Cinema Earth

CN&R film critic breaks down his world of film for 2016

Embrace of the Serpent

Embrace of the Serpent

In many ways, 2016 seems like a pretty bad year. Personally, I think of it as a good/bad year in much the same way that the entire 21st century, so far, has been both “good” and “bad,” at best. It wasn’t a bad year at the movies, but it’s hard to say whether or not that’s a good thing in the larger picture.

Nevertheless, there was much to celebrate in a great many of the films I was able to catch up with in 2016. There were plenty of pictures worthy of year-end-list consideration, and (better yet, from my point of view) there was an exceptional range of accomplishments and surprises in the year’s films.

Some of that range can be suggested via the clusters of brilliance in some of the distinctive groups and types of films that came out and (sometimes) came our way in 2016:

• The exceptional four-film year of French actress Isabelle Huppert (Elle, Valley of Love, Things to Come, Louder Than Bombs; only the last has reached a Chico theater, so far).

• The string of distinguished works by Italian directors (Alice Rohrwacher’s The Wonders, Marco Bellocchio’s Blood of My Blood, the Taviani Brothers’ Wondrous Boccaccio, Matteo Garrone’s Tale of Tales, Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth, Luca Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash, Nanni Moretti’s Mia Madre).

• Some offbeat masterpieces from unusual places: especially Embrace of the Serpent (the Amazon), but also Naji Abu Nowar’s Theeb (United Arab Emirates), Radu Jude’s Aferim! (Romania), and Grímur Hákonarson’s Rams (Iceland).

• Two radically stylish dramas by Polish directors (Andrzej Zulawski’s Cosmos and Jerzy Skolimowski’s 11 Minutes).

• A distinctive pair of lyrical/radical character studies (Don Cheadle’s Miles Ahead and Todd Haynes’ Carol).

• Two remarkably soulful variations on the sci-fi thriller (Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival and Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special).

• Two Oscar-winning releases from 2015 that didn’t reach Chico until early 2016 (The Revenant and Son of Saul).

• Three gems from France (Mia Hansen-Løve’s Things to Come, Arnaud Desplechin’s My Golden Days, and Jacques Audiard’s Dheepan).

• The off-handed but still trenchant views of contemporary America in Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women, Andrea Arnold’s American Honey, David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water.

• Of the films actually shown in Chico theaters during the year, the very best include the following (in alphabetical order): American Honey, Arrival, A Bigger Splash, Cosmos, Embrace of the Serpent, The Fits, Hell or High Water and Midnight Special.