The Year in Film: 10 Great 2016 Movies You Can Stream Right Now

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It’s the end of the year, kids, and you know what that means: end of the year best-of lists! We’ve got rundowns coming your way in the next couple of days, plucking out our picks for the best documentaries and fiction films of the year, but in a year this good (despite all grumblings to the contrary) there are bound to be some really honorable mentions that just barely didn’t make the final cut. So as a little public service to you, the end-of-the-year catch-up viewer, we plucked out ten of those runners-up – ones that, hey, look at that, you can watch this very moment on your subscription-based streaming platforms.

The Fits

Muted yet bold, tiny yet audacious, Anna Rose Holmer’s intimate drama concerns Toni, an 11-year-old tomboy who quietly joins the dance team at the community center where she’s previously spent her afternoons working out and boxing. There’s not an abundance of dialogue, and what there is mostly extemporaneous and overheard; Holmer tells her story in the brute strength of her imagery, the way the camera regards Toni as a solitary figure, even when among other people, and then subtly shifts that perspective as she finds herself in a period of discovery and reinvention. Oh, and then her dance teammates start having peculiar, unexplained seizures, a narrative shift that somehow doesn’t dismantle the delicate tonal foundation. It’s the kind of film that’s almost inexplicable – I’m not sure how it was devised, or how it was executed. But I’m glad it exists. (Streaming on Amazon Prime.)

Krisha

Few wells in the indie world have been revisited more often than the dysfunctional family Thanksgiving, so it’s all the more impressive that writer/director Trey Edward Shults uses that trope to create something as singular and haunting as this. He cast several members of his own family (including his extraordinary aunt Krisha Fairchild, in the title role), which only increases the authenticity; you buy these relationships, and he perceptively conveys the way family members talk and don’t talk to each other. A ruthless eye for composition, genius sense of juxtaposition, and an inventive (and unnerving) sound design combine to recast a family holiday as an anxiety nightmare and psychological horror story, yet the visceral sensation never overrides the deep empathy at the heart of this very special film. (Streaming on Amazon Prime.)

The Invitation

A group of old friends meet up for a slightly tense reunion/dinner party, where the expected social awkwardness gives way to a worrisome certainty that their hosts have gone a little batty over the passing years. It’s a situation where every conversation is loaded, and where the fine line between concern and paranoia is in flux until it may be too late. Director Karyn Kasmura is a masterful practitioner of the fine art of withholding information; she keeps the tension simmering all the way through. It’s ruthless, the degree to which The Invitation toys with you, overwhelming the narrative with a mood of slipperiness and unsteadiness, so that when the final turn comes, it feels both tenuous and inevitable. Both a great chamber drama and a great horror thriller, without either element short-changing the other. (Streaming on Netflix.)

13th

Ava DuVernay’s scorching documentary is ostensibly about what Angela Davis dubbed the “prison industrial complex” (and the pressing questions of prison privatization and profiteering), but DuVernay is more concerned with the entire mindset that’s made our “land of the free” so disproportionately imprisoned, and that’s made that imprisoned population so disproportionately black and male. In doing so, she shines the entire American story through the prism of institutionalized white supremacy, tracing its reconfiguration and rebranding through the decades, from slavery to Jim Crow to “the war on drugs” to “tough on crime.” And with a Southern racist lined up as our next Attorney General, this has become not only essential but timely viewing. (Streaming on Netflix.)

Presenting Princess Shaw

Samantha, aka Princess Shaw, spends her days working at a retirement community and her nights on YouTube – filling her channel with confessional monologues and a cappella original songs. She struggles and strives, a living embodiment of the frustration of trying to be a creative artist and failing, totally unaware that her songs have been discovered by YouTube montage musician Kutiman, who constructs elaborate production tracks for her work. Director Ido Haar cleverly intercuts these two connected but non-communicating artists until the remarkable moment when she first hears what he’s done with her work, on her crappy phone speaker, grin a mile wide, unable to say anything but “Oh my God.” Haar’s film is engaging and somewhat inspiring, speaking to the randomness of discovery and success – an inescapable fact of show business that will, as ever, discourage some and spark the hopes of others. (Streaming on Netflix.)

Eye in the Sky

Director Gavin Hood wisely approaches the hot topic of drone warfare in the micro rather than the macro, with a real-time dramatization of a single strike on a gathering of terrorists, via a joint operation between British and U.S. military and Kenyan intelligence. There is tension in both the event and its complicated, globe-spanning orchestration, and real skill in the way Hood and screenwriter Guy Hibbert position those players, situate them around each other, and then raise the emotional and physical stakes. And they don’t stack the deck – equal weight is given to those who can’t bear looking into the face of “collateral damage” and those who know how much more is on the line. Hood admirably maintains his rhythm and drive with all these balls in the air, and the performances are sharp as a knife, particularly Helen Mirren (top-notch at conveying the single-minded determination to only hear what she wants to hear) and the great Alan Rickman, in his final screen performance. (Streaming on Amazon Prime.)

Elvis and Nixon

A dramatization of the fabled 1970 meeting between Michael Shannon’s Presley and Kevin Spacey’s President sounds less like a feature film than a 12:40 SNL sketch, which probably makes director Liza Johnson’s achievement all the more impressive: she takes a fundamentally flimsy and absurd notion and injects it with an unexpectedly potent dose of pathos, sympathy, and good clean fun. Shannon is a straight-up hoot as the King, taking it upon himself to serve his country as a “federal agent-at-large,” making up an undercover alias and making noise about this “matter of national security”; he gets at both the silliness of Presley’s phantasmagoria, and the loneliness at the root of it. Spacey shines in the smaller of the two roles, likewise indicating the vulnerability that peeks out when the mask of power is even momentarily jostled. Vibrantly shot with a screwball pace, it’s a light, retro treat. (Streaming on Amazon Prime.)

Love and Friendship

If you skipped the opening credits, you might not even know that Whit Stillman’s new film was a Jane Austen adaptation – it’s a lesser-known work (a novella published nearly a century after its writing), but more than that, despite his previous lack of work set earlier than the 1980s, Stillman’s style and voice translates to Georgian England with little to no adjustment. He comes up with a light, witty, endlessly quotable story of a recent widow (Kate Beckinsale, never better) and her quest to attain suitors for herself and her daughter that will keep them living in the style they’re used to. Gorgeously executed and richly acted – with a bench of supporting players to die for. (Streaming on Amazon Prime.)

Dheepan

This Palme d’or winner from director Jacques Audiard (A Prophet, Rust and Bone) tells the timely story of a group of refugees trying to make their way in a new life. Meeting for the first time before leaving Sri Lanka yet masquerading as a family, these three strangers are ill-equipped to either relate with each other or fit into their new homeland of France – there’s an anxiety-inducing scene where the “patriarch” is being shown around the apartment complex where he’ll work as a caretaker, understanding not one word of his instructions – but they slowly begin to connect, only to have their tentative bonds tested. A tough, uncompromising picture, with a climax that really goes to work on you. (Steaming on Netflix.)

Embrace of the Serpent

Director/co-writer Cico Guerra crafts a gorgeous and often troubling story of an Amazonian shaman and the two white scientists he leads to a sacred plant, forty years apart. The stories are told simultaneously, and often unpredictably; each strand is so rich and involving, you forget about the other – until they become inextricably intertwined. It sometimes booms too loudly with the echoes of other films; the Herzog influence becomes even clearer when the record player comes out, and the 2001-lite ending is a bit much. But it’s a fascinating work, filled with unforgettable images and narrative daring. (Streaming on Amazon Prime.)