MY TOP 10 MOVIES FOR 2016
2016 was a rough year. Except for the movies. That is my escape. I love going to the theater. It’s an experience I will always treasure. I admit I found myself encountering a lot less “must-see” offerings this year. The highest grossing hits were not my favorite films. Of the Top 20 pictures that made the most money over the past 12 months, only two appeared on my similarly numbered list. Both were animated, incidentally. Thank goodness for the independents (Lionsgate, Focus Features, A24, Roadside Attractions et al.) Those studios are producing some of the very best stories today. Thanks to them, 2016 was stellar.
I’m hopeful for the future. The following 20 features (Top 10 followed by 10 honorable mentions) comprise a list for 2016 that is just as great as any year’s.
1. La La Land
La La Land‘s aesthetic borrows from history but the time period and the characters are rooted firmly in contemporary society. 2016 is all here: cell phones, Hybrid vehicles, the part-time job as a barista. Chazelle makes our present era seem so much more magical. There is an exuberant quality I haven’t seen recently. Mia and Sebastian radiate sweetness too. This uncorrupted pair shares a purity. You want them to be together. Their emotion is real. You fall in love. This why we go to the cinema.
Director Barry Jenkins inspires many questions: Who are we as a person? Are we the product of our environment? Can we rise above these obstacles? How do these events shape us into the adult we become? There are many more. Some appear to have answers. Others are open to interpretation. Chiron’s experiences will touch each viewer in different ways that will encourage reflection for days afterward. His struggle may not be yours. However, it still involves the combustible components that are part of every human endeavor. In this way, Jenkins imparts a movie that speaks for all humanity.
3. Sing Street
“The Riddle Of The Model” is the first single from their newly formed band. The accompanying video they shoot is pure joy. Fun and infectious, it’s edited like those primitive MTV videos of the early 1980s. It’s a testament to the quality of the arrangements that the original songs stand up alongside actual 80s hits by Hall & Oates, Duran Duran and The Cure. Their melodic style sort of imitates the new wave/pop hits of the era. They flourish but not without first encountering the requisite challenges that you know they’ll overcome by the time the drama is over. Conor deals with a tough classmate and an even tougher principal. No the narrative isn’t the most innovative thing in the world, but it sure is entertaining.
Zootopia manages to address racism, the crack epidemic and how authorities use scapegoating to supplement their power by instilling fear of marginalized groups. Whew! No, it’s not subtle, but it isn’t heavy-handed either. What makes the lesson so palatable is in the details. Visually it’s a marvel and if my review were based solely on spectacle, it would be enough. Zootopia goes deeper by catapulting the ongoing discussion of prejudice to the front and center of a Disney cartoon. There’s so much subversive wit.
Directed by Taika Waititi – Starring Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rhys Darby, Rima Te Wiata.
There’s a preciousness that touches the heart without ever being overtly twee. It recalls the work of Wes Anderson. Believe me, that’s a compliment of the highest order in my book. Actor Sam Neill and newcomer Julian Dennison have an odd couple chemistry that makes this “hang-out” yarn thoroughly enjoyable. The veteran actor is good but the rookie is even better. Julian Dennison steals the film and probably your heart as well.
Directed by Jeff Nichols – Starring Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Marton Csokas, Nick Kroll.
The central duo shows such restraint that their lack of ferocity can be a bit surprising. These two are the least revolutionary types you could possibly imagine and yet their actions changed the fabric of the nation. That’s kind of inspiring. It gives hope to the masses because it means anyone can make a difference. The emotion is intimate and the humanity present within their circumstances becomes more palpable. Sometimes a revolution doesn’t start with a bang.
Directed by Kenneth Lonergan – Starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges.
Manchester by the Sea is like a mournful symphony gently guided under the masterful direction of its conductor. The adagio pace of the film unfolds as a contemplative composition. At 2 hours 17 minutes, it’s leisurely pace can tax the viewer’s patience, but the rewards are great. It’s a work marked by the modulation of sensitivity as we witness an evolution of poignant discussions. Happy, sad, angry – our undulating emotion crescendos with a heartbreaking conversation. The account ultimately continues on to the gentle sublime cadence.
As with any chronicle of another time, we’re dealing with generalizations, but Linklater truly gets the spirit of the age down. It’s a time period the director knows well as Linklater himself was a hopeful baseball player at Sam Houston State University in 1980. The affection he has for this subject matter comes through every lovingly recreated scene. There is such an eye for key details, right down to the fashion of the time. Those short shorts, skin tight polyester shirts and abundant mustaches establish the time period just as well as the corsets and cleavage in a costume drama do. Additionally, music is beautifully woven into the fabric of this production. The scenes in the clubs almost play out like the production numbers in a musical.
Love & Friendship is a wonderfully crafted story that will charm Austen fans with its wit and sparkling wordplay. The script is a marvel with pleasantries and barbs doled out in equal measure. The individuals Jane encounters are sophisticated, educated and polite, but overly mannered to the point of being finicky, almost uptight. Director Whit Stillman exploits an erudite segment of society that other filmmakers would relegate as side characters for comedy. Yet Stillman, like Woody Allen or Wes Anderson, brings them to the fore. He has such love for these people. Even when he is making fun of their foibles, there is a palpable admiration for their temperament as well.
Nocturnal Animals brilliantly juggles three different realities. As Susan reads the book we jump across shifting chronologies. There’s the adventure of the text, then forward to the present and then back to her past. The novel is the nifty little suspense within the proper film. In fact, I dare say it’s the most entertaining part of the picture. The clever framing device though is a nice touch because it draws parallels to the real and invented world and invites the audience to make conclusions about Susan Morrow based on the characters within the “fictional” literary work. As the account shifts through the various timelines, we start to uncover what went wrong in Edward and Susan’s marriage.
Bubbling under the Top 10
12. Hell or High Water
14. Hacksaw Ridge
15. Eye in the Sky
16. The Witch
17. Queen of Katwe
18. Kubo and the Two Strings
20. Florence Foster Jenkins
Worst of the Year
I was a lot more selective this year so I avoided a lot of truly dreadful films. However, I still managed to see a few things I wish I hadn’t. I don’t like to dwell on these. The focus of my annual recap is to champion the BEST. Nevertheless, I do see a lot of films and it IS interesting to see what ranked at the very bottom. These three were the most egregious. The very worst being at #1.