Monday, January 23, 2017

Top 20 Films of 2016

Does anyone ever read the intros?

#20. 10 Cloverfield Lane
A tense and claustrophobic horror/sci-fi/apocalyptic film with a premise that immediately sparks a gulping amount of suspense and manages to sustain it for an impressive length of time. With a scary-good performance from John Goodman, 10 Cloverfield Lane puts you on high alert.

#19. Captain America: Civil War
Come for Captain America vs Iron Man beef. Stay for the Black Panther, Ant-Man, and Spider-Man appearances.

#18. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
The mirthfully titled Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping hilariously riffs on those sugary and motivational "popumentaries". The sense of humor is keen and observational--satirizing celebrity excess, tabloid blunders, social media antics, Behind the Music drama... But the film doesn't shy away from being straight up silly either. I mean, this is the same group that put out a song called "Dick in a Box".

#17. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
A thrilling and crowd-pleasing blast of a blockbuster, Rogue One ultimately ends up being a worthy addition to the Star Wars cannon. It's a tale of sacrifice, trust, and joining forces against seemingly insurmountable evils. That's certainly something to root for.

#16. Moana
This dazzling South Pacific adventure splashes and beams with jubilance, while enthusiastically exploring a vibrant Polynesian culture and mythology that's not often seen like this on the big screen. A genuinely uplifting and applause-worthy tale of courage and forming your own path, Moana will warm your body, your spirit, and your heart. Oh yeah, and The Rock is in it.

#15. Under the Shadow
Iranian director Babak Anvari delivers a truly nerve-wracking experience that skillfully blends real-world horrors with supernatural terror. It's also very human, and it's a great mother and daughter story amidst hostile circumstances. Thriving on anxiety and dread, Under the Shadow casts darkness on an ill-omened intrusion. A potent and lingering fear. A devastating hole that tape won't fix.

#14. The Nice Guys
Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe starring in a retro detective romp? Check. Smoggy LA setting? Check. Tangled neo-noir story? Check. Gosling and Crowe accidentally heaving a dead body onto a fancy outdoor dinner party? Check. One of the funniest movies of 2016? Yep.

#13. Don't Think Twice
What happens when your collaborator moves onto bigger and better things and you're left in the dust? What happens when your understudy surpasses you and gets what you've been trying to achieve your entire life? What happens when you've faced rejection so many times that you're forced to confront the idea of your passion coming to an end? What happens when you run out of material?

#12. Hell or High Water
Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, and Ben Foster star in this modern frontier crime drama that sneaks up on you and lights your expectations on fire. Revving up as sweaty and rusted eulogy for the working-class, Hell or High Water isn't a film where all the ends are neatly tied up. And given the bullet-holes-in-the-windshield nature of the story, it's all the better for it.

#11. Everybody Wants Some!!
At the surface, it may seem like a usual frat party film, but it manages to wax philosophical on pride, identity and competition. And of course, it carries a heavily nostalgic vibe (and I'm not just talking about the jorts and tanktops). Everybody Wants Some!! doesn't embrace living in the moment--it suggests that that's the only thing you can do. One can cherish and hold onto the good times and glory days, but no matter the stage--there are stretches where fun stuff happens, proceeded by stretches where not-so-fun stuff happens, and so on. Life is full of stuff, man.

#10. The Witch
An utterly ominous, harrowing, and absolutely terrifying film if you fully submit yourself to its brooding madness. It's a stressful exercise in evil or innocence, supernatural or paranoia. Many people were disappointed by the film's slow-burning story and lack of *jump* scares. But you have to ask yourself this: What haunts you more in real life: A temporary jolt, or a sinister sickness that infiltrates and haunts every single aspect of all the things you hold dear?

#9. Green Room
A group of scrawny punk rock kids fighting their way out of a club full of neo-Nazis? Sir Patrick Stewart playing the villain? Quite frankly the cinematic epitome of Well, that escalated quicklyGreen Room might just be the most intricate, over-the-top warning about hitting the road as an amateur band.... Or simply that white supremacists are the worst. That seems more accurate.

#8. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Straight Outta New Zealand. Weaved with pleasantly dry humor and spiked with a twist of hip-hop adoration, Tai Waititi's Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a sweet coming-of-age adventure about finding a sense of belonging in unlikely places. Go on the hunt for this rare film, because it's a real gem.

#7. The Edge of Seventeen
The Edge of Seventeen deserves to be praised for its sheer sense of genuineness. Wonderfully written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig, this teen dramedy is up there with some of the best contemporary high schooler films in recent memory. It's refreshingly frank, funny, heartfelt, and yes--relatable. It'll make you cringe. It'll make you nostalgic. It'll make you wish you could go back to when you were a Junior and change things... or completely block that time out of your memory.

#6. Kubo and the Two Strings
The latest hero journey from the stop-motion masters at LAIKA boasts some gorgeous animation and stunningly unique imagery. Kubo and the Two Strings is a magically told tale about the importance of magically told tales. It's creepy, humorous, exquisitely dreamy, and highly emotional. It's my favorite animated film of 2016.

#5. Sing Street
Not to be confused with the recent animated flick Sing, John Carney's Sing Street is a triumphant ode to the irresistible power of music, a celebration of wide-eyed youthful rebellion, and a life-affirming ballad about taking risks and following your passion. The story elicits scenes that will put a huge smile on your face and make your heart weep--just like the best melodies always do.

#4. Moonlight
Revolving around a young man's struggle to find himself in the thick atmosphere of a poverty-stricken Miami, this artful portrait is as sprawling as it is intimate, and as raw as it is technically marvelous. It's truly a transformative experience. It's a film of defining moments, fateful connections, and memorable faces. A poetic character study. It's blue. It's black. It's glowing. It's Moonlight.

#3. Arrival
Where did they come from? Why are they here? What do they want? Arrival director Denis Villeneuve expounds on these questions in this brainy, urgent, and deeply emotional UFO visit drama that instills hope in the good of humanity. The narrative comes with a revelation that rattles your mind, pierces your heart, and makes you rethink the entire story while begging for a second viewing (and possibly crying). Arrival is out of this world. Literally.

#2. Manchester By the Sea
Manchester By the Sea is a commendably adept character study and stirring rumination on the rippling complications of a family death, as well as a crisp and cinematic postcard of the picturesque New England harbor town its set in. But even amidst the somber circumstances, the film doesn't forget its sense of humor. This thing is actually really funny. You'll laugh in between the tears. It's fully dimensional. Just like life.

#1. La La Land
A passionate love letter to the joys and pains of Tinseltown. An exuberant homage to the Golden Age of Hollywood. A stylish CinemaScope marvel. It's as unabashedly vintage as it is rejuvenating. As escapist and surreal as it is genuine and now. Every frame: Gorgeous. Every song: Wonderful. Between the glowing splash of primary colors, the rich layers of sounds, the starry spotlight illuminations, the waltz-y camerawork, and the gleeful dance choreography, La La Land is the epitome of an elaborate production. It's enchanting. It's magical. And it's incredibly delightful to the eyes and ears. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling's chemistry is irresistible. But it's not all sunshine and smiles. In La La Land, the best endings aren't always happy--they're bittersweet.

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  1. Awesome list Zach! I've yet to see Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight (damn delayed Australian release dates!) but have been reading lots of really good things. Love that Arrival and Kubo are here too, definitely two of my favourites from last year.

    1. Thanks man! That's too bad about the delayed Australian release dates. Moonlight and Manchester are both great. La La Land still takes the cake for me, but it'd be interesting to see if either would shake up your list.

  2. I saw Manchester after I did my original Top 10 list, but I would have the same top three as you.