Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Top Ten Films of 2016.

I am aware that 2016 ended two months ago; but as a completion-obsessed shut-in who uses too much punctuation, it takes a while to track down all the Danish movies about chicken that I want to see. Thankfully, we can adopt the Academy Awards as 2016's film criticism deadline. I know you'll probably be spending your Sunday at the liquor store in preparation for all the political acceptance speeches, so don't worry about reading this right away. But if you find your mind wandering while La La Land wins just about every category, feel free to reference this list as a reminder that other films did come out.

As always, the order barely matters, and this list does not include documentaries or animated films, because there are a lot of good documentaries and animated films that would displace all the weird stuff I want to write about.

MOONLIGHT - Honorable Mention
Moonlight was on its way to becoming an affectionate member of the top ten, but I've decided to obscure it with an aggressively masculine honorable mention. It's the black, gay Boyhood—if Boyhood were made twelve years faster and had a likable main character. It is a universal story about trying to fit in, finding yourself, and then pretending to be someone else so that your friends will let you sell drugs with them. It's beautifully shot, and based on the framing and use of color, I'm pretty sure director Barry Jenkins has a crush on Wong Kar Wai (as everyone should). Moonlight is only relegated to the position of honorable mention because it tries to do too much. For a film that revolves around the theme of masculinity, the main character spends too much time getting yelled at by his mother—a character who should have been permanently replaced with Mahershala Ali.

10. Everybody Wants Some!!
It feels contradictory to elevate Everybody Wants Some!! and its horrible title over Moonlight. While Moonlight subtlety condemns machismo, Everybody Wants Some!! exorbitantly celebrates virility. I make this distinction because virility is more fun and less threatening, and also to feel better about my choices. The thing is, although he forgot to add any to Boyhood, director Richard Linklater is a master of creating characters. Everybody Wants Some!! is the spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused; the films share the same director, the same vibe, and the same amount of plot—very little. Most of the movie is just the college baseball team having conversations, challenging each other to weird contests, or trying to pick up girls; and I could watch it for hours. All the male archetypes of college life are present. There's the alpha male, the stoner, the nice guy, etc., but they're all distinct and memorable characters, just like the friends you used to have before you stopped calling them. Watching bros be bros (a much better title by the way) isn't going to change your life, but it certainly can be fun.

9. A Man Called Ove
I have always had a soft spot for cantankerous, broken-hearted old men who are fed up with the deterioration of society and people who buy BMW's. The titular Ove spends much of the film scowling at cats, scolding people for driving on the path, and calling people idiots, and I enjoyed every second of it. I can't wait to be old and cranky. Of course, the awful people of the neighborhood keep trying to make connections with Ove, specifically his new Persian neighbor and her idiot husband. As Ove spends time with her and the other neighborhood scoundrels, his gruffness, along with his life story, begins to unwind. Towards the end of the film, A Man Called Ove starts flirting with sentimentality, but I was too busy hoping he'd kick the neighbor's dog to let it bother me.

8. La La Land
The first half of La La Land is a respectable homage to the old Hollywood musical, complete with long takes and flashy set pieces. Then, Ryan Gosling rolls up to Emma Stone's house, calls her a baby, and everything after that is why La La Land is on this list. The first half is fun, but it has no stakes. The relationship between the two characters is developed mostly through montage and Gosling rambling about jazz. It flirts with authenticity at a pool party Stone attends, where she mocks a less than enthused Gosling as he performs in an eighties cover band, but then they dance in the planetarium and it's suddenly love. It's not that the musical numbers aren't entertaining, but their relationship could have used more idiosyncrasies instead of broad brush strokes of style. It needed less dancing girls and more, "Hey girl." I recognize that not every Ryan Gosling movie can be Blue Valentine, but hey, here's to the ones who dream.

7. Swiss Army Man
How you react to the synopsis, "A suicidal man stranded on a desert island befriends a talking, flatulent corpse who accompanies him on a magical journey home," is a strong indicator to me of whether or not we can be friends. After you find out the main characters are Paul Dano (the man) and Daniel Radcliffe (the corpse), you should already be trying to buy it on Amazon. The bodily humor is often excessive, but it's also pulling double duty as an essential plot device. Swiss Army Man could get by simply on the ridiculous conversations between the two leads, as Dano attempts to explain society to Radcliffe's unaware corpse. The dialogue teeters between simplistically profound and laughable schlock, and parts of it feel like Terrence Malick directing a John Waters script. It's not as neatly put together as most of the films on this list, but its bursts of brilliance are some of the year's best.

6. Hell or High Water
The Western began as cowboys versus Indians, moved to outsiders versus outlaws, and in Hell or High Water, it's the outcasts versus everyone. It opens with a heist in a small Texas town. Two brothers, Chris Pine and Ben Foster, rob the local bank, and drive off towards their next target. Two Texas Rangers pick up the case, and the chase ensues. The film props itself up on the disenfranchised; the small town inhabitants are barely getting by, and our antiheroes are simply "robbing the bank that's been robbing them for thirty years." Jeff Bridges plays the almost-retired Texas Ranger who, along with his half-Comanche partner, Alberto, hunt Pine and Foster whilst developing an amusing camaraderie built on racism and ageism. Pine and Foster also thrive on camaraderie and banter, and the well-crafted characters set against modern-day desperation are what sets Hell or High Water apart.

5. The Lobster
In the world of The Lobster, everyone is required to have a romantic partner. Those who find themselves without a partner are taken to a hotel, where they have 45 days to find a partner, or they are transformed into the animal of their choice. Colin Farrell chooses a lobster, which is a very wise choice. Most people choose dog, which is why there are so many dogs. The Lobster is a black-comedy critique of the weird ways we attempt to meet society's expectation of our romantic lives. Sure, being turned into an animal is weird, but we live in the world of Tinder, so who are we to judge? In The Lobster, everyone is searching for someone who shares their distinguishing trait. Colin Farrell's distinguishing trait is that he is short-sighted, so he's on the lookout for ladies in glasses. Contacts are harder to identify. My distinguishing trait is that I want to stay inside and make poor food choices, so maybe there's something to this hotel idea after all. The second half of the film slows the momentum built by the first, but the society the film crafts is so ridiculous, it's amusing until the end.

4. Arrival
It's troubling that a movie about communicating with aliens is the most politically relevant of the year, but we could all use a good lesson on perspective and ethnocentrism. Amidst constant pressure from the Department of Defense, Amy Adams is tasked with communicating with Earth's new guests; and of course military generals don't understand the difference between singular and plural pronouns, or why that would matter when you're trying to determine whether an alien race wants to kill you or not. Language is hard. I don't even know what I mean half the time. The film also focuses on humanity's tendency to get really scared and attack things they don't understand, but the main focus is on language, and how speaking a different language can affect your perception of the world. There's a very unique and highly illogical plot device that revolves around this concept, but the main gist of it is that we'll never understand each other and the US government is incompetent. There's also a plot twist that you should figure out in the first thirty minutes of the film, but in case you miss it, the film will shove it in your face multiple times over the last five minutes until you cry.

3. The Handmaiden
There are very rare cases in which I actually believe in spoilers, and The Handmaiden is one of those cases. I'm about to give vague, thematic spoilers because I have to say something about the film to get you to watch it, but if you respect yourself as a cinephile, just skip the rest of this paragraph and go watch The Handmaiden immediately. I'll wait... For those of you who need more convincing, The Handmaiden is Blue is the Warmest Color mixed with Gone Girl, directed by Park Chan-Wook (Oldboy), which could act as a trigger-warning as much as a minor spoiler. The film takes a turn, gets real sexy, and ridicules men for being so gross. It's a thriller/romance/comedy, with stylish set design and props. Rush to see it with bells on.

2. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Ricky Baker is a gangster. Actually, he's an orphaned kid who gets lost in the New Zealand bush with his foster uncle and accidentally prompts a nation-wide boyhunt. Which, in his defense, is pretty gangsta'. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is basically a live-action Up where the dogs don't talk. It makes family-friendly comedy look easy in a time where quality family films basically don't exist anymore. If you want a hint of what to expect, director Taika Waititi also made 2015's What We Do In the Shadows. Though a vampire mockumentary may not seem comparable, the tone of the humor is similar in both films. The mismatched pair of gruff country loner and clueless city boy work through a series of strange adventures courtesy of the film's unique setting. The dialogue is always on point, and Rhys Darby even shows up to remind you that the film was made in New Zealand.

1. Sing Street
Dear John Carney,

There's an homage to old Hollywood musicals cleaning up this year's awards season. You would think people would notice that you've made three of the best modern musicals in the last ten years. Begin Again is delightful, Once is a masterpiece, and while it's not the revelation that Once was, Sing Street is my favorite movie of the year.

Sing Street revolves around Conor, an Irish teen in the 1980's, who is forced to go to Catholic school due to his parents' financial problems. In order to impress a "model" he meets, Conor forms a band with the other outcasts in his school, and his musical coming-of-age begins.

A musical is only as strong as its music, and 80's pop has a lot more polarity than the lavish set pieces of La La Land, but the songs are largely well crafted. The difference between Sing Street and La La Land is that the songs don't spontaneously erupt in a planetarium, but are personal pieces crafted around the plot. Conor initially doesn't know what kind of music he wants to play, and that's okay. Conor's surroundings shape the music he crafts which gives it a weight that most the songs in La La Land lack. We see and hear his style change after he listens to The Cure for the first time, he writes about his broken tween heart, and the final track, a rebellious Catholic school condemnation makes reference to several events and characters the narrative had previously introduced. It's always a good idea to write songs about your teachers.

Sing Street is a coming-of-age musical about finding your passion, finding love, and the pains of growing up. It's been done before, but its got enough music and character to give it a fresh spin. You know, for a bitter old man, I picked a lot of feel good movies this year.



Moonlight - You saw how close it got.
The Nice Guys - Ryan Gosling mumbles a bunch of amusing things.
20th Century Women - Had some of my favorite lines of the year.
Blue Jay - The last twenty minutes of La La Land for eighty minutes.

Hail Caesar - C Tates performs the best musical set piece of the year.
The Witch - This is why you can't argue with religious people. They always get your goat.
Captain Fantastic - Viggo Mortensen raises delightfully precocious children in the woods.
Imperium - You're a Nazi, Harry!
Green Room - More Nazis.
Silence - Issei Ogata should have won Best Supporting Actor.
The Edge of Seventeen - Woody Harrelson bullies a teenage girl.
Manchester by the Sea - Casey Affleck is so sad.
10 Cloverfield Lane - A really good version of Panic Room.
Elle - Isabelle Huppert has a strange relationship with her rapist.
The Accountant - The best superhero movie of the year.
The Founder - Michael Keaton is good enough, smart enough, and for gosh sakes, people like burgers.
Nocturnal Animals - There's a good story going, but they keep cutting to Amy Adams staring into space.


Julieta - Almodovar misses sometimes and only achieves the average.
Bad Moms - Fun moms.
Equals - I always told you emotions were bad.
Hidden Figures - Way more entertaining than anyone would have thought.
Lion - What if we took Slumdog Millionaire, reversed it, and made it worse?
Toni Erdmann - I'm embarrassed to say that I'll probably enjoy the American remake more.
Men and Chicken - I found this light and fun. You may find it horrifying.
The Fundamentals of Caring - Sarcastic sad people hang out.
The Neon Demon - LA will consume you. Move home.
Ghostbusters - The trailers did it a disservice, but it was amusing.
Deadpool - "McAvoy or Stewart" is the only joke you need.
Frank and Lola - Gordon Ramsay gets a girlfriend.
Doctor Strange - Curmudgeony Cumberbatch conjures cinematography.
Hacksaw Ridge - Sugary sweet, but it'll make you feel good.
Rogue One - Better than The Force Awakens.
Snowden - He sees you when you're sleeping.
Hello, My Name is Doris - Sally Field gets hip.
Captain America: Civil War - Wait, this wasn't Avengers 3?
Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates - Bros do Hawaii.
War Dogs - Bros sell weapons.
Passengers - The Hollywood version of Elle.


The Greasy Strangler - An old man covers himself in grease and strangles people. I loved it.
Midnight Special - Jeff Nichols is 0/2 this year.
Cafe Society - Woody Allen tries again.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies - More progressive than you'd think.
Chevalier - Some Greek dudes play a boring game.
Weiner Dog - A weiner dog has mildly amusing owners.
A Monster Calls - Liam Neeson is a tree that tells poor parables.
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk - Beyonce is mean.
Don't Think Twice - A forgettable comedy about comics.
Fences - Viola Davis blows artistic snot bubbles.
Love and Friendship - Kate Beckinsale causes scandal in the 1700's.
High-Rise - Life in a high rise turns silly and apocalyptic.
Paterson - a boring guy writes boring poetry.
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children - The poor man's Harry Potter.
Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice - Doomsday is in it, so you automatically know who wins.
American Honey - The Hollywood version of Spring Breakers.
Loving - Some people want to get married. People are mean.
Jackie - Natalie Portman's sad acting party.
Certain Women - Night Moves is the only watchable Kelly Reichardt film.
My Blind Brother - Adam Scott is blind. Comedy ensues.
Independence Day: Resurgence - All national holidays feel a little bleaker these days.
The Wailing - Basically a less interesting Korean version of The Witch.
Nerve - Truth or Dare and Youtube.
The Love Witch - Faux-pretentious pulp trash. I say that with adoration.
X-Men Apocalypse - The best thing I can say is that it was better than Suicide Squad.
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping - Never Stop Never Watching.
Little Sister - All nuns used to be goths.
Keanu - There's a cat. Everything else is awful.


Suicide Squad - So disjointed it's almost avant-garde.

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