Ben's 2016 in Cinema: Reflections and Favorites

Editor, U.S.; Los Angeles, California (@benumstead)
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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...


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cjohnstonJanuary 3, 2017 6:18 PM

Awesome Blossom..
Some - I've Seen and Love. ...others, are (still) on my new years wish list.
..and (still) others; just haven't really caught and captivated my attention...
*and a couple - are Now ON my list. !

Ben UmsteadJanuary 3, 2017 9:55 PM

Thanks CJ! What are you curious about seeing?

cjohnstonJanuary 3, 2017 11:09 PM

so; I dunno.
I'm feeling more than just a bit like Mr. Magoo..
That S.UCKS to here about your (near) misshap.!!! :/ additional one or two responses will follow this about the Actual topic at hand ~ either tonight, and or in the immediate day or so.. ...
if you'll briefly excuse me (and I do apologize beforehand..) for just one digressive moment or so.
- It's been -- a rather odd year.
We all (should) know by now about Molly Brown and Princess Leia........
- - - - -
.....while a completely and utterly different situation.. ...the week before Thanksgiving I had an allergic reaction, ---- nothing too weird about that, ..except for the fact that this was the first time in some twenty+ years of getting allergy shots that I had ever had such a allergic reaction of such severity.. (a degree of severity that needed two additional shots to counteract..).
Additionally - Thanksgiving week, ..come to find out a close friend of mine needed brain surgery to remove a tumor that had been found.. .he is Since recovering Spectacularly Well..
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I am CERTAINLY not saying (any) of this to "one-up" You..
.......just, commiserate a bit I suppose. and Most c
Certainly offer my condolences......
~ ~ ~
OK. (sorry..)....
..just was suddenly feeling a bit like a absent minded so-andso..
--- NOW. ...back to the regularly scheduled programming...
*why did I just think of the "Heidi Game".??? ........oh well...
And Now - for films, movies, and the like.

cjohnstonJanuary 3, 2017 11:29 PM

- Driftwood.
looks like my cup of tea.. ...trailer is reminding me of the likes of A Lonely Place To Die, Borgman, How I Live Now, as well as The Survivalist.. (ALL of which I'd definitely 'recommend' if you are *ever* inclined. ...)..
- Dreamed Path.
.again, looks like my cup of tea.. ...sounds GORGEOUS.. .....again - to but briefly comparatively draw, -- your blurb here is reminding me of The Survivalist, Ain't Them Bodies Saints, Ruby Sparks, The Tribe, Captain Fantastic, as well as How I Live Now.. .............and even Embers, - perhaps..
- Toni Erdmann.
..turning up on way too many lists for me Not to be interested...
- The Family.
SEEMS like I may have seen this........ ..not sure though...
and, THOSE are the ones from your article i'm particularly intrigued by..

Ben UmsteadJanuary 5, 2017 5:56 PM

I don't take it as such. It's important to share stories and experiences. It can be very important to resonating with others. I thank you for sharing.

On the film front...

The Family has only played outside of the U.S., at New Horizons, IndieLisboa, Critics Week in Venice and down in Brazil, so if you attended any of those... perhaps?

I can certainly say that The Dreamed Path is not like any of the films you cited. It works much closer to a Bresson picture in mood and aesthetic.

I hope both films get more play and eventual releases. Toni Erdmann of course is playing more and more across the globe. It expands in the U.S. starting this week.

cjohnstonJanuary 5, 2017 10:53 PM

THNX for this additional info on these.. .!
---'s Hoping that Toni Erdmann will expand "Enough".....
My opinion upon the matter fluxuates from day to day - but, I MIGHT be most looking towards and forward to a day at Toni's; out of those I had previously mentioned...
(as of a couple days ago) - a quick cursory glance at some upcoming film(s) on "my (big)/local-silver screen revealed some rather pleasant late-Christmas surprises...
.. .Seems like Elle, 20th Century Women, and The Space Between Us, respectively; each possess a little more wind in their sails than I initially thought.
. .. .Additionally; on the Morrow; there are 3 titles rolling thru that this typist has been veritably pacing the floor to see; ~ A Monster Calls, Lion, and Hidden Figures..
- - - - - -
On a final note - as I'm sure you've glanced upon one or more of my near cataclysmic end-of-year list(s); along with (perhaps) a few enumerated holdovers from this past year, that I had Not seen, --- yet..
..Oddly/Weirdly enough - over the past two days or so I HAVE in fact had opportunity to see four additional titles that I've been eyeing (for, what seems like Fore-EVER) that I respectively LOVED and that automatically "beamed" over to my year end favorite queue...
- Evolution
- American Honey
- Too Late
- My King (Mon roi)

cjohnstonJanuary 5, 2017 11:03 PM

*and -- no; to answer your query here - I've not had opportunity to visit any of those (festival) circuits..
...While I enjoy travel - and; hey --- it's an EXCELLANT way to catch those hard to find, obscure Indies and the like.. ....
...I AM nonetheless, it must be admitted, more of a home-body..