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Derek’s Top 10 Films of 2016

January 31, 2017

hail_caesar

I watched 87 films over the course of 2015. As I stated in my post about my favorite TV shows of the year (https://24framespersec.wordpress.com/2017/01/13/dereks-top-10-tv-shows-of-2016/), I intentionally watched less TV in 2016 with the purpose of watching more films. The resulting numbers bore out accordingly: I watched 144 films throughout the calendar year 2016, 98 of them were films I had never watched before and 45 of those were films that were released in 2016. There were many films that I wanted to see but didn’t have the opportunity to catch (a few of which include Jackie, Manchester by the Sea, Loving, Paterson, 20th Century Women, Fences, The Handmaiden, Elle, Toni Erdman, and Hidden Figures), but overall I feel like I covered a good breadth of the films that I was interested in watching throughout the year. These were my 10 favorites along with 5 honorable mentions and that’s without even getting to other great films like Midnight Special, 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Witch, Kate Plays Christine, and Keanu. I’m glad it was a great year for film in 2016 because it felt even more needed with the goings on in the rest of the country. Here we go!

Honorable Mentions:

 

Arrival

I loved how the rising action in the development of the plot in Arrival was intrinsically tied to the solution of the mystery in the climax of the film. That resolution of the storytelling stayed with me even when a few other technical elements (mainly the confusion of the score and sound design) detracted from the emotional flow of the film.

 

Don’t Think Twice

Mike Birbiglia’s first directorial effort was my second favorite film of 2012 and while his sophomore film, which followed the lives of an improve comedy group in New York City, was a little less personal because it focused on an ensemble, it didn’t lack for honest, human moments. After one member of the improve group struck it big by landing a gig on a Saturday-Night-Live-like show, the film did a great job of exploring how we deal with change and how a community can hold us together or tear us apart during such times.

 

The Lobster

The story lost some steam and became a bit contrived in the second half of the film, but Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos crafted an odd sci-fi film about the divided approach that people often take when interacting with those in relationships vs. those who are single. Despite watching it in a relatively sparse theater, the final scene of the film was the most connected I felt to an audience as everyone held their breath together. You’ll have to check it out to see what I mean…

 

Silence

Martin Scorsese’s long-in-the-making adaptation of Shusaku Endo’s novel of the same name about a fictional pair of Jesuit missionaries in the very non-fictional period of 17th century persecution in Japan, proved to be a powerful look at religious evangelism and, from my perspective, the mistakes that can result from not understanding the universality of the Gospel and its adaptation to all cultures.

 

Sing Street

From John Carney, the director of the 2007 musical Once, came this tale of a group of young, Irish high school boys in the 1980’s that started a band primarily because the lead singer wanted to impress a girl. The music created by the band was really fun and stylistically diverse enough to make the film feel like it wasn’t repeating itself as it moved towards its hopeful resolution.

 

  1. Moonlight

A Dickensian story about the growth of a young black boy from childhood to high school and early adulthood told in three chapters with three different actors playing the main character at the different stages of his life. I was incredibly impressed by how all three actors manifested the emotional state and little ticks of the character and how those things evolved bit by bit over his life. The film actively avoided easy clichés and instead took a deep look at what defines us as people and the little moments in life that often have the biggest impact on our character.

 

  1. The Edge of Seventeen

After making her big screen debut holding her own against Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon in the Coen brother’s western True Grit, Hailee Steinfeld found another role into which she was able to sink her considerable acting talents. Over the course of 2016 I watched several high-school set movies that I had never seen before (Clueless, 10 Things I Hate About You, Not Another Teen Movie, Mean Girls, and Paper Towns) and Edge of Seventeen was probably the simplest, but unquestionable the sharpest and best of the group. The film used the high school time frame of life to explore how we handle life change and how deeply selfishness is often integrated into even our closest relationships. However, none of that would have worked without the stellar performance from Hailee and the caring eye of writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig.

 

  1. Weiner

A documentary crew followed Anthony Weiner during his run for mayor of New York in the 2013 election and the resulting film was a fascinating look into much more than the craziness of politics. It was over the course of that bid for election, while the cameras were following him, that Anthony’s second internet infidelity scandal came to light. As a result, this action packed documentary covered a wide swath of situations and emotions, from quiet family moments to public confessions, that all built towards a fascinating tale of where we place our hope, the toll that our sin nature can take on others, and the difficulty of a reconciliation when all of life is under a microscope in the public eye.

 

  1. La La Land

I’m a big of modern, naturalistic musicals like Inside Llewyn Davis, Once, and Sing Street (as mentioned above) where the music flows from the characters playing or listening to it within the film, but La La Land straddled the line between those films and the old Hollywood bombastic musicals while also commenting on the form of musicals. I thought the film lost a little bit of steam in the second half when the amount of music diminished a bit, but the themes of how, when, and why we make sacrifices in our relationships rang loud and clear throughout. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling have shown to be a charming couple in their screen time together in previous films and their chemistry really stuck the narrative of La La Land together amongst the symphony of music, primary colors, and memorable cinematography.

 

  1. Everybody Wants Some!!

As Sam Esmail,(creator of the TV show Mr. Robot) has espoused: plot is overrated. That statement is a sentiment that director Richard Linklater has been attempting to verify for his entire film career. As a spiritual successor to his 1993 film Dazed and Confused, Everybody Wants Some!! (the film which begins the plethora of films on this list with exclamation points in their titles) captured the feeling of the exciting days before the start of a new chapter in one’s life. The film followed a college freshman as he entered into his residence in a baseball house with his new team a few days before the start of classes. Calling this film a baseball movie is a bit of stretch, but I will admit, such associations definitely gave it a leg up in my baseball-loving brain. After exploring childhood, aging, and growth in his previous film (Boyhood, the second best film of 2014, https://24framespersec.wordpress.com/2015/01/19/the-top-10-films-of-2014/) Richard turned his lens towards the feeling of adjustment and the desire for community with Everybody Wants Some!!. The resulting film turned into a free-flowing mediation that didn’t lose sight of the sophomoric, human goals and desires of the college mindset.

 

  1. Nuts!

In case you have never hear of Nuts!, it’s an animated documentary about the first man to successfully perform the transplant of goat testicles into a human male. And that’s just where the film started! To say any more about the plot would ruin the fun of the movie, but Nut! definitely helped prove the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction. The film was a marvel of storytelling prowess, a trait which manages to serve its themes in perfect measure. It’s not often that a documentary can be considered a fun romp, but Nut! was able to balance that delicate dichotomy. For my money, it is the most fun 80 minutes that you can spend on Amazon Prime at this moment.

 

  1. Kubo and the Two Strings

This claymation animated film from Laika productions (who also made Coraline, ParaNorman, and The Boxtrolls) didn’t take long to rocket up my list of all-time favorite animated films with the likes of The Incredibles and Rango. The animation style was gorgeous with fluid camerawork and the themes of the film touched on family history/legacy, our desire for safety, the need we have for storytelling, and how we deal with grief. All of that wrapped up in the veneer of a “children’s” movie. There were a couple brief scenes of necessary, but creaky plot/rules explanation that kept the film from flowing perfectly, but aside from that, the pieces fit together into a brilliant whole of a film that captured the imagination and explored important parts of humanity in a way that never settled for easy answers.

 

  1. 13th

Ava DuVernay is a master filmmaker. Whether it is narrative features (Selma), TV (Queen Sugar), or in this documentary, she knows how to frame a story, film a story, and put it together to get maximum impact from every scene. This documentary about the American prison system, which drew its title from the 13th amendment to the US Constitution (particularly the second half of the amendment) wasn’t just informative, but also powerful in a way that didn’t rely on cheap emotional manipulation, but rather the power of a well structured narrative. In a year with many great documentaries, as evidenced by this list, the prowess of Ava as a filmmaker placed 13th on top of them all.

 

  1. Knight of Cups

The latest film from Terrence Malick. Either you are into his style of whispered voice-over narration, symphony of images, and disregard for narrative cohesion or you can’t stand it and turn away after about 5 minutes of the beautiful, cascading motion. By way of my introduction and the placement of this film on this list, I bet you can guess where I stand on that spectrum. While all of Malick’s films are well tuned to my sensibilities and none of them stray too far from each other stylistically, Knight of Cups fairly brilliantly and fairly minutely tweaked the formula to focus less on the central character and more on the different women and their different philosophies as they surround him in the films various chapters. This tweak brought the film together in a way that gave it more of a sustained impact than Malick’s previous modern set film (To the Wonder) and made Knight of Cups my second favorite of the year.

 

  1. Hail, Caesar!

How do you view the future? Do you think life is simple or complex? If you could choose, would you like it to be easy or difficult? These questions permeated the Coen brother’s latest cinematic masterpiece, but their exploration never overwhelmed the film’s sense of fun. Existential questions about the future sat right alongside what was perhaps the 7 funniest minutes ever committed to film. What hit me the hardest upon first viewing was the film’s emphasis of story over plot. There is an art to making a film more about the story than the plot and the Coens seem to be able to highlight, bold, and underline this distinction with all of their films. Scenes that appeared to have no influence on the “plot” actually highlighted the characters and fleshed out their stories towards the themes of the film. Even a throw away joke in the middle of a comedic sequence became a (very funny) microcosm of the film’s themes. There will be a lot to explore upon revisiting Hail, Caesar! many times in the future.

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