You guys know the drill.
2016 was a great year for film.
I’ve picked my favorite ten.
Let’s rank them.
#10. Nocturnal Animals
The film that has sparked some of the best conversations I’ve had online, Nocturnal Animals walks the line between “was that even good?” and “this is a masterpiece.” Though we poke fun at the fact that writer/director Tom Ford is a fashion designer, we have to be honest with ourselves and say that Nocturnal Animals is shot and designed impeccably. What’s great about the film is that the aesthetics serve the narrative in that both are distant while still being exhilarating.
I’ve seen some wish that the movie was only the fictional story within the movie (the book that Amy Adams reads), but that would take away from the brilliance of the film. The fictional thriller works as a haunting allegory for its real world counterpart. Having these two stories layered together solidifies the brilliance of the film. Simply writing this blurb is stirring up that desire to talk to someone about the themes of this film and that only confirms how much I love it.
#9. Hacksaw Ridge
To put it simply, Hacksaw Ridge is just good filmmaking. The screenplay not only informs the audience of a real life hero, but takes us on an emotional journey as we connect with Desmond Doss’ bravery. Andrew Garfield, though hokey at times, really sells this character and we root for him as he seeks to save lives during wartime while never touching a weapon himself. Whether some may like it or not, Mel Gibson is back and sorry to break it to you, but the man can still direct.
There has been some interesting discussion online as to whether the film is conflicted in that it preaches non-violence while glorifying war. I respect and can definitely see that perspective, it is not how I see the film however. I see the extended (incredibly shot) battle scenes as a means to draw you into the story. We are on the edge of our seats watching these brutal moments play out and we are sucked into the world. It is in that grisly world of life or death that Doss’ sacrifice is most needed and it is in those moments that Hacksaw Ridge soars to emotional heights.
#8. Hidden Figures
The very act of writing about Hidden Figures brings a smile to my face. This is a movie that you feel good celebrating and it is deserving of any and all accolades it can receive. We have Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae and Octavia Spencer taking a stand for black women everywhere, showing that not only do they have a place in a man’s world (this time it is NASA), but they prove themselves irreplaceable in one of our best moments as a country. In addition to these wonderful ladies taking us on a triumphant ride, Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams and Benjamin Wallfisch create one of the best scores of the year, equal parts triumphant and phunky.
Hidden Figures could definitely work if it was just a simple retelling of history, but it accomplishes much more than that. We need to look at this film and celebrate the progress our country made during that time period. But make no mistake, we need to look at Hidden Figures and continue to learn how we can apply its message today. Whether it be racial or gender equality, Hidden Figures celebrates progress and serves as a warning to those who just want to go back to “the good ‘ol days.”
Though I am a big fan of Hacksaw Ridge and The Birth of a Nation, it turns out that Martin Scorsese (of all people) would end up making the best religious movie of the year. Not only that, I think time will show that Scorsese has created one of the most thought provoking pieces on faith we have ever seen. Inspiring both love and hate from Christians and atheists alike, Silence takes audience members on a grueling journey, giving them time to reflect on all things related to the nature of belief.
The film doesn’t just work as a meditative exercise, this thing has some of the best filmmaking seen this year. The production design is staggeringly good as Scorsese and company bring this time period to life. The cinematography and general lack of score really serve to suck you into this world. Once we have bought into the world, Andrew Garfield (portraying a different God fearing man going through a very different journey than that of Hacksaw Ridge) takes us through the mountains and valleys that come with following a particular faith in the midst of opposition. Though not an easy watch by any means, Silence is a truly remarkable film that will (hopefully) encourage conversation for years to come.
#6. Captain America: Civil War
If the presence of a “big dumb blockbuster” starring heroes in tights goes against your particular cinematic tastes, I’m sorry. As Ron Swanson would say, “I know what I’m about son.” To put it simply, Captain America: Civil War is not only the best blockbuster of the year, it just might be the best movie Marvel Studios has put out this far. The perfect blend of gigantic spectacle and intimate storytelling, Civil War is a total triumph and should be used as a template for all those trying to create a successful Summer movie.
From the introduction of new characters (Black Panther, Spider-Man) to the utilization of characters/plotlines we already know (Winter Soldier, Black Widow), Civil War is firing on all cylinders and it is amazing how it is able to spin all these various plates so successfully. Yes, the superhero throw down that makes up “the airport scene” is incredibly fun and really well made, but if the film ended there it would not be on my Top 10. The film goes past the bombast of the airport fight and ends with three character fighting because of an emotional development that has been built up throughout eight years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That is why I love this film, and that is why I continue to place my faith in Marvel Studios.
#5. Manchester By The Sea
It is strange. Manchester By The Sear by far features the most depressing narrative of any on this list; and yet when I think about the film I experience a wide range of emotions. Written and directed masterfully by Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester By The Sea has moments of true horror, but never loses sight of humanity through it all. It’s main source of humanity? Finding humor in the most depressing of situations.
The movie does not take horrible scenarios and try to make jokes out of them. Rather, the film succeeds at emulating real life by incorporating levity into the darkest of times. Think of reconnecting with friends/family at a funeral. Yes, that is a horrible scenario to be in, but since you are all there you (hopefully) try to make the best of it. You remember the good times in life and try to give another human being a smile during a tough time. Does Manchester By The Sea end on a happy note with everything resolved? Not at all. But it does tell a powerful story, showing how one man copes with looming responsibility while dealing with some of the most intense grief ever seen on screen.
#4. La La Land
With its impending Academy Award dominance about a month away, there is a lot of temptation to back off of La La Land. Is it really as good as people say it is? Am I just trying to fit in with the consensus online? These are valid questions that we in the blogosphere think about all the time. Maybe we all got swept up in an undeserved craze regarding La La Land?
Then I put on any of the music from the film and think back to the message it gives.
Oh yeah, the film really is that good.
Damien Chazelle has created something truly magical with La La Land, perfectly paying homage to musicals of the past while also developing a truly modern musical in every sense. From the impressive one-shots to the creative lighting to the incredible score by Justin Hurwitz, La La Land is stuffed to the brim with successful creative choices and is a film fan’s delight. Yes, the film deals with themes of relationships and the cost of chasing your dreams, but at its heart it is a simple tale pushing the dreamers to continue in their wild pursuits. This is a film that celebrates the creativity in us all, a true joy from start to finish.
This is one of the most well made sci-fi films in recent memory (and that is saying a lot since there have been so many). Denis Villeneuve’s films, while divisive, have always been absolutely beautifully made. The man is one of the best directors working today and Arrival is his best movie yet. Telling the smart story of how world governments would attempt to work together when faced with alien invaders, the film is a mature take on a standard sci-fi premise and I love it for its maturity.
I was expecting the good direction and brainy sci-fi when I went into Arrival. What I was not expecting was one of the best performances of the year and the emotional gut punch that would happen as a result of the brilliant screenplay. Amy Adams is dynamite in the role, portraying the smarts of a woman who is capable of saving the world while also communicating the emotional journey her character goes on. The last 20 minutes of this film are an absolute masterwork in filmmaking and Arrival is about as good as it gets when it comes to sci-fi.
#2. Hell or High Water
Hell or High Water represents everything I love about movies. There are well written, well performed characters. There is a story that informs the audience about a subject not previously featured in film, while also telling a gripping family drama. There is a little bit of action, but the most thrilling moments are when two characters have an impassioned conversation. And most of all, we finally have a film that establishes that “only assholes drink Mr. Pibb.” This may seem like an odd statement, so hopefully you know what I mean when I say,
This thing is a movie.
From the page to the screen, everyone involved brings their best and I love absolutely everything about Hell or High Water. Normally I would say “the world created here feels lived in,” but it doesn’t even feel right to say that about Hell or High Water because they didn’t create anything. This film gets Texas like I’ve never seen in any other film. Now simply making a film that gets Texas doesn’t make it good, but it is in the filmmakers’ research/development that we see their love for the material and that is what makes an amazing movie.
Last year we saw The Big Short shine the spotlight on the shady Wall Street dealings that lead to our country’s financial crisis. This year we have Hell or High Water giving us a different perspective, showing us how the recklessness of Wall Street affects people all over the country, even the cowboy. While these themes are meaty to chew on, it is still in the drama and performances of Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges that Hell or High Water shines. We have grandiose themes and character-based drama here, this thing is the real deal.
**Quick editor’s note. It pains me that Hell or High Water is not my best film of the year. Honestly, if the film had come out last year it would have topped that list. I saw the movie back in August and was pretty confident it would reign supreme until the writing of this list. Hell or High Water was a film pretty much made for me and I plan on recommending it to anyone who takes my opinion seriously.
Unfortunately for Hell or High Water (and all those vying for my top spot), there was one movie I saw in 2016 that from the very moment I saw it I knew that nothing else would even come close…
An absolute masterpiece, Moonlight is the not only the best movie of the year, but it is one of the most emotionally powerful movies I’ve ever seen. Written and directed with confidence by Barry Jenkins, here we have a film that walks the line between telling a powerful dramatic story while also teaching audiences about a section of humanity they have never truly thought about. Moonlight works on every level and deserves to be seen by all who seek to learn about their fellow man.
Moonlight broke me for about a week. My normal forte is to write reviews of movies based in big franchises. Those reviews mainly consist of comparing the movie at hand to the countless sequels that came before it. This year I have been expanding my film tastes and pushing myself to write about movies I wouldn’t normally cover in years before. Well, Moonlight sure was a doozy for me. I tried, for many days, to sit down and write a traditional review, but it wasn’t giving the movie justice. This is not a movie I felt comfortable breaking down the “highs and lows” and ending with a letter grade. You’ll see in the link below, but I simply had to write a personal blog post, merely attempting to put my thoughts to words on this beautiful film.
Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes, Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monae, Andre Holland, Naomie Harris. Everyone involved is working together to bring Barry Jenkins’ gorgeous story to life and I am in awe of the independent spirit on display here. Telling the story of a young black man coming to terms with his sexuality is no easy task, but Moonlight absolutely delivers in giving us both an intimate story about one man’s love while also putting a microscope on what masculinity looks like in America.
This…this is why I go to the movies…to have experiences like the one Moonlight delivers.
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