The best films of 2016 #13-16

16. Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan)

Manchester by the Sea is a rarity: an ebullient film about misery. Lonergan, one of Hollywood’s most prized script doctors and for whom grief is a muse, puts everything he has learned about building scenes since 2000’s You Can Count on Me. Minute to minute I didn’t know what the characters are going to do. Even when it threatens to turn into What’s Happening to Casey Affleck Now, the film is the closest American example to date of what Mike Leigh achieves every couple of years in England: lived-in pictures with people acting in contradictory, infuriating ways, like the rest of us.

15. Paterson (Jim Jarmusch)

Paterson is not a film in which audiences understand the sensibility of a force that, to quote Williams’ half great gnarly epic after whom Jarmusch’s hero is named, conjures “the air full/ of the tumult and of spray/connotative of the equal air, coeval,/filling the void.” I recoiled from the Jack Handey earnestness of Paterson’s poems, particularly the work in progress called “We Have Plenty of Matches In Our House,” but criticism is beside the point. It doesn’t matter whether Paterson is a good poet; his alertness to possibilities – to seeing beyond three dimensions – is its own reward. Williams understood: self-evaluation can inhibit the imagination in the act of creating new art.

14. A Bigger Splash (Luca Guadagnino)

Hollywood has lost the knack for and the interest in movies about gorgeous people doing absurd things, so Luca Guadagnino is showing producers how to do it. A Bigger Splash consists of a love roundelay starring beautiful people on Pantelleria. In the first ten minutes rock star Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) and her documentarian boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) hike, swim, and tongue each other while rubbing mud on their bodies. And it only gets gaucher.

13. Things to Come (Mia Hansen-Løve)

Things to Come, one of two huppertinismos to which American audiences are being treated this season, is the story of Nathalie Chazeaux, a philosophy professor whose life of mild intellectual stimulation changes after her husband Heinz (André Marcon) announces he has fallen in love with another woman. Her response? “I thought you’d love me forever.” I can’t think of an American actress who could nail the blank manner in which Huppert delivers the line: the blankness of a woman used to dealing with facts crisply; in one stroke Heinz refutes the central fact of her life. Mia Hansen-Løve has herself written and directed a film of crispness and solidity, a film that starts modest but increases in poignance as it approaches its final act. Things to Come is a worthy successor to Hansen-Løve’s Eden and Goodbye, First Love.

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