Sunday, March 20, 2016

2016 in film (Part I)

As the year progresses, I will be making sectional countdown lists chronicling the films from this year that I have seen in groups of 10. This small list is a countdown of the first 10 films I've seen from 2016, whereas part 2 will be made up of the next 10 that I've seen, and so on. Complete with my mini letterboxd reviews!

For more content not posted in this blog, visit my letterboxd page here: and prepare to be amazed.

10. The Boy
Directed by William Brent Bell

This isn't a mind-bending horror movie, but for what it is, it's not half bad. With a satisfactory ending, I wasn't creeped out by this movie as much as I was just interested in the story. Which is not what I would have expected at all. Maybe it was a little silly, but what else could you expect from a movie about a doll that people think is alive? Solid, entertaining, and oddly engrossing.

9. Donald Trump's The Art Of The Deal: The Movie
Directed by Jeremy Konner

A movie within a movie based on Donald Trump's book, this is an odd one almost entirely due to Johnny Depp's performance, which is effective enough, but ultimately feels like Johnny Depp doing a weird impression of Billy Crystal as Donald Trump. Granted, this isn't a "real movie", but I am still very pleased with how it didn't overstay it's welcome, ended with a concise runtime and nothing left to make fun of. By no means something that will be remembered in 5 years, but for right now, this is an entertaining and somewhat relevant little satire of the cartoonish, infamous businessmen.

8. Kung Fu Panda 3
Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson & Alessandro Carloni

A step above the 2nd film, but far being as fun and imaginative as the first. The animation is definitely a step up here, though, as the backdrops are given more detail than previously, and the animators really let the classic Chinese atmosphere take over. J.K. Simmons is a strong villain, though I feel his character isn't as well-developed as it should/could have been. The ending felt very forced and far too triumphant for its own good, but it ends on a joyous note that tells me any further sequels would be immensely unnecessary. All-in-all, this is (hopefully) a satisfying climax to a very fun series.

7. 13 Hours
Directed by Michael Bay

I can't say I was blown away by the most recent Michael Bay film, but I can say it perfectly demonstrates everything I feel is under-appreciated about his skills as a director. The action scenes are frequent, enthralling, expertly shot, edited, and well-paced, with relatively little focus on what is happening surrounding the events directly taking place. But that's part of why it works. Instead of painting a fully-developed picture of what is going on, we are shown only what the soldiers in the title are privy to. They don't know what or why, they just know they have a job to do, and they do it. Simple, but effective. John Krasinski gives his best non-Office performance carrying the emotional weigh of the film and he doesn't let the film down. All in all this was a very solid action war movie that felt more like something by Paul Greengrass than by the critically reviled Michael Bay.

6. 10 Cloverfield Lane
Directed by Dan Trachtenberg

A deceptive and clever pseudo-sequel to the found footage monster movie Cloverfield, this movie pretty much couldn't be more different than the original. With three great performances (and John Goodman totally stealing the spotlight), this bottle drama is creepy, tense, full of twists and turns, and is actually pretty funny. Though it's basically a sequel in name only, this would have to go down as one of the best horror sequels to come out in years. Do yourself a favor and avoid reading too much about this movie, and try going into it without many expectations. You'd be happy if you did.

5. Zootopia
Directed by Byron Howard & Rich Moore

A relatively toned-down animated kids movie that's more interested in delving into social issues and developing characters than most other films of its kind. Not nearly as "cartoonish" as you might expect, this movie tells an interesting story in a surprising and fun way. This movie may be intended for kids, but its morals and mature tone never condemn its adult viewers to a childish fate. It's a hard-boiled cop story starring a bunny rabbit. Hell, why not? Its still smarter and less immature than half the action cop movies out there that are intended for adults.

4. Deadpool
Directed by Tim Miller

This is a run of the mill superhero origin story, and that's part of what make it so brilliant. We're it not for Reynolds and his self-referential comedic edge, this movie would have been a forgettable as Iron Man 2, but instead we are treated to one of the funniest and most well-written movies of it's variety. Raunchy, witty, exciting, and yes, generic. It knows this, and finds its individuality in the recognition of that fact. If anything, this movie is a testament to how movies don't need to be out there and totally unique in every way in order to be good. We just want to have clever writers and good characters, especially in a movie like this. Also, it doesn't hurt to have a main actor who is basically a larger than life, living embodiment of the character he is portraying. That definitely doesn't hurt.

3. The Witch
Directed by Robert Eggers

A challenging and singular horror experience that gets under your skin and refuses to compromise its vision in order to pander to simplistic viewers who value jump-scares and cheap thrills over effective story telling and atmosphere. This is a horror film that demands your fullest attention, and rewards you for your patience. As much a character study and exercise in film technique as it is a traditional "horror" film, but this is not the kind of movie that will let its style and cinematic integrity get in the way of it being purely unnerving and genuinely frightening.

2. Hail, Caesar!
Directed by The Coen Brothers

One of the stronger films the Coen brothers have released in recent years, and also one of the most bizarrely unclassifiable films I've seen in a while. Every actor is on-point here, playing their quirky roles to perfection, and it honestly feels like every scene in this movie is better than the last. Funny, clever, well-acted, well-shot, and worth watching for anyone with a good sense of humor and who is in the mood for some light, but boldly original entertainment.

1. Embrace Of The Serpent
Directed by Ciro Guerra

It's not very often that I can walk away from the theater and know that I just watched a masterpiece that could easily go down as one of the greatest films of our time. Yesterday, I had the rare of pleasure of doing just that. A film of raw beauty, focusing on the brutal serenity of nature of the Amazon, shot in glorious black and white. There is a timeless quality to the filmmaking and storytelling methods on display here, reminiscent of some of the finest works of Bergman or Herzog. There aren't enough adjectives to describe just how beautiful, powerful, and utterly fantastic this movie is on every level. I can already tell this is one I will be buying and watching again and again for years to come.

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