After a promising spring, moviegoers endured the lousiest summer movie season in memory. The “big dumb fun” movies didn’t deliver but several great, challenging fall dramas and a few sleepers from earlier salvaged the movie year. The great runner-ups that got pushed outside of my Top Ten are A Monster Calls (opening next month), Kubo and the Two Strings, Snowden, The Magnificent Seven and the surprisingly great Ouija: Origin of Evil. When a Ouija sequel winds up being far better than Jason Bourne, you know it’s been a weird year. Here are ten to discover, look forward to or re-watch from 2016.
Martin Scorsese’s years-in-the-making historical drama, about Jesuit priests in 17th century Japan, haunted me more than any other film this year. Nothing Scorsese has ever made (not even his faintly comparable The Last Temptation of Christ or Kundun) can prepare you for this. The filmmaker’s deeply personal, grueling and rewarding portrayal of a harrowing test of one’s faith has the cinematic craftsmanship, perfect performances and narrative pull of his finest masterpieces. Scorsese doesn’t go easy on his audience: the deadly-serious exploration of faith and shocking, intimate scenes of violence demand a prepared filmgoer. Brave ticket buyers and Scorsese’s fans will find an engrossing, unpredictable story, brilliant filmmaking and one unforgettable scene after another. Here’s a movie to experience, discuss, re-visit and cherish for years to come. (Opens everywhere in January)
This Amy Adams/Jake Gyllenhaal-starring puzzle creates two dueling narratives and asks if men are allowed to appear “weak.” Numerous moviegoers told me how much Tom Ford’s intense mystery/thriller angered them. When it ended at the recent First Light film fest, a friend of mine stood up and yelled out, “What the @%&# was that?” You know what? Good! Ford’s movie intends to tantalize, provoke and leave its audience with an unforgettable experience. Mission accomplished.
KNIGHT OF CUPS
Terrence Malick’s 21st century take on 8 and a Half and life in Hollywood is rich with feeling and beauty. Like all of Malick’s films, it’s gorgeous to watch and plays like a cinematic poem. Savor the internal pull of Christian Bale’s lead turn and the scene stealing work from Teresa Palmer and Wes Bentley in support. Many of my favorite movie moments of the year are scattered throughout this under-appreciated gem.
Barry Jenkins’ debut film is a total surprise. This unique portrait, of a man whose childhood and teen years are marked by three very different identities, has dramatic power and poetic filmmaking to spare. Jenkins modifies our expectations from the first scene, taking his story in unexpected and devastating directions. The concluding scenes are both suspenseful and deeply moving. Everything about this movie is a discovery.
10 CLOVERFIELD LANE
A perfect thriller, centering around three characters (including one played by a powerhouse John Goodman) in a single setting. Not a moment is wasted, the tension never stops building and one surprise on top of another awaits us. No one even knew this movie was coming and it arrived with an unprecedented aura of secrecy. It opened in March and offered imagination than every subsequent summer movie and lived up to its hype. Somewhere, Rod Serling is smiling.
Denzel Washington’s third time as a director results in his finest work yet behind the camera. He stars alongside Viola Davis in this deceptively quiet, volcanic character drama about the competitive nature of father/son relationships. The wonderful performances and Washington’s polished, un-showy filmmaking compliments August Wilson’s devastating family drama. Leaves a bruise but also a hopeful message of bridging generational gaps.
My favorite documentary of 2016 is this brisk, giddy treat for movie buffs. Brian De Palma, the controversial director of Carrie, Scarface, The Untouchables, Carlito’s Way and Mission: Impossible (to name a few) goes over his colorful, rollercoaster career. An insightful watch, even for non-fans, it showcases the spectacular, never-before-seen original (and far better) ending of Snake Eyes and offers an unguarded soapbox for its uncompressing subject.
THE LITTLE PRINCE
Despite being one of the top grossing films worldwide, Paramount Pictures abruptly dropped this half CGI/half stop motion animated fantasy from its schedule. Netflix came to the rescue and now you can savor this funny, wondrous and compassionate fantasy. I also loved Kubo and the Two Strings, Moana and Zootopia but this is the year’s best animated film.
EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!
Richard Linklater’s latest came and went without much fanfare. The lives of goofball jocks in the days leading up to the start of their college semester, this ’80s-set comedy is a worthy companion to Linklater’s Dazed and Confused and has some big laughs but there’s also real insight and a big heart.
Critics rallied around writer/director Jeff Nichols’ Loving but this sci-fi gem, released early this year, is the better film. Mysterious and surprising, it features great turns by Michael Shannon, Adam Driver and Kirsten Dunst and exceptional visual effects. Best of all, it elicits a love for ’80s genre movies (shades of Stranger Things) and takes its trippy premise as far as it could go.
Photo from Silence: IMDB