The Best Movie Trailers of 2016
It’s hard to deny how great of a year 2016 was for cinema. Its films gave voices to exciting new filmmakers and dimension to veteran ones. While not the finest year for modern franchising (with some exceptions), it was an exceptional year for independent cinema, with bold visions premiering almost weekly. Not all were great - some of them were quite terrible, actually. But with every failed idea came a slew of great ones, seemingly proven time and time again with just how stacked movie theaters became in later months of the year. And with great films come great previews, a sentiment that’s never been more true then it was last year. Here are some of 2016’s finest trailers:
Honorable Mentions: American Honey, The Fits, A Bigger Splash, Kubo and the Two Strings, La Tortue Rouge
10. Star Trek: Beyond
It was around the 20 second mark of Star Trek: Beyond’s first official trailer that I knew we were in for something special. It’s Kirk and Spock’s brief exchange, delivered over flashes of the Enterprise being torn apart by waves of swarming aliens, that earned my trust in Justin Lin’s new direction for the franchise. When Kirk voices his uncertainty towards the crew’s survival on a foreign planet, Spock reacts with a pitch perfect response - one that not only outlines the tone of the new installment in the Trek revival, but beautifully encompasses the purity of Gene Rodenberry’s original vision for Star Trek: “We will find hope in the impossible.” The rest of the trailer is as vibrant and colorful as the film turned out to be - a refreshing change of scenery in a summer filled with apocalypses and resurgences. Lin smartly sets the trailer to the Beastie Boys’ 'Sabotage' - both a kick ass tune and a nod towards Captain Kirk’s character progression (the song last played in during young Kirk's frantic getaway in 2009’s Star Trek), used not as an act of defiance, but an act of unity; igniting hope in those who need it most.
Isiah Medina’s 88:88 is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. It’s a radical look at poverty in Canada, but one with a profound individualism - overlapping music and noise and visuals into a surreal digital portrait of injustice in the modern world. The trailer deserves a spot on this list simply for showcasing the film’s remarkable style - compressing experiences and feeling and emotion into a single image. Warmth through the screen of a camera phone.
8. The Handmaiden
It’d be hard to make a bad trailer out of a film like The Handmaiden, a technically flawless film constructed of gorgeous money shot after money shot (and not much else) but nevertheless, this trailer fucks. Matching the sheer ferocity of the film itself, the preview’s one minute runtime is enough to leave you in need of a cigarette. Unfolding in quick glances, beautifully cut to Vessel’s ‘Red Sex’, its darkly erotic and downright twisted imagery is teased in millisecond long images, teaching you just enough to realize that you know nothing at all.
It’s no surprise that the trailer for a new film from one of the greatest living directors would be one of the year’s finest - but wow. The trailer for Martin Scorsese’s epic religious drama Silence is a journey in itself; driven by its commanding score, it’s a blend of intriguing storytelling and genuinely mind blowing imagery - in particular, the image of Garfield’s reflection in a puddle resembling Jesus Christ is an all-timer. I’ve yet to see the film, but if its storytelling is half as gripping as its trailer… oh boy.
Oddly enough, the smartest choice in the minute-five second trailer for Beyoncé’s visual album Lemonade is its exclusion of her music. Not because the album isn’t deserving; it’s a stellar exploration of grief, forgiveness, and black identity - but because it understands that Lemonade is far more important than just lyrics. The trailer is haunting, rapidly cutting between the film’s 11 chapters: disjointed screeches and soft hums sound over second long imagery - past and present, black and white, light and dark, while Beyoncé’s whispery voiceovers overlap. Pull me in, pull me in, pull me in…
5. The Lobster
The trailer for Yorgos Lanthimos’s absurdist comedy The Lobster does a miraculous thing: it captures the stillness and dry wit of the film, while still preserving its warm, human core. It’s Rachel Weisz’s smile around the minute-twenty mark that really gets me - after all the awkward dancing, the stilted interactions, the seemingly hopeless search for love, it’s that little smile she gives that says everything you need to know. It’s an oddly endearing trailer, transitioning from a blunt introduction to the film’s bizarre premise to Colin Farrell and Weisz’s gentle romance, and then back to the absurd.
4. Knight of Cups
No one cares about reality anymore. The trailer for Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups opens with a pulsating bass - an unhinged rhythmic sort of droning. Fleeting images of neon-lit strip clubs, high-rise parties, empty movie sets, studio photoshoots, all overlaid with detached wisdoms spoken at our protagonist. We frantically intercut between the wild LA nightlife that Rick (Christian Bale) lives, and the internal displacement it causes. Interestingly, it follows a similar structure as the film itself - careening between the conscious and the subconscious headspace of Rick; opening with the extravagant before dissolving into the personal - ephemeral touches, glimpses, loves. It’s… a lot, but the trailer walks the line between absurdity and honesty with such wonderful fluidity, that it’s hard not to get swept up in its sheer majesty.
“I’m not the first lady anymore…” Just stunning. Elegantly showcases some of the film’s finest moments while not revealing all of its tricks, the sheer amount of powerful imagery here was enough to keep me thinking about it all year. The crane shot of Jackie holding her husband’s lifeless body in the backseat of the presidential car, Jackie crying in the shower - blood and makeup and tears and faucet water course down her face, the way she looked in her husband’s eyes as they danced. It illustrates the film’s suffocation with near perfection, as the music builds and the images pass and the gunshot deafens it feels like a weight getting heavier on your shoulders that you can’t seem to put down. It’s the story of a woman. A Christian, a widow, an icon, but most importantly… a mother; compassionate and loving and scared and tired -- trying to stand tall but forgetting how.
2. La La Land
The first trailer for La La Land was so effective for me because it captured everything that I didn’t get from the film. That feeling of falling in love, slowly and then all at once. How it exists on the thin divide between reality and fantasy… how sometimes it’s hard to tell those apart. Weirdly, it’s the cut from the old movie stage to the truck passing by that makes me most emotional. Mia and Sebastian’s love was born in reality but lives in a daydream - they stand together on the sidewalk of a studio lot, but looking in on the golden-pink set and imagining they’re living it is enough. Songs end, scenes fade, suns set… their love might not last forever, but nothing ever does.
The trailer for Barry Jenkins' masterpiece Moonlight is the best of 2016 because, in the end, it achieves the impossible: it captures the feeling of actually watching it. Its beauty lies in the revelations found somewhere behind everyday experiences: hands drifting away from your back as you realize you’re floating in the ocean, the delicate touch of fingers against your cheek... his eyes float away from Chiron’s, but the look they shared was infinite. The trailer’s progression is a microcosm of the film’s, opening and closing with an ethereal stillness, everything in between is life, and eventually, history. The choice to open the trailer on something as simple as a mid-drive conversation is a stroke of genius. Chiron smiles, his grill catches passing street lamps. He asks why Kevin’s staring. “What man, come on you just… drove down here?” There’s a lull… a stillness raised by his question, before Chiron’s response - spoken with such fragility, such delicacy, like his one word answer holds the wisdom of a thousand years: “...yeah.” The truth is it’s all lead up to this conversation… but he doesn’t know how to say that, he was never good at putting his thoughts into words. The truth is, with apprehension and curiosity and agitation, Chiron’s been driving down to meet him his whole life.