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

5

Elle

Halfway through Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, Michèle (Isabelle Huppert), the CEO of a video-game company, discovers that a certain male employee is responsible for creating a harassing video of her. Faced with any number of paths for punishment, Michèle looks at him and says: “Take out your dick.” As in Basic Instinct and Black Book, Verhoeven finds ways to cap scenes with tense moments of “who’s the victim here?” through reversals of sexual power that undercut masculine pride. The scene distills the filmmaker’s aesthetics into microcosm; women are made into agents of power who use their sexuality as weapons against male oppressors, yet they may also actually be murderers in the same breath. Simultaneously a Buñuelian satire of the bourgeoisie and a Chabrolian thriller of manners, Elle is ultimately wholly Verhoeven’s own in its play with the limits of sexual delight and all of its irreconcilable contradictions. Dillard

The 25 Best Films of 2016

4

Cemetery of Splendour

Sometimes the most obvious sign of greatness is familiarity rather than innovation. The defining features of Cemetery of Splendour are equally evident in Thai master Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s other films, while the more eye-catching narrative bifurcations and unruly shifts in tone of his previous work are notable by their absence. The past can still cast its spell on people and locations alike, the mythical can still intrude on the everyday, and boundaries between different states can still be suspended at the drop of a hat, yet all these shifts now occur with a newfound matter-of-factness, a calm, tender inevitability that approaches the sublime. This serene drama about how politics and history gently seep into life in a country hospital is at once a singular illustration of how any one place may contain the entire world and the sign of a director relaxing into a new phase of his career, where rigor and freedom, restraint and invention flow together as one. Lattimer

The 25 Best Films of 2016

3

Happy Hour

In Happy Hour, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi follows four intelligent Japanese women in their 30s as they discover that their dialectal beliefs are no longer adequate compensations for their emotional estrangement. Hamaguchi mounts an epic film of intimate gestures that unfolds in great lapping movements containing minute stanzas of heartbreak, in which a meditation class, a post-workshop happy hour, a divorce hearing, and a book reading are allowed to exist both as worlds onto themselves as well as links in chains comprising larger existences. The women debate with themselves, resenting and reaching out to the equally miserable husbands and lovers who disappoint them, attempting to rediscover the healing primacy of touch in the film’s overarching sequences. Hamaguchi is that rarity: a tough, exacting humanist who puts his characters through their paces, relentlessly pointing and counterpointing their actions, his elegantly tensile imagery serving to render them wholly explicable and mysterious in seemingly equal measure. Bowen

The 25 Best Films of 2016

2

O.J.: Made in America

O.J.: Made in America clocks in it at over seven hours, but it’s about much more than O.J. Simpson, the national celebrity who rose to fame first as a football phenom and then as a murder suspect in “the trial of the century.” Director Ezra Edelman casts his net deliberately wide: The spectacular first 90 minutes of his documentary, in particular, cover systemic racism and the socioeconomic injustice plaguing this nation through the decades before O.J.’s time (and continuing to after). The film is one of the great works of American cultural history over the last half-century. But it infuses that imposing breadth with the singular, personal story of a man who, in effect, at the height of his public life, found his triumph and his tragedy iconographically representative of an American ideal, and the dissolution of it. Sam C. Mac

The 25 Best Films of 2016

1

Toni Erdmann

Toni Erdmann boasts a script that’s hyper-constructed yet always free-flowing, two faultless, effortlessly varied performances by Sandra Hüller and Peter Simonischek, and a trenchant understanding of how late-phase capitalism hollows out the individual that’s as wryly funny as it is unbearable. Yet what’s most remarkable about Maren Ade’s third feature is the idea that the true essence of family relationships can only be revealed via performance. The father slips into the role of the embarrassing, yet brutally revealing Toni Erdmann and his daughter can’t help but respond in kind, as their game-playing and one-upmanship gradually carries them both into the realm of the primal and into each other’s arms. But much like in Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy, the final, devastating turn of the screw suggests that archetypical relationships are inherently ambivalent: There is so much solace in an embrace, but how much difference does it actually make? Lattimer

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