As we have done so for the past few years, in January, here at Duke Headquarters, we’d like to compile our personal best of the year – please note, as always, that these are in no order: they are simply the 10 best experiences I had watching a film.
RAW: Julia Ducournau’s ferocious coming-of-age tale is not only brutal, deviant and intelligent but also slyly funny. The story of a girl coming to discover who she really is a at veterinarian school is filled with grotesque but laugh-out-loud moments as well as the best final shot of any film in 2016.
WE ARE THE FLESH: Emilio Rocha Minter‘s strange tale is not for everyone: the shock tactics he employs and the very in-your-face nature of the film has already alienated audiences all across the globe as documented in angry reviews and social media responses – but look beyond the initial repulsion and what you find is a beautiful piece of subversive, discordant cinema that exists to challenge the perceptions of its’ audience. Set in Mexico City, the story of siblings who encounter a hermit who offers them endless temptation is bound to get a reaction from you one way or another.
PSYCHO RAMAN: Anurag Kashyap is singularly the most exciting filmmaker working in India today and in ‘Psycho Raman’ he has concocted something incredibly special: a bitter look at the dark underbelly of India, peopled with lost souls which works as much as a love story as it does a thriller. Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s performance is nothing short of breath-taking and his final monologue is guaranteed to send shivers up your spine.
THE HANDMAIDEN: Park Chan-wook continues to astound and astonish by never giving the audience what they expect. A tale of endless double cross, ‘The Handmaiden’ really comes alive in its touching discourse on love – both real and perverse.
ASURA: CITY OF MADNESS: If you’ve ever lamented the lack of tough-as-nails noir films making it into cinemas, rejoice – for Asura is that which we’ve lacked for so long. Eschewing any straight logic in favour of bitter aggression, Asura lives up to its tagline 1000 times over: ‘Only the most evil will survive’. This tale of a corrupt cop, the corrupt mayor her serves and the askew district attorney who wants to nail the mayor hits all the ugly notes required to make you want a drink after watching it.
TONI ERDMANN: At once cringeworthy, hilarious and beautifully humane, this tale of a father trying to reconnect with his daughter is a fantastic example of how unexpected cinema can be: on surface, a very classic story, ‘Toni Erdmann’ is anything but: a discourse on the rampant ugly capitalism, a journey of discovery of who you were and the a testament to the power of ‘dad jokes’, it proudly stands as one of the best of the year.
ARRIVAL: It’s hard to know what Denis Villeneuve will ever come up with – so disparate and wildly different his filmography is, each film is like discovering a new filmmaker. With ARRIVAL, he concocts the best kind of sci-fi we can hope for: intelligent and emotional with a visual and narrative level of inventiveness that proves to us why he’s one of the best in the business.
KAMMATIPADAM: Rajeev Ravi’s epic story of childhood friends is worthy of the comparisons to ‘Once Upon A time in America’ – it’s a social document looking at the history of urbanization through the eyes of young men who become thugs. Despite its running time, the film never drags and by showing us a part of rural India which India let alone the West rarely sees on the screen. Rajeev creates a world which is as foreign and fascinating as frighteningly familiar to our own.
THE UNTAMED: ‘The Untamed’ is my favourite film of 2016. There’s no two ways about it. Amat Escalante’s strange tale is impossible to summarise: the best way experience it is blind. So, let me just say that there’s no other film this year which can astound you, shock you and leave you thinking for hours afterwards.
PLAYGROUND: Playground is a difficult film. It’s a film that will , upon first viewing, repulse its audience and vilify itself. That’s no surprise. However, the more you think about it, the more its shock value will leave its place to reveal something more urgent. A discourse on the nature of violence and a warning to the current generation whose legacy is filled with violent acts, the story of one day in the life of Polish schoolchildren is a heartfelt plea from a filmmaker who never feels exploitative in his capturing of the sense of loss at the heart of society. A must-see picture who rings even more true in our post-fact mentality.
No less important were the following:
AGE OF SHADOWS, THE TRUTH BENEATH, ALOYS, THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE, BUSTER’S MAL HEART, A DARK SONG, COLOSSAL, DOWN UNDER, THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS, ZOOLOGY, THE YOUNG OFFENDERS.