Our 5 Favorite Films of the 2016 Berlin Film Festival

By @NikGroz
Our 5 Favorite Films of the 2016 Berlin Film Festival

Now that the 2016 Berlin Film Festival has officially come to a close, and I’ve had a full day to get my bearings (get it?), it’s time I ran down the Top 5 films I’ve seen at the festival. Now, it would’ve been more than 5 had I not felt too disappointed (Midnight Special) or indifferent (Soy Nero) towards many of the films I saw (some of which were so horrendous and inconsequential, they didn’t even call for coverage)—but these are things you cannot predict when it comes to festivals. Especially one like the Berlinale, which has such a wide range of selections for its competition titles.

Read below for my 5 favorite films from the 66th edition of the Berlinale. They’re all quite different from each other, but every one is highly recommend for when you’re in a specific kind of mood for a specific kind of movie night. Unfortunately, many things went against me in Berlin and prevented me from watching the eventual big winners like Fire At Sea (Golden Bear), Death In Sarajevo (Jury Prize) and United States of Love (Silver Bear for Screenplay), but that doesn’t mean the films below are any less deserving of recognition and praise.

Favorite 5 Films of the 2016 Berlin Film Festival

#5. War On Everyone

War On Everyone movie

Sandwiched between philosophical quips that give the film its few injections of thoughtfulness, John Michael McDonagh’s War On Everyone is mainly filtered through a scandalous, satirical and borderline psychedelic vision of American police work. Skarsgard and Pena make the unlikely central duo in this bad-cop-worse-cop buddy comedy work with such a generous dose of hilarity and raunchiness that you’ll easily forgive the film its naive moments and predictability. It’s so unabashedly anti-PC that it’s definitely not recommended for the sensitive souls out there. But that’s part of the appeal. [Review]

#4. Being 17

Being 17 movie

Andre Techine’s spirited film about two teenage boys in a French mountain countryside town is brimming with raw, untethered emotion and naturalistic performances. So much so that you’ll end up understanding Damien (Kacey Mottet Klein) and Tom (Corentin Fila) through so many scenes where a darting glance speaks the loudest. Flowing like an evergreen waterfall, Being 17 captures teenagehood on the precipice – and only falters near the end, but by then your heart won’t care that much. [Review]

#3. Zero Days

Zero Days movie

It’s a bit funny that I caught the two films above and Alex Gibney’s Zero Days on my very last day of movies in Berlin. It’s like the festival took pity on me for drudging through the pain of watching Creepy or almost being struck by angina pectoris while watching Lav Diaz’ 8-hour mega-epic (more on that at the end). In any case, Gibney’s Zero Days is a must-watch documentary by everyone interested in understanding just how far our world has advanced. Michael Mann’s Blackhat was pummeled by critics, but it’s getting a bit of a boost with a recent director’s cut – and will surely be looked at more closely once Zero Days hits public theatres. Cyber warfare is now, and countries need to start talking about it. [Review]

#2. A Quiet Passion

A Quiet Passion movie

Terence Davies’ soft, luscious, and impossibly refined biopic of Emily Dickinson should appease lovers of exquisite shot composition and immaculate sense of character depth. Davies’ camera glides through the Dickinson household, while Cynthia Nixon, Jennifer Ehle, and the rest of the dazzling ensemble dive into Davies’ treasure chest of a screenplay in search of gold. They keep finding it in almost every scene, and thanks to Florian Hoffmeister’s blindingly beautiful cinematography, the audience feels the glow right on their skin. Aside from a couple of slips, A Quiet Passion enthralled me and I was a bit shell-shocked from how closely I felt to this woman, this American introverted poet from the 1800s felt more real to me than most of the characters I’ve seen on the screen in Berlin. [Review]

#1. Things To Come

Things To Come movie

All due respect to Davies, but nothing, and no one, felt more real than Mia Hansen-Love’s Things To Come and Isabelle Huppert’s Nathalie. It’s hard to fathom how a young director like Hansen-Love can show so much maturity, poise, control, and life experience while still in her early 30s; inspiring what will very likely be one of the most tender and memorable roles for the iconic French actress. Watching Nathalie go through the motions of losing touch with modern school system, letting go of her husband and kids who have moved on, trying to connect with today’s youth, and hopelessly falling in love with a cat ended up being the very best cinematic experience I’ve had at the festival, and indeed, the year so far. What makes it all the more special is that it was the very first film I saw at the Berlinale. [Review]

The Albert Bauer Honorable Mention

Lav Diaz’ new film goes against the conventional grain so much, you can almost feel the granulation forming on your skin as you sit there watching it. With a colossal running time of 485 minutes (nothing Lav Diaz fans will be too surprised about), A Lullaby To The Sorrowful Mystery is made of static shots of various characters lamenting, musing, longing, confessing, discussing, sharing, divulging, singing, listening, and crying over the intolerable cruelty suffered by the Filippino people under an oppressive Spanish rule. It’s absolutely stunning, with the greatest production design and cinematography (well, Crosscurrent might slightly have the edge in cinematography, but they’re milliseconds away from each other) I’ve seen at the festival, but the indulgence is, at too many moments, insufferable.

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