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Programmer Top Films of 2016: Sachin Gandhi

World Cinema Features Programmer Sachin Gandhi shares his Top Films of 2016

At times, it was hard to think of films in 2016 given the shifting political winds around the world. Thankfully, global cinema was in step with the changes and some films predicted the anger and shift to the right. In addition, there were many stellar films made around the world in 2016, too many to fit in a top 10. This list is capped at twenty titles, with a top thirteen and seven honourable mentions. Two titles that narrowly missed out were charming and heartwarming films made by two directors who competed previously at the Calgary International Film Festival. Back in 2009, Maren Ade’s EVERYONE ELSE and Damien Chazelle’s GUY AND MADELINE ON A PARK BENCH competed for the $25,000 Mavericks prize. Neither director won in 2009 but in 2016, their new films were at the forefront of most awards. Ade’s TONI ERDMANN (played at CIFF 2016) swept the European Film Awards and finished 2016 on top of most critics list while Chazelle’s LA LA LAND won 8 awards at the 2016 Critics’ Choice Awards and started 2017 by sweeping the Golden Globes. Both films are expected to win more awards in upcoming months. TONI ERDMANN and LA LA LAND provided precious moments to smile in a year when the headlines were anything but humorous.

Note: only 2016 titles seen between Jan 1 - Dec 31, 2016 are considered for this list.

1. TAKE ME HOME directed by Abbas Kiarostami (Iran)
Cinema lost a leading voice when Abbas Kiarostami passed away in 2016. The artistic beauty with which he crafted his films can be found in TAKE ME HOME, a lovely short film about a soccer ball’s journey. The short is beautiful, packs warm emotions and plays with the concept of reality. A precious final gift from one of cinema’s greatest directors.

2. AQUARIUS directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho (Brazil/France)
Even though the film is localized to a Brazilian apartment building, the events echo our current world of rapid development where the past is always in danger of being demolished for a shiny new future.

3. THE STUDENT directed by Kirill Serebrennikov (Russia)
THE STUDENT brilliantly portrays the recent changing political sentiment in Europe and USA. The film uses the radicalization of a lonely shy white male to underline that hateful ideas that may seem harmless at first can result in grave consequences if unchecked and allowed to spread.

4. SHIN GODZILLA directed by Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi (Japan)
A film of immense beauty and fierce intelligence about creation, evolution, destruction, logistics and problem solving.

5. NOCTURAMA directed by Bertrand Bonello (France/Germany/Belgium)
A tense razor sharp film that is stripped of any specific ideology but is completely aware of our contemporary world.

6. NIGHTLIFE directed by Damjan Kozole (Slovenia/Republic of Macedonia/Bosnia and Herzegovina)
This Slovenian co-production cleverly uses a single incident to depict how private events can quickly end up becoming public scandals. The film style has shades of the Romanian New Wave.

7. SILENCE directed by Martin Scorsese (USA/Mexico/Taiwan)
At its core, this is a film about imposing one's will on others and the serious consequences that entails. The manner the film is shot ensures that it is not easy to view the on-screen events but it is one of the most significant and relevant films of the year!

8. NERUDA directed by Pablo Larraín (Chile/Argentina/France/Spain/USA)
Creatively uses the poetry of Pablo Neruda to create a fictional framework which questions the reality and myth surrounding Neruda’s escape. Infused with humour and a scrumptious touch of noir.

9. YOURSELF AND YOURS directed by Hong Sang-soo (South Korea)
In the films of Hong Sang-soo, characters open up their feelings and transform when alcohol is present. That point is hammered home in YOURSELF AND YOURS where the main character morphs into a completely different person as soon as a fresh pint of beer is served. The end result is a dizzying delightful work!

10. THE ORNITHOLOGIST directed by João Pedro Rodrigues (Portugal/France/Brazil)
A hypnotic journey which is an innovative mix of a fable and myth that seamlessly shifts through multiple cinematic genres.

11. IN THE LAST DAYS OF THE CITY directed by Tamer El Said (Egypt/Germany/UK/UAE) tied with CLASH directed by Mohamed Diab (Egypt/France)
Two completely different Egyptian films set in different eras but the two films end up having a dialogue with each other. IN THE LAST DAYS OF THE CITY is a poetic love letter to a Cairo that no longer exists. The film consists entirely of footage shot in 2009-10 and there are many scenes which may have seemed harmless back in 2010 but take on a much different meaning after the 2011 Egyptian revolution. IN THE LAST DAYS OF THE CITY shows a time when people could roam the streets of Cairo freely and openly discuss political ideas. The freedom of the camera’s movement in Tamer El Said’s film is in stark contrast to CLASH which is set in a confined space in the back of a police van. Mohamed Diab’s powerful film depicts the division in Egyptian society that came to a boil in 2013. The confined space in CLASH creates a powerful immersive experience and mirrors the state of society in 2013 in contrast to IN THE LAST DAYS OF THE CITY.

12. FENCES directed by Denzel Washington (USA)
A film that will always be timely due to the discussions about a racial past and also due to the honest practical conversations about relationships. The dialogues articulate what a relationship means and outline the every day dollar value associated with decisions that people make.

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Honourable mentions (alphabetical order):

ELLE directed by Paul Verhoeven (France/Germany/Belgium)

HELL OR HIGH WATER directed by David Mackenzie (USA)

THE HUMAN SURGE directed by Eduardo Williams (Argentina/Brazil/Portugal)

IT’S NOT THE TIME OF MY LIFE directed by Szabolcs Hajdu (Hungary)

LIFE AFTER LIFE directed by Zhang Hanyi (China)

MOTHER directed by Kadri Kõusaar (Estonia)

OLD STONE directed by Johnny Ma (Canada/China)