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.