As is traditional, the staff of Double Exposure collected and ranked the Top Ten lists of our contributors’ favorite films released in the US from the past year. As is also traditional, we got our acts together just in time to release it before Spring Break. Beneath the list, we have pieces from some of our writers discussing films which particularly excited them this year, some of which are on the list, some of which are not. This collection of films includes a crowd-pleasing political allegory from Disney, a Studio Ghibli gem from 1991 only released stateside this year, a Puritan’s horror story, a bitingly funny Jane Austen adaptation, an adaptation of a Welsh novel transplanted to Korea, and an Academy Award winner for Best Picture. We hope this list and the accompanying blurbs give you a sense of what we loved this year and give you ideas of what to watch over break!
- Moonlight (dir. Barry Jenkins)
- Manchester by the Sea (dir. Kenneth Lonergan)
- La La Land (dir. Damien Chazelle)
- The Handmaiden (dir. Park Chan-wook)
- Arrival (dir. Denis Villeneuve)
- Julieta (dir. Pedro Almodovar)
- The Lobster (dir. Yorgo Lanthimos)
- Toni Erdmann (dir. Maren Ade)
- [tie] 20th Century Women (dir. Mike Mills)
- [tie] Only Yesterday (dir. Isao Takahata)
- Zootopia (dir. Byron Howard and Rich Moore)
- [tie] Love & Friendship (dir. Wilt Stillman)
- [tie] Everybody Wants Some!! (dir. Richard Linklater)
- The Witch (dir. Robert Eggers)
Manchester by the Sea:
As I watched Manchester by the Sea, I felt almost as if I was dreaming. I became so immersed in the characters and their troubles that I forgot I was watching actors playing parts. I have now seen Manchester by the Sea three times, and yet every time I have watched it I have never once felt bored. Upon each viewing I have been captivated by every scene, from the most harrowing and emotional of moments, to the simplest and seemingly mundane slices of life. Even on my third viewing of the film I found myself catching new things, while at the same time have the same emotional reaction that I did the first time I saw it. Manchester by the Sea is a film that leaves me in awe of how close a work of fiction can come to capture the human condition, and gives me the desire to watch its characters and its story again immediately after the final scene ends.
– Gerard Fernandez
Andrea Arnold’s latest film is comprised of music ranging from country ballads to contemporary rap hits, the music almost as eclectic as the rebellious adolescents who occupy the saturated frames. Beginning with Rihanna’s pop hit “We Found Love” playing from the loudspeaker of a local convenience store, Arnold introduces the tempestuous romance between Star (Sasha Lane) and Jake (Shia LaBeouf). The scene initially appears to be anything but romantic, with boys dancing like they’re at a drunken frat party rather than isles occupied with 2% milk and eggs, but with the non-verbal emotional cues between Sky and Jake, the scene becomes the heart of the film. Some other highlights include Mazzy Star’s “Fade into You”, Sam Hunt’s “Take Your Time,” Raury’s “God’s Whisper,” Rae Sremmurd’s “No Type,” and, in reference to the film’s title, Lady Antebellum’s “American Honey”. This melancholic country ballad concludes the film, the lyrics rich with thematic meaning about longing to go back to a simpler time in the midst of a hectic life. The images Lady Antebellum paints of languidly enjoying a sweet summer day are a fantasy the ragtag gang of American Honey lives out throughout the course of the film, however, for the two hour and forty-five-minute runtime, it is a sanguine past the viewer can experience as well.
– Darcy Cagen
Within the first few minutes of sitting down to watch Isao Takahata’s Only Yesterday, I was overwhelmed by the feeling that I had seen the film before. Of course, this wasn’t the case—originally released in 1991, Only Yesterday was undistributed in the United States until early 2016—but the film related such intense nostalgia that having seen it in my childhood seemed the only plausible explanation. Only Yesterday is not the type of film one can forget. The film is a departure from Studio Ghibli’s more famous magical fantasies: its story centers on Taeko, a young woman traveling from Tokyo to the countryside where she grew up, reflecting on her childhood throughout the journey. Through gauzy flashbacks, the viewer witnesses Taeko’s adolescent struggles with school, friendship, and romance; despite all odds, this exploration is marvelously uncontrived. Delicate and genuine, Only Yesterday illuminates the challenges of young femininity that are oftentimes heartbreakingly familiar.
– Addie Glickstein
The Neon Demon:
The Neon Demon is too honest a film to be classified simply as a critique of the modeling industry. Accompanying every gruesome moment of disturbing vanity and cannibalism are moments of wonder: a tiger in a motel room, a dazzling runway sequence, an innocent yet intense score. Instead of a scathing critique, Refn delivers an honest depiction of beauty and our attraction to it, with all its glamor and horror. On top of it all, the film’s sense of vicious wonder is sweetened with overt references to the notorious eye-cutting scene of Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou, forming a simple yet bold vision.
– Michael Thurston
Love & Friendship:
Whit Stillman has become a force of resistance against the eminent death of the genre picture. With 2016’s Love and Friendship, Stillman’s fifth film in 26 years, he has made a graceful and intelligent work that lives and breathes as the type of movie it is—the 18th century literary adaptation. Jane Austen’s early epistolary novella, Lady Susan, offers Stillman the perfect material by which to tread the gentle line of satire and adoration, a characteristic that makes his early efforts masterpieces. Stillman loves the wealthy, who are the noble subjects of this film like all his others. He loves their obsession with manners and is fascinated by their delicate naïvety. Yet simultaneously he is frustrated with his characters’ fixations with themselves, their attempts to orchestrate their lives as Alfred Hitchcock once claimed a director orchestrates a film. With his extremely literate characters who both constantly reference belles-lettres and talk as if they were in a novel, Stillman differs from Hitchcock in the way words play a greater role in his films than images. This affinity for the written word comes to the fore with Love and Friendship which uses superimposed text to introduce characters and display the letters they write while reading them in voice over. By this hyper-stylized gesture, writing and reading coincide into a shared act of immediate thought. The intimate and complicated relationship you can feel Stillman having with his characters as he creates them makes his rapport with Austen uncanny. Stillman, like Austen, paints rich portraits of ambivalence using a canvas of understated comedy. The result is a movie that restrains from the current vogue for polemic, a movie that is radical in its controlled nuance, a movie with people who bluntly roll off the words “facts are horrid things” and “I had a feeling that the great word ‘respectable’ would some day divide us.”
– Matthew Rivera
No film I saw this year was more consistently powerful, moment to moment, shot to shot, than Cameraperson, Kirsten Johnson’s so-called “memoir” edited together from previously unused footage shot over her 25 years working as a documentary cinematographer. The film isn’t cut up cleanly into distinct sections based on location, time period, or subject; rather, the film finds a free-flowing, associative rhythm that creates fascinating and surprising juxtapositions. One such example occurs when an interview with a man who broke into FBI headquarters is placed smack-dab in the middle of a tense, difficult day in the life of a midwife in Nigeria. While the edit at first seems odd, if not outright jarring, the depth of emotion that overtakes the whistleblower as he walks through his break-in 40 years earlier suggests the way in which Johnson is similarly reliving, perhaps painfully, this emotionally fraught childbirth through her images. Even if one ignores how Johnson builds her work through editing, the outtakes and home movies that she does include are so exciting and dynamic in and of themselves that the film would still stand as one of the most impressive cinematic achievements of the year. In largely unedited, extended long takes, Johnson is at once entirely in control of her camera and in total surrender to the chaos and spontaneity around her. It’s that spontaneity that sticks with me the most, the feeling of the artist giving herself up to the unexpected, the unpredictable, the unknown.
– Etan Weisfogel
David (Colin Farrell)’s wife leaves him. He checks into a hotel in the hopes of meeting someone new. While this may sound like the premise of a Nicholas Sparks-style dramedy, The Lobster – the English language-debut of Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos – couldn’t be further from that genre. An absurdist dystopia filled with mordant humor, Lanthimos’s film has more in common with Kafka’s novellas than any recent trend on screen. It is witty, unsettling, surprisingly poignant, and utterly unique. I’m hard-pressed to think of any other cinematic sequences that manage to be as simultaneously hilarious, nerve-wracking, and touching as those of Farrell and Rachel Weisz attempting to surreptitiously forge a romance. Their desperate schemes to get together – synchronized silent dance parties, a flailing make-out session in public – may sound more uncomfortable than funny or heartwarming, but trust me: they are all of those things. By mining a mirthless world for humor, Lanthimos digs up more than just dry wit or eerie acts of brutality, but a captivating film – one that warns against letting any extreme system mandate lifestyles, but also finds moving moments even in such an emotionally barren landscape.
– David Quintas
Based on three short stories of Alice Munro, Julieta is Almodóvar’s latest and 20th feature film. Munro’s Toronto landscape (“Rocks, trees, water, snow”) is transported to Madrid and saturated with its characteristic Almodovarian heat and color. Told by the titular Julieta (Emma Suaréz) in a weaving flashback over thirty years, Julieta is guilt-ridden from the beginning, a guilt that haunts her throughout the film. A chance encounter on the street with Bea (Michelle Jenner), her daughter’s childhood friend and lover, reveals Julieta’s twelve-year estrangement from her daughter, Antía. Julieta abandons the life she has fostered, devoting her energy to finding, evoking Antía. Writing to Antía becomes a way of reconstructing their personal history, complete with flashbacks of a younger Julieta (Adriana Ugarte), a strong-minded teacher of classical mythology who falls in love with a fisherman she meets on a train, Xoan (Daniel Grao), Antía’s to-be father. Almodóvar’s trademark visual vibrancy and narrative of intergenerational and inherited love and loss (“like a virus,” Julieta says), particularly that of women, is perhaps more poignant than ever. Julieta is more subtle, neutral, and refined. It traces the strange and the unsettling without bringing blood to boil. That said, Almodóvar does not forget his own history. He casts his muse Rossy de Palma of earlier titles Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1998), Tie me up! Tie me down! (1989), Kika (1993) and The Flower of my Secret (1995) as Xoan’s all-knowing and sharp-tongued housekeeper, Marian. Julieta is made to resemble the quintessential tragic lover she was named for. She is, after all, immersed in classical myth, searching for lost love. Almodóvar leaves conclusions up to fate’s discretion and his characters united in their loss.
– Sophie Kovel
La La Land:
This is a film that makes me feel nostalgic for a time I never knew. Although it is set in modern day Los Angeles, La La Land is a film that harkens back to the time of the big musicals of old that featured such greats as Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, and Ginger Rogers. This film manages to balance the bite of reality in the form of the struggle ever-present in attempting to realize your dreams, with the joyous hope of actually living a life that was once only a fantasy. With such memorable performances and incredible music, which I have continued to listen to even after the credits rolled, La La Land is a film that has touched my heart. I am not sure if I have ever had an experience at the cinema that has left me with such hope for the future, and had me smiling as much as my experience watching La La Land.
– Gerard Fernandez