I don't watch a ton of movies anymore. I've found that the medium is my least favorite form of entertainment. Far too often I leave a theater disappointed or let down. Maybe that has more to do with my incredibly high expectations, but more than likely it's due to Hollywood running out of genuine ideas. And I'm not saying that an old story can't be retold in an interesting way, because it can. I don't believe that a story is only good if the story is original. All, if not most, of the films on my list reuse stories or the base of a story, but they do it in interesting and entertaining ways. The stories that interest me the most aren't the ones with the biggest explosions, but the stories with actual emotions. Real, genuine feeling. It's becoming increasingly rare to find, but when they work, they work.
10. The Fundamentals of Caring
Paul Rudd has had a bit of a renaissance with his career lately. Often type cast as the "funny guy" in romantic comedies because of his earlier work, his incredible talent has been a bit hampered. But with last year's Ant-Man, and this year's Captain America, he seems poised to blow up again. Which is perfectly fine by me. Because the more "high profile" roles he does, the more smaller roles he can take and draw in a crowd. If Paul Rudd's name isn't attached to this film, I don't think half the audience would've found it.
The Fundamentals Of Caring follows Paul Rudd's "Ben Benjamin". A writer who, after an incredible personal tragedy, retires to be the caregiver of a disabled teen. The two decide to take an impromptu road trip after the wheelchair bound teen mentions he wants to see the worlds biggest pit. It's equal parts funny, sad, and inspirational. They teach each other how to deal with loss while going through drastically different circumstances. Being a Netflix Original (seriously Netflix, you're killing it!) it's available whenever you feel like watching it, but I can't recommend it enough.
9. 10 Cloverfield Lane
A surprise sequel to the much loved "Cloverfield", 10 Cloverfield Lane isn't a direct sequel or prequel as much as it's a film set in the same world. In fact, we'd all seen trailers for it but didn't realize what it was thanks to the brilliant marketing of JJ Abrams.
I don't want to go to in depth about the plot for fear of ruining the story, but it follows a woman who is kidnapped and held hostage after a world ending event destroys everything in the outside world. The film builds tension incredibly well based off this premise and the claustrophobic feeling of the tiny bunker is felt throughout. It's an incredible work that I'm excited to see continue. Another film set in the Cloverfield world has already been announced, but that's all we know to this point. If this quality holds up, I'd be perfectly fine with getting a new entry every year.
8. Hacksaw Ridge
World War 2 is one of the most fascinating events in history and has been covered extensively in the entertainment world. Few have done it better than "Saving Private Ryan" or "Band of Brothers", but Hacksaw Ridge tries and comes close. Based on the true story of Desmond Doss (played surprisingly well be Andrew Garfield (aside from that horrid accent)), the combat medic who refused to even hold a rifle throughout the war.
Directed by Mel Gibson (who, despite all his controversial statements and actions, is one of my favorite working artist), Hacksaw Ridge is both realistically violent in depicting its war scenes and incredibly gentle with its message of Faith. Desmond believes so strongly in the Bible's Commandment "Thou Shalt Not Kill" that he refuses to wield a weapon whilst in the middle of battle. All the while, incomprehensibly saving the lives of over 70 men on the brutal battlefield of Hacksaw Ridge. It's incredibly inspiring and humbling and will hopefully give Mel Gibson more opportunities to direct.
7. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
So, I love Harry Potter. Like, an unhealthy amount. I've read the books all the way through literally dozens (upwards to 20) times and have listened to the audiobooks hundreds of times. I've watched the movies too many times to admit, I really love the world of Harry Potter.
With that said, I didn't love Fantastic Beasts. I didn't hate it (obviously) but it was definitely lacking... something. Maybe I went in with way too high expectations, maybe it's just the story I didn't want. This isn't a Harry Potter movie. That's to say, this story doesn't feature (or have anything remotely to do with) Harry Potter or his friends or his exploits. It's the story of a man who wrote one of Harry's textbooks.... as unexciting as that sounds, this film will eventually lead to a much more interesting story, one I am genuinely excited for... or was. Those familiar with Harry Potter know about Grindelwald and the battle/love affair between he and Dumbledore. It's a story that I've always wanted to read or see (specifically read). But then Johnny Depp was announced to be playing Grindelwald, and I was upset. But, I held out hope. Then I saw Johnny Depp's portrayal of Grindelwald, and it's made me super depressed and confused. On one hand, we're getting more stories in that world. On the other hand we have to put up with Johnny Depp as one of the most important characters in the Harry Potter world...
With this being the first in a 5 film plan, we'll have to wait and see if it works. I surely hope it does, but I'm less hopeful. But there's still a lot to love. Eddie Redmayne (now one of my favorite actors due to his many hilarious appearance on the incomparable Graham Norton Show) is fantastic (heh) as Newt Scamander. And the supporting cast is for the most part very lovable. Queenie and Kowalski in particular, who's constant comic relief never feels forced. The story, while all over the place, is a ton of fun. Being in this Wizarding World again feels good and getting some backstory on the Wizarding World in America was something that always intrigued me. I trust J.K. Rowling (who actually wrote the screenplay for the fllm) enough to have faith in the rest of the series, even if I have to lower my expectations as a huge Harry Potter fan.
Ryan Reynolds has been entirely hit or miss over the last few years. It seems like the roles he's chosen should be huge hits (Green Lantern) but they inevitably end up being complete and utter garbage (Green Lantern). But he was born to play Deadpool. So when he was announced to portray the "Merc with a Mouth" in the first stand alone Wolverine film, everyone lost their minds. The film came out and it was garbage. The writers completely ruined the character (literally sowing his mouth shut...) and again, everyone lost their minds. But that didn't stop Reynolds from trying to bring this beloved character to Screen. In fact, it seemed to only make him want to do the character justice even more.
Fast forward a couple of years and some "accidentally leaked footage of a cancelled Deadpool movie" footage popped up on the internet. The world collectively lost their minds again. It was awesome, it had Deadpool in his actual costume absolutely kicking ass. It was funny, profane, relentless, and incredibly violent. Exactly what Deadpool is. Very soon after this "accidental leakage of cancelled film footage", Fox greenlit the film to go into production ASAP. And the film absolutely delivered. It even had the exact same "leaked footage". Shot for shot. Hmm, it's almost like that was the studio testing the waters on if the audiences actually wanted to see that... but nah, that was definitely "leaked" footage.
5. The VVitch
I think I was one of the MAYBE 2 or 3 people in the entire theater that genuinely loved this movie. It's not for everyone, but it is a masterclass in horror. Set in 1630's New England, The VVitch follows a family of hardcore Puritans who are banished from the town for doing something heinous in the name of their religion. We're never told what they did, but that's one of the things that makes the film so special. Writer/Director Robert Eggers doesn't beat you over the head with exposition. Instead, he leaves it up to your imagination, which is much more terrifying after all. The family is banished to the outskirts of the forest, where things quickly begin to go south after the baby is stolen right out of the crib by what everyone believes is a witch living in the forest.
Again, this is not your typical horror film. We don't get a constant barrage of witch attacks, instead the family begins to unfold within. Each blaming the other for the baby's disappearance, each believing the other is a witch. This film would've been even higher on the list, but Eggers decision to use the dialect and language of the time, while admirable, is frustrating because of how difficult it can be to understand. Large chunks of dialogue are lost simply because you can't understand what's being said. And the ending seems to be split, some love it, some hate it. I hated it, but it didn't take away any of the special moments throughout the rest of the film. I can't recommend this unless you like these types of films, but for me, it was a wild success.
4. Manchester By The Sea
The last film I saw in 2016 was such a fitting way to end the year. We lost so many incredible people in 2016. From the passing of David Bowie on January 10th, to Carrie Fisher December 27th (and her mother 2 days later...) it was a relentless onslaught of loss. That also defines Manchester By The Sea. And incredibly sad film, it follows Casey Affleck's Lee Chandler who is forced to return to his hometown of Manchester after his brother passes away. In the Will, his brother named him the Guardian of his son and Lee's nephew, Patrick. After suffering his own tremendous loss years earlier, he doesn't feel up to the task of looking after Patrick and wants nothing more than to go back to his home in Quincy, to a janitorial job that he hates. It's a story of loss and how we handle those losses.
There are some genuinely funny moments sprinkled throughout, but they are so quick and so fleeting that you can't ever get quite comfortable. Often the humorous moments are quickly followed by another gut punch. I hate films that are made specifically to make you cry (literally any dog movie, Remember The Titans, etc.), but this isn't made to make you cry. It's made to make you feel, which sounds cheesy, but it works and there is a difference. This film will probably be nominated (and is deserving of) numerous awards, but that's not why you should see it. You should see it simply because it's a great film.
3. La La Land
Another movie that you should see simply because it's a great film, La La Land is everything a movie should be. It has humor, it has heartache, it has feeling, and it has musical numbers. What more could you ask for? I always knew Ryan Gosling could sing (but seriously, what can't that beautiful man do?) but I was never aware that Emma Stone could sing. The two together, with their immediate chemistry, makes this film. Any other two actors wouldn't seem right. Maybe that's because this is the only context I have, but they really feel at home in these roles. Gosling has quickly become one of my favorite actors; he just seems to nail every role he's chosen lately. But it's Emma Stone that really shines here. Here's another example of an actress who, after a few bad roles to get her name out, has only chosen roles that are interesting (Birdman, Irrational Man, Magic In the Moonlight, etc.). And the film itself is written and directed by the man responsible for one of my favorite recent films, Whiplash. This was bound to be good.
What I didn't expect was how inspirational it would be. The film is about a Jazz Pianist (Gosling) and an aspiring actress (Stone) who have each fallen on hard times, but together they push each other to follow their dreams. It's seriously inspiring and makes you want to get out and do something super creative and meaningful. The film is very much a love letter to Jazz (which I love) and Los Angeles (which I don't really love). Both of these are very much their own characters in the film alongside Gosling, Stone, and the incredible music.
2. The Nice Guys
Oh Ryan Gosling, you beautiful bastard, you. He had a hell of year, starring in 2 of my 3 favorite films this year (which is obvious). The Nice Guys was that breath of fresh air that I needed this year. It was the first film I saw that really instilled that missing love for movies. Deadpool and The VVitch all came out before this, and they were obviously great, but they just didn't have that magic that I felt when I walked out of The Nice Guys.
A "buddy-cop" film that was all the rage in the 80's and 90's and but quickly fell off, inclined to let Ice Cube and Kevin Hart take the reigns, it was a genre that was desperately due for a good film. And who better to deliver that than the man behind the Lethal Weapon franchise, Shane Black. The Nice Guys has Shane Black's witty humor and bombastic actions scenes with true depth to the characters. Russell Crowe plays Jackson Healy, a Private Investogator/Thug-for-Hire. He's bitter and has obviously had a rough go of things. Ryan Gosling plays Holland March, a terrible and greedy Private Investigator who will do anything to squeeze more money out of his clients. He's also not had a great go of things, but isn't as bitter and lonely as Healy due to his daughter, Holly March (played brilliantly by the young Angourie Rice). It's the relationship and the bluntness between Holland and his daughter that sets this film apart from others in the genre. The movie is genuinely hysterical throughout. I often fell in fits of giggles sitting in the theater, and luckily, so was everyone else. Gosling in particular let's his comedic chops shine with impeccably timed quips or looks that take the scene a step further. It's a fantastic film that I recommend everyone hunt down and watch immediately.
1. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
It's the second year in a row that a Star Wars movie has been my favorite of the year, and I feel like a little kid again. Rogue One is a different kind of Star Wars movie. It's dark, and kind of hopeless (which is ironic considering the next movie in sequence is titled A New Hope). We know the fates of these characters aren't in their favors simply because of what comes next, but that doesn't mean the film is hampered by that revelation. In fact, it's one of its strengths.
The film answers so many questions that Star Wars fans have held onto for decades. Why would the Empire build a Death Star with such an obvious flaw? We now know. How big was the Empire? In previous films they would just magically show up wherever our heros were. In Rogue One we realize that the reason they were always where our heros were is because the Empire was literally everywhere. They were a massive collective spanning the entire Galaxy, and that's both frightening and makes the Original Trilogy even better because we now know what the odds of them overcoming the Empire actually were.
The cast is excellent, cinematography is excellent, story, everything but the music (which doesn't quite feel like a Star Wars soundtrack, but is still really good) is excellent. Disney is absolutely nailing what long suffering Star Wars fans have wanted, and I absolutely can't wait for Episode 8 (heh, I rhymed).
All images and trailers courtesy of the respective studios.