Thursday, January 5, 2017

Life, death, triumph lead actors, directors to 2016 favorites

Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae in "Hidden Figures."
And, on the fifth day of 2017, the list (in alphabetical order) of our 10 favorite films from 2016 finally arrives. There's also some other odds and ends that helped make last year a fairly memorable one at the movies.

"Arrival": Amy Adams plays a brilliant linguist called on by the government to reach out to aliens who have landed in 12 locales around the world. Under the guidance of equally exceptional director/co-writer Denis Villeneuve ("Sicario," "Incendies") this scientific thriller becomes smart, touching and likely one of the year's sure-to-become cinematic classics.

"Deadpool": Creatively strange and as violent, raunch-filled and "R"-rated as it gets, this Marvel marvel also regularly has its legitimately funny superhero (Ryan Reynolds) talking to the audience. It's a laugh riot that producer/star Reynolds went to the mat to develop. Even better news: The sequel comes out in March 2018.

"Hacksaw Ridge": Mel Gibson (an Oscar-winner for "Braveheart") directs this true, in-your face WWII drama that introduces us to a great love story, then some even greater Okinawa heroics from a Virginia pacifist who served his country as a medic while never carrying a gun. It's an uncommonly bloody, but still somehow sensitive telling, with the terrific Andrew Garfield, as the aw-shucks hero.
"Hell or High Water": This one looks and feels like a classic Western, only with the trimmings of a modern-day tale that takes on banks and environmental issues while an aging lawman (Jeff Bridges) chases anti-hero brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) robbing for a reason. The dialogue from actor-turned screenwriter Taylor Sheridan is about as good as it gets, too.
 
"Hidden Figures": Three heroic African-American women (smartly played by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae) carry this true NASA story to the heights of crowd-pleasing from start to finish. The recent death of living legend/astronaut John Glenn (portrayed nicely here by Glen Powell) adds even more heft to a movie that should serve as an inspiration to anyone who perseveres.(Opens everywhere Friday,)

"The Jungle Book": A "live-action" remake of a so-so 1967 animated musical becomes a thrilling Disney adventure in the hands of director Jon Favreau and a talented vocal cast which really does give Rudyard Kipling's 10-year-old Mowgli good cause to talk to the animals. It also might be the year's most visually effective movie.

"La La Land": Young Damien Chazelle's first movie, "Whiplash," topped this list two years ago, and here we go again. This time he inspires Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. as struggling Hollywood artists, to become a terrific song-and-dance team in a very special Tinseltown musical/fantasy.  

"Loving": What might be the year's more purely beautiful film -- in texture, subject matter and imagery -- tells the true story of an interracial couple actually named Richard and Mildred Loving. Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga are simply sublime in a legitimate gem from screenwriter/director Jeff Nichols.

Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges dominate "Manchester by the Sea."
"Manchester by the Sea": When I initially saw it in September at the Toronto International Film Festival, I wrote that some parts grabbed me as much by the throat as by the heart. I also predicted that Casey Affleck already had the Best Actor Oscar statue locked up. He's simply that genuinely believable, as a moody janitor tormented by his past in a powerful, yet simple story that has him returning to his hometown to help raise his nephew (played by a terrific teen named Lucas Hedges). If I had to pick the year's best picture, this stunning emotional piece from another writer/director, Kenneth Lonergan, would be the one.

"Tower": Some of us old enough to remember the summer-of-1966 day that eventually controlled a week of news coverage with one of the first mass shootings in American history likely will appreciate this razor-sharp documentary more than others.
Still, it says here that director Keith Maitland's use of real footage and animated characters, who turn into the real survivors of a troubled ex-Marine's barrage from the top of a University of Texas landmark, is as riveting as it gets.


Another dozen well worth seeing -- "10 Cloverfield Lane," "13th," "Christine," "Everybody Wants Some," "Eye in the Sky," "Fences," "Green Room," "Jackie," "Life, Animated," "Live by Night" (opens Jan. 13), "A Monster Calls" (opens Friday), "Moonlight."

Felicity Jones plays ailing mom to Lewis MacDougall in "A Monster Calls."  
Performers of the Year -- Amy Adams ("Arrival," "Nocturnal Animals," "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"); Mahershala Ali ("Moonlight," "Hidden Figures," "Free State of Jones"); Felicity Jones ("Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," "A Monster Calls," "Inferno"); Ryan Gosling ("La La Land," "The Nice Guys").

But, what the hell were they thinking? -- Jennifer Aniston ("Mother's Day," "Office Christmas Party"); Robert De Niro ("Dirty Grandpa," "Hands of Stone"): Julia Roberts ("Money Monster," "Mother's Day").

A few guilty pleasures -- "The Legend of Tarzan," a real summer swinger; the toe-tapping "Sing"; and those unabashedly colorful "Trolls."

Major disappointments (after all that hype) -- "Florence Foster Jenkins," "The Girl on the Train," "Suicide Squad."

But none were as awful as these five -- "Bad Santa 2," "The Boss," "Colonia," "Dirty Grandpa," "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2."

Here's hoping the dawn of 2017 signals much better choices throughout another long and fruitful year.


(Look for my ratings on most new releases elsewhere on this page.)

No comments: