Top 16 Films of 2016

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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?

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“Storks”

It’s a refreshing change of pace for R-rated comedy actors like Andy Samberg, Jordan Peele, and Keegan-Michael Key to show off their comedic talents in an animated family movie. “Storks” is that movie.

“Storks” is set in a world where storks used to deliver babies. The service was shut down, and the storks began delivering packages for a FedEx-style company, Cornerstore. Employee stork Junior (Samberg) regrets not firing human employee Tulip (Katie Crown) when a baby is born! They decide the best course of action is to deliver that baby without their evil boss (Kelsey Grammer) suspecting a thing.

“Storks” is a fast-paced animated comedy with several great visual gags, one-liners, and an imaginative world. This was a date movie for me, and I was surprised at how much fun I was having.

I can attribute my joy to Samberg’s sharp delivery and his chemistry with Crown. Key and Peele also steal a few scenes as a pair of wolves who want to raise the baby as their own. The movie is also quite heartfelt with positive messages about family, and how you can find family in a friend.

I normally don’t like pop songs used in movies (especially after “Suicide Squad” overkilled it), but “Storks” uses its pop songs well. Vance Joy’s “Fire and the Flood” strengthens the sentimental climax.

There are a couple of flaws that bring the movie down a few grades. There’s a stork that Danny Trejo voices, who plays an important part to the script, and we don’t get to know him well like we should. There’s also a little too much verbal exposition for my taste, but this is forgivable due to the film’s energy and humor.

“Storks” is a fun family movie and so far the best movie of September. This month is dreadful, so I’m thankful I chose this as my date movie.

Grade: B

“Kubo and the Two Strings”

I’m probably being biased since I live in Oregon, but Laika’s “Kubo and the Two Strings” just gave Disney a run for its money. It’s the best animated film of the year, and you know how much I loved “Zootopia.”

Kubo (Art Parkinson) is a one-eyed boy in an Ancient Japanese village, who makes money by telling mythological stories with his shamisen (it’s best you watch the movie to understand).  Kubo is supposed to be home before dark, but when stays out too late, he finds himself hunted by his evil grandfather (a chameleon Ralph Fiennes) and witch aunts (both voiced creepily by Rooney Mara).

With the help of a warrior monkey (Charlize Theron) and a dimwitted samurai beetle (Matthew McConaughey), Kubo must find a sword and armor to face his grandfather.

The film opens with a voice over narrative saying, “If you must blink, do it now…” and Kubo’s right to instruct this. Start to finish, “Kubo and the Two Strings” is loaded with beautiful imagery and technically impressive stop motion effects.

The screenwriters confidently write a story that appeals to everyone. It’s a coming-of-age movie, a family movie, a Japanese mythology, a samurai film tribute, and even a horror movie (this is the same studio behind “ParaNorman”). The result of its genre combination is a thrilling, but moving adventure that will make you appreciate your family.

Acting-wise, everyone delivers. Parkinson (Rikan in “Game of Thrones”) is terrific and sounds like a kid, rather than a Hollywood kid. Theron voices the Monkey with sass and maternal love. McConaughey is comic relief, but he kills it.

The diegetic samisen sequences play an important part of the film’s narrative and blend well with Dario Marianelli’s beautiful non-diegetic score. Regina Spektor also provides an impressive cover of The Beetles’ “While My Guitar Gently Wheeps” that suits the movie’s magic. The music is the star of “Kubo and the Two Strings.”

If I go on talking about “Kubo and the Two Strings,” I’m risking spoilers here, so I’ll simply say this, see the damn movie.

Grade: A+

“Sausage Party”

I know people don’t like Seth Rogen as a comedian, but have you paid attention to his writing in “Pineapple Express,” “Superbad,” “This is the End,” and most recently, “Sausage Party?” The man is a genius.

“Sausage Party” is an R-rated 3D-animated comedy that focuses on food. Much like “Toy Story,” the inanimate objects come to life when humans aren’t around (food in this case).

Hot dog Frank (Seth Rogen) and his friends Carl (Jonah Hill) and Barry (Michael Cera) are excited to pair with a package of buns, which includes Brenda (Kristen Wiig). However, they realize that their so-called “Gods” want to cook and eat them, so they must find a way to warn the rest of the food in the grocery store.

“Sausage Party” opens with a brilliantly vulgar musical number, featuring foods singing about the gods choosing them to go to heaven. I realized “Sausage Party” was more of a satire than advertised at this point, and I was totally fine with that. The movie satirizes religion, politics, and relationships as told through the foods.

Sour kraut wants to exterminate the juice (sound familiar?), the hot dogs want to fuck, fuck, and fuck while the buns want to talk and cuddle, and a bagel (Edward Norton) and a lavash (David Krumboltz) have cultural differences. The satirical points are the highlights of “Sausage Party.”

We also see in great horror what cooking food looks like through their points of view. Potatoes are skinned and boiled, lettuce is ripped in half, cheese is shredded on top of a plate of chips before microwaved, and we even see a used condom traumatized from its use. These scenes are darkly funny, but surprisingly nightmarish to watch.

The cast of “Sausage Party” excels with their voice acting. Cera is perfect as a socially awkward hot dog who seizes the day, Norton does a great Woody Allen impression through his bagel and delivers some of the sharpest lines, and Nick Kroll steals every scene as an antagonistic douche.

We also get wonderful moments from a liquor bottle (Bill Hader), a sexy taco (Selma Hayek), and a bath salt-addicted human (James Franco). They’re great, but Wiig is the standout, thanks to her awkward line deliveries and random moments of singing.

“Sausage Party” drags in the middle since foul-mouthed food gets old after a while, but thankfully it picks up steam in the last 20 minutes. The last 20 minutes are too good to spoil, but it’s the craziest and foulest climax I’ve seen in any cartoon. But who said animated movies can’t be foul?

“Sausage Party” isn’t for everyone, but for Rogen fans, food lovers, and people who love a good R-rated comedy, you won’t be disappointed.

Grade: A-

 

“Finding Dory”

The first fifteen minutes of “Finding Dory” were a drag until a funny thing happened – it tied into the beginning of “Finding Nemo.”

“Finding Dory” takes place a year after “Finding Nemo,” and Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) now lives with Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence). Marlin still struggles to tolerate Dory while Nemo looks up to her. When Dory begins to wonder where her parents are, she goes on a quest to find them, dragging Marlin and Nemo along. And like in its predecessor, they meet new friends, encounter perilous situations, and learn the meaning of family.

“Finding Dory” is a faster-paced film compared to “Nemo,” and we barely get a moment to breathe. I rarely consider animated movies intense, but I’ll make an exception in this case. I attribute this to the film being focused on Dory, our lovable fast-talking amnesiac fish.

Dory has a lot of depth in this one and we get an insightful study of short-term memory loss and its struggles. She also has a great moment where she monologues about not having a plan (no, not like “The Dark Knight”), and it makes her stand out more.

Marlin is along for the ride in “Finding Nemo,” and it’s a rehash of him overcoming his neurotic behavior. However, Ed O’Neil’s voice work as grumpy octopus Hank is fantastic. He’s a polar opposite of Dory, helping her on her adventure, despite trying hard to stay emotionally distant.

“Finding Dory” is an unnecessary sequel, and could have been boring, but between the beautiful animation, narrative tie-ins to “Nemo,” the origin of Dory’s whale-speaking, and the voice acting, it’s a solid sequel and better than “Cars 2,” and “Monster’s University.”

Grade: B+

“Zootopia”

The trailer for “Zootopia” made it look as if the only standout moment was that now-famous sloth scene. The trailer editors should be fired because there’s way more to “Zootopia” than satirical DMV commentary.

It’s a world run by animals and our protagonist is the first rabbit cop, Judy (Ginnifer Goodwin). Tired of being assigned to parking duty, she steps up and investigates a missing otter case with the help of a con artist fox named Nick (a terrific Jason Bateman). And like in all cop mysteries, the case is bigger than they expected.

“Zootopia” is the biggest surprise so far this year because going in, I didn’t expect this to be Disney version of Film Noir. I didn’t expect a five-minute-long “Breaking Bad” parody. I especially didn’t expect meta and fast-paced jokes reminiscent of “The Simpsons'” golden age (makes sense since co-director Rich Moore directed some of the best episodes).

We’re treated to wonderful voicework from Bateman, Goodwin, and Idris Elba as the stern police chief cape buffalo, who delivers some of the film’s best lines (keep your ears open for the monologue about real life). The script is also well-rounded in world building, as we see how an animal-run society functions.

Predators are ten percent of the population and have the most authoritative positions while smaller animals (like rabbits) are looked at as underdogs. Foxes are treated cruelly due to their savage reputation. This makes Nick and Judy a terrific buddy cop pair. They’re the outcasts out to prove to Zootopia that the outcast animals can succeed.

There’s social commentary present that is by no means preachy or heavy-handed. Between a scene where Judy addresses being called cute as inappropriate and scenes involving Judy’s discouraging parents, it’s a good lesson for younger audience members.. That’s if they can make it that far without being bothered by the jump scares.

Moore and co-director Byron Howard are also behind other recent Disney greats such as “Wreck-It Ralph” and “Frozen”. Those two were also meta, grandiose, and surprisingly dark like “Zootopia”. “Zootopia” is more on par with “Wreck-It Ralph” in terms of style, but still as magical as the latter.

Grade: A

Top 5 Summer Movies of 2015

I’ll keep this very brief, but here are my picks for the top 5 summer movies of this year.

5) Jurassic World – I know a lot of people disagree with me here, but it’s two hours of nostalgia at its finest. Funny and suspenseful, Jurassic World keeps me invested as a fan of the Jurassic Park franchise.

4) Trainwreck – I’ll ask this – why hadn’t I heard of Amy Schumer before seeing Trainwreck?! She’s fucking brilliant!

3) Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation – Tom Cruise hangs on the side of a plane, nearly drowns, crashes a car, and chases bad guys in a high speed motorcycle chase in the best installment of the franchise.

2) Inside Out – You know you found a special animated film that depicts the highs and lows of growing up while paying tribute to abstract art and disaster movies.

1) Mad Max: Fury Road – It’s the action movie no one expected to like then went back to see it three more times! Why? Because it’s a groundbreaking, beautiful, and thrilling spectacle.

Where’s my worst? Well, it’s no competition with “Fant4stic”, ladies and gents!