The 2016 Talkies: Talkhouse Film Contributors’ Top Films of the Year

Talkhouse Film contributors' favorite films of the year, with special contributions by David Lowery, Melanie Lynskey, Bill Plympton and more.

Talkhouse Film contributors and a select few friends of the site voted on their favorite theatrical releases of 2016. The results of the Talkhouse Film poll are below, showing all the titles that received multiple votes; individual ballots will be posted tomorrow. Ten points were awarded to first place films, 9 points were given to second place, etc.; for unranked lists, each selection was awarded 5.5 points, the average of 1 to 10, giving each equal weight.

Thanks to all who voted, and to the following contributors, whose incredible written and graphic responses to the Top 10 films are featured below: Rodney Ascher, Nikole Beckwith, Bernardo Britto, Zach Clark, Jack Dunphy, Pat Healy, Jim Hemphill, Aaron Katz, David Lowery, Melanie Lynskey, James Marsh, Kent Osborne, Bill Plympton, Julia Pott, Dash Shaw, Leah Shore, Aaron Stewart-Ahn, Jim Strouse and Onur Tukel.

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1. Moonlight 232.5 points
“Barry Jenkins’ two films are both about people struggling to love in our world, a world where innumerable forces will attempt to rob you of that, especially more so if you are Black, if you are Queer. In opposition to all those forces, in years to come I’ll watch Moonlight when it’s the middle of the night and I need to see a movie that puts me in touch with other human lives, the way I reach for Wings of Desire or In the Mood for Love or Cléo from 5 to 7. In an era when so much hate has d fefined so much of the language and possibilities of American life, Moonlight, nothing more than a movie, left me fearless, with nothing more than the desire to simply give love to other people.” (Aaron Stewart-Ahn)
Image by Dash Shaw

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2. O.J.: Made in America 124.5 points
“It would take days to unpack all that is contained in this sprawling epic that accomplishes no less than laying bare the American id in the latter half of the 20th century. It also tells us exactly how we landed where we are at this very moment in time at the end of 2016: socially, emotionally, politically. Watching it all unfold, I felt the strangest thing: empathy. There’s no question in my mind that O.J. Simpson is a loathsome creature, but I see O.J.: Made in America as the ultimate tragedy. The tragedy of a man who could never achieve self-knowledge. The swath of death and destruction a person can leave in their wake when they cannot know themselves is devastating. When they are a cornerstone of the country’s character, a symbol for all that is great about the American Dream, the ripple effect is nothing less than catastrophic. Director Ezra Edelman is aware we all know what happened; he shows us why. Not in defense of Simpson, but so we might better understand ourselves and the world we are living in. I can’t think of a movie since Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret that so boldly shone a light on the human condition in America.” (Pat Healy)
Image by Jack Dunphy (“from the part where OJ puts on whiteface for his failed hidden camera show, Juiced.”)

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3. Elle 92.5 points
“Isabelle Huppert and Paul Verhoeven are the duo of the year – finding a perfect match for their respective fortes in this morally ambiguous, genre-bending mindfuck. (And really, as a year, what was 2016 if not a morally ambiguous, genre-bending mindfuck?) Elle is a slippery, slimy thriller that transforms itself as you watch it, peeling off layer after layer of its rotten onion until you’re not quite sure how to feel about anything anymore. Both director and star get to have their cake, and then they make you watch them eat it, enjoying every bite, and never once offer you a taste. My favorite piece of film criticism this year was the following tweet from Miriam Bale, which hits the nail on the head: ‘Elle is a French movie in same way that Robocop, Starship Troopers & Showgirls are American movies. And [the] way Max Mon Amour is a French movie.’” (Zach Clark)
Image by Bill Plympton

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4. Manchester by the Sea 83.5 points
“There’s generally a slight disconnect when you watch friends act in other movies. Some of the usual illusions of the big screen fall by the wayside: you know how tall they are in real life, you’re familiar with their mannerisms, you recognize the little telltale bits of personage that extend beyond the character at hand. The light hits them a little more three-dimensionally than it does the rest of the cast. This phenomenon doesn’t detract from the movies – it just fills them in, in an unintentional way, and it happens an awful lot at film festivals. I went to Sundance this year for two reasons, and one was to see Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea. The film is a humble, humbling masterpiece, and there’s one scene in particular where I completely and totally forgot I was watching a friend on screen – and when that clarity returned to me, I was stunned and my heart broke even more than it already was breaking, knowing that he had gone to this place his character gets to. It’s the absolute best kind of forgetting.” (David Lowery)
Image by Jim Strouse

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5. The Witch 76 points
“Every now and then, a film comes along that is just for you. It has been made to order, in accordance with a previously delivered, subconsciously received catalog of tastes, tones, pleasures, fears, fetishes and wants. The director and producers have ceded to your every whim, but with a cleverness and sleight of hand that will ensure that the finished product surprises – even shocks! – and never once feels preordained. Not a note will be off, not a beat missed. This film, for you, will be perfect. And for me, this year, that film was Robert Eggers’ The Witch. Thank you, Mr. Eggers, for making this movie for me. I’ll hold it close forever.” (David Lowery)
Image by Leah Shore

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6. Green Room 72 points
There’s a lot to celebrate about Green Room, Jeremy Saulnier’s visceral, insanely suspenseful punks vs. skinheads thriller, but I’m just going to talk about one small scene that blew me away. Early on, the band the Ain’t Rights have been booked in a remote Oregon clubhouse and they take the stage to an openly hostile, packed house of neo-Nazi skins. There’s some nervousness amongst the band about going through with some idiotic plan they hatched backstage, but the train has left the station and these four skinny, suburban college punk wannabes (I may be projecting here) have already launched into a cover of “Nazi Punks Fuck Off.” This draws all the seething hate you might expect, though no violence (that comes later). What happens next is sort of a miracle too: They begin their next song and we hear about two seconds of it before a swelling, orchestral score wipes away the hardcore music they’ve been playing and everything falls into slow-mo. For an all-too-brief interlude, the band and the crowd (and the audience in the theater) are lost in a common ecstatic bliss as the music washes over them all and there’s hope, for a minute, that what they have in common is more significant than what they don’t.” (Rodney Ascher)
Image by Kent Osborne

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=7. Cemetery of Splendor 71.5 points
“The most sublime form of cinema approximates to a dream state and there are very few filmmakers who have the skill and conviction to float and hold you in their dream across a whole movie. Amidst the sound and fury of mainstream cinema – and more horribly and hatefully of the world outside in 2016 – we can be grateful for Cemetery of Splendor for providing a calm, soothing oasis, a quiet space to meditate and dream. Most of the film unfolds in and around a hospital dormitory for recuperating soldiers who mysteriously spend most of their time asleep (and dreaming) whilst sweet and patient women attend to their needs and gossip amongst themselves. As in Weerasethakul’s earlier films, there are deeper currents of spiritual malaise, of unspoken horrors, violations of nature that are progressively unsettling, a place where unworldly spirits can be glimpsed. There is nothing earnest or didactic or pretentious in any of this, in fact much of it is witty and presented as entirely quotidian. The film’s virtues as cinema are pure and simple. A fixed camera and a frame that comes to life in surprising ways much like a silent movie, unrushed edits that are not so much cuts as gentle rustles that reveal a new tableaux, and there are sounds that continuously suggest an encroaching world of nature, blended to be become their own sensual music. Cemetery of Splendor asks you – nicely but insistently – to watch and listen carefully. To be patient. To submit.” (James Marsh)
Image by Bernardo Britto

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=7. The Lobster 71.5 points
“Yorgos Lanthimos’ movie is an intensely original and bleakly hilarious satire which was somehow also heart-achingly romantic. Every aspect of The Lobster felt full of authenticity but also wild imagination, from the set design to the locations to the performances, every one of which were among my favorites of the year – a dream team of actors doing strange, meticulous and controlled work that felt deeply truthful and excitingly unhinged at the center.” (Melanie Lynskey)
Images by Nikole Beckwith

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9. Jackie 68 points
“I used to feel excited about watching new movies, but recently I have felt my excitement dwindle with each passing year. I couldn’t tell if I was changing in some way or if movies were changing. Whatever the reason, in 2016, for the first time in years, I felt thrilled by what I was seeing. I saw many more movies I loved this year than could fit on a top 10 list, but I loved Jackie the most. The central performance from Natalie Portman is incredibly daring in that, had it gone wrong, it would have been horribly embarrassing. Instead it is compelling and complex and strange and completely singular. Meanwhile, Pablo Larraín makes masterful use of non-linear structure, archival material, surprising editing rhythms within scenes, and unexpected camera direction. The result is a movie that is the opposite of the biopic genre. It is startlingly organic, personal and emotionally expressive.” (Aaron Katz)
Image by Onur Tukel

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10. La La Land  62.5 points
“Damien Chazelle’s masterpiece is a rare movie that not only lives up to but exceeds expectations raised by months of hype, a film burdened by massive expectations and advance notice that shrugs the weight off with the same casual grace embodied by its singing and dancing protagonists. It’s a kind of miracle movie: meticulously designed down to the frame yet teeming with life and spontaneity; profoundly philosophical and contemplative yet fast-paced and breezily entertaining; a film with loss and failure embedded in its DNA that leaves the viewer energized, inspired and elevated; a classically crafted jewel that’s informed by the cinema of the past without being beholden to it. Chazelle hits the sweet spot between high art and accessibility, between tradition and modernism, achieved only by masters like Welles and Scorsese, striking a perfectly calibrated balance between the personal and the archetypal. Whether or not you’ve had experiences like the characters, by the end of the story you feel like you have, and if you actually have lived out the film’s exquisite triumphs and crushing defeats Chazelle’s achievement feels all the more impressive in its combination of epic sweep and delicacy. By the end of La La Land, I felt the way I feel after any truly great movie: like it was made just for me and no one else.” (Jim Hemphill)
Image by Julia Pott

11. Arrival 51
12. Swiss Army Man 48.5
13. 13th 48
14. The Love Witch 47.5
=15. Cameraperson 46
=15. The Neon Demon 46
17. American Honey 44
18. Toni Erdmann 43.5
19. The Fits 40
=20. Embrace of the Serpent 39
=20. Fire at Sea 39
22. Hell or High Water 37
23. Everybody Wants Some!! 34.5
24. No Home Movie 33
25. Krisha 32
26. I Am Not Your Negro 31.5
27. Hunt for the Wilderpeople 31
28. 20th Century Women 30
29. The Greasy Strangler 27
30. Weiner 26.5
31. Don’t Breathe 24.5
32. Uncle Kent 2 24
=33. Paterson 23.5
=33. Love and Friendship 23.5
35. The Wailing 23
36. HyperNormalisation 22
=37. Don’t Think Twice 21.5
=37. Fences 21.5
=37. Little Sister 21.5
=40. Certain Women 21
=40. Silence 21
=40. Sing Street 21
=40. The Handmaiden 21
=40. Under the Shadow 21
45. Aquarius 20.5
46. One More Time with Feeling 18
47. The Other Side 17
48. Rogue One 16
49. Julieta 15.5
=50. Lemonade 15
=50. Zootopia 15
52. Kaili Blues 14.5
=53. Always Shine 13.5
=53. Kubo and the Two Strings 13.5
=53. Tower 13.5
56. Knight of Cups 13
=57. Louder Than Bombs 12
=57. Our Little Sister 12
59. Morris From America 11.5
=60. Christine 11
=60. Dheepan 11
=60. Free in Deed 11
=60. Live By Night 11
=60. Things to Come 11
=65. Cosmos 10
=65. Hacksaw Ridge 10
=65. Kate Plays Christine 10
=68. Captain Fantastic 9
=68. Hidden Figures 9
=68. Hunter Gatherer 9
=68. Little Men 9
=68. The Treasure 9
=68. Wiener-Dog 9
=74. Hello, My Name is Doris 8.5
=74. Other People 8.5
=74. The Conjuring 2 8.5
=77. Being 17 8
=77. Queen of Katwe 8
=77. Tickled 8
80. The Brothers Grimsby 7.5
81. Pete’s Dragon 7
82. Lion 6.5
=83. De Palma 6
=83. Midnight Special 6
=83. Sunset Song 6
=83. The Alchemist Cookbook 6
=83. The Edge of Seventeen 6
=88. Captain America: Civil War 4
=88. Doctor Strange 4
=88. Hail, Caesar! 4
=88. The Jungle Book 4
=88. White Girl 4
=93. Deadpool 3
=93. The Childhood of a Leader 3
95. Men Go to Battle 2