Our Top 5 Movies of 2016!

Posted: January 2, 2017 by Jaden C. Kilmer in Article
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Welp, it’s that time of year again. Fuck the Oscars, I’m sure everyone is just dying to know what two WordPress hacks thought of the year in film. So let’s get right to it, shall we?

Jaden’s Picks

Welp, 2016 sucked politically and celebrities-you-love-not-dying-ly, but it did not suck in film. While last time around we were struggling to come up with just five movies for this list, (J.A. Prentice resorted to listing The Force Awakens fifth, which he has grown to hate) this year I’m gonna have to add three honorable mentions. And while all five of my top movies are great, the top three are almost interchangeable. Those three blew me away with their ambition, skill, and vision.

Honorable Mentions:

10 Cloverfield Lane was the first movie I saw in theatres this year, and it remained in my top ten the entire way. You can, unfortunately, tell right where the original script ends and the tacked on Cloverfield tie-in begins. But hey, that tie-in is only a few minutes long and the first 95% is a stunning piece of small-scale yet intense filmmaking.

I just got back from Oscar-frontrunner La La Land and, while I wasn’t blown away by it, particularly the much-gushed-over ending, but it’s still an extremely impressive product. The sheer technical skill behind the set pieces is something to marvel over. And you can just go ahead and pencil in “Emma Stone” on that award for Best Actress.

And continuing the music theme, rounding out my honorable mentions is Sing Street. Actually, Sing Street and La La Land have a lot of similarities. A wistful yearning for bygone decades, passionate, exuberant set pieces, and optimism in bunches. Both movies will want to make you write, or sing, or dance, or shoot a movie. Though this one may also leave you with a craving for, uh, whatever they eat in Ireland. Potato stew?

Now on to the even better stuff:

5: Zootopia

What Zootopia does is simple yet incredibly inspirational. I want to say  “it’s a kid’s movie that doesn’t treat its audience like children” but that would be misleading. I’m not sold on it being a kid’s movie at all. First and foremost, it is an allegory. A noir mystery told through colorful anthropomorphised animals because that’s just how allegories work. They make you think about subjects you don’t want to think about by presenting them in a less scary way. So it’s really just as much a kid’s movie as Animal Farm. Sure, there’s jokes here and there to keep the kiddos happy, but the lessons taught here, this plead for peace and acceptance, is meant to hit the parents.

4: Edge of Seventeen

Some people had Batman V. Superman as their most-anticipated movie of the year. Others, Captain America: Civil War. Me? Edge of Seventeen.

OK, so I didn’t search upcoming movies at the end of 2015 and go “ooh! A teen comedy! I HAVE to see that!” My anticipation came from seeing the red-band trailer for this movie pop up on Hulu and laughing out loud three or four times. That never happens. And so, when the reviews of the whole thing come in glowing, my hype levels went to eleven.

And it absolutely delivered. There’s a sneakiness to this movie’s charm. It crept up on me, so that while the movie was actually going I was thinking “this is good, but not good good.” And then it was just about to end and I realized I was grinning just about as wide as a cynical curmudgeon-in-training can grin. It put me in a fantastic mood for the rest of that night and the day after. It won’t end up as quotable as, say, Mean Girls, but it lands with much more power. Go ahead and pencil in Hailiee Steinfeld on that award for Best Actress.

3: Arrival

Man, I LOVED this movie, and yet, it’s “only” number three. Shorter write up for this one, it’s the only movie on here I feel is easily spoiled.

Arrival takes the good parts of The Martian and Interstellar and does away with all their failings. If you haven’t had it spoiled for you, just know it pulls off an incredible act of writing and editing. If you’ve had it spoiled, know that it may be even better when you know what’s happening.  Go ahead and pencil in Amy Adams on that award for Best Actress.

2: Kubo and the Two Strings

If it weren’t for one, count it, one, problem I have with this movie, it would be my favorite of the year and possibly one of my favorite animated movies of all time. It’ll have to settle for simply being a stunning tour de force. Oh well.

Kubo is magical. It’s thrilling, it’s heart-wrenchingly sad, it’s touching, it’s awe-inspiring, it, even more than Zootopia, seeks to tear down the constructs of what animated movies can and can not be. So many people talk about animation as a lesser form. “It was good, as far as animated movies go.” “I don’t wanna watch a cartoon, I wanna watch something more serious.” I dare anyone with that to watch Kubo and come out the other side retaining that mentality.

1: The Witch

Amazing. Absolutely amazing.

Some people will say “eh it wasn’t scary.” And, I guess if you just wanna jump in your seat, fine. The Witch won’t do the trick. But if you want to be blown away by near-impossible feats of acting and writing, or are sick of every horror or historical fiction movie just not delivering anything new for you, then this is a must watch. Because The Witch is both the best horror movie and the best historical fiction I’ve seen in years. Maybe ever.

Still not convinced? OK, I’ll put it this way: The film, which follows a puritan family living in the middle of nowhere, New England being attacked by a supernatural, demonic entity, was endorsed by both the Catholic church and the Church of Satan. I shit you not.

As a historical fiction, it perfectly captures the loneliness and eerie, silent terror of an early settler of the New World. You feel claustrophobic watching it. You want to see civilization. A building, a car, anything. It depicts devout faith neither as an all-healing antidote to suffering nor a fool’s errand. The questions it provokes are relevant both to a  17th-century Puritan and a certain 21st-century atheist.

As a horror movie, it has this unnerving, uneasy tension that slowly winds and winds and winds without giving you a release. Its spell does not leave when the credits are finished. I’m not sure if it will ever wear off on me. The fact that this movie even exists is a miracle.

Oh, and pencil in Anya-Taylor Joy on that award for Best Actress.

J.A.’s picks:

Nine Lives, starring Kevin Spacey as a talking cat, was the bestest thing I’ve ever seen. 11/10.

(The above was the placeholder my esteemed co-blogger and author of the Revenant without DiCaprio, Jaden C. Kilmer, left for me to replace on the post, but I didn’t have the heart to remove such a work of art. It will remain even though it was supposed to be temporary, like the Eiffel Tower but less French.)

I’d also like to retroactively change The Force Awakens on my previous list to Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, because that was a much better movie.

Okay, now onto my 2016 top films list, which is less complete than my 2015 one because I still haven’t seen Rogue One. Let’s see if I can make it through the whole post without accidentally calling last year 2015. Or 2011.

Honorable Mentions:

Star Trek Beyond is the best Star Trek film since First Contact, has a Kirk that actually feels like Kirk, and is generally a fantastic film. However, a weak villain undercuts it just enough that it can’t beat out the really tough competition it had this year. It is a genuinely great film, though, and I’d really advise watching it if you’re a Star Trek fan.

Captain America: Civil War does a fair better job with the concept of superhero battle film than the other film this year that attempted that. It had well-developed character, consistent motivations, and intense emotional stakes. I loved it.

Doctor Strange is visually beautiful and breaks out of the Marvel mold a little. Cumberbatch, Swinton, and Ejiofor give great performances and the treatment of magic is excellent. It doesn’t lean too heavily on Marvel’s sprawling cinematic universe or undercut its own story to serve the needs of some other films (*cough* Guardians of the Galaxy *cough*). Highly recommended.

5: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

I struggled between this and Doctor Strange, which I felt was more visually impressive, but Fantastic Beasts won out for me. It does a great job expanding on the harry Potter universe without feeling like a prequel or a spin-off. It feels like something that could believably happen in the same world rather than a derivative story. It builds something new while still relying on the old. I think bringing in Rowling to write the script was an excellent move. In the hands of another writer, the movie could easily have become an attempt to imitate Harry Potter instead of being its own beast. A fantastic one. And, like my number one choice, it dealt with major issues in American society through subtle allegory without ever becoming preachy.

Going in, I wondered “Are five films really necessary?” Going out, I thought “Yes. Yes, they are.

4: Moana

Disney is really on a roll recently and Moana is no exception. It’s a great film in the long tradition of Disney Princess movies, though drawing from a culture on the other side of the globe. It had great music, great characters, and a great climax. I personally don’t find it as amazing as Frozen, which is a really amazing film, but I enjoyed it a great deal.

3: Kubo and the Two Strings

Okay, Jaden got here first and said what I was going to say. Damn him and his similar taste in films. This movie was visually beautiful, well-acted, and emotionally powerful.

Despite this year being terrible for such boring things as human civilization, it was a fantastic one for animated movies.

2: Arrival

The SPOILERS. I also like hard science fiction and the clever linguistic stuff, but… SPOILERS. I can’t even give a proper review because I have to avoid mentioning SPOILERS. SPOILERS is really good.

Watch it so I can tell you what I think. Go. Watch it now!

1: Zootopia

Disney released a powerful statement on race relations in modern day America and cleverly disguised it with a pair of bunny ears.

I wasn’t looking forward to Zootopia very much when I first heard of it. The trailers seemed to reinforce my initial perceptions of “cute animal movie with no real depth” – see 90% of the movies that the not-Disney/Pixar studios release – and I thought that it would be, at best, fun and forgettable. I was wrong. I was very wrong. This movie stuck with me all year. It was incredible, tackling so many problems of modern society without ever being too overt or too preachy, which is a really difficult line to walk. It wasn’t afraid to get dark and serious, despite being an animated movie with talking animals. It’s incredibly clever and heartfelt, never going in for morally simplistic Saturday Morning Cartoon lessons. Zootopia is the movie America needs, especially now.

I reserve the right to change all these rankings on a whim because I’ll probably end up regretting at least one of these choices. Because that’s the sort of person I am. 

Also, my Oscar sheet is now a mess because I pencilled a bunch of names under Best Actress and nothing under anything else. Thanks, Jaden. 

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