Kyal’s Top Films of 2016: 5-1
Director Denis Villeneuve has one amazing streak going. With his amazing Incendies to Prisoners to Enemy and Sicario. This guy loves one-word titled films. Prisoners was one of the best films of 2013, taking what could have been a clichéd procedural drama and giving it a haunting quality, getting a career best performance out of Hugh Jackman and giving us Jake Gyllenhaal’s best performance (until Nightcrawler I guess). Sicario, had it not been for the groundbreaking Mad Max Fury Road, would have been the best film of 2015 for me. He also took what could have been another action flick and turned it into a thought-provoking morality play, while also giving a number of the most intense sequences we saw all year.
Arrival is no different. Villeneuve takes a script that, under any other director, would have been another action-packed alien invasion film. Thankfully, what we got was a deeply emotional and intelligent approach to an invasion flick. He gets a career best performance out of Amy Adams (a literal crime that she is not nominated this year) and, with the help of cinematographer Bradford Young, creates a tense and haunting atmosphere. This is a film that doesn’t clip along at any fast pace, but instead lets you sit with it as it slowly seeps into your brain. Arrival isn’t an action flick, but an emotional Twilight Zone in movie form. Villeneuve really hits a homerun in the final moments of the film that I had a real emotional reaction to. Amy Adams is at her absolute best here and her chemistry with the always-great Jeremy Renner is evident. While this isn’t a film I will be watching numerous times a year, it is definitely one I will throw on every year or so because it is so well made and such a fantastic story. I can’t wait to see with this director does with Blade Runner 2049, I can’t imagine anything less than astounding.
4: Hacksaw Ridge
Mel Gibson is back! In his first directorial effort since Apocalypto in 2006 (a film which I absolutely loved), he returns with a harrowing account of Desmond Doss’ account as the first conscientious objector who won the Medal of Honor during World War II. Doss served during the battle of Okinawa where he saved nearly 100 lives. With films such as Braveheart, Passion of the Christ, and the aforementioned Apocalypto under his belt, this story fits Mel Gibson perfectly. He is able to both show both his natural talent for violence on screen with visceral aplomb, and has a chance to pay tribute to the faith and courage of the men who fight for our country.
There’s not much to say about a film like Hacksaw Ridge because, like Andrew Garfield’s other film this year (and next on my list), it is a film that must be experienced. While I am in no way comparing Silence to Hacksaw Ridge, it’s a film you have to watch for yourself. Garfield plays Doss perfectly and you are instantly drawn to him, with his relationship with Teresa Palmer’s character being one of the highlights of the film. The cast here is uniformly great here with Palmer, Hugo Weaving, and Vince Vaughn filling out the fantastic supporting cast. Gibson has also done something amazing with this film as both Luke Bracey and Sam Worthington are amazing in this film. Worthington has played a somewhat serviceable action hero in Avatar and Terminator Salvation, but has never stood out among the crowd. He really gets to stretch his acting chops here and has a couple of standout moments in the film. As for Bracey, previously of the awful Point Break remake, I had all but written him off as an actor. I almost didn’t recognize him in this film and he was terrific as Smitty, the All-American soldier that Doss butts heads with.
Hacksaw Ridge has everything you would want out of a great war film, plus some. The cast is perfect here, with Gibson’s direction never-better. The battle scenes tow that perfect line of realism, Hell-on-Earth, and entertainment. You feel as if you’re in the heat of the battle during many moments in this film, but the film is a thoughtful and honorable tribute to not only Desmond Doss, but to all American veterans.
Martin Scorsese’s Silence is the type of film I haven’t seen in a long time. It’s one I have a tough time calling “entertainment,” and one I have a difficult time referring to others. On the other hand I was enthralled by this film, never bored and I want everyone I know to experience what I did watching this film. Silence is a film that either you love it or hate it. Either you find it to be unbearably boring or absolutely engaging. This isn’t one you watch, it’s one you participate in. You let yourself become enveloped in, you live in this movie. Scorsese and his cinematographer, Rodrigo Prieto, have crafted something quite beautiful here. You feel the crashing of the waves, the dirt beneath your feet, the sun beat on the back of your neck.
Filmmaking aspect aside, this film is still fantastic. The cast here is on their game with a number of performance by old and new actors giving us some of their finest work. There are many characters in this film that I will never forget – most of all is Andrew Garfield’s Father Rodrigues. We spend nearly every shot of the film with him and Garfield gives a powerful, very lived-in performance. I know the critics enjoyed Hacksaw Ridge more, but this is the performance that deserves recognition. Adam Driver is also great here, doing so much with very little dialogue. Issei Ogata portrays the Inquisitor as if he already knows this character is one of film’s greatest villains. In my mind, he is and it’s because of this offbeat, gentle, yet terrifying performance. Tadanobu Asano is also a standout here as Rodrigues’ interpreter. He’s devious and sly, but he also makes the viewer almost feel comfortable as if he’s one you can trust. Last but not least, Yosuke Kubozuka as Kichijiro is hands-down one character I will never forget. Kubozuka had arguably the most difficult part in the film, and he plays it to perfection. I love this film and even with its daunting and deliberately-pace (nearly three hour) journey, I cannot wait to see it again. It’s not the pure entertainment magic that my next two films are, but it’s one I will think about the most. Silence is one of Scorsese’s crowning achievements and it shows as one of his most passionate projects.
2: Hell or High Water
David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water is a perfect film. While the plot isn’t something to write home about, it is expertly crafted in every aspect. With another fantastic script by Taylor Sheridan (Sicario scribe), High Water elevates itself from the usual crime thriller to a modern day western instantly signifying the times we live in. The film is tense, thoughtful, smart, and has a surprising sense of humor. Sheridan is definitely a talent to watch with his first two films and I am eagerly anticipating his directorial debut, Wind River, starring Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen next year.
The cast is note-perfect all around. Jeff Bridges is always great, lending heart and soul to what could have easily become a one dimensional character in anyone else’s hands. His chemistry with Gil Birmingham is fun, with their back-and-forth so natural and easy to watch that they could have a movie all their own. The standouts in this film are clearly Bridges and Ben Foster, who plays one of the bank robbing brothers. Nobody plays the wild card like Foster, but it’s here that he finally gets to build upon that archetype and make it something memorable. For me, the best performance in the film comes from Chris Pine. This is a very weathered, lived-in performance we had not yet seen from the actor. Gone is the natural swagger and charm of his Captain Kirk. He doesn’t have the flashiest role in the film, but he is absolutely magnetic when on screen.
There are so many great moments here, but it’s the final scene in the film that truly makes Hell or High Water something special. This is a story that lives outside of what we see. There are events that take place after the credits roll for us, these characters keep going. I pray that we never see a sequel, but there would be more than enough for Sheridan to chew on if he wanted to keep going. Apparently we are getting a Sicario sequel and I never though that would happen, so what do I know, right?
1: La La Land
It’s surprising to me that La La Land became just the obvious front-runner as the best film of the year. I would never have thought it to be #1, but after seeing it I was blown away. The music, the performances, the story, the directing…it all just came together in one simple masterpiece. It’s a love letter to the classic musicals (which I am admittedly not well-versed in), perfectly blending it with modern day filmmaking.
There are no two actors other than Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone that you could have cast to make this a film as spectacular as it is. Their chemistry is undeniable and their performances so heartfelt, giving so much to not only their characters but the story itself. The film lives or dies on their relationship and because it is so believable, the film is thoroughly engaging. Director Damien Chazelle (who directed 2014’s Whiplash) has hit another one out of the park and I cannot wait to see what he has in store for us next. There’s only so much I can say about La La Land. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack on and off since I saw the film and I am looking forward to watching it clean up at the Academy Awards this year.
Sully was a surprise from Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks (giving one of his better performances in a while). It was smart, informative, well-written/directed.
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping was bar-none the funniest movie I’ve seen in years. Is it possible to be stupid and smart at the same time? Because that’s what The Lonely Island did with both this film and the songs in it. This is a cult classic in the making.
The Witch was a slow-burning and terrifying film. Expertly crafted and superbly acted, this is one that will stick with you.
Weiner & Tickled. The two best documentaries this year. Fast, funny, uncomfortable and insanely entertaining.
Eye in the Sky was a thoroughly intense and thought-provoking look at modern warfare, featuring a stellar trio of performances.
Green Room was a horrific and tense survival thriller form Jeremy Saulnier, a great follow-up to Blue Ruin. Patrick Stewart steals every scene and gave Anton Yelchin the best performance of his career.
Disorder was a fairly unknown foreign film debuting this year starring Matthias Schoenaerts and Diane Kruger. Beautifully directed by Alice Winocour with tension/paranoia-filled eye. 2016’s Drive.
Frank & Lola. If you want to see Michael Shannon’s best performance of 2016, look no further than this paranoid romantic thriller.
Hail, Caesar! was an odd duck, but a very memorable one thanks to the Coen Brothers’ loving direction and a game cast.
Allied was a great throwback to the romantic war dramas, with a twist. Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard are fantastic.
Loving. While not Jeff Nichols’ best film this year, it features a duo of great performances by Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton. A touching, heartfelt true story.