THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"THE TEN (ACTUALLY ELEVEN) BEST FILMS OF 2016"
It's safe to say that 2016 was a very, very good year for cinema. There were some great films this year, both artistically and in terms of pure entertainment value. Getting to look back at the best of the best – and to recommend them one more time – is easily one of my favorite tasks. I'd much rather talk about good movies than bad ones.
Paring everything down to just ten titles was a little difficult. That's why there are eleven on the list. As always, there were a few painful cuts. Even though Sully, Krisha and Sing Street didn't quite make it, know that they were #11-13 and don't hesitate to check them out.
Here are my picks for the Ten (well, actually eleven) Best Films of 2016:
10. Kubo and the Two Strings and Zootopia (tie) - As much as I detest ties on year-end lists, there are times when they feel appropriate. This is one of them. We got two groundbreaking animated features in 2016. Laika's Kubo and the Two Strings made huge advancements in stop-motion animation. It's the most complex and breathtaking film of its kind, ever. Disney's Zootopia, meanwhile, went to new places in storytelling, exploring subjects like racism and the suppression of minority rights by power establishments in a way that kids can understand. As a parent, it was a pleasure to show my son two “cartoons” that represented such magnificent artistry.
9. Fences - August Wilson won a Pulitzer Prize for his play Fences. Denzel Washington directed the film version, which wisely doesn't try too hard to alter the material, even if that means accusations of staginess. In the lead role, he gives one of the best performances of his career as a washed-up baseball player/stern family man. Viola Davis is just as good as his patient (for a while) wife. The movie knows it has powerhouse source material, so it opts to be a faithful adaptation, which is the exact right approach.
8. Arrival - For most of its running time, this science-fiction drama about a linguist (Amy Adams) trying to find a way to communicate with alien beings is like a modern-day Close Encounters of the Third Kind. That alone would be enough to secure it a spot here. Then, in the last five minutes, Arrival reveals its true intention, which is to explore the idea that you have to take the bad with the good in life – and the best of the good makes putting up with the bad worth it. This twist makes a great movie even greater.
7. Moonlight - Writer/director Barry Jenkins tells the story of a gay African-American man by following him through three key points in his life: in childhood, when he suspects he's somehow different from other boys he knows; as an adolescent, when the first twinges of sexuality emerge; and as an adult, when he's secure enough to attempt to pursue a serious relationship. It's a beautiful, touching tale, told with innovation. Mahershala Ali is outstanding as a drug dealer who tells “Little” that there's no shame in being true to yourself.
6. Paterson - Jim Jarmusch makes movies about the little moments in life. Paterson, the story of a bus driver (Adam Driver) who finds inspiration in his New Jersey town, is the director working at the top of his abilities. The movie is funny, wise, and knowledgeable about how everyday things can, in the right hands, become fodder for amazing creative works. Kind of like a Jim Jarmusch film.
5. Nocturnal Animals - Former fashion designer-turned-filmmaker Tom Ford has crafted a stunning tale of emotional cruelty and revenge. Amy Adams plays a cold, detached art gallery owner who becomes engrossed in the personal novel her ex-husband sends her. Much of the movie is a story-within-a-story, but in the film's final moments, you understand that the book was written with a more malicious intent than to entertain. This is a strikingly psychological movie.
4. Jackie - Natalie Portman gives the performance of her career as former First Lady Jackie Kennedy in Pablo Larrain's haunting exploration of the days following JFK's assassination. The beauty of Jackie lies in its personal approach. This isn't the story of what Kennedy's death meant to America; it's about what it meant to the woman who loved him. That gives it an intimate quality that allows you to see a historic event in a new light.
3. Weiner - When he tried to re-enter politics following a well-publicized sex scandal, former Congressman Anthony Weiner allowed a documentary crew to follow him. When he screwed up again, he apparently didn't order them to stop filming. The result is this spellbinding “insider” documentary that shows how a political campaign deals with a PR nightmare. Weiner is unflinching in its depiction of the politician's demons overtaking him, and hypnotically uncomfortable in the way it shows how he repeatedly humiliates wife Huma Abedin with his failure to learn from his mistakes.
2. A Monster Calls - What a masterpiece of imagination this film is. A young boy (Lewis MacDougall) imagines a giant tree monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) coming to help him deal with the terminal illness of his mother (Felicity Jones). Gorgeous visual effects and several captivating watercolor animated sequences help to tell a story that seriously looks at how children process grief. Every second of J.A. Bayona's movie, adapted from the Patrick Ness novel, is full of heart, wonder, and compassion.
And my choice for the Best Film of 2016 is:
1. La La Land - Here's the one movie that made my spirit soar more than any other in 2016. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone (both outstanding) star in a modern-day Hollywood story told in the style of Golden Age movie musicals. He's a jazz pianist who doesn't want to play by the rules. She's an aspiring actress who can't catch a break. They fall in love, but their individual aspirations threaten to get in the way. Writer/director Damien Chazelle stages some enthralling song-and-dance sequences, all of which get to his central theme about the difficulties of trying to follow a show business dream and maintain a stable personal life at the same time. Inventive, stylish, fun, and unexpectedly poignant, La La Land is the kind of movie you want to see again immediately the second it's over. There is so much pleasure bursting from every corner that you can barely believe it's a real thing.
Other notable 2016 films: American Honey, Author: The JT LeRoy Story, De Palma, Don't Think Twice, The Eagle Huntress, Elle, Everybody Wants Some!!, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Lion, Manchester by the Sea, Moana, The Nice Guys, Other People, Patriots Day, Snowden, and Tickled.
For the other end of the spectrum, check out my picks for The Ten Worst Films of 2016.
Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at Lulu.com! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at Amazon.com!