The 15 Best Movies of 2016
Have you fallen a little behind on your cinema-going last year as you were in too much of an existential crisis watching your heroes (Bowie, Prince, Carrie Fisher, Muhammad Ali, and Alan Rickman and MORE) being seemingly unfairly taken away as the rest of the world burned around you? Or maybe you’re in the market for a new Blu-Ray for your home viewing pleasure, but don’t know which movie is one of the movies that are good? Don’t worry LeBloggians, my best movies of 2016 list won’t stop this mother from burning down, or bring back any of our heroes in some sort of Faustian pact, but it will let you know what the movies that are good are.
#1 The Best Movie of the Year
La La Land
If you didn’t see Whiplash… shame on you! Go see it. It’s amazing. Damian Chazelle (writer/director) goes from one of the most tense and expertly edited films of all time to a song and dance musical inspired by classics Tinseltown used to pump out on the regular. However, this is a deceptively modern take on the genre. Not content to coast on the considerable charms of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone (remarkable, and not being singers makes the singing so much better, and Gosling excels at the dance numbers) Chazelle whips up a humdinger of a film. If you’re an artist or a dreamer, this one is for you. However, unlike the old feel-goods, in this, dreams come at a price. As an aspiring jazz musician and actress fall in love, they have to cope with their dreams of success, and what it actually means to succeed, and what you have to do to get there. Get ready to smile, and to cry, and to marvel at just how many of those dance numbers are done in one long take. That’s artistry.
#2 My Favorite Movie of the Year
I love science fiction. If you’ve got aliens or space, you’re halfway there with me. Arrival is the rare film that manages to be a mindbender and pack an emotional wallop (Nolan has done it with Interstellar). When aliens arrive here, they are alien. Floating squid monsters that communicate in a way totally unlike ours. In comes Amy Adams (having a helluva year, cementing her status as best of her generation) as the communications expert. You know the person who says a bunch of science jargon and the protagonist says, “speak English, dammit!”? This is the movie about that person. And what initially looks to be a Gravity-style shallow emotional tie-in, curves in a wholly satisfying way at the end. Villenevue is now the premier director for artsy pulp, and he’s outdone himself here.
#3 Star Wars Gets Serious
Rogue One had a lot riding on it. From worried fans and months of reshoots to having to carry this whole one-off idea of Star Wars. With R1 about to eclipse a billion dollars audiences have bought into it, and I loved it, even more than TFA (which I really liked). This is the grittiest Star Wars has looked since Empire, both tangibly and emotionally. R1 isn’t afraid to go dark as it plays to the WARS part of Star Wars. R1 is also, probably, the best prequel of all time in that it does something no other prequels (especially those prequels) have managed to do: retroactively make the film that follows it even better. Edwards continues to show his flair for composing brilliant pictures, and struggling to get life out of his cast. Luckily, the group of actors have enough charisma to overcome a few thin characters and get the most emotionally satisfying finale, and best third act in the history of a 40-year-old franchise.
#4 Because Nobody Watched Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
The Nice Guys
A spiritual sequel to the criminally underrated Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (with Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr. doing career best work) follows another unlikely pair of bickering detectives solving a convoluted murder. This time it’s Ryan Gosling (with the funniest bit of physical comedy in ages with the bathroom stall cigarette fiasco) in prime comedy mode and Russell Crowe, looking engaged for the first time in years. Both are stellar as pair of detectives in over their heads. And unlike most comedies, Shane Black writes and directs the hell out of it. Beautiful compositions and camera movements, zingers left and right, and an actual cogent story. And still, nobody watched it…
#5 Cover Your Eyes, But Keep Watching
Green Room is a perfect example of film minimalism. There are no wasted beats, shots, or dialogue. It’s a lean, efficient edge of your seat thriller that features some of the most visceral violence you’ll see on-screen. A punk band plays a Nazi club and unwittingly witness a crime. What follows is an Assault on Precinct 13 style tower defense of the band versus a bunch of skinheads. Patrick Stewart is wonderfully against type as the head of the skinheads, all calm menace. When that first razor blade runs up that guys stomach and opens him right up, you’ll know that this movie is for real.
#6 Shows JJ Abrams How to Spielberg
I liked Super 8 a bunch. However, JJ Abrams, try as he might, can’t quite imitate Spielberg, or for that matter, Lucas, when he did Force Awakens. He’s got too much of his kinetic modern style. Here, Jeff Nichols, who has never made a not great movie (Mud, Take Shelter) does his 80’s Spielberg/John Carpenter sci-fi. A young boy with special powers is on the run with his dad from a cult and the CIA. Nichols has a knack for leaving a lot unsaid in his movies, and here it serves him even better with a mysterious sci-fi setup. Michael Shannon is wonderful as a devoted father, and Adam Driver is fun as a CIA nerd. Full of beautiful imagery and empathetically painted characters to ground the story.
#7 is a Comedy in Theory
What is love? Is it real? Or is it based on a bunch of surface-level similarities? Are single people worthless? In this high-concept dark comedy, you either fall in love or you’re turned into an animal. Here, Colin Farrell (brilliant) chooses a lobster. The film wonderfully skewers our ideas of love. The simple things we decide we have in common that we extrapolate into love. Have a problem that can’t be resolved? We’ll assign children, that usually helps. A comedy that has some grisly violence and depressing themes is not for everyone, but I couldn’t recommend it more.
#8 In Texas, They Have Guns
Hell or High Water
I live in Texas. There is a scene in HoHW in which the bank-robbing protagonists are in cover in the bank being fired upon by a garrison of rifle-wielding passers-by. That is Texas. Our heroes are robbing a series of local banks that are foreclosing on their property after the death of their parents. They decide to steal back the money to pay off the debt. Both Pine and Foster do great work as the brothers, and they play into a wonderfully lived-in Western Texas filmed by a Scot. Several long-shots draw tension, with just enough quiet quips to punctuate moments. Jeff Bridges does Jeff Bridges as the cop tracking them down. We need more smart, adult mid-budget movies like this.
#9 The First Fart Will Make You Laugh, The Last Fart Will Make You Cry
Swiss Army Man
Oh, they don’t make original movies anymore? Ever seen one about a guy on a desert island that rides a corpse propelled by farts back to civilization? How about all that, but in a movie that is actually emotionally affecting and takes a look at what it means to be human, a friend, and in love? Didn’t think so. Daniel Radcliffe deserves an Oscar nom as the corpse that animates back to life. For as juvenile as the whole thing is, it works as being pretty earnest emotionally. It’s a strange concoction, but also a beautiful one as the Daniels (of Turn Down for What?! fame) wring some beautiful images and moments from a bunch of fart and boner jokes.
#10 You Haven’t Read the Book?
More artsy pulp here, and Tom Ford does it well. Amy Adams is again just amazing (that final scene is devastating, the most devastating face-acting final scene since Captain Phillips) as an empty visual artist living in wealth and success. She’s devoid of happiness in an emotionless marriage in an ultra-modern home. Until she a book from her ex-husband she left many years ago. The film follows Adams reading the book in a sleepless night, the events of the book, and flashbacks to her and her husband (Gyllenhaal, tremendous) in their youth. The cross-cutting narratives all enrich the other branches. The book follows the murder of a man’s wife and daughter (who seem suspiciously based on Adams) as he hunts down the killers. The opening scene of the book that features a nightmarish highway accident scenario is harrowing. Michael Shannon also steals the movie as a bug-eyed cop. Ford bathes the film in beautiful mirror shots when cross-cutting and his eye for design is still top notch.
#11 Maybe Salem Was Right About Those Witches?
The indie-horror renaissance continues with an impossibly good feature debut. The Witch follows a family cast out from their town for their religious fanaticism, that goes to live in the woods. They start their own farm, but what lurks out in the dark? Most of us alive today can’t fathom the type of total darkness that existed in an era before electricity. What was out there? With dialogue based on actual diaries and rooted in the antiquated speech of the 18th century, featuring spell-binding turns from the actors, and an impossible feat of making witches scary again, the Witch is a triumph of slow-burn horror. It fills you with dread as the dark cinematography and period setting seep in, and the fear of the devil sinks into your mind.
#12 The Best Pure Drama of the Year
My list if full of artsy pulp, quirky comedies, and genre fare, but Moonlight is just a drama, and an amazing one at that. The side Miami you rarely see, is depicted here in hypnotic blues and purples in the three-pronged tale of Black. We follow him as a young child already bullied for his feminine mannerisms. He makes a friend. Finds an unlikely mentor in a local drug dealer who takes care of him. A mother addicted to drugs. We jump to him as a teenager. Lanky. Picked on. Quiet. Learning to survive. Hiding who he is. One night he finds himself. And then it’s gone. Then, he’s a man. You become something else to survive. And a return home. Each actor that plays Black does an impossible job of making him seem like the same person. Small mannerisms carry over. Every actor shines, particularly Mahersala Ali, fresh off Luke Cage. It’s a film made with a rare sensitivity, a rare unspoken gentleness, and quiet confidence. It’s a wonder.
#13 is Not For Everyone
People liked Drive. I love everything that Nicolas Winding Refn does. Most people do not. I loved Only God Forgives. Valhalla Rising was a cool acid trip. Bronson is a riot. Neon Demon is a real weird little piece of artsy-pseduo horror starring Elle Fanning as an up and coming model in Los Angeles. As always, the visuals are sumptuous. Thrumming techno punctuates brilliant purples and slow motion pushes in, and blood creeping across the floor. But what is the cost of beauty? And what do you do when you’re washed up by 25? And Keanu Reeves has a fun turn as a skeeze-bag. There’s a good chance you’ll be bored by this, but me… I’m riveted.
#14 is a Kids Movie for Adults
Kubo and the Two Strings
I’ll never understand how movies like Trolls, Angry Birds, and other crap gets seen more than a lovingly created minor masterpiece. Laika’s hand-crafted stop-motion films are gorgeous. The attention to detail. The artistry. It’s a crime they aren’t seen more. Their stories haven’t reached Pixar peak levels yet, but they tell solid tales. Kubo is a Japanese fairy tale come to life. A boy searching for his parents, on a journey, and hunted by truly scary villains. It has fun banter, animal sidekicks, and great action set-pieces. But it also has charm and real love to the art form. Nothing focus-tested about it. Show it to your kids.
#15 Disney Gets it Right
While Zootopia ends up mixing its metaphors a bit with its social commentary on racism and institutional prejudice, it still stands that a Disney animated film was made that essentially mirrors the CIA introducing crack into black neighborhoods. The fact that the biggest studio on Earth took the time to make a story about the problems that are plaguing our world today, and not sugarcoat it, or get it wrong, says a lot. Add on some winning characters and some funny bits (the Sloth), and you have a winner.
*** This list is not complete. I Still need to see:
Manchester by the Dea, Jackie, Paterson, Fences, A Monster Calls, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Silence, The Fits, Everybody Wants Some, Moana, and a few more I’m sure…
But there you go! Those are the 15 best movies of 2016! Enjoy the good movies that are good!
Posted on January 4, 2017, in Movies and tagged Arrival, Green Room, Hell or High Water, Kubo and the Two Strings, La La Land, Midnight Special, Moonlight, Neon Demon, Nocturnal Animals, Rogue One, Swiss Army Man, The Lobster, The Nice Guys, The VVitch, Zootopia. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.