A big round of applause for indie films taking charge of a year that has seen more celebrity deaths since the plot of This Is The End. Seriously, there is an unhealthy influx of deaths involving people we admire and love in the entertainment industry, but if there is a constant other than death it has to be the importance of indie film-making. The smaller budget flicks that take the human experience to it’s most engaging levels have come in full force this year in a time when we thought Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed were going to be the films that brought along the video game movie renaissance. That went well…
We’re in an era where budgets have inflated to hundreds of millions of dollars for a movie that could have worked with about half or even less of that budget. That’s not to say there hasn’t been money well spent this year on big films, but it does beg the question as to why the heck people haven’t flocked to see some the years best films that have without a doubt been streaming in the indie circuit like formula one racers. I think this will be a year when people realize that indie films are not just for the cinephiles, hipsters, or older crowds anymore. There are magnificent, no, brilliant masterpieces being made all the time that we aren’t supporting, and yet the echo of millions of Facebook warriors are shouting “is there nothing original in Hollywood?!”
I think I still here them screaming like lambs and I’m just your Hannibal Lector waiting to tell you the hard, scary truth to your ignorance. The grandest storytelling isn’t always from the grandest looking of the films you see each year. It’s grandest when there a fully conceived story takes shape in the form of well written plot with characters, settings, and conflict-to-resolution through the vision of it’s directors that makes a film grand. Films like La La Land, The Lobster, or even Hell or High Water aren’t films that use cliches or tropes to get you hooked, but instead an original, remarkable story given care it deserves with a freedom for the filmmakers to express their visions fully.
I know it’s tough sometimes to transition to just blockbusters to some indie films sprinkled in there, but while you think it’s like stepping into quicksand, it’s more like stepping into a hot tub. We’ve become so accustomed to cliched films with unoriginal, bland, formulaic plots that we forget there is a whole new world out there waiting for us to explore. I implore you all to go out and see these movies that we dub “Oscar bait”, but don’t go into the film so close minded, that’s not fair to anyone, and who knows, maybe you’ll just happen to like some of them.
It’s no surprise that La La Land director Damien Chazelle is going to reunite with one of the most multi-talented men in Hollywood for his next project, but who saw this coming? A Neil Armstrong biopic appears to be the next move for these two talents as the writer/director’s next project will be titled First Man and will take his talents, not to South Beach, but to the moon.
Chazelle’s first two efforts have been nothing short of spectacular with his work on the award-winning Whiplash and his recent musical effort in La La Land. The two films have music as a vocal point (no pun intended) to varying degrees so it’s fascinating that the direction the young director is going is up…in space.
That’s definitely not a bad thing because making a musical is not some simple feat to accomplish with it being your second film and it’s exciting to know that he wants to make a film about such a significant person in world history. The film will be based on the book of the same name and presents a cool period for Chazelle to tackle as a director. The space crazed 60’s could present a great emotional tug with real life dramas the world would love to see on screen.
It’d be interesting to see if this duo can strike more magic with this film and if this could be the next great director-actor pairing when it’s all said and done. Who knows, maybe we see Emma Stone and J.K. Simmons make appearances somewhere. I’d put money on Simmons finding his way in there like Bill Murray in a Wes Anderson movie.
It’s a shame indie films are so hard to come by when you’re not in New York or LA because there seems to have been an unstoppable amount of great ones this time around. Sadly, I didn’t get to see the talked about films early like some critics such as; Moonlight, Live By Night, Paterson, Silence, The Handmaiden, or something like Fences that isn’t even in wide release yet. Obviously, when I get the chance to see them, you’ll all be the first to see and read my thoughts.
With that said, I still got to see a ton of terrific films, and a ton of not so great ones this year. The Top 10 Worst of 2016 will be coming shortly after this list so stay tuned… But for now, let’s start this list off with some films I have seen and tell me what you think afterwards.
BUT FIRST, some Honorable Mentions: Zootopia* / 10 Cloverfield Lane / Hail, Caesar* / Hunt for the Wilderpeople / Moana / Don’t Breathe / The Lobster / Swiss Army Man / Don’t Think Twice / Hacksaw Ridge*
* indicates it was really close to making the list
10. Captain America: Civil War
Even though indies were clearly the winners of 2016 when all seemed lost, there was one blockbuster film that managed to blow us all way even more than it’s sequels and that was the third installment in Captain America’s now trilogy. With Team Cap vs Team Iron Man duking it out amongst each other, we also got the exciting introductions to the newest Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman). It also was a terrific way to lead us to the next few films in the Marvel line-up while still giving us a film all on it’s own.
9. Manchester By the Sea
This was a weird one for me, not because the film was bad, but because it was depressing as hell yet I couldn’t stop thinking about it. My frame of mind on that is, if I can’t stop thinking about something, it must have some sort of value to it, and Manchester by the Sea does. It’s an almost too intimate and realistic look on family and tragedy while painting a picture on the realities what a person feels or doesn’t feel in their everyday lives. Casey Affleck is terrific while the direction is crisp, detailed precision to give that bitter cold feeling of the characters as well as the characters personalities.
I haven’t found someone who hasn’t enjoyed Deadpool yet. Ryan Reynolds takes on the role he was supposed to play his whole life as the Merc with the Mouth. Bloody violent, vulgar as a sailor, and funny as hell, Deadpool proves that not all heroes need to wear capes or follow the rules to be cool. It’s exactly what fans and filmmakers would have wanted when creating this movie and it only took ever a decade.
7. Kubo and the Two Strings
LAIKA Studios is the Pixar of stop motion with the quality to match. The beautifully original samurai tale has some of the best animation of the year, if not the best, with emotional tug that works for both kids and adults. The voice cast does the job you’d hope without ever taking you out of the film like we all feared. I would put this higher if I had seen it twice, but alas, I have not nor do I have the blu-ray just yet… I will have that blu-ray!
6. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Extended Cut)
Yes I know, DC is terrible and Marvel does it better blah blah blah. You’re not impressing anyone with your sweaty fanboy reactions to the work Zack Snyder did on BvS. Maybe if the studio just sucked it up and released the Extended Cut of the film like they did on blu-ray there wouldn’t be so much backlash. Is it perfect? No, it’s really not, but the questions you had for the film were easily answered with just a few important scenes that present the film as a complete production. The action is terrific, Snyder’s visuals are gorgeous, and the cast – Eisenberg not really withstanding – are outstanding in their roles.
One of the smartest films made in a while as far as science-fiction goes, I think it’s safe to admit that this took us all by surprise. Director Denis Villeneuve doesn’t make bad films and Amy Adams doesn’t have a bad performance that I can think of and it shows. While it has aliens, this film has a shell that’s extremely drama based with a perfect blend of science and science-fiction to go around. You’ll be pondering in silence at what you just watched for days and weeks after you’ve watched it.
4. Hell or High Water
Remember when I said indies definitely won the year, well, this was the film that confirmed it. Chris Pine and Ben Foster excel as two brothers that rob banks and that’s about it if we’re being honest, but it’s the execution that wastes no time to make you gravitate towards the characters throughout the film. No matter what side you see, these characters are fleshed out with flawlessly written dialogue and simple explanation. The film also has a lot to say within itself that you can appreciate and catch when you look hard enough.
3. The Nice Guys
Shane Black returns to his wheelhouse of buddy comedies that fuse with crime noir. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe are the dynamic duo for this one as they give us some of their most hilarious roles in their careers, especially Gosling as the bumbling idiot of a private eye. Oh, did I mention this is set in 70’s LA and the plot revolves around these two dudes trying to find a pornstar? Yep.
2. Sing Street
This may be one of the most charming coming of age films I’ve ever seen and coming of age movies are pretty impressive in the grand scheme of things. Set in 80’s Dublin, a young boy whose family is going through personal and financial troubles tries to impress a girl by starting a band. Turns out, they aren’t too bad, and their progression as artists and young men grows at a rate you can’t help but hone in on. The music is wonderful and heartwarming and presents the ideas that all people in love should admire.
1. La La Land
This is unmatched as the best film of the year whether this was technical or personal list, but in this case it’s both. Damein Chazelle delivers like a master on just his second outing as a full time director to much avail. It’s not only one of the most aesthetically pleasing films I’ve seen maybe since Jet Li’s Hero as far as the usage of colors, but mix that with an original musical about the importance of chasing dreams and realizing love comes in many shapes and forms then you get what I consider the Best-Picture of the Year.
2016 has been one of the most heartbreaking years in recent memory if we’re talking about the loss of iconic entertainers in the world of music or film, but this one will yet again hit home more than you’d want as the iconic Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher has passed away. Now, while I may not have shed a tear or known the woman personally, I do know the impact she had on many men and woman, boys and girls alike as Prince Leia Organa. The tough and bad ass character was personified through a woman who felt she herself was just the same. Brutally honest in an environment and career than supposedly doesn’t warrant those traits, Fisher clearly didn’t care what her critics had to say before and after her death.
Her small roles in films such as When Harry Met Sally or The Blues Brothers helped add to what was a moderate film career pre and prior to Star Wars, but if that the legacy she ends with I think she’d be okay. Her time as Princess Leia can be looked at as something women and little girls should truly strive for, elegant, smart, and confident all at once. Her magnifying stare and matter of fact way about her led her to become one of the most iconic characters in the history of film.
It didn’t hurt she sexually awoke pretty much every young man that saw her in Return of the Jedi only to reel them back in with an exciting and fun performance later on in the film. Her comeback along her co-star and friend Harrison Ford didn’t hurt either once we got The Force Awakens. We will miss you Carrie Fisher and are excited to see her final performance in Episode VIII no matter the size of the role. Forever in our hearts and minds and may the force be with you.
Franchise Viagra aka The Rock (teehee) aka Dwayne Johnson aka yours and your mothers favorite celebrity may have just clued us in on some cool news regarding his DC character Black Adam. Nothing is confirmed yet, but if there’s one thing we know about The Rock is that he never does anything by accident nor does he bullsh** us when it comes to, well, anything really.
His debut as the powerful god-like DC villain Black Adam has had fans clamoring since his casting came out nearly two years ago, but nothing has yet to materialize. Black Adam is normally a Shazam! (formally known as Captain Marvel) villain but with no one cast as Billy Batson or his hero alter ego Shazam it’s no surprise that the film has been in limbo for a couple years. One shimmer of hope was when Johnson shared some pretty sweet fan art on his Twitter page that you can see below.
The fan art was in response to The Rock and Henry Cavill’s meet up on Christmas at Johnson’s house which apparently involved tequila and whiskey says Johnson. If we’re being honest, when I realized they hadn’t cast Shazam, but got The Rock as Black Adam early on it was clear that they wanted a villain for both Supes and Shazam when the time is right and it makes sense for them to have snagged the terrific actor and personality before Marvel did.
At this point, I’d just be happy to see some on set photos or even concept art of The Rock as Adam from Warner Bros. Superman is too great a character and the man playing him is too talented to not be in more films for DC and Warner Brothers. Regardless of what happens after this cool photo, I just hope these characters can get their just do.
Stories within stories can be either the coolest cinema experience or the most convoluted, but they’re always daring to say the least. Fashion designer turned director Tom Ford definitely keeps his roots in creating gorgeous art intact, but with Nocturnal Animals being only his second directorial effort, how does he fair? The film stars Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Armie Hammer, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Iala Fisher, and Laura Linney. The film is gorgeously shot which is clear from the make-up, the art within the film, and of course the cast and the clothes on their backs. Of course, that’s not what makes a terrific film.
To try to explain this film is like trying to examine how one solves a rubix cube and unless you know how to solve a Rubix cube already, I would best not bother wasting your time with the detailed explanation. What you need to know is that Amy Adams delivers another terrific performance with subtlety, suspense, and vibrancy all at once. Susan Morrow (Adams) is a successful artist living with her second husband Walker Morrow (Hammer) in what looks to be a wondrous mansion, but it’s when Susan gets a book titled “Nocturnal Animals” by her ex-husband does the story within a story truly begin. Dripping with suspense as it leaves you with an unquenchable curiosity for answers, Ford feels like he’s experimenting with conceptual storytelling as if the film were made by a young film student who read too many James Patterson novels in between.
One thing doesn’t falter through this experimental narrative is the outstanding acting by the entire cast. One in particular who excels beyond our lead is Aaron Taylor-Johnson who many know from being Kick-Ass or Quicksilver in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but clearly this is where the young actor excels the most in his craft. Gyllenhaal is also impressive as a few characters in the film, but that’s for you to discover, and Michael Shannon continues his reign of excellence with every passing role he gets. As a good ol’ West Texas police officer (sheriff?), Shannon just steals his scenes without us ever questioning it when it happens. When you can take the spotlight away from a world-class actor such Gyllenhaal, you ascend into something more impressive than world-class.
I will warn you all, this is a grim film at times with thematic elements that definitely make me uncomfortable, but it’s that feeling of discomfort that made me realize this is a terrifically executed production from beginning to end even if I think that the story feels like I am driving around a neighborhood with no intent on knocking on anyone’s doors. It almost doesn’t feel like a movie, but rather a mental exercise that helps you sweat out those deep rooted emotional angsts that you didn’t know you had. Tom Ford definitely has the skills to make outstanding films if he so chooses and this is a testament to his abilities at producing engaging pictures for an adult audience who won’t be able to stop watching to find out what is coming next.
The Red Band trailer for Ridley Scott’s return to the Alien franchise looks chilling and blood thirsty in the ways we’ve wanted since we were polarized by his prequel film Prometheus. As the director of the film, he has clearly returned to the body horror that made the films so scary and terrifying and it looks like his star studded cast is ready to bring everything back to life.
Katherine Waterson (Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them) stars as the lead female protagonist which many have speculated could be a character who is somehow related to Ripley played by Sigourney Weaver in the original four films. Michael Fassbender also returns to the franchise as the android David who set in motion the events of Prometheus back in 2012.
The trailer is genuinely scary and violent in all ways that the original films were like. Hopefully we don’t just get senseless, gratuitous bloodshed just because he feels he wants to bring back the frightening nostalgia. It’s a sci-fi film after all and we want to see cool, man eating aliens in the process.
The film comes out May 19th, 2017