8. The Girl With All the Gifts (Colm McCarthy, UK)
Colm McCarthy (Peaky Blinders) offers up a tense, intelligent, chillingly provocative, and fist-pumpingly exciting British horror film in The Girl With All The Gifts. The zombie film that World War Z should have been, this film takes the overdone undead genre and resuscitates it, while also revamping a handful of well-established genre tropes––apocalypse premise, creepy kids, mad scientists––and tweaks them in eccentric, imaginative, and awesome new ways.
Newcomer Sennia Nanua is wonderful as the titular heroine, Melanie, a second generation “hungry” who could hold the key to humanity’s future. The Girl With All The Gifts is a sharp synthesis of George Romero, Children of Men and 28 Days Later with it’s own biting revelations. Genre fans rejoice. (Read Full Review)
7. I, Daniel Blake (Ken Loach, UK)
I, Daniel Blake is an understated treasure from Ken Loach as well as being his valedictory film. This unshrinking look at systemic despotism and the real-life desolation it causes is both beautifully observed as well as completely heartbreaking.
Daniel (Dave Johns) is a 59-year-old carpenter taken ill and now in need of social assistance. Navigating the red tape and the demeaning adage that everything at the Employment and Support Office is “digital by default” he meets and befriends a single mother, Katie (Hayley Squires), trapped in the same governmental confusion.
Daniel is something of a saint, his is graceful in its identity of form and content and makes for emotional and indispensable viewing. Not to be missed. (Read Full Review)
6. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, France)
Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper is an eccentric ghost story, expertly told, and gauging by the polarizing reactions it’s been amassing, it’s fair to say that this film is also something of a misunderstood masterpiece.
Maureen Cartwright (Kristen Stewart) is a young American in Paris where she’s gainfully employed as a personal shopper to Kyra (Nora Von Waltstätten), a demanding fashion designer and supermodel always on the go. Maureen is also a medium, grieving the recent death of her twin brother, Lewis, with whom she is resolved to contact and find out if he’s at peace.
Hitchcockian in places, containing some genuine chills, and buoyed by a brilliant performance from Stewart, this film is an unpredictable enigma. Pleasingly provocative and vigorously cool, Personal Shopper is something of a showpiece. (Read Full Review)
5. Paterson (Jim Jarmusch, US)
Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson is a charmer about the everyday delicacy and grace that’s all around us. Adam Driver in the eponymous role is a working-class poet in the small Jersey town that shares his name.
A diary film, the episodic nature of Paterson’s routine––the film occupies a typical week in his life––subtly finds glory in place and person in ways that are truly and understandably profound. Paterson proves that Jarmusch may be some kind of guru; part Zen master and part indie auteur, as he reminds us in his droll and wonderful way that beauty is everywhere. (Read Full Review)
4. Aquarius (Kleber Mendonça Filho, Brazil / France)
Aquarius, the second film from Kleber Mendonça Filho, attests a true genius. This mosaic-like Brazilian drama centers on Dona Clara (Sônia Braga), a retired music writer in her mid-60s who outrightly refuses a buy-out from real estate developers after her Art Deco residence (the Aquarius of the title).
Enough cannot be said of Braga’s unflinching feat of strength as Clara, easily one of the most astonishing performances of 2016. The decades-spanning narrative has Clara overcome breast cancer, raise her children, love and lose her husband, and all the while she maintains and nourishes her love for music. We can’t help but respect and revere her for her tenacity and Braga embodies all of this with an almost mythic fire.
From fragile cool to pitiless intensity, Aquarius is a cerebral and sensual masterpiece. (Read Full Review)
3. The Love Witch (Anna Biller, US)
Anna Biller’s amazingly audacious The Love Witch is a Technicolor melodrama made as if by magic. Campy, queer, and totally inexorable, The Love Witch tells the tale of love-starved Elaine (a smashing Samantha Robinson), who’s determined to meet the man of her dreams, no matter the cost. Elaine is a sprightly young witch, something of a femme fatale, with a nose for trouble, an eye for style, and a desire for danger.
Campy and deliciously transgressive, The Love Witch takes erotic sexploitation from the 70s into contemporary, feminist instilled subversion that’s stylized, sly, whip-smart and consigned for cult classic status. This is some sweet stuff. (Read Full Review)
2. American Honey (Andrea Arnold, UK / US)
Andrea Arnold’s American Honey seems to move from one desultory random moment to the next; arranged with radiant, tantalizing possibilities, and unsettled questions. A rambling masterpiece, this is both a road movie, and a coming-of-age odyssey of singalongs that’s luxurious to look at and dazzling to contemplate.
Sasha Lane is Star, an unfettered 18-year-old, she escapes her abusive scumbag father and joins a mysterious young man named Jake (Shia LeBeouf), whom she had a chance meeting with. Soon Star hits the road with Jake and other teens; a tattooed and glitter-bombed crew who sell magazine subscriptions door-to-door as they zigzag across America.
When we first meet Jake he seems to move with an unpredictable and meteoric energy, like he could just leave the scene or even exit the movie altogether on a whim, if he wanted. And by the end, this meteoric energy has moved on to Star in some sort of cinematic transmigration. And that’s American Honey; a narratively audacious, picaresque pageant of youth, exhilarative spectacle and aspiration. (Read Full Review)
1. Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, Germany)
Awash in humor yet punctuated with pathos, German writer/director Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann is a pièce de résistance.
Winfried Conradi (Peter Simonischek) is an aging bohemian with fondness for elaborate practical jokes. Also a divorcé and retired music teacher, Winfried is distressed following the death of his dear little dog, Willi, and decides to visit his estranged daughter, Ines (Sandra Hüller), a workaholic corporate hot shot living in Bucharest.
Winfried, donning a bad wig and false teeth creates the ambitious persona: ‘Toni Erdmann’, life coach. Will his spontaneous visit bring a holy mess to his daughter’s world? Of course.
Toni Erdmann has a lot on its mind, and Ade is a director of great intelligence who is well versed in brupt instants of audience blindsiding and many modes of humor from gross-out gags to surrealist circumvention.
A dazzling comedy of modern life’s illogicality, Toni Erdmann is proportionately disarming and charming and is also perhaps the most ambitious film of the year. (Read Full Review)
You can read all of our VIFF 2016 reviews here.
Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.