Top 10 BEST Movies of 2016

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I always wait until at least the first week of January before I made my top 10 list of the year prior, and this year is no different. Now, last year I combined my top 10 best and worst in a single post. This year I will just focus on the BEST list and do a WORST (or I’d say disappointing) list in a separate post. Fortunately my worst list is far less extensive than the best one, as I can only count with one hand the worst movies I saw this past year.

Now, I selected films released between January – December 2016, including the limited releases (i.e. Hidden Figures) which opened in select cities in December. Some of these might’ve opened internationally prior to 2016, but I’m using the USA release dates or the fact that they opened at a local film festival. As customary, this list is a cross between a ‘best of and favorite’, so the criteria is that these films made an impression on me, combining the virtue of being entertaining, deeply-moving, thought-provoking, and indelible.

So without further ado, I present to you my TOP 10 list (in reverse order):

10. The Lobster (full review)

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One of the strangest films I’ve seen last year and it’s also one of the most original concept I’ve ever seen. Greek writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos who co-wrote the script with Efthymis Filippou created an intriguing commentary on love and relationship that’ll make you ponder about it for days. I’ve loved sci-fi concepts that’s more grounded in its presentation and the world the characters inhabit in this movie certainly looks plausible. It’s not a perfect film, but still a brilliant one that earns top marks for originality and thought-provoking ideas.

9. Love & Friendship (full review)

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Most of you already know I love Jane Austen’s work, though this one is unlike her most famous work like Pride & Prejudice or Sense & Sensibility. This one is based on Austen’s lesser-known work where we have a saucy protagonist who is as deviously-cunning as she is impeccably dressed. It’s the first film by writer/director Whit Stillman I’ve seen so far and it’s a delight! I really enjoyed Kate Beckinsale‘s in the title role and a delightfully-hilarious turn by Tom Bennett, one of my fave discoveries of 2016. Funny, witty, and so gorgeous to look at, this is another Austen movie I could watch over and over for years to come.

8. Captain Fantastic (full review)

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When I saw the trailer for the first time I knew this is a role perfect for Viggo Mortensen who plays an intellectual free spirit, a Renaissance man who’s set in his ways. It’s a fascinating slice of an unorthodox family of seven, Viggo as the unconventional dad and his six kids, following the sudden death of his wife.Set in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, themes of parenting and coming-of-age blend seamlessly. Certainly a film that subscribe to the old adage that it’s the journey, not the destination, that really matters. Like The Lobster, it’s one of the most eccentric films I’ve seen this year, one that definitely left an indelible impression on me.

7. Hidden Figures

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I haven’t got a chance to review this one as I just saw it last week. As soon as I’m done watching this historical drama, thought to myself that I’m glad I waited to post my top 10 list! Since this one had opened in limited release in December, it’s still technically a 2016 movie. Starring a trifecta of terrific Black actresses, Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe (who was also great in Moonlight), it tells a pivotal moment in American history in a heartwarming yet poignant manner. There are moments throughout the women’s journey that made me angry and sad, but the film is brimming with such uplifting optimism and hope. La La Land isn’t the only film that spoke about dreaming big, but the difference is, the visionary trio crossed race and gender lines to achieve what’s seemingly impossible. The quintessential inspirational film that every person, young or old, should see. As some critics put it, it’s a cinematic nourishment for the soul.

6. La La Land (full review)

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Ahhh, the critical darling of the year. It might’ve been around TIFF time last Fall when the buzz surrounds this modern musical started gaining steam. It never let up since that by the time I sat down to see it in mid December, I was a bit worried it won’t live up to such a potent hype. Well, thankfully it was indeed an enjoyable experience, with fun musical numbers, gorgeous cinematography and lively music. An unabashedly dreamy and stylish affair, I could see why it swept many off their feet. For me though, the romance wasn’t exactly swoon-worthy, but it’s the ‘fools who dream’ theme that resonated with me emotionally. It’s that key audition scene performed wonderfully by Emma Stone that I remember most about this film, the one that got me bawling as I felt as if the movie was speaking to me directly.

5. Zootopia (full review)

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In a year full of animated features, Zootopia is the only one that deserves to be on my top 10 list (note: I haven’t seen MOANA yet). Disney is sort of catching up to Pixar in terms of storytelling. Its themes of overcoming prejudices feels as timely as ever, whilst still being an enjoyable ride from start to finish. I also love the fact that Zootopia is NOT an animated musical that occasionally burst into songs. The plot is more of an action mystery thriller that is as clever and quick-witted as the smart rabbit Judy Hopps, the movie’s adorable protagonist. It’s also chockfull of wonderful characters that are easy to root for, which made for a fun, enjoyable ride of a movie that’s also smart AND has a big heart. I always appreciate animated features that can cater to adults as well as kids, and Zootopia is certainly a great example of that.

4. Loving (full review)

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There are few films that came out in 2016 that couldn’t have been more timely. One is my number 7 pick, and the other is this one. Unlike the more sensational Birth Of A Nation, which was plagued by rape allegations of its creator and star), the beauty of Loving is how personal it feels. It doesn’t come across as a ‘film with a message’, though it certainly contains a stinging commentary of race in America. The story is even more powerful because filmmaker Jeff Nichols focuses on the journey of Richard and Mildred Loving, instead of being concerned about making a political statement. Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton portrayed the Lovings with such quiet grace and sincerity. Theirs is a story that must be told, and the script, direction and performance all work beautifully to bring that to life.

3. Arrival (full review)

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Jeff Nichols and Denis Villeneuve are two emerging filmmakers in the past decade who have continually churned out excellent work. So it’s no surprise their latest work end up on my top 10 list. With any great science-fiction, the best ones are those that remind us of our humanity, and that is the case with Arrival. It’s rare to see a film that treads a familiar ground, aliens visiting earth, yet still manages to be original and truly thought-provoking. The linguistic aspect is something I haven’t seen before in a sci-fi movie, and it’s even more compelling when the core of the story is a deeply personal one. Amy Adams ought to have swept every award this year, I think she deserved it more than Emma Stone in La La Land. Her quiet yet affecting performance is superb here, she is truly the heart and soul of the film. The contemplative nature of the film is far from boring, in fact it makes it even more haunting and enigmatic. It won’t be a hyperbole to call it one of the best sci-fi dramas ever produced, and I think it will stand the test of time.

2. Hunt For the Wilderpeople (full review)

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One of the biggest travesties of this year’s Golden Globes, and there are many, is that this film was NOT nominated in the Best Comedy/Musical category. Boy, I’d be hard pressed to find a funnier film than this one, made by yet another emerging filmmaker who’s a force to be reckoned with. Written and directed by Taika Waititi, it’s a riotous adventure movie I could watch over and over. Pairing a veteran actor, Sam Neill, with 13-year-old newcomer Julian Dennison made for a brilliant duo, I’d welcome a sequel with those two in another zany journey through New Zealand wilderness! It’s uproariously funny but also has a huge heart, not relying on crude gags masquerading as *comedy* Hollywood churn out these days. This is the only one of two films I gave a 5/5 rating this year, and it’s destined to be a comedy classic.

1. Moonlight (full review)

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This is the second movie of 2016 that I gave a full 5/5 rating to. A poignant coming-of-age story of a young boy living struggling with his identity and sexuality, this film is masterfully-directed by Barry Jenkins. I have no qualms calling it a masterpiece, considering the challenge of using three actors to portray a single character, Chiron, in three different stages of his life. The transition between the three time periods is handled well, it never feels abrupt or jarring. The combination of newbie actors and established ones make up one of the strongest ensemble cast of the year, led by the charismatic Mahershala Ali. 

Few films hit me as hard as Moonlight did. I was so emotionally-invested in Chiron and I often have tears in my eyes when I think about his arduous life journey. The films also deftly broke stereotypes, challenging our perceptions of what we think of masculinity, especially amongst the Black community. I was also in awe by the poignant, elegant and graceful storytelling style of a subject matter rarely depicted on screen. A triumphant film through and through.


HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Pretty much every movie that made my BEST list of the first half of 2016 would count as honorable mentions. So combined with those that were released in the latter half of the year, here are the 20 films released last year that I was impressed with (in alphabetical order):

  1. Anthropoid
  2. A Bigger Splash
  3. Blood Stripe
  4. Captain America: Civil War
  5. Deadpool
  6. The Eagle Huntress (doc)
  7. Equity
  8. The Fencer
  9. The Jungle Book
  10. Lion
  11. The Magnificent Seven
  12. Midnight Special
  13. Pete’s Dragon
  14. Pride + Prejudice + Zombies
  15. Prison Dogs (doc)
  16. Queen of Katwe
  17. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  18. The Shallows
  19. Sing Street
  20. Sully

What I missed in 2016

There are still some highly-rated films that came out last year that I haven’t seen, yet… Elle, Manchester By The Sea, Fences, Jackie, Kubo and the Two Strings, 20th Century Women, Neruda, Silence, amongst others.


So that’s my BEST list of 2016. Thoughts on my picks here? I’d be happy to discuss ’em with you 😀

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NOVEMBER 2016 Viewing Recap + Movie(s) of the Month

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Well I guess we better get used to saying ‘see ya next year’ now that we’ve only got a month left in 2016! Of course now that award season is officially in full swing, there’s a slew of new film screenings coming in December! I sure hope next month isn’t going to be too snowy. I don’t mind cold temps so long as it won’t cause traffic havoc, which always happen whenever there’s a snowstorm.

After a hectic October, I only watched a third of what I did last month. But I had been busy planning a script reading in January and I also did a phone pitch to a producer in the UK for the first time. I bought a pitch session via Stage 32 site just to see if I could do it, it was nerve-wracking!

In any case, stay tuned for some of the interviews from TCFF I haven’t posted yet, i.e. my chat w/ indie comedy Funeral Day‘s director Jon Weinberg and star Dominic Rains.

Here are movies I saw in October:

New-to-me Movies

(Click on the underlined titles for a full review)

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Doctor Strange (2016)

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X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

arrival

Arrival (2016)

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We’ll Take Manhattan (2012)

allied

Allied (2016)

wilderpeople

Hunt For The Wilderpeople (2016)

littleprince

The Little Prince (2015)

loving

Loving (2016)

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Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (2016)

theshallows

The Shallows (2016)

cairotime

Cairo Time (2009)

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Tales By Light documentary (2016)

We also got to see season 1 of this amazing Netflix Original documentary. It follows five photographers around the world documenting their approach to photography and story telling. A must for photography lovers, or those who appreciate beautiful imagery (and who doesn’t?)
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Movies I look forward to in December

So far I’ve RSVP-ed to see Miss Sloane, Jackie, Passengers, and Rogue One in the next couple of weeks. My blog contributor Laura S. will be watching/reviewing Office Christmas Party, Why Him?, and Collateral Beauty. There are even screenings scheduled for January and I can’t wait to see Hidden Figures!


Rewatches


Casablanca
| Sing Street | Love and Friendship

After watching the sputtering Allied (thanks for that description Cindy!) which has many scenes in Morroco, I’ve convinced my hubby to finally watch the masterful classic WWII romance Casablanca! Well let’s just say it was still amazing and though it looked beautiful, it wasn’t style over substance. The other two films were in my top 10 fave movies of the year. I’m glad Sing Street is on Netflix now, and I watched Love & Friendship on the plane back from Vegas.


MOVIE(S) OF THE MONTH

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We have a tie again this month! I have written a review of Hunt For the Wilderpeople and Arrival that I’ll be posting next week. They’re two very different films in terms of tone and plot, but both are excellent in their own right. You can rent ‘Wilderpeople’ now and Arrival is in theaters, so I highly recommend both of these if you haven’t seen them already. Both will surely make it to my top 10 BEST of the year!


Well that’s my viewing recap of NOVEMBER. What’s YOUR favorite film(s) of the month?

Week In Review: Hunt For the Wilderpeople + Loving + The Little Prince

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How’s your weekend everyone? It’s been a while since I did a roundup post, but I figure it’s a good way for me to ease my way into blogging again. It’s been a particularly gratifying week as I saw two of my highly-anticipated films, Loving and Hunt For the Wilderpeople. As Winter has officially arrived, we pretty much hibernated this weekend so my hubby and I saw The Little Prince on Netflix Saturday night.

Below is my mini reviews of two of the films I saw this past week, plus quick thoughts on the New Zealander adventure comedy…

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

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I became a huge fan of Taika Waititi‘s work since the hilarious vampire mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows. Well, he’s come up with yet another riotously-funny movie that could practically double as a travel video for New Zealand!

I will do a full review of this later in December, but right now all I can say is… RUN, don’t walk to rent this movie!! I’m gutted that I missed this on the big screen, not sure that it even had a theatrical release here in MN. In any case, I enjoyed the heck out of this one. LOVE the unlikely duo of veteran actor Sam Neill with newcomer Julian Dennison, a riotous 14-year-old NZ child actor with an amazing comic timing and screen presence. He’s inspired me to do a top 10 list of great 2016 performances by kid actors, so stay tuned for that!


Loving

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Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple, are sentenced to prison in Virginia in 1958 for getting married.

This film couldn’t have come at a better time, as America is surely in tumultuous times right now. It seems appalling that interracial marriage was still illegal in some states fifty some years ago, but have we really come that far since? The latest film from Jeff Nichols is beautifully-told, graceful and affecting as the filmmaker focused on the couple themselves instead of making a political statement. Yes of course the film has a major political and social implication, as the Supreme Court decision on Loving v. Virginia put an end to all miscegenation laws in 1967. But at the end of the day, the story is about two human beings who loved each other and wanted to raise a family together.

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Both Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton portrayed Mildred and Richard with such quiet grace and sincerity. It’s an understated performance that speaks volumes and conveys the tension as well as poignancy of what they went through. For someone withe the name Loving, Richard surely lives up to that and it’s truly a beautiful marriage built on not just love, but mutual respect. Michael Shannon has a small–but–memorable cameo as a LIFE magazine photographer who took the iconic shots of the couple as they simply hang out in their home, watching tv, playing with their kids, etc. There’s also Marton Csokas as the ‘villain’ of the story, the Virginia sheriff who arrested them.

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The script, direction and performance all work beautifully to bring the Lovings’ story to life. The cinematography and music are beautiful and evocative, it works in transporting us to a certain period of Americana. But it’s the journey of the Lovings that I shall never forget. By making the film about the couple, forgoing court drama theatrics, Nichols made a deeply moving film that connected with me in a refreshingly real way.

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The Little Prince (2015)

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A little girl lives in a very grown-up world with her mother, who tries to prepare her for it. Her neighbor, the Aviator, introduces the girl to an extraordinary world where anything is possible, the world of the Little Prince.

Truth be told, I’m not that familiar with Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, despite it being the fourth most translated book in the world. This is the first animated feature film adaptation of the book, directed by Mark Osborne (Kung Fu Panda), boasting a terrific cast that includes Jeff Bridges, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Ricky Gervais, etc.

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I have a penchant for these kinds of imaginative stories, one that blends in reality and fantasy set in striking visuals. The little girl’s relationship with her overly-ambitious mother is an interesting commentary about the overly-structured life of an adult vs the wide-eyed openness of a child exploring the world. I have to admit it took me a while to get into this one at first, even after the girl (Mackenzie Foy, who was in Interstellar) meets the narrator, an elderly man (Jeff Bridges) who told her the tale about the aviator and the little prince. I’m often lost in the beauty of the visuals, especially the stop-motion scenes in the desert created using paper. It’s absolutely gorgeous with a dreamy quality, but yet for some reason I couldn’t connect to the story nor the characters as much as I wanted to. I wonder if at times there’s a case of ‘lost in translation’ here from the original story.

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There are philosophical quotes that resonated with me however, such as “One sees clearly only with the heart. The essential is invisible to the eye.” I also enjoyed the music by Hans Zimmer and Richard Harvey, which nicely complements the ethereal, watercolor look of the film. It certainly is worth a watch, for sure it’s a technical/visual marvel, even if the film overall isn’t as breathtaking as I had hoped.

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More reviews coming your way…

I’ve written up my full review of Doctor Strange coming later this week. My hubby and I saw Arrival last weekend, right after we’re back from our Zion/Vegas trip, which was truly one of the best, most affecting sci-fi film I’ve seen in a good while.  I plan on writing my review of Arrival and Moonlight (one of the two October Movies of the Month!) later this week. I’ll be seeing the new Brad Pitt/Marion Cotillard spy drama Allied tonight, and if the snow storm doesn’t wreck havoc on traffic, hopefully I’ll be seeing Hidden Figures tomorrow night! Oh and my new blog contributor Laura S. also gave me a review of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, so stay tuned for a slew of new reviews in the next few weeks!

#SlowlyGettingMyBloggingMojoBack 😉


So did you see anything good this weekend? If you’ve seen any of these movies, I’m curious to hear what YOU think.