2016 was a long, at times exhausting year, Fortunately there were some fantastic movies to get us through it. Here is my top ten movies of the year
10. The Nice Guys
Directed By: Shane Black
The Nice Guys is Shane Black returning to his film noir roots that launched him onto the radars of cinephiles and studio heads alike. While I personally don’t think its as strong a film as his breakout “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”, it is still stellar nonetheless. Anchored by its two leads Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe, Nice Guys balances buddy cop slapstick comedy with the dark mysterious tones familiar to the noir genre in a terrific homage to classics like Chinatown.
9. Green Room
Directed By: Jeremy Saulnier
I love how tense this movie is and how it flips the switch between action and psychological thriller. Patrick Stewart turns in a performance that is jarring for those only familiar to him as Professor X or Captain Picard. Violent is too simple a word to describe some of the scenes in this film but they are better seen than described in length. What Saulnier does with Green Room is create a wild rage filled thrill ride reminiscent of the punk bands he depicts.
8. Hacksaw Ridge
Directed By: Mel Gibson
War is a tough subject matter to cover on film in part because its been done so often with many of these instances losing the sense of humanity that war entails. Hacksaw Ridge shows war as a visceral and immersive experience, a true marvel especially when viewed on the big screen with the sound blaring. This is the side that good war films have captured before (though one could argue not to this extent). What separates Hacksaw from other films in the genre ( this year’s 13 Hours for example) is its ability to draw on the compassion within war. The people out there are not just meat bags running into the slaughter, they are real human beings.
7. Sing Street
Directed By: John Carney
We do a lot of stupid things to impress people, even more so when that person we are trying to impress happens to be the cute girl / guy that caught your eye. Sing Street sees John Carney returning to musicals after his previous efforts, the stellar Once (2007) and less stellar but still enjoyable Begin Again (2013) found success mixing song with the emotional entanglements of relationships. This time he tells a coming of age tale of a teen who starts a band to impress the girl of his dreams. Supported once again by catchy tunes and a strong young cast that really capture what its like to find one’s identity, to chase the elusive “one” and to find a place to fit that all together in this mess we call life. Sing Street is a triumphant coming of age tale.
6. The Handmaiden (‘아가씨)
Directed By: Chan-Wook Park
I’m not even going to bother describing this film for you because its best to watch this with no prior knowledge and just experience what Chan-Wook Park has put on the screen. All I can say is that this film is easily the most polarizing film on this list. Korean cinema is one of the hidden gems in the world. They have a bevy of directors (Park, Bong Joon-Ho, Hong Sang-Soo to name a few) that offer unique views on the way we view and craft film. The Handmaiden is no exception as it is a lot of things, many I cannot even begin to describe but to sum it up in two simple words: Captivating and Unique.
Directed By: Denis Villeneuve
Amy Adams won’t win the Oscar for Best Actress, She likely won’t even be remembered for this performance as it will not only be overshadowed by the likes of Natalie Portman in Jackie or Emma Stone in La La Land come award season but it is also likely to be lost within Adams’ own stellar catalogue that feature much showier performances. But that doesn’t mean that her performance nor this film is any less amazing. Both subtle and understated, Arrival is much more an exploration of human nature rather than an examination of the alien race that invades earth. Much like Contact or Close Encounters of the Third Kind, it belongs among the best in the science fiction genre.
Directed By: Barry Jenkins
Boyhood told the story of the upbringing of a suburban white male from childhood to adulthood. Moonlight follows a similar vein but with all due respect to the problems faced by the family in Boyhood, the gravity of the situation in Moonlight is far less seen especially in mass media. Jenkins directs the film based in part on his own experiences growing up, with each passage in time shot to emulate different film stock, you may not notice the subtle changes in color and saturation but it all adds up to create an experience that most may not be able to immediately identify with but should leave most feeling for the characters nonetheless if not relating in some small way to finding one’s identity in a world that expects you to look and act a certain way. Moonlight as it is so aptly titled is a reflection of one’s search for himself, it is finding acceptance for the identity that one may keep hidden under the pale moonlight and it is a film that should not be missed.
3. The Lobster
Directed By: Yorgos Lanthimos
On the surface the premise of the Lobster is admittedly strange: You have 45 days to find your soul mate or at least a partner to spend your remaining days with or be forced to turn into the animal of your choosing. Behind the strange premise though is the best Colin Farrell performance ever put on screen and some strong social commentary on the concept of love, how and why we choose to be with the people we call our life partners, the stigma of single hood and the dangers of forcing the issue. They say love works in mysterious ways, a concept that is made into a fascinating film in The Lobster.
2. Manchester By The Sea
Directed By: Kenneth Lonergan
Casey Affleck shows his brother how its done in front of the camera with another great performance. It is one that should see him in heavy contention for Best Actor come Oscars season in a role where he carries extreme emotional weight and delivers a knockout gut punch right in the feels. Like Adams performance in Arrival, its not one with a big home run “Oscar reel” scene but he, aided by Lonergan’s gentle touch behind the camera is able to deliver arguably the biggest emotional return of any movie this year. If Lonergan didn’t get on your radar after You Can Count On Me (2001), you can bet he’ll be on there after you see Manchester by the Sea.
1. La La Land
Directed By: Damien Chazelle
Ryan Gosling is an Oscar nominated bonafide Hollywood star. Emma Stone is an Oscar nominated bonafide Hollywood star, both put on excellent performances in La La Land but neither shows off as much star power as director Damien Chazelle who after just three features (two major, Whiplash and this) should be placed on the must watch list regardless of what he chooses to do next. From the opening number down to the heart wrenching final frames, Chazelle crafts a film that oozes with passion and love for the subject matter. Every frame is handled beautifully from the lighting to the colors, the story will connect to anyone who has ever had a dream or fallen in love. This is a masterpiece and as a viewer, no matter how uninterested in musicals you may be, you can feel that passion and when you do you can’t help but fall in love with the subject as well.
For Michael’s Top 10 List: Click Here