Favorite Films 2016

I don’t take it as coincidence that the final film I watched this year had a character proclaim that “there is nothing a man cannot do once he accepts the fact that there is no God.”
I don’t take this as coincidence because the recurring theme for most of the 133 movies I watched in 2016, either above or below the surface, was a case arguing for the nonexistence of God.
In a year in which madness ruled the world and chaos abounds globally in earth changing events, but also personally with people seeking a way out of their loneliness and giving in to temptation, I used movies to inform me about such sad state of affairs.
From the unparalleled greed found in comedy War Dogs, to the existential despair of the gorgeous Knight of Cups, I saw God in everything. Or rather, I noticed the urgent need for Him. I noticed the need for Him in the sickening sequences of carnage of Hacksaw Ridge and in humanity’s innate inability to communicate with each other in Arrival. I understood that the only sane way to live in an insane world is for everybody else to think you are insane because you follow not in everybody else’s path, but in obedience to the Lord.
But as Sausage Party so bluntly put it, how do you know it’s obedience or just a delusion? Going back to my opening statement, isn’t it much easier to accept the fact that God is dead, as Rosemary’s Baby implies?

Let the following 10 films, 2016’s favorites, give the answer:

1. There Will Be Blood


The greatest film I watched this year concludes with a preacher denouncing God and calling his faith a superstition. He dies soon after.

2. Steve Jobs


Utterly spellbinding, I was honestly surprised when the credits rolled because I could have sworn I had taken a seat to watch it not even half an hour before.

3. Never Let Me Go


Dressed in earnest melancholy from the first to last frame, this movie robbed me of my tears for a solid five minutes after the screen had turned to black. Coupled with at least two other instances during the film in which I had to wipe my eyes for I could not see very well, I never cried as much during a movie in 2016 than I did when watching this one.

4. The Social Network


I watched this soon after Steve Jobs, can you believe my enormous good fortune?

5. Mustang


“Their spirit would never be broken”, the tagline reads. It’s just their dreams, and hopes, and hearts and family that shatters completely.

6. Sicario


As I write this I am back in El Salvador. It has been 20 months since I moved away, and I am just back for the Christmas season. When I was away I had almost forgotten what it felt like to live constantly in fear of violence by gangs and cartels. Sicario reminded me of it. Being back home does as well.

7. Glass Chin

glass chin

If anybody is reading this and are intrigued by any film on this list, make this a top priority.

8. Green RoomPrintI think I mentioned before how the suspense is so unbearable for the first thirty minutes that I wanted to stop watching and run away.

9. The End of the Tour


Stamped on David Foster Wallace’s (Jason Segel) wall is a Bible verse. The man was living in solitude and he ached. Naturally he turned to prayer. It didn’t work. How do we deal with situations like this one, when one believes in a loving God?

10. Spotlight


While the first film on this list was a denunciation of the faith, the last one can serve as proof that doing that may be the wise thing to do. The heralds of the faith, those who are called to protect the weak, feed the hungry, abide by righteousness and lead by example have turned astray, taking with them a multitude of sad souls. This infuriates me. Belief in God is dwindling not so much because He is silent, but because those who are supposed to speak on His behalf have corrupted his message to theĀ  point of disgust.
What are we to do?
If you have not seen this movie yet, there’s a character that gives an illuminating response on the matter.
I will leave it there.


Favorite Scenes 2016

There was a three month window in the middle of the year in which I only watched one movie. I was living in Amsterdam working at a youth hostel this summer, and while the desire to watch movies never declined, the opportunities sure did. My time in Amsterdam was utterly fantastic and six months on I continue to experience the effects of it. I watch less and less movies.
However, they can still enthrall and fascinate me and I still found time to watch a few and discover certain sequences and scenes which I carry in my mind long after they are over.
In alphabetical order:

(500) Days of Summer – Expectations v Reality


In 3 minutes director Marc Webb manages to convey through the use of splitscreen the spectacular high love intoxicates a person with, and the miserable despair that sets in once love vanishes. The way Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) storms off the building and avoids an incoming couple by darting from sidewalk to street is one of the finest examples ever shown in motion pictures of heartbreak. What’s left of one’s heart is so fragile that the mere sight of others happiness can be enough to deliver the final blow.

Anomalisa – The Morning After


For a while it really does seem like Michael (David Thewlis) is the victim of a global conspiracy intent on keeping him miserable. This assumption is what makes his meeting with Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) seem special and one roots for a happy conclusion for this new couple. The moment when Lisa’s voice changes and becomes like everybody elses’s was one of the most shocking movie moments of the year. Everything makes perfect sense now, and the fact that Charlie Kauffman understands this about human nature makes him the closest thing to a genius I can think of. In life nobody is every guilty or wants to be held accountable for their misdeeds; we are all victims and our unhappiness is not a product of our own making, but can be attributed to a lousy spouse, ungrateful children, crappy boss, etc. Michael will die wallowing in his own misery because he refuses to accept a simple truth: in order to have a better life, he should start being a better person.

Brooklyn – I love you too


“So the next time you tell me you love me, if there is a next time, I’ll say I love you too.”
I have watched and re watched this scene countless of times, elated by the achingly lovely speech delivered by Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) to her astonished suitor.

The End of the Tour – Less alone


The innate fear of solitude found in billions of souls across the globe makes for many a tragedy. In the case of David Foster Wallace it produced fantastic literature and a life shortly lived. This final scene is painful not because it shows death, but because it shows a glimpse of a life that could have been; David (Jason Segel) dancing like nobody is watching, enjoying the happiness that never came as easy or as often as his words did.

Man Up – Quid pro Quo


After I lost twenty dollars in New Orleans in the most stupidest of ways this fall, my best friend’s father said “Love believes everything”. It seems to me he was not that far off from the truth, and I may just be a romantic soul. The final scene in this silly movie brought tears to my eyes, warmed my heart and gave me thoughts of “dang, when will it be my turn to give an epic speech?”.

Rogue One – Darth Vader chases Death Star plans


There is no need for this scene to exist, just as there is no need for this movie to exist. Both a prequel to a beloved trilogy and a sequel to despised one, Rogue One is the product of Disney executives experimenting to discover whether a standalone Star Wars story can still pull in money.
The fact that in the midst of such less than noble factors the final sequence could be so thrilling while at the same time cementing the legend of Darth Vader in the eyes of fans both new and old, is truly something to behold.

Rosemary’s Baby – Hail Satan!


The natural conclusion to the nightmarish events that occur in this movie is both despairing and hopeless. When Rosemary (Mia Farrow) enters a room full of devil worshipers wielding a knife, my hope was for her to use the weapon to slice and dice every person in sight. Yet in a world driven by madness, hope is futile. The abject terror that came over me once I slowly realized this was how the world ended–Satan’s son will grow up to rule mankind–is unparalleled to any other movie moment this year.

Sleeping with Other People – Elaine!


Oh to be in love! Perhaps if I am ever fortunate enough to experience the thrills of romance the way the characters in my movies do I will stop listing all these heartwarming moments as my favorites of the year.

The Witch – Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?


Goosebumps came over me the moment the devil makes an offer Thomasin (Anya Taylor Joy) can’t refuse. Rarely had I seen sin explained so succinctly in movies. The joys of this world may be temporary and deceitful, but they are joys nevertheless. Christ asks those who love Him to abstain from the pleasures of this world not out of arbitrary rules, but because our deliciousness is found in Him-His love, His mercies and His everlasting promises are what we live for and look forward to. But for those who do not believe? There is no reason for them to not shed their robes and follow Black Phillip into the darkness and lose themselves in the ecstasy of the night. But light will come, eventually.
And that’s what’s scary.

Youth – Ceiling Gazing


The most hauntingly poetic sequence I watched this year occurred halfway through this film, in which Paolo Sorrentino presents us with all of the characters of his story, and their various doubts and tribulations. The sequence, set to the nostalgic melody of “Ceiling Gazing”, reminded me of the sheer magic of The Great Beauty. While this film ultimately falls short of the latter’s greatness, it is still a testament to the immense talent and insight the director has.

The End of the Tour


Happiness is as elusive for David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) as literary success for David Lipski (Jesse Eisenberg). And while countless of films would take that scenario and have their characters discover some measure of joy at the end, this is smart cinema. It is also based on real life, which lowers the happy ending probability by more than half.

I call this smart cinema not because it is mainly constructed of one conversation after another; compelling drama is not defined as two people in a room sharing a dialogue. Take for instance one of the first conversations the Davids share, in which Foster Wallace predicts the omnipresence of the internet a decade from where he sits, and mentions the allure of masturbation without the demands of compromise. Spoken by any other character, the words would seem pretentious; here, they not only ring true, but near depressing.

And that is a feeling that never completely vanishes. It is there as the two men eat junk food in a car; it is there as they converse with women; it is there as David hesitates to hug David, and ends up settling for a friendly handshake. The only scene in which I would argue there is hope is the very last, in which a clumsy David Foster Wallace dances about in a church, surrounded by stranger. And this moment is the most powerful in the film particularly because of hope. For the briefest of seconds, David Foster Wallace is free. And it aches, because he could not remain that way.