Elaine Kim’s top five films of 2016

Jan. 10, 2017, 5:19 p.m.

5. “The Lobster”

Here’s a dark, cynical film that puts Tinder under the magnifying glass. The soundtrack swells with glorious cruelty and anxiety, as our main character struggles to find a partner under government-mandated incarceration in a hotel for singles. If he fails, he will be turned into an animal of his choice (a lobster). His friend is punished for masturbating to the picture of a naked woman on a horse by having his hands put in a toaster. (“If I were in your shoes, I would not be ogling the naked woman but the horse,” the hotel manager chides in a deadpan voice, “I’m sure that horse was once a weak and cowardly man just like you.”) For millennials, and anyone else, it’s a lesson on how love can be simultaneously liberating and blinding.

4. “Your Name”

There’s a lot of talk about Makoto Shinkai being the heir to the great Hayao Miyazaki. “Your Name” is certainly a work that, despite some cringeworthy frills, illustrates why. Two teenagers — one living in the dizzying skyscrapers of Tokyo, one in the bucolic town of Itomori — wake up one morning to find their bodies switched. Cutesy romance is a given, but the film dares to ask how and why human connection matters in the grand scheme of things. In twist after twist, like threads of time, Shinkai explores tragedy, memory and the interconnectivity of things with dexterity. And there’s something pure and earnest about the animation itself, especially the light of the shooting stars that illuminate the story throughout.

3. “Right Now, Wrong Then”

Hong Sang-Soo’s small, talkative film depicts a day’s worth of interaction, twice, “Groundhog Day”-style, between a fawning movie director and his new acquaintance/love interest, an opaque, feminine artist played with nuance and mastery by actress Kim Min-Hee (“The Handmaiden”). Though technically not much at all happens in the first version of the story or in its playback, the film’s true charm comes from revealing the unexpected in the completely expected; incremental variations in the second storyline lead to surprisingly different outcomes and moods. And crude, unanticipated zoom-ins and panning shots add to the effect — the timing always seems to be a little bit off in this film, perhaps explaining its title.

2. “Sing Street”

Watching this delightful coming-of-age film a week before my high school graduation probably weighed it in my favor. The catchy musical numbers that take big cues from ’80s Britpop certainly also helped. Often, when films portray teenagers, they project a caricatured idea of teenagehood onto their story. Not “Sing Street.” Troubled family dynamics, a city falling into decay, romantic fumblings, and all the desperation that comes with the age come off as truly genuine and — what’s the buzzword — relatable. The young, talented cast doubles the worth of this film, even if certain viewers might struggle with their heavy Irish accent.

1. “La La Land”

Los Angeles is a technicolor dream in Damien Chazelle’s second feature film. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling prance around to what can only be described as uplifting, beatific music — but make no mistake, “La La Land” is not “The Notebook” 2.0. Rather, it’s a loving etude to Hollywood, old and new, and the sacrifices we make to keep it magical.


Contact Elaine Kim at elainekm ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Elaine Kim is a frosh who hopes to decide on a high-returns, low-effort major. Her classmates often tell her, “I could never have guessed you were NOT American!” As a South Korean native, she has ambiguous feelings about this. In her free time, she wishes that she were reading Foucault, but she sleeps instead.

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