FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Best Films of 2016: Black Excellence Versus White Mediocrity

This year’s Oscar’s race is predicted to be a contest of La La Land, a relatively sunny musical that celebrates a timeless and relatively white fantasy of Los Angeles; against Moonlight, a deeply moving and poetic Black gay coming-of-age story set in 1980s Miami. Whoever wins the awards, Moonlight is this year’s best film. Like Beyoncé losing the album of the year Grammy to Adele, the fact that La La Land is even a contender reveals the prejudices of the entertainment industry. It’s not that La La Land is a terrible film. It’s beautifully styled and shot, even if it’s content is tone deaf. Even compared to the best films of this year, none compare to the transformative power and beauty of Moonlight. But Hollywood loves to celebrate itself, and the industry is wealthy, white and male dominated, so La La Land is seen as a favorite.

This was a great year for cinema, and many releases this year are relevant to this political moment. Director Pablo Larraín and star Gael García Bernal, who previously collaborated on the political drama No, return with Neruda, a poetic film about the importance of poetry in a time of fascism. French Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve, director of 2010’s underrated Incendies (and 2015’s overrated Sicario) returns with Arrival, a film about the importance of science over nationalism. David Mackenzie’s heist film Hell or High Water is an indictment of the soullessness of banks. Director Ava DuVernay’s 13th, while frustrating for the issues it leaves out, is a powerful introduction to the topic of mass incarceration. Theodore Melfi’s Hidden Figures, while unfortunately creating white saviors where none existed, is still redeemed by a powerful civil rights movement story and excellent performances by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe. Finally, Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos brought surrealism mainstream with his original and very funny dystopian satire, The Lobster.

This was also a year of great genre films, like Fede Álvarez’s Don’t Breathe, a tense and original horror film set among the post-industrial landscape of Detroit. Director Jeff Nichols and star Joel Edgerton, who also collaborated on this year’s civil rights drama Loving, also released the surprising and very smart science fiction film Midnight Special. Cheang Pou-soi’s densely plotted Hong Kong action film Kill Zone 2 is much smarter and funnier than you might expect. Paul W. S. Anderson’s Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is by no means a great film, but deserves credit as an action series in which every film passes the Bechdel Test and features a corporation as a villain.

As television becomes more experimental and risk-taking, there was some truly great and cinematic TV this year. Especially worth watching is the intricately plotted Mr. Robot, which follows a multiracial group of hackers working to end capitalism. Some of the best documentary work this year came from the show Rise on Viceland, in which a Native American producer and correspondent explore indigenous issues, starting with Standing Rock. And Atlanta and Insecure, while very different from each other, are two of the most creative, original, and funny comedies in years.

This year’s top ten films span categories and countries, but together they explore race, class and gender in new and intelligent ways. Here is my list.

10) If you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to raise your kids in the woods with no exposure to capitalism, director Matt Ross’s Captain Fantastic is the drama you’ve been waiting for. This may also be the only film I’ve ever seen that features a father having a healthy conversation about consent with his son.

9) “Doesn’t it take a man to raise a man?” asks a character early on in 20th Century Women, the newest film from former music video director Mike Mills (who also directed Thumbsucker and Beginners). “No, I don’t think so,” comes the reply, in this 1970s coming of age story.

8) First-time director Anna Rose Holmer (who also recently captured Alvin Ailey’s dance adaptation of Moonlight) directs a young cast of newcomers in The Fits, a beautiful and original film about a mysterious illness afflicting a group of young Black girls.

7) Oldboy Director Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden is an erotic drama about sex, seduction and betrayal that keeps the viewer guessing and enthralled.

6) Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, two of the world’s best actors, give performances they have been honing for years (at least since they starred in the play together on Broadway in 2010) in Fences, which Washington also directed.

5) Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room captures punk music subcultures in this suddenly-too-relevant thriller about a touring band fighting neo-Nazis.

4) Andrea Arnold’s Palme d’Or-winning American Honey is an ethereal drama about white traveler kids exploring sex, drugs and financial hustles.

3) Craig Atkinson’s documentary Do Not Resist is a fierce indictment of modern policing featuring a frightening look at some of the ideas and individuals shaping law enforcement.

2) Filmmaker Raoul Peck grew up between Port-au-Prince and Kinshasa, later lived in France and New York City, and was Minister of Culture for Haiti. His Pan-African roots and deep intelligence inform his new documentary, I Am Not Your Negro. The film distills the words and ideas of James Baldwin, whose insight is relevant in any era, but especially urgent today.

1) Director Barry Jenkins and screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney created a nearly perfect film with Moonlight, a story that is both specific to their Miami upbringings, and broadly about gender, sex, trauma, race, love and forgiveness. Whatever Oscar voters decide, this film is a modern classic whose legacy will far outlast La La Land.

More articles by:

Jordan Flaherty is a filmmaker and journalist based in New Orleans. You can see more of his work at jordanflaherty.org.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
August 22, 2019
George Ochenski
Breaking the Web of Life
Kenneth Surin
Boris Johnson’s Brexit Helter Skelter
Enrique C. Ochoa – Gilda L. Ochoa
It’s About Time for Ethnic Studies in Our K-12 Schools
Steve Early
A GI Rebellion: When Soldiers Said No to War
Clark T. Scott
Sanders And Bezos’s Shared, Debilitating, Basic Premise
Dan Corjescu
The Metaphysics of Revolution
Mark Weisbrot
Who is to Blame for Argentina’s Economic Crisis?
Howard Lisnoff
To Protect and Serve
Cesar Chelala
A Palestinian/Israeli Experiment for Peace in the Middle East
Binoy Kampmark
No Deal Chaos: the Brexit Cliff Face and Operation Yellowhammer
Josue De Luna Navarro
For True Climate Justice, Abolish ICE and CBP
Dean Baker
The NYT’s Upside Down Economics on Germany and the Euro Zone
August 21, 2019
Craig Collins
Endangered Species Act: A Failure Worth Fighting For?
Colin Todhunter
Offering Choice But Delivering Tyranny: the Corporate Capture of Agriculture
Michael Welton
That Couldn’t Be True: Restorying and Reconciliation
John Feffer
‘Slowbalization’: Is the Slowing Global Economy a Boon or Bane?
Johnny Hazard
In Protest Against Police Raping Spree, Women Burn Their Station in Mexico City.
Tom Engelhardt
2084: Orwell Revisited in the Age of Trump
Binoy Kampmark
Condescension and Climate Change: Australia and the Failure of the Pacific Islands Forum
Kenn Orphan – Phil Rockstroh
The Dead Letter Office of Capitalist Imperium: a Poverty of Mundus Imaginalis 
George Wuerthner
The Forest Service Puts Ranchers Ahead of Grizzlies (and the Public Interest)
Stephen Martin
Geopolitics of Arse and Elbow, with Apologies to Schopenhauer.
Gary Lindorff
The Smiling Turtle
August 20, 2019
James Bovard
America’s Forgotten Bullshit Bombing of Serbia
Peter Bolton
Biden’s Complicity in Obama’s Toxic Legacy
James Phillips
Calm and Conflict: a Dispatch From Nicaragua
Karl Grossman
Einstein’s Atomic Regrets
Colter Louwerse
Kushner’s Threat to Palestine: An Interview with Norman Finkelstein
Nyla Ali Khan
Jammu and Kashmir: the Legitimacy of Article 370
Dean Baker
The Mythology of the Stock Market
Daniel Warner
Is Hong Kong Important? For Whom?
Frederick B. Mills
Monroeism is the Other Side of Jim Crow, the Side Facing South
Binoy Kampmark
God, Guns and Video Games
John Kendall Hawkins
Toni Morrison: Beloved or Belovéd?
Martin Billheimer
A Clerk’s Guide to the Unspectacular, 1914
Elliot Sperber
On the 10-Year Treasury Bonds 
August 19, 2019
John Davis
The Isle of White: a Tale of the Have-Lots Versus the Have-Nots
John O'Kane
Supreme Nihilism: the El Paso Shooter’s Manifesto
Robert Fisk
If Chinese Tanks Take Hong Kong, Who’ll be Surprised?
Ipek S. Burnett
White Terror: Toni Morrison on the Construct of Racism
Arshad Khan
India’s Mangled Economy
Howard Lisnoff
The Proud Boys Take Over the Streets of Portland, Oregon
Steven Krichbaum
Put an End to the Endless War Inflicted Upon Our National Forests
Cal Winslow
A Brief History of Harlan County, USA
Jim Goodman
Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue is Just Part of a Loathsome Administration
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail