By Karl-Erik Mills, Staff Writer and Videographer
// The Oscars are coming around once again, and the time has come to examine the movies of 2016. A large portion of the year in film was very disappointing, with a summer movie season that flopped critically and commercially. There were some saving graces this year, however. Several very original and ambitious films made 2016 another successful year in film.
10. Hell Or High Water
The action thriller was given a new breathe of life with the enticing and stunningly dramatic Hell Or High Water. Featuring Oscar worthy performances from Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges, and Gil Birmingham, the characters carry this minimalistic story of justice and vengeance in the unforgiving southwest. Hell Or High Water proved to be one of the most surprising films of 2016, and throughly impressed with realistic action sequences and deep character moments. It only suffered from a lack of emphasis on directorial style, and apts rather for a stable storyline and strong characterization. Overall, it is a return to form for compelling thrillers and generally feels like a complete film.
9. Swiss Army Man
Certainly the strangest movie of 2016, Swiss Army Man innovated originality. Referred to primarily as, “the farting corpse movie,” it shocks on premise alone. Paul Dano portrays a man stranded on an island, who finds solace in a talking corpse, as played by Daniel Radcliffe. The two try and find their way home in a hilarious journey that explores the deepest conflicts of humanity. The cast excels, paired with beautifully saturated cinematography and creative set pieces, but the film is most compelling with its “montage” sequence, that was a clear highlight of this year in cinema. Swiss Army Man should be praised for its originality, but rewarded for its sophistication.
8. A Monster Calls
Rivaled only by Manchester By the Sea in pure sadness, A Monster Calls is a tear-jerking masterclass in emotion and visual style. Director J.A. Bayona delivers one of the most risky films of year; the story of a child coping with his mother’s illness through interactions with a tree monster. It sounds ridiculous, and unsure of its audience, but it succeeds in crafting a film with wide dramatic appeal and deep-seeded symbolism. The film carries important messages about inner truths and coping with difficult situations and presents one of the most mature movies of the year.
Martin Scorsese’s newest film is like nothing he has ever done. Silence chronicles the journey of two Portuguese missionaries in Japan in search of a priest who has disappeared. The film is quite simply an epic, clocking in at two hours and forty-one minutes. This runtime is needed to fit all of the beautiful landscape, heart-wrenching performances, and philosophical questions in the movie. Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver give the best performances of their careers and Martin Scorsese shines as director in his most ambitious film yet. Although it suffers from the occasional slow down in pacing, it keeps up a constantly relevant debate of faith and the good of society, and proves that Martin Scorsese still has his skill as a director.
6. Captain America: Civil War
Captain America: Civil War is not only one of the best movies of the year, but also one of the best comic book movies of all time. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo perfectly handle a star-studded cast and create a cohesive story with compelling motivations for all characters. The action scenes are some of the best to be put on the big screen and demonstrate a large step in character focused combat. Daniel Bruhl provides a compelling villain as Helmut Zemo, and adds yet another layer of characterization to an already masterfully created film. The characters, story, and action all culminate in one of the greatest climaxes in film history that ultimately feels like a throwback to classic tragedies. It is clear that Marvel isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
5. La La Land
Director Damien Chazelle’s follow up to his widely praised Whiplash, La La Land is certainly the biggest hit of 2016. Captivating critics and audiences alike, this love-letter to classic musicals has everything a movie needs. The lead characters are likeable and realistic, the music is catchy and consistent, and the cinematography is reminiscent of the “golden age” of film of the 1940’s and 1950’s. Chazelle handles drama and montages effortlessly and ultimately creates a groundbreaking film that will inspire a reinvigoration of the epic musical.
4. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Yet another bizarre indie hit of 2016, Hunt for the Wilderpeople tells a heartfelt and hilarious story of age and adventure. Contrasting a defiant teenager and an old-fashioned mountain man in New Zealand, director Taika Waititi crafts one of the funniest films of the year. The interplay between the characters is snarky and always entertaining. The comedic style Waititi brings to the film is original and very quirky, and lends itself to thrilling action scenes as well. The climax is ultimately one of the best of year, involving a car chase through the marshes of the New Zealand landscape. Overall though, one of the strongest aspects of the film is how Waititi can depict moments of drama or character without any quippy lines or comedic interplay. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is undoubtedly one of the best comedies in recent years and is certainly worth watching.
3. Manchester By the Sea
Manchester By the Sea received acclaim year round and is a likely contender for several Academy Awards, and for good reason. Although it’s not an overly risky film in visual composition; the acting, writing and sense of story are clear strengths for the movie. Casey Affleck gives a career defining performance as a janitor with a mysterious past. His constant awkward shuffle is almost painful to watch, and says so much with such subtly. Subtly is key for this movie. It is a very stable story that suffers slightly from a very robotic structure, but it gives room for the rawest emotions seen on screen in many years. Overall, the movie feels realistic. It is a segment from the lives of normal people who face hardships, but also experience happiness and humor on a daily basis. This ultimately makes for the most refined and human movie of 2016.
Arrival is quite simply one of the most shockingly intellectual films of the year. It handles heavy themes of life and death, as well as communication and the future of the human race. The actors are at their best, with stars like Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner giving the best performances of the year. The cinematography is vivid and highly stylized, and pairs perfectly with Villeneuve’s slow building tension. The film presents a higher level of filmmaking that should be rewarded. It will take its place amongst the other great intelligent science fiction over the years, such as 2001 A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, and Ex Machina. Overall, Arrival is a masterclass in style and narrative storytelling, and a near flawless film.
1. Everybody Wants Some!!
Director Richard Linklater’s first film after his critically hailed Boyhood, Everybody Wants Some!! chronicles the three days before school starts for a college baseball team in 1980. While not exactly the heart-wrenching story of abuse and divorce that Boyhood was, Everybody Wants Some!! is by far the funniest film since Seth Rogen’s underrated work of art, Pineapple Express. Every single character in the adrenaline fueled baseball team has their own distinct character that is instantly likeable. The film is, at its core, two hours of non stop laughter and great music. It represents a much simpler time of filmmaking and is worthy spiritual successor to Linklater’s 1993 film, Dazed and Confused. The one instance of drama in the film is handled brilliantly and transitions perfectly in context of the rest of the comedic moments. Although it doesn’t trace a huge arc in character motivations, it finds its niche in philosophical interplays that say more about life than most films in 2016. In a year of discourse and discontent, sometimes all you need is a little Van Halen.