Presented in nearly the order I saw them, here are my top 14 films of 2016.
This is a quiet film. There are lengthy shots of the wind blowing through the trees. The place it takes you is the confines of this family juxtaposed against the massive undiscovered world beyond the tree line. The era it takes you to is simple, punctuated by the chaos and rage of fear and suffering.
It would be very easy to draw parallels between what the oldest daughter in this film goes through to, say, a lesbian girl coming out to her family even today. In alienating the girl from her family, the film throws shade on every member of the family; from screeching twins who may or may not be possessed to the questionable behavior of the father to save his family from complete damnation.
For me, the film gave me the space and time to question every character. I lingered in their reality for long enough to think myself in circles. By virtue of all this space, the film builds tension in tandem with distrust. I found myself questioning every character (including the livestock), and continuing to be anxious for and surprised by the answers.
You're going to need a dark room, the darker the better. You're going to need it to be very quiet. Turn your phone off for 90 minutes. Engaging fully with this film is how it should be seen. I had the fortune of a very quiet audience in attendance while viewing this film while friends of mine have not had the same pleasure, and the difference in experiences seems to make or break the film.
THE FINEST HOURS
"In tha coast gAud they say ya gatta go out. They don't say ya gatta come back." -Bernie WebbAh
Reason one for my affection for this film: Chris Pine, you darling man, your accent was... astonishing. I love how much your performance made Ryan laugh. The trailers alone for this film endeared me to it thanks to the litany of goofy voices.
Accents aside though... let me tell you why I like this movie so much: The crew of the SS Pendleton. While the movie is split pretty evenly between Bernie Webber's plot at the Coast Guard station and the back half of an oil tanker, it was the crew of the back half of the oil tanker that I found most compelling, dramatic, and interesting. The oil-slicked, brawny crew is composed of a wide-range of complex personalities. Cassie Afleck's character is emotional married to the Pendleton. The chef is outwardly jovial for the benefit of his staff while inside cowering like a sheep. The boy that the captain can't understand when he speaks is smart and careful even when he's frightened. Everyone cast as a member of this crew clearly took time to round out their character and the relationships between them all come through in their half of the film. Ah, all while rushing around in greasy water, might I add. This is great writing, great direction, great acting, all working hard together to make me care for these men stuck at sea in the back half of an oil tanker.
I don't remember the real Eddie's performance. I was just a bit too young to appreciate anything other than The Muppets at the time. Even if you don't know who Eddie is, this charming biopic is still valuable on many levels. First of them being the adorable, clever, talented Mr. Taron Egerton. Taron instantly makes Eddie sympathetic despite the insanity of the character's actions. From the very beginning, you're rooting for Eddie.
Eddie's mother also endeared me to Eddie himself. She is presented as a gracious, proud, strong, encouraging, loving woman who works as hard as she can to help Eddie out from under the discouragement from his father. I love her as much as I love Eddie in this film.
And as far as story-telling goes... this movie hits every beat. I laughed, I clenched my teeth in fear, I cried tears of joy.
There isn't a whole lot more for me to say other than GO SEE THIS MOVIE! It's a triumphant tale in a new world where triumph will come in many shapes and forms. Eddie may have been a one-Olympic wonder, but his efforts reshaped the sport of ski jumping and the definition of victory.
10 CLOVERFIELD LANE
Goddamn was John Goodman great in this film (sorry for the terrible angle in the pic, John!).
There are a lot of spoilers that could come out of a review of this film, but part of what I loved about it was that I knew so little for certain about the universe in which this film is set. I had a lot of ideas... it does have Cloverfield in the title. Remember Cloverfield? That shaky-cam kaiju flick? So I go to see this movie that I know is set in a bunker from the trailers, and I *think* is set in a world where monsters are real. I don't know when it is set compared to it's fellow film (not sure if it is a prequel or sequel or simultaneous-el or alternate reality-el). I don't know who these people are or why they act the way they do.
Here is what I do know... they are all in a bad situation. Some worse than others. They are all questionable characters based on their actions (although we follow the thinking and discoveries of Michelle, I still can't figure out why she left Rocket Raccoon at the start of the film).
This film pits the bad-bunker-buddies against the fear of the unknown quality of the world above. Is it worse to be trapped underground with a mentally-unstable, overpowering, and potentially murderous man as a companion or be torn apart by the radioactive climate and giant monsters that *might* roam above ground? Do you fight the certain threat, or risk the uncertain one?
Either choice, it's a scary one. And a scary film. And an exciting film. And a lot better than that other Cloverfield movie.
I hear a lot of people, specifically fans of the horror film genre, complain that there is a lack of originality or that "they" only make remakes these days or whatever other bogus mumbo-jumbo. Sorry, friends, but you cannot complain to me about nothing new hitting the screens if you haven't been paying enough attention to seek out horror films put out by studios like A24 and Annapurna. Both are mid-sized studios who are distributing quality films with quality casts. And these are exactly the studios fans of genre films should be seeking out and supporting. Don't complain to me, movie goer, if you think the only movies being made these days are by Marvel Studios. It doesn't take a whole heap of effort to open your fandango app every once in a while and see what's playing and who funded it. Even on film-remote Cape Cod, we have multiple cinema options. We didn't get to see Lobster or Swiss Army man this year, but we did get The VVITCH and Green Room on the big screen.
Okay, enough fan-bashing... this movie is hardcore. This movie is scary. This movie is gory. This movie is believable. These characters are tough as nails. These characters cry. These characters are not easy to predict who lives and who dies... or at least, hard to predict in which order they die.
Nod to Patrick Stewart's super understated evil in this film. And damnit, Anton is such a great talent. I already miss him so much. Maybe the actual greatest loss alongside Bowie this year. He had so much going on, so many performances in him... so much potential lost to a seriously freaky accident.
I also LOVE when a story teller is brave enough not to give everything away. I LOVE the very end of this movie so much. It ends on a simultaneous pay-off and sting. So good.
In an attempt not to get too hyperbolic in my praise of this movie... WHY ISN'T THIS AT LEAST AS POPULAR AS HAMILTON!?
This is a movie about a GANGSTER KITTEN.
You read it right. A. Gangster. KITTEN.
Great qualities of the film: lots of love for George Michael. No supernatural bs (I do not count that one scene as supernatural, it was a vision). No talking animals (yeah, you can make a film about a gangster goddamn kitten without making it talk other than meowing). John Wick quality gun shoot outs.
Also... IT IS A MOVIE ABOUT A GANGSTER KITTEN!
It didn't make my list because of the cg rock (which was genuinely awful). It didn't make my list because of the plot. It didn't make my list because of Kevin Hart. It didn't make my list because of Dwayne Johnson.
This film made my list because Kevin Hart AND Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson are comedic soulmates. Thank goodness they finally found each other and are making movies together now and forever.
These two have magical chemistry. Just looking at this picture of them makes me smile.
I adore them. I will see any movie they make together.
THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR
The Purge Election Year came out at a time in American politics when I was able to laugh at satirical content. Now... and this might sound dramatic, but it feels a bit too real. A film franchise built on economic inequality as its central protagonist to the world in which it takes place, is too true in a real world where one of the wealthiest cabinets in American history is now only 20 days away from taking office and taking control.
The NFFA - the New Founding Fathers of America - are a bunch of wealthy, old, white farts who make bank on the damages done during the annual purge. They are too powerful for the rules to apply to them. They are too wealthy to suffer. Their power manifests in a few poignant ways throughout the film. One key point I thought was particularly telling was that the shop owner featured in the film can't afford the sudden and extortionate spike in his purge insurance that comes just days before the purge. The rich get richer, right? Right. Up until the point that the underground bad-asses come for their asses!
Aside from political commentary, the film also has some fantastic scares, creative designs (rock on costume and prop departments!), and some really likable characters who develop throughout the story.
I loved this movie. I need to watch it as many times as I have seen the other two Ghostbusters. I love Kate McKinnon. I love that Ecto is now a hearse (seems wildly appropriate for a ghost busting vehicle). I love that they kept the logo. I love that little girls and boys now have a team of badass women to look up to. I love that the film plays with all conventions by casting a hunk of beautiful man-meat in the secretary role (although to be fair, Janine was never as brainless as Kevin). I love that almost the entire cast of Other Space made appearances in the film. I LOVE the scene with Kristin Wiig's Erin is being dragged out of a fancy restaurant screaming and crying at the Mayor. I love Kate McKinnon. I love what Paul Feig does for Melissa McCarthy on a performance level. This and Spy were so much fun and so sweet.
The cg was stylized and mesmerizing in 3d. The gags were fun, funny, and charming. I don't have anything deep or complicated to state here. I don't have any complaints other than how jarring some of the cameos were (but I kind of expected that to be honest). I just enjoyed it. And girl power! Am I right?
STAR TREK BEYOND
I really like the entire new series of Star Trek films, with and without Benedict Cumberbatch. I love Bones played by Keith Urban. I love Spock played by Zachary Quinto. I love Kirk played by Chris Pine. I love Uhura played by Zoe Saldana. I love Chekov played by Anton Yelchin. I love Sulu played by John Cho. I love Scotty played by Simon Pegg. I love it all.
And in this flick, I really love the female lead, Jaylah. She's compelling, beautiful, strong, clever and independent.
My overall opinion of this film is in keeping with my opinion of the other two. It is fun, colorful (visually and contextually), action-packed, pretty, very pretty, and smart. While I don't expect a high emotional reaction to films like this one, I do expect to be entertained. And I was.
Plus, the film created the space for a stupendously cliché moment, and basically gave the audience the bird for even thinking it would do such a thing. I loved that. Idris Elba was also, by the way, great in this!
KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS
Laika did it again, folks. From the masters behind Box Trolls, ParaNorman, and Coraline, comes Kubo and the Two Strings. The stop motion animation is beautiful and captivating. Laika continue to break new grounds in animation. The story is sweet, heroic, complex, and compelling. The MUSIC is phenomenal!
Here I am going to go again and tell you... if you are one of those folks who claims that nothing new and original is being made... go buy a pair of Nike shoes or go buy this movie on bluray or do both. (Nike foot some of Laika studios' costs for their films. Pun intended!)
Kubo is a new fairy tale. A NEW one. And it's beautiful!
Trapped in a house with a blind karate wizard master man, bitter and angry about what other people have done to him, is a bad place to be. But, it is a great premise for a film. Especially if, like me, you get claustrophobic.
Beyond the premise, the film delivers motivation for each character believable enough to have created the situation of the film. The scars got me. The tension got me. The desperation and hopelessness of the situation was felt.
My favorite part of this film was how evenly matched the main woman and the blind man were matched. She was smart, but desperate. Good scary movie if you want to be scared. And in my opinion, making someone feel scared for as long a duration as this film did a great work.
FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM
Here is another film for me wherein the characters are what endears me to it. Oh, the human/wizardy characters AND the animal ones. The beasts were indeed fantastic.
The non-heroic male figures, the somewhat diddling but proactive and vibrant female figures, the complex and distant figure of the wizard president lady, the awkward and suppressed children, they all fit into each other's story lines like weirdly shaped jigsaw puzzle pieces. Rowling knows how to write a story, no doubt about it.
My favorite part of this film is the contrast between it (where and when it is set as well as the encapsulated story) and the Harry Potter films. Most significantly, the wizards of old timey New York are much more overtly isolationist, while the Hogwarts adults work strongly against their own racism for the benefit of the children - especially those with part or all muggle parents. Racism and discrimination is still a convention of the wizard world in both films. In Fantastic Beasts, our muggle or Nomage is the affable baker, Kolwaski. He doesn't voluntarily entangle himself in the world of wizards so much as he is sort of smuggled into it by Newt (who I genuinely think needs and wants another outside friend to give him courage and perhaps even show him how to "normally" react to certain things, because I think Newt doesn't conform to social norms on all levels). Kolwaski is loved by all - in and out of the film's reality - and his story is probably the most beautiful and emotional of all the characters in the film. His role as the outsider is even more powerful than that of Harry or Hermione who both come from a different place than most of the other characters in Harry Potter, because Kolwaski ultimately, even though he is desperately in love with a wizard lady, decides not to become part of the wizard world. I feel that this choice is not out of fear or cowardice, but out of bravery. For Kolwaski, he has the option to let his wizard friends take care of him, astound him, and protect him, or he can face the world head on and make his own way. Newt undermines Kolwaski's strength of character at the end, but I believe that Kolwaski was prepared to grit his way to success if he had to. I believe that although he would not remember what he'd experienced, he knew more about his true character from the experience and had faith enough himself to carry on through his own world of struggle and make his dream of owning a bakery come true. That, to me, is what Fantastic Beasts is all about, I guess. I hadn't thought as deeply about it as this until just now... need to go re-watch this film soooooon. Also, I think I just made this my favorite Harry Potter franchise film...
She might still have the insanely big eyes of a bratz doll, but aesthetically, Moana as a character design, takes Disney a huge step in the right direction towards all-body-type-inclusive. The film still suffers from the all-female-characters-faces-are-the-same while all-men-have-weird-and-interesting-shaped-heads problem... why is that!? It's almost like we hold women, all women, to a uniform standard of beauty, even when we are consciously trying to do the opposite.
That being said, Moana's character/personality/role is progressive. She's in line to become chief. Heck yeah! And at no point does the film make any excuse for it. It just is how it is. She isn't perfect, she isn't flawless, she can't do it all alone, but she tries, and that's awesome. Aladdin was nothing without the genie, so I have no complaints about Moana enlisting the begrudging assistance of a demi-god.
This film also made my list because, well, I am still a bit high on Lin-Manual Miranda, so...
Oh yeah, and, the tattoos on Maui are fun and a great little story device: how to say a lot without saying anything.
Actress of the Year: Amy Adams
Batman vs Superman, Arrival, and Nocturnal Animals
I felt compelled, after seeing Arrival and Nocturnal Animals, to include a top/favorite actress in my list of favorite films of 2016. Amy Adams is incredible, but you knew that already. She was the second best thing about Batman Vs Superman (second to Wonder Woman, of course), and she was the centerpiece for both Arrival and Nocturnal Animals both aesthetically and narratively.
Actor of the Year: Mads Mikkelsen
Doctor Strange and Rogue One
Because I decided to chose an actress of the year, I thought I should even things out with a bit of Mads Mikklesen. Like Amy, he was my favorite part of several films this year that weren't over-all good enough to make my list. Namely, Mads rocked the most stellar eye-make up this side of the galaxy in Doctor Strange, and he played an epic role in the new Star Wars movie. His death in that film was the most compelling part of Rogue One for me - possibly because Felicity Jones as Jyn made me actually care about him as a person and not just a plot point.
Finally, to give some context to my list, here are all the films I saw in the Theatre in 2016 (in the wrong order, but whatever):
- The Witch
- The Finest Hours
- Hail, Caesar!
- Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
- Zoolander 2
- Eddie the Eagle
- Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
- 10 Cloverfield Lane
- Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice
- Hardcore Henry
- Captain America: Civil War
- Barbershop: The Next Cut
- Green Room
- The Jungle Book
- X-Men: Apocalypse
- The Nice Guys
- Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising
- Me Before You
- Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
- The Conjuring 2
- Central Intelligence
- The BFG
- The Purge: Election Year
- Star Trek Beyond
- Sausage Party
- Kubo and the Two Strings
- Don't Breathe
- Blair Witch
- The Magnificent Seven
- Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
- The Accountant
- Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
- Doctor Strange
- Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
- Nocturnal Animals
- Lights Out
- Rogue One
- Assassin's Creed
- imp man 3