It’s about that time again.
My favorite time of the year. Everybody loves a Best of the Year list, and I am no different. This marks my third annual list since the creation of this blog, and I am perfectly happy to keep cranking out the reviews for you to read. This year I maintained a much better focus than 2015, and as a result, I did not 45 reviews behind. Every film on this list will have a hyperlink to its respective full length review, a feat that makes me most proud of my work ethic, and I am very content to say that I learned from my previous year’s toil.
It may have not seemed like it at the time, but at the end of the day, it ended up being a pretty good year for films. I hit my annual quota of 130 movies released this year (131 if you count the short film Extremis). I managed to watch everything that caught my interest and what I considered to have a serious shot of making this list, but I will say that the one movie I just completely missed is Loving. It’s not currently available to rent for another month, and I don’t feel the desire to drop $15 on owning a digital copy, as I don’t think I will get repeat viewings out of it, but I will give it a watch in due time.
I did think it was a pretty weak year for the horror genre, but it was the strongest overall year for animation that I have ever seen since I’ve been reviewing movies. Seriously, this list is just bursting at the seams with cartoons, so much so that really good movies I want to sell to people, like Kubo and The Little Prince ended up on the outside of this list looking in.
I personally like to do a top 30 over a top 10, because the movies that are on the cusp of being the best of the best are typically the ones you may have missed. If it got a wide release in 2016, the film was considered for this list, but if it hit a 2015 festival circuit, it is noting accordingly. So let’s go ahead and get started, and as always, this list is completely subject to change.
Richard Linklater very well may be the most versatile filmmakers working today. He can make a serious run at an Oscar by conducting a 12 year experiment in Boyhood, or he can let his proverbial hair down and make something like Dazed and Confused. Everybody Wants Some is much closer to the latter than the former, and there’s no award consideration or even any deep story, but what it does do is show you a really good time. One thing I did this year more than any previous year is take in a lot more documentaries. 13th is pretty eye-opening. It’s from the director of Selma, and this is a woman with a lot to say. The documentary itself is slickly edited together, and it makes its points deftly; these are details that need to be heard by all races. I am more familiar than most with the dreams and struggles of trying to make it in local comedy, and Don’t Think Twice is one of the most earnest movies made about the subject matter. It’s so easy to forget about all of the work that gets put in creating a good comedy act, and if I were to describe the film in a phrase, that phrase would be “slice of life comedians”. The most sordid movie of the year is Nocturnal Animals. It is not for everybody, and you will know if you’re going to be able to sit through it from the very opening credits. It made me feel ridiculous levels of discomfort, and I give a standing ovation to Kickass, Mr. Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who I didn’t think had a performance like this in him. Deepwater Horizon is a movie that is very fresh in my brain because I watched it so recently. Both Peter Berg movies this year are really good, but this one ratchets up the intensity to the next level. I felt like I learned even more than I already knew about the BP oil spill, and the special effects in this are pretty seamless.
The movie I was most confused about this year from a critical standpoint was The Girl on the Train. Sure, it doesn’t outdo Gone Girl, but it makes a strong play for the same demographic. I can quite simply say that if you liked that, then you’re going to like this, and Emily Blunt gives one of the most underrated performances of the year. There’s a whole lot to love in the film Allied, and if you like classical Hollywood stories, this is for you. I don’t typically like to use the word, but it is Hitchcockian in its manner of storytelling. It is old school sensibilities with a modern budget, which is something that should get you excited. One movie I have found myself championing very frequently is Trolls. Look, I get it: on paper, it seems like a shameless cash grab. But much like the brilliant Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, it is making something outstanding out of a product that should be unbearable. You are all but guaranteed to walk away from it with a hop in your step. Something that is the polar opposite of that is Manchester by the Sea (segue much?). The acting in this movie is brilliant, and you probably would have never expected that Casey Affleck possessed the capability of pulling off a performance like he does here. What you will likely be surprised by is that the story actually has a really good sense of humor about it, as the trailers paint it out to be melodramatic to the 11th degree. One film that is just as funny as it is sold to be is the comic book adaptation of Deadpool. There was even a late push for this to see if it could get nominated for Best Picture. Sorry fans, it was never going to be that movie, but that is not to take away from the fact that it is uproariously funny, and it makes up tenfold for the egregious offense that is X-Men Origins: Wolverine. It is laugh out loud hilarious and pushes the envelope at every turn, and if you are a parent that lets their child watch anything superhero, you have made a sore mistake by letting them witness this.
Weiner is a fascinating documentary. You can tell that the purpose of it was to tell the triumphant comeback story of senator Anthony Weiner, but instead, it did exactly the opposite, showing his final downfall. It’s a shame, because you can tell that he harbors a lot of passion, the kind that can actually make a difference, but he’s now going to be forever known for this one thing. Doctor Strange is my favorite Marvel movie of the year, and I don’t understand the people that say that all of these movies are the same thing. Sure, there are similar tropes and beats that are inherent to the superhero genre, but you’re getting something way different with Strange, as it brings magic into the equation. It also boasts the most impressive special effects that you will see all year. Tickled took me to places that I wasn’t expecting, which is something that I have never said about any documentary, ever. It’s about somebody that stumbles across this bizarre fetish on the internet and starts pulling on a string. Then it turns into a thriller. Start to finish, you’re going to be surprised throughout. Not to sound like a hipster, but I really dug Hell or High Water before it started getting all of the accolades that it is now receiving. There is just something about a Texas crime drama that is different than any other crime story you will see, and if I am ever going to the Lone Star state, I think I will just be flying to Austin and leaving without visiting any of the other cities. I love the original Cloverfield wholeheartedly, so you can imagine my pleasant surprise when it was revealed that a sequel was coming out mere weeks before its release date. The thing is that the reason I love this film has very little to do with the original movie, and everybody I’ve talked to who has complaints about 10 Cloverfield Lane has issues with the last ten minutes of the film. It didn’t bother me all that much, but it is everything prior to the finale that makes the film so great, as it is this tense bottle movie that focuses on the psyches of these three people.
Like I said before, I watched far more documentaries than I usually watch, and my favorite one of the year is Audrie & Daisy. It is very difficult to watch, and you know there are plenty instances in high school of online bullying and rape that never get reported, and there are assailants that will go their entire life without ever paying the price. It’s a sad state of the world we live in, but I have the utmost respect for this film coming forward with a strong voice. Money Monster is one of my favorite sleeper movies. Yes, I realize how ridiculous the story is on paper, but as it unfolds, it keeps the tension taut as the situation keeps escalating and escalating. It is an understated thriller that hit home with me, much in the same way that The Call did back in 2013. I am very happy to see Moonlight succeeding, as it is the type of movie that you want to win accolades. It shows you a side of life that you seldom get to see (homosexuality in the African-American community), and I hope we get more movies like this. Hello, My Name Is Doris came to me highly recommended by a trusted critic, and it won me over very early on. It has very awkward sensibilities and an off-sense of humor, and it did reach a point where I was literally yelling at my television. Not to get into spoilers, but no, I don’t think every single person in the world needs to have their own Facebook. Fences has some of the strongest performances you will see this year, and Denzel and Viola bring their A-game. It is based on a stage play that they have already performed together on stage, and it is dramatic intensity in a nutshell. It features my favorite scene of riveting acting that I saw all year.
And that brings us to the very best of the best, my top ten!
If you’re wondering where all these animated movies I referenced in the preamble were, we have now reached them. Zootopia has more to say about our society as a whole than 99% of the other movies released this year, and it stars talking animals. The kids will appreciate the fast pace and the quirky characters, and the adults will appreciate the fact that they are actually given a story with some meat to chew on. It’s got a lot to say and makes its points efficiently, and while there are other animated movies I liked more than this one, it is more than likely going to take home that Oscar gold.
I don’t think I ever need to go to the country of India after watching this movie. Lion takes you on an incredible journey, and the odds of success in this are comparable to 2012’s The Impossible. There is danger around every corner, and even though you can piece together that this kid makes it out alive based on the trailers, there is a real tension throughout because something incredibly dark could potentially happen at any turn. This adorable child actor they got to play the lead character (Sunny Pawar) knocks it out of the park, and you have nothing but sympathy for his plight. I did like the first half of this better than the second, but they both fit together well in a story that is even more incredible because it is true.
Being honest with myself, I only liked Moana when I first walked out of it. It gives you everything you want out of a Disney movie, and it is very well animated in its style. From the time I drove home until the time I put pen to paper and wrote my review, its stock did nothing but rise. This is very much due to the music featured from prodigy Lin-Manuel Miranda, and to this day, I am still listening to this soundtrack. Helping the film is the fact that you have Dwayne Johnson who can literally do anything that he wants to do in life and be the best in his class; he is the most charismatic person alive at this point in his career, so of course his transition to animation is a test that is passed with flying colors. There is something here for everyone, and it is an infectious musical that is near impossible to have a bad time with.
7. Eye in the Sky (2015)
Many a critic forgot about Eye in the Sky because it got released so early on in the year. Not I. This left a very large impression on my brain because it put me in such a cold sweat. I am not exaggerating when I say that I forgot to breathe in some parts, and I was on pins and needles from start to finish. It is alarming that this type of technology actually exists, and it does put you in a very difficult moral quandary where this is no easy solution. All of the acting is stellar, which is nice for a thriller, and I will choose to remember this as being Alan Rickman’s last role (and yes, that Alice in Wonderland sequel has a special spot reserved a little bit later, because I always give a Worst of the Year list in my year end wrap up). You may have missed this one, and I highly recommend that you check it out on the home market if you did.
Do you remember in Saving Private Ryan how the opening just left you positively breathless and shell-shocked and then it followed itself up with a lesser, but still quality story? Hacksaw Ridge is the opposite of that, putting you, the audience member, right there in the trenches for the entire third act. Mel Gibson has always had the talent as a director, it has just been his personal life that has gotten in the way of his career. He may not be a good person, but I will still go see the movies he makes, he’s just that talented (I would say the same exact thing about Roman Polanski as well). When I walked out of Hacksaw Ridge, I felt like I survived the war, and it really is an incredible story to be told. I do realize that not everybody can stomach a war movie, but if you can, you’re in for a treat.
Arrival is the thinking man’s science-fiction movie, and you shouldn’t walk into this expecting to be wowed by Independence Day set piece explosions. It is all about the communication, and really, if non-hostile aliens came to Earth, this would probably be how it would play out. Out of all the movies on this list, this is one of only two movies that I have given multiple viewings to, and it is put together in such a way that it makes for a very rewarding experience the second time around. It finishes as strong as can be, and I would go so far to say that only my very top pick of the year has a better ending. Denis Villeneuve is quickly making a name for himself as a director, and I feel like this is the movie that is going to catapult him to the class of being an A-list director going forward.
4. Finding Dory
My favorite animated movie of they year has never been in question: it was always Finding Dory. For whatever reason, it lost steam with the critics when award season rolled around, but I had a great connection with it when I saw it in theaters. Perhaps I can relate to a character more because she has memory problems, who’s to say? In fact, I like this movie so much that I would honestly say that I prefer it to Finding Nemo. You can argue that they do the same thing, and that this movie makes you feel guilty for laughing at the character with a disability from the previous movie, but all I can do is shrug my shoulders. It’s funny, I love the characters, I felt like everybody actually developed and learned from their mistakes they made in the first movie, and it is a movie that I cherish.
3. The Founder
This is the movie that I am happiest that I took a chance on. I was honestly just trying to see Elle, but I apparently got the show time wrong, so I saw this as a backup option. I quite honestly may have missed this otherwise, but I suppose that is just how fate works. This is an amazing movie, and I was enthralled by it at every single moment. I am loving this second coming of Michael Keaton, and he has truly embraced where he is at in his career at this point (a capable actor who is going to who will be winning an Oscar in the next five years or less). This is a movie that changes your entire perception on a fast food establishment that everybody eats at. It tells you an origin story that you haven’t heard before unless you’ve just happened to do research, and it is fascinating. This is my out of nowhere movie of the year, and because not many saw it, I have developed an even deeper affection for it.
Florence Foster Jenkins is not a performer that I knew all that well prior to watching this movie. I feel that this film educated me in the best way possible. I know she already gets a ton of praise as is, but Streep is superb in this; I know that she knows how to sing properly, so to be able to sing this poorly is not something that could have been easy. If you don’t know what you’re in for, the first time she opens her mouth for opera is going to surprise you to say the least. It never stops being hysterical, and it also pulls off the feat of not making you feel bad for laughing at her. It fires on all cylinders, and the three leads in this all share a wonderful chemistry together. I think both Hugh Grant and Simon Helberg are understated in this, and they help to elevate the star of this here, which is Streep as this performance artist. It’s funny, heartfelt, and by the time it is reaching its end, you are actually rooting for her. It’s a fascinating biographical story, and the only movie I liked more this year is…
1. La La Land
Let me just start by saying that 2016 has been a pretty rough year, especially given this political climate that we are in. The United States as a nation is divided, and neither side will yield or is even capable of understanding the thought process of the other side. La La Land has been facing a backlash in the face of cleaning up at the Global Globes because there are movies out there that have a more important message to deliver and have more overall significance. But what I want is a movie that can make me forget about the outside world for two hours and let myself exist in this charming musical universe, and La La Land is exactly that and it gives you something special while doing so. If there is ever a movie that you don’t want to miss the beginning of, it is this one here. I was 100% sold on this movie from the opening five minutes, which features a single tracking shot on a Los Angeles onramp with singing and choreography to boot. It is pure movie magic whenever it introduces the next number, and director Damien Chazelle deserves all the credit in the world. In a word, it is breathtaking, and it is the film that most thoroughly impressed me from start to finish.
And here are some truly awful movies that you should avoid at all cost unless you have masochistic tendencies like myself, my bottom 10:
10. London Has Fallen
9. Gods of Egypt
8. Most Likely to Die (2015)
7. Alice Through the Looking Glass
6. I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House
5. Zoolander 2
4. The Neon Demon
3. The Do-Over
2. Fifty Shades of Black
1. Yoga Hosers
I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed putting it together.
Happy movie watching!
– Critic for Hire