Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Best Movies of 2016: Part 2

I've already named 20 of my favorite films of the year, but now it's time to get to the true best of the best. From some Oscar frontrunners to indie darlings to a couple films most people probably haven't heard of, here are my ten favorite films from 2016.

#10: 10 Cloverfield Lane (dir. Dan Trachtenberg)

One of the earliest film triumphs of 2016 was 10 Cloverfield Lane, which took a simple premise and a small but excellent cast and delivered one of the most compelling thrillers in years. After a car crash, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up in chains in a mysterious room. Her captor is an odd man named Howard (John Goodman) who claims that he has rescued her and that there's been a nuclear attack making the outside air inhospitable. The film keeps its audience guessing the whole time, and one constantly has to change their guesses as to what's actually going on as new information is revealed. The screenplay is a standout, but much credit needs to be given to the cast of Winstead, Goodman, and John Gallagher Jr. Goodman in particular gave what I think is his best performance since The Big Lebowski, and I wish he was being pushed for awards consideration. His portrayal of Howard is central to the film's success. At times Goodman is delightful, at times creepy, and always compelling. Goodman makes bold character choices, and yet for as distinct Goodman makes him, Howard becomes a bit of a chameleon of circumstance. The same character can be seen as harmless or dangerous within the blink of an eye. It's reminiscent of Kathy Bates' Oscar-winning work in Misery and I wish Goodman's performance was being given the same recognition.

#9: Chevalier (dir. Athina Rachel Tsangari)

Chevalier was never going to be a commercial smash, but it's easily one of the best films I've seen this year, and an instant arthouse classic. This Greek film follows six friends on a fishing trip who decide to compete in a disturbing game to find out who among them is "the best." Throughout the trip, they grade each other on everything, from the temperature at which they caramelize onions, to how attractive they look while sleeping, to how well they can assemble Ikea furniture, etc. And if this sounds like a dick-measuring contest, yes, at one point they do have a literal dick-measuring contest. The characters all represent certain degrees of traditional masculinity, from handsome alpha male Christos to the chubby and sensitive Dimitris. The film is at times meaningful, at times thrilling, and at times incredibly funny, with all characters showing surprising strengths and vulnerabilities. Examination of toxic masculinity is a common trope across many mediums, but Chevalier is one of the most original and fresh takes on the subject I've seen in a long time. The secret weapon of the film is undoubtedly director and co-writer Athina Rachel Tsangari, as I think having a female director leading the entirely male cast allows for far more insight than it would have had otherwise. For such a bold and out-there concept, the film is incredibly subtle and restrained.

#8: Remember (dir. Atom Egoyan)

In some parallel universe, the little-seen Remember was a huge critical success and was recognized as the powerful film that I truly believe it is. Technically a revenge film, the Remember follows Zev Guttman (Christopher Plummer), an old man who lived through the Holocaust who, in his old age, sets out to find and kill the Nazi who he believes murdered his family. The difficulty is that he has severe dementia and must rely on notes and prompts from his wheelchair-bound fellow survivor Max (Martin Landau, giving a rare and welcome performance in his later life). The way the film plays with memory and revenge makes it like a cross between Kill Bill, Memento, and Schindler's List, and it's absolutely fascinating to watch. Plummer does a wonderful job as the unlikely revenge-seeker whose old age proves to be both a hindrance and at times a surprising asset on his quest. I loved it as soon as I saw it, but some criticized it for exploiting the theme of the Holocaust for manipulative emotional impact. I truly don't understand this criticism at all. Rather than feel exploitative, the film actually felt incredibly relevant and showed how the horrors of that time still resonate today. One scene in particular, where Plummer encounters a current day neo-Nazi (played with frightening intensity by Breaking Bad's Dean Norris) was chilling on the first viewing, but would be even more horrifying in the wake of the U.S. presidential election. A modern fable, Remember is a powerful and worthwhile film that shouldn't have been so overlooked.

#7: Arrival (dir. Denis Villeneuve)

I'm of the mind that science fiction as a genre works best when its non-realistic premise is used to comment on very real issues. I think it's why so many science fiction films gain more recognition as time goes on than when they were first released. Like Blade Runner or Brazil, the timelessness of the work cannot be truly comprehended without some time having passed. Arrival is truly science fiction at its best. This film about an alien invasion ended up being one of the most poetic and heartfelt films of the year, offering valuable commentary on the nature of humanity, love, and the impact that individuals can have. Plus, it's easily the most compelling film ever made about linguistics, and features great work from the always outstanding Amy Adams. I don't want to say too much more about it, because so much of its impact is based in the subtle twists and turns the film has in store, but I'm so glad to see this movie getting deserved awards attention, which is still sadly rare for a science fiction movie.

#6: Mia Madre (dir. Nanni Moretti)

Movies that are about the making of movies tend to be a mixed bag. Some are cloyingly self-referential and alienating. But some can end up being insightful and powerful. The Italian film Mia Madre looks at an accomplished film director Margherita (Margherita Buy) who is struggling to make a movie while dealing with the failing health of her mother (Giulia Lazzarini). It's a film about the concept of art and artist, which is often touching and hilarious simultaneously. Buy does a really amazing job, playing a character who is falling apart at the seams and trying desperately not to let anyone notice. But the standout performance is from John Turturro. Turturro is a prolific actor who appears to be in every single movie ever made. And he always does great work. But this is my new favorite performance from Turturro. Here he plays conceited movie star Barry Huggins, an egomaniac who is starring in Margherita's movie. Turturro maintains a confident presence, while also being completely buffoonish--he disappears into the character. The film as a whole is a smart look at the movie industry, and a must-see for any fellow lover of the medium.

#5: La La Land (dir. Damien Chazelle)

There was no way I wasn't going to love La La Land. I love movies, I love old movies, and I love musicals. And La La Land is a movie about musicals that pays homage to lots of old movies and movie musicals. It's not difficult to see why this is one of the two films that's seen as an Oscar frontrunner (the other being my #4 pick) because it's just such a well-made movie. The design elements are all beautiful, and its message of the importance of dreams and aspirations will always speak to creative types. I will say that, while I did really enjoy La La Land, I wasn't completely blown away by it until the last fifteen minutes of the film, a sort of dream montage which reviews the story in a hyper-stylized fashion. Those fifteen minutes were truly magical, and it's the type of moment that all movies should aspire to create.

#4: Moonlight (dir. Barry Jenkins)

It's hard to think of a cinematic character study more complete than Barry Jenkins' Moonlight. Rather than being one film, Moonlight is essentially three films in one, each one focusing on the same character, Chiron, at different stages in his life. The three actors who play Chiron (Alex Hibbert as a child, Ashton Sanders as a teen, and Trevante Rhodes as an adult) work seamlessly to create a thoughtful and profound protagonist. Moonlight looks at serious and important issues, but in the end, it's always about Chiron, and that makes the film feel incredibly personal. Moreover, with the film's themes and acting are natural and understated, the design of the film is colorful and stylized, giving Moonlight true artistry.

Just see it. See it. Why haven't you seen Moonlight yet? Everyone agrees it is one of the best films of the year, so why hasn't everyone seen it yet? It's the fourth highest rated movie of all time on Metacritic. SEE IT! PLEASE SEE MOONLIGHT!

#3: London Road (dir. Rufus Norris)

This is a list of my favorite films of 2016, not the best films of 2016. Moonlight, for example, is a much better film. It's better made and will most likely resonate with more people. But, I just loved London Road and how completely strange and weird it is. London Road is, in some ways about the serial killer Steve Wright, who murdered five prostitutes in the town of Ipswich in 2006. But Wright isn't a character. Instead, London Road tells the stories of the people who lived on the same street as Wright, and how their lives were affected by these crimes. Even more interestingly, every line spoken by the actors is taken verbatim from news clippings and interviews done with the Ipswich residents both before and after Wright's arrest and eventual conviction. Even more interestingly, it's a musical. It's obviously not typical light-hearted musical fare, but at their best, musicals have the ability to speak to human emotions in a poetic way, and that's what London Road does for me. The brilliant music, which is inspired by the interviewees' vocal patterns, is discordant and Sondheim-esque, and captures the sense of nervousness that the residents of the town undeniably felt during this time. It's not going to be for everybody. I think director Rufus Norris did a great job adapting this stage show to film, and the production design and cinematography in particular are really cleverly done, but it's still inherently theatrical and some people are going to find that off-putting. I can imagine many people watching London Road just thinking "what the fuck am I watching?" But if you're like me and this premise sounds fascinating and right up your alley, you need to check it out. London Road can be incredibly rewarding, and its strange premise allows it to tap into a perspective I haven't seen on film before.

#2: The Handmaiden (dir. Park Chan-wook)

Probably best known to American audiences for his masterpiece Oldboy, prolific Korean director Park Chan-wook has truly hit it out of the park with his latest film The Handmaiden. This psychological sexual thriller tells the story of pickpocket Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri), who under the instructions from a con artist named Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo), poses as the maid of the wealthy Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee) so that Fujiwara can steal her fortune. The Handmaiden is cinematic storytelling at its best. Chan-wook knows how to use the medium to its advantage, and both the screenplay and the camerawork reveal information only at the perfect time, so that you never quite know what's going on until the film is done. It's an exercise in power-shifts, and is truly thrilling to watch. Plus, it's one of the most beautiful films of the year.

#1: Paterson (dir. Jim Jarmusch) 

Looking over my favorite films of the year, there's a lot of spectacle. There are lots of musicals and horror films and thrillers and films which are grand and glorious and off the walls and truly leave an impact. Which is perhaps why Paterson stands out to me as my single favorite film of the year: because of how quiet it is. Jim Jarmusch's character study of a New Jersey bus driver with a fondness for poetry, is glorious in its simple elegance. The film takes place over the course of a single week, and allows us to be a fly on the wall in its titular character's life. Paterson, as played with beautiful calm by Adam Driver, is an observer of life, and as the week unfolded, I was amazed to realize how little conflict there was in the film. Even as dramatic moments occur (like the bus breaking down, or someone pulling out a gun in a bar), the movie manages to move on without incident. Even at arguably the most dramatic moment of the film, the great climax of the tension is simply Paterson calmly saying the words, "I don't like you very much." The result is a film that is relaxing, introspective, and wise.

The title of the film has at least three meanings. The most obvious is that it alludes to the fascinating main character. But it could also refer to the town of Paterson, New Jersey where the film takes place, as the setting is as much a character o the film as Paterson himself is. But it could also refer to the poetry collection "Paterson" written by William Carlos Williams. Poetry is a major theme of the film. Paterson is constantly writing his own poems in notebooks (the poems themselves were mostly written by poet Ron Padgett). But not only are there plenty of good poems recited in the film, the film itself is poetic in a way I've never quite seen represented on film before. There's just such a lovely beauty to the structure. Every moment, every image, is so carefully chosen. The scenes feel like poetic lines, the chapters of the film feel like stanzas. Every new scene felt like a gift--another moment to treasure. Other films this year were much louder, but the steady confidence of Paterson was truly extraordinary, and that's why it's my favorite film of the year.

So, those are my thoughts. How about you?  What films do you think are missing from my list? What's your top ten? Feel free to share in the comments.

The Best Movies of 2016: Part 1

The time has come to go through my favorite films of 2016. Last year, I listed my top 30, and I've decided to do so again this year. So without further ado, let's start with the first entries, beginning with #30.

#30: Captain America: Civil War (dir. Anthony Russo & Joe Russo)

Perhaps one of the reasons a lot of people feel this wasn't a great year for film is because of the quality of blockbuster films. Last year, the big box office hits all did very well, with franchise movies like Mad Max: Fury Road and The Force Awakens appearing on multiple top ten lists. This year, those same top ten lists are dominated entirely by smaller, mainly independent films. The disparity between commercial and critical success was probably highlighted by the reaction to Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which lead to fans trying to practically rage war on critics who universally said it was a bad film (for the record, the critics were very much right). But one solid entry amongst the box office hits was Captain America: Civil War. Marvel studios has become a bit of a machine, and has raised the standard for what we would have expected from a comic book movie even just a few years ago. Civil War was a welcome return to form for the MCU. It worked on a storytelling level, and continued examining the pathos and darker characterizations that have elevated the franchise, while also excelling with the action, providing the big superhero blowout many felt was lacking from Age of Ultron. And that's not even mentioning that it provided great introductions for Black Panther and the latest interpretation of Spider-Man, both of whom have solo films coming up which Civil War has made me very excited for.

#29: Hell or High Water (dir. David Mackenzie)

Nothing about Hell or High Water is really all that new. The story and the characters all rely on standard tropes that feel familiar. That's not a bad thing, but it means that everything has to be executed perfectly to keep the audience from feeling bored. So it's good that David Mackenzie's modern Western is so incredibly well-made. Everything from the cinematography to the performances is so carefully crafted that the film feels surprisingly fresh, yet immediately classic at the same time.

#28: Jackie (dir. Pablo Larrain)

Director Pablo Larrain was reportedly resistant to the idea of directing a biopic. But Jackie is not your standard biopic. Like the divisive Steve Jobs last year, Jackie takes an iconic historical figure and, rather than tell their story in a straightforward manner, examines the idea surrounding that figure. Here, of course, that figure is Jackie Kennedy, and the film is particularly interested in her life immediately after her husband's assassination. The film is tragic, powerful, and complex, with a simply incredible performance by Natalie Portman in the title role, giving the best performance in her already impressive career.

#27: The Fits (dir. Anna Rose Holmer)

Anna Rose Holmer's directorial debut flew under the radar, but is destined to become a future classic. The Fits tells the story of Toni (a wonderful Royalty Hightower), a tomboy who tries out for a dance team. The film is primarily a quiet character study of Toni, who is one of the most convincingly-written and portrayed eleven-year olds I've ever seen on film. But it veers into surprising territory when the dance team begins to suffer a series of mysterious seizures. Add in a magical flying sequence and The Fits was one of the most surprising films of the year, and certainly worth a watch.

#26: The BFG (dir. Steven Spielberg)

I just don't understand the lukewarm reception given to The BFG. Practically nobody in the U.S. saw it, and few who did seemed that taken with it. Which is weird to me because I thought this film was unbelievably charming. A faithful adaptation of Roald Dahl's classic book, in both story and tone, Steven Spielberg works his movie magic and creates one of the year's best family films. The film also provided one of my favorite on-screen pairs of the year with its two heroes: young Sophie (played by Ruby Barnhill who is going places if her performance here is any indication) and the titular Big Friendly Giant (played by recent Oscar-winner Mark Rylance, who gives the best motion-capture performance I've seen this side of Andy Serkis).

#25: Equity (dir. Meera Menon)

The financial drama is a familiar genre to most movie-goers, with films like Wall Street, The Wolf of Wall Street, and other titles that probably include the words "Wall Street," being known for their typically sleazy characters and often witty banter. But looking over the landscape of financial dramas, it's clear that another trait of the genre seems to be their predominantly male casts. And while this is arguably a reflection of the still male-dominated world of finance, it is still a trait that marks the genre as feeling behind the times. This means that the film Equity would be notable just for the fact that it's a financial thriller with a mostly female cast. But not only that, it has an entirely female creative team. And not only that, it's just a really solid film, which manages to highlight its feminist message by keeping its most powerful statements understated. It's tense and multi-layered, with a great cast being lead by Anna Gunn (after all, who else could star in this film other than an actress best known for playing one of the most unfairly persecuted female characters in television history?)

#24: Toni Erdmann (dir. Maren Ade)

Toni Erdmann really should be on more peoples' radar, as this German film is widely considered the frontrunner to win this year's Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Maren Ade's film studies the relationship between uptight businesswoman Ines (Sandra Huller) and her carefree prankster father (Peter Simonischek) who thinks she needs to relax a bit more. The film is more concerned with characters than plot, but the dynamic between these two characters ends up going to some wonderfully weird places. I loved the father's increasingly bizarre attempts to bring joy to his daughter's life, but what really sold the film for me was how much it makes you care about these characters, particularly Ines who never strays into the realm of caricature that the character easily could have been.

#23: Under the Shadow (dir. Babak Anvari)

When this Iranian film first premiered, it immediately drew comparisons to The Babadook, Jennifer Kent's masterpiece from a couple years ago. And it's not hard to see why--both monster movies involve a mother caring for her child, and both hint that the monster represents something far more symbolic. Set in 1980's Tehran, the film is genuinely scary at times, but overall it's devastatingly thrilling. You care about these characters and worry for their well-being, which any good horror movie should be able to accomplish. In a year filled with great horror films, Under the Shadow was one of the most surprising and rewarding.

#22: I Am Not a Serial Killer (dir. Billy O'Brien)

This is easily one of the most underrated films of the year. I Am Not a Serial Killer, but despite only being shown on streaming services (it can now be found on Netflix) it was one of the most captivating films of the year. I don't want to say too much about this film, to be honest. All of the advertising, including the trailer, presents a very different film than the one you end up watching, and I think much of the effect of this film is in the surprises it conjures up. but I will say that much credit is due to the performances of Max Records as a quiet teenager told he has been diagnosed as a psychopath, and Christopher Lloyd as his next door neighbor. Lloyd especially stands out, and is doing some of the best work of his career--at times sympathetic and at times shockingly menacing. This is an odd but fascinating sci-fi film, with a surprising degree of understated charm. Give it a watch. It deserves so much more of an audience than it had. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

#21: Don't Think Twice (dir. Mike Birbiglia)

Don't Think Twice is a bit rough around the edges. It's an imperfect film, with some moments feeling clunky. But any imperfections of the film are irrelevant compared to its considerable charms. The film follows a popular but struggling improv troupe whose members have reached a certain turning point in their lives. Writer, director, and star Mike Birbiglia uses the film to compose a bittersweet love letter to the art form of improv comedy, as he both celebrates the form and demonstrates the difficulties behind its rather niche appeal. But while the film is very much about improv comedy, it also speaks to universal human truths. You don't have to be an improv comedian to understand the themes of feeling unfulfilled in life. Don't Think Twice is an intelligent commentary on friendship and what defines success. Plus, it features really strong work from a cast of underrated comedians. Keegan-Michael Key is the biggest name in the film, and here he gets the meatiest role a member of the troupe who is launched to success on a clear SNL stand-in show, with somewhat resentful support from his closest friends. But the standout of the cast is Gillian Jacobs, whose Samantha is both the heart of the film, and the character who most represents Birbiglia's own optimism and love for the art form of improv.

#20: A Man Called Ove (dir. Hannes Holm)

About fifteen minutes into A Man Called Ove, Sweden's submission for this year's foreign language film Oscar, I thought I'd figured the whole movie out. Rolf Lassgard plays Ove, a comically grumpy older man who seems to hate everyone and everything. The plot of the movie seemed simple: Ove's heart will be warmed by the colorful cast of characters who surround him and he'll see that things are perhaps not all bad. And...yes, this is exactly what happens. But what surprised me was HOW it happened. While the plot itself is predictable, the way it unfolds is anything but. I was tearing up by the end, and I frankly don't know how anyone could watch this movie and not be moved by it. It may not be the most discussed title of 2016, but it was one of the most pleasant surprises for me. And Lassgard, who initially I thought was overplaying the character's qualities, ends up giving one of the strongest performances of the year, which includes a truly unexpected amount of subtlety.

#19: Sing Street (dir. John Carney)

With only three films under his belt, John Carney is already one of my favorite filmmakers working today. After the universally beloved charms of Once, and then his more polished but severely underrated Begin Again, Carney returned this year with another musical and once again has a rousing success on his hands. Based off of his own childhood, Sing Street is Carney's most personal film, and follows an Irish schoolboy named Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) who starts a band to impress the pretty girl next door. Like all of Carney's films, Sing Street is deceptively simple, with the story and characters all proving to be more complex than you'd initially expect them to be. The young cast is phenomenal, but the standout is Jack Reynor, who plays Conor's burnout philosopher of an older brother Brendan. Also, as much as I love La La Land (stay tuned for my top ten list...) Sing Street easily had the best and catchiest soundtrack of any film musical this year.

#18: Deadpool (dir. Tim Miller)

One of my favorite movie moments this year was watching the opening credits of Deadpool. One immediately understood the tongue-in-cheek tone of the film, and was excited for where the film would go. As a superhero film, it's really good. The action is both fun and exciting and, while origin stories are feeling a bit played out, this one was certainly compelling. But when I think of Deadpool, I don't really think of it as a superhero movie, but as a comedy. This film had, for my money, the most laughs per minute of any film this year, and quite possibly for the last few years. Immediately quotable, Deadpool immediately has the feel of a modern classic, and it was immensely satisfying to see the comics' distinct perspective adapted so fluidly to the screen. And I'm glad to see the clever screenplay get recognition from prestigious awards like the WGA's. Plus, much credit should be given to Ryan Reynolds, who gives the best performance of his career and brings a superhero to life better than anyone since Robert Downey Jr. first donned the Iron Man suit.

#17: The Jungle Book (dir. Jon Favreau)

I don't have all that much to say about The Jungle Book, to be honest. It's just a really, really, really well-made film. It's gorgeous to look at, and the effects are truly groundbreaking. The story is good and, unlike some of Disney's other live-action adaptations, it actually makes a case for its own existence. Although it tells the same story, it's a very different film from the classic animated version. Plus, the voice cast is really excellent. Has there ever been a better bit of casting than to have Christopher Walken as an egomaniacal giant ape? Or Bill Murray as Baloo? And Idris Elba's Shere Khan was one of the most genuinely terrifying cinematic villains of the year. Jon Favreau honestly deserves more credit for bringing this film to life, and making it look almost easy in the process.

#16: Hunt for the Wilderpeople (dir. Taika Waititi)

Just missing out on my top fifteen, Hunt for the Wilderpeople might not be the best film of the year, but I would argue with utmost certainty that it's the most likable film of the year. It's just so fucking charming. I defy anyone to watch this movie and not be drawn in by it. The story of a crotchety old man (Sam Neill) who forms an unlikely friendship with a delinquent foster kid (newcomer Julian Dennison, who I hope we hear a lot more from) follows lots of familiar beats, but is told with so much enthusiasm and heart it's impossible not to love. Taika Waititi proves that not only is he a good filmmaker, he's an incredibly versatile one. At this point, it's hard to imagine him ever making a bad film.

#15: 20th Century Women (dir. Mike Mills)

I loved Mike Mills' last film, Beginners, inspired by his relationship with his father. So it's no surprise that I also love 20th Century Women, inspired by his relationship with his mother, and which can be seen as a bit of a spiritual companion piece to Beginners. Mills' filmmaking style is distinct and quietly quirky, almost like if Wes Anderson's films were grounded in real life. 20th Century Women looks at the life of Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), a Mills stand-in, and how his childhood was shaped by three women in his life: his best friend and unrequited crush Julie (Elle Fanning, who has had a truly fantastic year), his mom's tenant Abbie (Greta Gerwig, who continues to earn her place as one of today's most interesting performers), and especially his mother Dorothea (Annette Bening). While the film is an ensemble piece, and everyone does wonderful work, there's no doubt that the film belongs to Dorothea. Bening owns every moment she's on screen, painting a loving portrait of Dorothea as an impressive if imperfect person who is lovable for her flaws rather than in spite of them.

#14: Manchester by the Sea (dir. Kenneth Lonergan)

The risk of making lists like this is that our appreciations of films change over time. I've made lots of "best films" lists and whenever I look at them in the future, I'm surprised by what films I put ahead of others. Sometimes a film you love ends up being more forgettable than you thought, or a film that you initially dismissed stays with you and proves far more effective on a rewatch. If any film on this list has the potential to rise in my estimation over time, it's Manchester by the Sea. While I've ranked thirteen films ahead of it, I know that I will think about Manchester by the Sea for years to come. It's an immensely personal film, which showcases the quiet elegance and confidence of writer and director Kenneth Lonergan. The story of Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a depressed man who is forced to cope with being the guardian of his nephew (Lucas Hedges), is at times excruciatingly difficult to watch. Lonergan keeps the film's pace slow and quiet, which creates a sense of unease and also highlights the significant emotion throughout the film. It's understated and raw, and deserves the numerous accolades it has already received this awards season.

#13: Zootopia (dir. Byron Howard & Rich Moore)

I will admit that Zootopia took me entirely by surprise. The premise doesn't sound all that original or exciting. "A world where animals can talk." Umm...isn't that most Disney movies? But watching Zootopia it is immediately clear that a lot of work went into this premise. They took the simple concept and ran with it, playing with it in a way that is both detailed and incredibly creative. On top of the world they've set up, the film's screenplay is fantastic. Honestly, you could take the same basic story and plotpoints, cast human actors, and you'd have a thriller that would probably be directed by David Fincher. But the thing that makes Zootopia especially noteworthy--and what everyone has been talking about--is its surprisingly effective tackling of issues of discrimination. What I love about the film is that it keeps its handling of social issues very broad and general. In doing so, it doesn't make its message specific. While most of the articles I've read about Zootopia say it's commenting on racism, I'd actually argue that this film will endure because it can be applied to multiple issues of discrimination in our society. It's not just a great kids' film, it's a great film that happens to be acceptable for kids to watch. If you haven't seen it yet, believe the hype and go watch Zootopia. Even if you're not as impressed by the story as I was, it has so many puns that it simply demands to be seen. Also, it managed to break practically every record previously held by Frozen. That's right. It defeated Frozen. That earns it several extra points in my book.

#12: The Wailing (dir. Na Hong-jin)

If any genre really stood out in 2016, it was horror. There were numerous really strong horror films, and one of my favorites was The Wailing. The story of a somewhat bumbling detective investigating a series of murders with potentially demonic origins goes to some surprising places and offers genuine frights. Writer and director Na Hong-jin keeps his audience guessing even after the film is done. Suspenseful, frightful, and intriguingly spiritual, The Wailing was one of 2016's most compelling thrillers, and contains one of my new favorite cinematic representations of the devil.

#11: Swiss Army Man (dir. Daniels) 

Swiss Army Man was gaining notice before anyone had even seen it due to its bizarre premise. Paul Dano plays Hank, a young man stranded on a deserted island who finds unexpected companionship in a flatulent and fully-erect corpse which washes onto shore. The corpse is, of course, played by Daniel Radcliffe. It wouldn't be fair to say that the movie is either more or less weird than it sounds, but it IS weird in a different way than one would expect. This film is not for everyone, and I can certainly understand the points made by its harshest critics. But I think there's a real wonder to the movie, and admire it for its sheer ambition alone. It is certainly the most original movie I've seen in a long time. Plus, a lot of credit needs to be given to Dano and Radcliffe. Dano is, I think, one of the most consistently interesting actors working today, and he imbues Hank with simultaneous sympathy, innocence, and creepiness. Perhaps in an attempt to separate himself from the role with which he'll always be most associated, Radcliffe has consistently tackled challenging and unexpected roles in his post-Potter career, and I think this is his best work yet. Playing a talking dead body, Radcliffe has severely limited movements, and the physical work he does alone would be worthy of accolades. But his gruff yet childlike line delivery sells the film and creates a truly wonderful character who, perhaps ironically, truly comes to life on the screen.

Some great movies are on this list. So, which films managed to beat them and make my top ten? Find out here.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The 100 Best Movie Performances of 2016

The start of 2017 is an exciting and unfortunately terrifying time which will carry lots of changes from the past year. But one of those changes is that, for a brief time, my arts blog will miraculously spring back to life as I assess the year in movies and talk about the Oscars for a bit. I hope you're all excited.

And to kick off my assessment of 2016 in the world of film, I'm going to look at what I think were the 100 best film performances from the past year. It wasn't a great year for film (or for much else, to be honest) but there was still some great work. Even in some films I didn't care for, there were some great performances, and plenty of strong performances didn't make my list because there were so many options. My list contains what I think are probably some surprises, as well as some pretty standard choices. Of course, I wasn't able to see everything and there were lots of films I didn't get to which might have otherwise appeared on this list. Notable ones include potential Oscar nominee Loving, as well as films like American Honey, Certain Women, Denial, The Salesman, Miss Sloane, and Queen of Katwe just to name a few.

These caveats aside, here is the full list for your consideration!

100) Olivia Colman as The Hotel Manager, The Lobster
99) Ida Engvoli as Sonja, A Man Called Ove
98) Mahershala Ali as Juan, Moonlight
97) Max Records as John Wayne Cleaver, I Am Not a Serial Killer
96) Stephen McKinley Henderson as Jim Bono, Fences
95) Narges Rashidi as Shideh, Under the Shadow
94) Tom Hiddleston as Robert Laing, High-Rise
93) Chris Pine as Toby Howard, Hell or High Water
92) Peter Simonischek as Winfried Conradi, Toni Erdmann
91) Alysia Reiner as Samantha Ryan, Equity

Mahershala Ali, pictured here with Alex Hibbert, is seen as an Oscar frontrunner for his excellent work in Moonlight, but personally I thought that other supporting actors in the film have roles which allowed for more Oscar-worthy performances, hence his relatively low ranking on my list.
90) Michael Shannon as Bobby Andes, Nocturnal Animals
89) Bahar Pars as Parvaneh, A Man Called Ove
88) Lucy Boynton as Raphina, Sing Street
87) Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Ray Marcus, Nocturnal Animals
86) Sarah Megan Thomas as Erin Manning, Equity
85) Kate Dickie as Katherine, The Witch
84) Elle Fanning as Julie, 20th Century Women
83) Ben Whishaw as Limping Man, The Lobster
82) Julianne Moore as Georgette Nørgaard, Maggie’s Plan
81) Panos Koronis as Yorgos, Chevalier

Panos Koronis (second from the right) was a standout in the excellent ensemble cast of Chevalier.
80) Bill Murray as Baloo, The Jungle Book
79) Kate McKinnon as Jillian Holtzmann, Ghostbusters
78) Rachel Weisz as Short Sighted Woman, The Lobster
77) Sam Neill as Hec Faulkner, Hunt for the Wilderpeople
76) Dean Norris as John Kurlander, Remember
75) Nicole Kidman as Annie Fang, The Family Fang
74) Alden Ehrenreich as Hobie Doyle, Hail, Caesar
73) Jake Gyllenhaal as Edward Sheffield/Tony Hastings, Nocturnal Animals
72) Toby Jones as The King of Highhills, Tale of Tales
71) Ryan Gosling as Sebastian Wilder, La La Land

Dean Norris may only have one scene in Remember, but his chilling and timely portrayal of an American Nazi easily earns him a spot on this list.
70) Giulia Lazzarini as Ada, Mia Madre
69) Colin Farrell as David, The Lobster
68) Greta Gerwig as Maggie Harden, Maggie’s Plan
67) Ralph Ineson as William, The Witch
66) Taraji P. Henson as Katherine Goble, Hidden Figures
65) Idris Elba as Shere Khan, The Jungle Book
64) Denzel Washington as Troy Maxson, Fences
63) Ginnifer Goodwin as Judy Hopps, Zootopia
62) Michael Shannon as Roy Tomlin, Midnight Special
61) Efthymis Papadimitriou as Dimitris, Chevalier

Ellen DeGeneres, recording one of the many phenomenal voice-over performances from this year.
60) Ellen DeGeneres as Dory, Finding Dory
59) Martin Landau as Max Rosenbaum, Remember
58) Marion Cotillard as Marianne Beausejour, Allied
57) Michael Shannon as Tom, Complete Unknown
56) Rima Te Wiata as Bella Faulkner, Hunt for the Wilderpeople
55) Ruth Wilson as Lily, I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House
54) Emma Stone as Mia Dolan, La La Land
53) Ashton Sanders as Teen Chiron, Moonlight
52) Christopher Lloyd as Bill Crowley, I Am Not a Serial Killer
51) Cliff Curtis as Genesis Potini, The Dark Horse

The 78-year-old Christopher Lloyd does some of the best work of his career as the simultaneously villainous and sympathetic Bill Crowley in I Am Not a Serial Killer.

50) Don Cheadle as Miles Davis, Miles Ahead
49) Daniel Radcliffe as Nate Foster, Imperium
48) Mark Duplass as Jim, Blue Jay
47) Julian Dennison as Ricky Baker, Hunt for the Wilderpeople
46) Jeff Bridges as Marcus Hamilton, Hell or High Water
45) Michelle Williams as Randi, Manchester by the Sea
44) Isabelle Huppert as Michèle Leblanc, Elle
43) Ruby Barnhill as Sophie, The BFG
42) John Gallagher Jr. as Emmett DeWitt, 10 Cloverfield Lane
41) Patrick Stewart as Darcy Banker, Green Room

See Green Room if you ever want to be absolutely fucking terrified of Patrick Stewart.
40) Ben Foster as Tanner Howard, Hell or High Water
39) Lucas Jade Zumann as Jamie Fields, 20th Century Women
38) Rolf Lassgård as Ove, A Man Called Ove
37) Hayley Squires as Katie Morgan, I, Daniel Blake
36) Anya Taylor-Joy as Thomasin, The Witch
35) Amy Adams as Louise Banks, Arrival
34) Gillian Jacobs as Samantha, Don’t Think Twice
33) Paul Dano as Hank Thompson, Swiss Army Man
32) Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson/Deadpool, Deadpool
31) Anna Gunn as Naomi Bishop, Equity

Anna Gunn leads a strong cast in the feminist financial thriller Equity.
30) Rachel Weisz as Alice Manning, Complete Unknown
29) Tom Hanks as Captain Chesley Sullenberger, Sully
28) Kim Min-hee as Lady Hideko, The Handmaiden
27) Sarah Paulson as Amanda, Blue Jay
26) Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Michelle, 10 Cloverfield Lane
25) Dave Johns as Daniel Blake, I, Daniel Blake
24) Royalty Hightower as Toni, The Fits
23) Lucas Hedges as Patrick Chandler, Manchester by the Sea
22) Johnny Depp as Donald Trump, Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal: The Movie
21) Meryl Streep as Florence Foster Jenkins, Florence Foster Jenkins

Yes, Johnny Depp is a terrible person. And, yes, Donald Trump's The Art of the Deal: The Movie was a Funny Or Die-produced movie that was never released in theaters. But just look at this gif from Depp's portrayal of Trump! He deserves an Oscar just for the range of facial expressions shown in this gif.
20) Margherita Buy as Margherita, Mia Madre
19) Mark Rylance as The BFG, The BFG
18) Trevante Rhodes as Chiron/”Black”, Moonlight
17) Sandra Hüller as Ines Conradi, Toni Erdmann
16) Jovan Adepo as Cory Maxson, Fences
15) Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler, Manchester by the Sea
14) Daniel Radcliffe as Manny, Swiss Army Man
13) Sharlto Copley as Jimmy, Hardcore Henry
12) Annette Bening as Dorothea Fields, 20th Century Women
11) Jack Reynor as Brendan Lalor, Sing Street

The always wonderful Annette Bening, seen here with Lucas Jade Zumann, gives one of the best performances of her prolific career in the charming 20th Century Women.
10) Christopher Plummer as Zev Gutman, Remember
9) Kim Tae-ri as Sook-hee, The Handmaiden
8) André Holland as Kevin, Moonlight
7) Adam Driver as Paterson, Paterson
6) John Turturro as Barry Huggins, Mia Madre
5) Naomie Harris as Paula, Moonlight
4) Elle Fanning as Jesse, The Neon Demon
3) Viola Davis as Rose Maxson, Fences
2) John Goodman as Howard Stambler, 10 Cloverfield Lane
1) Natalie Portman as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Jackie

Natalie Portman gives the best performance of the year in Jackie. She's going to win all of the awards, and she is 100% going to deserve them. It's a performance that transcends an impression and becomes an absolute embodiment of Jackie Kennedy.
Four actors manage to show up more than once. Two of them happen to be former child actors did some really interesting and challenging work this year: Elle Fanning (for The Neon Demon and 20th Century Women) and Daniel Radcliffe (for Swiss Army Man and Imperium). Also with two appearances is Rachel Weisz (for The Lobster and Complete Unknown). Also on this list is Weisz's Complete Unknown co-star Michael Shannon, who makes it on three times (also for Midnight Special and Nocturnal Animals).

Several movies also have multiple appearances. Moonlight has the most actors on this list with 5 (and I can tell you that Alex Hibbert, who plays Child Chiron/"Little" was very close to making the list). The Lobster and Fences each have four appearances here. And then a lot of films have three performances show up: 10 Cloverfield Lane, Mia Madre, 20th Century Women, Remember, Manchester by the Sea, Equity, The Witch, Hell or High Water, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Nocturnal Animals and A Man Called Ove.