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The Conversation: Top 10 Films Mid-Year Ranking

In an effort to dribble some new blood into conversations regarding the best cinematic bits to reach release in 2016, we’ve opened our top ten list to include film festival premieres, as well. Overwhelmingly, it’s been a lucrative year as far as significant international cinema goes. Having attended Sundance, Berlin, and Cannes 2016, it’s difficult to scrabble together a list of favorite theatrical releases in US theaters that weren’t holdovers from last year’s fall festival circuit, and widening the playing field makes narrowing such a list even more difficult. That said, it’s been an amazing year for devotees of Isabelle Huppert (three of her five or so new titles make my list), but also a phenomenal year for some American auteurs (Malick, Reichardt, Jarmusch, Campos) who unveil new works rivaling past career bests. Before beginning with my bonus eleventh pick, here are some honorable mentions which didn’t make this list include: Cemetery of Splendor (Apichatpong Weerasthekul); Love and Friendship (Whit Stillman); Being 17 (Andre Techine).


#11. Christine – Dir. Antonio Campos
Premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

an emotionally persuasive portrait of a human come undone, led expressively and memorably by Rebecca Hall.” (Review)


10. Belladonna of Sadness (1973) – Dir. Eiichi Yamamoto
Premiered at the 1973 Berlin International Film Festival.
Restored US theatrical release May 6, 2016.

Sexually perverse but not nearly as tawdry or gratuitous as described, Yamamoto skirts around the problematic exploitation of the female body by maintaining the perturbing, alarming core of woman as a controlled object, her desirability a double edged sword which allows her little agency.” “an audacious artifact from a fallen studio, hailing from a vintage era of antiquated acceptable representations” (Review)


#9. Paterson – Dir. Jim Jarmusch
Premiered at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival

An endearing slice of Americana from Jim Jarmusch gives Adam Driver one of his most successful roles in a film as brief but meaningful as a William Carlos Williams poem. Winning chemistry with co-star Golshifteh Farahani (who gets a simples yet deliciously entertaining repeated motif) and an unruly canine assist in a charming, effervescent film.


#8. Things to Come – Dir. Mia Hansen-Love
Premiered at the 2016 Berlin International Film Festival.

“an exquisite vehicle for the incomparable Isabelle Huppert, a performer who is the heartbeat of every sequence within the film” (review)


#7. A Quiet Passion – Dir. Terence Davies
Premiered at the 2016 Berlin International Film Festival.

Unveiled only several months after 2015’s Sunset Song, Terence Davies’ portrait of Emily Dickinson starring Cynthia Nixon is captivating. All of the auteur’s fascinations with dysfunctional family dynamics and a wallowing in melancholy madness are utilized in this distinctive portrayal of the famed American poet and Davies supplies Nixon and her co-stars (Jennifer Ehle, Jodhi May, Duncan Duff) with a droll, superb script.


#6. Certain Women – Dir. Kelly Reichardt
Premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival

“Observant, heartfelt, and incredibly eloquent, Reichardt’s latest unfolds with poetic finesse, building to a powerful crescendo of sublimated emotion.” (Review)


5. Cosmos – Dir. Andrzej Zulawski
Premiered at the 2015 Locarno Film Festival.
US theatrical release June 24, 2016

an existential thriller, this fast paced, quick-witted examination of miscommunication and self-fulfilling prophecies is rather more a philosophical black comedy, stamped with Zulawski’s flair for dips into the well of emotional hysteria and off-putting human behavior”…“Though not as extreme as some of the iconic cult classics Zulawski has been worshipped for, such as 1981’s Possession, he’s lost none of his power to compel in this beautifully detailed and enigmatic return.” (Review)


#4. Valley of Love – Dir. Guillaume Nicloux
Premiered at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival
US theatrical release April 1, 2016.

“beautiful, melancholy poem about guilt, grief, and the tragedy of expectation”. (Review)


3. Knight of Cups – Dir. Terrence Malick
Premiered at the 2015 Berlin International Film Festival/
US theatrical release March 4, 2016

Arguably, this is one of the most achingly profound portraits of contemporary Los Angeles, a city with stunningly beautiful facades, the penultimate shrine to American cinema. The possibilities suggested in the landscape’s veneer appear boundless, and yet it’s a city so frustratingly, damnably superficial, made exclusively so by an industry eating its own tail in the pursuit of immortality based solely on aesthetic.” (Review)


#2. Elle – Dir. Paul Verhoeven
Premiered at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.

“At the end of the day, Elle belongs to Isabelle Huppert and stands out as one of her most seditious portrayals, a considerable feat in lieu of the phenomenal body of work it compares to.”

“What Verhoeven accomplishes is something quite provocative, in the truest sense of the word, love or hate the elements which are more easily left (and usually always are) unexplored within sexually defined genre items.” (Review)


#1. Toni Erdmann – Dir. Maren Ade
Premiered at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.

“Truly a prodigious example of complex psychological portraitures, Toni Erdmann should finally bring Maren Ade the commendation she deserved.” “Spectacularly engrossing and emotionally generous”. (Review)

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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