Best of 2016: Our picks for the films of the year

Check out “Neruda” and our other picks for The Best of 2016.

As 2016 winds to a close, Filmworks has been reflecting on the best of the year.  Here, as our holiday gift to you, are our picks for the best movies we saw last year.

Rita Bell

“Captain Fantastic”
My pick for 2016 is Captain Fantastic about a family that lives “off the grid” in the Oregon forest and then is forced to rejoin the rest of the world – and so much more. It’s a coming of age story, a love story, and a deep look at society. I didn’t want the movie to end, but I also don’t know that, emotionally, I could have taken any more. I *love* when films do that!

Mary Husain

“The Violin Teacher (Tudo Que Aprendemos Juntos)”
Sergio Machado Ribeiro dos Santos

The movie tells the story of Laerte (Lázaro Ramos), a talented violinist who after failing to be admitted into the OSESP Orchestra is forced to give music classes to teenagers in a public school at Heliopolis. His path is full of difficulties, but the transforming power of music and the friendship arising between the teacher and the students open the door into a new world.

“February 19: Frame by Frame”
Mo Scarpelli

After decades of war and an oppressive Taliban regime, four Afghan photojournalists face the realities of building a free press in a country left to stand on its own – re-framing Afghanistan for the world and for themselves. When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, taking a photo was a crime. After the regime fell from power in 2001, a fledgling free press emerged and a photography revolution was born. Now, as foreign troops and media withdraw, Afghanistan is left to stand on its own, and so are its journalists. Set in a modern Afghanistan bursting with color and character, “Frame by Frame” follows four Afghan photojournalists as they navigate an emerging and dangerous media landscape – re-framing Afghanistan for the world, and for themselves. Through cinema vérité, intimate interviews, powerful photojournalism, and never-before-seen archival footage shot in secret during the Taliban regime, the film connects audiences with four humans in the pursuit of the truth.

Betsy Temple

“The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble”
“Manchester by the Sea”
“Miss Sharon Jones”

Jefferson Beavers

“Ixcanul” — This beautifully shot debut feature from filmmaker Jayro Bustamante, which tells the coming-of-age story of a farm family’s daughter in the highlands of Guatemala, is the most moving cinematic depiction of indigenous female power I’ve seen on film.

“Certain Women”Kelly Reichardt, who has become one of my favorite filmmakers, weaves together three understated snapshots of three lonely working-class women, each of whom silently seeks connection but remains immersed in their circumstances.

“Dheepan” — The surreal closing sequence of this French thriller delivers the most stunning portrayal of post-traumatic stress disorder I can imagine, and it’s a heartbreaking reminder of the emotional losses of war and the global refugee crisis.

“Moonlight” — The best U.S. film I saw in 2016, the sophomore feature from filmmaker Barry Jenkins takes textbook filmmaking risks to infuse the story of a Black, gay man from childhood to adolescence to adulthood with great care, honesty, and tenderness.

“Neruda” — I love movies that are in love with the movies, and director Pablo Larraín unabashedly plays with form and genre in this Chilean drama. One critic described it as “equal parts Raymond Chandler, Dante, and Wile E. Coyote,” and I approve.

Note: These films are listed in no particular order. Honorable mentions for “Arrival,” “The Lobster,” and “Victoria.” And I’m looking forward to seeing the musical “La La Land” and Pedro Almodóvar’s “Julieta” when they arrive in Fresno.

Donna Mott

“The Innocents” — In 1945 Poland, a young French Red Cross doctor who is sent to assist the survivors of the German camps discovers several nuns in advanced states of pregnancy during a visit to a nearby convent.  The struggle between shame (having vows of chastity unwillingly broken), and trust (of an outsider) tear at the workings of a tightly organized society.

“The Dressmaker” — Quirky and darkly humorous,  a dressmaker (Kate Winslet having been accused of murder when she was a child, ) returns to her small Australian town to seek revenge on the locals who did her wrong.

Joan Sharma


A global, multi-generational, multimedia film and live performance conceived by Gingger Shankar in early 2013.  It is the unsung story of the lives of Lakshmi Shankar and her daughter Viji, two extraordinary artists who helped bring Indian music to the West in the 1970s through their close collaborations with Ravi Shankar and George Harrison. Gingger Shankar’s tribute to her grandmother and mother was moving and the energizing music was performed live. Filmed in India, UK, and US, Nari premiered at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival and had it’s U.S. Premiere at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.

After the performance at CineCulture on October 7th, Gingger flew out to D.C. as a guest of first lady Michelle Obama to celebrate the release Obama’s film, We Will Rise.

Gingger wrote the music for Michelle the film that debuted at the White House on Tuesday October 11th and aired for the first time on CNN, Wednesday Oct 12th.

Benjamin Woodcock

“Hello, My Name is Doris” — From the moment I saw this trailer I knew I was going to love this film and I was not disappointed at all. Field plays Doris, an amazingly quirky data entry clerk who becomes smitten with a much younger man. Sally Field gives her character Doris so much wit and vigor in a role that really makes the film enjoyable and a role that could have easily have gone poorly without Field’s charm. I’m just going to come out and say it, Sally Field and I need to become best friends. We seriously do.

“Kubo and the Two Strings” — Beautiful, action packed, and absorbing story, Kubo and the Two Strings is not afraid to be full of sorrow and sadness. A visually stunning odyssey that is entirely all its own. One of the best animated films of 2016 that I have seen.

“The Meddler” Susan Sarandon gives an outstanding performance in this heartfelt and darling of a film. Sarandon’s character Marnie is trying to find a new purpose in life as she navigates a new town and her new life far from everything she has known. You can only root for the overbearing mother in a film where she is forced to have boundaries set between her daughter and herself. Even when you understand her daughter’s struggle with Marnie, you still root for Marnie.

“Southbound” — Film anthologies are typically a mixed bag. Usually some of the segments are good, while the rest… so-so. What makes Southbound work so well is that all of the pieces are grounded in the same desolate and unforgiving stretch of highway. Also the scenarios are so great, Southbound borders a quasi Twilight Zone level of awesomeness. In all of the segments travelers are faced with situations of horror as well as guilt in this landscape of terror and open road. After watching this I will never look at those empty stretches of highway the same again.

“The Witch” — Arguably one of the best films of the whole year and definitely the best horror film of the year. The Witch is visually beautiful as it is deeply unsettling. Frame by frame the viewer is witnessing a banished family in 1630 slowly unravel into turmoil, quite possibly by an evil magical force in the New England wilderness. Also, this film has one of the best lines in 2016 cinema, “Wouldst thou like to live deliciously”.

Stanley Poss

“Hell or High Water”
“Manchester by the Sea”
The People vs. Fritz Bauer”

Fae Giffen

“Neruda” –A wickedly funny chase film with a dead-pan sense of humor and an obsession with language, “Neruda” blithely and confidently cherry-picks what it needs from at least a dozen different movie genres to create its own path forward.  Its about politics, and art, and police, and history, and narrative, and sex, and class, and drinking, and snow, and everything else.  Watch it and then come up with your own list

“Deadpool” — It was defiantly the year of superhero movies.  Some were good and some were very, very bad, but few were as much fun as “Deadpool”.  This filthy, juvenile romp turned out to be one of the most entertaining films of the year.  A new Valentine’s Day tradition has been born for me.

“Love & Friendship” — Any film that can make me sit up and think “Wow! That is one cynical world view!”, deserves some credit.  Whit Stillman turned out to be the perfect choice to adapt Jane Austen’s novel “Lady Susan”.  His Austen universe has less to do with warm fuzzies and more to do wicked side-eye.