Tag Archives: the edge of seventeen

The Best Films of 2016: #20-11

Let us make one thing clear. 2016 was a shitty year in a lot of ways, I think I and countless others have said that enough. But the one place it thrived and soared was in film. While the blockbusters this year were by and large disappointing, ranging from the grimly grandiose to the inanely incoherent (and that’s just Warner Brothers), those willing to dig under the surface found a wealth of treasures.

2016 was full of film that, in the smallest ways and in the largest ways, reminded us of the vitality of film art and made it clear why we’ve gone to the movies for a century now. They made us laugh and cry and drop our jaws often all in the same sequence. In a year of films that I absolutely loved, here are the 20 that stood (for me) above the rest.

20) Don’t Think Twice

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Personal, bittersweet, and surprising, Don’t Think Twice is perhaps the surest sign that Mike Birbiglia has become one of our most potent storytellers in the world of comedy. Broaching just a little bit outside of himself, Birbiglia weaves a compelling ensemble with stories that are deeply touching for anyone who’s ever been creative and forcing themselves to make compromises. Perhaps the biggest pleasure here is his cast, featuring a host of comedians who are doing some of their best work, including Keegan Michael-Key and Gillian Jacobs in two of this year’s most overlooked performances. In a year of films that struck deep, almost nothing forced you to confront yourself quite like Don’t Think Twice. 

Best Scene: The Commune’s Last Show

19) The Nice Guys

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No film this angry has ever been this much fun. Shane Black’s darkly humorous tale of two amateur gumshoes in 1970s LA is a barrel of laughs and violence that’s seeking to figure exactly why the powerful have screwed the country up. It’s heavy stuff, but it’s told to you by one of the best duos of the year. Ryan Gosling and Russel Crowe weren’t (before this year) two guys known for their comedy chops, but the two are an almost effortless comedy team, finding almost endless comedy just in the way that they conduct their investigation. It helps that they’re assisted by Angourie Rice whose role as the precocious daughter of Gosling’s detective is the secret foundation of this movie. The Nice Guys is just the kind of adventure only Shane Black can bring, and we’re never going to be appreciative enough that we have him.

Best Scene: Party at the Porn Producer’s House

18) Sing Street

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Sing Street is the kind of film bred to be a cult classic, a deeply beloved darling among a few. Director John Carney fixes every mistake from previous Begin Again (most notably by writing songs that you want to listen to outside of the movie) and retains the huge beating heart and earnestness that make everything he’s made at least worth a watch so far. A great cast of kids anchors Sing Street, most notable because they feel like actual teenagers, not simply the construct of someone trying to remember that era. Their hopes, their fears, their sorrows, the way they process love hits so close to home, and the joys of watching them discover themselves can’t be missed.

Best Scene: “Drive It Like You Stole It.”

17) Green Room

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Green Room certainly wasn’t a film that we hoped or expected would be in the zeitgeist, but Saulnier’s story of Punks v. Nazis holds up to its surprising pressure admirably. An unrelenting blast of raw cinematic violence, I’m sure this one was responsible for more than a few claw marks dug into seats. It’s loud, it’s intense, it’s fast, it’s political and brutal. In other words, it’s punk. In a year of great films about music, no film let the ethos of its genre seep quite so deep into the bone as Green Room. 

Best Scene: “Nazi Punks Fuck Off”

16) Hunt for the Wilderpeople

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Taika Waititi has quietly become one of our cinematic treasures, a director who can put together a pitch-perfect story and cast and make it seem like he didn’t put an ounce of effort into pulling it off, that it’s just as natural for him as breathing. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a rousing adventure flick, a young boy (the wonderful Julian Dennison) and his reluctant father (Sam Neill) against the wilderness and the world. It’s a film of deep charm that finds you in love with its characters from minute 1, the kind of film that makes your day just a little better.

Best Scene: Ricky and Hec meet three hunters

15) The Lobster

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If you’re single and you feel bad about it? Just watch The Lobster. I mean, you won’t necessarily feel better. You’ll laugh a lot, sure, but as much as is from the quiet absurdity of the jokes in Yorgos Lanthimos’ script, there’s plenty that ends up just being the uncomfortable recognition of real life reflected. The Lobster is a dark, brutal satire that deadpans its way through all of what it has to say, knowing it’s the quiet fury that hits all the harder. Colin Farrell’s David is perhaps one of the most surprising performances in years, an actor abandoning all vanity to give himself completely over to a character firmly opposite to him, and that chance lays dividends. The Lobster is a gorgeously bleak and hilarious and all too recognizable film.

Best Scene: David and The Shortsighted Woman’s tense walk through the mall

14) Kubo and the Two Strings

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Kubo and The Two Strings is a deeply felt film, that wears surprisingly difficult ideas about death, moving on, and the power of storytelling inside every frame of its epic video-game inspired adventure. Laika went bigger than they ever had before and it paid off, making a film of the kind of sweeping power that can mean something different to everybody. For kids, they see the trials of growing up. For adults, they see the trials of moving on. It’s also possibly one of the most gorgeous pieces of animation in years with its rich color and heartstopping motion and moment after moment where you just can’t imagine how they pulled it off. Yet it’s not in the biggest moments that Kubo finds visual strength, but in its smallest, in its textures and its facial expressions. Kubo is a stunning piece of animation and a deeply affecting one.

Best Scene: A beautiful goodbye to end the movie.

13) Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

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Joke for joke, this is probably the funniest comedy of the year. The Lonely Island crafted a movie that exemplified everything that brought them their deserved fame: their specificity, their enormous talent, their willingness to go weird and out-of-the-box, their ethos that anything and everything about a scene can be a joke, and the fact that they’re actually pretty strong songwriters. Popstar nails its target so dead-on that it excuses the well-worn ground they trod. It even makes you grow to care about these ridiculous people a little while you laugh at them.

Best Scene: A killer bee attack while the camera is turned off.

12) The Handmaiden

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The Handmaiden is not the stuffy art film the picture above makes it appear. Yes, it’s an immaculately-composed work of Gothicism from Korean master Park Chan-Wook and yes it has plenty of ambiguity and dark psychosexual mindgames. It’s all that but it’s shoved into one of the most thrilling capers the year has to offer with a wicked sense of humor and a plot that twists every which way imaginable. It’s also got a masterful cast with two leads who deserve to be up at the Oscars this year. The Handmaiden is about as exciting and enjoyable as any blockbuster and as smart and well put-together as any art film. But that’s Park Chan-Wook for you, who continues to prove why he’s one of World Cinema’s best filmmakers.

Best Scene: This is a film where I don’t think I can pick a best scene, everything is so interconnected. Gun to my head? An early scene between our two leads in a bathtub.

11) The Edge of Seventeen

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Boy, I saw a few horror films this year and nothing made me avert my face from the screen quite as much as The Edge of Seventeen. A painfully identifiable look at teenagerdom through the eyes of the kind of teen we don’t see a whole lot on screen (not popular, not outwardly geeky, not some kind of saint), this is a film destined to join the canon of great teen films. Kelly Fremon Craig’s directorial debut is a nimbly put together work, one that gives plenty of room to a wonderful script and an impressive cast that includes Blake Jenner showing he’s got chops and perhaps the most Woody Harrelson role that he has ever been able to play (and in that, he soars). But if Hailee Steinfeld wasn’t already a star, this would definitely be the movie that makes her one, giving one of the most impressive and nuanced performances of the year that never loses its capacity to find truth. Just a film of deep thought and feeling that wears every bit of emotion on its sleeve.

Best Scene: A confrontation between Nadine and Drian

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The Edge of Seventeen is the best movie that ever made me want to crawl into a hole and die

To be a teenager is to be dramatic. At no time in your life do you go through more change with less ability to understand any of it or affect it in any meaningful way. You’re asked to grapple with the complexities of romance and career and education and major life decision-making all at the same time you want nothing but to indulge in all the new base instincts you’re slowly discovering and the hope against hope is that you’re not too fucked up when it’s all over.

That’s why teenagerdom holds such a special place in film culture and why it always will. At no other time do the smallest decisions hold infinite weight. At no other time do our wants and needs and desires all feel so intermingled and so urgent and yet have solutions that feel so relatable and profound. We are not perfect in that time period, and yet we can understand every flaw.

And it’s that imperfection that The Edge of Seventeen really hones in on. Kelly Fremon Craig’s debut feature has crafted an unflinchingly (on the movies’ part, you may flinch more than a few times) real portrait of being a teenager and dived in deep. Every moment feels authentic and lived in, every character feels recognizable. It’s a minor miracle to see a film so willing to indulge every part of the teen movie artifice and come out feeling more understanding of what people are at the end.

It’s a simple enough story. Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) is a high school junior whose older brother Darian (Blake Jenner) is Big Man on Campus, she always lives in his shadow, even with her distracted mother (Kyra Sedgwick). Then, her best friend Krista (Haley Richardson) starts dating her brother! Which is totally mortifying, right? This all sends Nadine into a bit of existential tizzy she tries to navigate, alongside her awkward new friendship/crush Erwin Kim (Hayden Szeto) and an unrequited love for a bad boy (Alexander Calvert) who doesn’t know she exists, with nothing but her sarcasm and Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson), her droll history teacher.

It’s a collection of types, sure. But what Craig seems to have a knack for is what those types actually mean about people and who they are, and how to give them just the right hint of nuance and tangibility.


Take, for example, Nadine herself. Nadine is the “disaffected with her generation with just a hint of tragedy under the surface” type that we’ve seen in basically every teen film since Juno altered the genre. She’s sarcastic, brusque, and isolates herself to her own chagrin.

“Everyone in the world is as miserable and empty as I am, they’re just better at pretending,” she and her mother tell us.

But it’s a statement like that helps to pull you in close. It’s that often we understand reasons for isolation like that, that we feel fooled into believing that no one else thinks them but rather discover that everyone else does. The isolated are relatable because we often see ourselves in them. And it’s not self-pity in that statement, but rather self-loathing. She’s not selfish, she legitimately is not okay, has a dark sense of who she is.

Ebert once said that movies are “a machine that generates empathy.” That’s the overwhelming mission of The Edge of Seventeen. It’s not gawking, it’s not maudlin. It’s pulling you in close to understand the raw, twitching nerve that are emotions and people at that age. Craig has created something that feels like anyone’s experience, and the closer you are to those teenage years, the more you will see of yourself.

It’s also knowing just the right details. It’s not a period piece, but it feels of a unique place. The film’s music use is particularly emblematic, not using to push and prod emotions like the strings of a melodrama, but just as a part of the world. We hear a few recognizable songs on radios and record players, they give shading and fleshing out to the character, always this movie is about character. It’s the kind of mode that makes the one break of it all the more powerful and heartbreaking.

Of course, much is also due to the performers. Harrellson has never been better cast and more up to the challenge, and Jenner continues, from his great turn in Everybody Wants Some!!, to reveal a surprising ability to piece out the exact little complexities of masculinity.

But this is Steinfeld’s movie and she absolutely does not disappoint. An Oscar-nominated actress gives the absolute best performance of her career so far. She’s absolutely phenomenal, all precisely metered out sarcasm and wit with a layer of pain underlying every word. She’s absolutely in control of what she’s doing and is a tour de force at every turn. The Edge of Seventeen is worth it for what she’s doing alone.

But there is a lot more. This is a deeply recognizable, empathetic wonder work of a film, the kind that just “gets it.” You may spend so much (like I did) barely able to look at the screen out of second-hand embarrassment, but that’s only because the film knows how to get its hooks in you and make you feel what it’s doing. For a brief while, you’re remembering what it’s like to be a teenager and boy does that bring back a whole lot of feelings.

Grade: A