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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A Thanksgiving Post: 24 cinematic things I’m thankful for in 2016

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To all my friends celebrating Thanksgiving today… I hope that you’re all enjoying yourselves, whether it’s time spent together with family/friends or just chillin’ with your loved ones (like my hubby and I). It’s nice to be able to sleep in today and going to dinner/movies later today. To those in other parts of the world, I bid you happy-almost-weekend day 🙂

This has been quite a tumultuous year to say the least… but I always try to focus on the positive side of things. As this is a film blog, I thought I’d take the time to express my gratitude for blogging/cinematic-related things I’ve been blessed with this year… so naturally I have to start with…

1. My blogging friends who’ve supported my blog and comment regularly… Jordan, Keith, Cindy, Steven, Michael, Margaret, Jenna/Allie, Courtney, Nostra, Dan, Jay/Sean, Brittani, etc.

2. Living in a city with not one but TWO robust film festivals… TCFF and MSPIFF!

3. Being a part of TCFF staff as the official blogger, which allows me to meet wonderful filmmakers and talents.

4. Discovering indie gems at film festivals (esp. Blood Stripe and Moonlight at TCFF, and Beeba Boys and The Fencer at MSPIFF)


5. The wonderful opportunity to meet Lea Thompson and director Jim Hemphill during the MN screening of The Trouble With The Truth.

6. Discovering awesome new actors I’d love to see more of (I’ll be blogging separately on this later next month), special shout out to Kate Nowlin & Dominic Rains!


7. Getting an interview with the composer of Age of Adaline, Rob Simonsen, one of my favorite soundtracks I recently discovered.

8. The breathtaking New Zealand scenery in one of my fave films of the year, Hunt For the Wilderpeople.

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9. The amazing trifecta performance from the actors portraying Chiron in Moonlight

10. Wonderful classic films like Casablanca, which I rewatched on Thanksgiving eve.

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11. Female filmmakers in Hollywood & beyond…  here’s hoping to see even more of them in years to come!

12. Amy Adams’ performance in Arrival

13. Sam Riley‘s wonderfully-amusing performance as Mr Colonel Darcy in Pride + Prejudice + Zombies

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14. Aneurin Barnard‘s soulful performance as Richard III in The White Queen miniseries (that spurred my obsession on the last Plantagenet King.

15. The delightful Love & Friendship & discovering the droll Tom Bennett as the scene-stealing Sir James Martin.

16. Awesome Marvel series on Netflix: Daredevil + Jessica Jones (hoping to catch Luke Cage soon!)

17. The Wonder Woman trailer… which I’m feverishly anticipating to see come Summer 2017!

18. The fun cast of The Magnificent Seven remake

19. The wonderful,  music of Sing Street… a love letter to the 80s and the power of music.

20. Viggo Mortensen‘s bravura performance in Captain Fantastic.

21. The arresting beauty of Jeff Nichols’ film LOVING, and the affecting performances of Ruth Negga + Joel Edgerton.

22. The wonderfully uplifting Queen Of Katwe, featuring wonderful performances of Lupita Nyong’O + David Oyelowo.

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23. The originality and thought-provoking concept of The Lobster

24. Last but not least… I’m thankful that I finished my script this year… plus having the opportunity to do a script reading later in January! 🙂

 


What are some of the things you are THANKFUL FOR this year? 

Top 10 Favorite Movies of the FIRST HALF of 2016

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This list is long overdue. I should’ve posted it sometime in July, but oh well, better late than never. This list only consist of films released between January – June 30, 2016. 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.

I consider this list 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. Re-watchability is a big factor but it doesn’t account as high as the other virtues I’ve mentioned, because some of the films here are more of a one-time-viewing-only types, but I still very much appreciate the artistry and passion that goes into making them.

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

10. Pride + Prejudice + Zombies (full review)

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As this is a list of favorites, there is no way I wouldn’t include this one on the list. I’m a huge fan of Jane Austen work, but at the same time I’m not a purist and so I thought this movie was a lot of fun! This is the film that made me fall for Sam Riley, whose portrayal of badass Colonel Darcy is wildly entertaining, and he’s the only Darcy I ever hyperventilate over. The epic first proposal fight scene alone warrants a place on my top 10 list! I also love Lily James as Lizzie Bennet as well as all the Bennet sisters. This currently stands as my most-watched 2016 movies so far. Oh, I’d also list the soundtrack as one of my faves from this year, too.

9. A Bigger Splash (full review)

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I hadn’t heard much about this film but was drawn by the amazing cast, especially the pairing of Tilda Swinton & Ralph Fiennes as former lovers. Well the two are definitely the highlights here, and Matthias Schoenaerts also delivered a strong performance. It’s a slo-burn, absorbing psychological drama weaving a tale of jealousy, frustrated passion that escalates to a boiling point. Amazingly-shot in the picturesque island of Pantelleria, Italy, but definitely not a case of style over substance.

8. Midnight Special (full review)

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This the kind of science-fiction that’s more concerned about the emotional impact of the characters than dazzling us with sleek special effects. Though we’re dealing with a character from another world, Midnight Special is in essence is a father/son story. It’s not a flashy film, but it grabbed me right from its rather cryptic opening scene and never let up. I’m impressed once again by Jeff Nichols’ talent as a storyteller, and his frequent collaborator Michael Shannon delivered once again. Nichols’ new *muse* Joel Edgerton is also excellent here, and neither one of these actors have disappointed me in anything just yet.

7. Captain America: Civil War (full review)

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It’s a testament to the prowess of Captain America franchise that once again I’ve got yet another one of its film on my top 10. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was one of my favorites of 2014! Civil War is an excellent film that ties all three Captain American movies superbly well and would rank amongst the best film trilogies of all time. After this, I’m even more confident in the Russo brothers’ directing talent and MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) is definitely in capable hands if they continue to make Marvel movies.

6. The Jungle Book (full review)

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Disney’s done it again! This, as well as Pete’s Dragon are two of Disney’s major remakes that I hadn’t anticipated at all until the time the film marketing was put into high gear. The CGI effects alone is a wonder, I was literally in awe of how realistic the animals were. But thankfully director Jon Favreau didn’t just make something that’s style-over-substance. He made the classic tale come alive again and feels new. I find Mowgli’s journey quite moving and I really do love all the characters, and Idris Elba‘s voice is wonderfully mesmerizing as the villainous tiger Shere Khan.

5. The Fencer (full review

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Out of all the films from MSPIFF that I saw this year, this is one that made the most impression to me. It’s the first Estonian film (that’s also filmed in Estonia) I’ve ever seen. It’s such a moving drama loosely based on an Estonian Fencer Endel Nelis who fled from the Russian secret police and became a physical education teacher at a small-town school. It’s a mix of mystery war drama and a sports underdog story that blends seamlessly. I hope you get a chance to check this out when you can, it’s a little movie with a huge heart that deserves an audience.

4. The Lobster (full review)

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It wouldn’t be a hyperbole to say this is one of the weirdest films I’ve seen in a while. I think the last film I saw that was as bizarre as this one was Holy Motors, but I rate this one much higher due to its emotional resonance. This film gets top marks for originality and thought-provoking concept, you’d be hard pressed not to think about it for days afterwards. It’s a great film to see with someone else so you can discuss it endlessly afterwards. It featured one of the best performances from Colin Farrell I’ve seen to date, and it introduced me to Greek writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos, definitely a striking talent to watch for.

3. Zootopia (full review)

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I didn’t see this movie until it’s out on VOD and I must say I was gutted I didn’t see it on the big screen. I was blown away by how good this movie was and how compelling the story was, which proves that animated films have *matured* so much over the years. The plot is more of an action mystery thriller that is as clever and quick-witted as the movie’s protagonist. I love how the story keeps playing with my expectations throughout, cleverly weaving the themes of widely-held stereotypes and discrimination without taking away the fun of an animated adventure. I have bought the Bluray as I know this will be a fun one to watch over and over.

2. Sing Street (full review)

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John Carney‘s done it again. This is the second movie of 2016 (after PPZ) which soundtrack has become one of my all time favorites! It’s Carney’s third film (after Once and Begin Again) that I absolutely love. There’s no other filmmaker working today who integrates music into the storyline as shrewdly as Carney does. I love 80s music and this is the perfect love letter to the music of that era. Featuring a gifted young Irish singer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo (who was just 15 when he was cast), it’s such a fun celebration of the power of music. I was swept away by the infectious optimism of this movie, and I can’t wait to watch this again.

1. Love & Friendship (full review)

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Another Austen film made my top 10… though it’s based on Austen’s lesser-known work. In fact, this was based on her short epistolary novel Lady Susan that was published posthumously in 1871. This is nothing short of a masterpiece from writer/director Whit Stillman, featuring a masterful performance by Kate Beckinsale in the title role and a delightfully-hilarious turn by Tom Bennett. You’ve never seen an Austen female protagonist like this before, the beautiful Lady Susan is as deviously-cunning as she is impeccably dressed. I enjoyed this movie immensely and I think the fact that it’s more of a satire than a romance drama, it’d be as enjoyable for those who are normally not into this genre. Funny, witty, and so gorgeous to look at, this is another Austen movie I could watch over and over for years to come.


HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Now, I think all of these are terrific films and well worth your time. In fact, I liked Deadpool So much so that I made a top 10 list why it won me over, so it was definitely the biggest pleasant surprise for me this year. I like Beeba Boys a lot, and had the pleasure of interviewing its filmmaker Deepa Mehta at MSPIFF in April.

Here they are in alphabetical order:

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Let’s see which of these films would end up in my FINAL top 10 of 2016. There are quite a few films released in the latter half that I loved… Pete’s Dragon, The Light Between Oceans, Captain Fantastic, Anthropoid, etc. that might end up on my final top 10. Plus there are others that haven’t even been released yet, such as these that I’m anticipating: Loving, American Honey, The Accountant, Queen of Katwe, The Girl on the Train, A United Kingdom, Rogue One, among others.


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