2016 Year in Review – The Top 25 Films of 2016: #5-1

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This is it!  The end of the 2016 Year-in-Review!  In case you missed the rest of the countdown, here are Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3!  Did your favorite make it onto my list?  If not, don’t fret.  It’s only because it wasn’t good enough!  (Or maybe I just missed it?)  You know which films were good enough?  These!  The Top Five of . . .

The Top 25 Films of 2016

5. Arrival

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It’s hard to single out one single strength when it comes to Arrival.  A science-fiction film aimed at the sophisticated, deep-thinking adult, the film approaches the idea of extra-terrestrial life not as an excuse to justify war and guns, but as an opportunity to connect with other sentient beings, learn from each other, and grow.  Of course, humans are humans, so the film accurately represents the way society would react, as a whole.  But the message to the film is clear and it’s for you to discover (unless you’re fortunate enough to have seen the film, already, in which case you’ve discovered it).  On top of all of that, the film poses the most thought-provoking question I’ve encountered in a film in quite some time.  Anytime a movie gets me to think about myself on a level I had never thought, before, it’s a win.  Arrival was just nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards and it’s much-deserved.  It’s also back in theaters, so go check this one out if you love intelligent film.  Think of it as 2016’s Ex Machina.  (Original post.)

4. The Edge of Seventeen

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The Edge of Seventeen was marketed as a coming-of-age story and, on the surface, that’s exactly what it is.  But there’s so much more to it than that.  Writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig delivers an immensely quick and witty script with clever dialogue and believable characters.  Everyone felt like people I know or have known throughout my life.  This adds an element of empathy for each one of them that most movies unfortunately lack.  But even a fantastic script is not sufficient on its own.  As great as the entire cast is (including Woody Harrelson, who owns the Mr. Bruner role), it’s Hailee Steinfeld who elevates the film above others of its ilk.  She doesn’t simply act; she becomes.  Her feeling, her mannerisms, her facial expressions, her delivery . . . it’s all natural, perfect, memorable, and impactful.  She’s one of the single best talents in Hollywood, today, and The Edge of Seventeen was precisely the showcase that she needed.  (Original post.)

3. Kubo and the Two Strings

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I really thought that Kubo and the Two Strings was going to finish the year as my top film.  And it came so close.  I still wouldn’t argue with anyone who placed this film on the top of their list.  And I’d dismiss any list that didn’t have this film somewhere near the top.  Because this film is just that good.  It’s that good on both the creative and technical (which, in essence, is just a different form of creativity) levels.  Creatively, Kubo presents a story about love, loss, growth, friends, and family that the world simply needs to listen to, right now.  And it does so with intelligence, humor, atmosphere, action, and originality.  Technically, Laika Studios takes stop-motion animation to a previously-unimaginable level.  It’s so amazing that it’s nominated for Best Special Effects at the Academy Awards.  And you know what?  It deserves to win.  Truthfully, it deserves so much more than that.  It deserves a Best Picture nomination (rather than just the Best Animated Feature nomination that it did attain).  It deserves hundreds of millions of dollars at the worldwide box office (it certainly deserves more than The Secret Life of Pets).  It deserves to be a go-to classic for families and film-lovers, anywhere.  It’s too late for a couple of those things.  But for that last one, there’s still a chance.  You owe it to yourself to give the gift of Kubo and the Two Strings.  (Original post.)

2. La La Land

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La La Land is one of those films that I expected to be good, but was even better than I could have imagined.  Yes, it’s great in all of the typical ways that a great movie is great: performances, story, characters, dialogue, musical numbers (in this case), pacing, entertainment value, and so on.  But where this film really surprised me was in its presentation.  Damien Chazelle masters the art of the most basic foundation of storytelling through film: show, don’t tell.  If there’s a unique and inventive way to get an idea across through sight or sound without relying on expositional dialogue, Chazelle will find it, every time.  And then, he’ll find a better way and that is the one he’ll go with.  Following this film and his almost-equally-incredible Whiplash (featuring J.K. Simmons in one of my favorite performances in the history of film), Chazelle has officially arrived.  And seeing the commercial success of La La Land ($182 million worldwide and counting on a $30 million budget), we can safely assume he’ll have carte blanche, moving forward, which is something for film lovers, everywhere, to be supremely excited about.  (Original post.)

And finally . . .

1. Lion

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I don’t know what more I can say beyond the fact that Lion moved me more than any other film I’ve seen in my entire life.  Seriously.  I don’t even want to watch it with another person because it’s going to make me cry.  Probably a lot.  And that’s the point of art: to move.  This film reminded me of everything that’s truly important in life.  And it reminded me of why.  It made me feel love for the people who are important to me.  It made me feel love for the people that I’ve lost.  It made me feel love for the good people of the world that I’ve never even met.  And it reminded me that other people feel that love, too, because they made this movie.  And that gave me hope for our world, even as others in that world try to take that hope away from all of us on a daily basis.  There is more love than there is hate.  And love can accomplish amazing things.  Love can accomplish the impossible.  But sometimes, love needs a vessel.  In 2016, love’s theatrical vessel was Lion.  With six Academy Award and four Golden Globe nominations – including Best Picture at both – it’s clear that I’m not the only one who felt this film.  Lion is without question, my top movie of the year.  But it’s more than just a movie.  It’s a source of hope, support, and inspiration.  (Original post.)

And – other than a likely Oscar preview column – that’s a wrap for 2016!  If you haven’t seen any of these films, get right on that.  And keep my comments in mind as you watch them.  Look for the good.  Let the story tell itself, don’t make demands of the story.  These aren’t our stories to tell; they’re our stories to listen to.  Enjoy.  See you, soon.

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2016 Year in Review – The Top 25 Films of 2016: #5-1

Review – Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

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I’ve been a fan of the Resident Evil franchise since the first game hit the original PlayStation back in 1998.  My friend came over and we stayed up all night playing it because I had just gotten my PlayStation and had yet to purchase a memory card, meaning we couldn’t save our progress.  At about 5:00 in the morning, a Hunter lunges at us and takes off our head in one swipe.  So, what now?  Well, my friend re-started it from the beginning, of course.  It’s been my favorite game (and game franchise) ever since.

I was super-excited when the announcement of a Resident Evil movie was initially made, as I had visions of Jill Valentine (my all-time favorite video game character), Chris Redfield, Barry Burton, Albert Wesker, the Spencer Mansion, the Arklay Mountains, and Tyrant running through my head.  I couldn’t wait to see this play out in live-action right in front of my eyes.

But I would have to.  I would have to for quite a while, actually.  As the casting announcements – and then the plot synopsis – began to roll in, it was becoming clear that we weren’t getting the movie I was hoping for.  No Jill, no Chris, no Barry, no Wesker . . . and who is Alice?!

Nonetheless, even back then, I was open-minded to other people’s ideas.  Resident Evil came out on the same weekend as Blade II.  The same friend and I got together that weekend to see both movies.  We saw Blade II first (Marvel always takes priority) and then saw Resident Evil the next day, on Saturday.

As expected, it wasn’t anything like the movie we had originally envisioned.  But neither of us could deny that we had a lot of fun with it, anyway.  The death-laser/hallway scene?  The Licker?  The no-holds-barred violence?  And even Alice?  All pretty cool.  We saw it again on that Sunday.

We eventually got Jill (in Resident Evil: Apocalypse, played by the immaculate Sienna Guillory), Chris Redfield (in Resident Evil: Afterlife, played by Wentworth Miller of “The Flash” and “Prison Break” fame), Barry Burton (in Resident Evil: Retribution, played by Kevin Durand, who I’m pretty sure I’ve never liked in any role, ever), and Albert Wesker (originally Jason O’Mara in Extinction but has since been portrayed by Shawn Roberts).  We even got Tyrant (Resident Evil: Extinction).  We also got other mainstays Claire Redfield, Ada Wong, Carlos Oliveira, Nemesis, and Leon Kennedy, along the way.  No Rebecca Chambers, though.  Poor Rebecca.

The film series certainly took on a life of its own.  Alice arguably became Milla Jovovich’s most iconic role and through the role, she was a pioneer in female-led action franchises.  And while the films’ mythology never perfectly mirrored that of the game series, it weaved in and out of it and was close enough in places that it could be looked at as a similar alternate universe.  The two most recent films really broke out overseas and both made well over $200 million worldwide on modest budgets.  The films have never been considered “high art”, but they’ve also never aimed to be.  They’re all about escapist, exciting fun, and they’ve certainly delivered that in spades over the last 15 years.  The series is the most successful video game-based movie franchise in history and, this weekend, it all comes to an end with Resident Evil: The Final Chapter.

Over the last week, I re-watched the previous entries in the series to refresh myself on the finer story details (and deciding that my preferences of the films fall in order of: Apocalypse, Afterlife, Resident Evil, Retribution, Extinction).  And as anxious as I was to see it, I waited until Saturday so I could enjoy the finale in glorious IMAX.  So, today, I put on my Jill Valentine shirt (inspired by Norman Rockwell’s Liberty Girl) and made the drive.  I had lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings first (where the menu does not include a Jill Sandwich) and then I took my seat.

Written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (who has written all of the films and directed four of them), the film feels very much a part of the universe structurally, but a little different from the recent installments in terms of presentation.  Back in the early years of the new millennium, it was all the online rage to rag on Anderson.  The trolls have since moved on to plenty of other targets (or perhaps they grew up and got jobs) but I never found the hate to be warranted to the degree at which he received it.  I’m not saying he’s an auteur, but there are things at which he excels.  He certainly has a unique eye and that vision has been stamped all over this particular franchise.  A new chapter will often begin with a completely unexpected scenario in an equally-unexpected place, deliberately disorienting and misdirecting the audience until Anderson makes the reveal and it all comes together.  He has recently embraced action sequences that play out entirely in slow motion.  Some people criticize that because it’s not the norm or is considered “gimmicky”, but I liked it, myself.  I would much rather have slow-motion than scenes of frenzied action with tight angles and quick cuts that make it hard to follow.  He also ends each chapter with an unpredictable cliffhanger that promises to take the story to new places in the following installment.

The Final Chapter is presented with a much more traditional approach, for better or for worse.  The story is told in a direct, linear fashion, picking up shortly after the conclusion of Retribution.  All of Anderson’s other trademarks remain in tact, however – the good and the bad.  On the plus side, the overarching narrative comes to a logical, memorable conclusion.  The series has always respected and referenced its past and this final entry is no exception.  Unfortunately, while the story elements of days gone by are referenced, characters are missing with absolutely no mention, as if they never existed.  Important characters.  There is a storyline explanation for their absence, even if it’s not spelled out for the audience (it’s pretty obvious, though).  A mention would be nice, though, as a sign of respect to them.  It’s reminiscent of Jill Valentine’s conspicuous absence in Extinction following her crowd-pleasing turn in Apocalypse.  She would resurface, later, but there wasn’t a single reference to her in that film, and it felt wrong.

Anderson also relies on several major happy coincidences to make the pieces of the story connect, which is again something he’s relied on in the past.  I wish he would have paid more attention to this sort of thing over the years as it’s an easy criticism for folks who don’t want to acknowledge all of the positive aspects of Anderson and the RE series.  Why give people ammunition when there’s always a way to make the story flow more believably and naturally?

Still, while the little things have always been a problem for Anderson when it comes to story structure, he’s consistently strong on the big things.  The Final Chapter contains twists, turns, revelations, and even some emotion as it wraps up and we say goodbye to these particular incarnations of the characters and this world.   It’s fun, but the small inconsistencies are distracting.

The action is also more traditional, with those tight shots and quick cuts that so many directors seem to employ, these days.  I’ve seen worse and it eases up, somewhat, as the film progresses, but I miss when Anderson prioritized efficient communication to his audience over flash and sizzle.  On the other hand, as always in Resident Evil movies, the action sequences are expertly conceptualized and have a grand sense of scale to them.  I just prefer Anderson’s previous form of execution.

Just like the recent Underworld: Blood Wars, this film is really one that’s aimed at the already-converted.  If you weren’t a fan of Resident Evil before, you won’t be one, now.  And if you enjoyed the previous films, you’ll enjoy this one.  If we’re being honest, none of these films are traditionally “good”.  At least, not by all of the metrics by which film quality is typically measured.  But I still find them enjoyable, and so do many others.  It all depends on how much the flaws annoy you compared to how much the strengths reward you.  For me, the good pays off much more than the bad bothers me.

I felt a twinge of sadness when the credits rolled, knowing that this was the end (at least for now).  For a long time, I’ve always had another part to look forward to and I’ve enjoyed wondering who would pop up, what creatures they’d fight, and what twists and turns the roller coaster of a story would take us on.  Maybe, after some time, they can reboot and give us the more suspense-driven horror interpretation that most of us envisioned from the beginning (may I suggest Blake lively for a new Jill Valentine?).  But if not, my love for all things Resident Evil will live on and I’ll always be able to revisit these six films.  The Final Chapter fits in nicely with the rest, even if – as with the first one – it’s not the exact movie I would have made.  But then, if it was, there would be no surprises, and what’s the fun in that?

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Review – Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

2016 Year in Review – The Top 25 Films of 2016: #10-6

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Welcome to Part 3 of The Top 25 Films of 2016!  We’re getting down to the nitty-gritty, with only one more Year-in-Review column remaining after today!  In case you missed them, here are part one and part two!  Has your favorite shown up, yet?  If not, maybe it will, today, as we carry on with . . .

The Top 25 Films of 2016

10. 10 Cloverfield Lane

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We’re really getting into the best of the best, now, and 10 Cloverfield Lane is certainly in that conversation.  The fact that this film came out in March and stayed in the Top Ten all year is remarkable.  So, why is it here?  Well, why wouldn’t it be?  It’s suspenseful.  It’s sharp.  It’s fast-paced.  It’s unpredictable.  It builds logically.  The dialogue is gripping, with subtle undertones.  The characters are mysterious, with Mary Elizabeth Winstead playing the empathetic protagonist to perfection.  And it never gets too complicated.  Simple.  Immeasurably effective.  (Original post.)

9. Doctor Strange

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Doctor Strange wasn’t the 2016 Marvel Cinematic Universe film that I expected to be this high on my year-end list.  Yet, here it sits.  It was the perfect concoction of humor, action, ingenuity, urgency, visuals, performances, storyline advancement, and those ever-important watercooler moments.  The movie was a reminder of why Marvel’s vast library of characters resonates so strongly with all audiences and also that they know how to brilliantly straddle the line between appealing to hardcore fans and to the uninitiated.  Doctor Strange surpassed all expectations and has made yet another Marvel character into a household name.  (Original post.)

8. The Conjuring 2

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Have I complimented The Conjuring 2 too much?  Don’t be silly.  When it comes to the greatest horror sequel of all time, one can’t possibly compliment enough.  I’m going to repeat myself, here, but this film isn’t only a great horror film, but a great film, period.  The characters and story take precedence over all else and the horror elements work around them.  And they are scary in part because we love the characters so much.  We feel for them.  They’re presented as real, genuine, complex people just like the rest of us.  Those horror elements are also masterfully staged, being more impactful than any I can remember since . . . well . . . The Conjuring.  This franchise isn’t the “gold” standard in horror, but the platinum standard.  Here’s to hoping that the quality remains this high for future installments.  (Original post.)

7. The Shallows

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There was no film in 2016 that was more intense, thrilling, or beautiful than The Shallows.  Unique by its very nature, this is a mass-appealing horror-thriller filmed with art school sensibilities.  Some of the shots are seemingly simple and elegant, while also being hair-raising and blood-pumping.  Director Jaume Collet-Serra knows exactly how to get the desired reactions from his audience and Blake Lively shoulders most of the load in the process.  Anyone who can’t admit that she’s an outstanding actress after seeing this movie is just deluding themselves.  I hope to see much more of both Lively and Collet-Serra in the months and years to come.  (Original post.)

6. Nocturnal Animals

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Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals is like a dance between filmmaker and viewer where the filmmaker knows the steps and the viewer is blindfolded but follows along while hoping for the best, but gets to watch a video of the whole thing, the next day.  That’s a compliment, trust me.  Ford, Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Isla Fisher grab the audience by the hand . . ..  No, they don’t.  That’s not accurate.  They grab the audience by the hair and drag them through a deeply moving, impactful, passionate story and then leave them to their own devices to determine exactly what it was all supposed to mean.  People who don’t like (or want) to think won’t appreciate that.  For the rest of us, it’s a thrill that will possibly haunt us forever.  (Original post.)

Okay, we’re almost there!  Only one column remains in the Movie March’s 2016 Year-in-Review!  What’s at the top of the heap?  What’s number one?  Follow us on Facebook and don’t miss it!

2016 Year in Review – The Top 25 Films of 2016: #10-6

2016 Year in Review – The Top 25 Films of 2016: #15-11

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Okay, we’re picking up where we left off.  If you missed it, here’s Part 1 with numbers 25 through 16!  Moving on with . . .

The Top 25 Films of 2016

15. 20th Century Women

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If not for its well-deserved Golden Globe nominations, I might have missed out on 20th Century Women.  What a shame that would have been.  This film, by writer/director Mike Mills, works on multiple levels and excels on all of them.  A little bit of a comedy and a little bit of a drama, the film comes at the audience by daring them to look at life from the perspectives of the people around them, rather than just their own.  There’s not an adult on the planet that wouldn’t pick up a little bit of wisdom from this film, and – despite being a quiet and lowkey experience – it’s also entertaining along the way.  (Original post.)

14. Manchester by the Sea

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Manchester by the Sea is a tough but rewarding experience.  It has a reputation for being unrelentingly depressing, but if that had been the case, it would have come in lower on my list.  The film is ultimately about the importance of family.  Yes, sad things happen.  But the characters also learn and grow and change in inspiring ways.  At its heart, the themes of hope and love reverberate throughout the film.  Throw some impressive performances and directing into the mix and Manchester by the Sea is a film that should resonate with anyone who has someone in their life that matters to them.  (Original post.)

13. Hell or High Water

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In what can most efficiently be described as a modern western, Hell or High Water tells the story of a pair of charismatic bank-robbing brothers who are trying to take the shortcut to a better life while being pursued by a pair of equally-charismatic law officers who are determined to catch them and hold them responsible for their crimes.  The standout in this film is Jeff Bridges who, as Officer Marcus Hamilton, steals the show with his sly jabs at his partner and his raw skills in enforcing the law.  The fact that a man can say such inappropriate things to a friend and still come off as undeniably likable is a testament to Bridges.  The rest of the film is a quick-witted, fast-moving caper that’s always one step ahead of the audience.  (Original post.)

12. Moana

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“Break the conventions and act like it’s no big thing.”  That must have been Disney’s mantra when crafting the masterpiece that is Moana.  For the first time that I can recall offhand, Disney released an animated feature film with a female lead that didn’t even hint at or mention the possibility of a romantic interest.  Pixar released Brave in 2012 which was similar in that regard.  But, in that film, while Merida had no desire for a relationship, the very idea of a relationship was a large part of the story and directly led to the film’s primary conflict.  In Moana, nobody even has love on the mind and Moana, herself, is allowed to exist as an independent character who just happens to also be a woman.  And Disney never feels the need to call attention to it, which would just dilute the impact.  It’s refreshing.  Amidst all this is peerless animation, powerful music (not Frozen-powerful, but good, regardless), and excellent voicework.  The story is fast and fun, while also sending a great message to kids and adults alike.  (Original post.)

11. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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Ohhhhhh, so close to making my Top Ten of 2016!  Sorry, Star Wars, this year it’s the bridesmaid instead of the bride (or the groomsman instead of the groom.  It works both ways, you know.).  That’s not in any way a slam on the film, though.  Rogue One delivered in all of the expected ways and then in plenty of unexpected ways, too.  People whining about the digital versions of Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin and Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia notwithstanding (people complain about anything that’s new or different.  They’ll get over themselves.), the film thrilled audiences with old-school Star Wars action that harkened back to the original trilogy.  And then it surprised audiences with its explanation as to why these characters were nowhere to be found in those classic films.  There were plenty of potential reasons for that, and the filmmakers picked a difficult one to pull off in a barn-burning blockbuster.  I salute them for not going easy on themselves.  What wasn’t surprising was Felicity Jones delivering an outstanding, layered performance as Jyn Erso.  All of this adds up to a superior film that left audiences wanting more.  (Original post.)

And you’ll get more in Part 3 of my Top 25 Films of 2016!  Until then, make sure you don’t miss it and follow us on Facebook!

2016 Year in Review – The Top 25 Films of 2016: #15-11

2016 Year in Review – The Top 25 Films of 2016: #25-16

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Here we go.  I’ve been trying to see as many straggling 2016 films that I can before compiling this list.  Truth be told, there are still a few that I need to see, but it doesn’t look like I have any way of seeing them for at least two weeks, and I don’t want to put this list off, any longer.  I honestly believe that any of those three (A Monster Calls, Elle, and Loving) have a shot at cracking this list, which bothers me.  But, once I see them, I’ll give them their proper due, if they deserve it.  All together, counting the films that I watched at home, I saw 114 2016 films.

So, the question is this: What determines if a film is one of 2016’s “top” films for this list?  What is a “top” film?  A film that I liked on a subjective level?  A film more objectively determined to be of high-quality, regardless of how much I personally did or didn’t enjoy it?  Well . . . it’s both.  The higher the combination of the two, the higher it places on this list.  If these were my 25 “favorite” films, it would be a different list.  If these were what I saw as 2016’s 25 “best” films, it would also be a different list.  These are the films that I’m most likely to both recommend and revisit.  So, here are the 25 films from 2016 that I felt had the strongest mix of quality and entertainment value.  And it’s my list, so just deal.

Regardless, nothing is on here without good reason, and I’ll give brief explanations for each inclusion and, sometimes, for its position.  So, let’s get started!  Here – in my opinion – are . . .

The Top 25 Films of 2016

25. Zootopia

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I loved this movie.  The fact that it ranks so “low” on this list just speaks to the strength of the other films.  It lacked some of the wit and cleverness that I expect from Disney, which is why it isn’t higher.  But the themes and messages are bold for an animated feature coming out of Buena Vista Entertainment, the characters are memorable and lovable (looking at you, Flash!), and the animation is brilliant.  Zootopia is an amazing film.  (Original post.)

24. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

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Yep.  I make no apologies.  In a Best-Of list, this one doesn’t make it.  But throw in the entertainment value, and it’s enough for this particular list.  I don’t care what anybody else thinks, the last 45-60 minutes of this film is everything I always dreamed of seeing in comic book movies when I was a kid.  There were characterization problems.  There were logic issues.  But there was also the Trinity vs Doomsday in the battle to end all battles.  And it was spectacular.  And there was Wonder Woman.  She couldn’t have been more amazing.  You don’t have to love the film.  But you can’t say with any degree of credibility that it didn’t have its strong points, either.  (Original post.)

23. Moonlight

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I can hear the whining, now.  “Moonlight is only one spot above Batman v Superman?!  Wah wah wah!”  If that’s what you’re thinking or planning to type, just stop.  You’ll just expose the fact that you didn’t read the introduction and don’t understand what the list is.  In a Best-of list, Moonlight would be significantly higher than number 23.  But, combining quality with entertainment value, it drops.  There is little-to-no entertainment value in this film.  That isn’t a criticism; it’s simply an observation.  Moonlight isn’t about entertainment and it’s not trying to entertain.  From A24 Studios, Moonlight is a vessel to communicate a story and a message.  It does so beautifully.  Its immense quality is enough to get it on this list even without the entertainment aspect, and that should be enough to count as a wholehearted endorsement of this film.  (Original post.)

22. The Witch

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“Art-house horror” is the phrase that was bandied about when trying to succinctly sum up The Witch.  Combining horrific ideas and visuals, sociopolitical commentary, an immersive atmosphere, and performances that transport the viewer to another time (with the help of some amazing set and costume designers), the film at once delivers a thought-provoking narrative for the more-discerning audiences and an unnerving horror film for those seeking a more traditional experience without thinking too much about the subtext (as long as they can get past the fact that it’s a period piece).  A24 Studios is one of the three best, most consistent production studios in the industry and The Witch is another fine example of their work.  (Original post.)

21. Shin Gojira

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Shin Gojira was my single favorite movie-going experience in all of 2016.  It was a sold-out screening, packed full of immensely enthusiastic Gojira lovers who understand the property.  The film maintains the franchise’s tradition of doubling as a political metaphor as it presents itself as an action film on the surface.  After hilariously mocking the inefficiency of governmental operations in a given scene, Shin Gojira will often then shift tones and slam the viewer with an impressively epic battle scene.  And what about the creature’s first form in the film?  There were audible gasps from the audience (and I might have been one of them).  It was bizarre and par for the course for a film that surprised at every turn.  (Original post.)

20. Captain America: Civil War

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Captain America: Civil War did everything right.  The characters were spot on.  The action was on a grand scale.  It delivered Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  It featured a level of complexity rarely seen in films of this genre.  The only reason it isn’t higher is because I felt it lacked surprise “moments”, so to speak.  Not storyline twists.  We got those.  I mean the little watercooler moments that other MCU films such as The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier provided (though some of Ant-Man’s lines came pretty close).  But that’s minor.  The film delivered in all of the most important ways.  (Original post.)

19. Café Society

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I have said many, many times, over the course of my life, that Woody Allen’s films are better when he sticks to writing and directing and leaves the acting to the professionals.  Café Society is yet another fine example of that.  Allen is such a talented director that he actually gets a charismatic performance out of Kristen Stewart.  The rest of his casting is perfect, as well, with Jesse Eisenberg and Blake Lively, in particular, bringing their A-games.  A whimsical look at old Hollywood, Café Society is all at once charming, heartbreaking, enlightening, and entertaining.  (Original post.)

18. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

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If I had decided to do a “2016’s Top Five Films That Were Most Unfairly Overlooked by Audiences and Critics, Alike” list (and maybe I should have), Hunt for the Wilderpeople would have absolutely been number one.  This movie has everything that everyone says they look for in movies.  And I mean everyone.  General audiences would love it, if they would just watch it.  Critics did love it, but it’s gone entirely overlooked during awards season, anyway.  It shouldn’t be.  It should be getting Best Picture nominations at every awards show.  Every single one.  But, we’ll have to settle for allowing it to reign in our hearts.  Which it forever will.  (Original post.)

17. The Nice Guys

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The Nice Guys was probably the movie that surprised me the most in 2016.  I saw it because of the reviews, but expected to dislike it, anyway.  I haven’t often been impressed by director Shane Black, I’m not crazy about the seventies decade, and the trailers didn’t showcase the best material from the film.  Thankfully, I trust the professionals who know what they’re talking about, and the critics got me into the theater.  I had a blast watching Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe stumble their way through their investigation and will happily revisit this film throughout the years.  (Original post.)

16. Swiss Army Man

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I’m starting to repeat myself, here, but coming from – yet again – A24 Studios, Swiss Army Man is the most inventive, outside-the-box movie of 2016.  There’s never been anything like it and there will never be anything like it, again.  If you want to be taken off guard, constantly surprised, consistently laughing, and endlessly entertained, turn this one on, get comfortable, and let Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano blow you away.  I promise you that you’ll never forget it.  (Original post.)

I’ll be back with the next installment in the next day or two!  In the meantime, make sure you don’t miss it and follow us on Facebook!

2016 Year in Review – The Top 25 Films of 2016: #25-16

#ThrowbackThursday – The Terminator

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Original US release date: October 26, 1984
Production budget: $6,400,000
Worldwide gross: $78,371,200

Released with great fanfare on October 26, 1984, James Cameron’s The Terminator continues to resonate with audiences and influence filmmaking to this very day.  In those days, event blockbusters were in their infancy.  There had been a handful – Alien, Superman, Jaws, Blade Runner – but there weren’t tens of them per year, as we’re accustomed to, today.  If you got one in a year, you were lucky.  Arnold Schwarzenegger was riding the momentum of his pair of movies adapting Conan the Barbarian.  Director James Cameron was practically unknown at the time, having only one feature film to his credit – Piranha Part 2: The Spawning.  You all know that one, right?

The Terminator was the perfect professional marriage of the two at the perfect time.  Rounding out the cast with television actors Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn, Cameron proceeded to construct a high-concept science-fiction tale the likes of which had never been seen, before.  Time-travel stories weren’t unheard of, but The Terminator was different.  This time, the time travel wasn’t accidental.  It wasn’t benign.  It wasn’t for the sake of exploration.  It was an intricate part of the story.  It was used strategically with both nefarious and defensive purposes.  And it created a time loop that could break your brain if you tried to wrap it around the potential ramifications for too long.

All of this was deliberate.  Despite the parade of gunfire, car chases, cyborg violence, and explosions, The Terminator was an early example of thinking person’s sci-fi cinema.  If you aren’t familiar with the concept (SACRILEGE!), in the year 2029, a war rages between man and machine.  At the heart of man’s resistance lies freedom fighter John Connor.  The machines send their cyborg Terminator back to 1984 to murder John’s mother Sarah before John can be conceived.  In response, the humans send a soldier by the name of Kyle Reese to find and protect Sarah and destroy the Terminator, allowing the humans to maintain their foothold in the future and continue their fight for survival.

The story becomes even more complex as it plays out, but even with just the little bit above, there’s a lot to consider.  For example, if time travel were possible, and someone sent someone else back in time to effect a change, in the future time from which the envoy originated, the changes would take hold immediately, right?  So, shouldn’t the humans have sent Reese before the machines sent their Terminator?  Otherwise, the Terminator arrives, kills Sarah Connor, and John Connor is wiped from existence before he even gets the chance to send Reese.

OR . . .

Does the effect of the Terminator’s arrival in 1984 not immediately take hold in 2029 because the time stream must allow for Reese’s arrival in order to prevent a time paradox and allow events to occur as they have already been established?

I DON’T KNOW!  And that’s part of the fun of these types of stories.  But that’s not all of the fun.  The action sequences, though a little pedestrian by today’s standards – are brutally staged and are choreographed in a very simple, straightforward manner.  Cameron doesn’t get too fancy.  He doesn’t pull in too tight or cut too quickly, therefore making the events hard to follow.  James Cameron, even at the dawn of his legendary career, was a master storyteller and inherently understood that the primary goal of any film is to communicate efficiently and clearly to the audience.  I’m not suggesting that there’s no room for mystery or for subtleties.  But in every film, all of the necessary information to follow and interpret the movie as desired by its filmmakers should be presented in a way that allows it to be effortlessly registered by the attentive.

Now, while The Terminator is a moderate thinker in its own way, it’s not a David Lynch or Terrence Malick film.  But it’s still important that the audience can easily discern the events as they unfold.  That’s not an issue, here.  The action is easy to follow (and exciting to watch) and the story is told clearly, complexities and all.

The special effects by Stan Winston were groundbreaking for its time.  With the advent of computer-generated images in the decades since (which, despite some people’s protestations, are a huge benefit to films like this), they look dated.  There’s an animatronic version of Schwarzenegger’s head created for some scenes that involve delicate interaction between his human and robotic components.  It’s obvious that it’s not really Arnold because the movement just isn’t natural.  The stop-motion animation used for the T-800 during the climax is also jerky and unconvincing.

But my point isn’t to level these as criticisms.  The effects in this film could not have been better than this in 1984.  Should Cameron have waited until the effects technology caught up to his imagination before telling this story?  After all, that’s what he did with Avatar.  Well, that isn’t for me to decide, but I don’t think so.  And I’m glad he didn’t.  If a story is in your head, you tell it.  You get it out.  Otherwise, it consumes you.  And the story is always more important than the effects.

My only point in bringing it up is to say that using the standards of the modern day to criticize films of long ago would be foolish and anachronistic.  The Terminator is an American film institution that introduced a new level of sophistication to futuristic science-fiction.  It’s one of the few films that actually has a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.  For me, the only bothersome flaw is the poorly conceived character of Dr. Peter Silberman.  Played by Earl Boen, Silberman is a psychiatrist who laughs at and mocks his patients, all while yawning in their faces.  I don’t care when the film is made or what genre it falls in, the characters should all speak and behave authentically and a psychiatrist would never represent themselves or their profession in such a manner.

Still, the character comes and goes rather quickly, making little-to-no impact on the overall narrative.  Other than that, the film grabs audiences with an original concept and then makes them think about what they see in between all of the fighting.  In the decades since 1984, there have been umpteen variations on the idea of artificial intelligence rising up against its creators, but as far as film goes, even if The Terminator didn’t do it first, it’s still the go-to for people who are talking about how frightening modern technology is to them.  Cameron’s impactful presentation combined with Schwarzenegger’s intimidating turn as the eponymous Terminator left a lasting impression in the minds of the viewers and a pop culture footprint that has lasted far longer than anyone could have imagined.  I suspect that if Cameron and company could go back in time, they wouldn’t change a thing.

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#ThrowbackThursday – The Terminator

2016 Year In Review – The Top 5 Funniest Movies

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Humor is a funny thing.  No two people have the exact same sense of humor.  So, a list like this is the most subjective of all types of lists.  My personal sense of humor is somewhat refined but, more than anything, I want something that I don’t see coming and something clever.  Wit makes me laugh.  Wit delivered well is even better.  Frankly, I don’t laugh much at the movies.  Most movies marketed as pure comedies fail to truly make me laugh, even if they do amuse me on some level.  As a result, there’s not a single movie on this list that was marketed as a pure comedy.  All of the films here were well-written and well-executed in all arenas.  And when they tried to be funny, they succeeded through wit, charm, and delivery, whereas most traditional comedies relied on slapstick and LCD humor.  So, behold a more-discerning film fan’s . . .

Five Funniest Films of 2016

5. Swiss Army Man

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In Swiss Army Man, Daniel Radcliffe plays a corpse by the name of Manny who has been befriended by the lonely and dejected Hank (played by Paul Dano).  This is Radcliffe’s best performance, yet, and the film as a whole is quite a charmer.  As Hank teaches Manny about life, Manny reacts with childlike innocence and good-natured optimism, playing in direct contrast to Hank’s hopeless outlook on life.  Manny is literally dead but loves life.  Hank is literally alive but wants to die.  The humorous exchanges between the two are a riot and the film only loses a few points because some of it is toilet humor.  Most is not, however.  Swiss Army Man is an ingenious explosion of fun, mixed in with some touching and meaningful pathos.

4. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

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Lost in the woods and searching for rescue, Hec and Ricky (Sam Neill and Julian Dennison) make the perfect modern-day odd couple in this heartwarming dramedy from writer-director Taika Waititi.  The dichotomy formed by Hec and Ricky’s wildly opposing personalities is pure gold and creates ample opportunity for plenty of involuntary laughter.  The only reason it’s not higher on the list is because the dramatic aspects of the film (which are of equally-high quality) often take precedent, lowering the quantity of humor in the film, but never the quality.  The ultimate sign that it’s a genuinely funny film?  It even made my dad laugh.  Movies never make my dad laugh.

3. The Nice Guys

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I didn’t expect to like The Nice Guys.  The only reason I saw it was because it was getting outstanding reviews.  Even then, I was skeptical.  But, I bought my ticket, and sat down in a nice, comfortable luxury theater . . . and laughed.  I laughed a lot.  As private eyes investigating the apparent homicide of a porn star in the seventies, Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe make the perfect pair for the perfect buddy film.  Crowe is the straight guy and Gosling is the funny man who turns in one of the most entertaining performances of the year.  I’m so glad I saw this one; being open-minded pays off, more often than not.

2. La La Land

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I was prepared for a great movie when I sat down in the theater to watch Damien Chazelle’s La La Land.  But I was not prepared for the quick wit and sharp humor that comes so fast and so often throughout the length of the film.  As in The Nice Guys, Gosling delivers the laughs with a casual ease, solidifying himself in my mind as one of the best comedic actors in the business, today – even if that’s not particularly what he’s known for.  And Emma Stone is right there with him, dusting off her own comedic skills, previously seen in films such as Easy A and Zombieland.  There’s plenty of heartfelt drama in there, too, but along the way, Stone and Gosling know how to tickle the funny bone and audiences are responding.

1. The Edge of Seventeen

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The fact that American audiences largely overlooked The Edge of Seventeen is all the evidence I need that there’s something wrong with the system.  “What system?” you ask?  The system.  The marketing system or the audience system or some other system.  I don’t know!  What I do know is that there was nothing wrong with The Edge of Seventeen.  And, of all the things it did right, comedy was perhaps what it did most right of all.  Hailee Steinfeld and Woody Harrelson both delivered solid, genuine laughs and played off of each other perfectly.  As with all of the other films on this list, this movie was a mixture of comedy and drama, but I think it nailed the comedy component just a little more consistently and a little more often than the rest.  We need more funny films like The Edge of Seventeen.

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2016 Year In Review – The Top 5 Funniest Movies