Moving and meditative, Arrival is even better on second viewing--it resonates long after you leave the theater. Amy Adams is wonderful. There's Denis Villeneuve's soulful direction, Eric Heisserer's brilliant screenplay from Ted Chiang's Story of Your Life (no mean feat to adapt!), and a haunting, lovely score from Villeneuve's Sicario composer Jóhann Jóhansson (who's also composing for Blade Runner 2049).
2. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
Truth be told, I approached this film with some skepticism after having endured the 3-hour Lonergan cut of Margaret. But Manchester, with its seamless organic flashbacks and best-of-the-year actor and supporting actress performances from Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams, blew me away.
Quite simply, I think it's the best work Verhoeven and Huppert have ever done. They're both auteurs. And for my money, there's nothing like a stylish, well-wrought, provocative thriller. I hope Huppert gets the Oscar for this. For my full post on the film, click here.
4. THE HANDMAIDEN
This appears to be director Pablo Larraín's year (his Neruda was also recently released). The script for Jackie by Noah Oppenheim was originally to be an HBO mini-series produced by Steven Spielberg. Natalie Portman gives an Oscar-worthy performance, and 29-year-old Mica (Micachu) Levi's arrestingly dissonant score knocked me out.
6. NOCTURNAL ANIMALS
It appears to be Amy Adams' year as well. I have to hand it to writer-director Tom Ford: he took an interior, non-cinematic, not particularly well-written or engaging novel that somehow spoke to him, and he applied his vision to every aspect, resulting in a compelling, stylish neo noir. And...Ford bankrolled the film himself (as he had done with A Single Man), because he can, and because he likes to have total creative control. Kudos to him, Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. And a terrific Michael Shannon.
7. HELL OR HIGH WATER
Sleeper of the year from Scottish director David Mackenzie and writer Taylor (Sicario) Sheridan (part two of a trilogy). Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges are particularly great.
8. THE INNOCENTS (AKA AGNES DEI)
Superb film from director Anne Fontaine that's been puzzlingly missing from critics' top 2016 lists. Here's the log line: In 1945 Poland, a young French Red Cross doctor who's sent to assist the survivors of the German camps discovers several nuns in advanced states of pregnancy during a visit to a nearby convent. The film is this year's Ida.
Jim Jarmusch's latest is refreshingly sincere and less self-consciously hip than his previous films. Quite simply, it's the story of a bus driver/poet (wonderfully played by Adam Driver) named Paterson who lives in Paterson, New Jersey, home to poets William Carlos Williams and Allen Ginsberg.
10. LA LA LAND
You'd have to be pretty jaded to not respond at all to Damien Chazelle's magical tribute to musicals (which I generally won't even see) and Los Angeles. It's not nearly as accomplished a film as Chazelle's Whiplash, but it's a charming outlier, and as so, audacious. And Stone and Gosling are eminently watchable.
RUNNERS UP/HONORABLE MENTION: Loving (beautiful jobs by writer-director Jeff Nichols, Ruth Negga, and Joel Edgerton), A Bigger Splash (Swinton! Schöenarts! Fiennes!), Moonlight (the adult casting of the leads ruined it for me--they looked nothing like their younger counterparts), Captain Fantastic (Viggo Mortensen deserves a nomination for this), Kicks, Midnight Special (also by writer-director Jeff Nichols), The Neon Demon.
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