Sunday, February 26, 2017

Top 15 Films of 2016

I haven't posted here for almost 10 months.  Been busy, kinda not into it, but today is Oscar Sunday and I can't really pass up an excuse to make a list, so as I've done the last three years (2013, 2014, 2015), here's my personal Favorite Films of the Year, 2016 Edition.

As always though, even with the extra time to catch up on everything, there are still plenty of 2016 releases I have yet to see, including: Manchester by the Sea, Arrival, Jackie, Nocturnal Animals, Silence, Paterson, Hidden Figures, Fences, 20th Century Women, Certain Women, American Honey, Toni Erdmann, Loving, Moana, 13th, Cameraperson, Tickled, The Love Witch, The Age of ShadowsHacksaw Ridge, The Fits, We are the FleshOuija: Origin of Evil, and a whole bunch of other things I am sure.

Out of the 60+ movies from 2016 I did see, these were my favorites:

TOP 15 FILMS OF 2016

Green Room
The next two films on my list are probably technically better movies, but Green Room just blew me away with its intensity and has resonated with me since seeing it months ago.  Plus it's just my kind of movie.  This is a brutal, tense film about a young punk rock band set up with a gig that turns out to be at a nazi skinhead punk bar, and things only get worse when they witness a horrible act of violence and get trapped in the titular location.

Jeremy Saulnier, who also blew me away with Blue Ruin, crafts an expertly paced and painfully executed thriller, with the grisly palpable fear permeating every sickly green corridor and dark crevice of this claustrophobic horror show.  Anton Yelchin (may he RIP) is great, what happens to him in the film is beyond shocking and is downright gnarly (people were gasping in my audience), but the MVP might just be Patrick Stewart, who is fantastic as the chillingly calculated and cold skinhead leader.

More than just an intense bloodbath and exercise in cruelty, Saulnier has written an intelligent script with moments that force contemplation on the learned nature of hate and how it is developed and employed to incite violence and fuel anger, usually for dogmatic means.  There are themes and ideas at work in this film that resonate with the current political climate.  It's 2016 and we still have to tell nazi punks to fuck off.

The Handmaiden
Exquisite and masterful, Park Chan-wook is at the top of his game here (the editing is superb and the film is beautiful), offering one surprise after another as multiple characters con each other for various reasons.  An orgasmic thriller in every sense, with moments of genuine happiness and love occurring amidst all the perverseness, torture, cruelty, and plot twists.  Two black gloved thumbs up.

A rare thing:  a modest, intimate film, a heartbreaking love story, emotional and true, told with solid and precise filmmaking.  The small moments of our lives are what make us who we are.  Real good stuff, this is a special film, should prob win the Oscar for Best Picture.  (edit:  IT WON and in MEMORABLE fashion!)

Masterfully constructed from the perspective of putting the viewer totally within the viewpoint of the protagonist, a woman who contains multitudes of layers and is never quite just one thing, much like the plot and tone of this film which slides effortlessly between erotic thriller, whodunit, family drama, and dark comedy.  A tough film with some trigger warnings for sure, but the lead performance by Isabelle Huppert is one of the best of the decade and director Paul Verhoeven (who is 78!) is firing on all his perverted cylinders.

The Nice Guys
So damn fun and funny, with a tight script and a compelling central mystery (even if it is the typical "search for a girl" plot), this is basically buddy-cop movie perfection.  Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe are a riot, both giving their characters some nice depth and complexity.  Action packed, absurd and hilarious, darkly so at times, the crowd I saw it with was gasping almost as much as they were laughing.  This is a real crowd pleaser.

The Invitation
Didn't know much going into this one and that is the perfect way to see it.  If you need a logline, this is a paranoid thriller set at a casual dinner gathering, the execution is fantastic and the ensemble is great.

Hell or High Water
Bank robbery genre film that downshifts with a bit of melancholy, moral ambiguity, and topical social issues (cycles of poverty).  The film looks great, capturing that sparse rural Texas beauty.  Jeff Bridges is excellent, Chris Pine continues to do his best work as a character actor, and Ben Foster adds layers to the scumbag brother he plays.  Great soundtrack, too.

The Lobster
Bizarre and borderline brilliant, strangely insightful in how we relate to one another while looking for meaningful connection and relationships.  Low in budget and high in concept, Colin Farrell (who has never been better or pudgier) is taken to The Hotel where he, along with all the other guests, are expected to find love in 45 days or else they will be turned into the animal of their choosing.  Like I said, humorously bizarre, but also incredibly sweet, darkly intense, and totally unforgettable.

"We dance alone.  That's why we only play electronic music."

Swiss Army Man
A treasure trove of whatthefuck.  A funny, weird movie about loneliness, depression, imagination, and escape.  It's magic.  Pure, farting boner corpse magic.

O.J. - Made in America
The best work to come out of the ESPN 30 for 30 project (which, by the way, I consider a TV series, so I usually don't count episodes as "movies" per se, but since this film debuted in theaters and is nominated for an Oscar, I made an exception), this epic documentary about the O.J. Simpson trial is incredible as it parallels his life with the racial injustices and tragedies of Los Angeles that led to the climate that would foster the trial of the century.  Even at almost eight hours long it is still a breezy watch, captivating and disturbing, the graphic nature of the crime scene photos actually made me physically recoil.  Damn O.J., why'd you have to do that shit, man?

Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Perfect balance of charming and funny, it's sweet without getting overly saccharin.  Sam Neill is a goddamn treasure and his pairing with little hoodlum Ricky Baker is fantastic.  The New Zealand countryside is lovely and Rhys Darby nearly steals the entire movie in his brief scenes as a mad, paranoid bushman, but that guys practically steals every movie he's in, so that's par.  There's a Leonard Cohen song featured here and I saw this film a couple days after he died last year.  That was my "shit just got real" moment.

Kill Zone 2
A multi-faceted plot involving black market organ thievery, straight-up kidnapping, wrongful imprisonment, a gang boss with a bad heart, a sick little girl with leukemia, a junkie undercover cop, a ruthless prison warden, and a guy whose knife skills would put Danny Trejo to shame, all of it underlined with themes of corruption and loyalty and punctuated with the absolute BEST action scenes and fight choreography of the year.  Sure to please anyone looking for great Hong Kong action cinema with clean fight scenes featuring nimble dudes who are fleet of foot kicking and punching each other into oblivion.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe
The second genre film on my list that benefits greatly from the less you know as a viewer, so don't watch any trailers or read any spoilery reviews.  Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch are both great, imbuing their father/son relationship with a lot of warmth and authenticity, and when the spooky shit hits the fan it is genuinely upsetting because you like these guys so much.  A scary good mystery.

The Witch
An atmosphere of dread hangs heavy over this Puritanical horror film that explores the dangers of religious conviction, patriarchal failures, witch trials, and the changes of puberty.  Also the dangers of goats.  Some people were turned off by the fact that the actual witch stuff was limited in the film, but I felt it was very effective when used.  The slow burn pace of the film is earned and the payoff is quite excellent, so much so that you want more, the hallmark of a good story.  Quick side note:  people that spell the title of this "The VVitch" can go straight to hell..

The Neon Demon
Gorgeous, gory, hypnotic, horrifying, measured, challenging, meditative, obtuse, everything you expect from a Nicholas Winding Refn joint.  Cliff Martinez with the original music score of the year!

the next ten:
-Captain America: Civil War - The airport rumble is the most comic booky action scene achieved yet in cinema.  These MCU films, particularly the Cap America series, continue to be my favorite modern blockbusters.

-De Palma - Basically is just Brian De Palma talking about his career and all his movies for two hours and for a De Palma cinema nerd IT IS FANTASTIC AND THE BEST.

-Sing Street - Cute coming of age story set in 1980s Ireland that digs into the creative process, both of song writing and the discovery of self.  Great songs (even if they are increasingly anachronistic) and the cast has fantastic chemistry, might be the feel good movie of the year.

-La La Land - Charming and very pretty to look at.  Could've used more songs, tho.

-The Shallows - Starts as a simple, tense survival tale before embracing the exploitation aspects of its story in the third act.  The best shark movie since Jaws 2.  Also, Best Supporting Actor:  Steven Seagull.  

-Tower - Doc on the 1966 University of Texas mass shooting, done in an artistic rotoscopic animation style, doesn't give voice to the killer or even show an image of him, instead focuses on the victims and survivors of that tragic day.

-Trash Fire - Moves fluidly between drama, romance, dark comedy, and horror and isn't afraid to get cruel while exploring themes of relationships, family obligations, and abusiveness.  Plus, I love how director Ricky Bates, Jr. knows exactly how and when to end a film.

-10 Cloverfield Lane - I wasn't down with the last twist in the finale, but otherwise really liked this tense little thriller.  John Goodman is the man.

-Hello, My Name is Doris - Sally Field is a legit joy as an eccentric older woman who decides to pursue a younger man in this Michael Showalter comedy, bringing some real depth to what could be a goofy or maudlin character.  Plus she's real funny.  So is everyone else (Tyne Daley!).

-Hush - Effective and simple in execution, with some wonderfully tense moments.  The novelty of a deaf heroine makes for some great suspense scenes and she more than proves to be quite the formidable opponent for the psycho killer here.  Mike Flanagan is proving to be a modern master of horror.

honorable mentions:  Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World, Into the InfernoWeiner, Weiner DogKubo and the Two Strings, Everybody Wants Some!!, Southside with You, I am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House, Blood Father

Worst Movies of the Year:

Truly a shame what Warner Bros. is doing with its DC Comics properties.  It's almost fascinatingly stupid and inept.  Man of Steel was terrible and now these two...

-Suicide Squad - A big stinking mess, haphazardly edited, boring and clumsy, with more needle drops than a FM station, truly feels like it was made for (and by) stunted 12 year olds.  Atrocious.  Margot Robbie was nice.

-Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice - The piss jar sitting on the shelf amongst the rest of the Bat and 'Supe franchises.  Atrocious.  Ben Affleck was nice.

Well, there you go.  What do you think?
Agree? Disagree?  What were your favorites of 2016?

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