Mike’s Top Ten of 2016

I didn’t know what to write for 2016 for the longest time. But as I started writing up all the films, I realized what it is — this is a sneaky strong year. The top ten didn’t immediately strike me the way something like 2015 does as being the obviously strong year from an entire decade. But when I look at it… there are movies here that I love beyond words that, to me, are gonna stay among my absolute favorites. And the more I look at the lower tier stuff the more I realize there are some really amazing gems to be found here that deserve to be seen.

The year will always be remembered for the top two films, which will be forever linked in people’s minds, but really when you look at it… if you’re trying to find an amazing movie that might be slightly off the beaten path, 2016 is the place to look. There’s stuff up and down this list that’s just tremendous that it feels like almost no one knows about or bothered to see when it came out. This is my ‘drum beating’ year, with stuff that I’m trying to help get noticed and become a movie people either later realize is great or just get seen by more people.

Also what I love about this top ten list in specific is that it has a nice mix of obvious stuff that everyone loves, stuff that is slightly off the beaten path that makes you think ‘oh, that’s good, but top ten? Wow’, plus stuff that almost no one knows about and then stuff where you go, “You know what? That is a really great movie and I never considered it that way.” It’s a really eclectic list, and it’s another year that has an 11-20 (and even a tier two!) full of stuff that could also be in the top ten. I’m a huge fan of this year and it took me going back to reconsider it all to realize that. This is one of the strongest years of this decade.

Mike’s Top Ten of 2016

Arrival

Everybody Wants Some!!

The Girl with All the Gifts

Hell or High Water

Jackie

Kubo and the Two Strings

La La Land

Moana

Moonlight

The Nice Guys

11-20: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, A Monster Calls, Hacksaw Ridge, Hail Caesar!, Hidden Figures, Lion, Manchester by the Sea, Midnight Special, The Red Turtle, Sing Street

Tier two: Allied, American Honey, Army of One, Bleed for This, Christine, Deadpool, The Edge of Seventeen, Fences, Finding Dory, The Founder, Green Room, Hardcore Henry, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, The Light Between Oceans, Loving, Morris from America, Nocturnal Animals, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Silence, The Witch

Tier three: 808, Blood Father, Captain Fantastic, The Confirmation, De Palma, Eye in the Sky, The Fits, The Girl Without Hands, I Daniel Blake, Jason Bourne, The Jungle Book, The Monster, Rules Don’t Apply, Sausage Party, Snowden, Sully, Tickled, Toni Erdmann, White Girl, Zootopia

Tier four: 10 Cloverfield Lane, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, 20th Century Women, Captain America: Civil War, Elvis & Nixon, Ethel & Ernest, Florence Foster Jenkins, The Infiltrator, Kicks, Little Sister, Live by Night, Miles Ahead, Other People, Passengers, Paterson, The Salesman, Standoff, Too Late, War Dogs, Wiener-Dog

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1. La La Land

♫ “City of stars
Are you shining just for me?

City of stars
There’s so much that I can’t see

Who knows?
Is this the start of something wonderful and new?
Or one more dream that I cannot make true?” ♫

Going into this movie, I knew there was a pretty good chance it was gonna be my favorite movie of the year. And then I saw it, and immediately I said two things: “This is gonna be my favorite movie of the year,” and “This movie’s gonna win a lot of awards, and that’s gonna be unfortunate.” Not so much that it didn’t deserve them, but that I knew that people were gonna hate it. Sometimes you see a movie that’s so perfectly up your alley that you can’t help but love it, but you’re also aware that it’s just ripe for people turning against it and hating it for the success it achieves. This one I just knew was gonna be that movie immediately.

It’s Damien Chazelle’s followup to Whiplash, which was incredible and won a bunch of awards and is one of the best movies of its respective year. This is him pretty much going all out on the kind of movie he wanted to make — a musical set in Los Angeles that would evoke the films of Jacques Demy and stuff like Singin’ in the Rain. And that’s it. It’s a romance between a jazz pianist and an aspiring actress, played by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. It’s amazing. The musical numbers are fantastic and impeccably directed (Chazelle basically earned his Best Director Oscar in that opening scene alone, the “Another Day of Sun” number set on a busy freeway, and shored it up by the time you got to “Someone in the Crowd” when he gets to the party), and it’s just an utter joy to watch.

It’s not gonna be everyone’s favorite movie. And it’s one of a few movies of this decade that I know better than to try to force onto anyone. But I will say, I love it, because it has everything I love about movies and about cinema. I am the audience for this movie. And I love it dearly. Which doesn’t negate any of my feelings about the rest of the films on this list or make them any less worthy of being called the best films of the year. It just means that this was always gonna be my favorite film of the year, and there’s really nothing that can be done about it. I love what I love.

2. Moonlight

“At some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you gonna be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you.”

Words cannot describe the exquisite beauty of this film. What Barry Jenkins achieves with this film is nothing short of breathtaking. It’s not even the kind of movie I would assume to be this great, and yet, it just is. Within thirty minutes you find you can’t take your eyes off of this movie.

It’s the story of a person, told in three parts. The first is him as a boy, the other is him as a teen and the third is him as a man. In each section, he’s played by a different actor, and the film is about his upbringing in suburban Miami, with his crack-addicted single mother and his budding homosexuality. And it’s just so, so good.

There’s a reason this movie won Best Picture and is generally considered one of the best films of the decade. It’s just a masterpiece on every conceivable level. It’s quickly moving its way up the ranks to being one of the great/essential films of all time.

3. Kubo and the Two Strings

“You are my quest.”

I’d always liked Laika movies. They were always really solid and the artistry made them something special to watch. But this movie takes that to a whole other level. It might be the greatest animated film of the decade, if not the century so far. There’s a legitimate chance it could be that film.

So, if you don’t know Laika, they make stop-motion films. Most of the time they’ve got pretty standard animation, but this one… just watch the opening scene and you’ll realize this is on another level. The way they make waves in a thunderstorm is just jaw-dropping.

The film is about a young boy who lives in a village with his mother and has to go on a journey to locate a magic suit of armor worn by his father, a mighty warrior. And on his journey he is accompanied by a monkey (voiced by Charlize Theron) and a beetle (voiced by Matthew McConaughey) while also being chased by his mothers’ sisters (voiced by Rooney Mara), daughters of the Moon King (voiced by Ralph Fiennes).

This movie is an abject masterpiece. You know how you know it’s a masterpiece? They nominated it for Best Visual Effects at the Oscars on top of being nominated for Best Animated Feature. The visuals in this movie are so stunning they nominated it over the standard Marvel CGI fest they normally throw into that category. It is just a stunning achievement that dwarfs everything else the company has ever done. It’s one of the best movies of the decade.

4. Moana

♫ “See the line where the sky meets the sea? It calls me
And no one knows, how far it goes
If the wind in my sail on the sea stays behind me
One day I’ll know, if I go there’s just no telling how far I’ll go” ♫

This is classic Disney. Zootopia is the movie of theirs that got all the notices this year, but this is the one that should be remembered. This is up there with the best Disney has ever put out.

It’s a Polynesian tale about a girl, Moana, who lives with her family on an island where the tribe is afraid to leave for fear of the vengeful Ocean, which is cursed because of the actions of demigod Maui. However, she hears a calling from the ocean and knows that her place is out there. So, when Maui’s curse starts to reach the island (which will soon make it uninhabitable), Moana sets out to save her people.

It is truly up there with the best of the Disney Renaissance. The writing, the songs, it’s all amazing. Sure, it’s CG and not hand-drawn, but at this point it seems like hand-drawn animation is going to be a rarity from them, so you have to take what you can get. But truly, this movie is so, so good. When they do princess films, they make them great. And this is one of the greats and I still can’t believe this wasn’t their most-lauded film of the year. But time’s gonna tell on this one. Quality always wins out.

5. The Girl with All the Gifts

“Pretend to be scared of me.”
“Pretend?”

This is a weird one. I somehow had seen the book at the office somewhere and heard what its premise was. I heard great things about it. And then the movie somehow slid totally under my radar until I heard it was coming out. Then, I ended up getting to go to a double-screening of both this film and Arrival in the same night, and I just sort of knew this was gonna be the movie of the two that I loved more. And it was.

Almost no one knows about this movie. It came out late 2016 in the UK, then got bought by a distributor who essentially does straight to VOD stuff and was quietly dumped in the spring of 2017 for American audiences. But trust me… this isn’t just some throwaway movie. This is is one of the finest horror/zombie movies ever made. Period. Full stop.

The premise of the film is that the zombie apocalypse happened. It happened, it’s over, and now zombies roam the earth (the typical zombies you see in films), and the remaining humans life in contained zones away from the zombies. However, the virus that created the zombies mutated, and all the babies that were born after the apocalypse were bonded with the virus in such a way that they are both part human and part zombie. And that’s where the film begins. On a military base, deep in bunker, where a group of children infected with the virus are actually taught like regular kids. Though they are chained to their desks and all the adults wear special scent-masking spray to keep the kids from getting ‘hungry’. Meanwhile, scientists are doing experiments on the kids to find a cure for the disease.

The film is centered around one of the children, Melanie, who is the most human of the group, and goes with some of the soldiers and her teacher (who she has a special bond with) on a journey after their compound gets breached. And oh my god, is it one of the best movies I saw this decade. I don’t even want to give away what happens, because it’s just so well-written and well-made.

Do not miss out on this movie. It is great. You should know by now that when you see a movie you’ve never heard of on one of my lists, there’s a reason for it.

6. The Nice Guys

“Look on the bright side. Nobody got hurt.”
“People got hurt.”
“I’m saying, I think they died quickly. So I don’t think they got hurt.”

Shane Black. That’s pretty much all you need to say for this. In the 80s and 90s, his name on a script told you everything you needed to know about a movie. Now, his name as a director does the same. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a masterpiece, and this is a cousin to that film. He directed Iron Man 3 in between, which is fun, but it’s more Marvel than Shane Black. This is more his speed.

It’s a buddy comedy with Ryan Gosling as a sleazy P.I. and Russell Crowe as a slightly more professional P.I. who team up to solve a case involving a missing girl and a dead porn star. It’s pure LA in the 70s and it’s just wonderful. Gosling and Crowe are both great and, as is always the case with Black, the writing is top-notch.

This is one of those movies where I knew immediately it would be in my top ten, and I knew that most people wouldn’t put it in theirs because they just thought of it as a good film but not something that was ‘important’ enough to quality as a top ten kinda movie. But now, time has passed and pretty much everyone will tell you this is one of their favorite movies from this year. And that’s what I love about these lists. All the bullshit fades away the further you’re removed from the year itself. And what’s left are what truly have become everyone’s favorite films. Films like this stand the test of time. Watchability always wins.

7. Hell or High Water

“I’ve been poor my whole life, like a disease passing from generation to generation. But not my boys, not anymore.”

Boy, this one sure took everyone by surprise, didn’t it? We knew Taylor Sheridan wrote a great movie with Sicario, but I feel like everyone gave most of the credit on that one to Denis Villeneuve. But this one… this proved it wasn’t a fluke. This movie is so good.

It stars Chris Pine and Ben Foster as brothers who are determined to save their farm. Their mother is dying, they can’t make the payments, and if they don’t pay off a loan in a month, the farm goes to the bank. So, they start robbing banks. And that’s the film. Of course, there’s so much going on around it, but that’s the basic premise. Foster is a career criminal who just loves doing it, while Pine is a man who wants to have something to give to his children, who seem like they don’t even really want it. Which is a great theme permeating the film — the changing of the landscape. There’s a great scene with a guy herding cattle during a fire that drives the point home. And then there’s Jeff Bridges as a retiring Texas Ranger who is investigating the bank robberies. And his character is a sort of mix of Rooster Cogburn meets Tommy Lee Jones in No Country for Old Men. It’s one of Bridges’ best performances. He’s so good here. As is Pine and as is Foster.

And, of course, any mention of this movie has to include the greatest scene in it and what may be the best scene in all of 2016 — that diner scene, with that waitress who is on screen for about two minutes total and yet delivers more of an impression than almost any performance you’ve seen in a decade.

This is just a great movie that only gets better the more you watch it.

8. Arrival

“If you could see your whole life from start to finish, would you change things?”

Denis Villeneuve. By this point, I became convinced the man could do anything. And that’s even before he took on Blade Runner.

This is based on a short story and is a drama about an alien invasion. But not like, a shoot-em-up kind of invasion. Alien crafts show up in certain places around the world and just kind of sit there. And they open up at the same time every day and everyone tries to figure out what they’re doing there. Amy Adams plays a linguistics expert who liaises with the army to try to communicate with the aliens. And man, is it one of the most riveting things you’ll ever see.

It’s a slow film. It’s methodical, and it proceeds at its own pace. But also, before you know it, you’re deeply engrossed in this story and then things start to open up and you realize more about what’s going on, and then the film begins to move you in ways you couldn’t comprehend when it started. It gets you from angles you didn’t realize where there. It’s really a beautiful film. Certainly one of the best sci fi films of the decade, if not best films of the decade.

9. Everybody Wants Some!!

“Have you noticed whenever we’re around baseball all we talk about is pussy. Now, we’re actually around a few potentially interesting young women, all you talk about is baseball. It’s a little fucked up!”

Richard Linklater, baby. This is his ‘spiritual sequel’ to Dazed and Confused. While that movie was about footballers in high school in the 70s, this is baseball players in college in the 80s. And that’s the film. Baseball player shows up to campus and the entire film takes place in the couple of days before classes start. And it’s fucking wonderful.

This is the epitome of the hangout movie. You’re just hanging out with these people. It only gets to something vaguely resembling a plot in the third act when a love interest shows up. But even then, it feels like some guy going around campus. It feels like college did. And every character is just wonderfully drawn and you love them all.

This is one of those movies — well for one, it confirmed what I kind of already knew, which is that Richard Linklater is incapable of making a bad movie. But also, I couldn’t believe no one saw this when it came out. Immediately this was one of the best movies of the year, and yet no one bothered to go see it. I figured that maybe they were waiting for it to come out on video and it would get an audience then. But even now it still seems like no one’s seen this movie. And I can’t figure out what gives. So I’ll say this — if you think Dazed and Confused is an amazing movie, which most of us do… THIS IS THE SAME KIND OF MOVIE. It’s the same director, the same tone, and it’s just as good in a slightly different way. Please go see this, because it’s wonderful.

10. Jackie

“I never wanted fame. I just became a Kennedy.”

I went back to look at what I originally put on this list. And the two films I expected to fall off did, but what’s interesting to me is that the two that jumped up and got on were my #11 and #12. It’s like I knew what the movies were that were ready to jump on even before I figured it out.

Anyway, this is a biopic of Jackie Kennedy, centered around the days after the assassination of her husband. And it features a stunningly good performance by Natalie Portman, the kind of performance I can’t understand why it didn’t win an Oscar. She’s that good in this. And the film is tremendous. Pablo Larrain directs the absolute hell out of it and it’s just pound for pound one of the best movies of this year. Every time I go back to it, I’m even more in love with it. He shoots the film on 16mm to look like film of that era (and almost like the Zapruder film), and the whole thing really is just an impressive piece of work.

I heard someone say that the reason this movie wasn’t as well-received as it should have been was because the people of a certain age who were around when this all happened really revere Jackie in a way that people my age don’t really understand. And the fact that this pulls back the curtain a bit and doesn’t portray her as a saint is what led to people turning away from it. I don’t know if that’s true at all, but what I do know is that this movie never got the recognition it deserved, either as a film or for it’s direction or performances. And I’m gonna keep talking this up as one of the best movies of 2016, because it really is one of the best movies of 2016.

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11-20:

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them — The first of the new Harry Potter movies. It was always a weird angle for a new franchise, but at this point, if they wanna give us more Potterverse movies, I’ll take them. It’s set in New York in the 1920s and involves Newt Scamander coming to study his magical creatures and unknowingly unleashing a bunch of them into the city, all while a lot of political stuff is going on (namely the early days of Grindelwald). It’s a weird angle for a franchise just because it’s clearly meant to be Dumbledore vs. Grindelwald and now we have this other character as the hero who is seemingly gonna fade into the background as the films wear on. That said, I found myself enjoying this movie so much more than I thought I would. The first act is basically a 1940s screwball comedy. Scamander shows up, and he accidentally switches his suitcase with another guy’s, so now he has to get the case back before the guy can open it, so we’re following him trying to do this, following the other guy as he goes on about his business unaware of the case, and then you’ve got a magical agent on his trail because she thinks he’s in on something, and she’s adding to the mayhem. That part is really fun for me. Then you get into the wondrous stuff with all the creatures and all the kiddie scenes of him taming them, which isn’t as much for me and feels kind of like The Hobbit, where they’re marking it as being for younger children than the previous franchise was. But still, I will take these kinds of movies over most other things, and I really enjoy this one. It’s gonna be a function of how well the rest of the franchise turns out, but I think they are determined to make it work enough to make sure they don’t screw it up.

A Monster Calls — A movie that I willed into my top ten just because the story appealed to me so much and I’d known about this book/script for years and could not wait to see it get made. Plus it had J.A. Bayona coming off The Impossible… nothing was more exciting to me this year than this film coming out. It’s the story of a boy dealing with his mother’s impending death from cancer. And, almost like a Pan’s Labyrinth, he ends up befriending a tree monster that tells him stories to help him cope with this fact. And it’s this beautiful story of grief and loss and learning to accept it and help yourself become okay afterward. The film is quite good, though I think its biggest flaw is the fact that it cuts out what should be most of the first act. You should be spending time with the boy and his mother before the monster shows up, to really make you feel something for them, rather than just propelling us into the ‘plot’ of the film. And without that, the film isn’t nearly as effective as it should be. But I still love it for a lot of reasons. I think it’s a very effective film (and I have my fingers crossed for a longer director’s cut that might reintroduce all that footage that’s no longer there) and I just love the idea of it so, so much.

Hacksaw Ridge — Mel Gibson’s first film that he directed since Apocalypto, and it’s the story of an Army medic in Okinawa during World War II who, due to his religious principles, refused to carry a weapon. And the early part of the film is him refusing to do it in camp and fighting against his superiors on that, and then the second half is him in battle. And the battle scenes in this are quite good. It’s kind of a by-the-numbers story, but Mel directs the hell out of it and gives you a really good piece of entertainment. Not something that feels like it’s gonna go down as one of the best war movies ever, but it’s definitely one of the best of this decade, and features a really good lead Andrew Garfield performance as well.

Hail, Caesar! — I remember going to a theater to see this (because every Coen brothers movie is appointment viewing) and coming out going, “That was really fun, but I’m not sure it was that great.” Would that it were so simple. Like every Coen brothers movie, especially the comedies, this one grows on you. Whatever you feel about it coming out, you’re gonna find yourself watching it again and again and again, and before you realize it, it’s one of your favorite films because it’s just so damn watchable and so damn funny. This movie has some amazing scenes in it, like the one I quoted up there, and the scene where all the religious heads are arguing about the depiction of Jesus in the script they’re shooting, and the great “No Dames” musical number. I’m not sure the entire film comes together as a masterpiece, but it’s full of amazing moments that add up to a completely worthwhile movie. I also, being a huge fan/student of Old Hollywood, see all the references the Coens are making to real life people, so that takes me out of the film a bit, since they seem a bit obvious. But even so, this is a great movie with such memorable moments — the Ralph Fiennes/Alden Ehrenreich scene alone is one of the greatest pieces of writing this entire decade — it’s so worth it. The Coens don’t make anything less than very good, and this one is very good, teetering on great. You know what you’re getting with them.

Hidden Figures — A movie that surprised the hell out of me. I expected it to be watchable, I did not expect it to be great. This is another movie that, because it’s so charming and so watchable, if I had extra spots this would have made my top ten. But there’s also a lot of stuff in this 11-20 that is top ten worthy and couldn’t make it due to lack of space. This is the story of three black women who worked at NASA in the 60s and helped get us to the moon, even though their contributions to that point had gone largely unnoticed. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae star as the three women, and this is just a joy of a movie. It’s directed by Ted Melfi, who did St. Vincent, and it’s just wonderful all around. Plus it’s got Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Mahershala Ali, Jim Parsons, Aldis Hodge and Glen Powell. Oh, and Olek Krupa, one of my favorite villainous character actors of the 90s, making a very welcome appearance as an engineer/mentor to Monae’s character. I really love this movie. It’s one of those that almost everyone’s gonna love when they watch it. It’s kind of like The Help. It’s hard not to like the movie. It’s when people start arguing about how good it really is versus awards and other stuff that it gets dicey. But on its own, it’s amazing. Who doesn’t love this movie?

Lion — I love this movie. I didn’t expect it to be as amazing as it is. Because the broad premise is: “dude who got lost in India as a child and adopted finds his family through Google Earth.” And you’re thinking, “Is this just a long ad for Google?” But no, it’s not. It’s so much more than that. It’s a beautiful journey. The literal first half of the film is the boy getting lost and ending up on a train that takes him halfway across the country. And since he comes from a poor village and is too young to really know where it is, he ends up at an adoption agency and sent to live with an Australian couple (played by Nicole Kidman and David Wenham). And then we follow him as an adult as he starts to struggle with who he is and where he came from. So he decides to go find out where that is. And it’s so touching. You wonder how they could pull something like this off, but the moment where he starts to realize he’s found his home is one of the most emotional moments I’ve seen in a film this entire decade. It’s so beautifully handled. Garth Davis makes his debut with this film and really does a spectacular job with it. Dev Patel is amazing, Sunny Pawar is amazing as the younger version of the character, Nicole Kidman is amazing, Ronney Mara is great, the score, the cinematography… pound for pound, this is one of the best films of this year.

Manchester by the Sea — This is just a masterpiece. It’s Ken Lonergan’s third film, after You Can Count on Me and Margaret. He makes dramas about people, and this one is just beautiful and brutal and heartbreaking. It stars Casey Affleck as a man who is forced to take in his nephew after his brother dies suddenly. Affleck, already haunted by an episode from his past, isn’t really capable of doing this, but does his best. And really, it’s just a movie about grief. And people dealing with horrific circumstances. Affleck won Best Actor for his performance, which is really just one of the most heart-wrenching things you’ll ever see. The flashback in the middle of the film that shows you why he is the way he is will tear your heart out and rip it into a million pieces. And Lucas Hedges is incredible here as the nephew, as is Michelle Williams as Affleck’s ex-wife. Both earned nominations for their work and were good enough to have won. This is one of the best films of the decade, hands down, and honestly, it’s my #11 for the year, just barely having missed the top ten. It’s a top ten in most other years, it’s that incredible. Though just be aware, you’re about to put yourself through an emotional meat grinder by watching it. But I think it’s greatness makes it worth it in the end.

Midnight Special — One of two Jeff Nichols films to come out this year. Both terrific. This one is a Spielbergian type sci fi movie reminiscent of stuff like Close Encounters or even Starman. It’s a slow burn of a film, with Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton as two men transporting a child (Jaeden Lieberher) under cover of darkness. And you slowly start to figure out just exactly what is going on, which is basically — the kid has special abilities, and Shannon is his father, trying to hide him from both the government and a cult that is trying to get the child for their own purposes. It’s a beautiful film. It’s one of those where it’s best to just take the journey the film is sending you on, because it’s just beautiful. It’s one of the best films of this year and is a criminally underrated gem from this entire decade.

The Red Turtle — This is one of the most stunning animated films you will ever see. It’s a coproduction from a French animated company and Studio Ghibli. It’s a completely wordless (there’s score and sound effects, just no dialogue) film about a man who is shipwrecked on a deserted island and then encounters a mysterious (red) turtle. And the film then turns into this beautiful fable that is just absolutely astounding to witness. In a year that has two animated films in my top ten, this one almost became a third, it’s such a masterpiece. If you’re looking for great animation from this decade, this is your year, and this is one of your films.

Sing Street — Oh god, do I love this movie. If you liked Once, this is John Carney going back to those roots. He made Begin Again in between, which is nice, but because it’s American, it doesn’t have the charm that his Irish films have. This one… Once is a nice little love story. Very indie, great songs. This one is the mainstream version of Once. Not everyone is necessarily gonna spark to once. I’d be shocked if there was someone who wasn’t charmed by this. It’s about a boy in Dublin in the 80s who has a crush on an older girl and lies to her that he’s in a band. So now, he’s gotta make a band. And he does. And it’s this beautiful story of them making this band and actually becoming friends from the experience, and at the center is this beautiful little romance. I can’t speak highly enough of this movie. And also, the music — these are some of the best original songs you will ever hear in a movie. They’re all perfect. This is truly one of the best films of this year and one of the best films of the decade and it’s one that I would not hesitate to tell any person on earth to watch, because it’s unfathomable to me that someone will not love this movie.

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Tier two:

  • Allied
  • American Honey
  • Army of One
  • Bleed for This
  • Christine
  • Deadpool
  • The Edge of Seventeen
  • Fences
  • Finding Dory
  • The Founder
  • Green Room
  • Hardcore Henry
  • Hunt for the Wilderpeople
  • The Light Between Oceans
  • Loving
  • Morris from America
  • Nocturnal Animals
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  • Silence
  • The Witch

The Edge of Seventeen is one of the best teen comedies of the decade and, for me at least, joins the ranks of the all-time best of the genre. It’s written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig and stars Hailee Steinfeld as a high school girl whose life starts spiraling out of control when her best friend starts dating her older brother. And the film is just about all the daily meltdowns and predicaments that befall her on a daily basis. Trust me on this, it’s hilarious. It’s so good. Steinfeld is incredible here and so is Woody Harrelson as her teacher/mentor of sorts. I can’t fully describe how good this movie is, so I’m just gonna point you to the film’s trailer. Which, is admittedly double what any other trailer would be, length-wise, but gives you a great indea of how amazing this movie is without, somehow, spoiling so many of the good things in it. Trust me on this, this is one of the better movies of the entire decade:

Christine features my single favorite performance of 2016. No one knows about this story. It star Rebecca Hall as Christine Chubbuck a news anchor who shot herself live on the air in the 70s. It’s almost like watching a real life Network. We follow Christine as she slowly starts succumbing to mental illness in the days leading up to the fateful event. And it’s great. Hall is astoundingly good in this movie and I cannot understand why she didn’t get more awards attention. Because this performance is so, so good. And the rest of the cast in this is great too, specifically Tracy Letts, who delivers about four great performances this year in total. This is one of my favorite hidden gems of the entire decade. I love this movie. Finding Dory is the sequel to Finding Nemo, and is about Dory with her memory loss going off to find her parents. It’s a very sweet film. My barometer with Pixar is whether or not they can make a movie that makes you not realize how insane their third acts are. Like for instance, Up. The third act of that movie is an old guy trying to kill another old guy on top of a blimp with a pack of talking dogs. Which is nuts, right? But you don’t really pay attention to it because you’re invested in the characters. Here, the third act is a squid driving a truck off a bridge. And yet somehow you’re just kind of fine with it. So I like this one. Of all the non-Toy Story Pixar sequels, I like this one the best because they find a way to make it just as charming as the original (if not, obviously, as good as the original, which it could almost never be). It’s not as good as most Pixar originals, but as far as a sequel goes, this one feels wholly worthwhile. Fences is Denzel’s adaptation of the August Wilson play, and feels like it achieves everything that play achieves on the stage. It’s a very successful adaptation of a very great play. Denzel is fantastic starring in it, as is Viola Davis as his wife. It’s an actor’s paradise, this film, and it’s all about the performances. And because of that, the film is very good. This one is simple: if you like great actors giving great performances with great material to work with, this is a film for you.

American Honey is one of my favorite indies. This movie is incredible. And it’s impossible to explain. It’s almost three hours long and is about a bunch of people traveling around selling magazines, but somehow it’s great. Sasha Lane stars in her film debut and she plays a girl who just joins up with a magazine sales crew and it’s about them traveling the country and just living. And it’s just captivating. I have no other way to explain it other than to say that I could not take my eyes off this movie. Sasha Lane immediately becomes a movie star with her performance and it just feels like something that is alive. This movie has its own beating heart, and I just love that about it. There’s really nothing I can tell you to make you want to see it except that you just have to trust me and give it a shot. It’s just tremendous. Loving is the other Jeff Nichols film to be released this year. And it’s just a beautiful portrait of a true story. It’s based on the Loving case that made interracial marriage legal within the U.S. It’s so good. Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga play the Lovings, and it’s just a really touching film with amazing performances. I thought this was gonna finally get awards attention and help make Nichols a household name as a director (not to mention Midnight Special also making him mainstream). But again, people didn’t seem to notice. Which is insane. BOTH of his films this year are so good and some of the best work you’ll see. And yet, people don’t even really seem to know this exists. Do yourself a favor and see this movie, and all of Nichol’s movies. He’s one of the best filmmakers working. Rogue One is a Star Wars prequel based around the mission that helped get the Death Star plans that are prominent in A New Hope. Which, honestly, is the one Star Wars movie everyone would have been okay with over all others. Because that is a great story idea. Of course, the film doesn’t fully capture everything we’d want it to be, but it’s still probably the strongest of the Star Wars films to come out. As much as it’s not an official trilogy member, it’s a really terrific film that helps bridge the gap between stories really well. You’ll be hard to find someone who hates this movie, even with all the detractors of the new trilogy out there.

The Light Between Oceans is a beautiful throwback movie. This feels like the kind of romantic drama that would have gotten made in the 80s and 90s that just doesn’t get made anymore. It’s directed by Derek Cianfrance, his third film after Blue Valentine and Place Beyond the Pines, and stars Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander and Rachel Weisz. Fassbender plays a lighthouse keeper and Vikander plays his wife. And the film is about their early romance and marriage and their attempts to have a child, which constantly end in tragedy. Then, one day, a rowboat washes up on shore with a baby inside. So they take the baby and raise it as their own. And they’re happy. But then, one day, they find Weisz, who is clearly the mother of this chid, and start to feel guilt about what they’ve done, which starts to affect their lives in different ways. It’s a really strong drama that got unfairly buried upon release (it was the last movie in a deal between studios. A production company went from one to another and there was an agreement from the first studio to release their movies, and this was the last one they were contractually obligated to release before the agreement was over, so the studio basically just kind of dumped it and didn’t put any real effort behind releasing it), and as such, almost no one knows about it or has any real notion of it. But look at the people involved — you know this is gonna be a good movie. And it’s really great. The acting, the score, the costumes, the production design, it’s just a really tremendous film that deserves so much more than it got. Deadpool. At this point pretty much everyone knows this movie. And most people really enjoy it. It put Ryan Reynolds firmly in the ‘mega star’ category and ended a near decade-long journey to get this character to the screen. After a failed test run in that Wolverine movie and some ‘leaked’ (well, actually leaked, but you know what I mean) test footage, this was a movie that all the people with the money thought wouldn’t work, and then it worked beyond their wildest dreams. Mostly because it doesn’t take itself (or anything, really) seriously and is a really smart, fun movie. And doesn’t have any insanely expensive set pieces. Half this movie takes place during the same highway sequence. It’s really good. It may be the kind of thing that perpetually dilutes itself with sequels, but this first one will always work.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is Taika Waititi. What We Do in the Shadows had become a bit of a cult hit by the time this came out, and people like me, who were already on board the Taika train, were thrilled about this. I suspect that this one did help him take a big step up into the class of “person we’re really excited about,” and then Ragnarok helped break him into the mainstream, which he fully capitalized on with Jojo Rabbit. This one, though, while I think people have and will go back to it because they want to see all the other stuff he’s made, still qualifies as a bit of an underseen gem for the decade. It’s about a kid who has bounced around in the foster system and gets sent to live with an older couple who run a farm in rural New Zealand. The kid doesn’t really want to be there, but warms up to his foster mother (because his foster father, Sam Neill, is pretty gruff and doesn’t seem to like people). Then she dies, and the kid decides to run away, because he’s about to get sent back to an orphanage. And eventually it’s him and Neill on the run from social services. And it’s absolutely hilarious. It’s one of the best comedies of the decade, and if you’ve seen any Taika film (specifically Jojo Rabbit) you know that Taika is great at making movies hilarious while also letting them have a lot of heart as well. And this is just a pure delight that I feel anyone could see and fall in love with so easily. The Founder is a really solid biopic of Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s. Michael Keaton stars and it’s directed by John Lee Hancock, who made The Blind Side and Saving Mr. Banks. It’s one of those movies that never crosses over into amazing, but it is very good. The scenes of them planning out the layout of the restaurant for maximum efficiency and watching this little mom and pop store turn into this behemoth is really fascinating. And it doesn’t totally skimp out on the notion that this dude wasn’t the greatest guy ever, basically fucking over this nice family company that prided itself on lovingly making every burger from scratch and turning into… well, McDonald’s. But the film is really well made and is definitely one of the better films of this year.

Allied is a movie that I love that I so, so wish was made by almost any other filmmaker than Robert Zemeckis. And I love Robert Zemeckis. I just… okay, let’s get into the film and then I’ll explain. Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard star and the film is written by Steven Knight, who wrote Locke and Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises. Pitt plays an American spy who is sent on a mission in to France, where he rendezvous with Cotillard and they have to pose as husband and wife so they can carry out an assassination. And we follow them on their mission as they do their things and also fall in love. The film then forwards two years later, where they’re back in London and married and have a family. And then Pitt’s superiors show up and say, “Hey, we have intel that your wife isn’t who she says she is and that she’s actually a German spy.” So of course, he’s torn. He knows this woman, he loves this woman. That can’t be true. So he’s trying to find a way to clear her name while also totally wary about her and whether or not everything he’s been told is a lie. Which, when you hear that… it’s Hitchcock. That’s the story. That’s a pure Hitchcock story… desperate person trying to figure out if their spouse is good or bad. However, the way Zemeckis plays it, and who he is as a filmmaker… he doesn’t fully capitalize on all the Hitchcock moments that are out there. He never plays up the tension from Pitt not knowing. It’s purely about, ‘No, she can’t be’, and nothing else. He does at all really delve into the psychological aspects of that, which I think is the film’s biggest misstep. Now, the film is almost unseen by people, which is crazy given the people involved. And I think it’s a wonderful film, but I also think that they had a chance to do things just to the left or right of where they took them and make this movie great. Like, all-decade great. And instead it’s just a very solid movie, which is totally fine. And I suspect that if Zemeckis weren’t the one who made this, it wouldn’t have gotten made, so I’m not begrudging the fact that he made it, I just wish that there were a filmmaker who could play up the part of the film that would have made it more than just a big romance with a little bit of mystery. Still, it’s a very good movie that deserves a much wider audience than it has, and I recommend it highly.

The Witch, or The VVitch, as it’s stylized, is Robert Eggars’ debut, and it’s a film I remember seeing about a year before it came out, leaving me to sit with it and try to explain it to everyone else before they could experience it for themselves. It takes place in Colonial America, with a family living in the upper Northeast, having been kicked out of their colony for their religious practices (which, when you consider that all of these people were already kicked out of England for their religious practices… yeah). One day, their youngest child disappears while being watched by their oldest daughter. And pretty soon, tension at the family begin to rise and the oldest girl is suspected of being a witch (after something she said to the other children to get them to stop bothering her). It’s really good. The acting is fantastic (this film broke Anya Taylor-Joy and also features a terrific performance by Harvey Scrimshaw as the younger brother) and what really makes this film work is the score and sound design. They build a real terrifying atmosphere from the jump, even without actually showing you anything specifically wrong or evil. Also, Black Phillip, that goat is a fucking champion. Highly recommend this one as a great debut and great atmospheric horror film. Hardcore Henry is one of the best ‘gimmick’ films out there. I heard about it after they created a Kickstarter to finish it and showed a ten minute clip from the film. And basically… it’s a video game. Ever play GoldenEye? How it looks when you’re playing? That’s this entire movie. The entire movie is shot POV style. And it’s awesome. It’s really awesome. It can be difficult for some to watch, but it’s just insane and does a lot of cool things. The plot is insane and does a lot of crazy things. But just pretend like you’re watching someone play a first-person shooter video game and go along for the ride. It’s one of the most unique films out there and one of those movies people should watch because it shows you a different way to make a movie. Does it totally work? Probably not, but it largely does, and it’s so unique that it almost demands to be seen.

Green Room is Jeremy Saulnier’s follow up to Blue Ruin. And I think a fair amount of people know this movie. The premise is pretty unforgettable: punk band gets trapped in a room by Neo-Nazis after witnessing a murder. Co-starring Patrick Stewart as the head Neo-Nazi. It’s fucking awesome. It’s a tense thriller. Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawcat, Callum Turner, Mark Webber and Macon Blair also star, and it’s just an incredible piece of work. One of the most viscerally entertaining movies of the decade. Highly recommended. Silence is Martin Scorsese. It’s destined to be one of his ‘forgotten’ films, just because people by and large like his more mainstream films, the gangster films and the Leo films, and the religious ones tend to be respected rather than loved. He’s got an unofficial trilogy with religion, with Last Temptation of Christ being the first one, Kundun being the second and this being the third. I suspect this will end up in the middle of those three. I think Last Temptation will be the best known, where a lot of people know about it but a fair amount probably have never watched it. And then Kundun is the one that most people don’t even really know exists. Kundun and After Hours are the two Scorsese movies that people just don’t even really attribute to him (and either Age of Innocence or Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is probably third on that list). This is somewhere in the middle, I think. It’s basically Heart of Darkness with Christianity. Not really, but that’s the broad premise. Two Jesuit priests are sent to Japan to find their mentor, who is rumored to have given up his faith. And we follow them as they go to Japan, which is not kind to their faith and often tortures and kills those who are Catholic. And so it’s this long, austere, beautifully-shot film that is admittedly a bit of a stretch for someone who doesn’t properly understand this angle of Scorsese’s work and his major themes as a director. This fits perfectly with what he’s always dealt with and is a very beautiful film. Though, like I said, it’s gonna be tough for those who only know the gangster pictures. But if you can be ready for something like this, you’re in for a real treat.

Morris from America is one of my favorite little gems. This really blew me away when I first saw it. It’s about a teen boy growing up in Germany with his single father. And it’s just a coming of age film. The kid wants to be a rapper, and we follow him as he tries to romance an older German girl, learns German from his tutor and also we just follow his relationship with his father. It’s really lovely. Craig Robinson gives an amazing performance as the father. I love this movie so much and it deserves a much bigger audience than it has. Nocturnal Animals is Tom Ford’s second film, after A Single Man. This one is an interesting choice, and turns into a very evocative film. Those opening credits alone are… memorable. It stars Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal. She’s an art gallery owner and he’s her ex-husband. He sends her his latest novel, which is this violent revenge story, and the rest of the film is her reading it and us watching the story play out on screen. Gyllenhaal stars in the story within the story, and you have Michael Shannon as a good-old-boy Texas cop and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as a violent criminal. And it’s really good. Shannon and Taylor-Johnson are both tremendous here. Taylor-Johnson won a Golden Globe for his performance and Shannon got nominated for an Oscar for his. It’s a very well-shot and beautifully directed film that admittedly can be difficult for some people given how it ends. It’s more of an emotional journey than it is telling a film with a definitive plot. So don’t expect…well, you’ll see. It could be difficult for some people. But I think it’s a tremendous film. Bleed for This is a really good boxing biopic that somehow is almost entirely unknown. It’s directed by Ben Younger, who also made Boiler Room back in the day. It stars Miles Teller as a champion boxer who breaks his neck in a car accident and becomes determined to fight again. It’s really strong. Teller is fantastic, as are Ciaran Hinds, Aaron Eckhart, Katey Sagal and Ted Levine. It’s got that ‘Fighter’ feel to it, where it’s about the family and all the characters while also being your classic ‘boxing’ film. It’s crazy that almost no one knows about this one, because it’s really good.

Army of One is one of my favorite discoveries of the decade. I heard this was happening and it immediately became one of my most anticipated films of the year. It’s based on a real guy who believes that God came to him and told him to go to Afghanistan and kill Osama bin Laden. And the film is this guy — with no military training or intelligence — going to the Middle East to go kill Osama bin Laden. And… it stars Nicolas Cage. That’s right. Oh, and it’s directed by Larry Charles, who, if you’re a fan at all of Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm or the Sacha Baron Cohen films, you know who he is. I was telling everyone about this movie as it came out, but it still feels like almost no one knows it exists. So I’m gonna do two things. You’ll know immediately how you feel about this movie based on these next two things. First, watch the trailer, and tell me this doesn’t look like a really fun movie:

You in yet? If not, then you probably will never be. But, if you are in, now watch even the first few minutes of this video, which is an interview with the REAL guy. And you’ll see that Cage isn’t just being crazy. There’s actual performance here.

 

 

– – – – – – – – – –

Tier three:

  • 808
  • Blood Father
  • Captain Fantastic
  • The Confirmation
  • De Palma
  • Ethel & Ernest
  • Eye in the Sky
  • The Fits
  • The Girl Without Hands
  • I Daniel Blake
  • Jason Bourne
  • The Jungle Book
  • The Monster
  • Rules Don’t Apply
  • Sausage Party
  • Snowden
  • Sully
  • Tickled
  • Toni Erdmann
  • White Girl

The Monster is one of my favorite horror films of the decade. It’s one of the simpler horror premises I’ve seen and gets the absolute most out of it. And also, like my favorite kinds of horror films, the supernatural element can be explained as a metaphor for something else. Also, I should mention, it’s written and directed by the guy who did The Strangers, which might get some of you to want to take a look at it. But it’s a movie about a mother and daughter who are traveling alone on a rainy night when their car breaks down on the side of the road in a heavily wooded area. And, lurking among the trees, is a monster. And the film is just them trying to survive against it. And what I love about it, apart from it largely taking place on this road and even inside a car for a lot of the film and that it’s only 90 minutes, is the fact that I can view the monster not as a monster but as a metaphor for addiction and motherhood. And I love that aspect of it. Plus, Zoe Kazan is amazing here. Again she shows why she is one of the best and most underrated actresses working. Someone needs to get her a Brie Larson in Room kind of role because she is just a mega talent waiting to burst. I cannot recommend this one highly enough. The Fits is a wonderful little indie. Only about 70 minutes long, too. It’s about an 11 year old girl who is training to become a boxer. But then she becomes interested in a dance troupe and joins that. But then there’s this whole thing about all the girls going through these fainting spells, and it becomes a movie about fitting in and about puberty. It’s really nice and really well-directed. White Girl is a fun movie. Insane, but fun. It’s about a girl between semesters at college who sleeps with a drug dealer and falls a little too hard for him, eventually having to resort to some desperate measures to help him out of a jam. It’s so nuts. I think within like ten minutes of this movie starting, she’s fucking her boss at her internship. But still, it’s a really fun movie that largely works in the end. Morgan Saylor is very good in it.

Rules Don’t Apply is Warren Beatty’s Howard Hughes movie. Honestly, I wasn’t sure this would ever happen. He’s been trying to make this movie for what feels like twenty years. And he’d been saying forever that he was gonna direct another movie, but the last thing he made before this was Bulworth, and that was 1998. He hadn’t appeared on screen since 2001, and it seemed less and less likely that he ever would again. But then this actually happened. And honestly, on that alone, good for him. He plays Hughes here, but he lets himself fade to the background of the film (for a while, not all of it). It’s mostly about a romance between one of Hughes’ drivers and a young actress on his payroll with whom Hughes develops feelings for. Alden Ehrenreich and Lily Collins play the young ones, and the rest of the cast has too many famous people to name. Everyone wanted to work with Warren, of course. And the result is a very solid movie that does some things really well, but others feel a bit laborious and overdone. I’d call it a mixed bag of a movie that feels like it was edited down from something larger and the result of having a lot of story to tell and never really settling on one in particular. But I like it as a piece of history. Also, Beatty is a tremendous director, and his work is always worth seeing. The Jungle Book is Disney’s live action remake. And they made it entirely in a warehouse in Downtown LA. There’s one real actor in the movie and the rest of the film was made digitally. And in that regard, it’s a great achievement. The VFX in this movie are stunning. The rest of the movie is just okay. Though I will say, Bill Murray as Baloo and Christopher Walken as King Louie are inspired casting choices. But yeah, this is a typical Disney live action remake. The technical stuff is good, but the story feels kind of emotionless and designed to make money. There’s no heart there, and that’s why as nice as they may be the first time, they don’t hold up the way the original animated films do. Ethel & Ernest is a really lovely little animated film about an old couple. It’s adapted from a graphic novel that tells the story of its author’s parents. But it’s mostly just a movie about a couple going on through the years. And it’s wonderful. It’s really beautiful. It’s the kind of story we wish we all had for our parents. I love it.

Blood Father is a Mel Gibson action movie. And it’s awesome. He’s made a few of these this decade that are just real little gems that haven’t gotten the audience one of his movies normally would get. This one has him as an ex-con now living in a trailer out in the desert somewhere outside of LA giving tattoos to bikers. Then he gets a call from his estranged daughter, who just witnessed a murder by cartel members and is in danger. So now of course he takes it upon himself to come get her and protect her, and that’s exactly what he does. It’s awesome. If you like Mel Gibson movies and you like those cable-type thrillers that are just eminently watchable, this is for you. I enjoy the shit out of this movie. Jason Bourne is a totally unnecessary Bourne sequel. We had a perfect trilogy with him, and then they decided to bring him back. Which, okay, you’re gonna bring him back with Damon and Greengrass, I can go with that. But at least have a story you want to tell. I’m not really sure what this one’s all about. It just feels like they went through the motions just to put a movie together. Now he knows who he is, he knows what he’s done, and he knows who made him this way. So now there’s just more shit that comes up that he needs to uncover? That part felt really lazy. But also, it’s a Bourne movie, and those are watchable. So I’m fine with this and I quite enjoyed it, but it’ll never be as good as that original trilogy is. The Confirmation is a wonderful little indie. It’s written and directed by Bob Nelson, who wrote Nebraska. It takes place over the course of a single day as Clive Owen takes his young son around town to find the guy who stole his toolbox out of his car. So it’s a divorced dad and his son driving around town and it’s this nice little bonding adventure. It’s small, but charming. It’s a more likable movie than you’d think. It’s the kind of movie you stumble on when it’s on TV one day and find yourself enjoying. It’s worth it.

808 is a wonderful documentary about the 808 drum machine and its influence (and continued influence) on music. And it traces the history over the years and all the different genres, interviewing a lot of the people who used it on their songs, and it’s just a wonderful journey through music of the past 40 years. I don’t even want to give away some of the stuff that’s in this, but it’s just a great series of great songs, a lot of which you may not even realize are what they are because of that machine. I saw this documentary on a complete whim with a friend of mine in a literal hole in the wall theater in LA and I am so glad I did. It’s one of my favorite discoveries of this decade. De Palma is a documentary about Brian De Palma, starring Brian De Palma. That’s the film. It’s just him, talking about his movies, and nothing else. No other directors talking about him or his influence. And it’s great. Him being the only person on screen makes the movie so much better, because it’s just a man talking about his work, and by seeing the work you realize what an amazing impact he has had on cinema over the past 50 years. I cannot recommend this doc highly enough for anyone who loves movies. Sully is Clint Eastwood’s movie about Sully Sullenberger, the pilot who landed a malfunctioning plane on the Hudson River and saved “all 155 souls on board” as the movie so cringingly shoves down our throats. The film is very tight. It’s only 95 minutes, and it features the event itself, told from a bunch of different perspectives, including the passengers’ and the first responders both on the ground, on the water and in air traffic control, and it details the investigation that happened afterward into whether or not Sully acted appropriately (which for some reason turns the airline commission into almost mustache-twirling villains for just doing their jobs, but whatever). I had no reason to think this would be good. I figured it was just hero worship after American Sniper worked as well as it did. But surprisingly, this is a very good movie. It’s very watchable and it’s very well-made. I was surprised at how solid it all was. And the only quibbles I have toward it can easily be explained by the fact that Clint doesn’t care enough to tighten things up and do more takes. And honestly, I can live with that.

Sausage Party is just an incredible concept. It’s a hard R, absolutely filthy animated movie presented like a Disney film, down to Alan fucking Menken doing the score and writing a song or two for it. It’s based on the premise, “What if food knew what happened to it?” So we begin with food in the convenience store, happily living each day, hoping to get ‘chosen’ by humans for what they think is the ‘great beyond’. Only, once they see what happens when they get there (in a straight D-Day type sequence that is just hilarious), they are desperate to get the fuck out of there and warn everyone else. Most of the film is just an excuse to try to come up with as many food puns as humanly possible, and it is so goddamn funny. Naturally it’s based on an idea from Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, and it’s one of the funniest comedies of the decade and one of the great animated films that can’t even really be put alongside other animated films because it’s the child that loudly screams ‘fuck’ all the time. I mean, that ending alone is something Disney would never even dream of. But goddamn, is it great. I, Daniel Blake is a Ken Loach film, and if you’ve seen his films, you know that he’s not known for particularly uplifting portrayals of society. It’s about a guy pushing 60 who has a heart attack. His doctor says he’s not ready to go back to work, but a government department deems him fit to work so, as such, he’s denied welfare. He wants to appeal the decision, since literally no medical records were used for the determination, but doing so requires the use of a computer, which he doesn’t know how to use. And it’s really just about one man being fucked over by an indifferent system that was not designed for him to use. It’s really good (and even won Cannes this year) and worth seeing, even though you might not feel great afterward. Snowden is Oliver Stone’s movie about Edward Snowden. And honestly, it’s a movie that you would expect Oliver Stone to make. It takes a very complex political matter and presents it as a film. I mean, it’s not as hot-button as say, JFK, but it’s still a very solid and well-put-together movie. There are some really great and tense moments in it, even if it tells a bit more of a Hollywood type story rather than getting into the nitty gritty of it all. But I like it. I think it holds up solidly among Stone’s work.

Toni Erdmann is, in my mind, the best foreign film of 2016. I understand why it lost Foreign Language Film to The Salesman, given the politicized atmosphere of everything that happened there, but this is still the one I think is the better film. It’s about a father who just loves playing practical jokes who tries to reconnect with his workaholic daughter. And the way he ends up doing it is by showing up and pretending to be her ‘life coach’, complete with fake persona (and teeth). And through this little charade, they end up reconnecting. It’s a really amazing movie. Over two-and-a-half hours but somehow you don’t even feel it. It’s just wonderful. There are moments of true hilarity in this. The Whitney Houston karaoke scene is amazing, and there’s a birthday party at the end of the film that is just so goddamn funny. I cannot recommend this movie highly enough. The Girl Without Hands is one of the best animated films of 2016. And by that I mean both best films that are animated and that it has some of the best animation you’ll see in a film. The animation style here is gorgeous. It’s based on a Grimm’s fairy tale about a poor farmer who sells his daughter to the devil for prosperity. Then the devil comes to collect, but the girl is too pure for him to take. So instead the devil takes her hands and then she manages to escape. And the film is about her journey after that. It’s just a stunning film to look at. Absolutely gorgeous and it holds its own among the best animated films of this year, which is probably the strongest year of the decade for animated films.

Tickled is one of the most fucked up documentaries you’ll ever see and one of the single best they made this decade. Trust me on that. It’s about the world of competitive tickling competitions. Which is its own weird little subject. But it’s not just about that. And that’s why you need to see it. It starts about this weird world of online tickling videos, but then as the documentarians try to find out more about these competitions, they uncover some other stuff that’s just fucked up. You need to see it to believe it. But trust me, this is one of the best documentaries you’ll see. Captain Fantastic is a really fascinating little indie that’s very watchable. It’s written and directed by Matt Ross, who people know as an actor (I knew him from the show Big Love, but he’s also on Silicon Valley). It stars Viggo Mortensen (who earned an Oscar nomination for his performance here) as a guy who has raised all his six children in the middle of the forest, teaching them to be well-read, socialist and survivalist. Basically he trains them rigorously so they are both strong, capable and intelligent. Only now, after a family tragedy, he has to start reevaluating his choices and bring the children into the real world. And it’s a really fascinating portrait of a family. It’s a really solid film worth seeing. Eye in the Sky is a movie that looks at the politics of a single drone strike. That’s it. That’s the film. Directed by Gavin Hood, who gets back to his thriller roots after a two-film detour with studios. It starts with what seems like a typical surveillance mission (which we see from both on the ground, from the drone pilots themselves and from the higher ups in an office ordering the strike) and strike to eliminate a terrorist which becomes complicated when a young child enters the blast zone and now everyone has to decide what the right course of action is. Basically — eliminate a terrorist they know to be highly dangerous and risk the life of a little girl, or call it off an wait for their next opportunity? It’s a really strong film. Helen Mirren stars, as do Alan Rickman (in his final film) Aaron Paul and Barkhad Abdi. I really like this movie a lot. It’s one of the more solid thrillers you’ll see this decade.

– – – – – – – – – –

Tier four:

  • 10 Cloverfield Lane
  • 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
  • 20th Century Women
  • Captain America: Civil War
  • Elvis & Nixon
  • Florence Foster Jenkins
  • The Infiltrator
  • Kicks
  • Little Sister
  • Live by Night
  • Miles Ahead
  • Other People
  • Passengers
  • Paterson
  • The Salesman
  • Standoff
  • Too Late
  • War Dogs
  • Wiener-Dog
  • Zootopia

Paterson is a Jim Jarmusch movie. And if you’ve seen enough of his films, you know that all his films are always interesting. Even if they feel like they have no plot and won’t be that interesting, they always somehow are. This one stars Adam Driver as a regular dude who lives in Paterson, New Jersey and drives the local bus. So, more like Adam BUS Driver! (Honestly that’s about as funny as I get, which makes it only fitting that it’s for a movie that literally nobody knows exists.) And it’s just a movie about this guy and his life. Very small, very mundane, and that’s what makes it interesting. It’s a fantastic movie, and I can’t explain why it’s good except to point to Jarmusch as a filmmaker. He makes interesting movies. So, I recommend it. If only so we can help make my “Adam Bus Driver” pun a thing. Don’t let that joke just die. It deserves louder groans. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a movie that I really, really like for about 90% of it… and then they leave the bunker for that last ten. To me, the best parts of this movie are the parts that aren’t a Cloverfield movie. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays a woman who gets into a car crash and wakes up in an underground bunker with John Gallagher Jr. and John Goodman. And Goodman says it’s too dangerous to go outside because there are awful things outside that will kill her. So much of the film is wondering whether or not he’s telling the truth or if he’s some sadistic kidnapper. And the film plays that mystery well. You get the scenes where you aren’t sure, and then it doesn’t matter because now they’re trying to escape and he can’t have that, so it obscures the central mystery to an extent… and then the film gives you Cloverfield shit at the end. I thought it would have been genius if the film ended literally as she walks outside, looks on in horror (or whatever) and then the film cut to black. That accomplishes everything this film does and more. And the fact that they dilute it just to fit some dumbass franchise that wasn’t worth being a franchise to begin with really makes me like it less. Honestly, if you turn the movie off right before all the bullshit happens, it’s really really good. I just can’t condone those last ten minutes.

Little Sister is the goth nun movie you didn’t know you needed in your life. It’s about a woman about to take her final vows as a nun. But another nun tells her that she can feel that there’s something still conflicted in her and thinks it has to do with her childhood. So she tells her to go spend the holidays with her family to see if she can get it out of her system. So she goes back to her family. Her brother just got back from Iraq, and his face was blown off by an explosion and is afraid to see people because of how he looks. And her relationship with her parents is awkward, plus there’s the whole thing about how she used to be super into death metal. Which just adds flavor to the proceedings. It’s a really nice little character piece, and it’s got some moments I truly laughed at. It’s a nice little gem worth checking out. Passengers is a movie that most people just kind of know as the “Chris Pratt/Jennifer Lawrence in space” movie. I know it as a saga to get one of the great unproduced scripts to the screen. The script for this movie has been around for years. At one point it was gonna be Keanu Reeves and, I think, Rachel McAdams. And the final product.. not exactly what ended up on screen. But the basic premise is really incredible. A spaceship is traveling deep into space to repopulate earth on a new planet. It’s about halfway into its journey and all the people on board are in cryo-stasis, not scheduled to arrive at its destination for another 90 years. Only one of the pods malfunctions and Pratt gets woken up. So now, unable to be put back to sleep, he’s faced with the prospect of spending the rest of his life alone, dying long before anyone else will ever wake up. And he wrestles with the idea of waking up another passenger… Jennifer Lawrence. And that dramatic tension is really interesting. Imagine having to lie to someone about what’s going on, and then having them find out and now having to spend the rest of your lives together on this ship, knowing that you’ve basically put them through this and sentenced them to the rest of their life like this. But then the movie turns into something else, and devolves into a standard action-type movie. And that just kills it. But if they kept with the core concept and focused on that, it could have been really great.

Too Late is a really interesting movie that almost no one knows about. It’s a modern day noir, shot in 35mm, and told in five single-shot 22 minute segments, presented in a non-chronological order. And by that I mean, when you piece the timeline of the film together, the first and last segment both occur in the middle of the film. It’s a very interesting way to tell a story, plus they’re single take shots. So I really like that about it. John Hawkes stars as a P.I. on a case of a missing girl. I really like this movie a lot. The way they make it makes up for any budget or narrative issues it may have. Highly recommend this one as something you don’t normally see get made. Captain America: Civil War is basically Avengers 2.5. It’s under the guise of a Captain America film, but it’s basically an Avengers film. Which I kind of understand, given that Captain America’s story becomes the story of The Avengers, in a way. It’s him and Star, and Stark’s trilogy already got completed by this point, so they had to keep putting him in other people’s movies. And lo and behold, who are the focal points of this movie? Rogers and Stark. So I get it. But also… I liked the Captain America movies and really didn’t want one with everyone. So I like this less than I like the first two, even if it is a solid movie in its own right. The premise is good, even if they use it to gear up for Infinity War and Endgame. I’d call this solidly middle of the pack for Marvel as a whole. Not one of my favorites, but not a complete disappointment either. Other People is a really interesting movie based on the writer-director’s actual real-life experiences with a mother dying of cancer. It stars Jesse Plemons and Molly Shannon is terrific as the mother. She gives what might be the dramatic performance of her career and is spectacular here. And also, it nails a lot of the little moments of grief. This isn’t gonna be a movie that works for everyone, but it’s a really solid indie with a lot of good in it.

The Infiltrator is a really solid movie that I wasn’t expecting to be as good as it was. It’s Bryan Cranston as an agent who goes undercover to bust Pablo Escobar by posing as a money launderer. It’s great. It’s a Donnie Brasco kind of movie where you see the double life of the guy and the toll it takes on him and his family. It’s really fantastic. John Leguizamo is in this and he’s also wonderful, and it’s directed by Brad Furman, who also made The Lincoln Lawyer, which is another very underrated movie. Zootopia is Disney. The premise is a world with just animals who coexist in a human-like society. Basically animals evolve themselves to the point of not just murdering each other according to the food chain but actually having jobs and stuff. And it’s about a bunny who joins the police force and uncovers a citywide conspiracy with the help of a con artist fox. It’s fine. It’s a very likable movie with some great moments (who doesn’t like the sloth at the DMV?). My problem with it was that everyone went insane for this movie and proclaimed it as a masterpiece with a deep message about racism and society. Which just seemed like a gross overreaction for what is simply a charming little movie. (It’s not even the best Disney movie this year, let alone top five of the decade.) But on its own merits, it’s a fun little movie. 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is Michael Bay’s Benghazi movie. It’s nice to see him make anything that’s not giant robots fighting, which was rare for a decade. It’s really this and Pain and Gain as the only ones he made that weren’t Transformers movies. It’s not the greatest movie ever, but it’s solid enough to work. I remember seeing this on a plane for the first time, and maybe the high altitude is what made me like it more. I’m not sure I particularly love the message of the film, since the heroes are independent contractors, but the film itself is well put-together and keeps you engaged regardless. Solidly forgettable but watchable military movie.

20th Century Women is Mike Mills’ film about his mother. His first, Beginners, is about his father. And this is about his mother. It’s about a boy being raised a mother in a boarding house in the 70s. So he spends a lot of time around the tenants and just sort of learns about life. It’s a wonderful film. Annette Bening plays the mother, and it’s got Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig and Billy Crudup. If you liked Beginners you should also really like this. Florence Foster Jenkins is a really interesting premise and a really likable movie. It’s about a (real life) upper class woman in the 40s who always dreamed of being an opera singer. Only problem — couldn’t carry a tune to save her life. And the film is about her dutiful partner, played by Hugh Grant, who helps her make that dream a reality. It’s… it’s got all the moments you would expect, complete with borderline over-the-top Meryl Streep performance, but it’s a very likable movie grounded completely by the Hugh Grant performance. He is so good here and really brings emotion to the story, especially when you get to why it’s all happening. It’s that aspect of the film that makes me really like it. Also, it’s directed by Stephen Frears, who almost never makes a bad movie. It’s solid. Not for everyone, but solid. Wiener-Dog is one of the strangest movies you will ever see, but it’s also wonderful. It’s a Todd Solondz movie, which will mean something for some of you. For the rest of you… this is basically the movie War Horse but with a dachshund. We follow the dog from owner to owner. That’s it. That’s the film. It is a 90 minute movie that somehow has an intermission (and weird musical interlude complete with music video for the dog), and some bizarrely strange moments. You’ve never lived until you’ve seen a slow, musically-set tracking shot of dog diarrhea along a sidewalk. It’s a nice little oddity of a movie that I always recommend just to have it on your resume to be able to pull up when talking to people. These are always the fun ones to bring up in social situations.

Standoff is a great little B movie. It stars Thomas Jane and Laurence Fishburne. Jane is a soldier with PTSD who has to protect a little girl who witnesses a murder. Fishburne plays an assassin trying to get rid of her to tie up loose ends. So Jane and the girl end up holed up on the second floor of his house while Fishburne is downstairs. Hence the title. And it’s a battle of wits to see which is going to outsmart the other. It’s a taught little thriller. No frills, no budget. Just a good little 80 minute movie that would have made a great second half of a double bill sixty years ago.  War Dogs is a Todd Phillips-directed… movie. I’m not sure what the tone is, dark comedy, action, crime. It kind of just sits between all of them, which, for me, is why it doesn’t work as well as it could, but it’s still pretty fun. It’s Miles Teller and Jonah Hill as two bros who decide to become arms dealers. Basically they realize that they can underbid for these weapons contracts with the government for the Iraq War and make money that way. Only they end up with a $300 million contract with the Pentagon and now have to deliver. Which puts them in some real deep shit. It’s a fun little movie. Though definitely very odd. Jonah Hill is something else in this one. That laugh of his was the absolute best part of the movie for me. I think there’s definitely some good stuff in this movie, even if it doesn’t fully come together to be great. Elvis & Nixon is about that iconic photograph with Nixon and Elvis and tells the story of how it came to be. With Kevin Spacey as Nixon and Michael fucking Shannon as Elvis. Weird choices, but spiritually, they work. Shannon is so awesome as Elvis. It’s a weird little movie that exists off on the back wall of cinema, which is perfect because that photograph exists in a weird little corner of American history. Really like this one a lot. Miles Ahead is Don Cheadle’s movie about Miles Davis. It’s not a straight biopic so much as it’s a spiritual biopic. The narrative of the film is free form, like a lot of Miles’ music and largely deals with a (I think largely fictional?) event with Ewan McGregor as a journalist interviewing Davis while Davis is off on a drug binge and trying to get back the recordings of his music from his label. It’s a really worthy biopic of its subject and a nice little oddity of a film. Also directed by Cheadle, which is also nice.

Live by Night is Ben Affleck’s movie that he basically forced Warner Bros to pay for after they subjected him to the (k)nightmare that was Batman v. Superman. Literally, that movie came out and almost immediately he was off shooting this movie and rushing it for a Christmas release to come out for awards season. And honestly, on its own, you’d totally get it. Since his last movie won Best Picture. But here, it felt like a placating factor, like, “Look, here’s $65 million. Go make your movie, and then stop trying to get out of Justice League.” Which has nothing to do with the movie, but is something I always think about when it comes up. It’s another adaptation of a Dennie Lehane novel, which Affleck adapted for his first film, Gone Baby Gone. He plays a bootlegger in the 20s from Boston who sets up shop in Florida, only to realize Florida may be even more corrupt than Boston is. It’s got a cast — Zoe Saldana, Sienna Miller, Elle Fanning, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Cooper, Titus Welliver, Clark Gregg, Anthony Michael Hall — it doesn’t fully come together the way his other films do (which I think is due to other outside factors, but don’t want to speculate), but it’s still a very watchable endeavor. The Salesman is the Foreign Language Film winner this year, and the second win by Asghar Farhadi after A Separation. This one’s about a teacher and his wife who are both starring in a local production of “Death of a Salesman.” And one day, while the wife is home alone, she gets attacked inside their home, which sends the husband reeling and determined to find out who the person who did it was. And… man, do things go dark after that. If you know anything about Farhadi’s films, you know he’s not one for being kind to his protagonists or giving them easy or happy endings. So you can imagine what you’re in for with this. It’s not as overtly good as A Separation is, but it’s a really solid movie. Kicks is a wonderful little indie about a kid in Oakland whose only dream is to get a brand new pair of Air Jordans (and be an astronaut). And he works his ass off to get the money for them and finally gets them… only to have them immediately stolen by a local hood. So now he’s gotta go get his shoes back. And it’s wonderful. It’s a really great debut by Justin Tipping and it’s one of the more evocative indies you’ll see.

– – – – – – – – – –

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