Brad's Top Films of 2016

10. OJ: Made in America: One word describes this documentary: epic. This nearly eight hour film digs even deeper into the trial of the century including interviews with Marcia Clark, Christopher Darden, and Mark Fuhrman. The element that put this doc above and beyond is showing how the Rodney King beating and the race riots had pushed LA to tipping point. O.J. had inadvertently become the representative of the black community’s desperate and legitimate desire for justice of any kind. For someone who was very young when this happened, it gave me a better understanding of the size of O.J’s celebrity which I didn’t fully grasp. I did watch it in six parts but it’s amazing how quickly the eight hours go. In a year where the TV series “The People v. O.J. Simpson” was one of the best shows, this is the perfect companion piece to fill in everything that was going on outside the courtroom. Nothing gives you more insight to the insanity of that time than this brilliant film.

9. Jackie: No offense to Emma Stone but Natalie Portman deserved to win the Oscar for playing the former first lady. She is this movie. Early on, it felt like I was watching Portman play Jackie Kennedy but by the end she had completely transformed. The scene with a close up of Jackie’s face trying to wipe the blood off right after the assassination broke me. It’s Portman at her best and she doesn’t say a word.  Pete Sarsgaard plays a stellar Bobby Kennedy and could have easily earned a nomination over Jeff Bridges in Hell Or High Water. One of my favorite scenes was Bobby and Jackie discussing their legacy after John is dead. It’s Sarsgaard’s scene and he nails it. He’s still no match for Portman’s brilliance. The plot device of Jackie telling her story to a reporter and flashing back is a little played out for me but that’s my only gripe. Portman keeps you immersed particularly in the scenes on the day of the assassination.  The director, Pablo Larrain, and the design team did a marvelous job of making the audience feel like you’re in the White House and even in the car when JFK gets shots. It’s horrifying and impressive all at once.

8. The Lobster: This is one of the most unique screenplays I’ve seen in a long time. The plot centers on a hotel where single people are forced to go in order to meet a match. If they don’t find anyone, they are turned into an animal.  The first half of this movie is excellent with some dark, hysterical moments following Colin Farrell as he tries to find his match or be turned into a lobster. The second half feels like a different film that isn’t as good as the first but Rachel Weisz shows up to help keep it together. The film boasts the most interesting ending this year that you will be debating long after it’s over. I’m still not sure what happens but I love the discussion.

7. Other People: You have seen this story a lot: a young man moves home to help his mother who has been diagnosed with cancer. This movie may do it better than any of its predecessors. The opening scene sums up this movie perfectly: a gut wrenching moment that is undercut by legitimate comedy. Jesse Plemons plays the lead and gives the best performance of his career. He’s a man dealing with a breakup, a lack of career success, a homophobic father (the always great Bradley Whitford) who won’t accept his sexual orientation,  all on top of his Mother’s diagnosis. The real star of this film is Molly Shannon who plays Plemons’ mother. This is my second biggest snub by the Oscars this year. Shannon was that good. She even sprinkles in some of the comedy elements that made her a star but her real genius comes in the dramatic scenes. A scene with her fellow teachers where she’s so sick she can barely speak above a whisper and the climax of the film with a tear jerking exchange with Plemons blew me away. Maybe the film affected me more because I watched it with my Mom but I absolutely loved it.

6. Christine: Somehow this gem of a film slipped by the Academy and most audiences. It’s the story of a local newswoman in Florida in the 70’s that shot herself live on the air. Rebecca Hall (The Town, Vicki Christina Barcelona) stars in the titular role and my goodness what a performance.  This was the biggest snub by the Oscars this year. I have never seen a more authentic performance of someone suffering through mental illness. Her slow descent into succumbing to her own paranoia and sickness evolves perfectly. The supporting cast including Michael C. Hall and Tracy Letts enhance the film for sure but Hall’s performance stuck with me for days. Riveting, heartbreaking, and brilliant. Bravo, Miss Hall.

5. Fences: This is one wallop of a film. You can criticize it for feeling like someone just filmed a play and didn’t add enough cinematic elements but I honestly didn’t care. The reason to see this movie is two unforgettable performances. Denzel Washington is my favorite actor ever and he brings it 110% in this film. His performance is so explosive that the screen can barely contain him. He spews out the dialogue effortlessly. Denzel is a film titan and it’s never been more on display than in this movie. Even Denzel can’t overshadow the wonder that is Viola Davis. She gives the performance of the year. The monologue most people saw in the trailer is a marvel. She has another monologue at the end of the film that deserves equal praise. She is a titan in the making. People throw around the term “tour de force” a lot but these two performances define it.  Wow!

4. Manchester by the Sea: This film rips your heart out and then shows it to you. Working from the Best Original Screenplay winner, this movie gives one of the most realistic depictions of tragedy that you will see in movies. Casey Affleck gives one of the best performances of the year as a man trying to hide from his tragic past. With the sexual harassment allegations surrounding the actor, I totally understand not wanting to give him any awards or honor him in any way for it but it’s undeniably a great performance. The scene in the street between Michelle Williams and him is one of the most gut-wrenching scenes you will see and there’s barely coherent dialogue spoken. I read the screenplay and the exact wording of that scene is all on the page. I thought this movie deserved more credit for editing with how seamlessly it jumped from past to present but once I read the script and realized that it was all written, the script impressed me even more.

3. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping: This is probably a surprise pick but I love this movie so much. This was easily my favorite soundtrack of the year and maybe of any year. I’ve listened to it countless times since I’ve seen it. It’s a wonderful mix of parodies from different genres highlighted by “I’m So Humble” and “Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song)”. Both got snubbed for Best Song at this year’s Oscars. This modern day “This Is Spinal Tap” is my favorite comedy in years with hilarious scene after hilarious scene. Andy Samberg is one of the most unique comedic actors we have and he’s always at his best when he’s with his Lonely Island mates, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Shaffer, who both directed. This will be the movie from this year that I watch over and over again particularly because I already own it.

2. La La Land: I feel like this is a very unpopular pick right now but I enjoyed the hell out of this movie. Does it deserve all of the accolades it’s receiving? No but this is the most charming movies of the year. I loved the soundtrack which is probably my 2nd favorite of the year (we will get to my 1st shortly) and the musical numbers in the film were captivating. Emma Stone was terrific. I’m not sure if “Best Actress winning” terrific but her Audition song and the acting she did between the lines (her audition being interrupted, the dinner table scene, when the lights come up on her one woman show) all won me over. I even enjoyed Gosling though he doesn’t have the best singing voice. Did it drag in the middle? Did the second half lack musical numbers? Sure but I never stopped enjoying myself.

1. Moonlight: This is arguably the best movie in the last five years. When I walked out of the theater, I knew I had seen something special. It’s an important film that touches on a subject that I have rarely or never seen portrayed on film: coming to terms with yourself and your homosexuality in a masculine dominated world. Every performance is excellent particularly Oscar winner Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris (who would have won as Oscar if Viola Davis would have been in the Best Actress category).  The three actors who portray Chiron gave us engrossing performances that beautifully depict a man going through these struggles at three different phases in his life. The kitchen table scene with Juan, Chiron and his Mother’s final scene, the entire diner scene at the end, I could go on and on about this movie.  It is a landmark in cinema and filmmaking.

Chris's Top Films of 2016

Here it is! After many hours of viewing and careful consideration, here are my Top 10 Films of the year of our Lord 2016. Before I get to what I chose, I want to mention the movies that just missed out but help round out a damn fantastic year of movies weirdly centering on grief, tragedy, and identity. Fences, Green Room, Other People, Kubo and the Two Strings, and OJ: Made in America could have all easily been mentioned here. And, hypothetically, if they did make the list I'd be telling you about other terrific movies like 13th, Rogue One, Sing Street, or Paterson as Honorable Mentions. So, without further delay, my top 10 of 2016.

10. Hunt for the Wilderpeople: If you don't know his name already, remember the name Taika Waititi. He's currently making the Thor movie you're going to want to see next year (Thor: Ragnarok). Here, he has churned out a beautifully quirky, heartwarming tale of building family in the New Zealand bush. In an unabashedly optimistic film, Sam Neill gets my Curmudgeon of the Year award despite stiff competition from Hell or High Water's Jeff Bridges.

9. Deadpool: I didn't want to put this on my list. Years and years of bungled Marvel/Fox films have just left me with a bad taste in my mouth and, despite my love for superhero movies, I just wasn't really looking forward to this one but here we are. From the opening moments of this film, I knew it was going to be a hell of a ride. Sharp, funny, and while it may not be the cure for those with the superhero blues, it's certainly a dose of medicine that goes down easy. No wonder Ryan Reynolds tried so hard to get this made.

8. Jackie: This is my most recent viewing and therefore latest to join this list (sorry, Fences). Again, I went into this film with tampered expectations, having heard that this was another one of "those films" that has a performance that outshines the whole movie. No question, Portman is fantastic and it is her film to carry, but there was so much more to this film that I didn't expect to love. The centered framing, visual style, and shot composition is striking; the score from Mica Levi lives and breathes in this film; and nobody told me Peter Sarsgaard plays Bobby Kennedy! Great performance as well. This served as a perfect cap to a year filled with explorations of grief and identity.

7. The Witch: Any film with this much attention to detail is hard to ignore. As stylistically rich as anything on this list and a nice fistful of gore, this is a tale of unspooled sanity that pulls no punches. A tightly-packed snowball of suspense that will get into your bones more than Ralph Ineson's phenomenal voice.

6. The Lobster: My favorite movie to discuss this year, fully acknowledging that it was designed to get people talking. That didn't hurt the conversation about the hard choices and sacrifices of love and/or a relationship told, quite frankly, through one of the darkest comedies I've seen in a while. I marvel at the control of tone in every aspect of this odd-conceit of a film but the brief flashes of violence keep the stakes high and the film perfectly hyperbolized. I'll admit that watching Dogtooth took a little wind out of my Lobster-sail but that doesn't change the fact that I think Colin Farrell doesn't do it in the end.

5. Hail, Caesar!: I will watch any Coen Bros movie at any time. ANY. A comedic meditation on faith and service through the guise of an old-Hollywood genre mash-up? Count me in. My favorite actor Josh Brolin turning in another solid showing? Sounds great. The breakout performance of tomorrow's (but technically yesterday's because it'll be backstory...) Han Solo, Alden Einrenrich? Awesome. Top it off with the second best original song of the year, the hilarious tap number 'No Dames', and I'm sold. I think it should be noted that while this was the first movie of 2016 that made my preliminary 'favorites' list, it started at #10 and now it's here after a second (and now third) viewing.

4. Moonlight: This is probably the best directed film of the year and if I were a gambling man, this is exactly where I'd place my Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar bet. A touching and not always easy look at identity and the moments and people that shape you. Please give Mahershala Ali the Supporting Actor Oscar in a cast built with Best Supporting Acting nominees. His may be my single favorite performance this year.

3. La La Land: Very few movies exude this much charm, hence the inevitable backlash now popping up, but count me among the enchanted. Easily the year's best first 20 minutes and ultimately a taste of everything the movies can be: funny, sad, exciting, ya know, everything. It feels both nostalgic and new and I found it unwittingly refreshing to see a movie musical made for film rather than stage. Watch out for Damien Chazelle, he has the power to close freeways in Los Angeles.

2. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping: I can hear you, "Chris! It's ridiculous that this is so high on your list!". No, you're ridiculous for not going and supporting this movie in theaters! A great comedy is treasure and to see it with an audience is something incredibly special. A dexterous navigation of precise parody with comedy bits flushed out to their fullest and wackiest without feeling forced. A worthy heir to Spinal Tap and my favorite comedy of the last ten years. AND, in my humble opinion, this year's Best Original Song, 'I'm so Humble'. Sorry La La Land (And really, I put 'A Lovely Night' above 'City of Stars' as my #3 and #4 songs of the year, even though I figure 'Stars' is gonna take the Oscar... I am still waiting on a Moana viewing...)

1. Manchester by the Sea: A devastating film in the best way possible. I know it can look like a horse-pill, but it goes down smooth thanks to a near perfect screenplay by writer/director Kenneth Lonergan. And fret not, this healthy helping of catharsis is alleviated by some humorous moments; the film moves from comedy to tragedy as fluidly as it moves from past to present. Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams bring some of the best and most honest acting this year. I'm curious to see if it has the emotional resonance with me the next time around, but I'm willing to bet the hard choices and tough ending never lose effect.