Wednesday, January 18, 2017

My Favorite Movies of 2016: If You Love Movies, You Can't Afford to Miss These

2016, wow. This year felt like a war zone. Not just in pop culture and in the political landscape, but in my personal life as well. 2016 has been a often times painful pilgrimage for Kelsey and I, and if ever there was a year where I needed a crap load of amazing movies, this was it. And what an insane year for movies this turned out to be! I ended 2016 with a sense that I will look back on it as one of the best years of movies I've ever lived through. I can't think of another year where I thoroughly loved as many movies as I loved in 2016. This year was a year of rediscovering why I love movies so much. I couldn't narrow it down to a top 10, so here are my top 20 movies of 2016.



A quick word on how I chose to order the movies. As I've said many times before, I'm highly unqualified to say which movies were the objective best movies of the year. I haven't been trained to have an eye for what perfects the cinematic art form. So I'm left with three of my own gauges:


1. I am a fan of movies first and a reviewer second. Whatever gets my inner fan clapping most is going to be loved most.

2. I grade the movie based off of what little I do know to look for as far as objective quality: Performances, screenplay, editing, cinematography.

3. What will I most likely revisit, and insist on showing my friends and family? The movies that will end up in my DVD collection and that I will re-watch multiple times landed the highest spots.


Now that the disclaimer has been disclaimed and the introduction has been introduced, here are my top 20 favorite movies of 2016!


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Number 20. 

Lion.

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In Lion Nicole Kidman reinforces my firm conviction that she is one of the best actresses working in Hollywood today, and Dev Petal gives his best performance, bringing an intensity to the screen reminiscent of Brando or a young Pacino. The story is heartwarming, the cinematography is breathtaking as it dances around the scenery and characters, and the music effortlessly adds to the sense of beauty this film boasts.. This is a solid art-house film that should appeal to a wide audience. There really isn't a reason to not like this movie.















Number 19. 

Hush

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This was an early in the year surprise. It sets a new standard for minimalist film-making as there is nothing minimal about the jumps and scares throughout the movie. Mike Flannigan is firmly establishing himself as one of the premier horror movie directors of his time. In a year filled outstanding horror movies, Hush rises above the rest by bringing a over-used setting and making it feel brand new.















Number 18. 

Edge of Seventeen

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 When I first saw the trailer for this little indie movie, my eyes rolled all the way to the back of my head. I had no idea this would be one of the freshest and funniest movies of the year. Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson and crew deliver the clever dialogue with impeccable comedic timing and emotional depth. This movie is a perfect version of itself.















Number 17

Don't Think Twice



Um... wow. This movie had me completely hooked from scene one. The ensemble cast of relative unknowns shine with explosive chemistry in this comedy/drama about a troop of improve comics whose lives are interrupted when one of the members finds success on a Saturday Night Live type show. This movie is funny, heartbreaking, exciting and profound all at once. Mike Birbiglia achieves what everyone who writes an ensemble dramedy tries to do, a rare gift.















Number 16. 

Hidden Figures

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This movie could have been such a cheese fest. Like The Help, it walks the cheesy line just close enough on the right side that it still serves as a sweet, heartwarming, sometimes heartbreaking, and fully crowd pleasing movie. Taraji P. Henson delivers is a beautifully nuanced performance, and she has a scene in here that is as good as anything you'll see from any actor this year and Octavia Spencer, in her best work since Fruitvale Station, serves up another balanced and tender performance. This movie is so entertaining, and so powerful, I can't recommend it enough.















Number 15.

Deadpool

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When I saw Deadpool the first time, I went in almost begrudgingly as I knew this would offend my then false sense of propriety. However, from beginning to end I sat in the theater very aware I was watching a one of a kind movie. Now, a movie being one of a kind doesn't make it a great film, but Deadpool is a great film. The script is absolutely perfect as with its rapid-fire humor and meta perspective, and Ryan Reynolds has never been better then when he is reciting this dialogue. I haven't laughed this hard at a movie since 2008's Tropic Thunder. I left the movie certain this would be in my top ten of the year. It is a testament to how bonkers-good this year has been that Deadpool is so low on my list.














Numbers 14. 

Fences

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Some stories need to be told via multiple mediums. Some performances deserve to be seen by as wide an audience as possible. Yes, Fences, really does feel like you're watching a play, but this proves that doesn't have to be a bad thing. In fact, it can be a great thing. August Wilsons stinging dialogue explodes onto the screen through the brilliant performances of Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. Seriously, when I say brilliant, I mean they both achieve titan status here, and neither of them have ever been better. If amazing performances is what you look for in a movie, this was made for you.















Number 13. 

Hell or High Water

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This movie fires on all cylinders: The acting, writing, directing and cinematography are all top notch here. An important story about rural America and how their consistent neglect can push them to places they never wanted to go. Told with action, humor and complex, emotional depth; Hell or High Water could have been a contrived and tired movie, but instead it is fast pace and vastly entertaining.





















Number 12. 

Zootopia

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Don't let the appearances of the adorable bunny and the sly fox fool you, this movie may be the sharpest social commentary we've seen this year. In a year where our news screens and social media platforms were plastered with video after video of unarmed black men being murdered by police, this movie could not have been more timely. The movie reveals how destructive it is when we as a society fear and marginalize "the other." This behavior is a direct assault on human flourishing, and it's a time to rise above it. All this and more from a Disney cartoon.















Number 11. 

Moana

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Sometimes I'll watch a trailer and I know I'm going to love that movie. Movies like Silence and Hacksaw Ridge all I needed was the trailer to know that those movies were made exactly for me. Moana was not one of those movies. So when I began hearing my favorites critics and some friends rave about it, I was intrigued. Nobody could have prepared me for how overwhelmed with emotion I would be watching this. This was 100% pure Disney magic. If you were raised on the Disney magic of movies like The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast and many others, this movie is at par with them.

















Number 10. 

The Jungle Book

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Jon Favreau has crafted a movie that is visually revolutionary in all the ways Avatar and Life of Pi were. Outstanding visual effects aside, this movies heart is as beautiful as its scenery. The voice cast do every bit as much to bring these characters to life as the effects artists. And Niel Sethi is worth mentioning as Mowgli, the kid was pitch perfect. This movie mostly about animals is very, very human (in the best possible way.)










************** It is worth noting, every movie in my top 9 was at one point my number one of the year. I'm convinced that in a lot of other years, any one of these could have been number one. IT was almost impossible to rank them, and even when I did I switched them all around so much. So, other than numbers one and two, all of these are sort of listed arbitrarily.*************





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Number 9. 

Hacksaw Ridge

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Mel Gibson directs the most violent battle scenes I've ever seen in a movie with such a pristine vision, the direction alone is enough to warrant this movies spot on my list. However, there is so much to marvel at here. Andrew Garfield takes what could have easily been a Jimmy Stewart, "awe shucks," rip off and instead delivers a rich, intense and powerful performance. This was the first movie to show me it is possible to love and serve your country without compromising Jesus as a Christians highest authority. This is a rich and moving experience, and a personally important one.

















Number 8. 

Manchester by the Sea

 

Quite possibly the first movie I've ever seen to capture arrival to grief as a journey, not a sudden destination. This is a movie about making beauty from ashes, and starting the process of healing. The themes and story are so thoroughly explored and it never feels like forced melodrama. It never manipulates its audience. Add to all that a career best performance from Casey Affleck, a knock out job from Michelle Williams and stunning work from Lucas Hedges, this really is one of the best movies of the year.















Number 7. 

Arrival

 



A movie told with a profound sense of elegy that never steeps into pretentious indie movie fare. Arrival has an important message about the power of unity in humanity, and the power of our decisions. With a very unexpected twist, perfect directorial vision and a incredibly nuanced performance by Amy Adams, Arrival really is a masterpiece.















Number 6. 

Sing Street

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I saw this movie in March, and I was so overwhelmed with how much I loved it I couldn't stop tearing up for a little while after. It is such a simple premise: a teenaged boy starts a (wonderfully talented) band to impress a girl. Beneath the surface is a movie about realizing the value of your dreams, and the beauty in the pursuit of a life worth living. The music is so insanely good and catchy, I bought the CD as soon as I could. I've watched this movie six times since its release, and find another reason to love it each time.















Number 5. 

Kubo and the Two Strings

 

I watched this movie three times in 2016, and every time the last ten minutes has my eyes consistently watery. This movie is theologically, philosophically and emotionally resonant. Yes, it is incredibly melancholy at points, but the message, and the power of its message, are incredibly important. Not to mention it has incredible world building, a wonderful script and revolutionary animation, Kubo and the Two Strings will be one of my favorites for a long time.















Number 4.  

Captain America: Civil War


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Marvel Studios has an outstanding track record. I have not disliked a single one of their movies, and a few of them I absolutely love. How after 8 years of releasing spectacular movies they were able to top all of their previous efforts is beyond me. But Captain America: Civil War is easily the best superhero movie since The Dark Knight. It is filled to the brim with brilliant philosophical inquiries, as well as some of the best shot action sequences I've ever seen. The cast has, who we have seen in plenty of the previous ventures, have never been better in their characters, and newcomer Chadwick Boseman was the Black Panther was perfect casting; but it was the character I was least interested in seeing again that stole every scene he was in: Tom Holland accomplished the impossible in that he upstaged this stellar cast every time he was on the screen. The movie represents both sides of the Civil War so well, that if you don't switch back and and forth a couple times during the movie, you either aren't thinking that hard or you aren't paying attention. I can't praise this movie enough.















Number 3. 

La La Land

 


A movie about two people who aid each other when they are both either on the cusp of achieving their dreams, or are miles away from it. A movie about the power of vocation, and how our deepest relationships help us arrive there. The movie is shamelessly entertaining and the chemistry between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling is unbeatable. With beautiful songs, breathtaking choreography, perfect narrative structure, tight direction, and two of the best actors of their generation giving it all they got, La La Land really is irresistible.















Number 2. 

Moonlight



Important in all the ways that Boyz 'n the Hood was, in that it tells a story so rarely covered in Hollywood. Moonlight is the journey of one person, Chiron, from adolescents into adulthood, as he wrestles in Miami with the problems posed to him because of his race, and the discovery of his homosexuality. Told in three vignettes, with three different actors playing Chiron. The movie is made with such a profound sense of dignity, and the upmost honor to this unheard and unseen demographic of people. Director Berry Jenkins did a lot of risk taking with this movie, and it has resulted in a important and unique movie experience. And in most other years this would have been my number one. But it just so happens I finally got to see a movie I've been waiting five or six years to see, and the wait more than paid off.













Honorable Mentions



As I said earlier in this blog 2016 is one of the best years in movies I've ever seen. If there was a better year I don't think I was alive for it. When your honorable mentions list would make a solid top ten in any other year, that's saying something. These are movies that received an A or A- from me this year, and are worthy of some recognition. 
















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Number 1. 

Silence.


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This is the reason I put off publishing my favorite movies of 2016 for so long. I knew Silence was going to make it on this list... but boy did I underestimate it how much this movie would play a role in shaking and molding my religious thought. I read the book Silence back in 2011, right after I heard that Martin Scorsese was going to make the movie. It was admittedly way over my head, and asked questions I wasn't ready to confront. But I loved Martin Scorsese and I really wanted to see what he would do with the content. Back then Daniel Day-Lewis, Benicio Del Toro and Diego Luna (of Rogue One fame) were set to star. But the project fell through, they left it, and I was left waiting. And wow did the waiting pay off.

Once it was finally released, I was treated to movie viewing experience I had never witnessed before. Silence hit me on the same level Tree of Life hit me, which, if you know me, you know that is my favorite movie. It challenged my theology while at the same time empowering it, it told a story of my Christian heritage like I've never seen before. It taught me lessons and humbled me to a place of gratitude, and made me feel honored that I get to carry a faith so many have suffered so severely for. Not only was it aesthetically perfect, but it told a story I absolutely needed to experience. I sobbed off and on through out the whole movie, not tearing up, audibly, though hopefully quietly, sobbing. We sat in the theaters all the way through the credits. We couldn't move. We had to sit and absorb what we had just seen. Silence isn't so much a movie you like or dislike, it is something you experience and then carry with you. I wept for a solid ten minutes after the final image of the film.

My readers who are people of faith, please, please watch this movie. It is so important, and it has a way of refocusing wandering minds like mine. In the church, I always had this romantic, weirdly utopian idea about martyrdom. We celebrated it in a way that was so far removed from the brutal actuality of it. Silence reveals the graphic and horrific reality of martyrdom, without robbing it of its sense of tremendous honor. Much like Christ on the cross, Silence asks impossible questions, exposes horrendous realities, and offers a beautiful hope.

Theological implications aside, Silence is also a pristine picture. What do you get when you give the best director of all time 25 years to work on his dream project? A movie that is nothing short of a masterpiece. From the stunning cinematography to the haunting performances (especially a game changing Andrew Garfield), Silence is orchestrated in such way that reveals it to be one of the best things Scorsese has ever done. Decades from now, people will talk about this movie the way they talk about Citizen Cain and Vertigo. 

 It only makes sense that in arguably my favorite years of movies that it would be topped off with one of the best movies I've ever seen.


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