12. No Home Movie (Chantal Ackerman)
In No Home Movie, Chantal Akerman asks: who is more in plain sight than our mothers, their presences taken for granted during birthdays, anniversaries, or forced conversations? Natalia Akerman, a Polish Holocaust survivor, is shown quietly slipping away, her memory sharp but her grasp on the present frail and almost spectral. Her movements stand in contrast to the force of her daughter’s as she, say, peels potato skins; it isn’t a question of fast or slow so much as relativity and the appreciation of movement, for Akerman is the great cinematic poet of mundanity. Watching Natalia shuffle from room to laptop for Skype sessions (with surprising ease!) reminded me of an observation by Sam Adams during his A/V Club interview with Akerman several years ago: “The home is a source of anxiety. It’s not a place where people go to rest.”
11. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)
Near the end of Moonlight, the bulked-up Chiron removes his gold grillz to eat the Cuban food prepared for him. The effect is to shrivel him if not strip him of the years. Beneath the chain and thick arms is the same boy with the unknowable face whom the audience saw in the movie’s opening sequences. Moonlight keeps reminding audiences of the present-ness of the past — of how childhood isn’t merely a series of gestures unlearned and buried but rehearsed and performed until these gestures lose their authenticity. This adaptation of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s unproduced play has the diaphanous quality of Killer of Sheep, Charles Burnett’s 1976 landmark that remains one of the few American film dramas about black men and women with no angle except showing life as lived. Barry Jenkins’ film is not at that level. Stilted, schematic, a film of its historical moment, Moonlight will touch chords anyway.
10. The Other Side (Roberto Minervini)
The casual depravities (e.g. an act of sodomy performed on and with an image of Barack Obama) and depictions of terrible sex did provoke skepticism: are these meth heads from rural northeastern Louisiana acting for the camera? Dissolving the line between the posed and the frozen, subject and object, Roberto Minervini’s documentary gives his people spaces in which to perform their most sordid impulses — their most human too. “His film is not about conjuring empathy for the downtrodden (a tricky task rife with the potential for condescension), but allowing his subjects agency in the filmmaking process,” Jeff Reichert observed last May. The film’s climax is a drunken party at the local swimmin’ hole, where Donald Trump’s voters party like it’s 1949.
9. Elle (Paul Verhoeven)
Isabelle Huppert, in the year’s funniest lead performance, teams up with Paul Verhoeven for a dry ice of a movie that’s a better comedy than a thriller. She plays the owner of a video game company, and it’s a draw whether the blood-drenched orcs her employees design are gruesomer than how her life unfolds — or collapses, if you’re cynical — after a man she may or may not know rapes her in the first scene.