Reel Talk

Top 15 of 2016

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Well everyone, we’ve made it through another year. And it’s been a real bummer of a year. We’ve been racked with some pretty terrible things, almost from top to bottom. Society seems ready to rip itself apart, basically at any moment, and it just felt like every singe day found a new way to make things worse. 2016 is certainly going to go down as a pretty pivotal and important year, and hopefully it won’t be remembered as the year that led to the world collapsing, even though that seems to be a distinct possibility. But when times are tough, one of the most important things are stories. Stories are what keep up going, what help us communicate, and what help us ignore the darkness. Which isn’t to say that they’re distractions from what’s really important. That would diminish the power and importance that stories really have on the human spirit. And, despite what some people would incorrectly tell you, this was a pretty great year for films. I kept hearing all throughout the year that this was a disappointing year for movies, and I just cannot understand that thinking. We’ve gotten some all-time greats this year, and I’ve decided to honor some of my favorites today. Now, I’ll say right off the bad that these are my 15 favorite films of the year, not what I would say are the 15 objective best films of the year. That’s an important distinction that I feel I need to make. Some people don’t differentiate between their favorite films, and what they think are the best, but I think that those lists are often very different. And I think that the “best” films of the year are a little boring, and figuring out why you personally like a movie tells you more about a person. So, here we go, my favorite 15 films of the year.

 

15. Moana

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I’m a huge sucker when it comes to Disney. I’m planning on getting around to a series here on the site where I discuss the films more at length, but for now I’ll just say that that company’s ability to craft timeless fables that are enjoyable for people of any age is truly a wonder. A Disney movie has to be really terrible to not be enjoyable for me. And we were lucky this year to get two incredibly solid entries from the House of Mouse. And the more traditional of the two, Moana, was a hell of an experience. It came about at the perfect time, right after the disappointment and anger from the Election, and everything about this movie worked for me. It was an utterly delightful film that did everything it could be be bright, cheerful, and full of hope. The film was beautifully animated, featured some genuine humor and chemistry, and some utterly delightful songs.  I’ve seriously had Jemaine Clement’s goofy David Bowie-esque song “Shiny” stuck in my head basically since I saw the film, and every other one of the songs were exactly spot on, and will probably go down as all-timers. But I think that the thing that most moved me about this film was that it was all about a smart woman of color doing everything she can to save her people, and doing so by finding a peaceful resolution with the villain. It was exactly what I needed after the election, and it continues to be a beautiful message that we’ll need to remember in the years to come.

Moana was written by Jared Bush and directed b Ron Clements & John Musker.

14. The Invitation

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This year I attempted, and completed, the absurd task of watching 366 movies that I hadn’t seen before. I finished the project just under the wire, but that amount of films made it so that a few of them slipped through the cracks here on the site. Movies that I wanted to write about just kind of fell away, since the time I could have been writing about them I spent watching more movies. And one of those films was the Invitation. I saw it earlier in the year, and it was a haunting and powerful film that really stuck with me much more than I was anticipating. If you haven’t seen it, I kind of don’t want to say almost anything about it. It works best going in as cold as you can. But the least I can tell you is that it revolves around a group of people who used to be a pretty tight-knit group of friends, getting together to have an awkward dinner party and talk things through. And things spiral out of control and get to an incredibly strange place that you won’t see coming. I would consider this film a horror movie, and I think it’s the scariest horror film of the year. It’s saturated in a sense of dread and menace that makes this a film that you don’t want to blink during. I can’t recommend this film enough, and I’ll reiterate that you should go in as blind as you can, because this film is going to take you on a hell of a ride.

The Invitation was written by Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi and directed by Karyn Kusama.

13. Manchester by the Sea

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Looking at the list that I’ve complied, I noticed that there was a serious theme among my favorite movies of the year. Hope. This was a dark and troubling year, and I think the escapism that these films have helped instill some wonder and positivity in me. But the real outlier on this list is definitely going to be Manchester by the Sea. I talked about this film at length when it first came out, and it’s really stuck with me. It’s a powerhouse of acting and directing, and will probably be a film that I’ll think about for quite some time. It’s haunting, depressing, and realistic portrayals of grief and the havoc that it can play on your life was incredibly moving and one of the most honest films I’ve seen all year. I know there’s a lot to consider with this movie, what with the allegations surrounding Casey Affleck, but he certainly put in a tremendous performance in this film, and helped create one of the most moving and depressing films of the year. There’s a lot of reasons to grieve this year, and this movie was a pretty unflinching look at the process that a lot of us are going to be feeling in the coming years.

Manchester by the Sea was written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan.

12. High-Rise

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This is another movie that I never got around to discussing at length, but it’s a film that really grew on me as time went by. I was pretty sold on the aesthetic that this film was putting forward, and was excited to check out the bizarre world that it was creating. I’m a huge sucker for dystopias, and even more so I love ones that take a different approach. This film took place in a muddled time period where it felt like what the 1970s thought the future would be like. And I loved that. However, when I first watched the film I was a little cold. It had a great look about it, but I found the messages the movie put forth a little muddled. But as time has gone on this is a movie that I’ve thought more and more about, and have come to enjoy and appreciate on newer levels. It’s not just beautiful and unique, it’s also an incredibly biting commentary on society, class warfare, and materialism. It’s a film that you kind of have to see to believe, and while I’m sure that this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, it certainly ended up working for me in the long run, and I highly recommend giving it a shot, no matter how weird it looks.

High-Rise was written by Amy Jump and directed by Ben Wheatley.

11. Green Room

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Speaking of movies that will stick with you while you roll it around in your head for months, let’s talk about Green Room! This movie is a fascinating achievement, and easily the most tense and gut-wrenching film I saw this year. It may go down as one of the last great performances by Anton Yelchin, who sadly passed away not long after this was released, but there’s really so much more to it. The tension and suspense in this film is masterful, and creates a movie that will legitimately have you sitting on the edge of your seat, horrified at what you’re seeing and yet unable to look away. I’ve never been a fan of the torture-porn genre of horror films, just gratuitous gore for the sake of gore, but this film takes that disgusting body-horror and puts behind actual talent and filmmaking ability to craft a brutal, disgusting, thriller that basically functions like a siege film. This film isn’t for the feint of heart, and will really test your mettle when it comes to violence and horror, but if you have the stomach to make it through to the end, it’s an incredibly satisfying experience.

Green Room was written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier.

10. Moonlight

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I explained up top that the ranking of this list was by how much I personally enjoyed the film, not by what I thought their objective quality was. But, if I was going through this list the other way, I think that this would be the film that I thought was legitimately the best of the year. It’s a towering achievement, a film that takes a world that is completely foreign to me, and made me completely understand it. It’s a universal story of love and acceptance, even if the specifics are nothing like your own journey. There aren’t other movies like this. It’s an incredibly moving masterpiece that really demonstrated film’s ability to deliver stories and experiences that you wouldn’t otherwise feel in relateable ways. I can’t think of another film this year that quite moved me in the way that this one did. It made me appreciate how easy my life in comparably, really hammer home the idea that we’re all in this life together, and that we need to help each other out. Because despite all of our differences, we all just want to be loved and know who we really are.

Moonlight was written and directed by Barry Jenkins.

9. Hail, Caesar!

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I’m an enormous fan of the Coen Brothers, and honestly I feel like any of their film would make a best of the year list for me. They’re just geniuses and everything they’ve crafted is gold. Which made me feel a little odd when I came out of this film a little cold on it when I first saw it. But that was clearly do to some extenuating circumstances in my life from when I first saw it, because when I revisited the film later in the year I realized that I was completely wrong, and that this movie is a goddamn delight. The Coens’ can craft the hell out of a drama, but I’ll always be a sucker for their comedies, especially their slapsticky numbskull comedies. And this is a shining example of that. This movie is so incredibly silly, with terrific performance after terrific performance, all revolving around a central theme of faith and a genuine love for film that was completely palpable. This movie was a reminder of the power of cinema, and the Coens are here to spread the good word about their favorite medium. Oh, and will someone please let the Coen Brothers make a full-scale musical? Now that that genre appears to be back, I think that they would knock it out of the goddamn park.

Hail, Caesar! was written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen.

8. Zootopia

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Yep, I implied it up in the Moana segment, but Disney was really firing on all cylinders this year. I really wasn’t anticipating for this movie to have such an impact on me, but it really did. I went in assuming we were getting a cute talking-animal movie from Disney about a silly town where animals all got along. I had heard that there was some muddled metaphors about racism that didn’t seem to fully track, and turned a lot of people off. But I still went in with an open mind, and came away shocked at how much I adored this movie. And, honestly, it shouldn’t have shocked me, because this movie was utterly enjoyable, and somehow made the closest thing that Disney’s had to a full on noir. We have the rookie cop and a sleazy con-man teaming up to solve a crime that ends up taking them all around a diverse town, from the sketchy depths to the very seat of power itself. All while delivering a classic Disney moral of “we are who we choose to be, not what others think we are.” I know this movie didn’t work for everyone, but for me personally it was a hell of a film and one that really stuck with me.

Zootopia was written by Jared Bush & Phil Johnston and directed by Byron Howard & Rich Moore.

7. Doctor Strange

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Only one superhero movie made it only my list this year (sorry Civil War!) and I probably shouldn’t be surprised that it was Doctor Strange. I’ve been a fan of the Sorcerer Supreme for quite some time, and as soon as I heard that they were actually going to give him a big-budget movie, I was stoked. Everything about this movie sounded spot on, and when I finally got to see it I was not disappointing. This movie lovingly embraced the ridiculous mythology of Doctor Strange, brought the MCU into new mystical territory, and delivered one of the most beautiful and bizarre looking mainstream movies I’ve seen in a long time. Seriously, I know people were just comparing some of the visuals to Inception, but that first time Stephen gets his Astral form knocked out of him and travels through different dimensions is some of the most visually inventive filmmaking of the year. But the real thing that made me love this movie so much, and that stuck with me in the months after I first saw it was that ending. I harp on the fact idea that superheroes should be selfless and focus on saving innocents a lot on this site, and the climax of this film resolves in a fascinating way. Instead of having a magical duel with the big bad of the film, he simply places himself in a time loop that will continue to kill him over and over again for eternity, just to save the world. He places himself in eternal torment to save mankind. And that’s spectacular. I know where are people who diminish this by saying that Strange knew that this gambit would work, and that that doesn’t make his actions heroic, but I think that that’s a ridiculous opinion, because even if he was 100% positive that he would survive, he still allowed himself to be killed dozens of times, feeling that pain and torment. It’s a fascinating and unique ending to a superhero movie unlike any other I’ve ever seen, and I dug the hell out of it.

Doctor Strange was written Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson, and C Robert Cargill and directed by Scott Derrickson.

6. The Hunt for the Wilderpeople

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Another film that I didn’t get around to writing about on the site, the Hunt for the Wilderpeople is one of the funniest and most imaginative films that came out this year, and really should be seen by everyone. After seeing his hilarious vampire mockumentary What We Do In the Shadows, I was fully on board for anything that writer/director Taika Waititi created, and while this movie was very different from What We Do In the Shadows, it’s no less spectacular. The film is a wonderful little fable about a young kid and his unwilling foster parent traveling through the New Zealand wilderness to avoid a ridiculous manhunt. Which sounds really weird and complicated, but when you watch this film you completely get swept up in the heartwarming strangeness of the film, and  completely buy into it. It’s full of terrific performances, inventive direction, and packed to the brim with a genuine sense of heart that’s impossible to avoid. I haven’t met a person yet who has seen this and didn’t love it. My wife literally watched it again two days after seeing it for the first time  because it was all she could think about, and needed to experience it again. And that’s kind of all you need to know about it. There aren’t many movies out there that make me want to be a little kid and just restart it as soon as it’s over, but Hunt for the Wilderpeople sure does.

the Hunt for the Wilderpeople was written and directed by Taika Waititi.

5. Arrival

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I don’t think that there’s been a day that’s gone by since I first saw Arrival that I haven’t thought about it. I walked out of this film stunned, and that’s just continued in the weeks that have followed. I have been a huge fan of director Denis Villeneuve, and after this film I’m completely in the bag for him, because this film is spectacular. We’ve made countless films about first contact with aliens, it’s a subject that humanity seems very fascinated with, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film that tackled it in this way. It’s completely about communication. That’s really all it boils down to. How do you communicate with a species that you’ve never encountered, and that doesn’t understand you. And from there, things start to branch out until the film as a whole turns out to be about people of different beliefs and cultures communicating. Which is incredibly prescient today. We live in a world where no one wants to find common ground, and where we’re defined by our differences. And yet this film shows a peaceful possible world where we instead focus on our similarities. It’s science fiction, and if there’s anything that this year has taught me it’s that humanity will probably never choose to focus on similarities rather than differences, but it’s still something to strive for. It’s hope incarnate, and it’s a beautiful and moving film as well. I imagine it will stick with you as much as it has me.

Arrival was written by Eric Heisserer and directed by Denis Villeneuve.

4. OJ: Made in America

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Curve-ball! Bet you didn’t see that one coming! I went back and forth for a while on whether or not I should include this one on the list, since it wasn’t technically a film and rather a documentary mini-series. But I’ve seen it on a bunch of lists from real critics, and it apparenlty did show in some theaters, despite being almost eight hours, so I’m counting it. Because this documentary is astoundingly good. In a year full of great documentaries (shout out to Weiner  and Tickled) this one outshone the rest and became one of the most fascinating cultural documents I’ve ever seen. I don’t know a single person who wasn’t obsessively watching this as it was coming out, and it was all people were talking about for weeks after it was released. I was a kid when the actual trial was going on, and have grown up learning more and more about the trial. So when I first sat down to watch it I assumed that it was going to be cashing in on the recent trend of true crime documentaries, and would just focus on the crime and the trial in detail. Which it did. But the part that I wasn’t expecting, and the part that I found so captivating was the segments before the crime. The segments that provided context. Because to me, OJ Simpsons was a murderer who got away with it, and who played sports and acted in movies. He was primarily defined as a killer to me. But watching this documentary and learning about the profound impact that OJ Simpson had on American culture, the history of corruption in the LAPD, and the tense state of race relations in the city brought on by the Rodney King controversy really shined a new light on this story that I had never thought of. It re-contextualized and event that I thought I knew a lot about, and delivered one of the most consistently interesting and enthralling documentaries I’ve ever seen.

O.J.: Made In America was directed by Ezra Edelman.

3. Swiss Army Man

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You know folks, I’m just as shocked as anyone else that a movie about a farting corpse is my third favorite film of the year. Yet, here we are. And I have no shame in admitting that this movie about a farting corpse is absolutely spectacular. I remember going into this movie having no idea what I was going to get. And yet, when I left I was absolutely blown away. This film was shockingly deep, and as I described in my review for the film, it actually ended up being about a whole lot of things. It was a swiss-army movie, full of different messages and morals that could be applied at different times. Some parts were about the pressure that people feel as parents to impart wisdom onto their children, sometimes it was about living life to its fullest and not caring about what other people think, and other times it was about how broken people can often help each other become whole by leaning on each other. All three of those would make for interesting topics for a film to examine, and yet this movie took all of those themes, and several others, and somehow blended them together to create one of the most unique films I’ve ever seen. It’s surreal, quirky, weird, and almost impossible to describe without sounding completely insane. And yet, it works. It works on almost every level.

Swiss Army Man was written and directed by Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan.

2. La La Land

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This is the film that I’ve most recently watched in a theater, and the one that I most recently wrote about on the site. I’m not sure that there’s anything more that I can really say about this movie other than the fact that I absolutely loved every second of it. Seeing a big-budget musical that fully took advantage of the technological advancements of the era was a hell of a thing to see. And beyond that, the story was pretty delightful. We got to see a musical that subverted the tropes of the genre, not give us a happy ending, but also explain why that’s okay sometimes. This was a story about two creative people, who had a passionate love-affair, but who weren’t meant to be together. It wasn’t in the cards. They became each other’s muse, and pushed each other to becomes their best selves, but with different people. It wasn’t what was expected from a big, bright, and colorful musical, but it was kind of just what the genre needed. Plus, I’ve had the songs from this film stuck in my head basically on a loop for the last couple weeks, and I can’t complain about that at all. I’ve seen some people trying to give their “hot takes” about the movie,  and how they don’t think it’s actually that good, or that it’s pretentious. And everyone is open to their own opinion. But I’m a person that this movie worked for, and it worked perfectly. It was a pure cinematic experience, and one of the most effective and beautiful films I saw all year.

La La Land was written and directed by Damien Chazelle.

1. The Nice Guys

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Yep. I didn’t see it coming either. But when I sat down to compile this list, and decide what movie I most enjoyed in 2016, it pretty easily came down to this. The Nice Guys certainly wasn’t the best film of the year, but it was pretty handily the movie that I most loved. I rewatched this film recently, and everything about it works for me on every level. I’m a huge sucker for noirs, and I’m obsessed with the idea of incompetent detectives accidentally getting tossed into a case that they don’t understand, and failing upward until they win the day. And that’s basically everything about this movie. Shane Black directed the hell out of it, the soundtrack was fantastic with it’s funk and classic hardboiled noir influences, the set designs were perfect, and it was exceedingly well written and clever. And the performances are all across the board terrific. Ryan Gosling was amazing as the incompetent and drunken private eye, Russell Crowe was delightfully unhinged as the bruiser who just wants to do good for people, and Angourie Rice was spectacular as the precocious Nancy Drew archetype who served as the two men’s moral center. I know there are some people who thought that the ending was cynical, with nothing really changing at the end and them being unable to stop big business from stomping over the little guy. But I didn’t see it that way. They did what they could, gave some people peace, and learned to help each other. The end of this movie made me wish for nothing more than a continuation of this story. I would pay for a series of Nice Guys novels in a heartbeat. These characters and this world were just so captivating to me, and I spent almost the entire run-time of this film, both times I saw it, with a smile plastered onto my face. There may not be a lot of other people who agree with me, but this was hands down the film that I enjoyed the most this year. It’s kind of everything I want out of a movie, and I fully intend to watch this movie over and over again, loving it every time.

The Nice Guys was written by Shane Black and Anthony Bagarozzi and directed by Shane Black.

So, there we go. That was my list of favorite films of 2016. Don’t let anyone tell you that 2016 was a bad year for movies, because just these 15 were amazing, and these are just the tip of the iceberg. There are still some movies from 2016 that I haven’t seen, that have potential to be better than one of these, like Jackie, the Love Witch, and The Handmaiden, but I didn’t manage to check them out this year, so I guess they don’t count! I’ll reiterate again down here, these weren’t necessarily what I would say the best movies of the year were, just the order of how much I personally enjoyed them. But I loved all of these movies quite a bit, and vouch for all of them. So if you want to have a good time, pop one of these movies in and experience the power of the pictures.

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