Honorable mentions: Lion, Cafe Society, Queen of Katwe, Sully, The Edge of Seventeen.
These films are each notable in their own way, and while they didn’t make the cut for the top 10 they certainly warrant a viewing. Together with the Top 10 list they made 2016 another interesting and fun year to go to the movies.
10.) The Jungle Book
Directed by Jon Favreau
An adaptation of an adaptation, Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book is a wondrous visual treasure that expands on the 1967 animated film and simultaneously adds more depth to the story, creating a narrative that is closer to Rudyard Kipling’s original writings. With CGI that actually enhances the viewer experience (from the jungle itself to the animals in it), the film also features a terrific cast of voice actors including Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray and Idris Alba while newcomer Neel Sethi shows his promising talents as the young Mowgli, especially considering he acted completely alone against a green screen.
9.) Hacksaw Ridge
Directed by Mel Gibson
War films, and particularly those on World War II, have become a recurring cycle ever since the conflict’s end; there were even films about it during the actual war (Casablanca (1942) for example). Hacksaw Ridge is definitely not the greatest film in this genre, but it does an admirable job of keeping up the themes that films like Saving Private Ryan began. From its graphic depiction of battlefield fighting to its emotional reminder of the endurance of the human spirit, Hacksaw Ridge reminds us that despite the unimaginable horrors of war, love will still triumph. In the case of protagonist Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) his love of country and of his fellow man, inspires us to make sure the evil that is wartime will not define us.
8.) Rogue One
Directed by Gareth Edwards
The first in a series of stand-alone films in the now Disney owned Star Wars franchise, Rogue One brings to life an important chapter in the history of that very famous galaxy far, far away. Set before the events of the very first Star Wars film, we’re introduced to brand new characters, but are also exposed to old and familiar faces that are still as iconic as they were when they first appeared in 1977. Featuring great CGI effects, including a very impressive recreation of a certain Imperial Governor, and a deeper exploration into the Galactic Empire, Rogue One is an exciting and fun entry in the Star Wars film universe and a promising indicator of what future stand alone films can provide.
7.) La La Land
Directed by Damien Chazelle
Damien Chazelle’s homage to the musicals of the Golden Age of Hollywood is in glorious display in La La Land, and definitive proof that Chazelle is indeed one of the finest new talents to emerge in some time. With a visually striking and colorful palette, in which the story unfolds, the movie is as visually attractive as it is emotionally pleasing. The musical numbers (and dances) are melodically pleasant and the lead characters, played with great talent by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, make this tale of dreamers and lovers a winning tale. There is an excess of sentimentalism however, that could be called schmaltz and it’s this flaw (if one could call it that) that prevented me from fully loving the world of La La Land.
Directed by Mick Jackson
Why do we study history? Is it merely to remind ourselves of where we’ve come and where we’re headed? While that’s obviously but one answer to the question, in Denial that is the answer. Based on the true story that unfolded in England in the early 2000s, the film recounts the tale of Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) and her legal battle against the very vocal and prominent Holocaust denier David Irving (Timothy Spall). Irving files a libel lawsuit against her for labelling him a liar (in the United Kingdom the burden of proof is on the accused), and Lipstadt and her lawyers are then tasked to prove the actuality of the Holocaust and that Irving deliberately knew he was lying in claiming it did not occur. Thus we see the Holocaust put on trial. Despite the subject matter, the film still manages to deliver courtroom thrills and offers very smart and captivating trial scenes; alongside moments of great sadness, Denial works not only as a social commentary but an intriguing glimpse into the British legal system and a painful revisiting of one of the 20th century’s worst tragedies. The lead performances from Weisz, Spall, and Tom Wilkinson are very strong and bring the elements of this film to life strikingly and in entertaining and thought provoking manner.
Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker
There were a number of very strong animated films this year, that each holds their own praiseworthy merits. But it is Moana, the first computer animated film from the veteran directorial duo of Clements and Musker that shone the brightest. The animation itself is gorgeous and a great showcase for how far the art of computer animation has come in the last 25 years. The characters and the story are fun, inspirational and well rounded and with the talents of Dwayne Johnson and new comer Auli’i Cravalho bring this mythical tale of Polynesia vividly to life alongside its breathtaking animated beauty. Add a great song score with music co-written by Lin Manuel Miranda, and it’s clear to see why Moana is not only the best in the animated field this year, but all-round great movie for every age.
4.) Florence Foster Jenkins
Directed by Stephen Frears
With Meryl Streep there can be little doubt as to the great quality of the performance she presents in any film she stars; with Florence Foster Jenkins she delivers once again in a film that is both quite funny and surprisingly poignant. There are good laughs to be had in this movie, and Streep’s innocent and joyful Jenkins is a real pleasure to watch. Alongside well acted turns from co stars Hugh Grant and Simon Helberg, the laughter in this movie is carefully balanced with thoughtful themes and an insightful social commentary. It may be called a quirky film, but that is exactly who the real Florence Foster Jenkins was: a quirky personality. And it’s this quirkiness that is captured brilliantly by Streep and director Stephen Frears. With music, laughter, and poignancy this portrait of a lesser known American socialite is a sweet and amusing outing.
Directed by Denzel Washington
In only his third outing as a director, Denzel Washington has proven that his talents are indeed strong on both sides of the camera. As an adaptation of the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning Broadway play of the same name, Fences is an emotionally powerful and stirring dramatization of one man’s struggle with a changing America; but it is also a commentary on the life of Black Americans and a life that is still today seldom fully understood. Washington, who also stars, delivers an exceptional and full bodied performance that is rivalled only by that of Viola Davis as his patient, yet long suffering wife. While at times the film does have the feel of being a “filmed play”, those moments are never long enough to distract from the subject matter at hand and the wonderfully strong lead performances. Fences is the story of opportunity, prejudiced, atonement, and forgiveness in an America that is changing but has not changed fast enough for all our characters. It’s a strong work of theatre and strong work of film thanks to Washington’s dedication to capturing the essence of the original source material.
2.) Manchester by the Sea
Directed by Kenneth Lonergan
Manchester by the Sea is a deeply affecting and emotional film; in fact it’s quite a sad movie. But amidst that there is great beauty to be found and a very strong lead performance from Casey Affleck that will likely get him the attention of the Academy. With human emotion on full display, Manchester by The Sea is snapshot of the bad things in life, but with the knowledge that good will always follow. Affleck’s lead as an everyman dealing with personal demons and heartbreaking news is a highlight, while the coastal scenery and musical selections add depth and real pathos to the screen. Lonergan’s screenplay is real and touching, and with the acting performances makes Manchester by The Sea a rewarding experience for those seeking a solid human drama and an emotional movie viewing outing.
Directed by Barry Jenkins
Like Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight is a film that contains many scenes and themes of sadness; yet this tale of one man’s journey from child to adult too contains hidden beauty and hope. Partially inspired by director Barry Jenkins own experiences as well as the daily struggle for many African Americans near the poverty line, Moonlight spotlights people and situations that are rarely shown in the movies, if at all. With subtle changes in the color of the film as the story progresses, Jenkins script and direction bring to attention the many problems of modern day America. If the lead character in Fences was upset at the state of the black man in the 1950s, he’s be dismayed to know that in the 21st century there still remains work to be done amongst many black communities. Moonlight is saddening, yet inspiring and certainly very moving, and because it had the courage to talk about issues so often swept aside, it makes viewing this film even more urgent. While this may be a movie, its source material is all too real, and when the line between film and reality is blurred, you know you’ve seen a real work of art.
For Nate’s Top 10 List: Click Here