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The Best Films of 2016 So Far: A Midyear Report

As I have the past two years, I’m offering a list of “the best films of the year so far” now that we’ve reached the midway point of 2016. This list includes only movies that received their Chicago theatrical premieres between January 1 and June 30. This means I’m disqualifying films that received their first theatrical runs this year but which I caught at Chicago festival screenings last year. I’m also including excerpts from — and links to — my original reviews where applicable.

20. Sembene! (Gadjego/Silverman, Senegal/USA) – Siskel Center

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19. Land and Shade (Acevedo, Columbia) – Chicago Latino Film Fest

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“Adventurous viewers will be plenty rewarded by this quietly powerful drama about an elderly farmer returning to the family he had abandoned years before, reconnecting with his ex-wife and son (the latter of whom suffers from lung disease as a result of fires set to clear the sugar cane fields around them) and meeting his daughter-in-law and grandson for the first time. – Time Out capsule

18. The Conjuring 2 (Wan, USA/UK) – Wide release

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17. Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World (Herzog, USA) – Doc10 Film Fest/Chicago Film Critics Fest

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“An alternately provocative and playful documentary about the Internet’s effect on global culture: featuring interviews with digital pioneers, scientists, hackers and even young people addicted to being online, it’s an even-handed look at both the glories and the dark side of the ‘net from an admitted luddite.” – Time Out capsule

16. Sunset Song (Davies, UK) – Music Box/Siskel Center

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15. In Transit (Maysles/True/Usui/Walker/Wu, USA) – Doc10 Film Fest

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“As with all of Maysles’s work, the film is more observational than informational; the focus is not on the logistics of train travel but on the fascinating lives of the commuters.” – Time Out capsule

14. Born to Be Blue (Budreau, Canada/USA) – Wide release

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“Thankfully eschewing the hokey, decades-spanning ‘rise/fall/rise’ formula that became de rigueur after the success of Ray and Walk the Line, its modest scope focuses instead on a single chapter in Baker’s life: the trumpeter’s successful comeback in the late 1960s after being sidelined by a heroin addiction that resulted in jail-time and the loss of his front teeth.” – White City Cinema capsule

13. Three (To, Hong Kong) – AMC River East

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12. L’Attesa (Messina, Italy/France) – Siskel Center

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“The Virgin is the symbol of the Feminine in us, it is the mystery of life, it is always present, we just have to say hello to her!” – Interview with Juliette Binoche in Time Out

11. Journey to the West (Tsai, Taiwan) – Chicago Filmmakers

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“Dispensing with narrative and dialogue altogether, the aptly titled Journey to the West consists of just a few shots, done in Tsai’s customary long-take style, of a red-robed monk (Lee Kang-Sheng) walking about as slow as humanly possible around densely populated areas of contemporary Marseilles, France.” – Cine-File Chicago capsule

10. Hail, Caesar! (Coen/Coen, USA) – Wide release

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9. Viaje (Fabrega, Costa Rica) – Chicago Latino Film Fest

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“Imagine a sexier — and more female-centric — version of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset and you’ll have some idea of what Fabrega is up to in this charming and bittersweet two-hander.” – Time Out capsule

8. The Measure of a Man (Brize, France) – Siskel Center

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Discussed with Scott Pfeiffer on White City Cinema Radio Hour episode 10.

7. Love & Friendship (Stillman, USA/UK) – Wide release

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Discussed with Pam Powell on White City Cinema Radio Hour episode 13.

6. Everybody Wants Some!! (Linaklater, USA) – Wide release

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5. The Wailing (Na, S. Korea) – The Music Box

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4. No Home Movie (Akerman, Belgium) – Siskel Center

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“It’s a deceptively simple, extraordinarily powerful documentary about Akerman’s relationship with her elderly mother — a movie that slowly, almost imperceptibly, expands into an essay on Akerman’s quest to better understand her own Jewish roots and identity.” – Time Out capsule

3. Chevalier (Tsangari, Greece) – Siskel Center

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“The way the ship’s barely glimpsed working-class crew can be seen imitating the shenanigans of their masters offers a pungent class critique worthy of comparison to Jean Renoir or Luis Bunuel.” – Time Out Capsule

2. Arabian Nights Vol. 1 – 3 (Gomes, Portugal) – Siskel Center

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“Gomes’ progressive/liberal point-of-view is clear but never didactic; his chief interest would appear to be in creating set pieces of intense cinematic poetry (an aim in which he’s aided immeasurably by Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s regular cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom).” – Time Out capsule

1. Malgre la nuit (Grandrieux, France) – University of Chicago Film Studies Center

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“He who jumps into the void owes no explanation to those who stand and watch.” Some thoughts here. Interview with director Philippe Grandrieux in Offscreen.

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About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor. View all posts by michaelgloversmith

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