CJ’s Top Ten of 2016 (Plus Top 5 TV)

These films were released in the United States and/or Australia in the calendar year 2016. They do not include certain highly praised films which I have not seen yet, such as Moonlight and Manchester By The Sea, and Jackie, which I have seen and which is a truly brilliant film, but which I have not published a review for yet and which doesn’t open in Australia until January 12.

Your comments – and your own lists – are welcome and appreciated!

THE TOP TEN IN ORDER:

Krisha

Set in a roomy Texas house on Thanksgiving and taking place entirely within that day, Krisha is a serious, creepy, ambitious, moving, uncompromising and wholly successful cinematic work. Krisha, played by Krisha Fairchild, director Trey Edward Shults’ aunt, returns to the bosom of her family – played almost entirely by members of Shults’ own family – for the holiday. The trouble is, under the welcoming surfaces, everything is cracked, and as the day progresses, the glass starts to splinter. It’s seemingly simple yet, in just 83 minutes, enormously, profoundly compelling and quite terrifying.

Tickled

One of those documentaries where the less you know, the better, because every single twist in the tale is surprising, and the best of them are head-spinning, jaw-dropping, and hysterical. Suffice to say that it’s a Pandora’s Box with results both funny and deeply disturbing.

Captain Fantastic

Thematically massive, tonally bold, determinedly non-formulaic and featuring a preternaturally perfectly cast leading man at the top of his game.

Sing Street

A total delight from start to finish, and the best film about the pure joy of making music since We Are The Best! (2013), with which it shares similarities.

Goldstone

Simultaneously a small story set against a massive landscape and a huge story told within the world’s smallest community, Goldstone is a stunning, original piece of cinema.

Weiner

This sensational – in all senses of the word – feature documentary is thus a scintillating glimpse into a unique political marriage. But more than anything, it is a film whose camera is there at those moments you never see: the ones immediately proceeding what we do see, when what we do see is decided for us.

Hell or High Water

The sad, dusty towns against which this classically-oriented story play out are breathtakingly evocative, as are the bodies and faces of all the Texans we meet along the way. It’s its own universe. Details are tremendously revealed through an almost perfect union of character and dialogue.

David Brent: Life On The Road

It is exquisite to watch a performer / writer re-visit his greatest creation again with such precision. The original songs are brilliantly awful; they’re not only full of hilarious and spot-on lyrics but the music itself is perfect, exactly what would come from the pen of David Brent. Indeed, the whole film, despite its air of improvisation, is terrifyingly precise.

Elle

A mesmerising, frenzied abomination, a thrilling, propulsive, lurid provocation that is simultaneously classy and grotesque, refined and coarse, arthouse and grindhouse.

Down Under

An extremely angry film, spewing vitriolic rage at the kind of people who spew vitriolic rage. Basically, it’s a war on idiots, of every ethnic stripe.

TOP FIVE TELEVISION:

The Girlfriend Experience

High Maintenance

The Night Of

Fleabag

The People Vs O.J. Simpson / O.J.: Made In America

Elle

maxresdefault

****

Elle, based on a novel called O by Philippe Dijan, who also wrote Betty Blue, is Dutch director Paul Verhoeven’s first French film, and features Isabelle Huppert in a performance already being touted as an Oscar contender. It is a mesmerizing, frenzied abomination, a thrilling, propulsively lurid provocation that is simultaneously classy and grotesque, refined and coarse, arthouse and grindhouse. The Hitchcock of Psycho and Frenzy, and the De Palma of pretty much everything, would love it. I did.

Some people won’t. The central conceit of the film – that a woman, Michèle (Huppert), who is raped in her home in the first scene, won’t let the event disrupt the rythms of her life – will appal some, and that’s only the starting point. By the end, the film’s sexual politics, which I won’t elaborate on here in deference to keeping the film’s many plot twists unspoiled, are a viper’s nest. Suffice to say, you are welcome to loathe this film.

Huppert – who is up there with Streep and Day-Lewis as one of the masters of screen acting – is infamous for bringing characters similar to Michèle to the screen, most notably in Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher (2001). Indeed, Michèle is such an “Huppert role” that you’d think it had been written with her in mind, but that wasn’t the case. Initally, producer Saïd Ben Saïd, whose intriguing body of work includes Maps To The Stars, Carnage and De Palma’s Passion, hired American screenwriter David Birke to write an english-language version of the novel, moving the action from Paris to an American city. But Verhoeven has stated that “no American actress would ever take on such an amoral movie”, and, sweeping as that statement is (and given the “level” of actress he’s referring to, being A-List or A-List Adjacent), he’s probably not wrong, given the conversation around sexual abuse going on in the US at the moment. Once Huppert expressed a keen interest in the role, the script was transplanted back to France and French. Thank goodness. It feels right there, and Huppert is the absolute mechanism that makes the whole thing tick.

It’s relentless. I can’t recall a recent movie with so much plot, so many things going on. Each scene piles on more incident, more character intrigue, more development, as if, like a shark, the film would die if it stood still. This is not a bad thing. Despite the film’s extremely polished veneer – of superb acting, top-tier cinematography (Stéphane Fontaine, A Prophet and Rust and Bone) and generally upscale Parisians in a generally upscale Paris – it really is a lurid potboiler, which would collapse under scrutiny, and certainly under the gaze of a university class on feminism.

Is the film, in terms of its sexual politics, an abomination? I don’t know. The fact that Huppert, who is all class, was so keen to be involved offers no answers, because she is obviously drawn to provocative material, and Elle is certainly that. I do know that the film is unbelievably entertaining, engrossing, thrilling and genuinely engaging – the last time I squirmed in my seat so much was during Force Majeur (2014), which I considered the best film of that year. Elle is not on the same level as Force Majeur, which truly had something to say, but it is a gloriously digestible guilty pleasure. Feel free to hate it, but also feel free to love it; I did.