Top 10 of the Year
|1. La La Land||Damien Chazelle|
|2. Moonlight||Barry Jenkins|
|3. Paterson||Jim Jarmusch|
|4. The Neon Demon||Nicolas Winding Refn|
|5. Arrival||Denis Villeneuve|
|6. Jackie||Pablo Larraín|
|7. Silence||Martin Scorsese|
|8. The Lost City of Z||James Gray|
|9. Manchester by the Sea||Kenneth Lonergan|
|10. Everybody Wants Some!!||Richard Linklater|
La La Land. Damien Chazelle takes another step up from the fast-cutting, virtuosic direction of Whiplash, and delivers one of the greatest movie-musicals of all-time, letting loose one cinematic highlight after another. The opening number ‘Another Day of Sun’ is a colourful long take on a crowded Los Angeles highway. ‘A Lovely Night’ is a gorgeous tribute to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, set against a stunning view of Hollywood at sunset. Emma Stone dazzles us with an impassioned solo in ‘Audition’. Perhaps Chazelle’s finest moment comes in the dreamy, wordless montage of the epilogue, floating us through so many different worlds set inside his characters’ dreams. All of this considered together makes for a pretty easy #1 pick.
The Neon Demon. Nicolas Winding Refn may forever be doomed to inhabit this category, sitting at #38 on TSPDT. Complain about his slow pacing, uncomfortable violence, and opaque narratives all you like – this is a director with a defined aesthetic and formal acuity, and here he applies that to the cult-like world of models and fashion. As a result, this is also a cutting study of femininity, asking the layered question to its central character early on, “Are you sex, or are you food?” If she is sex, then she is a woman who will engage directly in the ways others devour her beauty; if she is food, then she will be feasted upon and destroyed in the process. Either way, she is joining a community of women whose purpose is to satiate the appetites of consumers, and Refn fully recognises the body horror potential in mixing these two symbols within the setting of a menacing, erotic cult.
Toni Erdmann. TSPDT has this at #1 of 2016, which is frankly unreasonable. Its biggest supporters fall back on its unconventional German humour, warm character dynamics, and touching performances. I don’t disagree that these are its greatest strengths – but the formal achievement is minimal, and its cinematic style is all but non-existent.
Best Directorial Debut
Raw. Julie Ducournau would go on to win the Palme d’Or with Titane in 2021, but she gets her start here with a coming-of-age horror drama, using cannibalism as a metaphor for a growing sexual appetite. Her visual flourishes are scarce but worth savouring, showcasing some fine compositions and tracking shots, though it is clearly the body horror imagery where she is most comfortable.
Gem to Spotlight
Everybody Wants Some!! Richard Linklater’s nostalgic musings have an immortalising effect on the youthful characters of his films. As far as we are concerned, Jake Bradford will eternally be 18, permanently existing within those three, carefree days leading into the official start date of the 1980 college semester. This is richly character-driven, and while each member of this college baseball team is defined early on by their quirks and relationships, it isn’t until after the accumulation of time they spend together that we, along with Jake, begin to sink into the cool dynamic between them. Linklater is entirely committed to the subtle form of the piece, gradually evolving it into a compelling, unhurried study of young adulthood at the point that one is truly free from their parents for the first time.
Best Male Performances
Ryan Gosling is a master of stoic subtlety, and yet he integrates that manner perfectly with Damien Chazelle’s expressive musical vision in La La Land, smoothly pulling off a dance tribute to Fred Astaire and effortlessly running his fingers across piano keys. There is great passion in his performance, but he often plays it as slightly uptight and conservative compared to Emma Stone’s more relaxed demeanour. This is the third time the two have played lovers onscreen, and the chemistry they share is incredible.
Adam Driver has had a prolific decade thus far playing bit parts in dramas like Inside Llewyn Davis and kicking off the Star Wars sequels as its main villain, but Paterson marks his finest achievement to date. Paterson is a man with structure embedded so deeply into his bring that the only alarm he needs is his ‘silent magic watch’ that wakes him up at the same time every morning. He is one of Jim Jarmusch’s greatest character creations, and Driver brings such warmth, poetry, and sensitivity to this study.
Mahershela Ali and Trevante Rhodes both get a mention apiece for their roles in Moonlight – the former as young Chiron’s warm, sturdy father figure, and the latter as Chiron himself all grown up. He carries a huge presence onscreen, and yet he is cripplingly shy character, deeply affected by the trauma of his childhood. Finally, Manchester by the Sea sits a little further down my top 10 than those other films cited above, but Casey Affleck’s performance in it is so purely devastating that it nabs a mention.
Best Female Performances
Emma Stone sings and dances her way across beautiful panoramas and dream sequences in La La Land, becoming a purely magnetic force of emotionality and musicality. Struggling actress Mia is one of this decade’s finest female characters, and Stone proves she has both the comedic and dramatic chops for the part, effortlessly becoming a classical Hollywood movie star in ‘Someone In the Crowd’ and then moving us as she belts out her big solo ‘Audition’.
Natalie Portman gets her second mention for the decade too with Jackie, an unnervingly psychological glimpse into the mind of Jacqueline Kennedy in the aftermath of her husband’s murder. It is a studied performance that transcends mere imitation and invites us right into her unsettled head space.
Elle Fanning and Amy Adams both get the final mentions of the year for The Neon Demon and Arrival respectively. For Fanning, this is her first mention in this category, and her icy cold demeanour is a perfect fit for Refn’s stilted style. Adams meanwhile is coming towards the end of her great 2010s run, teaming up with Denis Villeneuve on his unconventional sci-fi drama Arrival.
Best Cinematography: La La Land
|1. La La Land||Linus Sandgren|
|2. Moonlight||James Laxton|
|3. The Neon Demon||Natasha Braier|
|4. Jackie||Stéphane Fontaine|
|5. Silence||Rodrigo Prieto|
|6. Arrival||Bradford Young|
|7. The Lost City of Z||Darius Khondji|
Best Editing: La La Land
|1. La La Land||Tom Cross|
|2. Moonlight||Joi McMillon, Nat Sanders|
|3. Paterson||Affonso Gonçalves|
|4. The Neon Demon||Matthew Newman|
|5. Arrival||Joe Walker|
|6. Jackie||Sebastián Sepúlveda|
Best Screenplay: Paterson
|1. Paterson||Jim Jarmusch|
|2. Moonlight||Barry Jenkins|
|3. La La Land||Damien Chazelle|
|4. Arrival||Eric Heisserer|
|5. Manchester by the Sea||Kenneth Lonergan|
|6. Everybody Wants Some!!||Richard Linklater|
|7. Hell or Highwater||Taylor Sheridan|
|8. Silence||Martin Scorsese, Jay Cocks|
Best Original Music Score: La La Land
|1. La La Land||Justin Hurwitz|
|2. Moonlight||Nicholas Britell|
|3. The Neon Demon||Cliff Martinez|
|4. Jackie||Mica Levi|
|5. Arrival||Jóhann Jóhannsson|
|6. Manchester by the Sea||Lesley Barber|
With only four films sitting in the Masterpiece and Must-See range, 2016 is evidently a very shallow year for cinema. That said, we do get La La Land which safely sits inside the top 10 of the decade. It also laid claim to the Best Picture trophy for a short few seconds before Moonlight took it away, making Oscar history with the notorious mix-up. Both are fine choices, and there is no real beef between them. They also cement Damien Chazelle and Barry Jenkins as two of the best new auteurs to emerge in the 2010s, especially marking the breakthrough of the latter.
Not quite on the same level as Chazelle and Jenkins, we see Nicolas Winding Refn on his unstoppable 2010s run, continuing to polarise critics with The Neon Demon, while the formal master Jim Jarmusch is still going strong decades into his career with Paterson.
A tier below these films, we see quite a few familiar faces present. Martin Scorsese, Denis Villeneuve, James Gray, and Richard Linklater each make some great films that may have not cracked the top 10 of a stronger year. That said, it is especially worth singling out Linklater here – Everybody Wants Some!! is his fourth film in a very prolific decade for him, bolstering his position as one of the best screenwriters of the 2010s.
Marvel Studios continues to dominate the box office with Captain America: Civil War, Deadpool, and Doctor Strange, but within the top 10 biggest earners of the year there is no real crossover with art. La La Land does get pretty close though.
|Doctor Strange||Scott Derrickson||R|
|Don’t Breathe||Federico Álvarez||R|
|Everybody Wants Some!!||Richard Linklater||HR|
|Hacksaw Ridge||Mel Gibson||R|
|Hail, Caesar!||The Coen Brothers||R|
|Hell or Highwater||David Mackenzie||R/HR|
|Hidden Figures||Theodore Melfi||R|
|Hunt for the Wilderpeople||Taika Waititi||R|
|Kubo and the Two Strings||Travis Knight||R|
|La La Land||Damien Chazelle||MP|
|Manchester by the Sea||Kenneth Lonergan||HR|
|Split||M. Night Shyamalan||R|
|Swiss Army Man||Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert||R|
|The Lost City of Z||James Gray||HR|
|The Neon Demon||Nicolas Winding Refn||MS|
|The Nice Guys||Shane Black||R|
|Toni Erdmann||Maren Ade||R|
|Train to Busan||Yeon Sang-ho||R|
|Voyage of Time||Terrence Malick|