As December draws to a close, I'm celebrating another year of seeing, studying, and writing about movies. Today marks my second anniversary of deciding to dive a little deeper than the average cinephile, and devote a large portion of my time to analyzing the art form I love so much.
I can't say it's gotten appreciably easier. I still dread starting a new review, because each time I do, I'm sure it will be the time I'm completely unable to express anything meaningful about the movie I'm reviewing. That makes it all the more rewarding when I fight through the anxiety and doubt and hit publish. I'm proud of the work I've done. I even re-read a review from over a year ago, Zardoz, in case you're interested, and there was enough distance between when I wrote it and when I read it that I was able to appreciate it almost like it was someone else's work. "Hey, this actually isn't too bad..." I thought to myself.
I also achieved a major milestone this year. I am now a member of the North Texas Film Critics Association! Becoming a part of the group has afforded me many opportunities to see films in advance of their general release, and (most excitingly) for free! This website is essentially still a hobby for me, and seeing, at the very least, 52 movies a year can be an expensive proposition. The press screenings I've attended and DVD screeners I've gotten in the mail have lightened that load, and for that I am thankful.
As always, I want to thank the people who have supported me most in my writing. My friend and editor Rob has supplied a huge amount of encouragement and guidance. This year marked a moment that meant a lot to me. Rob told me in his notes of one of my reviews that my grammatical clumsiness had finally improved enough that it was no longer his primary focus when editing my reviews. "You've leveled up," he said. I was overjoyed to read that. Thanks for your expertise and patience, Rob. It is much appreciated. I also want to thank Rachel, my endlessly understanding partner of six+ years. She didn't sign up for my obsession taking over so much of her time in addition to mine, but she is always willing to sacrifice for my happiness, and for that I'm inexplicably grateful. I love you, Rachel. Also, thanks to all of you who are reading this. I hope I write at least one thing in each review that makes you stop and think, "Oh, that's interesting." Even if I don't always achieve that, thanks for reading what I write about movies!
I've watched 113 movies this year (with eleven days left in which to squeeze a few more), a pitiful amount when you consider all the ones I still want to see. As of this writing, I still haven't seen Manchester by the Sea, One More Time with Feeling, and a ton more. For now, this best of list will have to do. So, please read on for my Top Ten Films of 2016:
*Note: Each movie title above the picture is a link that will take you to my review of that movie, with one exception. I didn't write a review of my number five.
What could have easily been a by-the-numbers genre piece turned out to be so much more. John Goodman's maniacal performance just scratches the surface of what makes 10 Cloverfield Lane such an intense ride at the movies. It mixes paranoia thriller and sci-fi, and flirts with straight out horror along the way. There is a misstep at the end, but it's hardly enough to detract from the rest of the film.
This movie has such an outlandish premise and wacky execution that it's destined to live on as a cult hit for decades. Go for the dead man being propelled like a jet-ski by his flatulence, stay for the tender human connection forged by a boy and his corpse.
8. Miles Ahead
Director/actor Don Cheadle blows apart the biopic genre with energy, style, and propulsive force. It took him ten years to get his passion project about the life of Miles Davis on the screen. Miles Ahead is a testament to doing whatever it takes to see an artistic vision completed.
In the cacophony of Hollywood blockbusters, a movie like Certain Woman comes along every once in a while to remind you that there is just as much power in the silence. This quiet, reflective meditation of a movie is a reminder that independent film is alive and as vital as ever.
6. The Lobster
The Lobster starts out strange and only gets weirder the longer it plays. It specializes in provoking nervous laughter and cringe-inducing unease. Director Yorgos Lanthimos expertly crafts a tale so bizarre you can hardly believe each new development. It all builds to a final open-ended scene that will have you debating with yourself for days about what happened after the credits rolled.
5. Captain Fantastic
Unfortunately this is the only movie in my top ten for which I wasn't able to write a review. Captain Fantastic tells the story of a dad who is determined to raise his kids with values that go beyond wanting the newest iPhone or thinking that the height of culture is a reality TV show. They celebrate "Noam Chomsky Day." In other words, Viggo Mortensen's Ben Cash is my hero. The movie also brilliantly complicates things by giving Ben flaws. His philosophy about how to raise his kids aren't without negative repercussions, and Captain Fantastic trusts enough in its hero to show him warts and all.
American Honey is a road-trip movie that makes you feel like you've been on a weeks long journey by the end of it. It has the exuberance of youth, the sorrow of the destitute, and the joy and hope of people who must rely on their own strength to carry them through. It's a howl into the void, and a transformative experience.
3. La La Land
This is a magical throwback to the musicals of Hollywood's golden age. It's uplifting and life-affirming, while also including the many downs that go with the ups in the tale of young lovers Sebastian and Mia. Sometimes they do still make 'em like they used to, and La La Land is a beautiful tribute to a bygone cinematic era.
I'm hard-pressed to come up with a film from this year that better exemplifies how important this storytelling medium is. The best documentaries don't only inform, but also challenge and emotionally move us. Director Ava DuVernay brings an urgent call to action and plea for understanding to a subject that affects a huge swath of the American population. 13th should be seen by anyone who doubts that our criminal justice system is deeply flawed.
Moonlight just about has it all: emotionally rich and complex characters, beautiful cinematography, a challenging story. It makes the audience see the world through someone else's eyes for a few hours. It breaks taboos, but is also a simple story about being an outsider to which almost anyone can relate. Director Barry Jenkins' style is simultaneously elegiac and hopeful. It's a moving experience I won't soon forget.
This is a brutal film not for the faint of heart. Like the best psychological thrillers, it gets under your skin and sticks with you long after it's over.
Like La La Land, this is also a nod to the golden days of Hollywood, but in the sly and acerbically funny way that only the Coen Brothers can pull off. I have a feeling Hail, Caesar! will only get richer with each repeated viewing.