Mike’s Best (and Worst) Films of 2016:
As the Oscars are celebrating the year in film that was 2016, it's only appropriate for me, as an avid movie-enthusiast, to thrust my list of favorites and disappointments in your face just before they do so. Give it a once over and take this top ten (and the honorable mentions) as a recommendation, if you haven't seen them. Also, feel free to scroll down to check out my ravings on the biggest disappointments of 2016. There's definitely some Oscar contenders on that list, too...GO MOVIES!
1.) La La Land
My apologies to folks expecting a more controversial pick for movie of the year. Sometimes there’s a reason everyone seems to love one specific movie in a given year – it’s just undeniably good. La La Land falls squarely into that category for me. It’s a romantic, slightly left of center indie movie plopped into an old fashioned musical ala Singin’ in the Rain meets The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Everything in this movie screams Oscar – from the LA setting (and constant showbiz references), the music, Gosling learning piano from scratch, actors singing live on-set, to the slightly depressing, yet simultaneously happy ending – The Academy eats that stuff up. Even with all of that Oscar-bait, the film has a way of winning you over. I mean, come on…how can you not love Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone dancing, singing, and romancing their way across Los Angeles?
2.) Hell or High Water
Hell or High Water is so many good movies in one. It’s a goose bump raising thriller, a throat-lump summoning drama, and a knee-slapping comedy all at once. This one solidified Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) as a writer that I will follow into any darkened theater (not as a stalker, but I wouldn’t put it past me). His scripts are the definition of masterful – intricate dialogue, deft humor, simple plotting, and not an ounce of idiotic exposition. Add a powerhouse cast (Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster) that arguably all give career-defining performances, and you’ve got a damn good flick. See this movie.
This movie wrecks me. Yes, it’s great, smart sci-fi, but it’s also extremely personal and heartbreaking. I saw it in a theater with a buddy and cried openly next to him. Then, I showed my wife the movie shortly after, expecting it not to hit me as hard…wrong. More uncontrollable tears. Normally, I would avoid a movie that has this type of effect on me, but Arrival is too undeniably well-made to deny a repeat viewing. Noted dramatic thriller director, Denis Villeneuve, brings his creative, personal slant to sci-fi – quite possibly changing the genre forever. I can’t wait to see what he brings to Blade Runner 2 and Dune in the near future.
4.) Captain America: Civil War
I realize many people will shake their heads at a superhero movie ranking so high on the list, but, let’s be honest – Civil War is a damn good movie, period. Also, Me + Superheros = LOVE. The Russo Brothers (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) up their game (and triple their character count) in a movie that takes everything that’s come before in the Marvel universe and uses it towards making an impressively intricate and thrilling multi-character story that works both as an Avengers follow-up and a stand-alone Cap story. Toss in that airport battle and a more cerebral, human villain and you’ve got an extremely welcome change of pace to an increasingly large stakes genre. Every time I start it, I have to finish it – that’s the mark of a good movie.
5.) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Yes, they took one line from the opening crawl of Episode IV and turned it into a full-length movie. What’s shocking is that it’s actually one of the better Star Wars films to date. Introducing nearly all unknown characters into the universe we know and love, Rogue One is undeniably a bit of a side tangent, but it’s heartfelt and thrilling just the same. It also fixes a few glaring plot holes from the earlier films and gives Darth Vader the full-on badass introduction he’s needed for so long. Not that Star Wars is waning in popularity, but Rogue One shows the possible longevity of the franchise outside of the “Skywalker Saga” films.
Deadpool might be the movie I’ve re-watched most in 2016. There’s not an ounce of fat on the flick. It’s fast-paced, thrilling, and, most importantly, absolutely hilarious. For once, Fox gets out of their own way and allows Tim Miller, Ryan Reynolds, and company to make a superhero movie that’s actually loyal to the source material – no matter how odd and awesomely wacky that source material tends to be. Admittedly, they did try to shoot the movie in the foot at nearly every turn during production, but Reynolds was smart enough to stick to his guns on his superhero passion project. Did it pay off? Well, let’s just say we’ll be seeing A LOT more of Deadpool in the coming years…and I’m all for it.
7.) A Monster Calls
Here’s another one that left me in a puddle of my own pathetic (and extremely manly) tears. It’s a slow starter, but this tale of a boy struggling to come to terms with the impending death of his mother (Rogue One’s Felicity Jones) is a beautiful and deeply touching film about grief & loss. My only issue is that I have no idea who this movie is made for. It might be too dark for kids and yet it’s framed like a children’s movie, which may turn off some adult viewers. Regardless, director J.A. Bayona nails whatever the hell he was going for, blending beautifully shot live-action cinematography with stunning animation sequences in one of the most unique tearjerkers I’ve seen in years.
8.) Sing Street
I’m a sucker for movies about young, bleeding-heart romantic musicians. John Carney (Once, Begin Again) seems to specialize in little indies about just that. Sing Street is his return to a smaller, more personal format after Begin Again, his foray into bigger budget filmmaking with known actors, wasn’t as great of an experience as he would have hoped. The movie follows Conor, a teenage boy who forms a band with the sole purpose of winning the heart of a girl who is, for all intents and purposes, way out of his league. Plus, it takes place in the eighties - a decade I have a huge soft spot for, whether it’s the movies, music, or anything else from the decade. It wears its low budget feel like an adorable badge of pride. Sing Street is the perfect mix of John Carney’s previous films - charmingly lo-fi, surprisingly realistic, and understatedly slick.
9.) The Edge of Seventeen
I didn’t expect to enjoy this one as much as I did. We’ve seen these types of teen movies before – a unique, wise-ass teenager tries to navigate the murky waters of high school life. The genius of The Edge of Seventeen is that it doesn’t dumb down for its audience or pull its punches when it comes to real teenage behavior. Teens are nasty, horny, foulmouthed idiots and their parents aren’t straight-laced infallible beings – both have shades of grey. This movie, unlike some modern teen movies, at least embraces that idea whole heartedly. The result is an edgy, honest, and downright charming John Hughes-esque teen movie that’s elevated by the excellent performances of Hailee Steinfeld and Woody Harrelson.
10.) Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice (The Ultimate Cut)
OK, OK – I know people are rolling their eyes here, but, despite the critical lashing the theatrical version took (I didn’t mind that version either), Zack Snyder’s Ultimate Cut is a dark, methodically paced, visually spectacular, and out-and-out ballsy superhero film. It earns the #10 spot almost as a protest against the haters. Plus, I genuinely enjoyed it.
I understand if people say that Snyder’s DC film universe is too dark for them, but to say there’s no redeeming qualities to his superhero movies is going a bit far. The lengthy 3 hour long Ultimate Cut may be one hell of a time commitment, but it’s a far more complete movie as it fixes a lot of minor issues. Plus, Lex Luthor’s actions & motivations are much clearer, and Superman/Clark Kent has a more complete arc.
Does it fix everything people had issues with? No. The third act is still a bit sloppy, it’s still dark as hell, it’s still a set-up for Justice League, and, yes, Batman kills a lot of people, but, if you’re willing to roll with that, the film holds up pretty well. I can’t defend Suicide Squad, as that movie was a complete train wreck, but Batman V. Superman is a far better movie than people give it credit for.
They can’t all be in the top 10, but I genuinely enjoyed these flicks, too:
Doctor Strange, Nocturnal Animals, 20th Century Women, Hacksaw Ridge, Swiss Army Man, The Nice Guys, Midnight Special, Eddie the Eagle, Moonlight, Star Trek Beyond, 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Jungle Book, Don’t Breathe, Sausage Party, and Captain Fantastic.
MOST OVERRATED/BIGGEST DISSAPOINTMENTS:
Manchester by the Sea
I like a good depressing drama as much as the next guy, but I question why anyone would want to watch or make a movie like Manchester by the Sea, which just wallows in depression for its entire runtime with little to no arc for its leads. Don’t get me wrong, the movie is well-made and well-acted. I’ll give it that. But director Kenneth Lonergan drops you into a depressing point of a depressing man’s life and, after battering you with more depressing backstory, leaves you unsurprisingly even more depressed. Who likes this stuff? Suicidal masochists is the only audience I can think of…
I’m not saying that there’s no redeeming value to Hidden Figures. I applaud it’s social and political significance, but this movie is about as boring, predictable, and “by-the-numbers” as historical dramas can get. Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer do their best to elevate the material, but there’s very little outside of the horribly cliché to work with here. It could have been something in the right hands, but the writers and the director played it far too safe.
Martin Scorsese’s passion project about Jesuit priests persecuted in 17th century Japan is one long, boring, and (like Manchester by the Sea) relentlessly depressing movie. I totally understand why it took him 30 years to get this movie made - there’s not much here but endless misery. Andrew Garfield’s performance is undeniably great, and kept me from checking out entirely, but the film is far too long and far too depressing to warrant any kind of recommendation out of me.
I love Bourne movies, but this one just sucked. It’s dumb where the others are smart and boring where the others are thrilling. What’s most glaringly missing is the deft hand of writer Tony Gilroy (who wrote the screenplays for the first three films), who is now obviously needed for the series to continue. Please come back Tony….please!
I was really pulling for this one. I love director David Ayer, who traditionally is capable of making tight, smart little action movies (Fury, End of Watch, Training Day), but the all-but-directly confirmed studio meddling was quite apparently too much for him. Outside of Will Smith, Margot Robbie, and maybe some of Jared Leto’s Joker, this movie has no redeeming value whatsoever – uninspired action, little-to-no character development, and one of the worst villains in recent superhero film history.
I don’t mind females getting more opportunity to lead movies, but to remake popular movies with all female casts for no justifiable reason is a bit confusing for me. Even then, if the movie is good, then I say no harm, no foul. The only issue here is that Ghostbusters is a hot mess from beginning to end with no-stakes action and forced jokes the whole way through. Chris Hemsworth, like he did in the awful remake of Vacation, has his moments to shine, but the main cast fumbles the ball more often than not.
Well, that's the list, folks...and congrats if you made it to the bottom. Here's to an outstanding year in film in 2017!