Best films of 2016: a provisional list

My best films of 2016 list is always a work in progress, but for now, in no particular order:

Twelve new films I first saw in 2016 (or that I saw earlier but were released in 2016) that are worthy of celebration:

The Dreamed Path / Der traumhafte Weg

Angela Schanelec

This film constantly provokes by denying narrative climax: but that’s in a way the point. Godardian in its refusal to kowtow to ideologically prescribed pleasure, but entirely its own creator of beautiful perplexing shot after beautiful, perplexing shot.

The Summer Is Gone / Ba yue

Zhang Dalei

An impossibly mature first film, all about what cinema has to do, where memory won’t suffice; what life can’t remember, that imagination needs to invent. With undertones of Taiwanese masters Hou and Yang, Zhang speaks in a fully formed, fully original voice that compels attention.

Small Talk / Richang duihua

Huang Hui-chen

An apparently modest personal documentary about a woman and her rather extraordinary mother (lesbian, seductrice, icon), that explodes and expands to breathtaking proportions, with the most delicate means. The politics of queer self-representation has never been more complex.

Kail Blues / Lubian yecan

Bi Gan

Cinema-poetry, pure and straight. Bi makes texts, images and sounds burrow straight into our unconsciouses , where they do magical work. Not just the alarmingly exciting long take shot; this is a manifesto for a new kind of cinema, and a persuasive, beguiling seduction at the same time.

People That Are Not Me / Anashim shehem lo ani

Hadas ben Aroya

A gorgeous, lively, provocative and incessantly pleasurable debut, an Israeli film that remarkably justifies its being about something other than “the situation”.  There is still apparently much that’s fresh and vital to say about people in their twenties fumbling to live in confusion, despair, and a kind of frenzy.

The Wasted Times / Langmandike xiaowang shi

Cheng Er

Audiences turned away from this structurally complex, seductively formalist Shanghai spy thriller despite the all star cast (Zhang Ziyi, Ge You, Tadanobu Asano). Cheng sticks with an unrelentingly austere formal programme and creates a gorgeous, precise puzzle that demonstrates (and celebrates) the limits of storytelling.

By the Time It Gets Dark / Dao Khanong

Anocha Suwichakornpong

Mysterious, soft spoken, and incessantly beautiful, Anocha’s multi-pronged multi-voiced multi-genred text shows how it’s precise, quiet observation that plumbs the deepest. Politics and repression, leisure, and labour, history and pop style: this film’s breathtakingly wide scope seems effortless.

Crosscurrent / Changjiang tu

Yang Chao

A film of unrelenting visual beauty, only possible with cinematographer Mark Lee’s 35mm original (faithfully captured, it’s said, in the 4K version now available). Structured like a traditional Chinese scroll painting (which, in turn, allies poetic associated structure with imaginative spacial logic), intensely moving precisely because it bypasses verbal articulation.

Toni Erdmann

Maren Ade

Ok, I admit, the creative potential of ultra-realist narrative cinema hasn’t been exhausted completely, yet. Ade puts performance (the instantiation of pure unreality within a “realist” story) front and centre: a breakthrough, that provokes interrogation about the relationship between cinema and reality; and it’s intensely pleasurable at the same time.

Singularity

Albert Serra

A five-screen installation that I caught at TIFF’s Wavelengths. Twelve hours (in total) of simultaneous, complementary, contradictory narrative-like threads. Serra’s queer, extravagant, sometimes pleasure-filled, sometimes mind-numbing construction first teaches us new ways to watch projected images; then takes us, suitably trained, to profoundly fascinating moving-image places we’ve never been before.

Lemonade

Khalil Joseph, Melina Matsoukas, Dikayl Rimmasch, Todd Tourso, Jonas Akerlund, Mark Romanek and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter

Beyoncé and her collaborators’ work has to be one of the most engaged, politicized, radical texts produced in a year that certainly needed them. And it’s rhythmically seductive, beautiful to watch, mesmerisingly charismatic, to boot.

Sieranevada

Cristi Puiu

A kind of miraculous intimate family epic, constructed like a farce, but with the emotional resonance of Shakespearean comic tragedy; we circulate through rooms in a large apartment where a family is always about to celebrate a memorial service. Everything is happening at once, in every register available in post-Socialist Romania (political, emotional, sexual, social …).

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