Poland in 1945 and follows a young french doctor named Mathilde working for the red cross on a mission to aide and potentially save survivors of World War II. A nun seeks help and asks Mathilde to come to their convent in secrecy under the shroud of darkness, and there she discovers several pregnant sisters carrying babies conceived after Soviet soldiers had repeatedly raped them. It's a heavy subject matter, no doubt, but it's fascinating and layered and features a top notch lead performance from Lou de Laage, whom I knew was going to be an incredible talent going forward after seeing her in last years Breathe

The Innocents is streaming on Amazon Prime.

36. Other People

A family drama/comedy dealing with a member having terminal cancer may not sound like a groundbreaking piece of storytelling, but Other People manages to work because the characters and emotions involved all feel real. This is because of two factors: a screenplay that knows what real people sound like and go through during times like this, and actors like Jesse Plemons in the lead role of David and Molly Shannon as his dying mother. Yes, that Molly Shannon from Saturday Night Live, and yes, in my world she would be nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars. Her performance in Other People is just plain outstanding. 

Other People is streaming on Netflix.

35. The Edge of Seventeen

If you think they don't make teen comedies like they used to, you need to be looking at the indie entries into the sub-genre over the last handful of years because there have been some truly excellent movies. One of those released last year is The Edge of Seventeen, writing and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig and starring Hailee Steinfeld, who, spoiler alert, will be making a Best Actress appearance in my personal award picks coming in the next few weeks. She is absolutely perfect for this well written, funny, moving and heartfelt film that is due out on Blu-ray in two weeks and will be making its way into my collection.

34. The Wailing

If you have seen South Korean horror films before, you will be prepared for just how weird and disturbing genre movies from that country can be, and as long as you are prepared you will hopefully enjoy just how great the films are too. The Wailing is a new entry into that category, a film about a sickness that spreads through a remote village immediately after a mysterious stranger arrives. Running at 156 minutes, there is a period in the middle of the film that I felt a slight drag and I was worried it had lost steam. If you experience this as well, don't worry. It picks up and has an incredible second half that will linger with you long after it's over.

33. Hail, Caesar

Some have written this movie off as a lesser Coen bros. entry, which to be fair is entirely accurate but that's only because they have created some absolute masterpieces that sit on my 100 favorite films of all time list. Hail, Caesar is still a thematically rich comedic delight, a film seemingly telling too many separate stories with no conclusions until you realize you are watching it all wrong. That isn't a criticism of others, I did it too, but once I let the whole thing soak in I realized how great the movie truly is.

32. Loving

I promised a second Jeff Nichols film on the list and here it is, his drama based on the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, a couple that fell in love and got married in Washington D.C. and then returned home to Virginia where they were arrested for violating the state laws against interracial marriage. They ended up being the plaintiffs in the Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia that ended up overturning state laws against such a union nationwide. Nichols is the perfect filmmaker to tackle a story like this, with his films dealing with family relationships and love seemingly with ease. Loving tells an important story beautifully.

31. Captain America: Civil War

Marvel has made better films than Captain America: Civil War, but it is still a blast to watch with terrific action and that feeling like you are watching something huge in scope, both inside this single film and as a part of a huge cinematic universe. The idea that this is a Captain America film is a bit of misdirection because really this is an Avengers event movie, and an extremely entertaining one at that.


  1. Interesting, haven't heard most of these actually. Guess I have more films to put on my list.

    1. Yeah give them a look Cody, let me know what you think.