Now that it is finally 2017, I can finally write up my Top Ten for 2016. My greatest disappointment about this list this year is that I had originally anticipated seeing Zhang Yimou’s THE GREAT WALL at this point, but alas only China has seen it at this point – and they’ve seen it to the tally of $151 million in the last 15 days there. I know the trailers have looked a bit insane, but Zhang Yimou has a history of cracking my top ten of the year – Suffice to say, THE GREAT WALL is at the absolute top of my list to see quickly!
The year claimed a great many wonderful talents – but I still remember the one two punches of Jim Henson & Sammy Davis Jr dying and Jimmy Stewart & Robert Mitchum. But I’m not sure anything prepared us for the Carrie Fisher & Debbie Reynolds passing. Never met Carrie, but I did get to chat a bit with Debbie Reynolds on that TCM Cruise that Patricia and I took Dad upon. She was wondrous.
I really allowed my political obsession to take me a bit away from the site last year. I think it was the great distraction of 2016, and nobody knows what those results will mean in 2017.
There’s so many delights awaiting us this year I suspect. But this is ultimately about skimming the cream off the crop of 2016 – and that’s exactly what I did. Let’s dive straight in:
#10: Shane Black’s THE NICE GUYS
One of the purest delights of 2016. The best opening for a film this year, easily. A film that’s visual effects were to take us back in time to 70s Smog choked Los Angeles and the burgeoning era of Porn invading, mixed with the Federal Government, the Car companies and a detective & a thug trying desperately to solve the mess they’re in, but the greatest brain of all is the Detective’s daughter. I love this movie, it’s funny, intense and loaded with heart. Ryan Gosling’s Holland March reminds me of Dashiell Hammett’s THIN MAN, but with Lou Costello’s courage. I laugh and get excited with every single showing. How much do you love seeing Russell Crowe and Kim Basinger on screen again together? I flipped! I also love the casting that Black did with Gil Gerard and Keith David and Lois Smith! Between this film and the #1 also with Ryan Gosling – the year’s best are sandwiched in Gosling’s flawed struggling heroes – and it ain’t crusty in the least!
#9: Richard Linklater’s EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!
The spiritual sequel to DAZED & CONFUSED has been long in coming, but it delivered on the promise. This cast is going to become legend over time. I’m serious… Here, we have a bit of a good times movie, a film to party with, even if only in your mind. I also love how DAZED & CONFUSED took a young in-coming freshman and made him feel like he belonged IN the High School crowd – and here, we have a young in-coming freshman arriving at College and finding his way! Blake Jenner really shines as Jake, but Tyler Hoechlin, Wyatt Russell & Glen Powell are all overloaded with Charisma – I look forward to seeing their work moving forward. Then there’s Zoey Deutch, who steals our lead’s affection, as well as the audience. And if you keep getting flashes of Lea Thompson in your mind, that’s her mom! She’s amazing in this.
#8: Barry Jenkins’ MOONLIGHT
This film is beautifully shot, acted and told. In many ways it reminded me of EMPIRE OF THE SUN, only in a drug addled neighborhood of Miami. MOONIGHT shows the power of cinema to transport the audience to a place and time they would never experience otherwise, while for others – it is the day to day life. I found myself falling in love with the characters, their struggles, compromised morality and the perseverance of childhood love and romance. In making these lists – I make myself watch the films until I realize that the film grows stronger or weaker. If it gets on this list, it is growing stronger. MOONLIGHT is an incredibly strong film.
#7: Oren Shai’s THE FRONTIER
I had a tug of war between THE FRONTIER and HELL OR HIGH WATER in my mind. So I watched them back to back a bit, actually I did that 3 times. THE FRONTIER won hands down to me. I think the deciding factor for me was that the area that HELL OR HIGH WATER is set in, is where I spent my Junior High – High School life – and I’m constantly distracted by knowing, those aren’t the cities they’re saying they are – and I know that is a regular film issue, but… it distracted me enough, that I find I prefer THE FRONTIER. It’s a better & more complete NOIR – and NOIR beats standard Crime film in my sub-genre brain. Jocelin Donahue is an exquisite Femme Fatale. But she’s not the only one here – both Kelly Lynch and Izabella Miko are in fine form. The film involves money, death, isolated locations, lots of night shoots and a story that twists and turns and just leaves me with a smile at the end. This isn’t a real world, it’s a written one filled with style and character. More like this please! I can watch these all day!
#6: Scott Derrickson’s DOCTOR STRANGE
I’ve always had a soft spot for the TV movie, DOCTOR STRANGE, but I’ve always known how far the artistry of cinema needed to progress to even begin stitching the realms that Stephen Strange moves between. This film pushed cinema forward – and I’m hearing it is just the beginning. As someone that suffers from nerve damage & the quest for alternative treatments – I felt that the film handled that material with the respect it deserves – and I love that the dear Doctor never fixes his hands. Being raised by hippy parents that took psychedelics and raised me with an appreciation of Psychedelic Cinema & art – DOCTOR STRANGE pushed the trippy meter several kilometers on down the road. Tilda Swinton has some line deliveries in this film that just blow me away. Her face and voice when she tells the Doctor, “It isn’t about you” – every time I’ve seen it, it feels like someone is moving through me. Spine-tingles and everything. I’m used to finding stuff to bitch at Massawyrm for, but the boy done real good here. Real fucking good. And officially, Scott Derrickson has a chair at the Big Film table and has earned that seat in spades!
#5: Denzel Washington’s FENCES
August Wilson’s script based upon his screenplay as brought to life by Denzel Washington and his cadre of acting powerhouses is just a tremendous film experience. When I programmed the film at BNAT18, I hadn’t seen the film or the play, but I had read August Wilson’s play – as I wanted to know if it’d fit in the programming. The story of an once great baseball player come Sanitation Department Engineer (Denzel) in the Fifties, married to the amazing Viola Davis – who has been raising the kids and baking up a storm. The acting in this by Denzel, Viola, their youngest son (played by Jovan Adepo) and Denzel’s war injured brother Gabriel played amazingly by Mykelti Williamson…. Well, the acting is undeniable for any that witness. Hell, Stephen Henderson plays an old time buddy of Denzel’s character, and he’s tremendous, along with the hustling older son, played by Russell Hornsby. The dialogue propels this film like a hyperloop will allegedly do.
#4: Gareth Edwards’ ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY
I can’t love this movie enough. It does nothing to step on the toes of my fave STAR WARS movie, instead it only gives back-story and immediacy to a film I’ve seen countless times since I was 5.5 Earth Years old. But for the first time in that 39.5 years I’m watching the movie with a completely different emotional feeling in STAR WARS. To watch those who did not receive medals, that went into battle before Luke & Ben & Han & Leia & R2 & Threepio & CHEWIE were involved. I love DIRTY DOZEN in a long time ago galaxy far far away. I instantly wanted more from every single character in the film. My conversations about a new Star Wars trilogy that starts with REVENGE OF THE SITH and ends in STAR WARS – which could very well be the most satisfying for me trilogy of the lot. And yeah, Empire begins a second trilogy that has ended with THE FORCE AWAKENS, before beginning a new turn to the Saga with Rian Johnson next year! That’s AWESOME! This one is a joy for me to watch.
#3: Chan Wook Park’s THE HANDMAIDEN
This is an outstanding Korean Noir film, which isn’t surprising at all given Chan Wook Park directed it. The bathtub scene works on stunning levels that just continue to heighten the connection from the audience to the actions on screen. The story of women breaking out of a Man’s world is beautiful. Truly. Set in 30’s Korea when the Japanese controlled the country. The perversion at play here and the story of these two women that find each other in the midst of madness and gaslighting.. it’s an applaud when finished film. It should be nominated in most every category and win best foreign film this year. Park has another masterpiece in his shelf!
#2: Kim Jee-Woon’s THE AGE OF SHADOWS
If you love ROGUE ONE – and let’s say you love the underground resistance genre… and ALLIED didn’t blow you away – but you want to see a modern masterpiece of that genre? THE AGE OF SHADOWS by Kim Jee-Woon is just exquisite. Byung-Hun Lee is outstanding in this action/thriller/rebel alliance type of film. Song Kang-Ho (MEMORIES OF MURDER / SYMPATHY FOR MR VENGEANCE / SNOWPIERCER) is just tremendous in this film. Just great! Jee-Woon is the director of TALE OF TWO SISTERS, THE GOOD THE BAD THE WEIRD, I SAW THE DEVIL and THE AGE OF SHADOWS is another great triumph for him! It again takes place, like THE HANDMAIDEN, in the 30’s Japanese occupied Korea – and the story is incredible. Stunningly beautiful film, love where this film took me. So many great sequences that will have you just dazzled.
#1: Damien Chazelle’s LA LA LAND
The cure for whatever ails ya. Damien Chazelle’s LA LA LAND completes the Ryan Gosling cinematic sandwich for me. I love the Musical genre – and this movie which you should absolutely discover – it’s playful and real about fast burn romances and yet makes the traffic choked universe of Los Angeles… romantic again. And I’m not just talking about the romance of Gosling and Emma Stone… they’re great, but greater than that – is the love of the bones of the city, the romance of chasing the myriad of dreams and reinforcing the notion of the moment you get broken could be your greatest success… it is all that sparkles in Los Angeles. It’s strange that this list begins and ends with writer/director love letters to the Los Angeles they love. You see the love in every shot, the dance scenes are long sustained shots that captures that magic of a musical number, whether large scale or intimate… every number is pure magic – and that last number – which channels Ambrose Bierce & Rod Serling for me. Well, that final one, it’s the cinematic magic of what ifs & regrets and it’s so great you feel Gene Kelly smiling. And that my friends is enough to be the best fucking movie of the year. I mean, I can see Gene watching and smiling throughout this movie.
Best Animated Film: KUBO & THE TWO STRINGS with THE RED TURTLE almost surpassing it, but then MOANA is right there too. So what is it that sets Kubo above the rest? The theatrics, I felt KUBO wasn’t channeling recent cinema, but attempting to be a timeless bit of cinema. At that point, it and THE RED TURTLE are set slightly ahead. But KUBO & THE TWO STRINGS – it feels genuinely magic, the story has epic sweep and the intimate discovery of both MOANA and THE RED TURTLE – and does it in a fashion that I’ll never ever tire of.
Keep it cool,