The Best Movies of 2016 (So Far)

We are now halfway through the year and as has become an annual tradition here at The End, it’s time to look back at the best movies of the year so far. As I discussed in the 2013 halfway post, the consensus movie-dating system is nonsensical and posits New York as the center of the universe. Far more logical (and much easier to use) is a system reliant on imdb’s dating system, which locates a film in whatever year it first played for an audience. That’s what we use here for all Rankings & Awards as it’s the most fair to all eras and areas. (A dating system reliant on playing in a certain locality I think can be valuable for a publication that is geographically specific, like a local newspaper or website. We’ll be putting together a Seattle-specific lists for Seattle Screen Scene later this week, for example. But here at The End, we have a global reach.)

A by-product of the system is that a number of films that first go into wide-release in any given year actually had their premiere in the year before. A number of the films on many critics’ halfway-thorough lists include these films, films that find their proper home here on my 2015 list. And so here we have two lists: the Best Movies of 2016, following the strict imdb dating system, and the Best 2015 Movies of 2016, which includes those films from last year that you might find on a more chronologically-illogical list (and despite the title, also includes one film from 1991 and one from 2012, both of which only premiered in New York this year). I also have a third list, Best Unreleased Movies of 2015, of last year’s films that have yet to see a New York release and therefore don’t (yet) exist by the standards of most critics. And a fourth list, a halfway version of my annual Best Older Movies list, counting the top movies I saw for the first time this year that are more than a few years old.

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This Week in Rankings

Since the last update the Seattle International Film Festival has come and gone. My coverage included fifteen reviews, three podcasts and a trio of previews, all at Seattle Screen Scene. I posted the English language version of a short survey of Contemporary Chinese Cinema I wrote for the Estonian arts magazine SIRP and I listed 50 of the Best Chinese Language Films of the 21st Century. Jealous of the massive Hong Sangsoo retrospective going on in New York, I indexed all of my writing and podcasting on Hong and resurrected a lost podcast episode I helped record last year on Hong and Oki’s Movie. And, with the festival over, I finally was able to watch and review my much-anticipated English-subtitled DVD of Jiang Wen’s 2014 film Gone with the Bullets.

These are the movies I’ve watched or rewatched over the last few weeks, and where they place in my year-by-year rankings.

The General (Buster Keaton & Clyde Bruckman) – 1, 1926
The Big Road (Sun Yu) – 6, 1935
Merbabies (Vernon Stallings & Rudolf Ising) – 23, 1938
Heaven Can Wait (Ernst Lubitsch) – 4, 1943
A Scandal in Paris (Douglas Sirk) – 13, 1946

Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly) – 1, 1952
Los tallos amargos (Fernando Ayala) – 22, 1956
Chimes at Midnight (Orson Welles) – 2, 1965
Dragon Gate Inn (King Hu) – 3, 1967
Distant Voices, Still Lives (Terence Davies) – 1, 1988

The Long Day Closes (Terence Davies) – 6, 1992
Cure (Kiyoshi Kurosawa) – 9, 1997
Pulse (Kiyoshi Kurosawa) – 12, 2001
Tokyo Sonata (Kiyoshi Kurosawa) – 6, 2008
575 Castro St. (Jenni Olson) – 18, 2009
Gone with the Bullets (Jiang Wen) – 26, 2014

Sunset Song (Terence Davies) – 11, 2015
Murmur of the Hearts (Sylvia Chang) – 24, 2015
De Palma (Noah Baumbach & Jake Paltrow) – 47, 2015
Concerto: A Beethoven Journey (Phil Grabsky) – 58, 2015
Thithi (Raam Reddy) – 63, 2015

Tag (Sion Sono) – 74, 2015
The Island Funeral (Pimpka Towira) – 83, 2015
Ten Years (Various) – 91, 2015
The 1000 Eyes of Dr. Maddin (Yves Montmayeur) – 99, 2015
The Final Master (Xu Haofeng) – 114, 2015

Love & Friendship (Whit Stillman) – 1, 2016
Three (Johnnie To) – 3, 2016
A Bride for Rip Van Winkle (Shunji Iwai) – 7, 2016
Trivisa (Jevons Au, Frank Hui & Vicky Wong) – 8, 2016
Creepy (Kiyoshi Kurosawa) – 9, 2016

My Beloved Bodyguard (Sammo Hung) – 10, 2016
Lo and Behold: Reveries of a Connected World (Werner Herzog) – 11, 2016
The Mobfathers (Herman Yau) – 14, 2016
The Seasons in Quincy (Tilda Swinton, et al) – 15, 2016
In a Valley of Violence (Ti West) – 20, 2016

SIFF 2016 Index

This is an Index of my coverage of the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival. All the writing was at Seattle Screen Scene.


Report #1: Sunset Song, Concerto: A Beethoven Journey, A Scandal in Paris, A Bride for Rip Van Winkle, Love & Friendship
Report #2: The Big Road, The Island Funeral, Heaven Can Wait, The Final Master, My Beloved Bodyguard
Report #3: The Bitter Stems, Thithi, Trivisa, The Mobfathers, Tag


The Frances Farmer Show #6: SIFF 2016 Preview, The Long Day Closes and Tokyo Sonata
The Frances Farmer Show #7: SIFF 2016 Midpoint Report
The Frances Farmer Show #8: SIFF 2016 Wrap-Up


Week One
Week Two
Week Three and Beyond

Jiang Wen’s Gone with the Bullets


So Jiang Wen made a Wong Jing movie. . .

I saw the Thai DVD, which is the first version I’ve seen that has English subtitles. The running time is 119 minutes. Wikipedia and IMDB give it a running time of 140 minutes, with a 120 minute international cut, while Screen Daily‘s review from the Berlin Film Festival says it’s 134 minutes. I have no idea what’s been removed for this international cut, but I doubt the added footage would make the movie any more or less coherent.

Jiang plays a conman in 1920s Shanghai. In an opening parody of the first scene of The Godfather, he agrees to help the youngest son of the local warlord general launder his money. To do so, he spends it all on an extravagant pageant to crown the Best Hooker in Shanghai, complete with musical numbers (“a song so new Mr. Gershwin won’t even write it for ten years!”), fireworks, live radio coverage around the world and Shu Qi offering to sleep with 30 rich men in 30 nights and give all her proceeds to the poor. Shortly thereafter, she proposes to Jiang (they are old friends and lovers), he tries to talk her out of it in a melange of artificial sets and dizzying cutting (every line gets its own shot, the effect of which, given the screwball pace of the exchanges, is something like watching a Baz Luhrmann movie on amphetamines), culminating in an opium dreams of a wild musical car trip. The morning after, Shu Qi is dead and Jiang spends the rest of the movie on the run, accused of her murder.

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The 50 Best Chinese Language Films of the 21st Century

When Film4 published a list of their “100 Must-See Films of the 21st Century” and only bothered to include two Chinese films (Yi yi and In the Mood for Love, of course), I countered with this list on letterboxd of 100 Must-See Chinese Language Films of the 21st Century. Almost two years have passed since then, and I’ve been wanting to update that list, since honestly I was kind of stretching the limits of what I’d recommend when I got into the nineties. Well, yesterday came The Playlist’s list of The 50 Best Foreign Language Films of the 21st Century. Five of the films on their list are Chinese Language (the same obvious Edward Yang and Wong Kar-wai picks, along with Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Millennium Mambo, Tsai Ming-liang’s What Time is It There? and Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. That’s right: no Johnnie To.), and while they’re somewhat hampered by their self-imposed one-film-per-director rules, that, to me, is still an unacceptably low number for what has been and continues to be the most vibrant and fascinating film culture in the world. And today, Richard Brody’s response in the New Yorker, while an improvement in making room for Jia Zhangke and Wang Bing (and Korean director Hong Sangsoo), still has only seven Chinese titles.

So here are my 50 Best Chinese Language Films of the 21st Century. I’m limited in making this list by the movies I’ve seen, and there are still many, many Chinese films I haven’t watched yet. I’m also sticking with The Playlist’s rule and limiting myself to one film per director (in the case of collaborations, I’m counting them as separate directors: Johnnie To and Wai Ka-fai together is a different director from either Johnnie To or Wai Ka-fai individually. This is arbitrary of course). The movies are ranked in order of my current preference, with links to where I’ve written about or discussed them, along with, in some cases, no more than five other recommended films by the director.

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Hong Sangsoo


Oki’s Movie (2010) – May 9, 2013
In Another Country (2012) – Oct 5, 2012
Nobody’s Daughter Haewon (2013) – Sep 23, 2013
Hill of Freedom (2014) – Oct 3, 2014
Right Now, Wrong Then (2015) – Sep 30, 2015
Yourself and Yours (2016) – Mar 8, 2017


Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors (2000) – June 30, 2014
Our Sunhi 
(2013) – Oct 17, 2013
Oki’s Movie (2010) – Jun 14, 2016


On the Occasion of Remembering the Turning Gate (2002) – May 9, 2013
Tale of Cinema (2005) – May 10, 2013
Like You Know It All (2009) – June 26, 2014
Hahaha (2010) – Oct 6, 2010
Yourself and Yours (2016) – Feb 27, 2017
On the Beach at Night Alone (2017) – Feb 24, 2017


Hong Sangsoo Movies