Top 20 Films of 2016: Honorable Mentions and my year in film

As with every year, there are always critics, industry people and cinephiles who bemoan the death and decline of film. I hardly consider myself the most positive people, favoring realism over sentimentality, but every year I find these declarations more and more insufferable. Film to me, rarely has a truly 'bad year' just because there is so much access and knowledge about world cinema. And when there is world cinema, there will always be something amazing to find in some corner of the world. 

Like how I chose my favorites with television, I focused on what I really enjoyed and the films that really made me think, and kept me entertained, delighted, surprised and horrified (in a good way). People who know me will probably be surprised by my lack of Amy Adams films, but unfortunately I did not care for Nocturnal Animals at all outside of its clearly excellent and top notch production values, and Arrival was far too heavy-handed for me. Amy, is of course, completely astounding in both. 

HONORABLE MENTIONS
In no order, just films that did not make the final Top 20

A BRIDE FOR RIP VAN WINKLE, Shunji Iwai, Japan
Starring: Haru Kuroki, Cocco, Go Ayano
Director Shunji Iwai returns with his first Japanese feature length film since 2004. And with the passing of time, comes a maturity to his storytelling. His films are a fine balance between sentimentality (his big hits Love Letter and Hana & Alice) and cynicism (All About Lily Chou Chou). With A Bride for Rip Van Winkle, he combines the two sides to his storytelling, with fascinating results. The film picks up on Iwai's regular themes of human connection, loneliness and fraught romantic relationships. The three hour runtime allows him to indulge in telling both sides to those themes, especially in this day and age where the lines between real and false connections are blurred with the internet and social media. And in true Shunji Iwai style, no matter how terrible things are going or how lovely, everyone and everything is always softly lit with a pink hue. 

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A UNITED KINGDOM, Amma Asante, UK
Starring: Rosamund Pike, David Oyelowo
Amma Asante gave us Belle a few years ago with a star-making performance in the wondrous Gugu Mbatha-Raw. She returns with A United Kingdom, which also features another story that deals with love, race and class differences. The film is stunning, making full use of the rich colors of the Botswana landscape. Rosamund Pike and David Oyelowo have an easy, lovely chemistry who are also incredibly powerful actors on their own. It's hard not to feel emotionally uplifted by this story and reminds us why we need more directors like Amma Asante. 

SING STREET, John Carney, UK/Ireland
Starring: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Aidan Gillen, Jack Reynor
A feel-good musical film we've come to expect from John Carney, even though he's kind of an asshole in real life. This John Hughes esque story by way of Dublin story is about Conor aka Cosmo who loves music and forms a band with his new schoolmates amidst a crumbling home life. He also falls for Raphia, a beautiful older girl who he hires as the model for his music video. The music numbers are insanely catchy and lovable, standouts include the "American high school" inspired 'Drive It Like You Stole It', 'The Riddle of the Model' and 'Brown Shoes'. 

SWISS ARMY MAN, The Daniels, USA
Starring: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe
This was hilarious, life-affirming, and asks some really interesting questions about what the way we normalize and ostracize certain behaviors in polite society. Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe have great chemistry and Paul Dano is completely committed to his character, more than ever when we get to the end of the story. Spectacular cinematography and music. 

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THE BOY AND THE BEAST, Mamoru Hosoda, Japan
Starring: Koji Yakusho, Shota Sometani
The Boy and the Beast, like Hosoda's previous film The Wolf Children Ame and Yuki (2012), focuses on parent-child relationships. It gets a lot more complicated in The Boy and the Beast though, where the narrative explores found families (and essentially adopted children), as well as biological parent-child relationships and abandonment (very Hirokazu Koreeda of Hosoda). As is always with Hosoda, he combines fantasy and real world elements seamlessly and always manages to tell a moving story. 

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY, Gareth Edwards, USA
Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Diego Luna, Mads Mikkelsen, Donnie Yen
A really rough first act, although unavoidable owing to the need to set up all the characters. But I found myself not caring as we moved into the second half of the film. Even though we never got too much time with each of these amazing characters, I didn't feel as though they were too much of a stereotype, which is pretty impressive. Jyn and Cassian made for excellent lead characters, and I liked that the film explored the lengths both would go to survive or to keep the rebel cause alive. And while this was a 'grittier' take on Star Wars lore, it also felt full of hope and characters full of courage. 

THE AGE OF SHADOWS, Kim Jee Woon, South Korea
Starring: Gong Yoo, Song Kang Ho, Han Ji Min
An ambitious, espionage action thriller, The Age of Shadows is a return to form for director Kim Jee Woon who directed arguably the greatest revenge film of all-time, I Saw The Devil (2009). Like another South Korean film that does appear in my Top 20, The Age of Shadows reminds us that South Korean films don't compromise. Not in revenge, not in horror, not in romance, not in melodramas and not in espionage thrillers. The runtime is a touch indulgent with a slow moving first act, but once the film takes off, it rarely pauses. The cinematography is truly spectacular, and makes heavy use of chiaroscuro while still keeping the subjects in the film well-lit. The set piece inside a moving train is one of the most masterful and astounding things I have seen on film all year.