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The 25 Best Films of 2016
The 25 Best Films of 2016

10

The Treasure

A (literal) excavation of Romanian history, Corneliu Porumboiu's The Treasure explores a single, unremarkable plot of land (it had previously served as a kindergarten, steelworks, brickworks, and bar, but now lies empty and abandoned) as a microcosm of a nation's variegated past and desultory present. With meticulous pacing and rigorously composed long shots, Porumboiu develops an ever-so-subtle suspense as we observe a trio of down-on-their-luck men equipped with metal detectors comb the land for loot supposedly buried there by a wealthy ancestor before the country's communist takeover. The meticulousness of Porumboiu's form provides ironic contrast to the hapless bumbling of his characters, creating an abiding air of melancholy deadpan that's relieved only by the film's jarringly triumphalist final image, a swooping crane shot that soars up to the heavens. After so long staring at the ground, simply looking up can feel like liberation. Keith Watson

The 25 Best Films of 2016

9

Manchester by the Sea

The broadness of scope in Kenneth Lonergan's raw post-9/11 New York melodrama Margaret, along with the writer-director's legendary struggle to reach final cut only to see it dumped by its distributor, turned the film into one of the true causes célèbres for Film Twitter™. Manchester by the Sea, his comparatively brisk follow-up, arrived with no such triggers to help its cachet. If anything, its top prize from the incurably square National Board of Review suggests quite the opposite. But, unfashionable and ill-timed as its depiction of raw-nerve masculinity in a state of inveterate crisis may seem in this moment, Manchester by the Sea's articulation of grief not as a cycle but as a hardening—a pitiless freeze that won't even allow you to bury your dead—will only continue to resonate so long as there remain shreds of evidence that things may indeed never get better. Life's daily pinpoints of humor and twists of fate are deftly balanced by Lonergan, but by the end of the film, the fog still hasn't lifted. Henderson

The 25 Best Films of 2016

8

Cameraperson

Assembled from the detritus of a peripatetic cinematographic career, Kristen Johnson's collage of outtakes, test footage, and idle between-scenes documentation forms an unsettling portrait of a life lived adjacent to violence. Johnson bridges the personal fury of a boxer to the scarred façades of Bosnian buildings, evoking the consequences of rage on a broad scale. Cameraperson gathers together many of the cinematographer's offhand observations, like the mirthless chuckle of the prosecutor of the James Byrd murder case as he lays out an ironclad amount of evidence before court is in session, or Afghan soldiers merrily cutting watermelon before dropping everything for an assignment. Johnson finds a simple thesis in her past self talking about sifting through material until finding something interesting, though the true summary comes from Jacques Derrida, who stops Johnson from tripping in the street while filming him only to say, with only the faintest wit, “She sees everything.” Cole

The 25 Best Films of 2016

7

Moonlight

In Moonlight, masculinity is brittle yet resilient—too puny to drown. His name is, fittingly, Little (Alex Hibbert), the fatherless, and largely motherless, black boy who instead of growing up, grows inward, as if burying his broken child's body into a muscular corset in order to make trappin' practical and lovin' impossible. Many other films have exposed masculinity as a violent response to its very own frailty this year, but only in director Barry Jenkins's tripartite coming-of-age story have race and sexuality so aptly appeared as the inseparable entities they inevitably are. Chief among Moonlight's many groundbreaking properties is its ability to engulf the viewer in an ocean of empathy for the main character as he grows up. Throughout, it's as if we can't breathe watching this growth. Jenkins does such justice to the complexities of Little's life story that to call his desire gay and his condition closeted would mean to have misunderstood absolutely everything. Semerene

The 25 Best Films of 2016

6

Paterson

At a time when certain doom seems to hover just above our heads, a film like Jim Jarmusch's Paterson becomes all the more essential, its understated, rhythmic rendering of ordinary existence feeling both timeless and entirely modern. Telling the most mundane of stories, the film recounts one week in the life of a bus-driving, happily married poet without resorting to high-stakes conflict, strained symbolism, or overwrought showmanship, featuring no villain greater than an ill-tempered bulldog or a frenzied spurned lover with a gussied-up squirt gun. Its aims may seem modest, but Paterson excels by operating in a register few films bother to touch, serving as an important reminder of the sanctity of the everyday, the pleasures of the routine, and the sacred rite of doing something you love without the expectation of reward. Condensing William Carlos Williams's sprawling city-spanning epic poem of the same name down to a small-focus character study, Jarmusch constructs one of the most effortlessly lyrical films in recent memory. Cataldo

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