Welcome back! Here we are, yet again, for the Third Annual Eds Awards here at AWNE! What a year! Seriously, what the fuck was going on in 2016?! With no pressing need to mention the political climate of this country right now, the movie year alone was… to put it lightly, pretty appalling. I can’t recall a more disappointing summer, with a majority of the big summer, highly anticipated blockbusters falling flat on their face (looking at you Batman v. Superman, X-Men: Apocalypse, Suicide Squad and etc.). Truly, any high hopes for this year’s bigger budgeted films were instantly dashed, perhaps giving us a sobering realization that big budgets, all-star casts, trailers and marketing are not what they seem (shocker!) and that studio interference is running amuck.
There were those proud few, however, that met, or even exceeded expectations (bravo, Captain America: Civil War – you win again Disney). Indeed, upon reflection, Disney did in fact have the best turn out of high-budgeted films, proving, perhaps, that they are indeed listening to their audiences and not just profiteering (though I’m sure that $7 billion box office pull last year was pretty sweet). Along with Captain America, you have the wonderful Zootopia; the generally liked, if only slightly average The Jungle Book; the supremely underrated Pete’s Dragon, the sub-par, but overall enjoyable Finding Dory, Moana, and then, of course, there’s Star Wars. Not a bad year in all for the studio monolith.
There was hope to be found, however, and I’m not just making a lame reference to Rogue One, but I’m in fact referring to the small movies of the year. Where the mega-budgeted faltered for so many movies in 2016, there was redemption found in the indies. There was quality stuff releasing left and right but, alas, remaining unseen by the masses… which, admittedly, is just the way of the world. Such as it is, 2016 found some light in the darkness throughout and, naturally, along came awards season with a handful of solid movies, though not nearly as bountiful as recent award seasons, in my humble opinion.
And so, just in the nick of time for the Oscars (taking place this Sunday), I have finally scrambled together the movies that I have deemed to be the best of what was otherwise a piss-poor year. I saw what I could, and then some – I’ve seen all of the “Best Picture” nominees, and naturally have my own opinion as to what, in fact, is worthy of the title. So go forth, take a looksy, and see what I think to be the best of 2016! Lend me your thoughts, your critiques, your opinions, and don’t forget to join in for part two, arriving tomorrow to give you the rest of best of 2016. Enjoy and, as always and forever, stay entertained…
Runners up (in no particular order):
- Moonlight – hold your boos and nays, this movie, whilst unique and excellently cast, failed to resonate with me on an emotional level, nor did I feel like it came together as a whole. Sorry folks.
- Midnight Special – a diamond in the rough, to be sure, and relatively unseen, this movie is one of two exquisitely subtle and yet totally moving films from director Jeff Nichols that needs to be seen.
- Arrival – yet another movie that I wanted to love and yet failed to resonate with me, and upon repeated viewing, it still just does’t hit that emotional note that I was hoping it would. Still a solid movie.
- Hacksaw Ridge – Mel Gibson is back, this much is certain, and whilst this film marked a solid return for the director, and offered a sterling performance from Andrew Garfield, it wasn’t anything exceptional.
- Zootopia – Without a doubt the best animated film of last year… at least that I saw, and I did see a few. The only negative that stops it from making it into the top ten is that, whilst it’s entertaining and carries a strong message, it’s not altogether memorable.
As mentioned earlier, director Jeff Nichols had two little gems released in 2016, and here is that second gem. You’d typically be hard pressed to get a biopic or historical drama – here surrounding the true story of real-life interracial couple, Richard and Mildred Loving, who took their case for civil-rights to the supreme court in 1967 – that wasn’t writhed with sentiment and cliches. That’s what Loving is; a movie that doesn’t aim to make a statement, but rather give you an insightful and heartwarming look into a real life love story. It’s a remarkably subtle movie, one that never strays away into “the bigger picture”, and one that, true to the nature of the characters portrayed, keeps the love between the Lovings as its’ primary focus, brought to realization with wonderful performances from the two leads, Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton. One line from Edgerton’s Richard says it all – when asked “is there anything you’d like me to say to the supreme court justices of the United States?”, he responds with an answer that he feels should obvious “… tell the judge I love my wife”. It’s as simple as that.
Directed by Jeff Nichols. Starring Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton, Michael Shannon, Nick Kroll, Martin Csokas, and Terri Abney.
It’s hands down the oddest movie that I’ve seen in years, but it’s the loveliest oddest movie that I’ve seen, perhaps ever. The movie about a crazy, suicidal and stranded man (Paul Dano) and his farting corpse of a friend, who incidentally resembles Daniel Radcliffe, is absurd in it’s premise, but there were few other films this year that were, quite surprisingly, as endearing and as genuine as this. Dano and Radcliffe are both exceptional here, with the latter giving perhaps the best role yet of his career – the boy from the closet under the stairs is no more – all of the fun and passion, both in front and behind the camera, pours from the screen. It’s pure lunacy, upright hilarious, and yet incredibly heartfelt, and worth a watch if you dare to give it a try, because guaranteed, it’ll be unlike anything else you’ve seen from 2016.
Directed by Daniels. Starring Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano.
8. Hell or High Water
It took a second viewing of this film to convince me it wasn’t just a No Country for Old Men knock-off – it just hadn’t screamed out to me as anything special the first time. I’m glad I gave it another viewing as, though it may not be anything totally new, it’s not a movie that pretends to be something else. It’s just a solid drama with a solid story, no bullshit – it just throws you into the action – it’s funny, it’s suspenseful, and ultimately endearing with fun characters and a well-rounded cast. You’ve got Jeff Bridges, doing what he does best as the growly, old and on-the-verge-of-retirement sheriff, with Chris Pine and the scene-stealing Ben Foster as the pair of bank robbing brothers – everybody is in top form. It’s a movie that doesn’t try to make waves – it’s a genre movie, and a genre movie done right.
Directed by David Mackenzie. Starring Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges, and Gil Birmingham.
7. The Handmaiden
I was really disappointed to see this film so overlooked this awards season. It’s yet another masterfully crafted, beautifully directed erotic thriller from visionary Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, 2003) – full of twists and turns, layered complexity, and an array of fun/interesting/creepy characters, it’s as entertaining as it is disturbing. It’s a long, drawn out affair, to be sure, but there’s hardly a wasted moment – even if there’s nothing necessarily happening (which, frankly, there always is – it is meticulously detailed), the lush cinematography will be enough to keep you enthralled. Just as with Oldboy, it’s perfectly orchestrated, it seduces and lures you in and, just when you think you know how everything will turn out, you’re taken through a loop that makes you question it all over again, and it will keep you guessing throughout – every character’s motives are constantly under speculation, and it’s a lot of fun to watch. The cast is thoroughly enjoyable, especially Kim Tae-ri being the stand-out as the mischievous and naive Sook-Hee, it once again makes me wish that this film had garnered more recognition, as it certainly deserves it, on so many levels. If you’re a fan of the director, then this is a must see.
Directed by Park Chan-wook. Starring Kim Tae-Ri, Kim Min-hee, Ha Jung-woo, Cho Jin-woong.
6. Manchester by the Sea
The Tragedy of Manchester by the Sea, that’s what they should’ve called it, because damn if there’s not a heavier hitting drama than this right here. I think the only reason I didn’t have this higher on my list is because of just how bleak and depressing it gets, but with that said, it is an excellent film, and a surprisingly funny one at that. In this story of a man, depressed and crippled with unfathomable guilt from a past trauma, only to be burdened further with the untimely death of his brother and forced into custody of his nephew (aptly played by newcomer Lucas Hedges), Casey Affleck delivers the performance of the year and, indeed, his career. He’s simply excellent, and he carries this film from beginning to end, with the support of a powerful screenplay from director, Kenneth Lonergan, and a strong cast including Hedges, Kyle Chandler and Michelle Williams, who continues to prove that, even with limited screen time, she’s one of the best actresses in the business. It’s hard to swallow at times – most notably the unforgettable scene with Affleck’s character at the police station (if you’ve seen it, you know exactly what I’m talking about) – but it’s a powerful and stirring drama, one ripe for the awards season that doesn’t give way to sentiment, and should be seen at least once.
Directed by Kenneth Lonergan. Starring Casey Affleck, Kyle Chandler, Michelle Williams, Gretchen Mol and Lucas Hedges.
Also a shamefully overlooked and underrated movie this season. Yes, Martin Scorsese’s religious epic will challenge even the most devout movie-goer and Scorsese-lover, both in patience and endurance, but it’s also the most honest, thought-provoking and unbiased film of the season. It’s long and grueling, true, it’s silent with basically no music to carry it along, but that is also where this movie succeeds, it’s supposed to challenge you. It’s not bloated with music that dictates how you should be reacting to the moment, it’s already up there on the screen, as beautiful and as brutal and raw as it gets – the sea crucifixions were hard to watch even the second time around. It’s slow and meditative and meticulously crafted – Scorcese took 28 years to get this made, and it shows. This last year brought about quite a few interesting perspectives on faith, specifically Christianity (just finished watching HBO’s The Young Pope as the latest addition to that point) and this is certainly a fine addition, and one that’ll make you want to dive into a discussion with your friends over. The cast is strong, and whilst Garfield, Driver and Neeson all fair well in their respective roles, the real stand-outs are that of the Japanese cast, including Yosuke Kubozuka, Tadanobu Asano, Shinya Tsukamoto, and Issey Ogata as the high inquisitor. In all, this movie is a masterpiece in it’s own right, it achieves what it set out to do, and that is to deliver an insightful and thought-provoking feature that both justifies and questions faith. Given a few years, I think most people will look back at this as one of Scorsese’s finest.
Directed by Martin Scorsese. Starring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Yosuke Kubozuka, Tadanobu Asano, Shinya Tsukamoto, and Issey Ogata.
Reaffirming that Disney has their Star Wars universe in good and capable hands, comes the first of what is sure to be a long line of Star Wars stories, and one that puts any lingering doubts that I had following The Force Awakens to rest. Having the luxury of not having to focus on the Skywalker saga, director Gareth Edwards achieved here what I’m sure George Lucas only dreamed a long time ago… yada yada yada. Delivering breathtaking action sequences – the entirety of the final 40 minutes is an emotional roller coaster from start to finish – a wholly new and thoroughly enjoyable cast, and taking the original look of Star Wars and taking it to the next level with some truly incredible practical effects, Edwards proved that there is plenty yet to see in this ever expanding universe, and I am now quite optimistic to its future. Bring on Episode VIII – The Last Jedi!!!
Directed by Gareth Edwards. Starring Felicity Jones, Forest Whitaker, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Ben Mendelsohn, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelson, and Jiang Wen.
3. The Witch
This is that rare moment where I’ll say that a horror movie should’ve been nominated for Best Picture this year, and it was most deservedly this one. Alas, it didn’t make the cut, which was predictable, and yet still not justified. Aside from achieving the norm of being horrific, The Witch excels with an eerie authenticity and a paranoid atmosphere, grounded by its’ terrific cast and superb direction from Robert Eggers. It’s the kind of horror that doesn’t aim to make you jump from time to time, but rather immerses you into the bleak and unforgiving environment with a plethora of unsettling and disturbing imagery. The witch herself will creep you out; the cold, dark forest will keep you on edge; the exorcism scene will alarm you and leave you scarred and uncomfortable; Black Phillip will make you question everything. It hits every note that a horror movie should, whilst maintaining a believable and authentic setting, having been based on actual accounts of witch trials, makes it all the more disturbing. I’m not a huge horror fan, but I implore you to check this one out, because for me, it’s one of the best that I’ve ever seen.
Directed by Robert Eggers. Starring Anya Taylor-joy, Kate Dickie, Ralph Ineson, and Harvey Scrimshaw.
2. The Lobster
Probably the most unorthodox romance you’ll ever see, The Lobster rocked my world back upon it’s release, and I’ve been obsessed with it ever since. Along with Swiss Army Man, this is definitely one of the most original movies of the year, and one that is horrendously underrated. It earned an Oscar nod for best original screenplay, which it absolutely deserves, but it deserves so much more. Not since In Bruges has Colin Farrell been in such fine form, it’s hard to say which is the better performance, but here he’s simply excellent, his delivery and comedic timing is spot on. The entire cast, in fact, is superb, all delivering in the droll and one-noted characters that they portray. As dark and, at times, disturbing as this movie tends to be, especially in the second half, it’s also one of, if not the funniest film of the year. It’s bizarre and hilarious and acts as a wonderful commentary of modern society and how we view relationships. I can see this being a cult classic overtime, and yet another movie that I must implore you to check out at least once.
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. Starring Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, Ben Whishaw, Olivia Colman, and Lea Seydoux.
1. La La Land
If you know me, then you saw this one coming a mile away. I’ve not been able to stop talking about this movie since it released, I’ve seen it three times and I’m ready to see it a fourth – I only envy those bastards who’ve had the good fortune to see it on IMAX. It’s such a marvelous and immersive experience, and a joyous one at that. I don’t understand the people who don’t enjoy this movie. I’ll say it, they’re fucking stupid, and probably go looking for things to not like about it. The direction (Damien Chazelle deserves everything he’s got coming to him), the cinematography, the choreography, the lighting, the acting (Gosling and Stone are wonderful together), the music – it’s all perfect, and it deserves every award it gets. And after 2016, why would you not want to see the most cheerful movie on the ballot win? We need escapist films like this, and it’s not even that far-fetched, it’s reality driven escapism. It tells you dreams are obtainable, and so is love, though not always in the way that we’d like or expect, and proves that magic still works on the big screen. This movie is an utter delight, it’s music is forever stuck in my head – I can’t wait to see it again, and you should too!
Directed by Damien Chazelle. Starring Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, John Legend, J.K. Simmons, Rosemarie DeWitt.