The expected caveats applied, 2016 was a marvelous year for me professionally and as a moviegoer. I realize I could have started this list of the twenty best (and runners-up) in February if not May when I have fully caught up, but I wanted to get this shit out of the way. Most of the blurbs come from my original reviews, also linked.
20. Everybody Wants Some!! (Richard Linklater)
Loose-limbed and friendly, Everybody Wants Some! is [Richard] Linklater’s attempt to return to smaller stakes filmmaking after 2014’s Boyhood. But it’s not as if he’s lost his ambition: Everybody Wants Some!! is one of the few recent American films by a purportedly straight director with an appraiser’s eye for man-flesh.
19. Embrace of the Serpent (Ciro Guerra)
Joseph Conrad and V.S. Naipaul’s novels were catalysts: for white conquistadors, traveling up or down rivers of unexplored land led to untapped, uncivilized evil. In Ciro Guerra’s third feature, an ingenious two-track plot meets at the same place. An admixture of greed and scientific curiosity and panic from the indigenous tribes collapses past and present.
18. Other People (Chris Kelly)
In a year when Moonlight crossed over to white straight audiences no longer timid about watching unrealized homo sex, I breathed a sigh of relief that a movie written and directed by a white director can present with humor and verisimilitude a pair of white guys flirting. Chris Kelly’s debut, about a SNL writer (Jesse Plemons, a revelation) who moves back to Sacramento to watch his mom (Molly Shannon) die of cancer, almost avoids every mourning cliche.
17. I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck)
Watching Raoul Peck’s documentary a week after the election was as bracing as a hot spring. Even if I Am Not Your Negro had been three hours of Samuel L. Jackson’s sonorous, measured readings of James Baldwin’s prose, I wouldn’t have minded.