The Best Films of 2016 (So Far) According to L.A. Weekly's Critics
The multiplex may be bogged down with sequels and reboots, but that doesn't mean there's nothing worthwhile in theaters. Any number of great movies have already been released in 2016, and with the end of June upon us, we took it upon ourselves to choose our favorites of the year so far. With a caveat: L.A. Weekly film critic April Wolfe got to choose her favorite, then film copy editor/freelance writer Michael Nordine would pick his, NBA-draft style.
Courtesy Alamo Drafthouse Cinema
April's #1 pick: The Invitation
Karyn Kusama's ensemble cult film The Invitation made me so uncomfortable, I kept turning to my partner to say, "Oh God, what's going to happen?" With a big cast in a small space, it's no small feat to make every shot feel perfectly composed or to prolong tension for so long in lieu of any actual violence, especially for a "horror" film. But the payoff is big, and it'll make you rethink all those shitty L.A. parties you stayed at and wish you'd left.
Michael's #1 pick: The Lobster
Everyone involved in the Greek Weird Wave seems to deny that the Greek Weird Wave actually exists, but whether the rise of filmmakers such as Yorgos Lanthimos and Athina Rachel Tsangari constitutes a proper movement or not is secondary to the quality of their work. All due respect to Dogtooth and Attenberg, but The Lobster may be its high-water mark. Its premise — all singletons are sent to the Hotel, where they have 45 days to fall in love or else they get turned into an animal of their choosing — is irresistibly strange, but it's the genuinely moving bond that forms between Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz's starfish-crossed lovers that leaves the most lasting impression in Lanthimos' pitch-black comedy.
Courtesy Magnolia Pictures
April's #2 pick: Tickled
OK, fair enough: You get The Lobster, but I'll be waiting to swoop it up after it ruptures an Achilles' tendon in the next draft. With The Lobster gone, my No. 2 was a bit of a surprise for even me. I wasn't going to pick it, because I'm rarely impressed by documentaries (or anything), but when I realized it was THE movie I was telling strangers about, I knew David Farrier's Tickled was going to be on the list. Farrier uncovers a global conspiracy enacted by a man from one of America's most powerful families — and it's all about tickling. More broadly, the doc tackles internet bullying, doxxing and the overarching power we've granted to the wealthy in the United States. Well researched and without pretension, this is one of the best doc thrillers since The Imposter but with the grassroots, can-do feeling of a Kickstarter project.
Courtesy Broad Green Pictures
Michael's #2 pick: Knight of Cups
Tickled is certainly the most "stranger than fiction" documentary I've seen all year, but I have to defer to my main man Malick for No. 2: Knight of Cups. Ol' Terry is very much in IDGAF mode at this phase of his career, which suits me just fine — no one has earned the right to do whatever they want as he has. It also helps that Terrence Malick making a vaguely Bret Easton Ellis–esque L.A. movie is a dream come true for me, Fabio cameo included. We'll probably never see anything on the scale of The Tree of Life again — other than its spinoff IMAX documentary supposedly coming later this year, that is — but Malick is versatile enough that what he's making movies about matters far less than the fact that he's still making them at all.
April's #3 pick: The Fits
After interviewing Teresa Palmer a few years back right after she filmed Knight of Cups — she got a phone call from Malick and then a cryptic note with her character's name and a place to show up the next day, WITH NO SCRIPT — I was very intrigued. While I love the free-flowingness of that film, I'm going with a tight, spare beauty in the form of Anna Rose Holmer's The Fits, starring an impressive newcomer, the young Royalty Hightower, as a girl who gravitates from her brother's boxing training to the all-girls dance team amid some almost otherworldly phenomena, where the girls succumb one by one to some strange fits, almost like a subdued The Crucible. Set in Cincinnati's predominantly African-American West End neighborhood, with an off-kilter sound design in the form of atonal woodwinds, the story's filtered through the eyes of a girl who can't ever seem to fit in — and oh my God, I just finally got the other meaning of the film's title.
Courtesy Grasshopper Film
Michael's #3 pick: Kaili Blues
Oh, The Fits — the first 30 minutes of that one are a knockout. My third pick is also a debut film marked by unexplained happenings, though the similarities more or less end there. Bi Gan's Kaili Blues is my kind of dreamy political reverie, with an uninterrupted 40-minute shot, long-dead characters attending street concerts and an arresting performance by Guo Yue. Ostensibly about a man sent on a quixotic mission to deliver a few keepsakes to his business partner's former lover while also looking for his missing nephew, it's really a meditation on memory (both personal and political). It's difficult to move on from the past when its ghosts are right there in front of you.
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