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Rey Barcelo’s top five films of 2016

(l-r) Alex Hibbert and Mahershala Ali in Barry Jenkins's MOONLIGHT, which won three Oscars last night, including Best Picture. Photo: David Bornfriend, A24.

5. “Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World”

At first glance, German eccentric and self-professed technophobe Werner Herzog may seem an inappropriate choice to direct a documentary about the internet. Yet Herzog’s inexperience is the film’s strongest asset, since he seeks out subjects that most filmmakers would ignore. Traveling from Stanford engineering labs to technology-free mountaintop resorts populated with tinfoil hat-wearing Luddites, “Lo and Behold” is an open-minded and ultimately hilarious look at all those affected by the technology. By the time Herzog awkwardly asks Elon Musk to reserve him a spaceship to Mars, you’ll know you’re in good hands.

4. “The Lobster”

In this dystopian dark comedy, Colin Farrell plays a pathetically single sad-sack who must quickly find a mate. The catch: if he fails to do so after a month, he will be turned into the animal of his choice. Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’s penchant for painfully awkward social satire is not for everyone, but those willing to laugh at the futility of relationships will find comedic gold in “The Lobster.” A word of caution: don’t see it with your significant other (unless you want that person to become your ex).

3. “La La Land”

Don’t be fooled by the candy-colored, musical romance: Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling will sing and dance their way into your hearts, but then they are going to rip them out. Stone plays an aspiring actress who finds support in an equally unsuccessful jazz pianist (played by Gosling), as the two try to share their art with a seemingly indifferent audience. Director Damien Chazelle, fresh off the success of “Whiplash,” explores artistic ambition, nostalgia and sacrifice in a fluid symphony with surprising bite.

2. “The Handmaiden”

In less capable hands, this lesbian period piece could have become a pulpy exploitation flick gone wrong. But director Park Chan-Wook (famous for “Oldboy”) tells this tale of deception between a Korean con woman and a Japanese heiress with the suspenseful pacing of Hitchcock and the gruesome exuberance of Tarantino, all while managing to squeeze in a passionate queer subplot a la Todd Haynes. To lovers of psychological thrillers, old school blood and gore, or badass female leads, “The Handmaiden” is a must-see.

1. “Moonlight”

You’ve likely heard of “Moonlight” as intersectional “Boyhood” or some variant, but no simple explanation can do this film credit. Director Barry Jenkins tells the tale of Liberty City resident Chiron’s struggles with his sexuality and race with poetic dialogue, vivid cinematography and an epic score. Chiron is played by three actors as he ages, but supporting players Mahershala Ali (of “House of Cards”) and Naomie Harris (of “Skyfall”) are the real show-stoppers. Both deserve Academy Awards for their roles as Chiron’s father figure and addict mother, respectively. “Moonlight” may not be easy viewing, but it is more urgent and emotionally complex than any film that you’ll see this year.

 

Contact Rey Barcelo at rbarcelo ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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