For me, the 2016 year of film started with promise, crashed hard, and then was predictably salvaged. Sure, there were a few gems very lightly sprinkled throughout the year, but, as our staff has pointed out, it was largely “a Summer to forget” and even Fall failed to deliver a couple limited release gems. However, I was happy to get our yearly year-end roundup of solid films and was pleased that some films that I was anticipating did live up to the hype. While 2016 was no 2015, I can hope that is was just a down year by comparison and look forward to a rebound in 2017.
Without further ado, here are my picks for BEST of 2016:
Hunt for the Wilderpeople – Taika Waititi now has a place in my personal list of writer/directors that I will see whatever they are involved in (hence my abnormal excitement for Thor: Ragnarok). Following up the incredibly fun and clever What We Do In the Shadows, Waititi showed that he can scale his incredible wit to any medium in this small comedy-drama.
Doctor Strange – Speaking of directors who are really just at the top of their game, Scott Derrickson steps out of the horror genre long enough to bring a super hero (and his world) to life in a way that is singularly unique and dazzling. A great turn from Benedict Cumberbatch as the new Tony Stark (see also. “snark”) and you have another instantly entertaining film from the MCU that will be infinitely re-watchable.
Nocturnal Animals – This is probably the film I have the most trouble describing, not only, the plot of, but why I liked it so much. It’s dark and tough and completely enthralling. I felt like I didn’t take my eyes off the screen yet I was still completely puzzled by the film’s end. Littered with really great performances by Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon (who is nominated for an academy award for his work), and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Tom For puts it all together to tell a story that made me immediately head to Google to find out every theory I could about the quizzical ending.
You can find our review of Nocturnal Animals HERE
10) Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
Occasionally there is a film that people don’t realize they missed until they see it with a friend– or on TV much later. I assume that’ll be the case with Andy Samburg’s latest comedy. Much like 22 Jump Street a couple years previous, Popstar is hilarious on multiple levels and combines the satire of films like Spinal Tap with the laugh-out-loud moments of any Phil Lord and Chris Miller film. While the film skirts into crass humor a time or two, the majority of the laughs are centered around great comedic writing and wonderful real-life cameos. Honestly, it’s kind of criminal that this movie wasn’t nominated for Best Original Song for some of the brilliance produced by The Lonely Island team.
Speaking of another criminally under-seen film this year, how about Shane Black’s latest, The Nice Guys? Shane brings his signature wit-meets-real life style to this stylistic crime-comedy-drama. With a performance that exceeds his work in the more highly lauded La La Land, Gosling gives us a character that is compelling and complicated. Ditto for Russell Crow. It’s a messy, and subtly hilarious, whodunnit that kept throwing curve balls at me and I wanted more after the over-the-top climax. Do yourself a favor and watch this one… and then watch it again.
You can find our review of The Nice Guys HERE
8) The Witch
The Witch proves that 2015 wasn’t a fluke year for growth and depth in the horror genre. Billing itself as a “New England folktale,” Robert Eggers immerses us in Puritan New England and then slowly builds doubt in both the characters and the audience about what is seen and experienced. Never needing a jump scare to truly send shivers up your spine, the story relies on something much more frightening, paranoia, fear, and things that are just a little off and unexplained. While the ending isn’t one that will uplift you, it certainly is a cautionary tale of how easy it is to walk up the edge… and then take the next step.
Ok. Was this film the best “this-or-that” from a technical perspective? Probably not. I don’t care. Star Trek: Beyond was the most fun I had at the movies this year. I will accept all plot holes and minor criticisms for a Star Trek story that felt more Trek than blockbuster and a top movie moment of 2016 when “Sabotage” hits during the climax of the film.
6) Manchester by the Sea
I actually had a number of issues with Manchester by the Sea. The music was distracting. The scenic shots also lingered a little too long for me. The resolution, well, seemed like a non-resolution (especially on first viewing). With all that, I still began weeping about a quarter of the way into the film and did not stop some level of cry until the film was finished. Despite my listed flaws, Manchester succeeded in telling a story about grief that was gut-wrenchingly honest and, as a father, connected with me in a way that I think a younger version of myself could not understand.
Deal with it. Deadpool was a movie that people said could. not. be. made. Heck, it had to basically be made as a short film before it would even be green-lit as a feature length film. Even then, there was a lot of talk about making it kid-friendly and gutting the character. Fortunately, Ryan Reynolds lobbied tirelessly and we were able to witness one of the most faithful depictions of a superhero from page to screen. Not only that, but it completely nailed the landing. Deadpool, for all the hullabaloo it caused, did exactly what it set out to do– to make a crass, hilarious, rule-breaking, and incredibly successful, genre-defying super hero film in a time where, even when they’re good, superhero films fail to break the mold.
4) Hell or High Water
Man, this movie. I really enjoyed this film when I watched it and have subsequently enjoyed it more the more I see clips from it and think about some of the great scenes. Again, the academy is acknowledging Jeff Bridges for his great turn as the US Marshall on one last man hunt, but they really missed a chance to shed a light on the absolutely incredible performance by Ben Foster that really ties the film together. Gritty and unpredictable, Hell of High Water matters because it feels like it’s taking place on another planet but keeps reminding us it’s really happening in our back yard. Also, Chris Pine is slowly convincing me that he’s got range (pun intended).
You can find our podcast of Hell or High Water HERE
Despite my well documented pet peeves with how this film ended, I can’t deny that Damien Chazelle is in the discussion for my current favorite director. With La La Land, we see, again, the sheer creativity and fearlessness that Chazelle has behind the camera and with his actors. The music is great and it seems like everyone brought their A-game to make this a film that rewards repeat viewings (just ask Aaron White). La La Land is also currently nominated for a record tying amount of Oscar nominations which I am generally ‘ok’ with since I assume that about half of them are for his superior rookie effort in Whiplash.
You can find our podcast of La La Land HERE
The best way I can talk about this film is two fold. One, there simply is not enough good sci-fi that gets put out to wide audiences from year to year. Usually they are ignored because they don’t appeal to wide audiences. Arrival manages to find its audience, which is a feat in and of itself. Second, this is probably the one film of the year that, afterwards, my wife and I left the theater in complete silence, not knowing what to say about the climactic finale. Our silence was finally broken halfway home when I, reservedly, remarked, “I just want to go home and hold my son…” which met an exclamatory, “Yes!” from my wife. Arrival does truly have it all and was my favorite film of the year until just a few weeks ago…
But then there’s Scorsese’s latest. A criminally under-marketed film that was all but ignored by Academy Award voters (it’s still a mystery to many of us). It is not a stretch– nor would I be the first to say– that Silence may be the most important Christian film made in the past decade (if not longer). I am not sure what I can say about this film that either hasn’t been said already or would do it justice. If you can watch this film and not get into painfully honest discussions about faith and doubt with your fellow movie-goers, then I don’t know what would. The story is heartbreaking and, somehow, hopeful, and Scorsese uses his masterful skill to bring every character and moment to life. It truly was the film we’ll remember from 2016.
You can find our review of Silence HERE
and our podcast is COMING SOON