2018, 2018 MID YEAR, 2017, 2016, 2015
The "Big Tuna" Vito Carli weighs in with Summation of the Year in Film

A Comprehensive Look at 2016 in Film

(011317) I only included films that opened in Chicago in 2016 so Silence and Patterson may appear on next yearís list. I saw several of these films (such as Embrace of the Serpent, Lolo, and Mia Madre) at the Gene Siskelís Centerís Chicago European Film Festival which continues to be one the more outstanding and under recognized cinematic events in the city. Most of these films opened in Europe and/or New York earlier.

Actress Isabelle Huppert continues to be a French national treasure. She gave the finest performance this year in Elle, and she played the most fascinating character of 2016 in the film (I did not get a chance to see Things to Come which some critics thought was even better.) She generally picks more challenging projects than Meryl Streep, and she works with more interesting directors. If there were any justice Huppert would have a dozen Oscars. Too bad so many Americans are subtitle-phobic.

It was a very good year for African American cinema: Moonlight, Fences and 13th all made my top 20 list. I almost put OJ: Made in America in the top 20, but I ended up counting it as a TV series. Hopefully black film will be better represented at this yearís Oscars (Beasts of No Nation and Concussion deserved nominations last year). Also Janelle Monae, who is a terrific singer, is also beginning to emerge as an up and coming actress to watch.

I donít think I have ever seen so many good films from Asia in one year, and I think thatís because the films from those countries are getting better distribution in the United States. I found most of my Asian films at the library or Netflix. Ironically the Chinese and South Korean governments sometimes do not allow films that criticize their governments to play there, so we often see better films from those countries than their citizens. In the Ď90s some of the best films by the Chinese master director Zhang Yimou were not shown in his own country or submitted to the Oscars, and he was making some of the finest films in the world.

I think there is a critical bias against comic and graphic novel films but all of the Marvel films (Captain America: Civil War, Dr. Strange and Deadpool) worked very well on their own terms while X-Men Apocalypse was a bloated mixed bag. But the DC movies (Batman vs Superman and Suicide Squad) were Hindenburg level disasters. The DC films were ugly and they had terrible scripts, but all of the D.C. based shows (IZombie, Supergirl, Arrow and Flash) etc. have been at least respectable and true to the original comics.
The films on my list are ranked for overall quality (I value direction and cinematography more than most people), but if I only went by acting then Elle and Fences would have made my top 5. I have also included some links to the trailers.

1) Embrace of the Serpent-Surreal, hallucinogenic film is about a dying man who sails down the Amazon with a shaman in search of cure. This film brilliantly channels the best works of Alejandro Jodrowsky plus Werner Herzog, and it has exquisite black and white cinematography. This was the first Columbian film to be nominated for an Academy Award but itís a great film anyway. Someone once said that great art blows the top off your head, and for me this is the only film this year that accomplished this goal. In Spanish, Portuguese, Aboriginal, German, Catalan, and Latin with English sub-titles.

2) The Lobster-Wacky and wickedly funny social satire takes place in a hotel in a dystopian society where singles must find mates or they will become the animals of their choice. The animals are then hunted by the people that found mates. Then main character runs away and joins an anti-sex counter group. Oh and this is a romantic comedy. This is the weirdest and original script of the year. Thanks to my friend and fellow James Chance fan, Don Byrom for insisting I see this film.

3) Manchester by the Sea-convincingly acted film about an emotionally scarred man who must choose between his rough, macho alcoholic lifestyle and the only thing that could save him. Casey Affleck is phenomenal, heart breaking, and unforgettable in the lead.

4) Where to Invade Next?-This perceptive documentary by Michael Moore is the perfect antidote to the often simplistic idea of American exceptionalism, and it suggests (gasp) that we can actually learn from other countries. Thanks to Emily Zawacki for sharing the film after I missed it at the theatres (we had a kind of a small viewing party).

5) Moonlight-Three part film about a tortured, gay youth in a troubled home (the most compassionate adult and best role model is a drug dealer) who struggles with his sexuality in an overwhelmingly negative environment.

6) My Golden Days-This Eric Rohmer inspired film captures the innocence, and the ups and downs of a romantic relationship. Itís a bittersweet portrait of the main characterís elusive only true love. This prequel to ďMy Sex LifeĒ by the same director is vastly superior to the previous film. In French with English subtitles.

7) Hacksaw Ridge-Mel Gibsonís best ever film (he directed it) is about a pacifist who enlists and is mistreated when he refuses to fight. The lead actor was perfectly cast because he comes off as so ordinary and unhollywood. Itís somewhat surprising to see Gibson who is associated with hyper violent revenge roles directing such a gentle spirited film (of course there are some horrific war scenes.) A little guy makes good film in the tradition of Meet John Doe.

8) Kubo and the Two Strings- Astonishingly inventive stop motion animated film about a boy who dons his dadís magic amour goes on a heroic quest accompanied by a beetle and a monkey. This exotic and dazzling film is vastly superior to anything Pixar or Disney has done lately.

9) Sully-Clint Eastwoodís old fashioned (in a good way) and absorbing film about a pilot who is scapegoated by his employers captures the best elements of classic Hollywood films. Tom Hanks, the modern day Gary Cooper, was perfectly cast in the lead of a decent everyman character. Eastwood is still a master film maker to be reckoned with, and he shows up the flashier young peers with his spare, straight forward direction.

10) Under the Sun-This odd documentary which depicts young girls praising and performing to honor Kim Jong-un is supremely hypnotic and transports you to another world. In Korean with English sub-titles.

11) La la land-Iím not a big fan of movie musicals, but I must admit that this film about two characters who first hate then love each other put me under a spell. Some did not like the conclusion but I thought it made the movie. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling make a great screen couple.

12) Elle- Isabelle Huppert (one of my favorite actresses) is a teacher/game designer who is sexually assaulted in a scenario that could have come from one of her games. The main character (itís hard to imagine anyone else playing the role better) is the perhaps the most memorable of the year. In French with English subtitles.

13) August Wilsonís Fences-This is basically a superb filmed play about a man who takes his frustrations out on his family. For once Denzel Washington (one of our best actors) gets material that is equal to his talents. Washington succeeds in the directorís chair, and gets astounding performances from the whole ensemble cast.

14) 13th-This documentary suggests quite convincingly that there is a loophole in the 13th amendment which allows people to be enslaved if they are in the prison industrial complex. You can see it on Netflix.

15) Mermaid-Stephen Chowís bizarre but visually enticing action/comedy film is about a gorgeous and deadly mermaid who falls for man she is supposed to assassinate. If Terry Gilliam made an Asian Action film it might come out like this. This was the highest grossing Chinese film of all time. In Mandarin with English sub-titles.

16) Lolo- A kind man is continually humiliated and manipulated by his girlfriendís Machiavellian son who wants to break up the relationship. In French with English sub-titles.

17) Sing Street- A group of Dublin based teens start an 80ís new wave band, and one of the members falls for an attractive future model that already has an older boyfriend. This charmingly nostalgic might have gotten more attention if the even better La la land had not come out in the same year.

18) Lovers and Friends- Kate Beckinsale is exquisite and terrific in the role of a matriarch who manipulates and controls everyone around her to her benefit. Featuring the wittiest verbal exchanges and dialogue of the year. This is like a classy Masterpiece Theatre episode with better direction.

19) Measure of a Man-Moving film about a middle aged man who struggles to survive in a bad economy when he loses his job. In French with English sub-titles.

20) The Arrival-Amy Adams plays a likeable and empathic interpreter who tries to communicate with some extraterrestrials that landed on Earth (they look kind of like evolved squid.)

21) The Handmaiden (Korean)
22) Mia Madre (Italian)
23) Jackie
24) Hooligan Sparrow (Chinese)
25) Tikkun (Hebrew)
26) Captain America: Civil War
27) The Witch
28) Deadpool
29) Dr. Strange
30) Star Trek Beyond
31) Maggieís Plan
32) Nice Guys
33) Hell or High Water
34) Everybody Wants Some
35) Lemonade
36) A Bigger Splash
37) Seventh Fire
38) Elvis and Nixon
39) The Shallows
40) 10 Cloverfield Lane
41) American Honey
42) Donít Breath
43) Sausage Fest
44) Snowden
45) Born to be Blue
46) Miles Ahead
47) Gimme Danger
48) Tear the Roof Off-The Untold Story of Parliament Funkadelic
49) Money Monster
50) Therapy for a Vampire

Honorable mentions-Green Room, Neon Bull (Brazil), Midnight Special, Into the Inferno (German), Into the Forest, The Fits, Weiner Dog, No Home Movie (French), Wondrous Boccaccio (Italian)
Best director: Ciro Guerr (Embrace of the Serpent) Runner Ups: Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea), Damien Chazelle (La la Land) , Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge), Clint Eastwood( Sully) , Chan-wook Park (The Handmaiden), Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)

Best Cinematography- Embrace of the Serpent (David Gallego), Runner Ups: The Handmaiden (Chung Chung-hoon). Moonlight (James Laxton), The Arrival (Bradford Young), Hail Caesar (Roger Deakons
Best script-The Lobster, Runner Ups: Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight, My Golden Years, Mia Madre, Maggieís Plan, Sing Street

Best actor-Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea), Runner Ups: Denzel Washington (Fences), Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge), Tom Hanks (Sully), Kevin Spacey and Michael Shannon (Elvis and Nixon), Vincent Lindon (Measure of a Man), Don Cheadle (Miles Ahead), Ethan Hawke (Born to be Blue)
Best actress-Isabelle Huppert (Elle), Runner Ups: Kate Beckinsale (Lovers and Friends), Greta Gerwig (Maggieís Plan), Natalie Portman (Jackie),Viola Davis (Fences)

Best supporting actor (no clear winner)-John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Road), Kyle Chandler (Manchester by the Sea), Stephen Henderson (Fences)

Best supporting actress (no clear winner)-Lucy Boynton (Sing Street), Juliane Moore (Maggieís Plan), Janelle Monae (Moonlight), Riley Keough (American Honey)

Best documentary-Who To Invade Next? Runner Ups: Under the Sun, 13th, Gimme Danger, Tear the Roof Off-The Untold Story of Parliament Funkadelic

Best soundtrack-Hell and High Water (Nick Cave and Warren Ellis) Runner Ups: 13th, Embrace of the Serpent ( Nascuy Linares), Kuma and the Two Strings (Dario Marianell)

Best first feature-The Witch

Biggest loss to film-Chantal Ackerman (sorry not Carrie Fisher)

Best actors giving decent performances in a bad film-Will Smith and Margo Robie in Suicide Squad

Best short video-I Need You by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Best long video-Lemonade by Beyonce

Best performance by a non-human actor-The seagull in The Shallows

Worst Films of 2016- Batman vs Superman Runner Ups: Suicide Squad, Hey Zeus, Alice through the Looking Glass

See more of Vittorio Carliís writing at


Review © 2017 Alternate Reality, Inc.