Top 16 Films of 2016

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

That’s right! I saw 16 movies that were great and worth mentioning. Before I count them down, I have a few things to mention:

  • Grades are arbitrary. So, just because a movie has an A+, that doesn’t mean I’m going to rank it above the A’s and A-‘s.
  • If there’s a movie missing, keep in mind I saw well over 70 movies throughout the year for review. So, if there’s one you liked that’s missing, I either didn’t see it or didn’t like it.
  • As much as I loved Hail, Caesar!, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, The Edge of Seventeen, and The Witch, these are honorable mentions, as I found the top 16 films superior.

And my top 16 films for 2016 are:

16) The Hunt for the Wilderpeople – This New Zealand gem is loaded with heart, humor, and a myriad of action movie references that left me entertained beginning-to-end. The underrated Sam Neill also gives an award-worthy performance that’ll sadly be looked over.

15) Manchester by the Sea – The most recent film I reviewed, Manchester by the Sea is a funny, heartbreaking, and sincere depiction of grief. Casey Affleck once again delivers a powerful performance as Lee Chandler, this year’s most haunting on-screen protagonist.

14) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – I know a lot of fans are mad this isn’t higher on my list, but hey, I still loved Rogue One! This is a refreshingly dark and political installment in the Star Wars franchise, featuring one of the year’s best final acts.

13) 10 Cloverfield Lane – Semi-sequel to the decent monster film Cloverfield10 Cloverfield Lane is an old-fashioned thriller reminiscent of 80’s sci-fi and horror films. John Goodman delivers a chilling performance as survivalist, Howard. His relationship with Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Michelle is also an in-depth commentary on abuse that left me floored.

12) Doctor Strange – Benedict Cumberbatch steals every seen as our charismatic and arrogant titular character. Between his performance and Scott Derrickson’s bizzare and innovative visuals, Doctor Strange is a must-see for Marvel fans.

11) Deadpool – Speaking of Marvel, Ryan Reynolds gave me what I wanted: a damn fine Deadpool movie. Reynolds brings his A-game in a movie packed with meta jabs at himself and the superhero genre, frenetic action, and quotable dialogue. Deadpool has set the new bar for R-rated superhero movies.

10) Hacksaw Ridge – Mel Gibson makes a directorial comeback with this harrowing and spiritual war film. Hacksaw Ridge has some pretentious moments, but they’re redeemable thanks to Andrew Garfield’s amazing performance as conscientious objector, Desmond Doss. Between his performance and Gibson’s visceral direction, it’s now a top contender for best WWII movie.

9) Moonlight – Director Barry Jenkins directs this year’s most ambitious and unique film. It’s a tough film to watch, focusing on three periods in one man’s life. The journey pays off as we’re treated to some innovative cinematography, a kinetic score, and beautiful storytelling.

8) Zootopia – One of the most important films of the year, Zootopia is an insightful and funny animated film with a lot on its mind. Did anyone expect a cartoon to have thought-provoking commentary on race, discrimination, xenophobia, and gender roles? We’ll need more films like Zootopia over the next four years.

7) Kubo and the Two Strings – Kubo and the Two Strings is a magical animated film with heart and superb animation. Dario Marianelli’s brilliant score and the ensemble voice performances make Kubo an unforgettable experience.

6) Green Room – Jeremy Saulnier’s third film Green Room is sick, twisted fun. Combining arthouse elements of Gus Van Sant with grindhouse elements of John Carpenter and Sam Peckinpah, Green Room is an explosive tribute to siege movies and punk music. It also features an against-type performance from Patrick Stewart and one of the late Anton Yelchin’s final performances.

5) Captain America: Civil War – As a Marvel fan, I was satisfied with the morally ambiguous turn in Captain America: Civil War. The second and third acts contain the year’s best action sequences and one twist that made the movie into a dark dysfunctional family tale.

4) The Nice Guys – Shane Black takes his buddy cop formula and mashes it into the Film Noir genre (my favorite genre); the result is a smart, hilarious, and stylish throwback on 70’s New Hollywood. Russell Crowe returns to form in his most badass role since 3:10 to Yuma, while Ryan Gosling shows off his hidden comedic talent. The duo’s chemistry is brilliant!

3) Hell or High Water – A modern Western reminiscent of the Coen Brothers, Hell or High Water is a cynical and poetic tale of brotherhood. Ben Foster and Chris Pine shine as a pair of troubled brothers while Jeff Bridges steals every scene as the persistent lawman. The final scene alone makes Hell or High Water a haunting, but rewarding experience.

2) Arrival – Arrival is the year’s most challenging film. It’s slowly paced with minimum dialogue, but expressive. Director Denis Villeneuve makes an uncommonly optimistic and beautiful hard sci-fi film, featuring the best twist ending I’ve seen in years. It’s an emotional journey, and it shows Blade Runner 2049 is in the right hands.

1) La La Land – I’ve been singing “City of Stars” nonstop since I saw La La Land, this year’s best film. Director and writer Damien Chazelle follows Whiplash with another love letter to jazz. La La Land is a more hopeful commentary about passion and dreams, and it’s packed with masterfully directed musical numbers and more winning performances from Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. This will be the Best Picture winner!

Those were my favorite movies of 2016! What was yours?

Advertisements

“Manchester by the Sea”

About 90 minutes into the emotionally draining “Manchester by the Sea,” I was pleased when Matthew Broderick (Ferris Bueller) showed up on screen. This gave me a much needed chuckle.

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a broken man. He lives in solitude, he’s rude to tenants (he’s a janitor), and he’s inept to women’s pickup attempts. Why? We learn the answer as Lee travels to Manchester, MA for his brother’s funeral, and it’s devastating.

Lee then must confront his own demons and come to terms with his brother’s death. However, he also needs to decide whether or not to take guardianship of Patrick (Lucas Hedges), his nephew.

“Manchester by the Sea” is a powerful, quiet film with great performances and authenticity. The first 45 minutes are realistic, as we watch Lee go through the legal process of declaring his brother dead. He has to fill out paperwork, sell his brother’s possessions, make funeral arrangements, and finally tell Patrick what happened.

Patrick’s reaction hit close to home for me, as he’s sad one moment, but then asks for pizza and to hang out with his friends. It’s his own way of mourning, while Lee’s is eating pizza alone in his bedroom. Their relationship is the strongest part of “Manchester by the Sea.”

Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges both deliver career-defining performances as Lee and Patrick. Their banter and arguments feel genuine, combining drama with a small dose of much-needed humor. Michelle Williams has a brief role as Lee’s ex-wife, Randi. She’s only on screen for 10 minutes, but it’s enough to remind us she’s one of the best working actresses today.

“Manchester by the Sea” is a heavy film about grief. It’s also a sensitive and sincere film about the subject, given recent films about grief haven’t been (thinking of “Collateral Beauty”).

Grade: A

Top 5 Nice Tries of 2016

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“What do you mean, ‘Nice try?!'”

Oh, I might get some backlash on this one. I’ve decided to do a special countdown of 5 movies that were released this year that I found overrated, disappointing, or both! Each movie was one filled with great potential, but simply didn’t live up to it. Here we go!

5) The Girl on the Train – Emily Blunt’s powerhouse performance wasn’t enough to save The Girl on the Train from its uneven tone. Yeah, there are great moments, but there are also some silly, Lifetime material moments, too.

4) Don’t Breathe – I loved the first two acts of Don’t Breathe. It was harrowing, brutal, and featured the underrated Stephen Lang’s best work, but then we got a disgusting rape-fueled twist that made me feel like director Fede Alvarez was trying too hard. Also, how many times can you stay thrilled watching someone escape the same house repeatedly?

3) The Accountant – What was hyped as Bourne meets The Usual Suspects was a well-made, well-acted, albeit implausible mess. Ben Affleck and Jon Bernthal carry the movie and Affleck’s portayal of autism was admirable, but the final twists were predictable and illogical.

2) High-Rise – Director Ben Wheatley tries too hard to be Stanley Kubrick in High-Rise. The themes, dark humor, morbid violence, and transgression of A Clockwork Orange are present, but after an electrifying 45 minutes, High-Rise is nothing more than a redundant homage.

1) Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice – It’s the DC fanboy side of me, but I had faith that Zack Snyder would right his Man of Steel wrongs in Batman vs. Superman. Instead, he made countless mistakes, except for casting Ben Affleck and Jeremy Irons as Batman and Alfred. Batman vs. Superman tries to touch on the titular characters’ humanity and flaws, but is instead focused more on destruction and dream sequences.

Now what do YOU guys think is the year’s biggest disappointment?

 

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

So, “Star Wars” is now a yearly thing, huh? I can dig it.

“Rogue One” is a prequel to “A New Hope,” and without going into details, it’s about a rag tag group of rebels trying to uncover the Death Star’s weakness.

“Rogue One” is still a space opera like the previous films; however, this is the franchise’s most political and psychological installment. Our main characters are morally ambiguous and aren’t afraid to kill *anyone* that can compromise them. Even the high-ranking rebel leaders have their own agendas.

The new characters include Gyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a young rebel with a grudge against the Imperial Military. We also have Rebel Alliance operative Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a sassy android K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), blind warrior Chirrut Imwe (the great Donnie Yen), mercenary Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), and Imperial traitor Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed). They’re the Expendables of the “Star Wars” universe!

On the villains side, we have the great Ben Mendelsohn as Orson Krennic, a high-ranking Imperial Officer with a raging God Complex. There’s no lightsabers or Force. This is a espionage movie in space.

Each character has their own agenda or reason for participating in the war, and we see their weaknesses and flaws. Unlike the other “Star Wars” movies where we have traditional heroes, the heroes in “Rogue One” are all flawed and feel more like people.

Director Gareth Edwards knows how to photograph action sequences, and the battle scenes are frenetic and gorgeous. There are a lot of slow tension-filled moments, emphasizing the film’s espionage aesthetics.

Every cast member does a great job, but I was disappointed that a few of them didn’t get their moment, particularly Ahmed as Bodhi Rook. Ahmed is a talented, versatile actor, but he doesn’t have his moment like the other cast members.

The biggest flaw is at times, “Rogue One” keeps alternating between its own movie and being a traditional “Star Wars” movie. Edwards wanted to make this his own, so the traditional “Star Wars” credits are absent. But we still get the traditional closing credits and numerous callbacks?

Same time, I can’t bash on “Rogue One” too much since I loved “The Force Awakens” (it was on my top 10 of last year), and that’s one big homage to “A New Hope.” If this month’s artsy movies or holiday comedies aren’t for you, check out “Rogue One” instead.

Grade: A-

PS, in case you’re all wondering what my ranking of the series looks like:

  1. A New Hope
  2. Return of the Jedi (not the best, but my personal favorite)
  3. The Empire Strikes Back (arguably the best, but I have a stronger attachment to the other tw0)
  4. The Force Awakens
  5. Rogue One
  6. Revenge of the Sith
  7. The Phantom Menace
  8. Attack of the Clones

“La La Land”

Director Damien Chazelle demonstrated his passion for jazz music in “Whiplash” two years ago, which was one of 2014’s best films. He further expresses his passion for both jazz and film in “La La Land,” which is the most passionate and energetic film of the year.

Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a self-righteous jazz musician. He wants to open his own club, but he doesn’t know where to begin. Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress. She wants to make it big, but doesn’t have faith in herself. Of course they meet and a romance blossoms, but we’re also treated to rich dialogue and lively musical numbers.

There isn’t a single dull moment in “La La Land.” From the retro opening credits to the end montage, Chazelle is on fire with the musical numbers and emotional moments. The opening scene is a masterful tracking shot, choreographing dozens of extras on a freeway who perform “Another Day of Sun.”

Every shot in this film is perfect and shows off the glamorous side of Los Angeles (a city I find dirty). Chazelle cuts the film brilliantly to highlight Sebastian and Mia’s emotions. They’re an adorable pair with great chemistry, but their mutual insecurities are overbearing.

As the film goes on, the drama progresses and we see that there are consequences to the couple following their dreams. Chazelle is less cynical about passion in “La La Land” than he was in “Whiplash,” but he remains realistic. He’s stating that you should follow your dreams, but there will be challenges along the way.

His intimacy with “La La Land” never comes off pretentious, but rather an introduction. Sebastian introduces a jazz-hating Mia to the genre, turning her into a fan. I don’t like musicals and have little jazz knowledge, but I know after watching “La La Land,” I want to watch more musicals and listen to more jazz.

“La La Land” is magical, but I wouldn’t call it a feel-good movie. It’s bittersweet, but more on the sweet side.

Grade: A+

Top 10 Worst Movies of 2016

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I’m getting this out of the way as quick as possible! I’ve seen enough movies this year to make a 10 worst list, and I don’t need to see any more!

10) Jane Got a Gun –It’s a dull, illogical, and sexist Western soap opera that features Natalie Portman’s weakest performance to date.

9) I Saw the Light – The emotionless Hank Williams biopic, I Saw the Light is Tom Hiddleston’s worst choice to date. Instead of diving into the psyche of the country icon, director Marc Abraham shows us highlights without context.

8) Suicide Squad – Suicide Squad is the latest addition to DC’s live-action screw ups. Some scenes have kinetic energy, but then others are packed with cartoonish effects and bad stunt work that make Batman v. Superman look like a damn masterpiece!

7) The Sea of Trees – Gus Van Sant and Matthew McConaughey’s collaboration received a widely negative reaction at 2015’s Cannes Film Festival. I get it because this movie tries so hard to make you feel emotions, instead resulting in laughs at its pretentious twist.

6) Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows – I thought this was going in the right direction. Instead, this was another Michael Bay-produced lackluster overstuffed with bad jokes, too many whiny characters, exposition, and a misused Dean Winters.

5) London Has Fallen – It’s an outdated and offensive action movie that should have been released 30 years ago. Gerard Butler and Aaron Eckhart are about as equal, xenophobic gun-happy ‘Miricans as Trump and Pence.

4) Get a Job – I love Miles Teller, Anna Kendrick, and Bryan Cranston, but they all embarrassed themselves in the creepy and stupid Get a Job. This is a comedy that glorifies cheapskates, stalking, and office sexual harassment. I’m 25, finished school, and in debt, but I sadly couldn’t relate to this immoral crap fest.

3) The Do-Over – Adam Sandler acknowledged recently that he knows his talent is limited. Was he thinking this during the tonally uneven, overly violent, and misogynistic Netflix film? Kudos to Sandler for switching to Netflix, but not for forcing us to watch him and David Spade get paid for hanging out and bore their audience.

2) Nine Lives – Nine Lives is the only movie I have walked out of halfway through. My walkout is the only reason sparing this disturbing cat comedy from being the #1 worst film.

1) The Darkness –  I love horror movies and Kevin Bacon, but NOT The Darkness.  There’s no originality, vision, or intrigue as we suffer through redundant cheap scares, gender and racial stereotypes, and a horrid, offensive depiction of autism. The look on Bacon’s face shows he’s aware The Darkness is garbage.

And that’s all folks! I saw these worst movies, so you didn’t have to. What was the worst film *you* saw this year?