There is no need to explain in detail the impact that Mr. Rogers had on most of us. We all went to this movie for comfort in a time of chaos and darkness. Mr. Rogers brought back the light and the feeling of kindness deep in our cold hearts. If you weren’t crying–no, uncontrollably sobbing—by the end, you are a monster. My favorite part of the movie wasn’t necessarily the movie itself, but walking out of the theater and witnessing multiple groups of people standing there, embracing each other. That is the kind of impact Mr. Rogers has.
2. Leave No Trace
While on the topic of kindness and compassion, in a world where we are in a constant state of self guard and distrust, came this. A veteran with mental health issues who lives in a park with his teenage daughter—by choice—in order to separate themselves from modern living and distraction run into trouble after being spotted. The struggle to assimilate back into society is surprisingly met with unending kindness. Mental health and homelessness take a very different light in this film and shows that is isn’t always what it looks like from a view of privilege and judgement, but rather what happens when we as humans act with kindness and only meet someone else’s struggles with understanding and a helping hand.
3. First Man
Confirming that getting to space is one scary motherf*cking task. A solid Justin Hurwitz soundtrack. Equally intense acting from both Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy (I’d like to see them in a staring contest). Anything that has Coach Taylor. This movie about Neil Armstrong and his race to space checks all the boxes for a compelling story that mixes the emotions of what it took both personally and professionally to reach the moon. Apart from the mild nausea I got from the shaking camera effects, everything else was solid as a rock.
I could seriously watch Tom Cruise run all day. Just put it on a loop and bring me food and water for at least 3 days because I’m not budging. As he gets more impressive in his later years, so does the stunt work. I also love Rebecca Ferguson as his sprinting/gun slinging/stunt fighting equal even more. The villain (Sean Harris) makes his return as well, who isn’t my favorite, but I did enjoy having Henry Cavill mixed in with this bunch, especially since he wanted to get in on the stunt work too. It made me respect Tom Cruise just a little more when he wouldn’t allow Cavill to skydive because it meant risking everyone’s lives if he couldn’t do it perfectly. He’s that serious about entertainment vs. risk factor.
5. A Star is Born
Lady Gaga and her talent for moving mountains with her voice deserves some recognition. There are very few singers that can bring me to tears with their performance, but she is definitely one of them. If there were any doubts about her as an entertainer, they can be put to rest after watching this. Bradley Cooper is impressive himself for learning how to sing for the role, but also the dynamic the two have together to tell this story is both endearing and heartbreaking, along with the relationships they have with their family and friends throughout the story and how they evolve both together and apart.
Hearts Beat Loud: Nick Offerman is always a pleasure to watch, pair him with a newcomer Kiersey Clemons and you get a warm and fuzzy film. Extra points for Ted Danson being what I imagine to be himself.
Dawn Wall: I didn’t know much about Tommy Caldwell before seeing this, but the storytelling was just as amazing as the climb itself.
Black Panther: The only superhero movie this year I will applaud, because it went above and beyond what needed to be on screen in this genre.
Crazy Rich Asians: A lot of people hated this movie, but back off. Read the books first then have an opinion. Also, an all-Asian cast … can we just take that as a win?
Creed 2: Michael B. Jordan flipping tires in the middle of the desert and taking a sledgehammer to the dirt. Training montage of the year. Plus, Tessa Thompson can be my hypewoman any day.
Eric Sweeney’s Top Ten: (Eric’s traveling in Asia, so his list is sans blurbs. We’ll get his expanded thoughts and an updated top ten list in January when we do our end of the year review Podcast)
1. Avengers: Infinity War
2. MI Fallout
3. Spider-Man – Into The Spiderverse
4. Game Night
5. A Quiet Place
7. Incredibles 2
10. Isle of Dogs
Ant-Man and the Wasp
Death of Stalin
This is my Best Movies of 2018 list (along with a second opinion from Liz and Eric Sweeney). Please keep in mind that this list is highly subjective and may have a few dumb movies on it. Even then, there are still a handful of movies that I haven’t gotten around to seeing yet (especially: The Rider, the Favourite, Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse, Widows, and Burning). Also, this year’s favorite movies are in mashup form if that’s your preferred manner of taking in best of lists.
Ben Foster has made a career out of great performances in movies people never see, and while this film will only further that peculiar curse, roles like this and 2016’s Hell or High Water cement his status as a Sean Penn successor of sorts. Foster’s troubled patriarch is a bit of an afterthought though as Thomasin Mckenzie’s revelatory debut as Foster’s daughter Tom is really the standout of the film, a film that is so firmly steeped in empathy and compassion. In a year when inhumane acts and bullying were championed by the powers that be, this compassion generator completely won me over. Hats off to director Debra Granik for this film, her first in eight years since she launched Jennifer Lawrence’s career with 2010’s Appalachian misery fest ‘Winter Bone‘. (Trailer)
Synopsis (via imdb): “A father and his thirteen year-old daughter are living an ideal existence in a vast urban park in Portland, Oregon, when a small mistake derails their lives forever.”
Best Scene: Same thing that’s wrong with you, isn’t wrong with me
Watch This If You Like: Winter’s Bone, A less whimsical version of Captain Fantastic, Living in the woods to duck creditors
The culmination of ten years of Marvel’s diligent universe building yields their best film to date, a pastel equivalent to the Dark Knight that nails enough beats to be near comic book movie perfection. I get that the emotional weight of the film wasn’t there for some that rightfully questioned the permanence of the third act (or just didn’t care about these characters in general) and I know it has swung around to being unpopular to gush about Marvel movies these days, but I genuinely enjoyed this film. I think it’s a superb, albeit overstuffed, blockbuster if such a thing exists. I mean, when was the last time (other than A Quiet Place) a film’s ending completely silenced an entire theater? (Trailer)
Synopsis: “The Avengers and their allies must be willing to sacrifice all in an attempt to defeat the powerful Thanos before his blitz of devastation and ruin puts an end to the universe.”
Relevant, vibrant, lyrical, and overflowing with confidence, this Oakland-centric buddy comedy born of Hamilton standout Daveed Diggs and real life best friend Rafael Casal‘s minds, traces the story of Collin, a recently paroled felon, and Miles, his volatile, but loyal best friend. Blindspotting is raw in a way that creates some hit or miss moments, but at its best the film is a mesmerizing study of gentrification, masculinity, racism, and personal identity. (Trailer)
Synopsis: “While on probation, a man begins to re-evaluate his relationship with his unstable best friend.”
Best Scene: No one is misreading you
Watch This if You Like: Oakland, socially conscious buddy comedies, great hip hop soundtracks
Simultaneously a technical marvel and a deeply intimate tale about a maid working in a wealthy household in Mexico City amidst the turmoil and unrest of the 1970s, director Alfonso Cuaron’s eighth film is a mini masterpiece. Easily his most personal film to date, an apparent love letter to the women who raised him, Cuaron scales back on the spectacle of prior films like ‘Gravity’ to create a saga about everyday moments. While I’m sure it’s a treat to see on the big screen, Roma is available to stream on Netflix right this second, so there’s no excuse for missing out on this special film. (Trailer)
Synopsis: “A story that chronicles a year in the life of a middle-class family’s maid in Mexico City in the early 1970s.”
Best Scene: (tie) Crib shopping/Ocean commotion
Watch This if You Like: Classic films, Family hugs, Next level camerawork
Wes Anderson’s ninth film (which, when uttered aloud, loosely translates to “I Love Dogs”) is arguably the best of his late stage career (along with Grand Budapest). It stands as a fitting showcase of his scrupulous brand of whimsy and idiosyncratic wit. This film is a joy. I wanted to watch it again the moment it ended. (Trailer)
Synopsis: “Set in Japan, Isle of Dogs follows a boy’s odyssey in search of his lost dog.”
Best Scene: Spots Reveal
Watch This If You Like: Fantastic Mr. Fox, Dogs, A + voice work
This documentary did a number on me. It was released at a moment in time when cynicism and being a cold hearted bastard seemed to be in vogue, so it was jarring to watch a film that focused on a figure of pure benevolence. Despite his reputation, I appreciate that the filmmakers still scrutinized Fred Rogers as a human being, not just as an infallible figure of nostalgic goodness. Seeing his personal struggles and growth actually made him an even more endearing figure by the end of the film. So much crying in the theater when the lights came up. Not a dry eye in the house. (Trailer)
Synopsis: “An exploration of the life, lessons, and legacy of iconic children’s television host, Fred Rogers.”
My runner-up for best documentary of the year is brought to you by…Hulu? While the first fifteen minutes of Minding the Gap threaten to devolve into a cursory CKY style portrait of skate punks, it gradually morphs into a poignant examination of the cyclical nature of domestic violence, racial identity and tribe socialization. Shot in Rockford, IL by UIC grad Bing Liu, this is a must see for any Midwesterner. It’s tough to find a more impactful scene from 2018 than Bing Liu confronting his mother about past torment and abuse at the hands of his stepfather. The editing and narrative convergence in that sequence are devastating. (Trailer)
Synopsis: “Three young men bond together to escape volatile families in their Rust-Belt hometown. As they face adult responsibilities, unexpected revelations threaten their decade-long friendship.”
Best Scene: Confronting the Past
Watch This if You Like: Mid90s, Hoop Dreams, Real Talk
I haven’t seen any of the previous iterations of A Star is Born, so I’m going to go ahead and say this is the best version yet because that’s the sort of uniformed hyperbolic comment this review needs. Unsurprisingly, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga are both on point as the film’s pair of star crossed lovers. They’ll probably have awards heaped on them come Oscar season, and it’s hard to argue they don’t deserve them. But new revelation? Sam Elliot crying is really heartbreaking. Who knew seeing the Malboro Man get choked up could be so emotional? Maybe pencil him in for Best Supporting Actor just for that one exchange? Even more heartbreaking though? That shot of Bradley Cooper’s real life dog Charlie whimpering during that spoiler redacted moment. Not cool, movie. (Trailer)
Synopsis: “A musician helps a young singer find fame, even as age and alcoholism send his own career into a downward spiral.”
Best Scene: All you gotta do is trust me
Watch This If You Like: Walk the Line, Duets, Faux musicals
A shocking jump in quality for the Mission Impossible franchise (improving upon the perfectly innocuous Rogue Nation) finally propels it into action masterpiece territory. This is the first time since Mad Max: Fury Road that stunt work in a film had real weight and verve to it. After Infinity War, this is easily my favorite action movie of the year. Give me whatever vitamin water Tom Cruise is chugging, because that man can still run like the wind at 56. (Trailer)
Synopsis: “Ethan Hunt and his IMF team, along with some familiar allies, race against time after a mission gone wrong.”
Best Scene: The Last 30 Minutes
Watch This If You Like: Bourne Franchise, Tom Cruise running, Movies where you think Wes Bentley is going to be the bad guy but he turns out to just be some dude
Having two movies tie is definitely cheating, but the internet is a lawless place filled with memes, bacon, and entitled opinions, so there’s not much you can do about it. Regardless, Free Solo and the Dawn Wall are first-rate documentaries about rock climbers attempting to conquer supremely difficult routes on El Capitan (Yosemite’s most famous climbing wall). Free Solo focuses on the world’s best free climber, stoic superhuman Alex Honnold, as he attempts to climb El Cap without ropes. Free Solo’s counterpart, the Dawn Wall, chronicles scrappy climbing duo Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgensen as they try to send the eponymous, nearly featureless sunlit swatch of the mountain. The central figures of each respective film are quite different (even though they’re good friends in real life) and possess varying motivations for their maddening drives, so it’s a disservice to lump them together, but it’s also an unavoidable double feature pairing. Either way, even if you’re not into rock climbing you should still check out these films, as their harrowing stories trump the limitations of the esoteric sport. (Free Solo: Trailer) (Dawn Wall: Trailer)
Synopsis: (Free Solo): “Follow Alex Honnold as he becomes the first person to ever free solo climb Yosemite’s 3,000ft high El Capitan Wall. With no ropes or safety gear, he completed arguably the greatest feat in rock climbing history.” (Dawn Wall): “In an unbelievable story of perseverance, free climber Tommy Caldwell and climbing partner Kevin Jorgeson attempt to scale the impossible 3000ft Dawn Wall of El Capitan.”
Best Scene: The Boulder Problem/The Side Traverse
Watch This If You Like: Meru, Touching the Void, Yosemite
In addition to written best of lists and movie mashups, this year I recorded an absurdly long podcast with Sam Alcarez and Eric Sweeney where we discuss our favorite movies of the year. At two and a half hours long, it’s just under the runtime of Blade Runner 2049. No podcast should be this long, and yet, here we are.
1. Lady Bird – I’m sure many can say that Lady Bird reflected some part of their teenage life, but I’m also pretty sure it reflected MY teenage life so closely I tried not to tear up, especially during every scene betweenSaoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf. The misunderstanding between daughter and mother but constant need for love and approval? Check. The desire to move far away for college and apply to schools I couldn’t afford? Check. Falling in love with a cute boy who ended up not feeling the same? Yep. The crying in the car while listening to Dave Matthews Band? Several times check. The film is brimming with emotion and beautifully depicted both tempered and quiet relationships Lady Bird had with everyone in her life. Bonus points for getting to watch little Briony not be a punk while coming of age and completely smash this role.
2. Step – Come for the stepping, stay for the feels. The documentary follows a group of seniors from an all-female high school in Baltimore. These young ladies all find refuge in the step team while battling to make it through school just to graduate. They have a lot standing in their way—from poverty to inner city social injustice—but their families, teachers and friends all stand together to get these women into college. The documentary might be missing a few steps (pun not intended) in the overall story, but it managed to keep me sitting up straight and paying attention to what it takes to get an education when resources are scarce and spent the whole time rooting for them as they found out their futures.
3. Okja – All of the personalities in this movie were as colorful as the costumes they were in, but Okja was the one who really stole the show. I wanted to cry and hug that animated hippo pig as much as I did with Bing Bong. The opening scene where we meet Okja, along with Mija is more heartbreaking to watch a second time through because of the pure innocence the scene encapsulates, knowing what lies ahead for the pair—corporate greed, deception, animal abuse—barely scratches the surface. The dark material may show a very real side to how humans are hungry for blissfully ignorant tasty meats at the expense of how animals and the planet itself are treated, but at the same time there are the little guys (or girls, rather) who fight with all of their heart to keep a little piece of it safe from harm. It gives me hope.
4. The Big Sick – I found myself relating to yet another movie about a strained child/parent relationship. It was even more relatable coming from an Asian background and having the same pressures of what parental expectations were and at the same time trying to find a voice. How many films can one watch as a minority and laugh cry at the exact same conversations I’ve had with my parents that are culturally relevant? Not many. If this movie had come out when I was younger, I would of stole all of Kumail’s comebacks in those conversations. But put that aside and there is the real story. WatchingKumail Nanjiani depict a version of his real life relationship with Emily Gordon—the distress he ends up in trying to figure out what she means to him, meeting her parents for the first time (the exchange between them in the hospital cafeteria is pure gold) and having to choose between a career and family/Emily—all while she is in a coma is well written, hilarious and shows a lot of heart.
5. Get Out – I don’t know what was more creepy. The poetic message of racism and ignorance, which is strongly relevant today in the form of a truly uncomfortable horror film, or watching the whitest white girl do the most white girl thing by eating Fruit Loops one at a time while slowly sipping a tall glass of white milk through a straw … while browsing the internet for her next victim. Not even with Google. Bing. BING. As I watched it was a slow unraveling of terror, as any brilliant horror film would do, but also a perfect blend of truth and comedy in true Jordan Peele fashion.
Apart from the extreme sadness and anger laced throughout the entire story, the moments I latched onto the most were the exchanges between Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson. They showed that even in utter disappointment in another person whom one might even despise down to their very living matter, there was still room for compassion and understanding.
My top five is pretty heavy material so watching Ryan Gosling be really moody and running through a wall in a visually stunning world doesn’t hurt. This slides under the Top 5 because of Jared Leto and whatever performance that was.
Denis Villenueve continues to be on a roll. Arrival was my #1 last year, and he now has another one atop my list this year. I legit think this is better than the original (which I believe is a bit overloved) and they’ve expanded the universe even further. I want to see more films from this universe.
This is my favorite of the three new Star Wars films. This one looks the best, has the most meaningful character arcs and plots, and includes some of the best sequences ever filmed for Star Wars. It really shakes up what was an already-derivative story, meaning I have no idea what’s going to happen in the next installment and I find that exciting and refreshing.
This is my Favorite Movies of 2017 list (along with a second opinion from Liz and Eric Sweeney). As all lists are, this list is highly subjective and probably has a few dumb movies on it. What can I say? It’s a sickness. Even then, there are still quite a few movies that I haven’t gotten around to seeing yet (Baby Driver was in my top ten until Kevin Spacey was outed as a predator, so I’m bumping it off as a result). Also, all this year’s favorite movies are in movie montage mashup form if that’s your preferred manner of taking in best of lists.
1. Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri – With as rough as 2017 was, you’d figure escapism would be the way to go, but why not go with a movie that steamrolls through all the year’s relevant issues. Racism? Check. Sexual Assault? Check. Police Brutality? Check. Homophobia? Check. Three Billboards confronts it all. There’s no denying this is a tough movie to watch at times, but it’s absolutely worth seeing. Even with its fairly deflating ending, this darkly comic take on tragedy, anger and empathy is my favorite movie of the year.
Penned and directed by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh (In Bruges), this story follows Mildred Hayes, a grieving mother who erects a series of billboards damming the local police for her daughter’s unsolved rape and murder. Like his previous efforts, McDonagh’s third film has razor sharp dialogue and a pitch black underbelly, but the real allure of this story is that it’s ultimately about forgiveness. That’s perhaps the great divide I feel with McDonagh’s kindred spirit, Quentin Tarantino, whose movies similarly feature extreme bloodshed and stylized banter, but often devolve into pastiches of nihilistic violence that leave me feeling empty by the time the credits roll. Tarantino is a skilled filmmaker, but I need a bit more heart. And for all their faults, McDonagh’s characters have heart to them. Especially the film’s hardened protagonist, Mildred, played to perfection by Francis McDormand. Everyone should stay home this year, because Francis McDormand deserves to win all the awards. All of them! (Trailer)
2. Wind River – Wind River is haunting. A stark, Cormac McCarthy inspired thriller set on the frozen plains of the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. I’ll be honest, Wind River may not be the best script Taylor Sheridan has written (Sicario and Hell or High Water being his other two) and its first hour may be a little on the slow and methodical side, but man, do the last forty minutes just sear themselves into your brain. What a great ending, especially the film’s final exchange, which, while heavy with sadness, has small slivers of hope present. Like Three Billboards, this film doesn’t shy away from grisly and relevant subject matter. The story feels timely and important. And while I’m not a huge Jeremy Renner fan, I think this may be his best role yet, playing a sort of cold weather Gary Cooper for the 21st century. Elizabeth Olsen, tasked with the Clarice Starling archetype, also performs admirably. I urge everyone to see Wind River and read more about the grim events it’s based on. This movie will sneak up on you. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Tie – Are You Flanking Me?/How Far Can You Run?/Death Face
3. Dunkirk – Dunkirk is easily the most technically impressive film I saw this year, a somber WWII masterpiece that favors its stunning visuals above coddling any of its shellshocked characters. Presented as an oddly shaped narrative puzzle, this steely take on the evacuation of Dunkirk is an edge of your seat experience from the very first frame. Once again, Christopher Nolan cruelly muzzles Tom Hardy behind a mask, and Hardy still finds ways to make his performance compelling as the heroic, but slightly Bane-garbled Spitfire pilot Farrier. I know this film has been divisive amongst viewers, some calling it an empty, exhausting experience, but I think the assault on your senses is intentional. I don’t think war movies should leave you feeling comfortable, or even satisfied for that matter. They should leave you a bit dazed and unsettled. And Dunkirk does that. I especially love what the end of the film has to say about its characters, too. One character who displayed varying levels of cowardice (understandable cowardice, but cowardice all the same) throughout the film is given a hero’s welcome at home, while the closest thing the movie has to an actual hero is left stranded on a beach behind enemy lines. How fitting. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Convergence at Open Sea
Watch This If You Like: Thin Red Line, Bane Planes, Piece of Cake, One Direction, Aviation photography, deafeningly loud audio tracks
4. Logan – With Disney’s recent acquisition of Fox, Logan will more than likely stand as the best X-Men movie of all time. Mostly because I can’t see Disney putting out a misery seminar like this ever again. Logan is a movie about growing old and dementia and immigrants and swearing at children. You know, the cornerstones of the Disney empire. It’s subversive to the genre, a camouflaged road movie/western that parades itself around as summer blockbuster fare for the masses. And even though it can’t escape its comic trappings in the third act, I wouldn’t change anything about this movie. Especially the film’s closing image. I’m not crying, you’re crying! (Trailer)
Best Scene: So This is What it Feels Like (single tear)
5. Get Out – Despite being listed as a comedy for the upcoming Golden Globes, further proving that we can’t have nice things, this sociopolitical thriller cuts right to the bone on issues of race and prejudice. It’s cleverly scripted, thoughtfully constructed and perfectly executed. When asked how he would classify his own movie, writer/director Jordan Peele called it a “documentary”. All credit to him for producing something this smart and subtle, fresh off his broader and sillier sketch comedy days. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Getting Out
Watch This If You Like: Satirical horror, well written scripts, Social issues that need addressing, the Get Out challenge
6. Blade Runner 2049 – Blade Runner 2049 is a Jared Leto appearance away from being a masterpiece (I continue to fail my New Year’s resolution to be nicer to Jared Leto). Whereas Dunkirk was the most impressive “what can we strap a two hundred and forty pound IMAX camera to and still fly?” achievement, Blade Runner 2049 is the year’s best example of pure mood. Roger Deakins may be the greatest living cinematographer, Denis Villeneuve may be the most underrated genre director working and Harrison Ford actually tried in this movie. That’s a lethal combination. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Fuck You, Wall
Watch This If You Like: Phillip K. Dick, Sci-fi, Harrison Ford not phoning it in
7. It – The horror in the reboot of Stephen King’s clown terror classic may be a bit straightforward and even clunky at times, but the core of the movie, the kids that make up the Losers’ Club, are fantastic. Their strong and believable bond far outweighs any of the film’s underwhelming aspects. Cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung (The Handmaiden, Oldboy) once again produces some distinctly grim visuals, Bill Skarsgard’s take on Pennywise is effectively unsettling while avoiding any sort of imitation or mimicry and the script is legitimately funny at times (that placebo line killed in our theater). I mean, what more do you want? (Trailer)
Best Scene: Losers’ Club Unite/Rock Fight/”These are Gazebos!”
Watch This If You Like: Stranger Things, Stephen King, Child actors being traumatized, On point New Kids on the Block references
8. Coco – Coco is Pixar’s gorgeous and culturally rich film about family, music and personal drive. The animation is breathtaking, the songs are impossibly catchy and the film floats with an emotional vibrancy in every scene. It’s a shame that tone deaf 22 minute Frozen short film about Olaf pulling a series of home invasions on Christmas played before Coco, but it did emphasize how great Coco is compared to schlock like that. Even ol’ Olaf couldn’t ruin this wonderful Pixar gem. And if you don’t find yourself misty-eyed in the last twenty minutes, then you’re a monster. Plain and simple. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Remember Me
Watch This If You Like: Crying in front of children, Pixar, Family, Celebrating life
9. Lady Bird– The strength of Lady Bird is that it feels like lived in material. Everything feels genuine and authentic. I don’t think there is a single misstep in the film. I know writer/director Greta Gerwig claimed this coming of age tale is semi-autobiographical, but I do wonder if this wasn’t her teenage years beat for beat, because I felt like I was watching someone’s life. It almost felt like an intrusion at times. I remember a similar effect while watching Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. Unlike Boyhood’s sprawl though, Lady Bird is presented in a series of choppy vignettes, effectively emulating the teenage attention span and gifting us a scattershot of Lady Bird’s formidable senior year. It’s sad, it’s bittersweet, it’s familiar, it’s elating. Laurie Metcalf and Saoirse Ronan are superb as the film’s bullheaded mother daughter combo, a pair that sees far too much of themselves in each other, echoed by the film’s opening image, a portrait of the two lying in bed together, a near reflection of one another. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Trip to the Airport
Watch This If You Like: Boyhood, Coming of age stories, Linklater vibes
10. Ingrid Goes West – Only Aubrey Plaza can make a character like Ingrid, a deranged social media stalker who moves west to insert herself into the life of her Instagram obsession, somewhat sympathetic (Plaza’s Ingrid is a sort of kindred spirit to Bryce Dallas Howard’s painfully insecure character in the Black Mirror episode ‘Nosedive‘). The movie is peppered with uncomfortable laughs akin to a millennial’s version of The Office, but I thought it was great. It’s a scathing examination of social media obsession (the influencers and the obsessors are both taken to task) and I’m bummed more people didn’t see it. On a side note, there is a scene where Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen, who plays the object of Plaza’s obsession, are singing K-Ci and Jojo’s ‘All My Life’ (the best slow jam of all time) in the car. Unable to contain herself at the prospect of their budding friendship, Plaza drops her guard for just a few seconds when she’s singing the chorus and all the darkness comes pouring out. It’s a blink and you’ll miss it exchange, but it’s one of my favorite movie moments of the year. Aubrey Plaza is so good in this movie. (Trailer)
Best Scene: K-Ci and Jojo Karaoke
Watch This if You Like: Black Mirror, Single White Female for the 2010s, uncomfortable comedy, K-Ci and Jojo
11. War for the Planet of the Apes – Bad Ape is my favorite character of 2017. Yes, a goofy Steve Zahn voiced CG ape who wears a puffy vest is the pinnacle cinematic creation of 2017 for me. I dismissed him as pure comic relief at first, but there’s something deeply tragic about him. It’s a little devastating to watch him. I’m serious. Go back and watch Bad Ape’s introduction. It’s heartbreaking. Most of the people I’ve talked to implied Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is still the best of the trilogy, but I think I preferred War’s strange ‘The Great Escape‘ meets ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai‘ inspired story. I really feared this would be a retread of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes with more chaotic war scenes woven in, but it did an effective job distancing itself from its predecessor. This isn’t really a war movie at all. If anything, it’s an escape movie, with apes. It’s the Ape Escape movie you never thought you’d get (or want?). (Trailer)
12. Thor: Ragnorok – This year’s equally well made Thor, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman and Guardians of the Galaxy entries seemed almost interchangeable at times, despite each film stamping their product in discernible ways. Thor is the weakest of the four by dramatic standards, which would usually bump it down the list for me, but it’s also the funniest of the four, and in a year of bleak cinema and bleak everything, I suppose laughter wins out this time. Ragnorok also has Jeff Goldblum, a surprisingly funky soundtrack and more of director Taika Waititi‘s dry Kiwi humor that was so great in last year’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople. All that is missing in Ragorok is a Ricky Baker appearance (do not despair though, look for Ricky Baker and his skux life in 2018’s Deadpool 2). (Trailer)
Best Scene: Get Help!
Watch This If You Like: Guardians of the Galaxy, Hunt For the Wilderpeople, Dry Kiwi humor
13. The Red Turtle – I still don’t really know what to say about the Red Turtle, a nearly dialogue free film from Japanese animated powerhouse Studio Ghibli. I didn’t always understand it, but it nonetheless felt deeply profound to me. And when I finished it, I just sat there for a long time, went for a walk and ruminated on life. It sounds corny, but it happened. I suppose at the heart of the escapism and comfort film offers us, we secretly yearn for experiences like this. Something that shakes us from our stupors. The Red Turtle is a film I’m sure I’ll revisit more and more over the years and appreciate exponentially the I older become. It might be a little slow for most, but I would still encourage people to seek it out. I especially like Mike Figures’ comment about the film’s universal appeal, “Once sound and language was developed, film became culture specific and lost its universality, and what this film does is reclaim that universality as there is no spoken language.” (Trailer)
Best Scene: The Circle of Life
Watch This If You Like: Castaway, Tin Tin, Ghibli movies, contemplating life
14. The Villainess – The Villainess is an absurd, violent marriage of La Femme Nikita and Kill Bill on bath salts. Whereas this year’s Kingsman: The Golden Circle and Atomic Blonde had superb fight choreography and jarring blasts of stylized violence, there is something in this Korean action thriller that feels far superior in its raw and kinetic bloodshed. There’s no sheen to it. The film’s bursts of adrenaline leave you breathless and concerned for the stunt crew. This is the sort of madness I wanted from Atomic Blonde, and while there were admirable elements to that Charlize Theron vehicle, I think you have to get out of Hollywood to find something this batshit crazy these days. (Trailer)
15. Star Wars: The Last Jedi – It seems like a requirement these days that hyperbole be assigned to anything Star Wars related, but the truth is, I don’t have any brash things to say about this movie. It was a bit of a mixed bag for me. It subverted expectations in a way that was refreshing, but also signaled a clear lack of communication for the trilogy’s overall structure, something Rian Johnson himself confirmed. And while I like smart, subversive sci-fi, Star Wars is far too nostalgic for me, leaving me with a stubbornly strong attachment to traditional arcs and the hero’s journey in the Star Wars universe. Ultimately, Last Jedi felt more like an episode of Battlestar Galactica than a Star Wars film, which is perfectly fine, but it does take some getting used to. There is still quite a lot I liked about it though. Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver are all great. Anytime they’re onscreen, the film is at its best. The Star Destroyer ramming sequence is also a stunning piece of visual filmmaking and Porgs are okay in my book. (Trailer)
Best Scene: “See you around, kid.”
Worst Offense: Space Witch Leia/Misuse of Benicio Del Toro
1. Train to Busan – Korean dramas always know how to tug at those heart strings when watching each character’s story unfold. A career driven, distant father learning to care for his young daughter. A bull-headed husband who turns into a doting servant at the command of his sharp-tempered pregnant wife. A young baseball player trying to find the right words to say to his best friend/girl of his dreams. Now take all of those people, board them on a train with ridiculously convincing crazed zombies (Seriously. The best zombies.), put in a blender and out pours the best action movie of the year.
2. Hunt for the Wilderpeople – I can’t help but want to watch Sam Neill rescue helpless children in life or death situations, whether it be on an island with clever prehistoric animals or an island with wild animals and equally wildly ego-driven Kiwis. Is that weird? Except Ricky is no Lex or Tim. Ricky is the kind of kid who kicks and spits on stuff. Ricky marches to the beat of his own drum and Sam Neill is more or less along for the ride. It is pretty hard not to root for this unconventional duo at the end. Bonuses: The very lovable Auntie Bella and the scene between Ricky and his social worker Paula, who delivers the ultimate Terminator 2 zinger.
3. Captain Fantastic – This movie lands in the top three because it struck too many chords with how modern society is shaping itself to be, particularly regarding the education and upbringing of adolescents. It draws a very strong argument from both sides—whether children should follow social norms with a traditional education, brimming with broad SAT based knowledge, but relatively devoid of practical skills, or have a hands-on, skill-based, self reliant education where independence and developed opinions are championed, but social interaction falls to the wayside. The movie also touches lightly on mental illness and how traditional and non-traditional medicine can be used to treat sufferers, with varying results. In the end, the movie grapples with the two respective styles of parenting, examining which is most beneficial to the children, all while searching for possible compromises between the polarizing approaches. Which is right, which is wrong, those questions still rattle around in my head.
4. La La Land – I love both Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling equally, so of course I am willing to watch them team up once again. At first, I feared this movie would end up being terribly depressing after watching the director’s previous movie, Whiplash, and feeling nothing good. The first trailer for La La Land gave me that same feeling of dread. But the second trailer revealed a more promising, optimistic tone. In the end, La La Land gave us the musical we’ve been wanting since ‘Chicago’, relying less on musical talent and more on the actors’ ability to carry the story along and take the viewer right along with them. When I first walked out of the movie I was a little disappointed, but after some thought I deeply appreciated the ending as a true LA story.
5. Ghostbusters – I know a lot of critics knocked this movie, but it rounds out my top five because I seriously had a good time watching it. I even clapped at the end. It was way more entertaining than any other “blockbuster” that was released this year and I found it refreshing to watch a movie that, YES, had multiple female leads. The shining star however was Kate McKinnon, doing what she does best—making popcorn projectile spit out of my mouth into the person’s hair sitting in the row ahead of me, all thanks to her timing and delivery on every line. I also highly recommend watching her outtakes. I don’t know how the rest of the cast held it together when some of those lines rolled out of her mouth.
Eric Sweeney’s Top 10:
1. Arrival– Denis Villenueve is on a roll. Loved Prisoners and Sicario, and now he proves he can make smart sci-fi as well. Which is good news since he has another one coming out next year – the Blade Runner sequel.
2. Hunt for the Wilderpeople – Just saw this recently and it was worth the wait. I immediately went to watch Taika Watiti’s previous film and loved that as well. Can’t wait to see what he does in the Marvel universe.
3. The Nice Guys – Shane Black’s spiritual successor to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Funny and entertaining.
4. Star Wars: Rogue One – Overall a great entry into the Star Wars films. Just a few choices away from being perfect.
5. Captain America: Civil War – A very entertaining ensemble film that’s more of an Avengers film than it is a Captain America film. And the new Spiderman is better than the previous two, so that’s hopeful as well. Crazy how the Brothers Russo have gone from Arrested Development and Community to directing the biggest blockbuster films ever.
6. 10 Cloverfield Lane – Thrilling film that pretty much takes place in one bunker, with a should-be-nominated-for-an-Oscar-but-probably-won’t-be performance by John Goodman.
7. Green Room – Just got to watch this recently – another suspenseful thriller that takes place in one location, from the director of Blue Ruin. Can’t wait to see what he does next.
8. Hell or High Water – A modern western/heist film with some great acting by Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges. Liked it a lot more than I thought I would.
9. Star Trek Beyond – Another good entry into this franchise – I hope they keep making these.
10. Kubo and the Two Strings – Not for everyone but I liked it nonetheless. Would very much like to see a “Making Of” documentary for it, as the little they showed of the production during the credits was pretty crazy.
Honorable Mention – Finding Dory, The Lobster, Zootopia, Doctor Strange, Deadpool
Want To See – The Handmaiden, La La Land, Manchester by the Sea, Sing Street, Moonlight, The Jungle Book, Moana, Edge of Seventeen, Don’t Breathe, Hacksaw Ridge, Gold, Silence
(This was a weird year for me – usually I see a lot more. I think there were a lot of bad films/remakes/sequels this year that put a sour taste in my mouth. For the first time in probably forever, I went 5+ months without going to a theater – from Civil War in early May, to Girl On The Train in early October. Then there were a ton of films at the end of the year that I wanted to see but never got around to. Hoping 2017 is better (in every aspect, really)).
Most Looking Forward To In 2017
Star Wars – Episode 8 – Rian Johnson takes the reigns and it should be a better film than Episode 7 because of that. Going to be sad to see Leia for the last time tho.
Dunkirk – Nolan is the man and I saw the 5-minute preview of it in IMAX. Yeah it’s good.
Baby Driver – Edgar Wright’s first film in 5 years.
War for the Planet of the Apes – Loved the last one and this one looks crazy – it’s got Woody Harrelson
Blade Runner 2049 – wasn’t for this until I saw Villenueve is directing and the trailer looks amazing.
Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 – should be fun
Alien: Covenant – loved Prometheus despite the character issues, so looking forward to this follow-up.
Mute – A return to grounded sci-fi for Duncan Jones
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – From the director of In Bruges. ‘Nuff said.
Molly’s Game – Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut with Jessica Chastain in the lead
This is my Favorite Movies of 2016 list (along with a second opinion from Liz and Eric Sweeney). As all lists are, this list is highly subjective and probably has a few dumb movies on it. What can I say? It’s a sickness. Even then, there are still quite a few movies that I haven’t gotten around to seeing yet, so no internet yelling about your favorite film being excluded if it appears on the haven’t seen yet list at the bottom*. If it didn’t make that list, then have at it with the internet yelling. Also, all this year’s favorite movies are in movie montage mashup form if that’s your preferred manner of taking in best of lists.
There were way too many articles written about how 2016 was not a banner year for movies, so no need to cover that, but there were still some good ones if you sifted through the Suicide Squads garbage. Starting with:
1. La La Land – There were more socially relevant movies this year that I would encourage people to see, but in terms of pure cinematic enjoyment, La La Land is my favorite movie of the year. It’s vibrant, it’s intoxicating, it’s ambitious, and most of all, it’s fantastic. It’s what you hoped it was when you saw the trailer, a movie that justifies going to the movies. Emma Stone has been great in the past, but I think this marks her as a bonafide movie star. And I guess at this point it’s also fair to say Damien Chazelle is no fluke. Go see La La Land and good luck not humming City of Stars for the rest of the week. (Trailer)
2. Hunt for the Wilderpeople– Hunt for the Wilderpeople utilizes the dry Kiwi wit that the Flight of the Conchords cultivated so well, and mashes it into a heartwarming tale of misfits on the run. I smiled for most of this movie. It’s a movie made with love. You genuinely grow to care about the characters (Sam Neill is reliably great and Julian Dennison is a breakout star), the soundtrack is catchy and much like La La Land, seeing this in a packed theater was a joy. Not much else to say. (Trailer)
3. Sing Street – Spiritual companion to his earlier faux musical masterpiece ‘Once‘, Irish director John Carney returns with another faux musical masterpiece of sorts in Sing Street, a movie that plays like a mashup of the best bits of ‘Once’ and ‘The Commitments’. This poppy 80s homage is full of feel good moments where the sentiment is actually earned, not crammed down your throat by an Illuminati focus group trying to win Will Smith an Oscar (I miss you old Will Smith. Sure, I want you to win an Oscar someday, but I also want you to make movies where you actually appear to be enjoying yourself). Like #1 and #2 on this list, Sing Street also has a stellar soundtrack. (Trailer)
4. Rogue One – Rogue One is the sort of bleak Star Wars movie you thought Disney would never make. It’s not particularly family friendly, the ubiquitously dour tone won’t sell many action figures and it actually feels a bit too socially relevant for summer blockbuster fare (the rebellion morphs from the original trilogy’s unquestioned heroes to a more nuanced depiction of ruthless, desperate, gray area insurgents and extremists). Despite all that, a thrilling final hour rescues an uneven first hour to make a solid initial entry into the Star Wars standalone films. This is the movie that Suicide Squad desperately wanted to be, but instead of enjoyable characters like K-2So and Chirrut Imwe, we got a team of blandos, a stereotype parading itself as a giant crocodile and an utterly forgettable Joker. (Trailer)
5. Hell or High Water – There’s something at first glance that makes this movie look like it should have gone straight to video. Like one of those Bruce Willis movies you’ve never heard of that you stumble upon on Netflix in the New Release section. You know the type. Bruce Willis probably has a weird wig on, and maybe Adrien Brody is in it, too, and it’s probably about a heist, or cops, or corrupt cops pulling a heist. Either way, Hell or High Water isn’t that. It just has the initial appearance of sludgy C-minus material thrown together for actors in the twilight of their careers. But in reality, you get a slow burn, bare bones No Country For Old Men homage set in the dry flats of West Texas. And it’s propped up by the best script of the year. There’s not a single line that seems out of place in this movie. It doesn’t hurt that all the performances are great, too. (Trailer)
6. The Nice Guys – Shane Black continues his streak of great scripts with this punchy 70s action comedy steeped in the tradition of Lethal Weapon, LA Confidential and Kiss, Kiss, Bang Bang. If it weren’t for Hell or High Water, I’d say this would be the best script of the year. Who knew Ryan Gosling had such great comic timing? Who knew Shane Black could write such witty banter? Who knew Russell Crowe could be so surly? Oh wait. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Take Your Daughter to Work aka The Party
7. Green Room – A tense, brutal, skins vs punks showdown set in the backwoods of Oregon that wears its love for John Carpenter on its sleeve. This is not a movie for the squeamish or Star Trek fans who want to preserve a wholesome image of Patrick Stewart. It was sad to lose Anton Yelchin this year, but his talents were on full display in this movie. He was great, and he will be missed. (Trailer)
8. Arrival – The ending of this movie just wrecks you. How sad, but in a wonderful way. Arrival is thinking man’s sci-fi, pulled from a short story by Ted Chiang once deemed unfilmmable because of its convoluted and dense content. Director Denis Villeneuve, who was tasked with unravelling that complex narrative, did so with a level of quality that has to mark him as one of the best directors working today. Villeneuve has me excited for next year’s BladeRunner 2049, a movie I probably wouldn’t care about otherwise. (Trailer)
Best Scene: A Mother’s Love
Watch This If You Like: Contact, Hard sci-fi, Amy Adams, The feels
9. Moonlight – A somber meditation on identity, adaptability and the moments in life that haunt us. This is such a deeply personal film that it almost feels like an intrusion to watch it. But it’s wonderfully subtle, never holding your hand or forcing anything on you. I don’t think I can remember a movie outside of Terrence Malick‘s catalog that felt simultaneously so natural and yet so surreal at the same time. At the very least, Maherssala Ali and Naomie Harris deserve award recognition for their performances. (Trailer)
Best Scene: The Reunion
Watch This If You Like: Great Storytelling, Terrence Malick
11. The Handmaiden – Chan-Wook Park returns to form with this visually sumptuous gothic drama about a handmaiden’s scandalous relationship with a Japanese heiress. In this entry, Park trades his traditional stamp of gratuitous violence in favor of a string of graphic sex scenes that are bound to unnerve more prudish sensibilities. But where other lesser filmmakers would use blasts of violence and sex for pure shock value, Park’s excesses always drip with the mark of a true artist, crafting these as moments of inevitable catharsis and awakening for his characters. Don’t be fooled by the violence/sex/gut churning moments. Chan-Wook Park is a master level director. (Trailer)
12. Manchester By the Sea – A naturalistic endeavor from filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan that examines the damage grief can do after great tragedy. Credit to Lonergan for writing a script that has a lot of legitimately funny moments, considering how heavy the subject matter is in this film. Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams are great. They will probably win awards. They probably deserve to. (Trailer)
Best Scene: (Tie for most devastating) ‘Police Station Visit’ and ‘Chance Encounter on the Street’
Watch This if You Like: Boston Accents, Being Emotionally Devastated
13. Kubo and The Two Strings– I haven’t seen any of Laika’s other films, but my first experience with the studio was certainly a positive one. Kubo is a stop motion animated film that has often been called the ‘Zelda’ movie, because it’s probably the closest anyone is ever going to get to a Zelda movie. Either way, it’s the best animated movie I saw this year (although I still haven’t seen Moana or Your Name). The animation is stunningly gorgeous. (Trailer)
14. 10 Cloverfield Lane – 10 Cloverfield Lane is a surprisingly good high concept bottle episode of a movie. I know people had issue with the ending, which I understand, but I can’t say it bothered me all that much. John Goodman is just too good in this movie for a questionable ending to sully the entire experience. I would encourage any Hitchcock fan to give this a shot. Previous Cloverfield 1 viewing not required. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Any scene where John Goodman loses it
Watch This If You Like: Hitchcock, Tense Thrillers, John Goodman Dancing
15. The Shallows– The Shallows is the best shark movie in quite some time. I know that isn’t saying much, but there were some genuinely terrifying moments in this film. I should also mention that I am irrationally terrified of sharks though, so my judgement probably can’t be trusted with this one. But one of the main characters in this movie is a seagull. And his name is Steven Seagull. So, you should probably just go ahead and see this movie. (Trailer)
These are my favorite movies of 2016 edited in montage form. Sometime this week I’ll actually get around to finishing and putting up the list on the site, but until then, bonus points if you can name them all.