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The Top 10 Movies That Helped 2016 Suck Less

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More stories from Seth Montpelier

Photo Courtesy of Fandango.

Photo Courtesy of Fandango.

As with most years, we had to wait until the bitter end to see most of the great features. There were even some films, like Paterson, I was unable to see before this first issue. However, there were a few masterpieces sprinkled among the other three seasons, with returning masters and exciting new ones in the making.

 1. Manchester By The Sea: Kenneth Lonergan’s story about grief and guilt is a masterwork. Led by Casey Affleck’s unbelievable performance of repression and inner demons, this Sundance darling also brings a true showcase for Lucas Hedges, a child actor discovered by Wes Anderson. It follows Affleck returning to his small Massachusetts town following the death of his brother. He takes care of his teenage nephew, but for reasons initially unexplained, he is haunted by something on his return. Michelle Williams and Kyle Chandler round out the spectacular cast. It’s a very sad movie, but moments of humor and its overall humanity make it one you’ll want to see over and over again.

2. Moonlight: Barry Jenkins is now poised for a brilliant filmmaking career with his beautiful examination of Chiron, a gay black male, through three different ages in his life: One in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. This, too, is a heartbreaking film, transporting audiences through the rejection and loneliness Chiron endures growing up. Jenkins’ direction brings the audience into the action, and because the film takes place at three very different stages of life, some characters are portrayed by three separate actors. Everyone delivers, especially Mahershala Ali, whose presence is brief, but impactful, as the contradictory father figure for Chiron. It’s both beautiful and devastating.  

3. La La Land: Damien Chazelle followed the thrilling Whiplash with something completely different: A musical about a young couple in Los Angeles and an intricate homage to films from the ‘30s and ‘40s. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone bring the perfect amount of melancholy to their characters, a jazz pianist yearning for a bygone time and an aspiring actress who never comes close to a big break. The songs are terrific, the cinematography pops, and the choreography is flawless. But, the underlying sadness is never completely buried beneath the exciting songs and aesthetics. La La Land is a stronger movie because of it.  

4. Green Room: Jeremy Saulnier’s breakthrough, Blue Ruin, proved that B movies could be a badge of honor. Green Room has a bigger budget, but the impression is the same. A truly terrifying movie, in an age where that word loses almost all meaning, it follows a dirt poor underground punk band reluctantly taking a gig at a white supremacist club in the middle of nowhere. When one member accidently sees a murder backstage, the band is forced to barricade themselves in the green room from sure death on the other side. You will be shaking from the suspense, which is only heightened by Patrick Stewart in a chillingly calm performance. This is one of the last films of Anton Yelchin, who died in a freak accident over the summer. He’s the protagonist and he’s just as terrified as you.

5. 20th Century Women: Mike Mill’s long awaited follow-up to Beginners is that movies’ perfect companion piece. Both films draw heavily from his own life: Beginners is about the man’s relationship with his father following the death of his mother; his elderly father comes out as gay and is almost immediately diagnosed with cancer. 20th Century Women takes place at the close of the ‘70s, following a teenager’s relationship with his mother, a free spirit who isn’t as progressive as she thinks. Told with narration from both the son and mother, with occasional stills, photographs, and clips, it’s a deeply personal movie. The whole cast––Annette Bening, Lucas Jade Zumann, Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning, and Billy Crudup––bring the performances the script deserves.

6. The Handmaiden: This South Korean movie is darkly comic, thoroughly intriguing, and surprisingly romantic. With what feels like a dozen major twists, this movie follows a dastardly scheme for great wealth, but the person being played changes at every turn. Taking place in Japan’s occupation of Korea, it follows a princess, a handmaiden, and a suitor. The movie is split into three parts, with each player getting a turn to play the fool. The film’s graphic violence and sexuality will be offputting to many and it’s not a movie for everyone, but Park Chan-wook’s skill as a director cannot be denied.

7. Silence: Martin Scorsese’s project that was 30 years in the making was worth the wait. About two Jesuit priests who travel to Japan to save their mentor and spread the Catholic faith, this is a brutal movie. Torture and wavering faith ensue, but one of the biggest themes proves to be universal: Your heroes will let you down and, even worse, make you face your own shortcomings. It’s an epic that fulfills its decades-long promise.

8. Krisha: Trey Edward Shults has emerged as an auteur to watch with Krisha, one of the most innovative and intense directorial debuts in recent memory. Using long-takes and thunderous music to build the claustrophobia of Thanksgiving Day, it follows a family’s cautious welcoming of Krisha, a family member known for her alcoholism and causing mayhem. Much of Shults’ real family acts, including Krisha, who is his actual aunt. Shults’ confidence proves that he has quite a career ahead of him.

9. The Lobster: Yorgos Lanthimos already made a name for himself in the States with the Greek films Dogtooth and Alps. These foreign films gave him the reputation of a master absurdist and having a warped sense of humor. The Lobster is his English-language debut and, despite having big names and becoming [very] slightly more accessible, his style remains uncompromised. In the very Kafka-esque plot, Colin Farrell is in a dystopian society and he’s recently a bachelor again. He’s given 45 days to find a romantic partner or else he will be turned into an animal. Rachel Weisz, Ben Whishaw, and John C. Reilly appear as well, each giving a deadpan performance that would impress Wes Anderson.

10. Eye In The Sky: Aaron Paul, Helen Mirren, Phoebe Fox, Barkhad Abdi, and Alan Rickman, in one of his final performances, star in this gripping thriller about drone warfare. Taking place between three continents, it follows the communication between the U.S. and Britain about striking the home of a terrorist in Kenya. However, the presence of a little girl selling bread nearby raises questions of morality of the strike. The film asks a lot of questions and doesn’t have the answer for nearly any of them. It’s very timely and, especially seen in the rise of the Trump Administration, very terrifying.

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The Top 10 Movies That Helped 2016 Suck Less