Simply The Cinematic Best That The Year That Was 2016 Had To Offer

Posted in Blog, Movies by - January 01, 2017
Simply The Cinematic Best That The Year That Was 2016 Had To Offer

To say that 2016 has been…a year, would be somewhat understating things but it is in the rearview mirror now.  There’s been a lot of anger, a fair amount of hate along with an unnecessary amount of hyperbole as well, but let’s not forget the love either.  It’s easy to be angry but we can never forget about or capacity and capability for love as well.  It was shown in our films and I think that it will come through in our daily lives, if only for humanities sake.

I’d tell you how many movies I’ve seen this past year…but I stopped counting a long time ago as we get down to the top 50 of the year that was 2016.  Here we go…

 

  1. Hidden Figures: While I’ll be the first to admit that this one plays a little fast and loose with the actual facts of the story, this behind the scenes look at the early days of the space race manages to be both inspirational and entertaining as we track the story of these working women going somewhere that no other African-American women had gone before. Taraji P Henson & Octavia Spencer both deliver awards caliber performances while Janelle Monae is a revelation showing some genuine acting chops.
  1. Elle: This bent tale of revenge from non-other than Paul Verhoven himself is kind of glorious in its simplicity as the enigmatic Isabelle Huppert is a joy to watch as a business woman with a dark past who is roped into a cat and mouse game against the man who violently raped her. It’s not easy to watch, but you can’t look away from Huppert as she goes deeper into this very dark rabbit hole.
  1. Hunt For The Wilderpeople: Director Taka Waititi follows up his iconic What We Do In The Shadows with a touching story of family that isn’t afraid to sprinkle in a little dead-pan humor and some hip-hop attitude as Sam Neill and Julian Dennison make their way across the bush as one of the best on screen comedic duos of the year.
  1. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping: Hard to believe that this was so dumb, it’s actually smart but the ‘The Lonely Island’ team have done exactly that. This send up of the modern music scene is so spot on that I was rolling in the aisles as Andy Samberg and his best buddies give us the closest thing to This Is Spinal Tap that the modern generation of movie goers may ever get to say.
  1. The Legend of Barney Thomson: File this in the category of one of the best movies that you’ve never knew existed as Robert Carlyle (who also stars) makes his directorial debut in this darkly comedic tale of a shy unassuming Glasgow barber who can’t stop killing people as he goes from zero to serial killer before he even knows it. Emma Thompson was a macabre delight and Carlyle shows a real knack for storytelling in this darkly comedic gem.
  1. The Shallows: Sure it’s got a few too many shots of Blake Lively in a bikini and it’s just a dumb shark movie, but it’s an exceptionally well made dumb shark movie. Director Jaume Collet-Serra is master at the B Movie like this and it draws us in at every turn as we over look every piece of faulty logic and get boiled down into the basic emotion of Man (or in this case woman) vs. Beast. It all makes for one hell of a ride.
  1. Swiss Army Man: A dead and farting Daniel Radcliffe helps an emotionally fragile Paul Dano learn how to love and get back into the world again after a traumatic experience. It’s not for everyone, but it’s got an oddball charm that will gain audiences for decades to come.
  1. Jackie: Hardly a conventional bio pic by any means, but an incredibly engaging one as director Pablo Larrain crafts a lush and sorrow filled looked at the final days in the White House for Jackie Kennedy and the one’s that followed it in the wake of JFK’s assassination. It gives us a unique glimpse at the manipulation behind the images of those in power.
  1. The Edge of Seventeen: Straight from the playbook of John Hughes himself, this is an emotionally engaging tale of high school woe that actually effectively illustrates the highs and lows around teenage depression in a funny but incredibly heartfelt and effective way. Hailee Steinfeld carries this film with incredible ease and depth as a young women who feels like she has no one to turn to with emotions raging out of control. Producer James L Brooks and writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig breathe new life into a genre that has felt tired and boring.
  1. Hevn (Revenge): The only Canadian production to make it on the list (It’s a Canadian/Norwegian co-production) as we jump into the wiles of Western Norway and follow Rebekka (Siren Jorgensen) who is looking for the man who raped her deceased sister and she worms her way into his now idyllic life in order to tear apart the entire life that he has built for himself.
  1. Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids: Easily the concert film of the year as director Jonathan Demme jumps into the immersive experience that was their latest tour. Demme puts right in the front row as the absolute magnetism of Timberlake as a performer oozes across the screen as illustrates him as the next best thing that the pop culture universe has seen since the iconic King of Pop; Michael Jackson himself.
  1. Weiner: Easily the most surreal documentary of the year as we dive into the tale of Anthony Weiner’s mayoral race, his attempt to rebuild his public image in the wake of a sexting scandal and how some public figures despite their best efforts just can’t get out of their own way when it comes to self sabotage and knowing what the right and more importantly the wrong way to behave in the public universe is and how in the modern media landscape the narrative can never truly be controlled.
  1. Demolition: A tale of grief and loss, how we deal with it and how it doesn’t always fit into the social norms. Jake Gyllenhaal delivers a fantastic performance as a man having to process the loss of his wife in his own unique way. Director Jean Marc Vallee comes through with a raw and real tale of loss and it is one of the more humanistic movies of the year.
  1. Hail, Caesar: A satirical ode to Hollywood of yesteryear as the Coen Brothers both celebrate and absolutely take the piss out of the studio system that is just a joy to watch. Josh Brolin anchors the usual Coen ensemble with vigour while the likes of George Clooney, Alden Ehenreich and Channing Tatum almost steal the show.
  1. Chi-Raq: A hard political statement on the violence in the city of Chicago delivered in the only way the iconic Spike Lee knows how, hard hitting satire. He takes the ancient Greek play of ‘Lysistrata’ and puts the raw natures of race, sex and violence on full display. Rarely are movies that are this urgent, this damn funny at the same time.
  1. Christine: This one of those rare cases that has to been seen to be believed. This isn’t really a very good film, it’s more than a little trashy and kind of sloppy at times but Rebecca Hall in the title role of Christine Chubbuck as the local news reporter who shot herself on air in the 1970’s delivers what is a gripping and electric performance of a woman on the brink of a mental breakdown. It’s one of those movies that not enough people will see, and really should have as it is easily the single best acting performance of the entire year.
  1. The Dark Horse: The ‘other’ chess movie this year. Cliff Curtis pours himself into the incredible true story of Genesis ‘Gen’ Potini; a chess genius who had spent years in and out of mental institutions ultimately finds himself an anchor in life as he trains a group of disadvantaged Maori children and some of the cultural conflicts that he has along the way. It’s a fascinating yet vital social study and Curtis hits it home, making ‘Gen’ a truly sympathetic and loveable character.
  1. Long Way North: A lush, hand drawn effort that stands out exceptionally well in a very strong year for animated cinema. Director Remi Chaye graduates to the director chair with this inspiring and empowering story of a young girl setting off on an adventure to save the reputation of her family.
  1. High-Rise: Ben Wheatley’s dark and foreboding tale of the class system set amongst the upper crust of society is perhaps Wheatley’s most compelling and complete film to date as Tom Hiddleston sees his society crumble all around him.
  1. Midnight Special: A fantastic and understated sci-fi gem that sees issues of faith and humanity collide with science-fiction and fantasy that are more relatable then you might expect them to be.
  1. Don’t Breathe: I’ll be the first to admit that it’s hard for horror movies to scare me anymore, the trend of cheap jump scares as ruined the genre. This movie was fresh, surprising and scared the ever loving crap out of me, turn off the lights and watch it now.
  1. Tower: Documentaries about mass tragedies are as common as the day is long, however director Keith Maitland takes us back to that University of Texas clock tower back in the 1960’s where a gunman opens up on the random victims below. Through archival footage, recreations and the magic of rotoscoping animation we are plopped right into the middle of the horror and the drama told to us by people who were actually there.
  1. The Little Prince: In spite of a rocky start to its existence after being pulled from its Theatrical run in the US and sent to Netflix, this film is a joyous adaptation of Antoine de Saint Exupery’s iconic tale and reminds us all to live our lives and lead with what is in our hearts so we can truly appreciate those little things around that we just might not ever notice.
  1. Other People: An absolute personal gem of a film from writer/director Chris Kelly telling a defacto life story that deals with death, heartache and loss in a family. It’s funny, it’s sincere, it’s honest, it’s real and it gives laughter to some genuinely real and human moments that we all have to uncomfortably get through in life. Kelly makes it OK to laugh while star Jesse Plemons is fantastically empathetic and Molly Shannon delivers a jaw droopingly emotional performance that will floor anyone who is only used to seeing her on Saturday Night Live.  Plus it will make you both hate and love ‘Drops of Jupiter by Train at the same time.
  1. Green Room: Vicious, brutal and thrilling as all hell as writer/director Jeremy Saulnier grabs us as an audience and shakes us to the point that we feel incredibly uncomfortable. One of the last appearances on screen of the underrated Anton Yelchin and seeing Patrick Stewart embrace the dark side of human nature is a glorious thing to watch.
  1. Deepwater Horizon: It’s not the movie you expect it to be by any stretch of the imagination. This dramatization of the 2010 oil rig disaster that created the biggest spill in human history manages to pump us full of spectacle and drama that you anticipate in movie like this but it also made us care about these normal people who were faced with this incredibly situation of trying to get off this rig in one piece. The team of director Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg are really finding a very comfortable and effective stride which makes very optimistic for the upcoming release of Patriot’s Day on Jan. 13th.
  1. Arrival: In what had to have been his quiet and subtle audition tape for the upcoming Blade Runner sequel, director Denis Villeneuve and this tale of the 12 mysterious ships that appear around the world makes for some incredibly smart and thoughtful storytelling that ropes us into a philosophical journey about time, space and how we live our lives. Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner are fantastic as the scientific duo tasked with interpreting what these aliens want.
  1. Kubo & The Two Strings: Yet another gem from Laika Studios that pushes the boundaries and creates an incredibly vibrant and wonderful world of kids from all ages to get lost in. It’s big; it’s bold and just see it as often as humanly possible.
  1. 13th: A vital documentary for our times that reminds us that as far as we have coming socially, not enough has truly changed and that we truly have a long way still to go. Director Ana DuVernay puts us in the hot seat and reminds us to stay vigilant in order to truly effect social change.
  1. The Neon Demon: Easily the most challenging film of the year due to subject matter and shocking visuals, but with it Nicolas Winding Refn has crafted a genuine piece of art. You might not like it, you could easily be disgusted by it…but you can’t look away from it.
  1. Train To Busan: In a genre that has been played out years, the zombie film comes back with a vengeance as writer/director Yeon Sang-Ho makes his first live action feature and makes it fun to be chased by the undead once more. It is an exceptionally well executed action/horror flick that makes me eager to see more from him.
  1. Nocturnal Animals: A delightful piece of art trash pulp from fashion auteur turned visual auteur Tom Ford as he dives into the upper crust of the high society in this veiled story of brutal revenge and the costs at hand for sometimes treating people the way that we do. Ford takes glee in the glossiness of the sleaze that he is putting on the screen and it is a hell of a lot of fun to watch.
  1. Sing Street: The feel good movie of the year as our young hero in Dublin; Freeda Walsh-Peelo survives the emotional rough patches of his parents getting divorced and falling in love thanks to the glorious music of the 1980’s.
  1. Blue Jay: When unresolved loved unexpectedly reunites, things get more than a little interesting. From Writer and Co-Star Mark Duplass we get a heart wrenching and gripping look at a moment in time when two lovers from the past reunite by chance they revisit the magic of the moments that they shared and are forced to confront what could have been. Duplass and Sarah Paulson command the screen at every hopeful and heartbreaking turn.
  1. The Witch: One of the smartest movies of the year, which is why it’s just so damn creepy. This feature debut from writer/editor Robert Eggers is a moody gem that is simply dripping with atmosphere and gives us an incredibly debut performance from a star in the making from Anna Taylor-Joy.
  1. Manchester By The Sea: Writer/Director Kenneth Lonergan gives a small town tale of personal tragedy that is as emotionally gutting as it is compelling. Casey Affleck comes through with an understatedly quiet and emotional turn having to return home to take care of his family and confront the tragedy that caused him to leave his hometown in the first place. Its raw humanity thrown on the screen and you simply can’t look away.
  1. Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You: From the filmmakers behind Detropia we get a sit down with the iconic TV producer who changed the landscape of Pop Culture as we know. A man who has spent his life deliver anecdotes to audiences of millions is sat down to tell actual stories and it is a glorious thing to watch.
  1. Toni Erdmann: Easily the oddest and longest movie of the year as not too many comedies run for 162 minutes but this tale of a father with a taste for practical jokes and dead pan humor is a joy to watch as he tries to reconnect with his workaholic daughter who is on the brink of a nervous breakdown.
  1. 20th Century Women: In theatres January 13th, Mike Mills returns with a story of three women in the late 1970’s at various stages of personal discovery in their lives. Mills captures the beginning flashes of the women’s movement and a desire to evolve beyond the predetermined standards that had been set for them. With Grade A performances from both Annette Benning and Greta Gerwig, this is one of those stories you just can’t help but get emotionally invested in since it is such an exceptionally well executed film.
  1. A Bigger Splash: Music, style, substance, drama over and over again. Italian master Luca Guadagnino in his English language debut paints the screen with a lush backdrop of passion and decadence that is as gorgeous as it is hypnotic. The indomitable Tilda Swinton is like a shining light that you can’t look away from as these four unique characters collide in a hazy mist of sex and intrigue.
  1. Love & Friendship: Writer/Director Whit Stillman reunites with his stars from one of his previous films The Last Days of Disco and dives into the upper crust of English hi-life and turns some of the romance of some of the world’s most iconic love stories on its ear with some hilarious social satire.
  1. The Leveling: Made its bow at TIFF’16 and please pardon the pun but this debut feature from writer/director Hope Dickson Leach about the shocking events surrounding a family farm and the sacrifices made in that community makes for some of the most gripping cinema that I have personally ever seen. When it opens this year…go find it, it’s worth it.
  1. The Wailing: There’s creepy, and then there is just straight up fu***d up. A foreigner makes a mysterious and sudden appearance in a quite rural village but it turns to hysteria when the townspeople begin to murder each other for no apparent reason and things just keep getting weirder and weirder. From director Na Hong-Jin, this is one of those movies that isn’t for the faint of heart, I watched it months ago and it STILL keeps me up at night.
  1. Loving: Based on the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton & Ruth Negga) an interracial couple whose challenge of their anti-miscegenation arrest for their marriage in Virginia led to a legal battle that would end at the US Supreme Court. Director Mike Nichols makes his second appearance on this list with a quiet, simple but incredibly powerful story that demands to be seen.
  1. Paterson: Opening in theatres on Feb. 3rd, Writer/Director Jim Jarmusch takes us into the quiet and unassuming everyday life of a bus driver and poet as he watches the world go by. Adam Driver gives a sublime performance of a man as an artist and an observer at grips with himself and his art. It’s a shockingly beautiful effort from Jarmusch that will surprise a lot of people.
  1. Hell or High Water: It’s the modern western, as the barren landscape of West Texas serves as a backdrop and a statement on the current state of Americana. Director David Mackenzie, Writer Taylor Sheridan and the team of Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges make one of the most humanistic and compelling games of cat and mouse that you’ll ever see on the screen.
  1. Cameraperson: Long time cinematographer and documentarian Kirsten Johnson turns the camera on her life and experiences as we see the genuine power that the moving image holds and how it can affect and change lives all across the globe. This assembly of clips from other films that she has worked on allows us to experience what these artists get to experience in the moment while they have their camera’s trained on the world.
  1. La La Land: Pure cinematic joy; as the writer/director behind Whiplash follows that up with an ode to not only the old time Hollywood system with a hypnotically beautiful movie musical but also to the dreams that keep the myth and magic of Tinseltown alive. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are fantastic together and while they aren’t necessarily the best singers or dancers, the joy that comes out of this process and between the two of them is so infectious that you just can’t help but fall in love with it all.
  1. Moonlight: A fantastic story about the eternal struggle we all have when it comes to discovering ourselves as individuals and how we fit into society as a whole. Writer/Director Barry Jenkins chronicles the life of a young Black man in the Miami inner cities trying to find his own identity and sense of self worth. Filled with some heart stopping performances, Moonlight takes us to the next level in the human experience that very few have been able to capture on screen.
  1. O.J.: Made In America: It’s a complex look at the self-destruction of the American dream. Never have 7 hours and 47 minutes flown by so well as director Ezra Edelman takes the life and the moments of Orenthal James Simpson and puts them unvarnished on the screen so we can truly see how a man who legitimately had everything that he could have ever wanted, subsequently destroy it all. It’s master filmmaking, plain and simple.

 

OK, 2017…Time to bring it on.

This post was written by

David Voigt, has been a lover of cinema all his life and an actual underpaid critic for a solid 5 years covering everything that the city of Toronto has to offer. He was a content manager in video distribution industry before that and his love of all things cinema goes back to his first moments in awe looking up at the big screen. His 12 years of experience on the home entertainment side of the business have provided him with a unique view on what is worth spending your hard earned entertainment dollars on. Combine that with his unquestioned love of film, David should be your only stop to find out about the best in film, not only in Toronto, but worldwide.