Just as it’s difficult to pinpoint what truly defined 2016 overall, the same goes for film. In 2013, as we pointed out, shit got real. So, one year later, we escaped. Thus, the social outsider grew. And the social outsider didn’t go away. Shit got real again, but this time, perceptions in reality clashed with another. Citizens escaped into validating takes and talking points. Divisions widened. Murderers, as ever, came with smiles. The social outsider’s definition became elastic. Depending on where you stood, you may have been that social outsider and were judged harshly for it. All the while, tests getting put out for agility, strategy, and luck. If you survived them, if you made the right moves, you were powerful enough to survive anything. And if there’s a common thread through 2016, particularly our own list of 30 films, it’s just that: survival.
Unless you’re in a cultural elitist bubble like myself, cinema must be pretty boring. Very few of the films on our list were met with dump trucks full of cash, but let their inclusion serve as a reminder that the mainstream does reward intelligence. There’s a lot of good shit on our own screens at home. People want something different — they’re just not required to get it themselves. So it goes. Luckily, some studios continue to be as reliable as record labels — the A24s and Drafthouses offered dazzling singular experiences that didn’t waste their meager budgets. Amazon could offer you auteurs after you order kitty litter and Ecto Cooler. Even as budgets shrank, the best films of the year knew how to play, often in ways that were flat-out absurd. Be it a nudist awakening and a set of teeth in Toni Erdmann or delusions of an introvert’s lost life scored by farts in Swiss Army Man, the worlds presented were just as unfair as our own. But they were also, in a way, strangely optimistic in how to deal. As though lit up by what was at stake, filmmakers stopped taking it for granted, and the reliable auteurs — Villeneuve, Verhoeven, Refn — brought their A-game. As the mainstream order remained largely conservative and derivative, chaos and confusion prospered. The old guard fought the new wave. In this context, the world was unarguably better for it.
One film that didn’t make the cut, Jake Paltrow and Noah Baumbach’s ode De Palma, reminds viewers how vastly different cinema has become in the latter half of its century-long existence. It takes an outsider, for sure, but we learned this year that the approach of the social outsider doesn’t need to be one of nihilism and terror. As you’ll see in our top 5, the notion that the marginalized can prosper, even in the smallest of triumphs, took our collective breath away. Respect was dealt and earned. Hell, even if your nerdy ass never dug jocks, Everybody Wants Some!! made it possible for at least two hours. Women of the year, through different centuries and some of the nasty persuasion, grabbed back. Companionship was found in the most bizarre and wonderful ways. Even if our personal or political narratives didn’t succeed the same way, we could still be fired up; we know plenty of radical-leaning people inspired by something as half-baked as Rogue One. We’ll take what we can get. –SNACKS KYBURZ