Sunday, January 1, 2017

Top 10 Films of 2016

Happy New Year! 2017 has arrived and my movie-watching year is just about complete. Personally, I view 2016 as a mediocre cinematic year, one that left me disappointed by a large number of November and December releases. In fact, I only saw one film cracking my Top 10 (hint: #7) after the Philadelphia Film Festival in late-October. Anyway, let's get down to it, here are my Top 10 Films of 2016:

Honorable Mention (#11-20 in alphabetical order): 10 Cloverfield Lane, 20th Century WomenA Monster CallsThe BFGBlue Jay, Eye in the SkyThe Edge of SeventeenDeadpool, I, Daniel Blake, and Patriots Day

#10. Arrival

Amy Adams had a very strong year and her most-praised performance comes from Denis Villeneuve's sci-fi drama, Arrival. The film follows a prominent linguistics expert (Adams) who's recruited by the U.S. Military to determine if an alien species that's popped up across the globe comes in peace, or if they have aggressive intentions. Villenueve's highly artistic filmmaking style paints a not-your-typical sci-fi endeavor that relies on a cerebral screenplay and soulful performances. Consequently, Arrival isn't an overly engaging viewing experience, but the film's powerful third act stirs up an extremely thought-provoking conclusion that screams for an instant re-watch.

One of the year's most entertaining features comes from Iron Man 3 helmer, Shane Black. The Nice Guys stands as a valiant return to his roots for the writer/director, who broke into the industry as the screenwriter for the buddy-cop classic, Lethal Weapon. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe star as 1970s private investigators who join forces to solve the disappearance of a missing teen. A compelling mystery is perfectly complemented by riotous humor that transforms The Nice Guys into a well-rounded and engaging affair.

Considering many of 2016's notable releases left plenty to be desired, this depressing reality paves the way for some lesser-known titles to creep onto my top ten list. One such film is Atom Egoyan's engrossing revenge thriller, Remember. Christopher Plummer gives an unforgettable turn as Zev, an elderly retirement-home patient experiencing early stages of dementia. And when Zev is reminded by a friend at the home about a still-living Nazi prison guard who murdered their families at Auschwitz when they were children, Zev breaks out of the home and embarks on a cloudy journey of vengeance. Remember provides one of the finest finales in recent memory and stands as one of 2016's most underrated films.

Mike Birbiglia's wonderful indie effort, Don't Think Twice, represents a much-needed return to character-driven comedy. The film follows a popular NYC improv comedy group whose family-like bond begins to crumble as its members compete to take their individual professional careers to the next level. A natural connection is formed between viewer and each member of the group as writer, director and co-star, Mike Birbiglia, crafts an original and emotional comedy that far surpasses the thoughtless big-budgeted genre films of the past decade. Don't Think Twice is a very enjoyable 90-minute watch that deserves a much wider audience.

2016's Philadelphia Film Festival in October offered a phenomenal lineup of top-flight cinema. So strong, in fact, that Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals is the only film I watched after the festival to crack my top ten list. Ford's brilliantly scripted story-within-a-story dynamic doubles as an emotional thriller and a psychological drama, both of which work extremely well. Stylish direction and countless strong performances make Nocturnal Animals feel reminiscent of the unique filmmaker, David Lynch. Ford's career trajectory continues to climb with this memorable effort that's deserving of a watch.

Much has been made about Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester by the Sea, a viable Best Picture contender that pushes the dramatic envelope with its heart-breaking tale of a handyman (Casey Affleck) who's forced to return to his hometown and care for his nephew (Lucas Hedges) after his brother passes away. Affleck delivers what may be the year's most impressive performance as his character understandably struggles to assume this new responsibility as a result of a traumatic past that he's forced to confront head-on. Michelle Williams shines as well in a supporting role that also has a chance of capturing an Oscar statue. Manchester by the Sea isn't really an enjoyable watch, but Lonergan's film certainly captures an overwhelming combinations of emotions.

Silicon Valley co-star, Matt Ross, completely caught me off guard with his captivating debut film, Captain Fantastic. Viggo Mortensen stars as a father who pulls his family from the selfish and carelessness of society and raises them deep in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. Living off the land and learning about the world through this unique perspective proves worrisome when the family is forced to venture back into the "real world", where this father begins to question whether or not he's raised his children properly. There are so many themes and subplots running rampant throughout Captain Fantastic that Matt Ross and his artistic eye capture a truly winning effort.

As a loyal fan of both the Western genre and filmmaker, David Mackenzie, I was easily excited for his latest work, Hell or Highwater. The film centers around a pair of modern-day bank robbing brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) working to outsmart a Texas sheriff (Jeff Bridges) in order to save their family ranch. There's a classic tone surrounding the feature that plays remarkably well alongside Tyler Sheridan's taut script. Hell or High Water stands as a signature example of top-notch filmmaking that's clawed its way into the awards season competition. It's a deserving Best Picture contender that can easily be enjoyed by all kinds of audiences,

I can't overstate my lack of enthusiasm going into Barry Jenkins' festival juggernaut, Moonlight. However, I was catastrophically wrong and utterly blown away by this enthralling little indie film. Not only does Moonlight deliver the best ensemble of the year, it effortlessly transforms a familiar premise into a consuming coming-of-age tale. The story of an impoverished Miami youth named Chiron is told over three magnificently-acted chapters. Chiron not only grows up in the home of a drug-addicted mother (Naomie Harris), he also struggles to come to grips with his sexuality after a teenage encounter. Moonlight commands your attention and tells a somewhat stereotypical story with both passion and artistic beauty at the hands of its brilliant filmmaker..

In a year full of grim and bleak stories, Damien Chazelle's La La Land proved to be a refreshing boost of energy and originality. This mildly bitter tale of a jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling) and a struggling actress (Emma Stone) who fall in love in the unforgiving city of Los Angeles shines brightly thanks to a phenomenal score and exceptional lead performances. Emma Stone delivers one of the year's most notable turns and captures your heart in this relentless tale of conquering your dreams. Chazelle offers a deep and personal love story that ventures far beyond your typical romance. La La Land recognizes that life is complicated and not everything comes easy, but it also acknowledges that the struggles we face are what define our character. I understand musicals aren't for everyone, but if you have any interest in La La Land whatsoever, then do yourself a favor and enjoy this year's finest feature.

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