Top 5 Movies of 2016

18 Dec
La La Land

La La Land

It’s time for my annual review of movies that I saw this year that I found particularly funny, enjoyable, insightful, moving, or otherwise memorable. 2016 was a dumpster fire of a year; these movies made things better for the two hours of their running time. Who knows what future generations will make of the movies released during this last year of Obama’s presidency: are they the relics of a dying culture, a burst of creative energy before our society fell in 2017? Who knows what this list will look like next year. But here are my favorite movies from 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.

Midnight Special: I argue that this is a better first contact movie that the over-hyped “Arrival”: more spectacular, more thrilling, more human and more urgent than the one in which Amy Adams teaches heptapods the rudiments of English grammar. “Midnight Special” starts with a bang, as we see a boy, wearing goggles, taking off in the night with two grown men. They are fleeing- but from whom? The movie is tautly paced, tossing clues out to the audience slowly but surely so that we may put the pieces together about who the boy is, and why he is so desperately sought by a religious movement and the government. The score is spare and haunting, the acting is superb, notably Adam Driver, Michael Shannon, and the young Jaeden Lieberher as Alton, the young boy whose special powers are at the heart of the movie.

A Hologram for the King: I enjoyed the Dave Eggers book that this movie was based on, but didn’t think that it’s meandering plot lent itself to a film adaptation. But I was happy to be proven wrong when I saw this movie starring Tom Hanks, who has had a knack in this latter half of his career for playing decent men in extraordinary circumstances (Captain Philips, Sully). But here he plays an ordinary man who finds himself in an extraordinary place: the Saudi Arabian desert. Tasked with landing the biggest pitch of his life and making a sale to a Saudi prince, he ends up feeling free being so far from home. He strikes up a friendship with a local driver and begins a flirtation with a doctor. This isn’t the “Lost in Translation” version of being far from home and alienated; this is the liberation of becoming a newer, fuller version of oneself in a distant place. It’s a lovely little film.

The Girl on the Train: This is the rare case of a movie being better than the book. I read the novel earlier this year, and was disappointed in the flimsy plot, since I was expecting something akin to Gone Girl. Well, “The Girl on the Train” proves to be an effective thriller, while also serving as an effective showcase for Emily Blunt. Academy voters will most likely forget about her performance come award season, but she plays a tricky role- alcoholic, desperate, obsessive- and deserves to be recognized.

Southside with You: This movie will feel even more bittersweet as the Obama years fade into memory, I imagine. I already felt nostalgic when watching it this summer, an intimate story of two young, black professionals falling in love over the course of one long, first date….and those two young people are Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson. “Southside with You” takes its time, lingering over the hesitant face of Michelle as she opens herself to her confident, assured suitor. We witness the spectacle of two people getting to know each other through conversation, and it is a joy to behold.

La La Land: Unlike the movie described above, “La La Land” gives us the chance to see a young couple fall in love not so much through long conversations, but through song and dance and visual spectacle. And what a spectacle it is. It is gorgeous, with clever nods to French new-wave cinema and classic Old Hollywood musicals, while still being entirely original. This is the rare musical that has you humming the original tunes as you leave the theater, the sure sign of a good musical (can you sing any tune from “Wicked”?). But “La La Land” is more than a musical: it is a love story and a story about the age-old conundrum of safe career paths vs bold creative choices. What if one’s creative dreams clash with one’s pursuit of true love? That is the story told here in loving detail, expertly directed by Damien Chazelle. It’s because of movies like this that we go to the movies.

Dishonorable mention: Hail Caesar. Sadly, I have to call out the Coen Brothers’ “Hail Caesar” for wasting two hours of my life that I will never get back. This film might be enjoyable for old Hollywood aficionados who can guess the real-life inspirations behind the goofy cast of characters. But otherwise, I was left thinking…why? Why watch this movie? Why make this movie? It was all a story not worth telling, in my view.

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One Response to “Top 5 Movies of 2016”

  1. Flores al Amanecer January 16, 2017 at 12:07 pm #

    Very good. Thank you

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