PRINT December 2016

Film: Best of 2016

J. Hoberman

Bruce Conner, Three Screen Ray, 2006, three-channel digital video, black-and-white, sound, 5 minutes 14 seconds. Still from the 2016 HD digital remastering.

1 THREE SCREEN RAY (Bruce Conner) This superkinetic triptych, created by the artist in 2006 using material from his 1961 film Cosmic Ray, was the moving-image high point of, as well as a synecdoche for, MoMA’s recent Conner retrospective, “It’s All True”—itself a triumph of installed film pieces.

2 O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA (Ezra Edelman) Nearly eight hours in length, Edelman’s documentary meditates on O. J. Simpson as a person and as a construct even while using his life as a text illuminating the force of race and the nature of justice in late-twentieth-century America—and beyond.

3 TONI ERDMANN (Maren Ade) Humanism lives in this epic father-daughter farce that, once it gets going, is also a remarkable disquisition on contemporary Europe. Ade’s movie gets an extra zetz of actorly energy for being mainly set in Romania and thus, in its bravura performances, functioning as an extension of the no-longer-quite-so-new Romanian cinema.

4 KAILI BLUES (Bi Gan) Bi’s eccentric, remarkably assured first feature is elusively memorable in both affect and aspiration—creating a pretzel-shaped time-space continuum with affinities to the thinking of Alain Resnais, Chris Marker, and Béla Tarr.

5 THE DEATH OF LOUIS XIV (Albert Serra) Serra’s sequel of sorts to Roberto Rossellini’s Rise of Louis XIV (1966) is also the ultimate “shock of the old” film, with Jean-Pierre Léaud, now seventy-two, in virtually every shot, gazing into the camera, as the dying Sun King.

Bi Gan, Kaili Blues, 2015, HD video, color, sound, 113 minutes. Chen Sheng (Chen Yongzhong).

6 SIERANEVADA (Cristi Puiu) Not quite drama but a total technical tour de force, Puiu’s insanely voluble ensemble piece is set, more or less in real time, mainly in a cramped Bucharest apartment in which the great mystery of life has less to do with 9/11 than it does with figuring out where the camera is placed.

7 AUSTERLITZ (Sergei Loznitsa) No question where Loznitsa plants his camera. Once in place at the site of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Oranienburg, Germany, now a tourist site, it never moves, observing human awareness and boredom with devastating results.

8 & 9 THE WITCH (Robert Eggers) and DEMON (Marcin Wrona) The year’s most head-splitting double bill would pair these two horror movies. Each evokes the historical uncanny as it fissures a particular family—one in seventeenth-century Puritan Massachusetts, the other in post-Communist Poland.

10 “WALKERS: HOLLYWOOD AFTERLIVES IN ART AND ARTIFACT” (Museum of the Moving Image, New York) Curator Robert M. Rubin’s ragingly impure exhibition was a cinematic spook-a-rama. Recklessly juxtaposing the real and the fake, fetish and desecration, curator/collector, Rubin managed to conjure the Sargasso Sea that Nathanael West called the Dream Dump.

A frequent contributor to Artforum, J. Hoberman is the author, most recently, of Film After Film: Or, What Became of 21st Century Cinema? (Verso, 2012).