My Favorite First-Time Watches of 2016


I saw a total of 1482 movies last year, and 1012 of those were films I’d never seen before. Rather than trying to come up with a top ten list for the year (although if I had to pick a favorite new release, it would probably be either Anomalisa or Hell or High Water), I just decided to provide a list of some of my favorite movies that I watched for the first time last year. So here’s the list (also available on Letterboxd):

The 12 Disasters of Christmas (2012) — The Mayans were right about 2012 being the end of the world, but they also knew how to stop it, and they ensured that knowledge would survive the end of their own civilization by encoding the secret in the Christmas carol “The 12 Days of Christmas”. Now Jacey, with the help of her parents Mary and Joseph, must use menstrual cramps to help her find five golden rings hidden around their small town of Calvary to stave off destruction.

Alyas Batman en Robin (1991) — One of the greatest possible results of the lax copyright laws of the Philippines, the Caped Crusader and his sidekick, sing, dance, and fight their way through nemeses like The Joker and The Penguin.

Anomalisa (2015) — An animated film about a man who sees everyone with the same face and hears everyone with the same voice. And then he encounters a woman with a different face and a different voice.

Author: The JT LeRoy Story (2016) — A documentary about a sensational young writer. It’s best to go into this one with as little knowledge as possible.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016) — A father and son (Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch) spend a stormy night performing an autopsy on an unknown female.

Bad (aka Andy Warhol’s Bad; 1977) — A woman runs a combination beauty parlor, boarding house, and hitwoman service.

Bad Black (2016) — Made on a budget of hundreds of dollars and unlimited enthusiasm, this Ugandan action movie features a kid named Wesley Snipes who teaches a doctor to be a badass. The running commentary alone is worth ten times the price of admission.

The Bandit (2016) — A documentary about Burt Reynolds, Hal Needham, and the creation of Smokey and the Bandit.

The Bat Whispers (1930) — A master criminal has made a name for himself by announcing his thieving intentions to the police ahead of time and still pulling off the job. Then, he sets his sights on a mansion full of lots of interesting people.

Beauty and the Beast (1946) — Jean Cocteau directs what must be the definitive live-action version of this tale as old as time.

Bound (1996) — A former criminal (Gina Gershon) intends to make good, but that flies out the window when she falls for a woman (Jennifer Tilly) with a plan to steal from her mafioso boyfriend (Joe Pantoliano).

Criminally Insane (1975) — Ethel (Priscilla Alden) is an obese woman with a history of mental illness. People who try to get her to eat less tend to wind up dead.

Dirkie: Lost in the Desert (1969) — A young boy named Dirkie finds himself alone with his dog in the Kalahari Desert.

Don’t Kill It (2016) — In this Fallen meets It Follows kind of horror comedy, a demon hunter (Dolph Lundgren) must find a way to take out a demon that possesses whoever kills its previous host.

Down Under (2016) — A hilarious Australian comedy about two groups of idiots facing off against each other in a race war.

Eating Raoul (1982) — Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov star in this dark comedy about a couple who invite horny men to their apartment with the promise of sex, only to kill and rob them.

The Edge of Seventeen (2016) — An awkward, self-centered teenager (Hailee Steinfeld) hates the world, and she becomes even more incorrigible when her brother (Blake Jenner) starts dating her best friend (Haley Lu Richardson). Featuring a surprisingly good supporting performance by Woody Harrelson.

Elle (2016) — Isabelle Huppert plays a woman whose father is a serial killer, whose mother enjoys gallivanting with hot young men, and whose son is having a baby with his awful girlfriend. She also runs a video game company that is producing a highly sexualized game, and now she is a rape victim.

Enter the Ninja (1981) — An American veteran turned ninja (Franco Nero) learns that Filipino businessman (Christopher George) is intent on taking the farm of his war buddy (Alex Courtney, whose wife is played by Susan George).

The Favor, the Watch, and the Very Big Fish (1991) — Louis (Bob Hoskins) is a photographer who specializes in religious imagery. Sybil (Natasha Richardson) is a woman who does voiceover work in pornographic movies. Sybil tells Louis about a gifted pianist (Jeff Goldblum) who is about to be released from prison, and Louis hires him to portray Jesus in his photographs.

Fences (2016) — Denzel Washington plays a man who sees himself as fighting the good fight to provide for his family, but is in actuality one of the best villains of the year. But the real superstar of this film is Viola Davis, who provides what is unquestionably the greatest performance of 2016.

Fraud (2016) — A highly unique and mostly fictional narrative is seamlessly crafted from assorted YouTube clips.

The Fugitive Kind (1942) — A wanderer (Marlon Brando) finds his way into a small town and gets a job at a store run by a lonely woman whose cruel husband (and the store’s owner) is dying of cancer. Directed by Sidney Lumet, and featuring Joanne Woodward, Maureen Stapleton, and R.G. Armstrong.

Fury (1936) — A man (Spencer Tracy) is mistaken for a murderer while driving through a small town whose inhabitants decide to take matters into their own hands and carry out the execution themselves. But the man survives, and he wants revenge.

Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff (1979) — A white schoolteacher is raped by a black janitor, but then finds herself in a forbidden relationship with him. The impressive cast includes Donald Pleasence, Robert Vaughn, Earl Holliman, Ronee Blakley, Doris Roberts, R.C. Armstrong, and Dana Elcar.

The Handmaiden (2016) — A mischievous Korean girl agrees to help a con man win the hand (and fortune) of a wealthy Japanese woman, only to find that the situation is much more complicated than it first seemed. Another masterpiece from director Park Chan-wook.

Häxan (aka Witchcraft Through the Ages; 1922) — A Swedish silent film that depicts the history of witches and demons and other types of mystical folklore.

Hell or High Water (2016) — A pair of brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) plan to rob several branches of a Texas bank with little regard for their clientele. Jeff Bridges is determined to stop them.

Heroes for Sale (1933) — A William Wellman film about a man who can’t catch a break. He was a war hero, but whose credit went to someone else, and who just ended up as a morphine addict unable to hold a job.

The Hitch-Hiker (1953) — A couple of guys on a fishing trip pick up a hitchhiker that turns out to be an escaped serial killer. Directed by Ida Lupino.

The Horror of Party Beach (1964) — A small beach town is terrorized by monsters created by radioactive waste. A scientist works to find a way to fight the monsters, with the help of his daughter and her boyfriend.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) — When a kid’s foster mom dies, the government wants to take him away from foster dad Sam Neill. The two take to the New Zealand bush to prevent that and become infamous in a The Legend of Billie Jean sort of way.

Hush (2016) — A deaf woman (Kate Siegel) must protect herself from a very determined home invader.

Inseminoid (1981) — When a woman exploring another planet is raped and impregnated by an alien, she starts killing her crewmates.

The Invisible Guest (2016) — A man wakes up in a locked hotel room with a dead body and desperately tries to prove that he’s not the murderer.

Jackie (2016) — Natalie Portman plays the widow of John F. Kennedy in the wake of his assassination.

Jungle Trap (2016) — Shot in the 1990s but only recently completed, James Bryan and Renee Harmon tell the story of people who travel to a haunted hotel in the jungle to get an artifact from a native tribe.

Kings of the Road (1976) — A Wim Wenders film about a man who runs a traveling movie theater, and a depressed man who hitches a ride with him for a while.

Kisses for My President (1964) — When Leslie McCloud (Polly Bergen) is elected the first female president of the United States, her husband (Fred MacMurray) becomes the first male First Lady. Also featuring Eli Wallach.

Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) — A boy with a magical storytelling ability must defend himself and his sick mother against her father and sisters.

Les Vampires (1915) — A seven-hour French silent film (originally released as a serial) about a reporter trying to expose a group of criminals that call themselves “The Vampires”.

Lethal Seduction (2015) — A talented high school student falls for an older woman (Dina Meyer), much to the chagrin of his mother (Amanda Detmer). And that’s before learning that the other woman is a jealous psychopath.

Lilya 4-Ever (2002) — A teenage orphan from Estonia goes to Sweden in the hopes of finding a new life for herself, only to be forced into service as a prostitute.

Little Sister (2016) — A woman in training to become a nun goes home to visit her family, and her goth past, when her injured brother comes home from military service. Featuring Ally Sheedy, Keith Paulson, and Barbara Crampton.

The Lobster (2015) — A dystopian future hotel provides a strong incentive for couples to find their soulmates: if you don’t find your match, you’ll be turned into an animal or hunted for sport. Featuring Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, Olivia Colman, and Léa Seydoux.

Loving (2016) — The true story of an interracial couple (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga) fights for the right to live together in Virginia, whose case went all the way to the Supreme Court.

Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979) — A Studio Ghibli film about a master thief whose big haul turned out to be all counterfeit. He decides to go after the counterfeiters and rescue a damsel in distress in the process.

Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016) — A clumsy but pure-of-heart panda (Jack Black) must deal with meeting his real father and learning more about his roots while also squaring off against a supernatural villain from the spirit world.

Mad Love (1935) — A gifted surgeon (Peter Lorre) has a crush on an actress. When her pianist husband loses his hands in a train accident, the surgeon replaces them with hands from a recently-executed knife thrower.

Magic of Spell (1988) — A Taiwanese film about Peach Boy (obviously played by a girl) who must face off against a blood-consuming devil and his magical henchmen. So of course Peach Boy teams up with a bunch of hybrids, including a dog-girl, a monkey-boy, a chicken-girl, and a ginseng boy.

Manchester by the Sea (2016) — A man with a traumatic past must deal with the death of his brother and the son he left behind. Starring Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams.

Miss Sharon Jones! (2015) — A documentary about an R&B singer who must put her career on hold while she seeks treatment for pancreatic cancer.

Moonlight (2016) — A look at various stages in the life of a boy growing up in a rough neighborhood with a mother who is an addict, who is taken under the wing of a drug dealer, and who must confront his own sexuality.

The New 8-Bit Heroes (2016) — A documentary about the challenges of indie game development for the original Nintendo Entertainment System.

The Nice Guys (2016) — A Shane Black period crime drama comedy about a single-dad private investigator (Ryan Gosling) is hired to investigate the death of a porn star, which has also drawn the attention of another brutish detective (Russell Crowe).

The Novack Murders (aka Beautiful & Twisted; 2015) — A “based on a true story” Lifetime drama about Ben Novack Jr. (Rob Lowe), a wealthy hotel owner who is very into Batman. When he ends up dead, his wife (Paz Vega) is the prime suspect. Also featuring Candace Bergen.

Paperhouse (1988) — A girl has drawn a picture of a house, only to find that she can visit that house and that changes to the drawing adversely affect that house and the sick boy who lives in it.

Pee-wee’s Big Holiday (2016) — Pee-wee Herman ventures out of his small town for the first time after becoming fast friends with Joe Manganiello and being invited to New York for his birthday party.

Pete’s Dragon (2016) — A car accident orphans a young boy named Pete in the woods, where he is found and raised by a dragon with the ability to become invisible. Pete is found by a forest ranger (Bryce Dallas Howard) whose father (Robert Redford) claims to have had his own brush with the dragon.

Pippi in the South Seas (1970) — Pippi Longstocking enlists the help of her friends Tommy and Annika to help rescue her sea captain father from his pirate captors.

Presenting Princess Shaw (2015) — A documentary about a woman who uploads her homemade musical creations to YouTube, and a musician on the other side of the world who discovered her videos and decided to turn them into something much more polished.

The Quiet Earth (1985) — A scientist wakes up one morning to find the world devoid of people after an experiment gone horribly wrong. He eventually learns that he’s not the only survivor, but those few people who are left are still in imminent danger.

Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (2015) — A documentary about a couple of boys who loved Raiders of the Lost Ark so much that they spent years creating their own nearly-complete shot-for-shot version of the film. Decades later, they reunite to complete that one remaining scene.

Remember the Night (1940) — A prosecutor (Fred MacMurray) is concerned that he might lose a Christmastime shoplifting case, he’s able to get the trial postponed until the new year. But he feels guilty about leaving the defendant (Barbara Stanwyck) to sit in jail, so he bails her out only to find himself stuck with her for the holidays.

Road House (1948) — Night club owner Jefty (Richard Widmark) becomes jealous when singer Lily (Ida Lupino) falls for his best friend, and club manager, Pete (Cornel Wilde). Jefty gets his revenge by framing Pete for robbery and turning him into his indentured servant.

Road to Salina (1970) — When a drifter (Robert Walker, Jr.) wanders into a remote gas station/restaurant, its owner (Rita Hayworth) mistakes him for her long-lost son, and the man indulges her fantasy. Also featuring Ed Begley and Mimsy Farmer.

S Is for Stanley (2016) — When an aspiring Italian racecar driver drove a taxi to make ends meet, he was hired to transport a giant phallus across London in a blizzard to a movie set. Thus began the thirty-year working relationship between Emilio D’Alessandro and Stanley Kubrick, and thus begins this thoroughly charming documentary about one of the greatest directors of all time from the perspective of the man who would become his personal assistant.

Safe Neighborhood (2016) — A fun, brutal Christmas thriller in which a teenage girl must stave off a home invasion and the advances of the horny preteen boy she’s babysitting. Featuring Virginia Madsen and Patrick Warburton.

Snowmageddon (2011) — A snow globe shows up on a family’s doorstep just as a series of disasters plague the small town of Normal, Alaska. Inside the globe is a model of the town, and whatever misfortunes befall that model also affect the town.

Southside with You (2016) — A dramatization of Barack Obama’s first date with wife-to-be Michelle.

Stroszek (1977) — Werner Herzog’s film about a lovable German alcoholic who decides to accompany a battered prostitute and an elderly man to travel to America to make a new life for themselves, only to find that it’s not quite the land of opportunity they had hoped.

Taxi (aka Taxi Tehran; 2015) — Filmmaker Jafar Panahi may have been banned from making movies by the Iranian government, but he circumvents that by posing as a taxi driver and turning his car into a studio to create a very candid film about life in the oppressive country.

Three Colors: Blue (1993) — Juliette Binoche stars as a woman who survives the car accident that killed her famous composer husband and their daughter, only to learn that her husband also left behind a pregnant mistress.

Three Colors: Red (1994) — A woman accidentally runs over a dog that belongs to a retired judge. When she tries to return the dog, she learns that the man is secretly spying on and recording the private conversations of everyone around him.

Three Colors: White (1994) — A Polish man living in France is forced into poverty when his marriage is dissolved for his inability to consummate. He enlists the help of a friend to make his way back into Poland.

Tickled (2016) — A journalist discovers the underground world of online tickling competitions and starts digging to see if he can find more about its origins.

Tower (2016) — It’s been fifty years since a sniper took up a position at the top of the University of Texas tower. This documentary features dramatized interviews with those who were there and rotoscoped recreations of the events of the day.

Under the Shadow (2016) — Being a woman in Iran is already a pretty horrifying experience, but things get worse when her home is invaded by a supernatural force.

The Uninvited (1988) — A man (Alex Cord) plans to sail his yacht to the Cayman Islands to withdraw his ill-gotten funds before they can be seized by the government, with the help of his henchmen (George Kennedy and Clu Gulager). But the crew find themselves in mortal danger from a radioactive cat escaped from a research facility.

Wendy and Lucy (2008) — An unemployed young woman named Wendy (Michelle Williams) is traveling to Alaska with her dog Lucy in the hopes of finding a job. When Wendy is detained for attempting to shoplift, Lucy goes missing.

The Young Offenders (2016) — A pair of young Irish lads with a penchant for ticking off the police embark on a cross-country bike trip in the hopes of getting their hands on a multi-million-Euro brick of cocaine that had been lost in a boat accident.

Zootopia (2016) — In a world where animals have learned to live together in peace, a young, ambitious bunny stumbles on a plot to return predators to their violent roots.