This is it! The end of the 2016 Year-in-Review! In case you missed the rest of the countdown, here are Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3! Did your favorite make it onto my list? If not, don’t fret. It’s only because it wasn’t good enough! (Or maybe I just missed it?) You know which films were good enough? These! The Top Five of . . .
The Top 25 Films of 2016
It’s hard to single out one single strength when it comes to Arrival. A science-fiction film aimed at the sophisticated, deep-thinking adult, the film approaches the idea of extra-terrestrial life not as an excuse to justify war and guns, but as an opportunity to connect with other sentient beings, learn from each other, and grow. Of course, humans are humans, so the film accurately represents the way society would react, as a whole. But the message to the film is clear and it’s for you to discover (unless you’re fortunate enough to have seen the film, already, in which case you’ve discovered it). On top of all of that, the film poses the most thought-provoking question I’ve encountered in a film in quite some time. Anytime a movie gets me to think about myself on a level I had never thought, before, it’s a win. Arrival was just nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards and it’s much-deserved. It’s also back in theaters, so go check this one out if you love intelligent film. Think of it as 2016’s Ex Machina. (Original post.)
4. The Edge of Seventeen
The Edge of Seventeen was marketed as a coming-of-age story and, on the surface, that’s exactly what it is. But there’s so much more to it than that. Writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig delivers an immensely quick and witty script with clever dialogue and believable characters. Everyone felt like people I know or have known throughout my life. This adds an element of empathy for each one of them that most movies unfortunately lack. But even a fantastic script is not sufficient on its own. As great as the entire cast is (including Woody Harrelson, who owns the Mr. Bruner role), it’s Hailee Steinfeld who elevates the film above others of its ilk. She doesn’t simply act; she becomes. Her feeling, her mannerisms, her facial expressions, her delivery . . . it’s all natural, perfect, memorable, and impactful. She’s one of the single best talents in Hollywood, today, and The Edge of Seventeen was precisely the showcase that she needed. (Original post.)
3. Kubo and the Two Strings
I really thought that Kubo and the Two Strings was going to finish the year as my top film. And it came so close. I still wouldn’t argue with anyone who placed this film on the top of their list. And I’d dismiss any list that didn’t have this film somewhere near the top. Because this film is just that good. It’s that good on both the creative and technical (which, in essence, is just a different form of creativity) levels. Creatively, Kubo presents a story about love, loss, growth, friends, and family that the world simply needs to listen to, right now. And it does so with intelligence, humor, atmosphere, action, and originality. Technically, Laika Studios takes stop-motion animation to a previously-unimaginable level. It’s so amazing that it’s nominated for Best Special Effects at the Academy Awards. And you know what? It deserves to win. Truthfully, it deserves so much more than that. It deserves a Best Picture nomination (rather than just the Best Animated Feature nomination that it did attain). It deserves hundreds of millions of dollars at the worldwide box office (it certainly deserves more than The Secret Life of Pets). It deserves to be a go-to classic for families and film-lovers, anywhere. It’s too late for a couple of those things. But for that last one, there’s still a chance. You owe it to yourself to give the gift of Kubo and the Two Strings. (Original post.)
2. La La Land
La La Land is one of those films that I expected to be good, but was even better than I could have imagined. Yes, it’s great in all of the typical ways that a great movie is great: performances, story, characters, dialogue, musical numbers (in this case), pacing, entertainment value, and so on. But where this film really surprised me was in its presentation. Damien Chazelle masters the art of the most basic foundation of storytelling through film: show, don’t tell. If there’s a unique and inventive way to get an idea across through sight or sound without relying on expositional dialogue, Chazelle will find it, every time. And then, he’ll find a better way and that is the one he’ll go with. Following this film and his almost-equally-incredible Whiplash (featuring J.K. Simmons in one of my favorite performances in the history of film), Chazelle has officially arrived. And seeing the commercial success of La La Land ($182 million worldwide and counting on a $30 million budget), we can safely assume he’ll have carte blanche, moving forward, which is something for film lovers, everywhere, to be supremely excited about. (Original post.)
And finally . . .
I don’t know what more I can say beyond the fact that Lion moved me more than any other film I’ve seen in my entire life. Seriously. I don’t even want to watch it with another person because it’s going to make me cry. Probably a lot. And that’s the point of art: to move. This film reminded me of everything that’s truly important in life. And it reminded me of why. It made me feel love for the people who are important to me. It made me feel love for the people that I’ve lost. It made me feel love for the good people of the world that I’ve never even met. And it reminded me that other people feel that love, too, because they made this movie. And that gave me hope for our world, even as others in that world try to take that hope away from all of us on a daily basis. There is more love than there is hate. And love can accomplish amazing things. Love can accomplish the impossible. But sometimes, love needs a vessel. In 2016, love’s theatrical vessel was Lion. With six Academy Award and four Golden Globe nominations – including Best Picture at both – it’s clear that I’m not the only one who felt this film. Lion is without question, my top movie of the year. But it’s more than just a movie. It’s a source of hope, support, and inspiration. (Original post.)
And – other than a likely Oscar preview column – that’s a wrap for 2016! If you haven’t seen any of these films, get right on that. And keep my comments in mind as you watch them. Look for the good. Let the story tell itself, don’t make demands of the story. These aren’t our stories to tell; they’re our stories to listen to. Enjoy. See you, soon.
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