Best films of 2016 #1-5

We’ve reached the end. Older entries here. Click on the director’s name for links to the original reviews.

5. American Honey (Andrea Arnold)

Named after a Lady Antebellum single to which I was indifferent seven years ago, Andrea Arnold’s first American film is stuffed with music, much of it blessed hip-hop like E-40’s “Choices (Yup),” Migos, and Kevin Gates. Also Jeremih. Rihanna and Calvin Harris’ “We Found Love” accompanies an important bliss-out moment. Andrea Arnold’s first American film is one of the few in recent years that depicts teenage drift without trying to “understand.” Certainly Arnold is no closer to understanding the mystery of TheBeef, given his best and most awake performance to date while wearing a braided rat tail. The title works: the film has a sweet glow.

4. Mountains May Depart (Jia Zhangke)

The millennium’s about to end, and Shen Tao (Zhao Tao) and her dance troupe kick it to Pet Shop Boys’ marvelous cover of “Go West.” Although modern China’s most acerbic chronicler has nothing particular to say about what 2000 brought except exposure to western consumer goods, Jia Zhangke’s Mountains May Depart uses a thirty-year span to show the redefinition of a family, link by link.

3. Love and Friendship (Whit Stillman)

I’m also tempted to call Love & Friendship the best film Whit Stillman has made if Damsels in Distress and Metropolitan didn’t exist. But so sharply etched and well paced is Love & Friendship that it represents the apex of the director’s preoccupation with the way in which irony and persiflage conspire to peak behind the surfaces they helped construct. Not to tear them down, however. Whether he sets his films in discos or a country house in the 1790s, Stillman understands the value of these surfaces.

2. Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt)

Based on Maile Meloy’s short stories about people a rung or two up the economic ladder from the hardscrabble lives in Richard Ford’s Rock Springs, Certain Women weaves three tentatively connected narratives about women at work and seething with suppressed frustrations. It boasts one of the year’s most delicate and romantic sequences: rancher Jamie, mesmerized by Beth’s ill-prepared and embarrassing lectures on education law to hostile night school attendees, dumps her car and rides a horse to class; Jamie invites Beth to join her on the saddle as they trot to their twice weekly debriefing at a diner. The pair hold on tight as the horse cuts through the cool rural Montana air. Nothing is said. Nothing need be said.

1. Being 17 (André Téchiné)

To be queer is to be aware of possibilities and, animated by the thought of transgressing, seizing them. Once in a while you watch a movie that dredges buried emotions and nuances. Being 17 is one of them. Directed by the seventy-three-year-old André Téchiné, Being 17 is as observant about teenage lust as a movie made by a man half his age, even if you discount the fact that Téchiné has long had an interest in exploring love roundelays with the eye of a novelist and grasping the consequences with the heart of a family friend. I wanted to hug this movie.

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