Top 10 Films of 2016 – Selected by Team BFF

With all the hoopla surrounding Oscar season, The Bushwick Film Festival began thinking about the movies from 2016 that moved us, made us laugh, and inspired us to take action. To celebrate the diversity that 2016’s cinematic landscape brought with it, we asked 10 staff and volunteer members at the festival to pick their personal favorite films from last year and tell us why they stood out. Without further ado, we present to you the Bushwick Film Festival’s Top 10 Films of 2016.

Fire At Sea (Directed by Gianfranco Rosi)

Kira Boden-Gologorsky, Programming Intern

In Fire at Sea, innovative storytelling searches for a new route to explore a familiar narrative. Migrants have moved through Lampedusa, an island closer to Tunisia than it is to Sicily, for decades. But in more recent years, the influx has exponentially increased, effecting the lives of not only those seeking refuge but those whose personhood is embedded in the island. Rosi turns to Samuele, a 12 year old boy from Lampedusa, as a vantage point from which the plight of the migrants and the lives of the island’s inhabitants are explored in parallel. Samuele’s connections to the island illustrate the web of people who come in contact with North African migrants. Unlike a traditional documentary, Fire at Sea contains few statistics, which are obviously didactic, instead opting to explore metaphors in Samuele’s life, sweeping visual landscapes, and personal anecdotes to give a new perspective. The documentary lends an inarguably intimate touch to a global crisis, and gives hope that new types of storytelling can and will impact the world for the better.

The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith (Directed by Sara Fishko)

Tyrone Tanous, Production Consultant

The source material is incredible in scope and quality and is incorporated into the story in engaging design. I love Jazz music and this film serves the music’s history, an artist’s personal story, and other tales of New York City. This film is a multifaceted journey and recommended! Between 1957 and 1965 in New York, dozens of jazz musicians jam night after night in a dilapidated Sixth Avenue loft, not realizing that much of what they play and say to each other is being captured on audio tape and in still pictures by the gentle and unstable genius, former LIFE Magazine photographer W. Eugene Smith, who lives in the loft space next door. Photographer W. Eugene Smith recorded 4000 hours of audio tape and took 40,000 photographs in the Jazz Loft between 1957 and 1965. This is the first film to make use of this archive, now housed at the Center For Creative Photography at the University of Arizona.

Lion (Directed by Garth Davis)

Gonnie Zur, Programming Intern

After getting a glimpse of his craft in Top Of The Lake, it didn’t take much for me to go see Garth Davis’s Lion when it opened at TIFF this past September. In it, Davis brings to the screen the unimaginable life story of Saroo Brierley: a native Bengali man who, due to an unfortunate set of events, is separated from his family at the mere age of five. It might’ve been luck or chance, or fate, that later united Saroo with his adoptive parents: a kind Australian couple that gave him his life back — a better life, some would say. But as he gets older and understands that he’s still holding on to the remnants of his past, Saroo realizes that in spite of the consequences that tore him and his family apart, he’s willing to risk everything to reunite with them. Unsurprisingly, Dev Patel manages to perfectly and honestly deliver Saroo, and Nicole Kidman portrays the archetype of motherhood as Sue. In all honesty, it has been a while since I’ve seen performances with such strength and precision. Every shot, every angle and sound, is infused with pure emotion. After catching my breath and wiping the tears away (yes there were tears), I felt grateful to have witnessed this one of a kind cinematic piece. Moreover, these types of stories, give you perspective and a chance to give in to your emotions. It did for me; as I sat in that darkened Toronto theater, as far as physically possible from Saroo’s Calcutta, I felt as close to him as one can feel.

Fences (Directed by Denzel Washington)

Brian Wendelken, Volunteer

Denzel Washington’s adaptation of August Wilson’s Fences is a film that deals with the themes of corrupted innocence, gender roles in society and within the family, and the harsh realities of life (particularly as a black man in 1950’s Pittsburgh). It is also a story of forgiveness, love and setting your own course. Its Christmas Day release felt appropriate to close out 2016, a year that has seen such chaos and social unrest on a global scale. Denzel Washington’s portrayal of Troy Maxson shows a man whose bravado, charisma and promises keep his family together. Troy watches his son, Cory (Jovan Adepo), becoming a man and fears that Cory will follow in his footsteps. Troy raises Cory tough and is hard on him out of spite or perhaps due to foresight but even at his most loving moments he confides in Cory that he just wants him to get as far away from Troy’s life as he can. He wants Cory to be nothing like himself and pressures him to study and help with chores. When Troy’s infidelities come to light and threaten to tear his family apart, his wife (Viola Davis) is faced with the impossible task of living with Troy, keeping their home together and even raising Troy’s daughter as her own; giving hope and light to the darkest and most harrowing situation imaginable. Fences is a powerful film and I believe it is one of the most important stories told in the history of American theater or cinema.

Zootopia (Directed by Byron Howard & Rich Moore)

Camila Perez, Volunteer

This animated Disney movie features the courageous tale of an innocent, good hearted bunny named Judy Hopps who has dreams of becoming a city cop alongside an intimidating team of tough buffalos and tigers and bears, oh my! The story’s plot is driven with a multitude of different animals (a reference to the diversity of our own human cities). Zootopia fearlessly dives into the corruption of speciesism within the animal society that is embedded deep within the structure of how their law enforcement works. Judy Hopps’ character is a great role model for both kids and adults because she showcases bravery, resilience, and ruthlessness even in a harsh and unfair environment. This is my favorite 2016 film because even though this kids movie is rated PG, there are deeper messages that offer very relevant contexts to think about like racial profiling (or in this case, species profiling), police brutality and corruption. Even with all of these controversial topics intertwined in the film, the brave Judy Hopps is ready to combat anything in the way of the fair and just society she dreams of policing. The movie is inspiring, laugh-out-loud funny, stimulating—an exciting and entertaining combination for audiences of all ages to witness the hopeful bunny successfully land a ‘good cop’ role, one that demonstrates the role we hope all of our own city cops fill.

The Lobster (Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos)

Juan Collado, Intern BFF

The Lobster navigates a future dystopia where single people must fall in love within 45 days or else become an animal of their choice and released into the wild. The film, a commentary on the ways love and relationships are drilled into our minds, explores the extent many will go to in order to fall in love and also how little others will try. I admire Yorgos Lanthimos choices as a filmmaker to use film as a medium to shine a light on our society. I love how untimely the comedic points in the movie are and how one can relate to the character’s predicament and their reasons for not falling in love. As a big Colin Farrell fan, I found myself loving him more in this obscene, abstract, and bizarre environment. The Lobster is much like many other films I love from the other side of the world such as Songs from the Second Floor and Vodka Lemon. This movie is definitely out there as far as content and storytelling goes, but if you’re up to the task, this movie will make you look at death, suicide, love, and systems of oppression differently. 

21 Days Under the Sky (Directed by Michael Schmidt)

Karen Cooper, Volunteer

This documentary takes DIY motorcycles and the all-American road trip to another level. We follow four bikers who meet in San Francisco to begin a 3,800-mile coast to coast ride. The film takes in America’s extraordinary landscapes along the way and the final result feels raw, wild and awe-inspiring. I was extraordinarily lucky to see it in the presence of the writer, poet/journalist Kate O’Connor Morris, (yay for women in film!) along with cast and crew. Also, I’m pretty sure having the screening in a Brooklyn gallery/biker bar, with a slew of bikes lined up outside (all of which ROAR’D after the film ended), also impacted my decision to vote this as my favorite film of 2016!

These C*cksucking Tears (Directed by Dan Taberski)

Joseph Vassily Willwerth, Creative Projects Coordinator

The Establishment weighed heavy on this here moviegoer as I rifled thru my mind’s filmic library in search of a title that would not only sum up my sense of taste in 2016, but the emotional fabric shaped by its 365 day runtime. Smoke That Travels (Briët) and Napoleon In Exile (Litwak) were disqualified due to a conflict of interest, as were Gosh (Gavras) and Kenzo World – The New Fragrance (Jonze) because music videos, commercials and short films are not worthy of, and historically speaking, never on Best of Lists. But then I heard a voice. It was a convincing one, and its outlier tone asserted this: “There’s a lot wrong with the establishment . . . . . and f*ck [them]!” The voice behind this influential adage, Patrick Haggerty, is also the hero of a 16 minute documentary called These C*cksucking Tears and it’s the best darn motion picture of 2016. 

The fabulously titled film follows a now 72-year-old Haggerty as he plays old folks homes and clubs alike, while recounting his life as the artist who released the first openly gay country album the U.S. of A. ever heard (Lavender Country, 1973). As a young boy raised in 1950s America who was gay but not fully conscious of it, Haggerty struggled with something universal: the fear of rejection felt when one’s behavior does not align with social mores. As he aged, and went on to write songs that put his sexuality front and center (e.g. “Cryin’ These C*cksucking Tears”), Patrick’s inclinations (musical and sexual) cost him fame, fortune — and by his account, acceptance in the conservative country music capital of Nashville — but they did not cost him dear ol’ dad. In a pivotal childhood moment, face covered in glitter, lipstick from ear to ear, a fearful Patrick quickly ducked away to avoid his father as they beelined towards each other in a hallway. Haggerty Sr. later confronted his son and gave him a piece of advice which would fundamentally shape Patrick, who took his father’s loving command, adopted it, and in turn became the expressive, artistically innovative, sex-positive soul that this documentary reveals him to be. It’s advice that oughta be passed down not only from every father to every son, but right here, right now, from me to you: “don’t sneak — or you’ll ruin your immortal soul.”

The Birth of A Nation (Directed by Nate Parker)

Nathalie Thomas, Executive Assistant

This film came to us at a time of great racial upheaval in our country and at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests that took our news media outlets by storm. The Birth Of a Nation is my favorite movie of 2016 because it was the impetus that propelled many uncomfortable but important conversations about race — conversations that are urgent and need to take place. I found this film provocative (and that’s not alluding to the allegations surrounding its director). The film’s true history is one that has been cast in the shadows, hidden and masked by many other narratives. At the helm, Parker manages to reveal a small flicker of the painful reality of an oppressed people with dignity and agency. This, all while making a point out of the title by pushing two cinematic pieces into a conflicting conversation. The timing of this film was crucial and is another reason why it’s so close to my heart. It also pulled many other Oscar nominated films into the overall dialogue of the black experience in America i.e. Hidden FiguresFencesMoonlightLoving and I Am Not Your Negro. This film was great even if for the sole reason that it starred, was written, directed and produced by a single black man — an admirable rarity in the film industry. I foresee a lot of thesis papers being written on Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation. It’s sure to become part of the fabric that shapes the dialogue about race in America for years to come.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story ( Directed by Gareth Edwards)

Tilo Zingler, Marketing Research Analyst

First of all, I am aware that this is probably as far far away from an independent film as said galaxy in the beginning of each Star Wars installment. Nevertheless, this film did something I deemed impossible; Rouge One rekindled some of the Star Wars magic of old. After George Lucas himself oversaw the making of Episodes I-III and failed on so many levels, the hope of creating a cinematic experience worth of the original trilogy faded. With Episode VII hitting cinemas last year, Disney showed some promise, but ultimately left us feeling like they tried too hard by squeezing in as many original trilogy references as they could into one movie.

While Rogue One is still far from perfect, director Gareth Edwards shows that he understands some of the strengths of the original three in tone, character and storytelling, while learning from the mistakes of the latter films. It has a more authentic and grimier look; stormtroopers with dirt on their uniforms, vehicles with visible dents and scratches that actually look like they have seen plenty of intergalactic warfare and not just those straight out of the CGI shop. It is the focus on details combined with a good cast and a story that is plausible within the existing Star Wars canon, that make this movie a pleasant surprise. It was simply my favorite movie experience of 2016 because it left me with a new hope for the Star Wars franchise under Disney, and the desire to watch this classic Star Wars masterpiece again.