Dec 30, 2016

Listmania: The 25 Best Films of 2016 (#11-25)

Scene from The Witch
Here we are at the end of another year. It has had its fair share of highs and lows. Wherever you fall on that spectrum, the reality is that it was another great year for film. With tomorrow being New Year's Eve, it's time for Listmania to do the annual Top 25 best films from throughout the entire year. The list features a wide array of quality titles from genre films to Oscar-caliber dramas. Today will be a look at the "bottom" 15 that were pushed out of the Top 10 - but not without a fight. It was a great year, and it's impossible to bottle it all up in only 10 slots. It's just that good.

11. Hail, Caesar!

Directors Joel and Ethan Coen return to the world of farce with a studio back lot comedy that grappled with movie productions and religion in equally ambitious ways. Josh Brolin leads the pack with a performance that continues to solidify him as one of modern comedy's best period piece straight men. Add in a great cast doing work in a film that satires almost every big movie genre (yes, even Esther Williams musicals), and you get one of the most exciting comedies of the year. It may be all over the place, but it only contributes to what makes it so charming. Add in that it was the film that started off the year of Alden Ehrenreich (our new Han Solo), and you get a film that is way too good to have gotten the reception that it did. Still, it is likely to do what the best Coen Brothers films do and gain a cult following as the years roll on.

12. The Witch

There's plenty of unnerving qualities about director Robert Eggers' ode to paranoia during the 17th century. Following the journey of a family excised from society for reasons unknown, the drama manages to get under the audience's skin as the family falls apart, falling victim to their own sins as a baby goes missing and their daughter is accused of witchcraft. Add in a pair of creepy twins and a memorable animal performance, and you get one of the best slow burns of the year, building to a chaotic high that reflects Eggers' ability to pace his story with reported accuracy and tension that won't give up. The film is so engrossing that it doesn't matter if it's scary. It's just a unique tale about a subject often given lighter treatment in mainstream cinema.

13. Certain Women

Director Kelly Reichardt's ode to modern women is a powerful drama that resonates in the mundane. Following a journey that interweaves three separate stories, it manages to cleverly unite these stories into one thesis while also creating three very engaging tales. It helps that they're lead by Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern, and Michelle Williams each doing excellent work in bringing nuance and integrity to their characters. It may be one of the most unassuming movies of the year, but it continues to reflect why Reichardt is one of the best working directors out there. She knows how to make films that feel real, and this is among her best work.

14. 10 Cloverfield Lane

It was the sequel that nobody knew they wanted. Following its teaser trailer dropping without fanfare, the film managed to embody one of the best marketing campaigns of the year. However, the film also lived up to expectations not by imitating the found footage original, but finding terror in a claustrophobic set. Mary Elizabeth Winstead gives an excellent performance as a woman trying to escape an underground bunker from the equally menacing, even Oscar-worthy performance by John Goodman. This is what terror should be. It's psychological and, yes, features the familiar Cloverfield iconography. However, it's evidence that this franchise can exist without genre or style. It makes you wish for a sequel, or at least 100 more minutes to rewatch this insane and beautiful film.

15. The Light Between Oceans

Director Derek Cianfrance turns to the world of literature adaptation with a melodrama that is rather twisted. Luckily, he manages to keep it from falling into campy Nicholas Sparks territory and ends up giving his all-star leads Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander some of the best chemistry of the year. It's a heartbreaking story of family under peculiar circumstances that raises questions likely to effect those with children of their own. It's a story that packs emotional punches and manages to capture the awe of romantic period pieces. The romance is strong and Rachel Weisz also delivers an excellent performance. All around, this is melodrama at its best with gorgeous cinematography and a solid Alexandre Desplat score to boot. It may not be as weighty as other films this year, but it still is a powerful experience if you give yourself over to it.

16. Little Sister

Finally, a cool nun movie. This comedy focuses around a young nun returning home in October of 2008 to spend time with her more liberal family. The premise alone is pretty kooky, but it manages to capture how much of a transition that period in America was as it went from President George W. Bush to Barack Obama. Director Zach Clark gets so much of the small details right that those in their early 20's during this time will likely have the most niche blast of nostalgia. With an intersecting story of faith and a brother whose time in the military didn't end well; this is a story that is surprisingly moving and makes you remember why you fell in love with Ally Sheedy back in the 80's. She's now one of cinema's coolest moms.

17. Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

Is there any comedy franchise that's as hilarious as it is secretly progressive as Seth Rogen's Neighbors films? Following a story of family vs. fraternity, the sequel turns to the complicated nature of young women in modern society. While the film does feature gags as juvenile as "Baby's first dildo," it does manage to pit the required prank war against themes of gay characters, rebellious teenagers, and even aging. For a comedy that doesn't even run 90 minutes, it manages to resonate with great performances by Zac Efron, Chloe Moretz, and Rose Byrne. There's few comedies that were as raucous and fun as Sorority Rising this year. It captures the modern America without pandering better than almost any other satirist out there.

18. Lemonade

It has been a tough call determining whether Beyonce's visual album is a movie or just a really good hour of TV. Well, guess what. It is one of the most powerful and definitive moments in music no matter what you think. Moving away from her earlier anthem cries, Beyonce officially becomes an artist not to be reckoned with. Lemonade is likely to ruffle feathers, and it's because there's few movies this year as singular and striking. It's a story of a black woman going through struggles of love and identity, and thankfully she has connections with great music video directors who can bring that story to life with jaw-dropping moment after jaw-dropping moment. There's also likely few films that have inspired as many memorable lines as this ("Becky with the good hair," "Red lobster," "I got hot sauce in my bag, swag."). Beyonce is an artist not to be messed with, and this may be the first step to global domination. Let's just be glad that it's so good.

19. A Bigger Splash

On paper, it sounds like the type of film that nobody needs right now. It's a story of rich white people hanging around foreign cities and partying. However, there's something about a director who knows how to make the soapy conflicts that are featured here become more than unnecessary pap. It could be that Ralph Fiennes' dance skills are an utter delight. It could be that Tilda Swinton manages to give another great 2016 performance without ever raising her voice. Yes, this film has plenty of trashy elements, but it's an effective story about deceit that transcends its vapid outer appearance. It's a great hangout movie, and one that rewards nicely as things heat up in the back half.

20. The BFG

It was not a great year for Steven Spielberg. His Roald Dahl adaptation became one of his biggest box office bombs in decades (the reviews weren't much better). However, there's few people who can manage to find exuberance and joy in such a peculiar subject matter while having the means to bring awe to every frame. With a charming performance by Mark Rylance that makes him resonate no matter what his height is, he carries a film with gibberish conversations and a world of wonder. Newcomer Ruby Barnhill is also excellent in a film that manages to mix adventure with a depth perspective that makes the central half of the film pop with a life that is often limited by special effects. It may be a messy family film, but Spielberg hasn't been this candid and fun in awhile, and that's something that should be applauded.

21. The Handmaiden

After a phenomenal 2013 with Stoker, director Park Chan-Wook returns to his native language for a twisting drama that explores the life of a woman thrust into an odd situation. It's best to go in fresh, as each passing minute provides new and exciting detail that is drenched in erotic passion. With beautiful cinematography and striking moments that also make this one of the director's best works, it's hard to forget The Handmaiden. It's a tale that will move you in every way that the best of cinema has to offer, even through its cryptic middle part. It's a film unlike any other that you're likely to see this year, and that is a high compliment.

22. The Nice Guys

This is a pretty predictable film from director and writer Shane Black. It's a crime story set at Christmas featuring negligent men. However, it's a formula that has provided Black with some of the most brilliant Los Angeles neo-noir tales of the past 30 years. In 2016, his latest pits Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe in a stylishly worded journey through a retro city full of dirty corruption. It's also one of the most fun films of the year, featuring a great running gag about Richard Nixon and a third act that reaches rather insane heights. This is a film that defines fun and makes you wish that neo-noir was a genre that came out like hotcakes with results this good. Even if it was just Gosling and Crowe reciting Black dialogue for two hours, this film would've been a masterpiece. This is the next best thing.

23. The Meddler

There hasn't been a more charming performance this year than Susan Sarandon. While the story may seem a bit light compared to the darker superhero tales, it isn't a detriment. If films were allowed to be this jubilant and singular, then maybe cinema would be a better place to visit. For now, it manages to feature a great script by director Lorene Scafaria that fills Sarandon's world with some of the most memorable and likable characters of the year, including J.K. Simmons doing a great performance as a friendly biker. This is a feel good film defined, and it's a shame that Sarandon's gleeful brilliance won't get the credit that it's due. She more than deserves the recognition.

24. Zootopia

It is telling that one of the most discussed films of 2016 was an animated family film that served as a coded discussion of race relations. In a year full of less friendly talk, it is nice to see a studio with influence commenting on the matter with creativity and humor. Thankfully the story was just as strong, providing a neo-noir tale covered in cute animal characters and some of the best animated action of the year. Its politics may have been nitpicked to death, but it's a film likely to rise in cultural significance as time looks back on its place in history. For now, it's a family film that tries to achieve more than slapstick gags, and that's nothing to scoff at. 

25. Hacksaw Ridge

It is easy to read this as Mel Gibson's comeback film based solely on its religious subtext about having faith in time of crisis. It could even be read as Christian propaganda. Even then, Gibson's best attribute is his ability to mature as a director by mixing his typical graphic violence with well paced drama that adds depth to Andrew Garfield's solid performance. It is the type of war film that captures the exhilaration and despair that comes with front line combat. It may be too much at times, but Gibson's masochistic eye manages to be nuanced and heartfelt in ways that elevate its status as cinema. It may not appear to be anything new for him, but it's still one hell of a journey into places only heroes dare to go. 

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