Liz and Eric’s Best Movies of 2016

Liz’s Top Five:

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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:

eric-top-five1. 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 OneOverall 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.

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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

  1. 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.
  2. Dunkirk – Nolan is the man and I saw the 5-minute preview of it in IMAX. Yeah it’s good.
  3. Baby Driver – Edgar Wright’s first film in 5 years.
  4. War for the Planet of the Apes – Loved the last one and this one looks crazy – it’s got Woody Harrelson
  5. Blade Runner 2049 – wasn’t for this until I saw Villenueve is directing and the trailer looks amazing.
  6. Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 – should be fun
  7. Alien: Covenant – loved Prometheus despite the character issues, so looking forward to this follow-up.
  8. Mute – A return to grounded sci-fi for Duncan Jones
  9. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – From the director of In Bruges. ‘Nuff said.
  10. Molly’s Game – Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut with Jessica Chastain in the lead

Best Movies of 2016

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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:

la_la_land_ver21. 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)

Best Scene: Tell us a story

Watch This if You Like: Color Palettes, Singing in the Rain, Whiplash

hunt-for-the-wilderpeople-poster-52. 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)

Best Scene: Ricky in the Wild

Watch This If You Like: What We Do in the Shadows, Flight of the Conchords, Boy

sing_street_poster3. 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)

Best Scene: Playing the Prom

Watch This If You Like: Once, The Commitments, Almost Famous, nearly unintelligible Irish brogue

rogueone_onesheeta4. Rogue OneRogue 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)

Best Scene: The Assault on Scarif

Watch This if You Like: Empire Strikes Back, War Movies, The Dirty Dozen

hell_or_high_water-poster5. Hell or High WaterThere’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)

Best Scene: I’ll Give You Peace, Old Man

Watch This If You Like: No Country For Old Men, Texas, Great Dialogue

nice_guys_ver2_xlg6. 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

Watch This If You Like: Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang, Lethal Weapon, LA Confidential

green-room7. Green RoomA 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)

Best Scene: Couch Ninja

Watch This If You Like: Blue Ruin, Assault on Precinct 13, Extreme violence, John Carpenter, Patrick Stewart making you uncomfortable, Crusty punks

arrival-poster8. 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


moonlight-poster-lg9. 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

train-to-busan10. Train to Busan – Zombies on a train! By all rights, this should be schlocky nonsense, but it’s actually quite good. It borrows elements from World War Z, 28 Days Weeks Later and Snakes on a Plane, all while cobbling together a product that’s superior to all the movies it pilfered from. I look forward to Hollywood completely blowing the unnecessary English remake of this superb Korean thriller. Mark your calendars, skip it and see the original. (Trailer)

Best Scene: Journey to the front of the train

Watch This If You Like: 28 Weeks Later, Snakes on a Plane, World War ZSnowpiercer

handmaiden_poster_2764x4096_1200_1778_81_s11. The HandmaidenChan-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)

Best Scene: She’s Always Been Rotten

Watch This if You Like: Lady Vengeance, Raise the Red Lantern, Gothic Horror, In The Mood For Love

manchester12. 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

kubo_and_the_two_strings_ver1213. 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)

Best Scene: The Night Calls Out To You

Watch This If You Like: Coraline, Zelda, Kung Fu Panda, Stop Motion Animation

 

10-cloverfield14. 10 Cloverfield Lane10 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

 

the-shallows-poster15. 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)

Best Scene: Buoy showdown

Watch This If You Like: Jaws, The Reef, Open Water, Movies with GoPros in them

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Movies in 2016 – Mashup Trailer

This is an excellent movie mashup montage edited by Andrew Rivard, celebrating the year 2016 in film. Although 2016 didn’t start particularly strongly, I think the surge of good films in the second half may end up making it one of the better cinematic years of late. I of course have nothing to back that claim up, but luckily this is the internet, where citations go to die. Cue the dance montage!

‘Hunt For The Wilderpeople’ Review

I saw two movies in theaters this week. One was the $130 million bloatfest that was Independence Day 2. The other was the New Zealand indie ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople.’ Hunt for the Wilderpeople, made for $128 million dollars less than ID4: 2, is the infinitely better movie between the two. Smart, funny, poignant and boasting a perfect rotten tomatoes score for the moment, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a great example of an applause worthy indie that will go under the radar because of bloatfests like Independence Day (although it looks like everyone is ignoring Independence Day in favor of Finding Dory, anyway). So, if you’re looking to support something small, offbeat and worthy of your hard earned disposable income this weekend, give some consideration to Hunt for the Wilderpeople, which should expand to most cities this Friday (7/1). Sam Neill and Julian Dennison are the truth.

Every Frame A Painting : The Coen Brothers

Cinephiles rejoice. Tony Zhu’s superb Every Frame A Painting series has a new episode. This week’s entry highlights the cinematography of the Coen’s Brothers (specifically the use of shot/reverse shot in their films), examining how seemingly innocuous camera work is more meaningful than you would think at first glance. Zhu’s series, which has long been a favorite of mine, continues to offer a lot of quick and clean insight into cinema and I would highly recommend his series to anyone who has an interest in film beyond the casual moviegoer. If you like this video, be sure to visit Zhu’s youtube channel.

Eric’s Best Movies of 2015

(Eric’s second opinion list got buried in the original post, so he is getting his own post for his list)


poster_3_fury_road_mad_max_by_cesaria_yohann-d8rd4501 – Mad Max: Fury Road – The craziest movie I have ever seen. It felt like a two-hour long action scene, packed full of amazing stunts. I get bummed out when I hear anyone say that they haven’t seen it yet, because they’ll never be able to experience it on the big screen like I did, which really made it that much better. I can’t wait for George Miller to make more films set in this insane universe he’s created. (Trailer)

Best Scene: Max’s fight on the pole-cat as the tanker explodes. I remember Sam and I looking at each other when that happened.

 

9jxobVn2 – The Revenant – While Mad Max was two hours of crazy fun, this is 2+ hours full of complete brutality and human suffering. The film is shot to make the viewer feel like they are there with DiCaprio, by using natural light and long takes. It sounds like the production was a long, winter-ish nightmare but what came out of it was beautiful. (Trailer)

Best Scene: I won’t spoil it, but “Domhnall and a Tree Branch.” The bear attack is a close second.

 

 

star wars3 – Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Yeah, there was no way I wouldn’t love this movie. I think Conor is going to put it higher, and I’d love to, but while it was immensely satisfying, I did have some minor complaints with the plot and some of the character choices. However, it was exactly what I was hoping for in a new Star Wars movie, and I cannot wait for the next one to come out (in 18 months). (Trailer)

Best Scene: Snow falling on sabers

 

 

Stacey-Aoyama-Eric-Tan-Inside-Out-Movie-Poster-Disney-20154 – Inside Out – Pixar can really do no wrong, though I haven’t loved a movie of theirs in a few years, until this came out. While it wasn’t as funny as I would have hoped, the world they created was fun to explore and it really brought the feels. It probably goes in the top 5 of Pixar films for me (Up, The Incredibles, Toy Story 3, Monsters Inc). (Trailer)

Best Scene: Poor Bing Bong!

 

 

spotlight5 – Spotlight – This film is really well done, very informative, and made me extremely upset about the topic. You really don’t get these kind of investigative movies anymore, but I wish there were more like this one. (Trailer)

Best Scene: When the expert tells the journalists on the phone that the number of cases they’ve uncovered are way too low for the size of a city like Boston.

 

 

 

sicario-movie-poster6 – Sicario – Villinueve is now a director that’s a must-see for me, especially after how much this movie brought the suspense. Also, good to see that Benicio Del Toro can still kick ass. (Trailer)

Best Scene: The prisoner transport over the border.

 

 

 

 

01-altposters7 – Ex Machina – A realistic sci-fi film that can be quite slow at times, but very thought-provoking. Oscar Isaac and Domnall Gleeson are just straight killing it. (Trailer)

Best Scene: Obviously the dance scene.

 

 

 

 

 

martian_ver68 – The Martian – Loved the book and the movie was a great adaptation, especially with the humor and what Matt Damon brought to the character. Though there were two big events near the end of the book that I really wished they had put in the movie. (Trailer)

Best Scene: When Watney finally makes contact with Earth via the Pathfinder

 

 

 

missionimpossibleposter9 – MI Rogue Nation – Tom Cruise is a messed up human being, but he’s a damn good actor. I never saw Spectre, but apparently the Mission Impossible series is becoming a much better spy franchise. The new additions, Rebecca Ferguson and director Christopher McQuarrie, were pretty awesome and I’m glad to hear that both of them will be back for the next film in the franchise. (Trailer)

Best Scene: The entire opera scene. Very Hitchcock-esque.

 

 

 

the-big-short-teaser-poster10 – The Big Short – A very interesting take and look in to the housing crisis that caused the 2008 economic recession. Filmed half like a faux documentary, you’d think a film about such a complex and confusing topic would be hard to watch but it was instead quite funny and enjoyable. They often cutaway from the plot and used famous people to explain a complicated topic, such as Selena Gomez and Anthony Bourdain, to much amusement. (Trailer)

Best Scene: JENGA! Also Carrell and Gosling are awesome in every scene.

 

Honorable Mention Scene: Michael Pena’s heist pitches from Ant-Man

Honorable Mention Movies: Steve Jobs, Ant-Man, Bridge of Spies

Haven’t Seen Yet But Want To: Anomalisa, Carol, Room, Crimson Peak, Bone Tomahawk

Best Movies of 2015

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This is my Favorite Movies of 2015 list (along with a second opinion from Eric Sweeney at the bottom). As all movie 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 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 either of those lists, then have at it with the internet yelling (And yes, I saw the Hateful Eight already, but did not dig it. Sorry. Well made, but not my jam).

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1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Admittedly, my bias was strong with this one. The Force Awakens was always going to occupy this slot unless it was terrible. But it wasn’t. I loved it. The new cast members were fantastic, the old reliables were solid, the script was sharp and the film itself set a promising tone for the rest of the Skywalker saga. I don’t care if it was a mild retread of A New Hope. It was wonderful. (Trailer)

Best Scene: Snow falling on sabers

Watch This If You Like: A New Hope, Things that are not the Star Wars prequels, JJ Abrams reboots

madmaxnewposter1_large2. Mad Max: Fury Road – Certainly the surprise hit of the summer, Mad Max stunned viewers by actually living up to expectations set by its insane looking trailer and in some ways even surpassing it. Even with a bit of green screen in play, this movie is a prime example of why it pays to shoot on location. No digitally created environment can trump how the barren deserts of Namibia look in this film. (Trailer)

Best Scene: That two hour chase scene/Many mothers reveal

Watch This If You Like: The Road Warrior, two hour chase scenes, witnessing War Boys reach the gates of Vahalla

 
the-martian-104112-poster-xlarge3. The Martian – This is the movie Prometheus really should have been. Not necessarily in terms of content, but in terms of quality. It, like Prometheus, has such a slick look to it (credit to Dariusz Wolski‘s cinematography in both movies), but the Martian is so much more satisfying. Armed with a perfect cast, the humor of Weir’s novel and a number of surprisingly poignant moments, this is the best adaptation of the book you could have possibly hoped for. (Trailer)

Best Scene: Watney’s tearful takeoff

Watch This If You Like:Apollo 13Cast AwayMoon, Non-Prometheus Based Space Movies

sicario-poster4. Sicario – Oozing with a sense of dread from its very first frame, Sicario is easily the year’s most gripping film. A tense narco thriller about an idealistic FBI agent sent to assist in the war against the Mexican cartels, Sicario’s acting (Benicio deserves a best supporting actor nod for this), directing and cinematography really trump what could be a shrug worthy script in other hands. But be warned. This is a bleak film. Like abandon all hope bleak. If you’re feeling good about yourself and for some reason want to take yourself down ten notches, this is the movie for you. (Trailer)

Best Scene: “Go ahead. Eat.”

Watch This If You Like: TrafficPrisoners, a better version of True Detective Season 2, feeling utterly helpless, depression naps, depressing soundtracks, hiding in the closet when someone knocks on your door, fear, fear naps, reasons to never visit Juarez, anxiety attacks

the-revenant-character-poster-15. The Revenant – The Revenant is a grisly survival story propped up on the merits of its technical marvels, a fearless lead performance and a collection of starkly desolate landscapes. At some point, it becomes less of a movie and more of a ‘How to Win Leonardo Dicaprio an Oscar’ simulator, but I was still captivated. Despite all the draining brutality, hardship and ugliness, it still remains a stunningly beautiful movie. I expect this one to jump up my list when I get around to seeing it again. Definitely not for the squeamish though. (Trailer)

Best Scene: The opening ambush aka Get to the Boats!

Watch This If You Like: The GreyLast of the Mohicans, Terrence Malik movies, feeling cold

Inside Out6. Inside Out – Inside Out is a movie I liked significantly more the second time I watched it. Originally, I admired the visuals and the vibrant color palette employed by the animation team, but came away thinking it borrowed too much from its influences (Calvin and Hobbes, Osmosis Jones, Herman’s Head, and Wreck-It Ralph to name a few) and delivered a fun, but fairly innocuous story. The second time through I appreciated it a lot more, seeing it for the emotionally rich picture it really is. Even if you get hung up on the film’s rather accessible approach to psychology, I think there are themes that will resonate deeply with both kids and adults alike. However, the true accomplishment of this movie may be that it makes the audience misty eyed over a character named Bing Bong. Did not see that coming. (Trailer)

Best Scene: Joy realizes the merits of sadness/Bing Bong’s goodbye

Watch This If You Like: Pixar Movies, Feels, Wreck-It Ralph

creedpostersmall7. Creed – A far superior boxing movie than the strangely flat and disappointing Southpaw (which I saw someone accurately describe as a trash can fire of unearned sentimentality), Creed, despite having a trailer which unwisely chose to divulge the entire plot of the movie, succeeds just as much outside of the ring as it did inside the ring. Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson turn in solid, likable performances, while Stallone, freed from his usual directing responsibilities in the series, gives a stripped down Rocky Balboa closer to that which we haven’t seen since the first Rocky movie, and it is a welcome surprise. After however many terrible bravado filled posture fest Expendables movies, I had forgotten Stallone could be so good. And that tracking shot in the first fight? Immaculate. Also very happy to see that Marvel just gave Creed’s director Ryan Coogler the directing job for Black Panther. Well deserved. (Trailer)

Best Scene: The one-take fight.

Watch This If You Like: Rocky Movies, Fruitvale Station, training montages
meru-poster8. Meru – Meru is an alpine climbing documentary that follows a team of climbers (climbing heavyweights Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk) who attempt to complete a first ascent of the seemingly impossible Shark Fin route on Mount Meru. Despite focusing on the kind of esoteric subject matter you would expect to be buried in the deep dark recesses of your Netflix que, Meru is breathtaking, harrowing (all three of its subjects nearly die on a semi-regular basis during filming), and at times profoundly touching (proof of which came when it was recently shortlisted by the academy for best documentary). Even if the outdoors aren’t your thing, give this documentary a shot. It is a truly powerful film that should not be missed. (Trailer)

Best Scene: Survivor’s guilt

Watch This If You Like: Touching the Void, The Summit, Everest

CO9p5Z2XAAAbyL69. Beasts of No Nation – This haunting adaptation of Uzodinma Iweala’s book is the gut punch you would expect it to be. A brutal and unflinching look at a fictitious group of child soldiers led by a cruel but charismatic leader, Beasts of No Nation was Netflix’s first real push into the production side of the movie business, and I think it was a great success. The performances from Idris Elba and Abraham Attah are a large part of why it works so well, but Cary Fukunaga’s production as a whole should be commended. This could not have been an easy film to make. And while it may be difficult to sit through, I do not think this movie should be ignored. I know everyone in America is binging Making a Murderer on Netflix right now, but when you finish, consider adding Beasts of No Nation to your que. (Trailer)

Best Scene: Commandant pumps up his troops

Watch This If You Like: City of God, Sin Nombre, God Grew Tired of Us

ant-man-poster-german10. Ant-Man – While it may not shock summer audiences quite like Guardians of the Guardians did last year, Ant-Man is a likable superhero flick that proves good casting and the right tone can go a long way toward making an almost unfilmable product worth watching. Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas and Michael Pena are especially good in this, but heavy doses of wit and a rather uncomplicated plot (as far as Marvel movies go at least) really prevent this from being the train wreck that it could have been (there is something about the template of this movie that reminds me a bit of DC’s Green Lantern movie, except if it wasn’t terrible, so if you want to see the disaster version of Ant-Man, watch Green Lantern as a cautionary tale of what could have been). Unfortunately, Ant-Man still falls into Marvel’s recent trappings of having forgettable and shrug worthy villains (Tom Hiddleston being the exception of course) seen in Corey Stoll’s sneering Daren Cross, whose journey from 0 to 60 on the doing bad things to people who disagree with you at board meetings scale seems completely absurd, but I guess you can’t have everything in a second tier Marvel superhero movie. Ant-man won’t blow you away, but at the end of the movie I was completely on board with seeing more of these characters in the Marvel universe. (Trailer)

Best Scene: Michael Pena’s heist pitches

Watch This If You Like: Guardians of the Galaxy, Heist movies, Paul Rudd

the-look-of-silence-poster11. The Look of Silence – Companion piece to the surreal and disturbing 2012 documentary ‘The Act of Killing’, filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer’s second film regarding the Indonesian mass killings follows the brother of one of the victims as he confronts his brother’s killers. ‘The Look of Silence’ is so disturbing and difficult to watch. I had to stop it a few times and wasn’t sure I’d make it to the end. It’s easily one of the year’s best films, but I doubt I’ll ever watch it again. I have no idea how Josh Oppenheimer managed to make two movies about this subject without his life being seriously threatened. I assume he can’t go to Indonesia now and I fully understand why making these movies gave him insomnia and nightmares. (Trailer)

Best Scene: Is there such a thing as a best scene in a movie like this? I honestly don’t know. I can’t get this movie out of my head though. It’s haunting.

Watch This If You Like: The Act of Killing, Little Dieter Needs to Fly

IMG_028412. Everest – Stunning atmospheric visuals of the world’s tallest peak and a rock solid cast (Brolin, Knightley and Clarke are the standouts) headline this retelling of the 1996 Everest disaster (which Into Thin Air famously and controversially documented). While the spectacle and ruthless nature of alpine climbing are depicted effectively, it is unfortunately hampered by some odd pacing issues that keep it from being truly great. It also loses points for not having a scene where the climbers lug nitro glycerine up the mountain, but you can’t have everything. This is also the second movie on the list featuring John Krakauer. I guess it’s a good year to be Krakauer. (Trailer)

Best Scene: The storm approaches/Hall speaks with his wife

Watch This If You Like: North Face, Vertical Limit, Meru

Me-And-Earl-And-The-Dying-Girl-Poster13. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl – A mashup of ‘Be Kind Rewind’ and ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ with a sort of Wes Anderson for tweens vibe to it, ‘Me & Earl And The Dying Girl’ won a slew of awards at Sundance this year before triggering a bidding war for the rights to its theatrical release. Earl is better than most of the high school movies released in the last few years, but it’s also not without its problems. While I can’t fault a movie where the teen protagonist is obsessed with Werner Herzog, I do think there are about fifteen to twenty minutes where said protagonist becomes insufferable and the movie suffers as a result. Is this insufferable behavior most likely representative of actual teenage behavior? Sure, but it does prevent Me & Earl and The Dying Girl from taking that next step into becoming a classic coming of age story. It’s still an admirable movie however and RJ Cyler as Earl and Olivia Cooke as Rachel deliver fantastic performances. They should be given all the teenager roles in movies from now on. All of them! (Trailer)

Best Scene: Rachel watches her movie

Watch This If You Like: Be Kind Rewind, Fault in Our Stars, The Perks of Being a Wallflower 

MV5BMTA5MTU2NjIxOTNeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDA5Njc0MDIx._V1_SX640_SY720_14. The Salvation – A traditional gritty western revenge tale with no real frills to it, ‘The Salvation’ is bolstered by a strong lead performance from Mads Mikkelsen and spirited support work from Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Eva Green, Jonathan Pryce and Mikael Persbrandt. The is pretty much the Danish film industry’s answer to ‘Unforgiven,’ even if it doesn’t quite reach the brilliance of Eastwood’s swan song western. The Salvation may be rough around the edges, but there is still a lot to like here. I mean, Mads Mikkelsen is quietly one of the best actors in the world right now, so that alone should get any respectable western fan reason to chance ‘The Salvation.’ (Trailer)

Best Scene: A soldier’s revenge/Peter taunts his jailer

Watch This If You Like: The Proposition, UnforgivenBone Tomahawk

 

WHATWEDOINTHESHADOWS_moviefone15. What We Do In The Shadows – A kindred spirit to the deadpan humor of Flight of the Concords, this vampire mockumentary by FOTC creator Jemaine Clement and long time collaborator Taika Waititi is often hilarious. Owing a lot to mockumentary pioneers like Christopher Guest and horror comedy classics like Shaun of the Dead, this clever indie import from New Zealand could be a new Halloween classic in the making. And Stu. Stu really steals the show. Stu is the best. (Trailer)

Best Scene: You can’t eat Stu

Watch This If You Like: Flight of the Concords
Screen shot 2015-12-17 at 2.22.46 AM

16. Slow West – Slow West is an unsurprisingly slow western whose grim tone feels like an odd marriage between the Coen brothers, John Ford and Jim Jarmusch. Featuring some gorgeous vistas courtesy of New Zealand’s always scenic south island, a quality performance from Michael Fassbender and an undeniably tragic conclusion, this quirky tale is worth checking out if you’re a fan of the genre. It may not wow you with its gunplay and shootouts, but the film sure is pretty to look at. And if you find yourself fading while watching it, do yourself a favor and fast forward to the last twenty minutes. That is Slow West at its best. (Trailer)

Best Scene: The final shootout

Watch This If You Like: True Grit, Dead Man, Westerns

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