One of the most critically-acclaimed films ever just came out, and nobody knows it? Is Arrival the next Interstellar? What superhero film topped Deadpool? Finding Dory got toasted by other animated films? Etc. Everybody has questions—here are some answers. And since we are all tired of 2016, I’ll keep things simple.
10. Star Trek Beyond
Rating: PG-13. Rotten Tomatoes: 84%. Metacritic: 68.
A continuation of a complex series but also a comfortable standalone (with fantastic visuals yet again), Star Trek Beyond is an explosive carnival of fun; it is dazzling, dizzying, & delightful. Rogue One—while surely not a failure—relied on its name for value, but STB found its own organic personality.
9. 10 Cloverfield Lane
Rating: PG-13. Rotten Tomatoes: 90%. Metacritic: 76.
10 Cloverfield Lane is a suffocating confrontation of mysterious drama. Eerie and dark, it is a slow-burning psychological attack on our innate fears of ourselves and our surroundings. And John Goodman, Modern Family star, nailed his psychopathic role.
Rating: G. Rotten Tomatoes: 98%. Metacritic: 78.
A candid story unwinding in a bizarre world, Zootopia is everything we want in a hero’s journey. Literally and figuratively detailed at fascinating benchmarks, it is a must-see for kids as well as adults. You will smile, laugh, and finish with genuine satisfaction.
7. Captain America: Civil War
Rating: PG-13. Rotten Tomatoes: 90%. Metacritic: 75.
While Deadpool (a consciously pitiful “comedy” with unconsciously lackluster “action” & “adventure”) and Batman v Suoerman (an incoherent mess) were underwhelming, Captain America: Civil War was a splendid superhero film. With thoughtfully grandiose reaches, this modern marvel will serve your stomach with the popcorn of virtuous entertainment well.
Rating: R. Rotten Tomatoes: 96%. Metacritic: 84.
Former Congressman Anthony Weiner has a weird name and weirder history—he ruined his career by accidentally posting a photo of his (Anthony) Weiner on Twitter. Then he came back to run for mayor of New York, and this is the campaign’s clever documentary. As 2016 was the year of farcical politics, this appropriately inappropriate film will age gleefully.
5. Manchester by the Sea
Rating: R. Rotten Tomatoes: 97%. Metacritic: 96.
As captivating as Casey Affleck’s lead character—a psychologically detached societal reject—Manchester by the Sea is a rarely intimate story of death & grief. With deranging flashbacks tucked intricately between layers of unfolding emotional inconclusiveness, its script is monumental. I will not, however, recommend this bleak film unless you are a “film buff.”
Rating: PG-13. Rotten Tomatoes: 94%. Metacritic: 81.
Arrival is the next Interstellar, albeit focused on linguistics, (friendly) aliens, & Earth. Armed by a shimmering brain that fights to think its way out of an apocalypse, it is cunning, dynamic, & jaw-dropping. And unless you can’t deal with loud noises, you will enjoy its fine-tuned balance of cognition & action.
3. Hell or High Water
Rating: R. Rotten Tomatoes: 98%. Metacritic: 88.
Toby Howard (Chris Pine) is a law-abiding citizen with a Texas ranch that just struck a lifetime’s bonanza of oil, but he needs $43,000 to pay off the reverse mortgage that will forfeit the property. So he recruits his criminal brother to help him rob banks before that deadline. I’ll quit with the miniature spoilers, but I’ll say that—in terms of straight-up plot—Hell or High Water is the smartest & most exhilarating film of the year (a funny one, too).
2. La La Land
Rating: PG-13. Rotten Tomatoes: 93%. Metacritic: 93.
La La Land is ambitious, novel, & beautiful. Spearheaded by an evolving love story between a young actress/playwright (Emma Stone) and jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling), it’s a musical, comedy, & drama film packed into one glorious firework. With tears falling from the night sky and smiles rising from the warm horizon, it has a sense of smart holism that will progressively creep on you more & more every time you watch it. Whiplash, Damien Chazelle’s stunning breakout film, will be very happy with its ambitious, novel, & beautiful descendant—La La Land.
Rating: R. Rotten Tomatoes: 98%. Metacritic: 99.
A Boyhood meets Carol masterpiece unwinding in three separate parts, Moonlight is astonishingly artistic, ridiculously realistic, & hopelessly human. It is one of the greatest films of all time—and it will change you.
I don’t know what it’s like to be bullied so hard for my sexuality that I end up in the ER. Or be African-American. Or sell drugs to support a family. Or have no loving parent. Or, of course, deal with such a synergic combination of factored turmoils. And most of you readers don’t either, so we must embrace this film as an immaculate freedom from our unawareness. The essence of film is an invitation for us to transcend our stranded personas and ingest our world from other pairs of eyes—an individual, intellectual, & insatiable experience—and Moonlight is a paradigm. Its idiosyncratic batter of galling troubles will deconstruct and alter your preconceptions of humanity, as if its shockingly perfect screenplay and acting and directing and cinematography and score aren’t already enough. Watch it.
Some Very Early Oscar Predictions
- Best Director: Damien Chazelle (La La Land). Manchester by the Sea’s Kenneth Lonergan was visionary, but Damien Chazelle’s faultless job was the hardest.
- Best Actor: Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea). Casey deserves it more than the over-histrionic Denzel Washington (Fences), who already has two Oscars.
- Best Actress: Natalie Portman (Jackie). Emma Stone, current frontrunner, was satisfying, but Natalie Portman was compelling—and feminists will back her.
- Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight). No contest. As both a father figure & drug dealer, Ali stole the show. At least Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water) was funny.
- Supporting Actress: Viola Davis (Fences). Her film’s passionate ensemble won’t be completely neglected, and nobody else offers much competition here.
- Original Screenplay: Manchester by the Sea. As a writer, I loved Hell or High Water’s sly humor, but the screenwriters know best. They have a consensus.
- Adapted Screenplay: Moonlight. No contest. There’s not a single awkward line in Barry Jenkins’s revolutionary script, which will be studied in film classes for ages.
- Best Picture: La La Land. Despite Moonlight being Metacritics’s fourth most acclaimed film of all time (and one of my sure favorites), I’ll stick with La La Land—at least for now, as The Academy relishes theater-oriented films.
We can only wait to see how the coming months unfold; obviously, most awards hinge on timing, momentum, politics, performance elsewhere, etc. Regarding unmentioned films, cheers to Loving, Moana, Kubo and the Two Strings, Love & Friendship, Lion, and The Lobster. With all of that being said, 2017 begins.
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