Friday, January 27, 2017

Top 25 Films of 2016 (15-6)

15. Pete's Dragon (d. David Lowry, Disney)
Far and away the best film to come out of Disney's recent live-action fairy tale brand.  David Lowry took a known title but made it all his own.  Finding the beauty in the story of a boy and his invisible caretaker, the film becomes one of the most touching and pleasant films of the year.  All of the emotional beats are absolutely earned, not a false note present.  Keeping this movie personal and intimate is a welcome change from the dramatic revisionism of Disney's other recent live-action films.  The animation of Elliot is lifelike enough, but it never loses the fantasy of the character.  Also the movie has a good message about not turning to vengeance if you are scared and embarrassed, which is sadly very topical.

14. Hell or High Water (d. David Makenzie, Lions Gate)
Also very topical is this little sleeper that could that is a good look at the hardships of Trump's America.  This is gorgeously shot and performed in a way that shows an authenticity for the setting and lifestyle.  This is one of the films where the actors rise above their written characters.  This is Pine's best leading role and Ben Foster should really be getting more attention.  The best part of the film though is its clever plotting and surprising execution of the bank robberies.  This is the best heist films in a long time and a very solid modern Western.

13. Arrival (d. Denis Villeneuve, Paramount)
Arrival has a clever script that doesn't call out its own cleverness, it has the confidence to let the audience catch on at their own pace.  Things are not explicitly stated, there is a sense of discovery with this movie which is the best way to dramatize its theme of communication.  This is a smart movie that doesn't play down or look down on audiences, which is why I think it received such a strong response.  In addition to the writing the directing, editing and non-flashy special effects are all among the best of the year.  But this film would not have been anything without Amy Adams in the lead.  Her character doesn't have a traditional character arc, which is refreshing to see work so well.  Adams has to play emotions without giving away the entire movie, there are things always present with her that you need to notice but not pay too much attention to.  The timeline of her emotions is not linear, but she makes it work so effectively.  This is the best performance of Adams' career and the movie hinges entirely on her.

12. Hello, My Name is Doris (d. Michael Showalter, Roadside) 
The tone feels old fashioned, but the commentary is very sharp and relevant.  Sally Field proves why she is a screen legend in this return to form.  Field as the spunky but complex Doris is an absolute star performance.  Max Greenfield stretches from his New Girl persona quite ably in this and Tyne Daly gets some of the biggest laughs in any movie this year.  The script and direction from comedian Showalter brings a strong take and attitude that his strong ensemble completely runs with.  The comedy set-ups and emotional pay-offs leave an impact.  This is the type of movie we really should see more of.

11. The Lobster (d. Yorgos Lanthimos, A24)
Among the strangest films this year, The Lobster explores every possible implication of its unique premise.  The film spends quite a bit of time slowly exploring the set-up until it completely changes settings.  This dramatic shift fits the tone of the movie and works to escalate the beginning weirdness.  This works as a slow-paced science fiction film because it has such an interesting take on love and relationships.  Once again Colin Farrell proves his strength as a character actor.  This is a complicated, uncomfortable, pathetic role and he could not be any better.  The straight forward dialogue and the stilted delivery from the cast helps the weirdness to make sense.  The Lobster is beautiful to look at, but difficult to watch and times and confusing afterwards.  A one of a kind experience that leads to some fantastic discussions.

10. The Nice Guys (d. Shane Black, WB)
Once again Shane Black's unique personality, talent for memorable characters and creativity with action makes for one of the most entertaining movies of the year.  Few movies made me laugh more or enjoy myself more than this dysfunctional buddy comedy.  Pairing the intense Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe in a fairly broad comedy could have been a disaster, but Black clearly knew what he wanted from each character.  This is the most exciting Russell Crowe has felt on screen in a long-time and Gosling shows some amazing slapstick chops without losing the dramatic aspects of his character.  Special mention also to young Angourie Rice who out acts most young performers in her age group.  The Nice Guys should have been a big summer hit, this would have played amazing in large audiences.  But there is still a chance to discover and enjoy it.

9. Doctor Strange (d. Scott Derrickson, Disney)
Marvel's second wave of character introductions have a solid set-up: add a different flavor and play with the set up of a traditional Marvel film.  Guardians had the flavor of pop space adventure, Ant-Man had the flavor of comedy sci-fi assisted heist, Doctor Strange has the flavor of trippy mysticism.  Strange himself is a great character that the film beautiful sets up as an almost irredeemable jerk.  His jokes don't play like Tony Stark's and his tragedy is directly tied to his unlikable qualities.  Strange himself is one of Marvel's better leads and he helped by a fun, memorable supporting cast.  The visual style feels right out of a Steve Ditko comic.  This movie is full of set-pieces that change up Marvel's traditional action scenes.  The use of astral plane, levitation cloaks, sling rings and more changes the look, choreography and pacing.  Doctor Strange is just a blast and is yet another Marvel film that adds something special to their growing cinematic universe.

8. Zootopia (d. Byron Howard & Chris Williams, Disney)
Presenting personal prejudice and institutional obstructions in a way that anybody can recognize without resorting to heavy handedness or getting caught up in too many real world comparisons.  It is amazing to think about how Zootopia accomplished what people wanted Crash to accomplish in so much more effectively.  We get to see how prejudices work, not just in bad guys but in heroes.  The comedy and excellent chase scenes helps to keep the message from feeling overwhelming.  This is a movie you enjoy, which makes the serious scenes stand out more.  Disney is in their revival period and they keep knocking them out of the park as they continue to experiment with genre and tone.  Judy Hopps is one of Disney's best all-time lead characters and Zootopia features the level of expressive character animation and complete world building you can't find from other animation studios.

7. Moonlight (d. Barry Jenkins, A24)
Moonlight is one of the most affecting love stories in any film.  Splitting the story into three distinct parts with three different actors for the main character was a brave, genius decision.  It allows the audience to get to know Chiron on such a deep level.  Not just who he is, but where he came.  Seeing the events of a child and teenager unfold into an adult is sure to elicit an emotional response from anybody.  Moonlight will make you feel betrayed, frustrated and confused.  But it is the love story that is waiting to break out that leaves an impact.  Despite all of the difficult things that happened, there are these two men that are experiencing a connection in a slow, meaningful way.  Mahershala Ali and Naomi Harris give their best work in this film, but the ensemble is uniformly excellent with Janelle Monae and the young performers.  The ones that leave the most impact is Trevante Rhodes and Andre Holland with their incredibly moving diner scene in the final segment.  Can't wait to see where writer-director Barry Jenkins goes from here.

6. Kubo and the Two Strings (d. Travis Knight, Focus)
After four films I understand what Laika is about.  They make fantastic morality tales about children that are inspired by creative adults to challenge the cynicism and injustice of their world.  That theme is very much present in Kubo, one of the year's most creative films and biggest visual treats.  Laika will make you believe that stop-motion can do anything, as Kubo shows you a world of adventure.  The designs and cinematography is among the best of any film, stop-motion or otherwise.  The story about Kubo choosing the beauty of the Earth over the cruelness of immortality is a great one for an adventure.  And the two strings from the title really mean something as you will come to care about Kubo and his companions.  Special mention to Matthew McConaughey whose persona completely disappears in this thrilling film.

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