Posted January 23, 2017
Updated January 30, 2017 | Updated January 31, 2017 |
funny thing happened on the way to the movies the other day.
friend of mine asked me how I knew what films would be making my best of
the year compilation. More
specifically, she asked what qualifies a film to make the Top 10 cut...and
lazily, I refrained from directly answering her, mostly because - even
after a decade of producing such lists and blogs - I'm still in a process
of discovery in terms of how I arrive at these decisions.
of the year film lists write themselves.
I barely struggle with remembering what ten films squandered
countless hours of my life.
Yet, doing the flip side is mentally arduous for me.
It's not just a simple matter of putting all of my four-star reviewed
films here (because, yes, I gave that rating to more than ten films last
year)...it's more complicated than that.
As a chronic procrastinator,
creating these lists is a tedious process. Yet, and as was the
case with all of my previous best of blogs, my typical rationale for a
film's inclusion here is fairly basic: These are films that spoke
personally to me on varying intimate levels...and more than any others that were
released in the year that was. I
generate these lists not to appease or impress anyone...except myself. For those that demand objectivity from the writer in
generating these lists...that's nonsensically silly.
Film criticism is the most subjective of discourses;
need not apply.
also aim for variety, when at all possible, and my picks below reinforce that:
There's a blood soaked invasion thriller, a stop motion animated film, a
race relations drama, a coming of age drama, a supernatural horror film, a
chilling documentary, a modern western, an alien invasion sci-fi thriller,
and two musicals (granted, one of them more readily adheres to the
requisite traits of the genre than the other).
As of the date of my initial posting of this, there are a small
number of films that I've been unable to screen, such as JACKIE, HIDDEN
FIGURES, and PATRIOT'S DAY. Once I see them and believe that they deserve inclusion
anywhere on the list below, I'll immediately amend this blog.
Watch me talk about some of my picks on CTV:
1. SING STREET
Deep down, my head is telling me that the number 2 film listed below is the crowning artistic achievement of 2016. Yet, my heart seems forever and lovingly linked to SING STREET, a modest and unassuming period dramedy that filled me with euphoric joy while watching it.
If this film were a person...I would hug it.
And as far as feel good cinema goes, SING STREET is pretty much damn perfect and a work to be embraced.
2. LA LA LAND
I'm not sure how
I could possibly discuss the finest films of the year that was without
mentioning the truly magnificent LA LA LAND, the superlative musical from
the 31-year-old wonder kid director Damien Chazelle, whom previously made
a rather large critical splash a few short years ago with his masterful WHIPLASH
(another musically themed effort).
Villeneuve can easily take claim to being one of the pre-eminent film
directors working today, with films like SICARIO,
ENEMY, and PRISONERS
under his belt. He simply may
not have an equal...that's how good he is right now.
sci-fi masterpiece ARRIVAL was just the icing on the cake as far as his
career goes, which emerged in 2016 as a wonderful antidote to bloated
blockbuster films that focused on eye candy first and ideas, character,
and stories a distant second. With
a top notch cast, impeccable visuals, a captivating narrative about first
contact with an alien species (all done through breaking down language
barriers) and compellingly rich themes, ARRIVAL was in the grand tradition
of thinking man's sci-fi and deserves high placement on this list.
And for anyone still worrying about BLADE RUNNER 2049 next
year...that film is remarkably solid and assured hands with Villeneuve
quarterbacking it all.
HELL OR HIGH
WATER was a victim of a poor release date in 2016.
It hit cinemas at the tail end of the summer film season, during
which time it was vying for attention against large scale studio
McKenzie's crime drama flew in under many people's radars during that
period...and triumphantly emerged as one of the year's most quietly
TICKLED is one
of the strangest films that I've ever seen during my twelve-plus years as
a film critic. It was also one
of 2016's most hypnotically compelling documentaries; once it had me
trapped within its hypnotic tractor beam it was impossible for me to
break free. Months later, I'm
still processing and thinking about it.
6. THE WITCH
horror film can throw violence, gore, and jump scares up on the screen in
hopes of terrifying audience members. Now, legitimately frightening viewers, though...that's a whole other ball game.
There have been many films
well before Barry Jenkins' MOONLIGHT that have dealt with what it means to
be black man living in America, but very few have dealt with it as
compellingly as his film does.
Adapted from the play of the same name by Tarell McCraney, MOONLIGHT eloquently and powerfully explores the multiple stages of one man's life - from childhood to adolescence and then finally to adulthood - and his attempts to define himself and understand his place in the world around him. And it was a rare film that invited viewers in to observe its flawed characters with a compassionate eye, something that many other films out there could learn from. That's what great films do: they offer us a portal into lives not fully seen before and allow us to inquisitively observe them. The universality of the themes explored in MOONLIGHT crosses all race barriers and into something commonly shared: the struggles of personal identity. As a result, Jenkins' film felt so much more intimate and personal than so many others that dominate the multiplexes these days.
were two films from writer/director Jeff Nichols that I could have easily included on my
Top 10, but I decided to go with his more low key and
effective film from last year in LOVING.
It's a fact based historical drama that's done with an abundant amount of masterful tact, restraint, and filmmaking economy in telling the tumultuous account of Mildred and Richard Loving, an interracially married couple in the 50's that nearly went to prison...for being married. The film is a stirring chronicle of their uphill battle to challenge societal laws, the racial prejudices and chronic bigotry of the era, and even the Supreme Court. With finely modulated performances, pitch perfect less-is-more direction, and a historically compelling narrative, LOVING may not be flashy Oscar bait...but that's precisely why I loved it.
usually talks about Disney and Pixar when debating the great animated
films of our time, but Laika usually gets lost in the mix.
That's the Oregan based stop motion animation company responsible
for films like CORALINE and
PARANORMAN, but their crowning achievement is easily KUBO AND THE TWO
STRINGS, an endlessly beautiful fantasy with echoes of the WIZARD OF OZ
and set in the wondrous visual delights of ancient Japan.
This lush and gorgeous film not only had superlative animation, but
heartfelt storytelling and a core message that had relative meaning for
young and old viewers alike. This
film got lost under the mightily omnipotent industry shadow of Disney and
Pixar, but it was far and away the year's best animated film.
10. GREEN ROOM
GREEN ROOM was a mercilessly effective invasion thriller that starred the late Anton Yelchin as the leader of a metal band that ends up being brutally victimized by a bar of neo-nazi scumbags - all led by Captain Picard himself, Patrick Stewart. Unflinchingly raw, stomach churningly violent, and nightmarishly intense, this thriller had a feral ferocity unlike any other film I saw in 2016. Director Jeremy Saulnier can certainly be credited with crafting a film here that I most likely will not watch anytime soon again, but the Hitchcockian manner that he precisely manipulated and played audience members in GREEN ROOM is a ringing endorsement of his monumental talent behind the camera. It's a blunt forced, teeth clenched, white knuckled, and anxiety inducing nightmare of a film ostensibly designed to make us squirm and feel queasily uncomfortable. GREEN ROOM was an fiendish engine that traumatized viewers...and it had few equals last year.
Watch me discuss my picks from above...
|...and now to round off my TEN BEST FILMS OF 2016 with my selections from 11-25:|
11. MIDNIGHT SPECIAL: Another solid entry from the reliably stalwart Jeff Nichols, this time taping into the alien sci-fi genre.
12. SNOWDEN: A triumphant return to form for writer/director Oliver Stone, showing him at the full command of his powers of persuasion.
13. THE LAST MAN ON THE MOON: An absorbing documentary that chronicled the life and times of the final man to step foot on the lunar surface 40-plus years ago.
14. PETE'S DRAGON: A criminally overlooked Disney live action remake of their own 1970's live action/animated/musical fantasy that was surprisingly moving and poignantly rendered.
15. SILENCE: Martin Scorsese's two decades in the making spiritual/historical epic once again highlighted his directorial might.
16. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA: Casey Affleck, Lucas Hodges, and Michelle Williams more than deserved their Oscar nominations for this raw and powerful family drama. (added January 31, 2017)
17. HACKSAW RIDGE: Mel Gibson's return to the director's chair after a ten year absence netted superlative results in this gripping and gut wrenchingly visceral fact-based WWII drama.
18. THE LOBSTER: A strange and surreal social satire that felt like an off-kilter hybrid of Wes Anderson and George Orwell.
20. THE NICE GUYS: Writer/director Shane Black's 70's era crime comedy contained one of the most effective comedic team-ups of the year with Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling.
21. POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING: This was the best least seen comedy of 2016, a music industry satire that deserved very worthy comparisons to THIS IS SPINAL TAP!.
22. ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY: The first in what will be a long lineup of STAR WARS standalone films displayed ample imagination while working in George Lucas's vast fantasy/space opera sandbox.
23. A MONSTER CALLS: A terribly overlooked dark fantasy with sobering themes that viewers young and old could learn from.
24. THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN: One of the finest high school dramedies of recent memory was an unqualified performance showcase for the rock solid Haliee Stenfield.
25. DEEPWATER HORIZON: This reality based disaster picture was one of the most technically impressive films of director Peter Berg's career.
|Beyond my TOP 25, here's a further selection of films that are definitely worth seeing, but just not quite great enough to make the final cut:|