As of this Friday, we are halfway through 2016. As usual, most of the year’s prestige movies aren’t out yet, but that doesn’t mean that the past six months didn’t have some terrific films. Here’s our Top 12, with six from each of us. These are in alphabetical order: We don’t start ranking the top 10 until the end of the year, but if you’ve missed any of these so far, you have six months to catch up.
Everybody Wants Some!!
Richard Linklater’s follow-up to Boyhood is decidedly less ambitious—a bunch of 1980s baseball bros are hangin’ out, trying to pick up chicks and have a good ole time—but what it lacks in audaciousness it more than makes up for in sheer, compulsive likability. Dubbed by Linklater as a “spiritual” successor to Dazed and Confused, that’s actually just it: It really does feel like it captures the era and its particular fun-time vibe, an illusory oasis where, at one college in Texas, the outside world doesn’t exist. For all the frat-boy antics, the gang in Everybody Wants Some!! has the same good heart as its director. You’ll want to hang out with these guys for hours.
Yorgos Lanthimos’ loony-bin dystopia is hilarious and dark and contains images so upsetting and deadpan you’ll fight not to look away. It’s not a bad little love story either. Lanthimos’ film about a society much like ours, in which single people are given 45 days to couple up or end up transformed into an animal of their choosing, might not have a ton of new things to say about love, but it finds all sorts of new ways to say them. The film is scrupulous, almost pathological, in its insistence of following its own rules to their own logical extensions, damn the consequences. The last shot of the film is nihilist and mysterious and really quite horrifying, but also maybe hopeful and definitely hilarious. This movie is like no other you have ever seen, or will see again.
Louder Than Bombs
Joachim Trier makes movies that feel like a novel, but never forget they’re movies. Fresh off his fantastic Olso, August 31st, Trier’s English-language debut might be just as good. It revolves around a family whose matriarch (Isabelle Huppert) has died (or killed herself?) in a car accident, and how her absence only accentuates her elusiveness, and her loved ones’ confusion, in her wake. Her husband (Gabriel Byrne, in the best performance he’s ever given) walks around in a fog trying to keep his family, and himself, together; her older son (Jesse Eisenberg) struggles with similarities to his mom and his fear about being a new father; and her younger son (Devin Druid) tries to balance all this with the regular horrors of being a teenager. Structurally elaborate without ever once looking like it’s showing off, Louder Than Bombs is devastating in its details, warm-hearted but never compromising and, more than anything, relentlessly sympathetic to everything it touches. Trier might the most underrated, under-appreciated filmmaker in the world.
Jeff Nichols’s special skill as a filmmaker might be his ability to shift from genre to genre with his unique sensibility intact. Every Nichols film is different, but they are all indisputably his own. Midnight Special touches on Nichols’s usual themes—the perils of parenthood, the need for protection in a dangerous world, an undeniable hopefulness in the face of despair—but increases the scope. It’s the closest Nichols will come to making anything resembling big-budget entertainment. The film is a bit of an homage to Spielberg’s ‘80s adventure/sci-fi movies, but it never feels like anything other than Nichols’s own. This is a filmmaker of great confidence and power, with a secure hand guiding us the whole way. And there’s a scene at the end in which Michael Shannon will break your heart without saying a word.
O.J.: Made in America
So much has been said about ESPN’s epic seven-and-a-half-hour documentary that it can be easy to forget just what a remarkable achievement it is. To tell so many different stories and have the canvas to do so is one thing—to remain so fair, so insistent to capture the larger truth, feels like a miracle. You will finish the film understanding not just the trial and O.J. Simpson better, but also the United States, and maybe yourself. And let’s not look past the amount of jaw-dropping footage director Ezra Edelman and his crew dug up. Who would have thought anyone filmed O.J.’s post-trial victory party?
Most documentaries—well, one that isn’t eight hours, anyway—can only hope for one holy shit moment, the thing you can’t believe was captured on film. Weiner, which follows Anthony Weiner’s misguided 2013 race for New York City mayor, has about ten of them. Weiner allowed the filmmakers a staggering amount of access, and boy, do they ever use it. Weiner doesn’t necessarily come across poorly in the film—he simply comes across as Anthony Weiner. And the film’s portrait of his marriage to Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin provides the movie a quiet pathos, and maybe even a little bit of faith. After all, they’re still married, and they’re still out there. If they can survive this, hey, maybe any of us can survive anything.
Cemetery of Splendor
Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul makes movies that straddle the line between the mystical and the commonplace. (Even his titles have a touch of the eccentric: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Syndromes and a Century.) His latest continues the spell, telling the story of a kindly older woman (Jenjira Pongpas) who keeps silent watch over a soldier (Banlop Lomnoi) who’s part of a regiment suffering from a bizarre sickness that leaves them comatose. Touching on issues including cultural disconnection and Thailand’s uncertain future, Weerasethakul’s film is a marvel of poetic images that can leave you silently stunned.
Everybody Wants Some!!
“It’s like it’s always right now, you know?” This is one of the last lines of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, but it’s also a neat summation of the filmmaker’s fascination with capturing the fragility and possibility of the present moment. Billed as a spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused—a description that wasn’t all that accurate and probably succeeded in confusing potential viewers—Everybody Wants Some!! is a warm, funny film about college life that, on its surface, is the story of some rowdy, horny ballplayers looking for a good time. And yet, the movie still manages to be incredibly poignant.
Linklater consistently digs beneath the party-hearty clichés, pinpointing the adolescent anxieties and male-bonding rituals that serve as crude, essential gateways to adulthood. The film’s athletes reside in the blissful bubble of “right now,” but Everybody Wants Some!! wistfully recognizes those happy days aren’t made to last.
Colin Farrell gives one of his best performances in this jet-black satire of love and conformity. David, a pudgy, mustachioed sad-sack, must relocate to a hotel for singles after being dumped by his wife in order to find a new mate within 45 days, or else be turned into an animal. The bizarre premise of Dogtooth director Yorgos Lanthimos’s near-future comedy has serious intentions that are winningly offset by a cheeky execution. The barbed laughs make the social commentary go down smoother, which lowers your guard for shocking bursts of violence. Farrell’s deadpan melancholy is funny but also touching, and he’s joined by a spot-on cast that includes Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, and a deliciously sour Léa Seydoux. The Lobster’s ending remains a fascinating mystery open to multiple interpretations, none of them comforting.
In 1965, a short film was released, called simply Film, starring Buster Keaton and written by Samuel Beckett. Experimental and only moderately successful, Film has been largely forgotten, until documentary director and restorationist Ross Lipman decided to explore what brought these two legends into an unlikely collaboration. From that investigation comes Notfilm, a moving and riveting essay-film that examines both men’s creative lives, their on-set tension—Keaton never really figured out what Beckett was trying to accomplish—and the long, strange shadow their short left behind. Both lyrical and full of juicy behind-the-scenes details, Lipman’s documentary, which kicks off with a showing of Film, is still making its way across the country. It’s a terrific reminder of the complicated, idiosyncratic individuals who pour their talent into the work we consume, never knowing whether their efforts will ever bear fruit.
O.J.: Made in America
Director Ezra Edelman’s ambitious look at the life of Orenthal James Simpson is a study of celebrity, sports, race, and class in America—framed by the compelling life of one supremely talented, hugely likeable, and deeply flawed athlete. Running nearly nine hours, O.J.: Made in America puts Simpson’s murder trial at its center, but Edelman isn’t out to rehash that court case’s tawdriest moments. He deftly dissects exactly why the case captivated us, and also why its core components, and the jury’s verdict, still roil us. Made in America also doubles as a harrowing paean to victims of domestic abuse, making Nicole Simpson the documentary’s mournful heart.
The Other Side
Like a more compassionate Harmony Korine, filmmaker Roberto Minervini is infatuated with America’s dark underbelly and its marginalized denizens. There’s genuine pain and sorrow in The Other Side, which follows real people living in poorest Louisiana, merging nonfiction with manufactured scenes. There’s squalor, drug abuse, and Obama-hating invective, but Minervini refuses to present this corner of the world as a white-trash nightmare. Instead, The Other Side is a startling, moving portrait of the people who have been left behind by globalization and the end of blue-collar jobs. In an election year in which politicians have talked about doing more to help the poor, this docu-fiction hybrid forces us to see the rage and desperation of those most affected.