It's been a good year for movies. From action to drama to comedy to animated movies, there were solid offerings throughout the year along with the usual plethora of Oscar bait movies in the holiday season. As has been noted by many others, 2016 was a rough year so I find it all the better that we have a wide spectrum of voices being represented. The film industry has a long ways to go on gender, racial and other forms of equality but I was happy to see a wider spectrum this year.
OK, this is my guilty pleasure favorite. I generally enjoy Andy Samberg and the Lonely Island guys but I sat down to this movie with very mediocre expectations and those expectations were surpassed. They were surpassed not by an especially heart-felt plot line or biting satire of celebrity culture though the movie holds up fine in those categories. The reason I enjoyed this movie as much as I did is because of the insane joke-density, specifically in the first 45 minutes. It had me laughing. Non-stop. Never-stopping.
Richard Linklater has a way of putting his finger on life as it actually is. Boyhood and the Before... movies are prime examples. Everybody Wants Some!! gets college right. While set in a frat-like house for the college's baseball team in the 1980's, I saw parallels to my own college experience and the experience of my own students. My and (most of) my students have less alcohol and hookups in the few days leading up to the first days of school. But there's an excitement and uneasiness that Linklater captures so well. A constant searching for place and social positioning. This movie was a lot of fun and it's tone was spot on.
I saw this one at home later on in the year after hearing scores of "Good, but not as good as Finding Nemo" reviews over the summer. I'm a fan of Nemo but don't have any strongly held attachment to it so I came into Dory with an open mind. And I was very entertained and impressed. I'm not sure why I don't come into Pixar movies with crazy high expectations but the joke density, artistic animation, and story line were on point. Another great installment for the Pixar people.
Well, if this is the standard for the Star Wars spin-offs, count me in for the next 8 movies most likely coming our way in the next decade. I loved the new cast. The banter wasn't quite at the level of the originals or The Force Awakens but I never felt like it was overly somber. I didn't have a desperate need for this particular Star Wars story to be told but I found it making the particular universe all the more richer.
Director Jeff Nichols and lead Michal Shannon paired up for the excellently off-kilter Take Shelter back in 2011. When I saw them back together I was intrigued and excited for what was to come. In Midnight Special (as a spiritual sequel to Shelter), the story remains weird and mysterious but larger and more susceptible to being a blockbuster without losing the specificity of characters and plot development. I saw the movie twice and enjoyed the ride on both occasions.
Moonlight was making waves at festivals early on in the year and was a fairly unanimous critical darling. When I got a chance to see it, I understood why. It's the three-act story of Chiron, struggling to find his identity amidst adversity and unfair circumstances as a child, adolescent, and adult. The movie never feels sorry for its lead, nor does it dip into any sort of emotional manipulation. It does chronicle the formative relationships and experiences of Chiron, doing so in a beautiful, meditative way. Go check this one out if you haven't already.
Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling starring in a movie directed by the Whiplash guy, it would be a pretty big disappointment for this movie not to crack my top 5. Not one particularly into musicals, I loved the music in the movie. The visuals matched, both for the music numbers and throughout. And back to Emma & Ryan, they have an ease and comfortability between them that can't necessarily be manufactured. Oh, and the movie isn't all eye-candy and catchy tunes, it expertly depicts what it looks like to follow your dreams and, more importantly, what must be sacrificed.
Thanks to a wife that has a deep appreciation for both animated movies and animals and, more particularly, the intersection of the two, I saw Zootopia in theaters. (I also saw The Secret Life of Pets and Sing on the big screen.) It was excellent. The animation was fun. The jokes (largely puns) did their job. The movie speaks clearly, confidently, and with nuance on the importance of diversity and the danger of prejudice. It's a great movie for kids and adults.
I recently read an article from The New Yorker on how and why improv comedy is the new sensation for so many bored and lost college educated. It helps with thinking on your feet, reading other people, and being creative within the constraints of a format. While I could certainly improve in those areas, I would be fine never attending an improv class nor even see a live performance. But Don't Think Twice tones down all the annoying parts of improv and pulls out all the nuanced aspects of the subculture. The movie focuses on the lifers, those who live and breath improv and are actually good at it. But how long do you keep doing something doesn't really pay the bills and doesn't really have that many spots available to progress? The ensemble cast works through those questions in mature (and funny) ways unique to themselves. No real answers are arrived at but isn't that how it is?
Arrival is an excellent, thought-provoking blockbuster sci-fi movie that also comes at just the right time. Distinct from his previous movies though also distinctly within his wheelhouse of tone and theme, Villeneuve hits the nail on the head this time. Amy Adams carries the weight of the lead and Jeremy Renner and the others do fine. To me, Arrival sets itself apart through its story-telling. Earth receives extraterrestrial visitors and Adams' character is tasked with communicating with them. The movie is an exhilarating ride and there are some important points made along the way about being patient and intentional about listening to others. But then as the movie progresses, you start to realize that the entire structure of the movie mirrors the communication of the visitors and your mind is blown but not in a cheap way but more in a, "Wow, that was impressive, I need to re-watch this" way. Arrival is great and fun and important.
Honorable Mention: (listed alphabetical)
10 Cloverfield Lane; Cafe Society; Captain America: Civil War; Captain Fantastic; The Edge of Seventeen; The Fits; Fences; Ghostbusters; Hail, Caesar!; Hell or High Water; A Hologram for the King; Hunt for the WIlderpeople; The Innocents; Jackie; Keanu; Life, Animated; The Light Between Oceans; The Lobster; Loving; Manchester by the Sea; Miss Sloane; The Nice Guys; Nocturnal Animals; Sing; Star Trek Beyond; Swiss Army Man; Weiner; The Witch
Highly Anticipated: (listed alphabetical)
13th; 20th Century Women; Allied; Doctor Strange; The Eagle Huntress; The Founder; Hidden Figures; I Am Not Your Negro; Lion; Moana; A Monster Calls; Paterson; Silence