I didn’t get to see as many new movies in 2016 as I would have liked (there’s one movie I went to see but didn’t get to — I’ll save that story for here in a minute), but of the movies that I did see, five came forward in my mind as my favorites. There are still movies from the past year that I want to see:
Manchester by the Sea (dir. Kenneth Lonergan), 10 Cloverfield Lane (dir. Dan Trachtenberg), Everybody Wants Some (dir. Richard Linklater), Weiner (dir. Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg), and Silence (dir. Martin Scorsese), just to name a few.
As for that movie I went to see but didn’t get to: Captain America Civil War (2016, dir. Anthony Russo, Joe Russo). A friend and I were going to meet up at the theater to see this movie. I’m not a huge fan of superhero movies (I find most of them incredibly uninteresting), but I enjoyed the first two Captain America movies enough that I wanted to go see Civil War, despite it looking like The Avengers 2.5. Unfortunately for me I ended up getting sick and had to leave about ten minutes into the movie. There’s quite a bit more to this story, but I’m not sure that any of you want to hear the details. Either way, I’m pretty sure I really freaked out one guy in the theater bathroom. But that’s all the details you’re getting.
Now, on to my five favorites of 2016 (of the movies that I have seen). I’m gonna do my best to keep this rather short and sweet (yeah right).
5. The Jungle Book (dir. Jon Favreau)
I’ll admit that I wasn’t very excited about this movie. I’m a big fan of the original animated film, and I just hate remakes in general. There is this big culture these days of updating things and trying to make them more modern, but it rarely brings about results which are satisfactory. This is a separate issue from our “sequel culture,” by the way, but falls into the same general idea of Hollywood not having any new ideas. This, however, was a pretty refreshing remake. It took the very silly and fun animated film and turned it into a very dark and serious drama. It maintains the fun attitude of the original, but somehow manages to make the material feel more grown up.
4. Knight of Cups (dir. Terrence Malick)
This one is not for everyone (or even most people). Malick’s films tends to meander, ramble, and focus on aesthetics and tone more so than narrative coherence. His films have little to do that most would recognize as a “narrative” or “story,” but feature many philosophical, theological, and poetic themes and ideas. His camera floats like a sort of all seeing eye, viewing his characters but never letting us get too close to them. Here we find Christian Bale playing a Hollywood scriptwriter who has lost his way in life. The film is divided up into chapters, each one named after a tarot card and each representing a different woman with whom he becomes involved. All the while the characters narrate the film and present ideas rather than strict stories. It’s a tough film to nail down and will never be a huge hit with most people, but it’s a marvelous technical and aesthetic achievement.
3. Hail, Caesar! (dir. The Coen Brothers)
I wrote about this once before. It’s a movie with such a specific kind of humor and area of focus that most people won’t get the joke. Unfortunately, the modern audience is so classic movie illiterate that most everything in this film will go over their heads. I’m not even sure if the stuff with the Red Scare will strike a chord. But if you’re a HUGE classic movie buff then you’ll love this one. It lampoons musicals, biblical epics, westerns, and others. Even certain stars and actors from the classic period are poked fun at. The movie flopped financially, died with audiences, but was a big hit with the critics. It’s very clearly a divisive movie, but most people probably went into it expecting it to be something that it wasn’t (the marketing made it look like a farce following George Clooney, which couldn’t be farther from the truth).
2. The Witch (dir. Robert Eggers)
Speaking of movies which were poorly marketed, I introduce The Witch. It’s still a bit strange to be that I didn’t review this movie here on the blog, but for one reason or another I decided to pass on it. Really, it’s the sort of thing I love to write about: it is an incredibly well-made film with some interesting (although disturbing) theological subtext and symbolism. Unfortunately this movie was marketed as a horror film when in reality is is a “fable” or “fairytale.” It is certainly not a movie for kids or for those who lack patience with a slow building tension, but, for any looking for a rewarding (albeit disturbing) movie that is very atmospheric, it is a very solid film. The storytelling, cinematography, writing, and acting are all top-notch. It is not scary, but that isn’t the point. This movie is about a family meeting the limits of their faith and failing to live up to their own standards. It’s very troubling, but it is not horror. The showing I went to ended with someone from the back of the theater exclaiming: “That was the stupid piece of s**t I’ve ever seen.” Which is probably true if you have the attention span and intelligence of a four year old, and not to mention were expecting something more akin to a movie from the Saw franchise.
1. Zootopia (dir. Byron Howard, Rich Moore)
Listen. I’m as surprised as you are in all honesty. I actively avoided seeing this movie because of how much I hated Frozen (2013, dir. Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee). I assumed this would be more of the same and so I avoided it like the plague. That being said, when I finally did get coerced into watching it (even up until it began I did not want to see this movie) I discovered a lovely little animated film that actually had some meat to it but was not so heavy as to be boring to a child. Given the current state of public opinion on police officers in America, the film seemed very appropriate and encouraging (which surprised me somewhat). Not to mention the film is loaded with film references, manages to be very clever without pandering to the audience, and is beautiful. That was probably the most shocking aspect of Zootopia. I’m used to computer animated films looking very good technically, but Zootopia is a very beautifully photographed movie (can that be said of a movie created without a camera?). I’m also a huge fan of the characters. This movie likes to turn things on their heads, spin things around in unexpected ways, and does a very good job of building the character relationships. Bravo, Zootopia. Bravo.