"Five" Years Later: 2016 Movies
Although I'm a bit tardy to put this out, this was mostly reviewed last year. Once again I am back with the Hindsight Awards, my annual look back at the movies from five and ten years ago to see how well movies have held up and to hunt down the ones that slipped through the cracks. This was a year of sleepers, under the radar movies, off kilter science fiction, and the big movies were generally a little more forgettable than the years before and after. Paterson was a movie that I was reluctant to visit for a couple of years before finally seeing and realizing it is among my all-time favorites. Oscar favorites La La Land and Moonlight fared fine on my overall ranking of 2016 movies, but didn't quite crack the top 25. I’ve made a list of everything watched from 2016 over on Letterboxd with links to all of their reviews but this list is of the top twenty-five plus a few awards. Here are the actual Academy Award nominees and winners from the 2017 Oscars for reference. Instead of deciding between lead and supporting actors and actresses I have awarded two outstanding actors and two outstanding actresses as well as a best ensemble casting.
Best Picture, Best Actor Adam Driver, Best Director Jim Jarmusch
This often feels as if story elements are being telegraphed for expected conflicts that never play out. That’s not to say this doesn’t go anywhere, everything is a surprise, both subtly beautiful in the sense of poetry and a little dash of unexpected tension. I was hesitant for years of this movie about a poet bus driver named Paterson living in Paterson, New Jersey, but this is somehow one of the great films of Jim Jarmusch and an all-time favorite.
2. OJ: Made in America
This is one of the most incredible documentaries ever made. By following the life of O.J. Simpson, a history of the last 60 years in a wild and ong story. And while his trial took up so much of the American Consciousness of the ‘90’s, there was so much more to the story that was missed in the scope of the trial mixed with the rumor mill and late night jokes.
3. Hidden Figures
Best Ensemble, Best Actress Taraji P. Henson, Best Music
While this is hardly an arthouse film, it’s one of the most satisfying and fun movies of recent years. The Pharrell soundtrack is catchy and fun, the cast is loaded with award winning tallent and fresh faces, adding up to one of my most rewatched movies from 2016. This also manages to make you look at every other space race movie and say “wait, why is this only white dudes!?!”
4. Midnight Special
I had become a fast fan of director Jeff Nichols just a few years earlier with Take Shelter, and this takes the theme of a beautifully shot and acted drama on the edge of a science fiction world to a greater scale. The secrets of this story aren’t handed to the audience all at once, we are given breadcrumbs until it becomes apparent that some of the out of this world things just might be true.
5. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
While this gets a little over the top in comedy, the characters are very funny, it’s well directed and a surprising tear jerker. Julian Dennison is a breakout comedic actor.
6. Hail, Caesar!
Best Actor George Clooney
One of the more underrated Coen Brothers movies. Everyone in this is having a blast reliving various overlapping stories from old Hollywood. This has great musical numbers, great jokes and dark humor while giving a taste of Tinseltown’s wild past.
7. Everybody Wants Some!!
One of the best movies for capturing the first days away at college as well as the goofy culture of being on a baseball team. It’s a sport that always has an assortment of oddballs on every team, that may or may not always get along. 2016’s league leader in exclamation marks.
Best Foreign Language Film
A beautifully shot thriller of teenagers committing terrorist acts around Paris. An engrossing film with a wild soundtrack and an amazing setting of Paris at night and a commercial chaos reminiscent of Dawn of the Dead.
9. Doctor Strange
Best Stunts and Special Effects (tie)
This pulls off the trick of showing such inventive imagery that it feels as though we are truly seeing reality bending magic on screen. Some of this was shot on location in Nepal, highlighting much of what was untouched by the massive earthquake of less than a year prior to shooting. A fun installment in the MCU and a successful introduction of many recurring characters.
10. Rogue One
Stunts and Special Effects (tie), best cinematography Greig Fraser (tie)
One of the most exciting and ominous installments to the Disney era Star Wars movies. Billed as a war film or heist story set in the Star Wars universe, this also layers on the lore of the original trilogy and gives a fun, martial arts film inspired, angle on The Force.
11. Hell or High Water
Best Writing Taylor Sheridan
This feels like a long side story from No Country For Old Men. A gritty modern day western, taking current excess of the second amendment to wild west conclusions. Great acting and a good turn at the menacing coconspirator.
Best Animated Film
This is the total package as a Disney princess movie while rejecting that categorization in lieu of independence. An incredible work to tell an unwritten history of Samoan migration through the Pacific with a mixture of mythology and new storytelling.
13. Train to Busan
One of the great films of the current Korean cinematic renaissance, this is one of the best zombie movies of the 21st century. Several strangers are trapped on a train as a zombie attack breaks out and they wrestle with self preservation and trying to save as many people on the train as possible. It’s the collection of characters and the survival situations that they find themselves in that make this an especially good movie..
Just an incredibly harrowing and unbelievable story, not just of a boy surviving a crazy childhood experience, but also insanely moving to see him learn about himself through the simplicity of google maps.
While this is a pretty cool kaiju movie, it is an even better movie about personal demons and coming back home. Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis are great in this spiritual cousin to 2011’s Young Adult.
Best cinematography Bradford Young (tie)
One of the most visceral science fiction films of recent years and it never takes us to space. The opening scene of the first contact with the aliens is haunting, perfectly capturing the feeling of a huge scale shared experience like an attack or a natural disaster. This only slides down my rankings for the somewhat awkward final line to button the movie. Yes it completes the loop of the chronology of the movie, but it’s still laughable to hear Jeremy Renner say “do you want to make a baby” as romantic initiation.
17. Your Name.
While this is incredibly emo, the amination is mind blowing and the body switch storytelling is great. It’s an undeniable movie and hard to get into the swell of the soundtrack despite its cheesiness.
I’m not as wild about this as everyone, but it is a very good subversion of the genre. I like to think that this entirely takes place in the mind of a dying man dreaming that he has been cured and become a hero and that the entirety of Marvel lives within that dream.
19. The Nice Guys
A very fun ‘70’s Los Angeles PI movie where the jokes often slow burn for callbacks later in the film.
20. The Founder
Oddly, this is a very engrossing film that creates a little utopia in that first McDonald’s restaurant. Michael Keaton is fantastic and the McDonald’s brothers are just as great. I never expected to enjoy this but it ultimately takes you into a world of intricately engineered food preparation.
21. This Must Be the Place
Recently I was thinking of this movie again, but just couldn’t place the name. It’s not the most memorable name, but the tangent running plot is unique and memorable as aging rocker Sean Penn leaves bubble of comfort to confront his relationship with is estranged father and hunt down the concentration camp guard that tortured the father decades before. This is unexpected in every way and somehow works very well.
22. Star Trek Beyond
This was just what the new timeline of Star Trek movies needed to cleanse the palette after the Kahn reboot (I have my own problems with that movie beyond the Kahn character, weirdly is an allegory for 9/11 truthers). This is just plain fun to see the crew with some time off on a space station, crash land on a planet with only their wits, and deal with a belligerent villain from the past.
23. My Entire High School Sinking Into The Sea
An explosion of imagination and creativity shown through crude animation. The strange sense of humor is fun and this is just off center of the expected.
24. Captain America: Civil War
This really isn’t my favorite movie from the MCU, coming out in a bit of a dip in the super hero series of films, but it still has the components of a nice superhero action movie that sent ripples through it’s cinematic universe.
A great historical look at race and incarceration in the US. Ava DuVarney shows herself to be an exceptional documentary filmmaker.
This was not a hard decision. Seeing Suicide Squad in the theater was one of the worst viewing experiences in recent memory. It was quite clear that this was not going to be very good in the first five minutes and it only got worse from there. There are so many needle drops and none of the songs are particularly interesting, they seem to be as a distraction from the hollow plot and bad acting. This is perhaps the most disappointing movie of the decade, the expectations from the marketing and David Ayer's track record as a director were pretty high and this was so unbearably bad.
I have to say that this was a bit of an odd year for movies, a bit transitional from the one phase to another in the MCU, a year with a lot of very good indie movies and some great movies from some favorite directors that didn't get a ton of buzz, for whatever reasons. Captain America: Civil War was an Avengers movie without the brand on it, that was a big spectacle, but wasn't quite as engaging as Doctor Strange or Deadpool. Moana was perhaps the best Disney animated movie of the last several years, and yet it has not received sequel or TV show treatment from Disney. Paterson, Hail Caesar and Everybody Wants Some are all in contention for being my favorite movies from Jarmusch, the Coens and Linklater, but all three seem to have failed to get much cultural traction. There are also a good number of great movies just outside of my top 25, out of the 141 movies logged from 2016. There's the very interesting window into the first date of Barack and Michelle Obama, Southside with you, the story of Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics, Race, the fun Irish rock and roll coming of age film Sing Street, the quirky feminist version of a throwback campy horror film, The Love Witch, amd Brian Cranston's unexpected thriller about a man disappearing from his family just to watch from the abandoned house next door. There are interesting movies that didn't quite work like Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk which is endearing in the ways that it just misses or the remake of The Magnificent Seven which might go a little too hard, or Elle, the story of the daughter of a serial killer, that feels like it just missed the mark. Paris Can Wait is a great road trip/romance movie from Frances Ford Coppola's wife Eleanor Coppola, and a nice encapsulation of a year dominated by indie films with big names that no one ended up seeing.