Ben's 2016 in Cinema: Reflections and Favorites
In the year 2016, cinema almost killed me.
Okay, that’s not an accurate statement. But it isn’t far from the truth either. And heck, it does look really good up there doesn’t?
On February 1st, on my way back to Los Angeles, traveling from the Slamdance and Sundance film festivals in Park City, Utah, I was involved in a bizarre accident that nearly cost me my life, or at the very least great injury and paralysis. Except neither of those outcomes occurred. I am still here. And no one quite knows why.
In the following months, during my earliest phases of recovery, I fought with myself. I mean my very existence and what it meant to be here. It must mean something! Goddammit! Being in this volatile space felt like I was being held in my own vice grip.
And then, because I was alive and going to the movies, one day in mid-April I received this message: “It was an accident. There was no story.”
Jesse Eisenberg says this to Gabriel Byrne in Joachim Trier’s exquisite English language debut Louder Than Bombs. The film is about a family tussling with the grief around the death of their matriarch, played in memories by a phosphorescent Isabelle Huppert, years after she perished in a car accident.
“It was an accident. There was no story.” Aha! of course there is my story! How conveniently delivered.
And yet... a part of me wonders if I’ve spent a large portion of the year avoiding my own narrative by taking in others‘ as readily as I could. Or rather, focusing too much on narrative and not accumulating experiences. Again, there is no story to the accident. It was an accident. Everything that came after was my choice to shape as a story or not. In an age where there is a glut of information, sensation, rabid consumption and over-saturation of all kinds, storytelling can seem almost a blasphemous act. It is a dangerous game, indeed, because it is a structural framework that one has to constantly move to keep in focus, to remain relevant. And that’s the shattering beauty of it. Storytelling is as much like the collapsing of a building as it is like an exhale. We can find it anywhere and in anything. We are the ones who shape and reshape, toss aside, pick back up any number of narrative devices, conceits, tropes or subversions.
Today, I choose to frame my year around the abundance of great films I was nourished by these past twelve months. The following then is a story of sorts. I will present eleven of my favorite films of the year in the order that I first experienced them, then proceed to write some words on each. At the end I’ll do a standard rank-and-file listing of my top 60 or so films for your perusing pleasure because fuck yeah! 2016 was just flat out spectacular for cinema.
I don’t pretend to be a journalist or critic of any kind. I made a feeble attempt at making that a career and it proved not for me. Rather, I am just someone whose life is propelled by movies in anyway they may show up, be it by writing about them, programming them or making them. And one time my love for the cinema resulted in me literally being catapulted twenty feet through the icy Utah air, which has ultimately brought me...