Due to the fact that time to write this post has been sparse I am mostly cobbling together my own quotes for this one list of my favorite films of 2016. Enjoy!
32. The Good Dinosaur
Hi, I’m a Pixar film that’s quiet understated, not seeking to be the deepest thing of all time, but also not trying to be flimsy and broadly funny, but rather seeking simple truths, subtle beauties and humorous exploration of character types: please don’t hate me.
The above my facetious response to the massive amounts of hate this film got. Did The Good Dinosaur miss a chance to climb higher, sure, however it feels like the attacks it faced had to do with things it wasn’t and didn’t want to be. Much like The Interview was being lambasted for not being a satire, it was what I thought it would be, it seems that this film became a lightning rod because: a) It bombed at the box office b) Was a second Pixar release of 2015, and c) Had simpler aims, and thus for not aiming as high it takes a beatdown it doesn’t necessarily deserve because of what people thought it should be. Even if one dislikes it, which I could see, I couldn’t see how the film earned it on its own without outside factors contributing to the animus against it.
Capturing the unspoken truth of a subculture, of a music scene, is one of the meanest feats a film can accomplish and one the medium is uniquely suite for. As a film that hinges on music its Best Song is one of its centerpieces:
However, aside from being a great song “Svathamar” is a massive plot point in metal head and the apex of the film. Therefore, it’s an easy winner.
Yet it’s not just a musical showcase but a character- and performance driven piece that’s worth finding.
30. A Wolf at the Door
A Wolf at the Door is definitely not a story to be entered into lightly, and will most definitely not find universal favor. However, those believe that great art can and should be created from human immorality and depravity should give it a look.
The film is one rife with twists each of which further elevates the stakes, intensity and suspense of the proceedings. None of them seem out of place and things resolve themselves naturally and correctly based on the momentum accumulated leading up to the climax. It’s not a case where the ending needs to be forced to satisfy audience expectations, but really feels like the only one that is just.
28. Jurassic World
Clearly, allusions and fan service, whether fulfilling the desires of a majority or just one individual, are not enough to give a film legs it can stand one. In many ways it is like icing on the cake though and can make everything that much better.
The T-Rex’s entrance is great and helped by the fact that I didn’t quite grasp the “more teeth” line at first, but when I heard “Paddock 9” I knew, and it was a big part of the making-me-feel-like-a-kid-again effect. I was so psyched for the ending it was insane.
27. The Gift
This was one of the most surprising in-theater viewing experiences. It is another triumph for Blumhouse but also the biggest one for actor/writer/director Joel Edgerton. It’s a tremendous character study of a thriller that’s suspenseful enough to earn that genre classification rightfully and frightful enough that you could call it horror if you like.
26. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Most lists I caught a glimpse of either had Star Wars much higher than me or omitted it entirely. I found a middle ground. I really loved all the new stuff like anything Rey and Finn did, and BB-8 for that matter; I appreciated the reunion aspects but the at-times-too-literal homages to the first series held it back some. The end is a great stopping point for the next installment to pick up from though.
25. Mr. Holmes
This is a wonderful, albeit melancholy tale, of a great mind battling dementia and a soul struggling to keep a hold of himself and find some kind of redemption in his fading days. He faces much conflict and strife, and the film looks forward and back beautifully, and deals with the legendary Holmes respectfully.
Aferim! is a portrait of the Szgany people of Romania. A tale of one man taken from the accounts of many and brilliantly done
23. Futuro Beach
Futuro Beach is, from its start, about characters losing and trying to find themselves; connecting, disconnecting and trying to reconnect; saving each other and failing to save themselves; and, ultimately, finds beauty in the discomforts created by distance and yearning and the solitary journey of finding oneself. It takes a gamble with its narrative ellipse, but like a strong story it punctuates the end of its dramatic phrase properly and memorably.
22. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
You have to love a fifth film in a series that not only still feels vital but also is one you can walk into cold, without having seen the others previously, and still get a huge kick out of.
21. Kingsman: The Secret Service
As I was assembling my favorites of the year, I had a few ways I could parse titles. Usually, I rank films by genre before really comparing them unscientifically. This film in the action realm jumped just ahead of Mission: Impossible due to its comedy, commentary, and breakout star Taron Egerton.
20. Dark Places
Gillian Flynn became an even more well known author with the release of the film adaptation of Gone Girl, however, this is a film with more twists and turns, more creative structuring, and more intriguing characters. This is not only the kind of film that can get me to read an author’s work but is also full of some of the strongest performances by some of the actors involved in some time, like Charlize Theron, Chloë Grace Moretz, and Tye Sheridn.
19. Sinister 2
Much but not all of what made Sinister a success was its witty retort to the standard found footage approach. However, what the Sinister films have found it seems is a mythology that it’s exploring to its fullest based on the self-assigned parameters of each film. Sinister, like the Purge, leaves fans wanting more, but in Sinister’s case it’s not a backhanded compliment but rather the highest praise.
18. 13 Minutes
Normally, a tale involving World War II and Hitler can be exploitative. However, Hirschbiegel has done it before with Downfall, and with this film he focuses in on Elser, the man who narrowly missed killing Hitler before he could do his worst. In this case, it’s not just a historical oddity or a defiant soul that make it compelling but the personalization of the drama.
The irony that at times the best examinations of humanity are made when contrasting us to artificial intelligence is not lost on filmmakers. The motif still appears to be fertile ground yielding much fruit, this is just the latest in a long line of great films to prove that point. Exactingly done and precisely performed, it’s an enrapturing experience that should be sought out.
The above, as well as the overall success is of course also a tribute to debutante director Jonas Govaerts. Cub is a bloody, creepy film, that has some depth and can still satisfy a seasoned viewer. It’s not one that’s for the faint of heart because it “goes there” often. Horror must be unafraid to go into deep, dark places and this is a trip to the woods the worth taking for those fans of the genre with a strong constitution.
This is what Disney should be aiming for with its live action remakes: the heart and essence of the story with added depth and awe. It’s the anti-Maleficent in that regard, and if this trend in quality continues this habit of rehashing will not get old so soon.
14. It Follows
Perhaps only Mad Max handled its story as visually and subtly this year. There are so many inferences that can be drawn that don’t over-impose themselves on the story, but instead add texture. As do some of the unique production design decisions made in portraying an alternate reality Detroit.
13. Cool Kids Don’t Cry
This film is heartfelt, sincere, moving and beautifully done regardless for the emotion the film is striving for. It’s not a wonder that the book upon which this story is based is so popular, and that it’s already yielded two film versions. This film will have you chuckle, and also pull at your heartstrings but in a way that’s wholly intrinsic to the film and not in due in large part to manipulation. A truly excellent film.
12. The Lesson
The Lesson, like any lesson, could be an experience that is didactic, drudgery or could be an experience you’ll likely hold on to and cherish for a long time. This film is far closer to the lattermost option on that list.
Even though the film may not be traditionally uplifting its a wonder to see the world through Tursunov’s eyes anew. I’m sure that some will experience these same joys for the first time. For beautifully made films about difficult subjects that deal in the highest of artistry and a minimum of didacticism are far too rare, even rarer still is the hypnotic ambience of these Kazakh film worlds.
On its Best Adapted Screenplay nomination:
Paddington does the unlikely of capturing the spirit of a piece without being a literal adaptation.
It’s a film that makes a lot of things work, creates much magic, and executes simply and flawlessly.
9. Slow West
Slow West does much: it is a western, a drama, a romance, a coming-of-age tale, and an action film and it does very well with all its disparate elements.
8. Bloody Knuckles
Bloody Knuckles has to be considered among the best of the year, and it likely to make quite a bit of noise at the annual BAM Awards. It’s a brisk rollicking good time that doesn’t play it safe and is all the more hilarious, thought-provoking, and intriguing because of it.
On Best Original Song Nomination:
As good as the medley in Creed is it merely accompanies a montage. The last three are showstopping numbers that are also functions of their protagonist(s).
On Best Makeup Nomination:
Creed does great work selling you on in-fight injuries.
On its Best Cinematography Nomination:
Creed‘s single-takes alone made it worthy of inclusion but it’s in for more than that.
On its Award-nominated editing:
Creed is one of many films that dispels the erroneous notion that there’s less aptitude in editing needed when several long takes are used. It’s a job brilliantly done, and it really hums.
On the Supporting Actor Nomination:
One of the more visceral checklist items for nominations are “my god he’s incredible in this” being a thought that runs through your mind. That thought occurred to me especially in three performances: Klaßner’s (though that was more about the fact that it wasn’t just The White Ribbon), Young’s and Stallone’s.
The two most powerful were Stallone and Young.
The film also boasted a Best Actor nomination (Michael B. Jordan) and Best Supporting Actress (Phylicia Rashad), making it the only film this year with nominations in three of the four major acting categories.
Still is hypnotic and most effective because of how it manages to reverse fortune in its closing act, as well as have you dole out your empathy to many of the concerned parties, leaving your jaw agape at its conclusion. This is a film I’d recommend to anyone looking for a drama with a tragic arc, and serious real world stakes.
5. Inside Out
So, yes, there are two Pixar titles on this year’s list. Clearly, Inside Out is a great visualization of the emotional workings of the brain and an illustration of mental illness and the subconscious. The only thing that knocks it down one peg is the fact that I didn’t react as strongly to it viscerally as I would’ve liked to but it is great stuff.
4. Human Capital
This universality latches on to the film in such a way that it enjoys the high-class problem of being easily identifiable to a wide variety of audiences yet hard to classify. Its playing of suspense tropes, combined with its palpable drama and social commentary it can correctly be identified with the catch-all of ‘thriller’ but it’s so much more than that. In a film market that seems to, at times, think we can’t have our cake and eat it too this film knows that’s nonsense, and delivers emotion, pathos, and tension while also crafting a story of sociological relevance and leaving the soapbox out of it. It clicks like a film you can maniacally eat popcorn to and just let it wash over you, but invites you dig deeper and think on it long and hard. What more can you ask for?
3. Charlie’s Country
Charlie’s Country is and unorthodox and brilliant tale of an an aborigine man struggling to hold on to his land, his life and his heritage.
On David Gulilpil:
If you can hold the screen in silence, and move me to tears likewise; there’s not much more you need to do to clinch the award, but he does so much more.
2. Mad Max: Fury Road
Many of the reasons I love this movie are discussed in the various BAM Awards it won:
Yes, much of it was practical. However, there were effects. It’s harder to notice because of all the practical stuff, but it is all a brilliantly strung together vision.
Not only does this film paint its world nearly impeccably but it also has within it cultural icons in the making, Furiosa being among them and her costume being a big reason why.
On the cinematography:
Action doesn’t mean the camera has to do too much, the edit can work. The moves can be precise, the framing precise and balanced. The color here is blissfully deep, and in a world that bleak it’s a necessary antidote. Every single frame is glorious.
On the Sound Edit:
The silence speaks volumes, as does the ambience. The home watch can be more detail-oriented listening: the engines roar, the guitars wail and the beat doesn’t stop.
On the picture edit:
Walter Murch wrote a book called In the Blink of an Eye. It’s his treatise on editing and his theory about how unconscious things like blinking can help dictate cut-points. Were Margaret Sixel to write a book on editing it should write Joining Dreams. In British English you do not cut film, you join it . Thus, the name indicates that her editing (joining) of dream-like imagery is some of the best I’ve seen. Exemplary.
On the score:
Music is one of several intrinsic pieces to the film. When there is a guitar geek credited you know music plays an intricate role even if it’s not about music. Furthermore, it makes the music almost wholly organic, and my word, is it pulse-pounding.
On Miller’s direction:
“I’ve got vision up the butt, so just go with it,” -Jack Black, School of Rock
There’s really one director on this list that that quote adequately describes, and it’s not that it was a blowout, but it’s truest of this man.
Similar to the film at #2 a lot of what I enjoyed was discussed in the BAMs, including why it was the top.
On Art Direction:
There’s world-building in any film but there are glimpses of worlds here, and locations that speak and breathe, and a few surprising choices that will not be spoiled here that clinch it for this film.
On the screenplay:
There’s so much this film does it’s not a wonder to see many names attached to the script, that and that’s how screenplays often work anyway. There’s a legend to build, laughs to deliver, and horror tropes to be brilliantly inserted. None are easy all accomplished easily in timely fashion and at times simultaneously.
On the cast:
Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner, Allison Tolman, Conchata Ferrell, Emjay Anthony, Stefania LaVie Owen, Krista Stadler, etc. Krampus
All these casts are great, strong and deep, but only one did I find no fault with at all. Not one.
On its winning Best Picture:
I saw each twice and liked Krampus more twice.
The two allusions I drew in seeing Krampus were to older films I now consider to be classics, in the standing the test of time way rather than in technique- Gremlins and Home Alone.
The Home Alone similarity is in Emjay Anthony’s rant about families. “I don’t want a new family. I don’t want any family. Families suck!” Kevin McAllister exclaims and his sentiments are similar and drew spontaneous applause in my second viewing.
There’s far more intangible things that it taps into, and that’s where Gremlins comes in: it’s not just the Christmas-set horror comedy aspect, Krampus is the 2015 PG-13 movie equivalent of Gremlins’ hard PG in 1984.
When you’re citing films that are 25 and 31 years old respectively, you know you’re entering rarified air.
Yet, much like Super 8 from a few years ago, it’s not just the Spielbergian-Amblin influence that makes Krampus work.
Krampus is hilarious, it’s very much the zeitgeist for the year of its release but like Dougherty’s Trick ‘r Treat may have conquered a mandatory viewing slot on a major holiday.
The Krampus is not a new or original creation. However, in the US knowledge of the Krampus and discussion of him has remained underground like he was out of the Necronomicon, or better yet has come to a heightened awareness and popularity many years after his “death” like Lovecraft.
Yet, though the Krampus has featured on quite a few TV shows, the feature film eluded it. Then as with any idea in Hollywood many raced to create a story based around a legend, a mythical figure so rife with potential especially in genre cinema.
Kevin Smith was the first name I heard associated with a Krampus-themed film, but that has yet to come to the fore as he’s developing many other thing. So, it’s a but like the victory that was Ender’s Game or other anticipated adaptations – it’s the realization of a dream except I didn’t know how this movie where this movie was going to go, just that I wanted to see where it went every step of the way.
It was the ideal major motion picture “debut” of this Icon.
It took an old mythology and made it new and vibrant, and like the film it tussled with so violently for the title it intimated of much story aside than what was on screen. Ultimately, I always try to compartmentalize; therefore, it’s not a matter of “Well, Mad Max is amazing and won all these awards therefore it has to win Best Picture.” What the equation really is is: How well did the film in question perform in all categories plus factor in the story and how that played.
Krampus got me and I got in a way no other 2015 release did, bar none. Not even close.