Some critics are lamenting an increasing "marginalization of cinema" (e.g. Kent Jones, Film Comment), while others believe that the medium has completely lost its cultural relevance and influence (among others, Bret Easton Ellis). Interestingly, most observers seem unable to agree even on what constitutes "cinema" today: in an age marked by an overabundance of streaming and on-demand options in domestic (but also mobile/nomadic) settings, a plethora of inane blockbusters in theaters (what The New York Times' critic Manohla Dargis calls "conglomerate cinema"), and sophisticated (in terms of production value, budget, and storytelling) TV series, the tide is clearly shifting.
In my case, "cinema" these days refers, almost exclusively, to "film festivals": I have seen most of the movies comprising my list during events like film retrospectives in Turin, San Francisco and the Cannes, Locarno, and Venice festival "selections" in Milan. Some of these films, for example Bruno Bonello's amazing Nocturama, have not been widely distributed yet. Alas, I missed several gems, including Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester by the Sea, Pablo Larrain's Jackie and Neruda, Olivier Assayas' Personal Shopper, Kelly Reichardt's Certain Women and Paul Verhoeven's Elle among others. Thus, my list is clearly incomplete, perhaps more incomplete than in previous years.
Although I spent a significant portion of 2016 in the Belpaese, I have seen very few Italian productions. I take full responsibility for this omission (recommendations always welcome). Ironically, some of the most interesting Italian films I did manage to catch were directed by expats, like Roberto Minervini, whose unclassifiable The Other Side is featured in MY FAVORITE DOCS OF 2016 list. I was completely underwhelmed by Luca Guadagnino's remake of A Bigger Splash ("A long carabinieri joke") but I'm looking forward to his take on Dario Argento's Suspiria. At I post this, the shooting of the updated horror cult is underway in Varese, Italy.
Speaking of horror - my favorite film genre - 2016 was undisputedly disappointing. I loathed most of the critically acclaimed darlings, including Nicholas Pesce's The Eyes of My Mother, which I found juvenile and vacuous, or Fede Alvarez' Don't Breathe, which only works for the first thirty minutes. The only real surprise was Karyn Kusama's The Invitation. Robert Eggers' squandered his otherwise interesting The Witch with a corny ending. I missed Isaac Ezban' The Similars and Avishai Sivan's Tikkun but I deeply enjoyed both Yeon Sang-ho's Train to Busan and The Wailing. I could not understand the critics' excitement for Babak Anvari's Under the Shadow aka "the Iranian Babadook". Nothing that I have seen, however, compares to these. Or these. I loved Nicolas Winding Refn's The Neon Demon, Lucile Hadzihalilovic's Evolution (a masterpiece), Pablo Trapero's The Clan and Marcin Wrona's Demon: all horror movies sui generis.
Anyway, these are my favorite films of 2016, and yes, three of the top five were directed by women.