A year ago, High On Films was just an idea waiting to be conceived. I feel so ecstatic now as we have turned our varied film taste and opinions into one long world of wordplay. We have written, argued and talked about every single fable that is thrown towards us in the name of cinematic artistry. Despite the times when we struggled to go through the films that were deliberately a slog, we have managed to stand again on grounds of films that were magical in every sense of the word. After sitting down to pick our favorites, it was difficult to bring the number of best films down to a bare minimum. But we battled and narrowed down our collaborative favorites in a list that follows.
There were some great films that couldn’t make the list. For starters, Andrzej Zulawski’s Cosmos – a maddening testament to the mischevious master of surrealistic cinema, also, his last film, Bhutanese Buddhist lama and filmmaker Khyentse Norbu’s Hema Hema: Sing Me A Song While I Wait – a brilliant film about losing one’s identity in order to dive into anonymity, Thai film-maker Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Cemetery of Splendor – A hypnotic and mysterious amalgamation of magic realism which explores the waking and sleeping mind, Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea – A heart-wrenching drama about grief and acceptance, Japanese film-maker Hirokazu Koreeda’s After The Storm – A minimalistic drama about people who can’t say farewell to the people they were before, John Carney’s Sing Street – A soulful coming of age film about finding your own voice, Brazilian filmmaker Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Aquarius – A subtle, minute study of economic inequality, Babak Anvari’s Under The Shadow – A smart, intriguing and scary horror film that uses its ambiguity to leave a lasting impression, Piero Messina’s The Wait – A emotionally moving drama about waiting for someone who never seems to come your way and Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World – A powerful drama about familial disturbance and the inability to commute one’s true feeling in an isolated environment. The 10 Best Films of the year according to us are:
Swiss Army Man | Director: The Daniels | Language: English.
I am literally in awe of this sweet little gem. This experience was so out of this world and yet is weirdly at the center of everything. It touched me deeply, tickled my ears with strangeness, held my hand softly and healed me of my pains. It undermines loneliness and suicidal tendencies and reduces them to a mere framework on which life-affirming themes are built. The brilliantly layered structure along with its free flowing score evokes emotions buried deep inside. It made me ecstatic and plastered a huge smile on my face, isn’t that everything one can wish for? Deeply existential and amazingly hilarious, Swiss Army Man hits you at levels you can’t even begin to imagine. It resonates at such a different frequency that we must shun ourselves to hear the unsaid and lose our eyes to see what hides in plain sight. Glory To Thee, you artsy fartsy cotton ball of uniqueness!
Read The Complete Review of Swiss Army Man Here.
Kaili Blues | Director: Gan Bi | Language: Mandarin.
‘Meditative’, ‘austere’, ‘profoundly artistic – I think are some of the celebratory terms which a large section movie audiences often connect with the words slow & boring. Chinese film-maker Bi Gan’s debut feature Kaili Blues isn’t definitely for those seeking a cornucopia of delightful movie junk food. When you sit for a meditation session your mind wanders due to that prolonged sense of time.. But if you are patient enough to continue the session, then you may get pulled into the trance state, experiencing something unique, yet not easily inexpressible. The similar things happen with movies of Tarkovsky, Bela Tarr, Hou Hsiao-hsien, etc. Kaili Blues also took me to the cinematic trance state. The story is about a Chinese doctor from Kaili (a city in Guizhou province) looking for his abandoned nephew in a resplendent mountainous village. The trip, however, isn’t a simple road journey. It happens to be a near-surrealistic trip through the obscure past. Apart from Apichatpong Weerasethakaul’s “Cemetery of Splendor”, this is another film of 2016 that entirely swallowed me into its poetic atmosphere. Even if you feel frustrated over the inability to interpret on the ambiguous thematic & cultural context, you have the breath-taking visuals to find solace. Just equip yourselves for a magnificent meditation session!
Read The Complete Review of Kaili Blues on Passion For Movies.
The Witch | Director: Robert Eggers | Language: English.
The Witch has to be one of the most terrifying viewing experience I have had in a long long time. Robert Eggers’s debut feature film is so freakishly unsettling, yet grounded that I had to convince myself that it’s just some insane cinematic artistry at work. There are no half measure’s in Eggers’s film. It’s brutal and has such immensely haunting imagery that it can create a complete facial blur. There are no answers that Eggers provides and that just make it all kinds of devastating. Featuring a breakthrough performance by Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch is that rare horror film that not only seduces you to its grim patches in the wood but it traps you into its human trapping tendencies, where wronging the wrong and righting the right can no more ensure your safety. There are horror films that scare you, and then there’s The Witch It’s a film that can be what you magically want it to be.
The Wailing | Director: Na Hong-jin | Language: Korean, Japanese.
Read The Complete Review of The Wailing Here.
Nocturnal Animals | Director: Tom Ford | Language: English.
Tom Ford’s follow-up to his debut, A Single Man, seven years ago is an entirely different beast and shows how much his filmmaking philosophy has matured in that time. Nocturnal Animals is an empathetic film that delves into some particularly tricky interactions and relations between (ex-)lovers, but it does not get too comfortably close with its characters. It’s an extraordinary singular achievement that is set apart from its awards-season contemporaries. In its peculiar concept, Nocturnal Animals shows through its dual narratives one grounded in real life and the emptiness of even high-class life, and the other set in the fantasy of a highly dramatic and intense fictional novel. Although Ford’s attuned aesthetics manages to merge both storylines stylistically, the way the two contrast with and complement each other offers plenty of contemplation for viewers over the personal repercussions of art. The likes of Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Isla Fisher, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Karl Glusman give a range of gritty and intense performances in the novel’s narrative, whereas Amy Adams holds her own as the emotional centrein the main narrative, wonderfully contributing to the interpersonal and introspective aspect of the film. Unlike plenty of other films from this year, Nocturnal Animals feels like a proper feat that doesn’t stop when the film has finished – it has so much resonating power from the appropriate amount of clarity and ambiguity it offers, on top of being a stunning and invigorating piece of storytelling.
Neruda | Director: Pablo Larraín | Language: Spanish, French.
Pablo Larraín’s Neruda is a wondrous journey into the inner world of a poet, the icy landscapes of imagination and thick forest of fiction, a trip through immense cliffs and impassable rivers where the poet is petrified underneath his own words. It’s an exquisite cocktail of genres where everything becomes one: a thriller, a road movie, a black comedy, a biopic, a police procedural. On surface, the film revolves around a relentless cat and mouse chase between inspector Oscar (Gael García Bernal) and communist poet Neruda (Luis Gnecco). But on deeper level, there is another metaphorical chase where cinema is trying to capture poetry. Neruda was like a romantic poem that cannot be recited, the wind of communism that cannot be captured, a free bird that lived in company of women and wine. How does one make a movie about such a dynamic and notorious personality? Instead of making a straightforward biopic, Larraín has captured Neruda’s poetic rhythm through cinematic lenses. Although widely remembered for his romantic verses, there was burning rage in poems of Neruda that echoed the angst of workers. But more than Neruda, the film is about us, those bakers who bake the daily bread, those workers who lift the bricks, or that policeman who walks through desolate land of suffering and solitude. Such majestic and unpretentious work is the grandest form of poetry, an instrument to understand the humanity. And in this poetry, where dream is no separate from reality, a man becomes what he has been chasing.
Read The Complete Review of Neruda Here.
Arrival | Director: Denis Villeneuve | Language: English.
Death is inevitable, and ultimately it’s going to find us at the end of our roads. But meaning can still be found in the beautiful misery called life. What you do in the middle, what choices you make are the ones that write the story of your life. Based on Ted Chiang’s nebula award-winning short story and directed by Denis Villeneuve, Arrival was one of the most anticipated movies of the year. Despite being a film with a core plot of alien invasion, it managed to keep itself so grounded and realistic all the time, while slowly unfolding the hauntingly twisted mystery elements. Amy Adams performed so brilliantly in the title role while being complemented by good performances by the supporting cast which had actors like Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker. The cinematography (Bradford Young) was absolutely stunning and the excellent work of the visual effect and art direction teams were clearly visible. Lastly, Jóhann Jóhannsson’s fantastic background score (Max Richter’s On the Nature of Daylight was used as the main theme of the movie by the way) and Villeneuve’s masterpiece made the ship sailing smoothly, into the white clouds of the horizon. Arrival turned out to be a gigantic, awe-inspiring modern masterpiece, a milestone in the Science-fiction genre and one of the best movies of the year and recent time as well.
Read The Complete Review Of Arrival Here.
The Handmaiden | Director: Park Chan-wook | Language: Korean, Japanese.
Perversion has never been so aesthetically elegant. The Handmaiden is a beautiful amalgamation of Love, Lust, Deceit, Art, Erotica and cons getting conned. Set against a serene backdrop of 1930s Korea under Japanese colonial rule, a conman hires a beautiful and naïve local Korean pickpocket as a Handmaiden for a Japanese heiress to help him seduce her into marriage and defraud off her wealth. Loosely based on the Victorian era novel, Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. The acclaimed South Korean director of Oldboy and Stoker, Park Chan-wook has created a visually sumptuous perverted painting of thievery and weird sex stories which somehow resulted in an unconventional love story. The two female protagonists, Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim) and Sook-Hee/Handmaiden (Tae-ri Kim) share a sick-twisted chemistry which is delight for all erotic genre lovers. But, the most notable performance in the film is by Jin-woong Jo who played Uncle Kouzuki, as told by the character himself; ‘an old man who likes dirty stories’. With his ink-coloured tongue and ever so creepy presence gave a lasting pervy performance of an uncle who coercively makes his niece reads erotic stories to a room full of strangers. As a film based on simple and somewhat predictable con play story, it is quite engaging and gripping in terms of direction and the performances of four leads with its production design and cinematography like Lady Hideko’s vagina is ‘Spellbindingly beautiful’. Inherently being an erotic psychological thriller, this arthouse avant-garde never fails to surprise you with its plot twists, graphic nudity, squeamish book reading sessions and gruesome violence which Chan-wook is a veteran of.
Read The Complete Review Of The Handmaiden Here.
La La Land | Director: Damien Chazelle | Language: English.
There are films which look beautiful because they have their hearts at the right place and La La Land has so much heart in it that there is nothing else that you care about. La La Land is a traditional film, which follows all the conventions of a musical very sincerely. There was an interesting aspect of filmmaking in La La Land; it is set in contemporary times but at the same time it plays with you so subtly by the use of songs and dance and the costumes that you end up asking yourself, “isn’t it totally like the 50s” but then for a microsecond, Chazelle drops in a shot of an iPhone or a MacBook, just to clear your doubt and then goes back to its traditional ways. It’s almost like the film is playing peek-a-boo with you. It is a film which truly reveals to you the power of music when used perfectly in a film. The songs and the characters are a great homage to the classic musical genre and even if musicals are not your thing, La La Land makes sure that your opinion about musicals change and change for good.
Read The Complete Review Of La La Land Here.
The Neon Demon | Director: Nicolas Winding Refn | Language: English.
The Neon Demon is another Nicolas Winding Refn film that feels hollow and soulless when you turn it inside-out or outside-in. A supposedly uber-stylized fairy tale drenched in blood, gore & the darkest side of the human soul. But when you look closely at its incredible metaphors and symbolisms, the use of Cliff Martinez’s pulsating score and Natasha Braier’s heart-pounding visuals, mixed with Nicolas Winding Refn’s vision of giving you an experience instead of a solid story, you realize it’s true mastery at work. While being a terrific critic on the world of fashion, The Neon Demon is basically a horror film about beauty. The harsh truth is investigated with splats of blood, hate and insane frames of poetic injustice.