Ah, “Best Picture of the Year” lists…
This time of year they are everywhere. I don’t mind admitting it. I love to read them.
Rethinking my way through films that I have loved brings real joy to me. There is seldom enough time to revisit them on the screen, as there are always new finds to be discovered, but by simply allowing my mind time to linger on the stories that I have loved throughout the year, I am able to return to the sensual, efflorescent worlds of each film.
This list is a little different. These favorites are selected from those films presented by the Indie Film Minute throughout the previous year. This definition sets forth a universe of possibility, since the films could have been made during any time period, so long as we first visited them in 2016.
I must admit that I did not dawdle over the list. I know that if I made it tomorrow, it would be different from today, and the next day different still. Every film that is granted privileged entry into the collection is by definition a favorite, so making a list of the ten “favorite” favorites is asking a bit much. They are all deserving.
So this year I am limiting myself to those films that brought a little something extra. They may not be my all-in-all absolute favorites, but they are among the elite, with a little something extra to make them stand out. You will see what I mean…
Seldom have we ever had such a close-up look into what the inside of a political campaign is made up of. Amp this up with the fact that Anthony Weiner was using his campaign for mayor of NYC to climb back from his stunning embarrassment and fall from grace. The film would have been interesting even if nothing else happened. But the cameras kept rolling as his personal demons again surged from the shadows to drag him back into the sludge, and his marriage began to teeter on the precipice. And then, of course, the film again surged to national relevancy as this flawed man was pushed into the center of what many refer to as the most high-stakes election ever. There could not be a more enlightening and relevant social documentary to be had.
THE LEGEND OF 1900
This sprawling, joyous, and sad story of what it is that makes America great (and that which can keep a man small) is an amazing film! Sure, the film can’t be put into a box (which is why is never made it in America), but that is part of what makes it great! Here we have a story of a man who was born and abandoned on a passenger liner, grew up in its underbelly with the underclass crew as family, and fed upon the dreams of its passengers to fuel his mind. He became a world-class musician with a view of the world passing before him, but never quite made it off the boat. Epic. Magical. Tragic. I loved it!
Those who know me well know that I am not a big fan of gore-filled slasher films. Green Room likely fits into this category, but it was recommended to me as “one of the best films of the year” by someone whose tastes I have come to respect…so I ventured in. And found it amazing! Perfectly constructed in almost every way, this story of a punk band who innocently strays into the lair of an alt-right, neo-Nazi cult hits every beat perfectly, without once turning my stomach with gratuitous gore. OK, maybe once…
Sony Pictures Classics
THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL
This film landed with a thud when it was presented in theaters. But sure it did! It delves, without a blink, into the world of a teenage girl who is discovering her sexuality. So what you ask? Well, she is welcomed into adulthood with the help of her mom’s much older boyfriend! Uncomfortable yet? How do you market such a film to the general public? So no one saw it. Such a shame, as it was a perfect depiction of the times (late sixties/early seventies) and my sense is, and I am told, that its depiction of coming of age as a woman has never had a more realistic, dead-on depiction.
I remember thinking, when I was in the theater discovering this little-seen gem, that it would not be for a wide audience. There is something dreamlike about The Fits. It is about a preadolescent searching for who she may become and where she belongs. Starting out in the world of boxing, where her older brother’s passions lie, the film evolves into a quest for her own identity—joining the Lionesses, a fierce dance troupe. But something is happening! The girls are succumbing to unexplained fits. As much a poem as it is a film, The Fits meanders through a path of magical realism directly into our hearts and, oddly, flourishes there.
TAKE ME TO THE RIVER
Seldom has a film surprised me as much as this one did. Appearing for all the world like any other coming-out tale, it slowly morphs into something so much darker. It becomes a retribution thriller, where someone we like is sure to be struck down, and then fully tilts into a “sins of the fathers” tale. There were moments in this film where I was holding fast to the arms of my chair, wanting to look away from what was sure to come. And then it didn’t. But something way more fascinating did. No one saw it in theaters as, again, it would be impossible to market this film. But that does not mean it is not worthy. It is…
I had been hearing about this little film that was shot on an iPhone and that had become the talk of the town at Sundance. Going in, I was not expecting much. Film snobs love to be on the cutting edge, but I am interested in film and not social commentary or correctness of the moment. But what we have here is more than the story of a couple of transgender street hustlers. This film is a kinetic explosion of heart and energy and holistic observation. It is explosive at the same time that it is chock-full of humanity in all of its twisted variations.
Every since seeing The Great Beauty, Paolo Sorrentino’s masterpiece contemplating the savory essence of a full life, I believe that an addiction has been stalking me. I crave the stunning beauty woven throughout his big ideas as they parade before us... To say that Youth is not the same masterpiece as TGB would be true, but so what? Perfection that sets the bar higher than anyone could ever expect comes along—essentially never. When it does, do we hold the world to a newly impossible standard? Do we all want to just be miserable? Youth is another masterpiece that feeds my addiction. I love it.
Seldom has a film surprised me in such a good way as Father Unknown. I heard about it through an “off” mention in the trades, and dropped the filmmakers a message, offering to take a look. At first, it seems an amateurish home movie, shot on an iPhone with no special accoutrements, and then dressed up with some pretty cool computer-generated graphics. But as we wander in, we find that we have been granted entry into a family drama that is to play out before our eyes! This man’s journey to his childhood orphanage in an attempt to identify a father that he has never known turns out to be an extraordinarily universal revelation. We showed it to a theater full of patrons and they were all floored.
One hears about “stunt” films all of the time: “This film was shot on an iPhone, standing on one hand, with eyes closed, under water.” Sure, it is cool to have a story, but if the film does not deliver, who cares? So when I heard about a little film that was shot all in one take, I was curious but certainly not excited about sitting through it. Think about it: a normal film is an amalgamation of hundreds of shots and setups. Stanley Kubrick famously shot some scenes over and over to get hundreds of takes. How good could any film be good where the camera was turned on, the actors did their thing, and the camera was turned off, finished film in hand, two hours later? It turns out, Victoria is an amazing film, stunt or not. True, my appreciation is enhanced by the artistry brought to the self-imposed purpose, but heck, the film is stand-alone good!
When I set out to make this list, I started out with all of the films that we recommended over the past year. Looking over this established universe, I started to list some favorites, and ended up with a list of just over twenty. Then I started writing the segments about films that were the most fun to talk about. And that is how this list came to be.
If you have yet to seek out these wonderful films, I envy you. You have some powerful viewing ahead of you!