Sunday, February 26, 2017

Top 10 Movie Picks of 2016

Movies take us all to different places and I for one enjoy the escape when I can grab a couple of hours, buckle up, and take a voyage which (more often than not) costs millions of dollars to create. Cinema is one of the reasons we live in the most magnificent time in the history of the arts.  Each year, I compose my own Top 10 list of the films which I found to be my own favorites from the previous year.  It's a way to share my love of film and hopefully give you some suggestions on what to watch when you too have a few hours and are ready to escape.  Making my annual list is never short task.  First I keep a running list throughout the year of the films which I think have a chance of winding up on this post. Mulling over these notations around Oscar season, I get to relive their impressions on me as I revisit them in my mind and decide which I'd like to write about.  I always try to fit in a few I hope you haven't heard of, a few which may be awards contenders, and perhaps even a couple of summer blockbusters.  Here are my favorite flicks of 2016...

[Honorable Mention] Captain America: Civil War (directed by Anthony and Joe Russo)

Marvel Studios truly delivered their greatest achievement to date with Civil War.  Comic geeks and cinematic audiences alike can only imagine what's in store now when the Russo Brothers will go on to helm Infinity War soon!  They did an absolutely amazing job juggling an ENORMOUS cast and crafting a solid movie which stands on its own in the MCU.  The thematic backbone of the the story's comic origin remained in tact and gave a levity to the story which is often lacking in the destruction porn of summer blockbusters.  It's a truly satisfying experience to see one of Marvel's most socially relevant story lines crafted so successfully for the big screen!

[10] A Kind of Murder (directed by Andy Goddard)

Admittedly, I'm a sucker for period pieces and I'm a sucker for noir.  This small film is a gem in the rough.  From the 1960's set design to the detailed character acting, it's a rare treat to experience old-school suspense come alive under the polished lens of today's production style.  An original story with original twists, it keeps its audience guessing who is the antagonist? Who is the villain? Just as the layers of psychology peel themselves to reveal the truth, you'll find yourself left debating the characters' fates when the credits roll.  This clever tale really passed under most everyone's radar but its a thriller not to be missed!

[09] Trespass Against Us (directed by Adam Smith)

Two of my favorite British actors, Brendan Gleeson and Michael Fassbender head up this violent and zany, father and son / gypsy gangster story which shatters its own mold.  It's a crime movie, a family drama, and story of social hierarchies. As the main character attempts to free himself from the violently surreal dredges he's born into, the film heavily addresses the theme of legacy.  Freshman director Adam Smith blends shades of Guy Ritchie with a more grounded, mature tone where police chases, gypsy trailerparks, and outlaw brutality culminate in a story of veiled deliverance. Prepare to laugh, cringe, and cry at this stunning indie film from across the pond.

[08] Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (directed by Gareth Edwards)

THIS is the Star Wars film we (loyalists to The Empire Strikes Back) were waiting for! The film is an absolutely gorgeous addition to the franchise.  The dream team ensemble cast really delivers a great story, encompassing the tragedy and triumph which set in motion the events of the original Star Wars trilogy. The dark edge of the movie lends itself to the reign of the Empire (even the new droid, K-2S0 has a sordid black humor about him.) Of course the movie is a visual feast with a grand score spanning several different planets.  The cherry on top of the all brilliant set designs though is the brief visit to Vader's castle! I'm anxious to give this a second (and third and fourth) look!

[07] A Perfect Day (directed by Fernando León de Aranoa)

All points awarded for originality for the director, Aranoa's first English-language film.  Centered around group of aid workers attempting to remove a bloated corpse from a village's well and only water source, the story captures the frustrating absurdity of intentional politics.  The dry, dark comedy delivered by actors like Tim Robbins and Benecio Del Toro breathes fresh air into what an audience should expect from a movie set in an armed conflict zone.  It's a wild ride through the villages of Yugoskavia, where the cast tells a story every bit as original as they come.

[06] Green Room (directed by Jeremy Saulnier)

The first thing which struck me about this film is I couldn't figure out what the hell I was watching.  Was this a band movie, a horror movie, a skinhead flick... what the? Anton Yelchin gets raw in his last performance opposite a villainous Patrick Stewart who took the challenge of playing the leader of a skin-head gang.  The movie quickly turns ultraviolent as a punk band find themselves fighting for their lives in a terrifying gore-fest of epic proportions!  If this follow-up to his sophomore masterpiece, Blue Ruin, is any indication then Saulnier is here to deliver a new brand of gritty macabre which I for one want a full subscription to.

[05] Swiss Army Man (directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert)

Daniel Radcliffe absolutely slays the task of playing a corpse  which washes up on a deserted island where Hank (Paul Dano) finds himself stranded.  The film is sickly surreal by nature and absolutely over-the-top in all the most wonderful ways.  As the movie unfolds, so does the full arsenal of crafty tools which Radcliffe's animate corpse possesses. Among his supernatural abilities, Manny serves as a self-propelled life raft (via flatulence), chopping wood, and holding water like a human canteen which he dispenses from his mouth for Hank to drink! Yeah, it's every bit as twisted as it sounds and if you like dark humor, then teared giggles will ensue the duration of the trip!

[04] Arrival (directed by Denis Villeneuve)

Villeneuve is one of my new favorite directors and Arrival certainly ups the ante for science fiction. This highly intelligent story is full of suspense and opens the viewer to dissect the themes of communication, existence, and most importantly- time.  In the vein of Contact, the film presents its extra terrestrial visitors as messengers / educators whose mission is in danger of coming to odds with the violent, untrusting nature of humanity.  The very best sci-fi not only takes us to different worlds, but also reflects a story about human existence and the human journey.  The characters in this new alien masterpiece are tasked to boldly go where no man has gone before, within themselves.

[03]  I Am Not a Serial Killer (directed by Billy O'Brien)

Young John Wayne Cleaver (Max Records) is displaying all the markings of a serial killer in the making and he knows it.  From torturing animals to coveting and stalking those of his affection, he lives a daily fight of suppressing his carnal urges.  In this genre-bending adaptation of the Dan Wells' young adult novel by the same name, I was surprised in all the most wonderful ways.  Reminiscent of Apt Pupil and Dexter, John finds himself investing his free time in his elderly neighbor Crowley who he suspects of being a real-life killer.  His fascination turns to obsession opposite Christopher Lloyd who gives a razor sharp performance as the elderly sociopath who has more than one dark dark secret!

[02] Nocturnal Animals (directed by Tom Ford)

Salty vigilante justice unfolds when Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) delves into the manuscript of her ex-lover's new novel, which is dedicated to her. As she envisions the author himself (Jake Gyllenhaal) as the main character from the pages of his book, this film presents a fresh take on adaptation presented on-screen.  As the terminally-ill fictional detective from this southern gothic tale, Michael Shannon explodes with the performance of a lifetime.  The role has earned the volatile character actor an Academy Award nod and I for one am rooting for him to take an Oscar home along with the film's screenplay!

[01] Hell or High Water (directed by David Mackenzie)

A western bank robbery movie set on the backdrop of a brutal, scorched Texas isn't normally where an audience would find itself immersed in deep social commentary.  This is why Hell of High Water is the best movie of 2016.  The main players are all anti-heroes.  The antagonist is Capitalism.  Everything in-between is the America we live in today and theft is a two-way stream between banks and robbers.  All the classic themes of a heist movie, a western, and a crime thriller play out.  What makes the film so special is what is so subtly woven in-between the excellence of those staples.  Commentaries on race relations, the housing crisis, wealth inequality, and the entire American financial system drive the high drama.  Count on a tour de force of acting all around.  First and foremost, it's an dynamite movie, but if you listen closely the parched landscape is telling a deeper story.

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