6. The Edge of 17
Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) is a high school Junior with a lot on her mind: between her popular older brother and her dramatic and shallow mother, coping with the sudden loss of her father has left her feeling suicidal. Without her best friend Krista and her friendship with high school history teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson), Nadine may just teeter over the edge. Then after a drunken pool party, she finds Krista the next morning in bed with her brother, her life becomes even more tumultuous.
Instead of being just another somewhat cheesy coming-of-age drama, The Edge of 17 smartly addresses the conflicting emotions and struggles adolescents find themselves trying to navigate as life begins to become more complicated than ever before. Steinfeld’s stand-out performance as Nadine defines a film that’s a pitch-perfect look at youth and figuring out who you are.
Funny, sad, and sincere, The Edge of 17 is a film that may be avoided by those who would rather not revisit an awkward time in their lives, but was one of the best films of 2016 and will be appreciated by those who can look back without (too much) anger.
7. The Red Turtle
An unnamed man wakes up on an island that’s rich in resources but with no other humans in sight. He builds a raft and attempts to escape the island, only to be foiled by a sea creature who forces him back onto the island. He tries again and again, and each time is stopped—though not harmed—by the creature, which is revealed to be a giant female red turtle. He attacks the turtle and flips it on its back and tries to escape again, but—feeling remorse—tries to save the turtle, but it has already died. He falls asleep and finds that a human woman has emerged from the red turtle.
After an unusual courtship, the two fall in love and live their lives on the island together, eventually having a son. The son grows up and leaves the island while the man and woman grow old together. When the man dies, she turns back into a red turtle and returns to the sea.
This film may not have been the easiest sell in the world—after all, it’s completely without spoken dialogue and is a highly metaphorical animated film about the basic fundamental nature of life—but it’s a beautiful film nonetheless. Although it was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards, The Red Turtle is a cut above most animated fare and deserved a Best Picture nomination for its poetry and deceptively simple—but emotionally rich—story, all presented without one spoken word of dialogue.
8. Things to Come
Well-known philosopher Nathalie Chazeaux (Isabelle Huppert) is facing a number of dramatic changes in her life: besides professional challenges that are forcing her to re-examine her life’s work and career, her husband of 25 years suddenly announces that he has met someone else and will be moving in with her. Her mother is deteriorating and can no longer take care of herself. A new relationship with an anarchist puzzles her. Life continues moving forward and changing, and Nathalie must change with it or become a relic of the past.
This meditative film finds its rhythm in Nathalie’s changing circumstances, as a 50-something philosopher—once highly regarded and living a comfortable life—must navigate dramatic changes in a life disrupted. Huppert gives a career-defining performance that suggests intelligence, vulnerability, and a character that’s willing to change but unsure, perhaps for the first time in a long time, what exactly that means. This cerebral drama wasn’t even nominated for Best Foreign Film when it was one of the best films of the year, so it being overlooked by the Academy is disappointing on many fronts.
Jackie Kennedy: Socialite. First Lady. Icon. But on November 22, 1963, she sat next to her husband—President John F. Kennedy—as he was assassinated during a motorcade in Dallas, Texas. With his blood and brains staining her pink dress and pill box hat, she was suddenly thrust into a series of events that she could have never anticipated and changed her life—and the nation’s—forever.
Natalie Portman plays Jacqueline Kennedy (later Onassis) with a vulnerability that reveals the human being underneath the historical icon. The film depicts both the events and aftermath of the assassination with an intimacy that can be unnerving at times to watch (in particular, witnessing Jackie trying to wash off the blood of her husband—who was just assassinated just hours before–from her dress on Air Force One just before Lyndon Johnson’s swearing-in oath is surreal to watch).
It’s a peek into a moment in time on a figure that is often overlooked in history and how quickly the changing of the hands of power in the US can occur, all from an insider’s view of these world-changing events. While Portman was (rightfully) nominated for Best Actress, how it wasn’t nominated for Best Picture that year is bizarre—almost as bizarre as the true story of Jackie.
Martin Scorsese has been making exactly the kind of films he wants to make for a long time. Hailed as one of the greatest directors of all time and responsible for some of the most iconic and popular films of the past 30 years, Scorsese has earned the right to stretch his artistic wings and try whatever his muse commands of him on-screen.
With that, 2016’s Silence came into being. Shot in Taiwan, Silence follows the efforts of two Jesuit priests in the 17the century trying to spread Christianity in a region that was violently suppressing differing religious beliefs from the shogun. What follows are the trials and tribulations of two dedicated priests attempting to support and spread a religious belief that had been outlawed and driven underground in a far-off land from their own origin, with mortal consequences if discovered.
Following the gigantic success of The Wolf of Wall Street, Scorsese refused to make another film if he wasn’t allowed to make Silence, a project that he had been developing for 25 years. Although it garnered great critical acclaim, it was a relative box office disaster. Nominated for Best Cinematography and nothing else, Silence is yet another masterpiece about the conflict of religious beliefs from a director that has created some of the best films on the subject in film history.
Underseen, Silence is one of Scorsese’s contemporary best and should have secured a nomination for Best Picture. That this, and all of the other films on this list, didn’t speaks to how the Academy Awards is often a popularity contest driven more by politics than actual merit.
Author Bio: Mike Gray is a writer whose work has appeared on numerous websites and maintains a TV and film site at MeLikeMovies.com.