My top films of 2016. Tarantino wins.

Top 5 films of 2016

Since I like films and went to the cinema over 40 times in the past year, I thought it’d be nice to make the list of my top 5 best movies that came out this year (or at the end of 2015, depending on the country), plus some honourable mentions. I’ll support my choices with nicely subjective arguments. For the record, I judge films by the atmosphere they set, the intensity in which I think about them after seeing them, and also the way in which they contribute something unique to cinematography.

#5 The Big Short
I went to see this film after seeing the poster – I like all actors and it seemed arthouse like – so I had no idea what I was up for. It turned out to be a very entertaining mixture of some exciting stories and an explanation on how the Great Recession of 2008 started. Contrarily to earlier, boring documentaries about the crash, this film had a clever set up. Most of the time characters explain the issues to each other in a way that naturally blends in the story, alternated with random but funny scenes where famous people explain the basics of complicated matter in a comprehensible way. The movie is based on true events, has a nice dynamic, has tension, explains one of the most important issues of our time (providing a warning for the future as well) and, ladies, has Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale and Brad Pitt in it. A final upside: Steve Carells role wasn’t his usual ridiculous one. It’s in fact very good.

#4 The Forbidden Room
Now this was an adventure. A friend took me to see The Forbidden Room. I thought it has created its own genre, much in the same way as Pink Floyd has. It’s a tribute to the silent film of the 1920’s, diving into the abyss of someone’s mind. Mine, perhaps. It is a fluid film, discussing the human psyche in unprecedented ways. Red, green, blue, yellow. Black. Mesmerizing and intriguing and also great to take a nap with. I mean that in a positive way. It’ll come back in your dreams.

#3 El Abrazo de la Serpiente
This film tells the tragic story of a fallen shaman in the Amazon. I don’t want to reveal too much, but it’s a confronting tale on human greed and our hunger for power. The gentle floating of the canoe as well as the black-and-whiteness of the film and the beautiful tribal music create a serene atmosphere that left my friend and I in a perfect state for a deep conversation about ourselves afterwards.

#2 Nocturnal Animals
A very elegant film, subtly working through the process of mourning from the perspective of a writer (Jake Gyllenhaal, aka Donnie Darko). Three storylines intertwine: a story of the past, the story of a gallery holder (Amy Adams) and that of the book she is reading. This film, too, has tension, but not at all in the way you’d expect. The blazing blue eyes of most of the characters are a threatening detail. This film eloquently assembles love with hate and by it, leaves an imprint somewhere in your soul. I didn’t know revenge could be so sensual. Wow.

#1 The Hateful 8 (70 mm)
Despite the disappointment people around me have expressed about this film, it’s still my undisputed number 1 of 2016. I have watched this film 4 times (3 times of which on 70 mm) and have not been bored a single second. You could say that I almost studied this one. The way Tarantino combines great dialogue with great images and great music never ceases to amaze me. The enormous amount of references within the movie is easy to overlook, but much fun to discover.

Critics say the story of this film is boring and too resemblant of Reservoir Dogs. They’re right about the ‘visual story’, but seem to ignore that most of it happens in the dialogue. The film constantly, and I mean constantly, hints at the fundamental questions of our existence such as ‘what is real?,  ‘who is the good guy, and who is the bad?’ and ‘where can I buy Red Apple cigarettes?’. Meanwhile, it wittily delivers societal critique and experiments with image in space.

On this last thing: Tarantino continuously plays with the fore- and the background. The relatively little room of Minny’s Haberdashery seems quite large through a 70mm lens. There is always something going on on both planes, always a detail to spot, which gives the film a great amount of visual depth. It makes me wonder if Tarantino will pick up 360˚-movie making soon. But by letting his characters tell numerous stories, Tarantino brings this fore- and background game into the narrative as well. Every character brings his history into the Haberdashery. An own personal background. Together, these result in the explosive tension inside. I see this fore- and background play as a tribute to the nature of life and the universe itself. We are here now, but there is a huge background in outer space, in social media, in all the rest of the world, which also has an influence on us. I therefore gladly ignore the critics and call this the best film of the year.

Honourable mentions
There have been many other great movies in 2016, so I’d like to name a few more that are worth watching. The Assassin is a romantic, zen-like story, using beautiful colours to speak about mercenary politics in 18th century China. The Red Turtle, an animated film, is an entirely wordless journey of a guy who ends up alone on a small island in the ocean. Mystical film. Then there was Hell or High Water, an eclectic modern western with Jeff Bridges. Well acted and always with a little twist. Arrivals, finally, also with Amy Adams gives a peek into what could happen if nonviolent aliens visit our planet. There’s an intriguing bit about language in there too.

But let’s not forget that good movies can’t exist without a whole lot of failed ones. I’d therefore like to end this post with a special thanks to Independence Day: Resurgence. That was an absolute piece of crap which made all the other ones look a whole lot better. Worth watching when your body temperature is 39˚C or higher. No idea what the producer did there, but I fully understand why Will Smith didn’t join it.

Disagree with this list? You’re invited to give your own 2016 film top 5 below.


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