2016’s Still Small Voice…
2016 ended up being a great year for cinema, though it seemed that so many films came crashing into the cinema right at the end, that it made for a photo finish of sorts. I have agonized over this list and feel that I easily could have made a Top 30 list where every entry was a solid choice for viewing. I’ve pared it down to my top 20, and a list of the truly worst films of the year that I’ve seen. There will always be some films that may deserve a spot that simply weren’t seen. 20th Century Women is one of those. The critics screening I attended had me all ready to see this film that even made our own Jim Tudor’s List, but alas the film code wasn’t working with the projector and so I’ll have to wait for it in January. Sometimes these things happen. Lists are also very personal, and in addition to all of “technical” reasons a film might be deserving of being on a “Best of” list, it also comes down to how these films had an effect on me personally in how they communicated what they were attempting to say. So with out further ado, here is my Best Films of 2016 List:
Martin Scorsese has been trying for nearly 30 years to adapt the novel by Shūsaku Endō about 2 Jesuit missionaries who journey to Japan in the 17th century to locate their mentor who has supposedly apostatized (renounced the faith). The film is beautiful to look at, and haunting in its portrayal of the dual nature of the silence of God in times of suffering, and the silent acts of faith that reside in the heart, irregardless of what is verbally said or done, even when it seemingly contradicts what one says they believe. This is obviously a very personal film to Mr. Scorsese, and it was well worth the wait. Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, and the very talented Japanese cast deserve a lot of recognition.
The separation of a young Indian boy, named Saroo, from his family and his cross country journey by train, and subsequent international adoption is a riveting personal drama that is masterfully portrayed by the young Sunny Pawar, and Dev Patel. This quiet, yet gripping account of an adult trying to discover his lost family 25 years later, assisted by the then new technology of Google Earth, roars its way into the top 2 of my list. With a solid supporting cast, this film, like Silence, should garner award nominations.
3. LA LA LAND
Many might feel that this film has been over-hyped, but what really matters is the grandeur of its presentation and the way it effects the viewer. “City of Stars” is a lovely song that has haunted me since I saw the film, and what I appreciate about this film is that it is the type of film that rarely gets made anymore. While this film points to the golden age of Hollywood Musicals, it is really its own animal, dropping the songs into a lovely minor key that allows dreams and ambition to smack directly into the consequences and choices of individual pursuits.
A powerful, multi-layered look at the effects that a bad economy can have on those with a cause. In simpler terms, a great cops and robbers picture set against the West Texas landscape with Jeff Bridges perfectly encapsulating the quintessential Texas Ranger pursing the elusive bank robbers, Chris Pine and Ben Foster. The cinematography is fantastic and the atmosphere and feel of the film is as authentic as they come. As a fellow Texan, this one made me feel right at home.
5. THE WITCH
While this film debuted in the Spring of 2016, it is one that has haunted me since. An incredible contrast of the horrors of the external “boogie man” vs. the more sinister forces inside each of us. While many might simply see it as a horror film, it is so much more. It has much to say about community, faith, the human condition, and the nature of evil.
Natalie Portman gives a career-best portrayal of the former first lady and allows her to be seen with the many conflicting emotions that surrounded her in the aftermath of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Never a color-by-numbers biopic, Jackie makes the audience understand the grieving and mourning that she felt for the loss of her husband, and how to continue to carry on for her children, and ultimately for the nation. The re-creation of the White House tour Jackie Kennedy filmed on television, and the front row seat of her husband’s assassination, alone are cinematic achievements.
This is a small revenge-based film that is one of the great comedies of the year. Sporting a great cast, this film caught me completely by surprise and was a breath of fresh air. Kate Winslet and Hugo Weaving are spectacular. This is sort of a Count of Monte Cristo with a sewing machine for the haute couture crowd, but fortunately for us, it is deeply satisfying for everyone else. This is probably one film you won’t find on other Top 10 lists, but it worked for me.
This Japanese film, on the surface, is a simple story of a broken family of sisters dealing with the loss of father. There is no sweeping drama or major conflict to create tension, however, it is one of the most beautifully presented personal stories I have seen. The character portrayals do not seem written, but authentically real people who act, speak, and behave like those who live in the same world as me….if I lived in Japan. The human experience and emotion is not bound by culture, and this unassuming foreign language film speaks poetry in each frame.
A film that did not see much box office support, but that told an incredible true story of a poor girl from Kampala, Uganda who rose from selling bread on the streets to becoming one of Uganda’s premier chess champions. Anchored by the talents of David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o, the true star is child actor Madina Nalwanga who gives a sensational performance. Having spent time in this beautiful city and country, I was struck by how authentic it seemed to my experience, learning that the majority of the cast and crew are actually from Kampala, and part of the film school headed up by director Mira Nair. It is a love letter to Uganda, and very unlike most Disney films in its realistic depiction of the struggles of Uganda’s working poor without having to try for more humorous distractions like they would do in the past with a film like Cool Runnings. Hopefully, more discover this film on video or streaming.
As a life-long Star Wars fan, this film was able to truly draw me back into the galaxy far, far away. While last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens excited the fanboy in me seeing the original cast and hitting all the right nostalgic beats to get me excited for a new trilogy, Rogue One opened up the galaxy into one that was as grand as Star Wars was for me as a child. The stakes were again high, and the re-emergence of Darth Vader as a genuinely scary villain leading directly into the story that started it all was a fantastic achievement. The cast was solid, and the mix of practical effects, throwback Episode IV aesthetics, with a modern digital edge was the perfect blend to tie it in to the existing canon, while also paving the way for future stand alone stories to follow. This was the best Star Wars story since Empire Strikes Back.
Rounding out the Top 20
As I stated before, there were so many solid picks this year. Here are the films that rounded out my Top 20, with each perhaps deserving a chance to be in the Top 10 in any other year. I’ll also list some honorable mentions and some glaring omissions followed by my Worst Films of 2016 List:
13. Hacksaw Ridge
14. Hidden Figures
Love & Friendship, The Eagle Huntress, Moonlight, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Hail Caesar!, Race, Green Room, The Lobster, The Birth of a Nation, Hands of Stone, Sing Street, Rules Don’t Apply, Zootopia, The Nice Guys, Swiss Army Man, Mia Madre, and The Jungle Book.
Not viewed in time for consideration:
Elle, Patriot’s Day, 20th Century Women, I Daniel Blake, Little Men, and Live by Night.
WORST FILMS OF 2016:
There are many that should make this list, but I was wise enough to avoid them. Here are the worst from those I did see:
The Forest, The 5th Wave, Mother’s Day, X-Men: Apocalypse, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, Warcraft, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, Girl on the Train, Keeping up with the Joneses, Assassin’s Creed, London Has Fallen, Why Him?, and Zoolander 2.