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Overstreet’s Favorite Films of 2016

“Whaaaat? You didn’t love La La Land?”

I liked La La Land. It reminded me of musicals that I love. I just liked other musicals better this year. (And I think I enjoyed Emma Stone’s lip-synch contest with Jimmy Fallon just as much or more than her performance here. It just felt even more spirited and spontaneous.)

“Where’s Moonlight? Most beautiful movie of the year!”

I liked Moonlight. Some of it was very beautiful. I just kept waiting for the central character to come to live as a character, instead of merely being a walking target for harm. Some of the supporting characters made strong impressions. But where was the film’s curiosity about Chiron? I liked its poetic cinematography, and there were moments, like the “Learning to Swim” scene, that moved me. I just happened to like 25 movies better than that one.

Don’t worry — those two will win most of the Oscars, so they don’t need me to convince myself of their importance. And who knows? Second viewings change everything. Give me time.

Okay, that’s enough with pre-emptive strikes. Let’s get right down to business… because it was a great year at the movies. And, as usual, the films that will win almost all of the Oscars made insignificant impressions on me compared to these…

26.

Doctor Strange

Directed by Scott Derrickson, and written by Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill, and Jon Spaihts.

Here’s a link to my reflections on Doctor Strange, which is, I believe, my favorite Marvel movie yet. This was published in my “Viewer Discussion Advised” column at Christianity Today.

Thanks also to everyone who has been teasing me about an apparent resemblance to the main character. (Someone posted this on my classroom door on the evening that my film class was canceled due to snow.)

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25.

Knight of Cups

Directed and written by Terrence Malick

I never published a review of this for you. I did, however, post my first impressions on the private Facebook group for the Looking Closer Specialists (those who contribute to keep this site alive). I’ll go ahead and share that post now, over at Letterboxd, in case you’re interested.

24.

The Nice Guys

Directed by Shane Black, and written by Shane Black and Anthony Bagarozzi

This movie has sweetened in my estimation over time. Sure, the story itself isn’t particularly memorable. Yes, there are moments that lean into the lurid. But what sticks with me is the rare pleasure of comic chemistry between two talented actors. Crowe and Gosling make this all worthwhile.

After seeing it, I wrote this at Letterboxd.

23.

The Lobster

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, and written by Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou)

Can the saddest film of 2016 also be the scariest and the funniest? This just might qualify. I laughed and I cringed and I felt sick, pretty much all at the same time, over and over and over again.

As a sci-fi satire about longing, emotion, and control, The Lobster reminded me of Her, especially in Colin Farrell’s take on Theodore Twombly… except that where Her is alive with heart and emotion, The Lobster suppresses everything so much that you’re gasping for breath by the end. It runs about 20 minutes too long, as the film’s high wire act of wicked comedy and horror starts losing its footing after the plot’s pivot point. But this is so perfectly cast. And the first hour gave me that rare, supercharged feeling that I was seeing a masterpiece of dark comedy unfolding before my eyes. I will revisit this film — for that hour especially.

22.

Almost Holy

Directed by Steve Hooper.

“I want to wash my soul… after this story.”

“It’s so sad, but… it’s Ukraine.”

The superhero movie of the year. And it’s all true.

21.

Taxi

Directed by Jafar Panahi.

Here’s what I wrote at Letterboxd right after seeing this film.

20.

10 Cloverfield Lane

Directed by Dan Trachtenberg, and written by Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, and Damien Chazelle.

I walked into this movie to kill some time before a concert, not expecting much. I came out completely satisfied, and almost skipped the concert so that I could enjoy that Great Night at the Movies buzz.

Here’s my Q&A-style review.

19.

Loving

Directed and written by Jeff Nichols.

My first impressions are posted at Letterboxd.

18.

Hail, Caesar!

Directed and written by Ethan and Joel Coen.

Here’s my review.

17. 

Arrival

Directed by Denis Villeneuve, and written by Eric Heisserer (based on “Story of Your Life,” by Ted Chiang)

Here’s my review, which appeared in my “Viewer Discussion Advised” column at Christianity Today.

16.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Directed and written by Taika Waititi, based on the book by Barry Crump.

Here’s my review.

 

 

15.

The Mermaid

Directed by Stephen Chow.

I found more imagination — and more laughs — in this comedy than in all of the American comedies I saw last year… maybe the last few years. Stephen Chow is getting better and better. And braver.

14.

The Innocents

Directed by Anne Fontaine. 

Here’s my review.

13.

Love & Friendship

Directed and written by Whit Stillman, based on the book by Jane Austen.

Here are a few notes I made at Letterboxd the first time I saw it, and then here are more notes from the second viewing (during which my opinion of the film improved significantly).

12.

The Witch

Directed and written by Robert Eggers.

Here’s my review.

11.

Sing Street

Directed and written by John Carney.

Here’s my review.

10.

13th

Directed by Ava Duvernay.

Here’s my review.

9.

The BFG

Directed by Steven Spielberg. 

Here are my reflections on the film from my “Viewer Discussion Advised” column at Christianity Today, and here’s a short story I wrote about the film.

8.

Beyoncé: Lemonade

Directed by Kahlil Joseph and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter.

I still haven’t had a good opportunity to write about my love and respect for this film. For now I’ll just say this: I had the distinct privilege of seeing this on the big screen as the finale of a marathon that began with clips from Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep and then progressed through the music videos of Kahlil Joseph. Thanks to filmmaker Lee Isaac Chung for the brilliant idea of introducing me to Lemonade in this way. As I’d never seen Joseph’s work before, I was thunderstruck by what I experienced. This was one of those “I’ve just witnessed the work of a visionary” moments.

It also completely changed my perspective on Beyoncé, who makes this series of music videos into a cohesive cinematic experience, one that makes ambitious and poetic art out of her journey through betrayal, anger, grief, prayer, courage, and reconciliation. It also stands as a towering and empowering work for young African American girls and women, educating them on the history of their mothers and grandmothers, who have suffered so much injustice in American history, and who shine like diamonds.

7.

Fences

Directed by Denzel Washington and written by August Wilson.

I’ve only just seen this, so all I’ve had time to post are first impressions at Letterboxd.

6.

I Am Not Your Negro

5.

Hell or High Water

Directed by David Mackenzie. Written by Taylor Sheridan.

I posted my first-impressions review at Letterboxd.

4.

The Fits

Directed by Anna Rose Holmer.

Here are my reflections on this film in my “Viewer Discussion Advised” column at Christianity Today.

3.

Silence

Directed by Martin Scorsese, and adapted by Jay Cocks and Martin Scorsese from the novel by Shusaku Endo.

Here are my initial notes about the film at Letterboxd (the closest thing to a formal “review” that I’ve written). Also, here’s my article at Christianity Today about how this film fits into Scorsese’s body of work. And finally, here’s my conversation with Martin Scorsese.

2.

Paterson

Here’s my review, published in my “Viewer Discussion Advised” column at Christianity Today.

1.

Cameraperson

Directed by Kirsten Johnson. 

Here are my initial reflections at Christianity Today, although I feel I could write a book about this film, and how it celebrates so much of what I love best about the power of cinema.

Oh, by the way — it’s streaming on Amazon Prime.

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Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet

Novelist and critic Jeffrey Overstreet teaches writing (Seattle Pacific University) and film studies (Northwest University and Houston Baptist University). He's written a memoir of moviegoing and faith (Through a Screen Darkly, Baker, 2007) and a fantasy series that begins with Auralia's Colors (The Auralia Thread, Random House, 2007-11). He's worked since 2001 as a film critic and columnist at Christianity Today, and he's been a regular contributor to Image, Paste, and Christ & Pop Culture. His writing has been recognized by The New Yorker and The Seattle Times. He regularly speaks at universities, conferences, and churches in the U.S. and abroad. Want to invite him to teach or speak? Email joverstreet@gmail.com.