Liz and Eric’s Best Movies of 2017

Liz’s Top Five Movies of the Year 

2017’s Theme: I’m not crying. You’re crying.

 

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 between Saoirse 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. Watching Kumail 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.

 

 

 

Honorable Mentions:

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

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.

 

 

 

Blade Runner 2049

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Sweeney’s Top 10 Movies

1. Blade Runner 2049

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.

2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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.

3. Baby Driver

Edgar Wright doesn’t make bad films. This is stylish and funny from start-to-end, and I wish he wouldn’t take so long between films.

4. War for the Planet of the Apes

The final film in a surprisingly-good trilogy is probably my favorite of the three. Has to be one of the best trilogies of all time too.

5. Dunkirk

Nolan takes a simple war story and applies his unique take on it, creating three timelines (at different lengths) and weaving through them until they all meet at an exhilarating climax.

6. Wind River

A well-made mystery set in the Wyoming wilderness, from the guy that wrote Sicario and Hell Or High Water.

7. Get Out

A horror film with social commentary laced into it. I really hope this gets some Oscar nominations because it’s a great script and directorial debut by Jordan Peele.

8. Thor: Ragnarok

Had a lot of fun with this, which was not the case with the first two Thor movies. Taiki Watiti (had my #2 movie last year) brings his comedic chops to the Marvel universe with great success.

9. Molly’s Game

I’m a sucker for Sorkin, so there was no way I wouldn’t enjoy this movie. And of course I loved it. This is his directorial debut, and he directs the way he writes – with style and speed.

10. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Dark but funny, which is where Martin McDonaugh wants to be with his films that I all love. Tho I’m not sure how I feel about the resolution of the main mystery in this one.

Honorable Mention

The Big Sick, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Logan Lucky, Logan, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, Split, Wonder Woman, Kong: Skull Island, John Wick: Chapter 2, It

Still Haven’t Seen

The Beguiled, Okja, mother!, Phantom Thread, The Post, Lady Bird, Columbus, The Florida Project, A Ghost Story

Most Looking Forward To In 2017

The 15:17 To Paris – Clint Eastwood true story film, starring the actual people who lived it.

Annihilation – Didn’t like the book but love the concept and the director

Avengers: Infinity War – Gonna be a huge film with a lot of surprises

Black Panther – Trailers have made it look like something we haven’t seen before in a Marvel film

First Man – Neil Armstrong’s life story, as told by the La La Land guy

Incredibles 2 –  Sequel to one of my favorite Pixar films

Isle of Dogs – Wes Anderson returns!

Mute – A return to grounded sci-fi for Duncan Jones

The Predator – Shane Black takes on the franchise he helped start 30 years ago

Ready Player One – Book is fun but not well-written – Spielberg’s first big tentpole in awhile and I hope he has fun with it

Roma – Alfonso Cuaron’s follow-up to Gravity

Sicario 2: Soldado – Loved the first, but I wish they just called it Soldado. This one features Benicio more.

Solo: A Star Wars Story – They haven’t made a bad star wars film, so this could be good, but I don’t have high hopes. Still, it’s a Star Wars movie so I’ll see it.

Best Movies of 2017

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)

Best Scene: Dixon reads his letter

Watch This If You Like: In Bruges, Calvary, Dark comedy, Sam Rockwell dancing

 

2Wind 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

Watch This If You Like: Hell or High Water, Winter’s Bone, Cormac McCarthy

 

3Dunkirk – 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)

Watch This If You Like: Westerns, Grim feelings, Shane, The Last of Us

 

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. CocoCoco 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 ApesBad 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)

Best Scene: Prison Break

Watch This If You Like: The Great Escape, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Chicken Run, Bad Ape

 

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, we secretly hope 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)

Best Scene: Opening Raid/Bus Fight

Watch This if You Liked: La Femme Nikita, Oldboy, I Saw the Devil, Kill Bill, Korean action thrillers

 

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

Watch This If You Like: Battlestar Galactica, plot subversion, Anti-Star Wars movies, Porgs

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Long Time No Update

I haven’t updated the site much in 2017. Truthfully, the entire year has been a bit of a sprint, but I’m going to try to be better about keeping up down the stretch. Seasonally, it’s easier to blog in fall and winter when things turn into a gray deluge in the Pacific Northwest.

So, what has happened in 2017 so far? I’m still working on a few projects this year, including a fantasy, thriller and YA sci-fi manuscript. In addition to those tasks I’ve been writing the script for a video game. It’s a Jaws inspired diving game, which if you know anything about me, is right up my alley. All and all, it’s been a scattershot of projects in 2017, but I’ve enjoyed working on them all. Hopefully I’ll have some material to show off in 2018.

I also switched agents this year. My previous agent Kaylee, who I was a huge fan of, decided to hang up her agenting badge this year. I was bummed to hear she was retiring, but I’m excited for her new career in the medical field. With Kaylee’s departure, I switched representation to Kimiko Nakamura, also at the Dee Mura agency. I’ve only spoken with Kimiko a few times, but she also seems to be a wonderful and sharp super agent, just like Kaylee.

Along with the annual end of the year best of movie lists and the movie montage mashup I’ve done in years past, I’m hoping to add an end of the year movie recap podcast with two friends and start producing some youtube movie content by the end of the year. So, be on the lookout for some or all of that come December 2017.

I hope if you’re working on anything creative in 2017, it is going well for you and that amongst the chaos, you are finding passion and inspiration.

Canada Tour

We just got back from our Canada tour, which almost closes out an incredibly busy summer, a season that has included long stretches in Canada, Hawaii, San Francisco and Oregon. This is the video from our time up north. The B.C. wildfires cancelled our original backpacking route through Mt. Assiniboine and pushed us north toward Jasper, but it was still great fun. A lot of smoke, haze, and poutine, but no grizzly run-ins, which I’m always thankful for. This was mostly shot in Banff, Jasper, Canmore and the Icefields Parkway on a GoPro Hero 4 using the Centriphone rig.

 

 

Liz and Eric’s Best Movies of 2016

Liz’s Top Five:

liz-best-banners-2

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.

eric-top-10

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!