Angie Han’s Top 10 Films of 2016

Julian Dennison in Hunt for the Wilderpeople

5. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Taika Waititi has a soft spot for misfits, and Hunt for the Wilderpeople sends two of them traipsing through the New Zealand bush to find a family of sorts. It feels like a childhood classic waiting to happen, in a similar vein as Pixar and Roald Dahl, but with an oddball spirit that’s entirely its own. The heart and humor are deepened by an undercurrent of real tragedy and peril. Hec and Ricky aren’t just misunderstood, they’re people that no one else in the entire world has any use for, and they’ve gone from suffering a great loss on the fringes of civilization to facing true danger outside of it. Good thing they’ve got each other, whether they like it or not.

Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea

4. Manchester by the Sea

From beginning to end, Manchester by the Sea is suffused with grief. It brings news of a death early on, flashes back to still more tragedy, and ends with the bereaved still struggling to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. Yet it’s not a movie that indulges in misery. There’s nothing especially noble or meaningful about the way its characters suffer, and the film has no interest in piling on the misfortunes — the tribulations they’ve already been through are enough. Its empathy takes the form of a clear-eyed acknowledgement that there are some wounds that will never heal and some wrongs that can never be righted, and that the rest of the world keeps on marching forward even when your own has stopped.

Love and Friendship

3. Love & Friendship

Jane Austen’s reputation as a romantic is well deserved, but for years I’ve lamented that too few people seem to notice how funny she is. Whit Stillman gets it. Don’t let the period costumes fool you — Love & Friendship is a comedy, and a gut-busting one at that. But it’s one undergirded by steel. Marriage is a game to these characters, but it’s no mere lark. It’s a career, and no one is better at her job than Lady Susan Vernon (played by Kate Beckinsale in a performance so good, it makes me mad she doesn’t get more roles like this). It’s a rare film that celebrates, rather than demonizes, female ambition, and recognizes how male privilege can be exploited. Which isn’t to say the men are given the short shrift entirely. One of the real breakouts of the movie is Tom Bennett as Sir James Martin, one of the most entertaining rich idiots ever put to film.

The Handmaiden

2. The Handmaiden

After Stoker, Chan-wook Park returned to his native South Korea and came back with this devilish puzzle of a thriller, a film that twists and turns and teases every time you think you’ve finally figured it out. It’s sexy in all the ways you’d expect — nudity, explicit love scenes, kinky fantasies — but it’s also intimate and warm, laced with real passion and affection. It’s also one of the most sensual experiences Park has ever delivered, with the camera lingering on the lush surroundings and lavish costumes that keep Hideko and Sook-hee bound to the home and to one another. The biggest shocker of the movie, however, is how surprisingly funny The Handmaiden is. Park finds a particularly rich vein in heterosexual male desire, and runs with it to spectacularly entertaining effect.

Alex Hibbert in Moonlight

1. Moonlight

Critics much more articulate than I am have already spoken at length about Barry Jenkins’ masterpiece, and what it means and what it represents and why it all works so well. So I’ll defer to them on those fronts, and just say how this movie makes me feel. In the minutes after I watched Moonlight for the very first time, I dramatically underestimated its power. I’d been expecting something bigger, louder, more ostentatiously Important given all the hype, and wasn’t quite sure what to make of the subtle, slow-burn drama I’d gotten instead. Then in the days that followed, I kept thinking about it. And thinking about it. I saw it a second time, and then a third. I’d see it again tonight and tomorrow if I could. This movie has gotten under my skin, and I never want it to go away. Moonlight feels like more than just a movie — it’s a lived experience. For two hours, I am Chiron, in all his rage and despair and hope and love. I can’t say anything nicer about the film than that.

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