Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Best Films of 2016

2016 was a great year for films.  Usually I am able to narrow things down to a top 10 or at most a top 15.  This year I have a top 27 because I saw that many genuinely great movies this year.  There's also a movie on this list technically released in 2015 and that's because I didn't see it until early 2016 so it didn't make last years list and I think it deserves a mention.

Movies have become an important aspect of my life - they are a way for me to process feelings, learn and understand more about other people, become educated on topics unfamiliar to my every day lived experience, and they help me manage and recognize difficult emotions.


The Revenant - Director Alejandro González Iñárritu

I found this to be breathtakingly beautiful.  I could almost feel the cold air filling up my lungs.  Brutal and intense, Leonardo DiCaprio does an excellent job here, as is often the case with Mr. DiCaprio.  The story follows frontiersman Hugh Glass is a roughly based on some actual events.  The soundtrack and cinematography are excellent.  It's an intense film and I saw it more than once because I found the experience to be that worthy.  It's a story about grief, anger, tenacity, and the harsh realities of mother nature.  The experience in all can be rather transcendent. 


The Witch - Director Robert Eggers

Visually Compelling and spare in details, the film is set in puritanical New England cica 1630.   It utilizes a sort of nerve wracking tension that builds horrifically throughout the film.  The screen itself is quite dark and the tension never really lets up.  Every once in a while I really enjoy being scared on the level of a sort of abject terror.  Embedded within this terror is interesting exploration of religious fervor and suspicions that exists within a small community.  Family loyalties are also explored and tested.  If you don't like scary movies, you'll hate this, but otherwise I highly recommend it. 


Creative Control - Benjamin Dickinson

It's pretty likely you didn't hear about this one.  Creative Control is hard to describe, but delves into the ability to create our own virtual worlds.  To a certain extent we already live in this world.  My twitter feed is not your twitter feed, my google ad suggestions are not your google ad suggestions.  My facebook feed reflects only to a certain extent the thoughts and status of my friends, but more often reveals my interests in the way of the news, the ads, the content and the suggestions that more closely align with a reflection of myself.  Creative control takes this a step further when it looks at the ability to create a virtual reality peopled with people who live IRL (In real life) but who may appear differently in our virtual world.  I enjoyed that this was black and white with some occasional color for emphasis.  I like movies that explore new ideas.    

4.   Demolition - Jean-Marc Vallée

The main message here is that there is some beauty and maybe even redemption in a total breakdown.  I feel like this film really did not get the credit it deserves.  Gyllenhaal is a great as ever and the movie is smartly done and I thought had a really great message.  Following the death of his wife Gyllenhaal has to figure out what matters and in order to do so he has to kind of destroy everything and start from scratch.  I found it very refreshing, often funny, and touching.

5.  The Invitation -  Karyn Kusama

So I really liked this - it is more of a thriller and I enjoy a well made thriller.  This movie started my crush on my new boyfriend Logan Marshall Green who I think makes a cuter and more cali version of Tom Hardy (who I first noticed last year in Madame Bovary).  The premise is the main character and his girlfriend are invited to dinner party being held by his ex wife and her new partner.  The invitation is accepted but perhaps suspicious though we aren't really sure initially what is going on and maybe Logan Marshall Green is just being paranoid.  That's all I'm going to say so that I don't spoil it.  This was another movie that flew under the radar because it was independent and didn't get wide distribution (thank goodness for living in the Phoenix area that we are large enough to get some of these more obscure titles in the theatres).  Check it out I think you'll dig it if you like an interesting premise and a sort of edge of your seat experience.  (also again, Logan Marshall Green, he's adorable and you'll thank me later for making you aware of his cuteness.) 

6.   The First Monday in May - Andrew Rossi 

You guys this was stunning.  Every year the Metropolitan Museum of Art does the Met Gala and this is both a fundraiser and an exhibition that goes along with it which is themed - the year that this was filmed the theme was "China: Through the Looking Glass".  It is gorgeous feast for the eyes of the exploration of Chines influence on art and fashion through the ages.  I've seen this 3 times now and I actually purchased the movie on my Apple Itunes because it's that good.  I can't say enough good things about this.  This is why fashion should be considered an art form - I really believe for anyone who has ever questioned that premise, this movie should put that to rest.  

7.  A Bigger Splash - Luca Guadagnino

One day I was randomly looking for a french movie I saw a long time ago and perusing netflix to see if I could find it and some old french film popped up and I actually watched it and it was kind of weird but also kind of great.  Then this year I went to this movie and part way through I was like "oh hey wait a minute, I've seen this before" - which was because the old French movie I saw was "La Piscine" (1969) and it is the older version of this movie.  If you don't like meandering foreign films where you aren't quite sure what the point is going to be - then this probably isn't meant for you.  But if you DO dig those sorts of things, this is great.   Basically a character study in what happens when you place 4 people together in on a sun drenched island and sort of watch what kind of chemical reaction you can create out of it.  This also made me absolutely fall in love with the island of Pantelleria.  I'm so keen on visiting either the Italian or Spanish islands which I think have this great sort of volcanic beauty.  The movie is a bit of a meandering journey but I really liked the ride.  

8.  Sing Street - John Carney 

An adorable throw back to the 80s movie that reminds me of everything we loved about 80s romance like Pretty in Pink.  That's really all you need to know.  Trust me you'll love it.  Boy meets girl, boy has big dreams, girl has big dreams, hopeful and cute with heart.  

9.  King Jack - Felix Thompson 

This was quite a great little movie.  A coming of age story about a kid who lives in less than ideal circumstances, who is being bullied, but who himself is probably headed for a stint in juvie if he doesn't make some changes.  A story about what a kids world looks like when money is tight and parental supervision is lacking.  There's a lot of heart here and a lot of honesty.  The lead actor is great and it all seems totally authentic.  Ultimately hopeful, it sort of hit me in the feels and lingered.  

10.  Holy Hell - Will Allen 

This is a very thorough documentary because one of the members of the cult it is about began filming while being a participant in the movement beginning in 1985.  The movement was called Buddhafield.  It was a spiritual movement and it still exists in some form today.  The fascinating thing about this was to try to understand the hold the movement had on its participants which was quite strong.  In the beginning everything seemed like rainbows and unicorns but later, it seemed to take a darker turn.  Its hard to describe, you sort of have to watch it to really get a feel for what is going on here.  My daughter and I have discussed this movie several times and it is genuinely one of the more fascinating documentaries I saw this year.

11.  Keanu - Peter Atencio

This was the funniest movie I saw this year.  These guys were hilarious.  I loved the whole silly premise which was too nice dudes who stumble into pretending to be gangsters just to get their cat Keanu back who happens to have been taken by said a local gang.  It's a ridiculous premise and it worked wonderfully well at making everything that happens in this movie seem totally plausible in the least plausible way which gives you permission to laugh at everything.  

12.  Hell or High Water -  David Mackenzie  

Besides the fact that Chris Pine is a thing of beauty, this movie has a lot to offer.  This is a well paced tale of two men on the wrong side of the law for what appear to perhaps be the right reasons, although we aren't exactly sure.  You find yourself not being certain if we are rooting for the good guys or the bad guys or both.  Jeff Bridges superbly portrays an older sheriff here but all the acting is great all the way around. 

13.  Other People -  Chris Kelly

Molly Shannon does such a great job here as a woman dying of cancer.  The whole premise of this movie - a woman dying of cancer, makes it sound like something you'd rather avoid because who wants to be all depressed about that right?  But I loved how this movie explored what it means to really live and then die the right way, and how we can make sure we are living a life that is honest.  It's a tear jerker for sure, but in a way that stuck with me and made me feel better for having watched it.  There are some great humorous moments in this too that reminded me a lot of the ways in which families are complex things and sometimes the source of our greatest happiness and are greatest pains. 

14.  Miss Stevens - Julia Hart

Miss Stevens is about a group of high school students who go on a weekend trip with their teacher for a drama competition (similar to speech competitions for those familiar).  And even though the movie is sort of about that, what the movie is really about is a teacher who is only a biscuit older than her students and how anyone who spends some significant time around teens realizes we never really grow so old that we don't fundamentally relate to being a teenager still.  And teens aren't really so young that they can't understand what it means to be a grown up.  And there's a lot of fuzzy territory there in between.  This one was quiet and I really enjoyed the fact that I never totally knew where the plot was going and it had layers and layers of meaning and goodness that I just completely absorbed like a dose of the best medicine money could buy.

15.  City of Gold - Laura Gabbert

This is a documentary about a man's love affair with food.  It is beautiful.  And it is a delicious portrayal of everything that is awesome about the Los Angeles melting pot of neighborhoods and the culinary surprises that result.  I should buy this movie so that I can watch it again before I go to Los Angeles next time because it is chock full of wonderful information on where to get all the best LA has to offer.  My kids and I watched this together and fully enjoyed and savored every morsel of this film.  :)

16.  American Honey - Andrea Arnold

These kids who sell magazine subscriptions show up my door time and time again and I have never believed their B.S. and have often called them out on it.  This movie will do nothing to change the way I react to them when they show up - I'm still not going to buy their magazine subscriptions, however, it will make me remember their humanity a little bit more.  I know these kids.  These kids are kids who sit in my counseling office from time to time.  These kids are the forgotten kids.  The kids who dropped out of school because no one cared.  Who slipped through all the cracks all the way down to the very bottom and still no one really notices or cares.  And they will mostly continue to survive because at the end of the day, you almost can't really break these kids, that's how much resilience that have.  Sad but poetic.  I loved so many things about this very raw movie.  I saw the previews for this film with some friends and one of my friends remarked "that looks horribly depressing" but I had been sitting there watching the same preview thinking "man, I really have to see that movie".  It did not disappoint.  It was brilliant.  Cinematic and acting wise this film was one of the very best I saw all year.

17.  Blue Jay -  Alexandre Lehmann

The acting here is so good.  This movie is this quiet little story of two old high school sweethearts who run into each other in the grocery store in their hometown.  They haven't seen each other in years and we aren't really sure what to expect.  The movie unfolds in this slow dance between the two of them and gradually reveals bits of important information that helps explain why they broke up and why the feelings between the two of them appear to be so strong.  I really enjoyed this but it did make me SOB at some points.  So if you really hate crying, skip this.  But I'm glad I didn't skip it because I thought it was absolutely beautiful. 

18.  Moonlight - Barry Jenkins 

This was hands down my favorite movie this year.  It was just so beautiful.  The story is told in three parts like a symphony or a play, the film itself is gorgeous, and the story touches on themes of race, poverty, sexuality, and isolation.  The story is a very unique one and to some extent defies simple description.  The director uses a lot of metaphor and symbolism and it gave the movie a depth that allowed me to see it twice while still wishing to watch it again.  A movie like this proves what potential movies have to give us insight and meaning.  Truly a piece if art. 

19.  The Handmaid - Chan-wook Park 

This movie was just flat out gorgeous.  The story was interesting with tricky plot twists and kept me totally engaged, but even if the story had been awful, the images on the screen and set direction would still have been worth watching.  

20.  Noctural Animals - Tom Ford 

So the last movie Tom Ford directed was "A Single Man" and it was a beautiful and sad experience to watch, but in a good way.  This story and the tone is a little different, but I enjoyed it very much.  A Single Man felt more quiet and contemplative whereas this movie is more in the vein of a thriller.   As always, Tom Ford dazzles with interesting imagery and an eye for incredible detail.  

21.  Arrival - Dennis Villeneuve

Two Amy Adams movies in a row here.  What I loved about this is I don't even particularly like alien type movies and I found this one so unique and great.  The message of this movie above all else was very heartening and uplifting.  Amy Adams does a great job and this movie has a beauty that I really enjoyed as well.  Even if you're normally not much interested in an "alien" film, I recommend you give this a shot.  

22.  The Lobster - Yorgos Lanthimos 

You guys this was weird and good.  I saw it more than once because I really wanted to totally understand all aspects of this and I felt I missed some things the first time.  The premise of this movie is that being single is totally unacceptable.  You MUST have a partner. If not, you probably shouldn't live as a human and should be an animal instead.  The total weirdness of this is just too difficult to explain but it makes some very funny criticism of the culture of dating/marriage and placing such a high premium on being with someone.  It seems to equally criticize those who think being in a relationship is a waste of time or anathema to having a fulfilling and important life.  I guarantee this movie won't bore you.  

23. Jackie - Pablo Larrain

This was such a powerful film.  First of all, Natalie Portman does an amazing portrayal of Jackie Kennedy.  Secondly, the focus on the timing between the assassination of President Kennedy and the funeral and Jackie's hyper focus on the optics of it all is a fascinating way to approach this topic.  This movie helped to contextualize so much about the Kennedy legacy and to really put myself in Jackie's shoes.  I thought it was amazing.  

24.  La La Land - Damien Chazelle 

This was crazy good.  I loved everything about it.  Ryan Gosling continues to be the best boyfriend anyone could ever have.  I loved the chemistry between him and Emma Stone.  The songs from this movie have been stuck in my head every since I saw it.  No one really makes musicals like this anymore and the director figured out a way to do it and pay homage to musicals of old while still keeping it fresh.  That's tricky but it worked out wonderfully well.

25.  Manchester by the Sea - Kenneth Longergan

You guys this is really sad.  But SO good.  Casey Affleck does an amazing job.  It's heartwarming and not totally depressing in every single way - but fair warning, it is FAIRLY depressing.  One of the people I attended this with was pretty much clinically upset afterwards.  Still one of the best movies of the year.

26.  Elle - Paul Verhoeven

This is the same director  did Basic Instinct - and this film has a similar darkness.  This was a completely new take on a sort of old idea - the idea of how sexual assault may impact a powerful woman.  Some aspects of this I never saw coming and I found it fascinating how the director played around with this theme.  I love a good french film.  Isabelle Huppert is a great actress and really makes this film work.

27.  Lion - Garth Davis

This was a gorgeous movie with so much heart.  Based on a true story of a boy in India who became lost and eventually finds his family many years later.  That premise sounded like a thin one to create an entire feature film around but believe me, this is a movie that will engage you from beginning to end.

I know! 27 movies!  That I gave 5 stars each to this year.  It's a crazy amount.  Also that seems like a lot of movies to see!  But I do love movies you guys.  There's almost nothing I would rather do on the weekend than see a movie if I can.  I also lucked out this year with many gifted movie tickets and that made my movie watching a lot more doable.

There are a few movies that I wanted to see in 2016 that I wasn't able to see too so I am hoping to catch up on some of those soon.  20th Century Women doesn't start here for a couple more weeks and I think it looks excellent based on the trailers.  Here's to more great films in 2017.

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