A return to blogging. Best films watched in 2016. 

arrival

There is much I could tell you and share about the past year. About 10 months have passed since my last contribution to this tiny creation of mine. Fortunately for those who may still stumble upon this blog of mine, I will not bore you with the details of what happened or did not happen between then and now. Instead, I will attempt to give you my very succinct impressions about the best films I watched this year (released in 2016 or prior) despite my almost complete absence from the blogosphere.

In total, I watched 111 films in the last calendar year (7 more than I watched in 2015). The average score was a very decent 3.28 out of 5, which tells me I’ve managed to avoid a lot of duds. Notwithstanding the relatively high average, I only scored 4 movies at 4.5 out of 5, and none managed a 5 out of 5.

Without further ado, below is a list of the best films I watched in 2016 grouped by rating, but in no discernible order beyond that.

BEST OF THE BEST {4.5 out of 5 rating, no perfect ratings given}

MOONLIGHT (2016)

Such is the tenderness and quiet emotion imbued into every frame of this film that watching it feels like an exercise in humanity. The focus of Moonlight is broad and isn’t easily described. I will summarize it by saying that the film is a superb character study that is fully invested on how the environment and our unique personalities shape who we are.
Moonlight is easily one of my favorite films of 2016.

moonlight-620x360

HELL OR HIGH WATER (2016)

With enough Texas banter to season a brisket, the film carefully balances comedy, character development and suspense to make it well worth the theater admission price. We end up caring so much about these characters that the tension of the 2hr-long cat and mouse chase is almost unbearable. If that were not enough, the film features an excellent cast led by Jeff Bridges at the peak of his powers and a very solid performance by Chris Pine.

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014)

I never doubted Wes Anderson’s skills as a writer and director. It was clear in films like The Royal Tenenbaums or Moonrise Kingdom (both scored 4/5 for me). However, it wasn’t until The Grand Budapest Hotel that his craft, as unique as it is, created something so complete and so enjoyable that I could do nothing else but sit in awe with a big smile across my face. This becomes especially true if you include Ralph Fiennes delivering a comedic lead performance that was easily deserving of an Oscar. The film is a ray of light, color and composition that gives life to every millimeter of film reel.

grand-budapest

THE WITCH (2016)

A film critic described this small yet powerful horror tale as “peering into something forbidden, something so macabre you feel you should not be watching it”. I could not agree more.

The Witch is an absurdly suspenseful, beautifully acted tale of old country and old English driven forward by fanatical religiosity and the possibility of mythological evil creatures lurking in nearby woods. The Witch is a horror gem that is both terrifying and engrossing. A rare triumph in a genre that often misfires.

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS {4 out of 5 rating}

ARRIVAL (2016)

A different kind of sci-fi. One that treats the possibility of an Alien encounter with optimism. Much like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, this is a film interested in the possibility that an interplanetary encounter could result in a mutually beneficial relationship rather than default to conflict and war. Arrival defies expectations in not only placing a woman at the center of a blockbuster (something we need more of), but in making scientists and scholars the heroes of the tale (as they so often are). The Denis Villeneuve film also boasts great visuals and a captivating soundtrack that may easily be the best of 2016.

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS (2016)

Though it may place too much focus on style in detriment of substance; Tom Ford’s second film is still a very fine piece of cinema. The film particularly excels at the telling of a story within a story and it succeeds by conveying the immensity of the pain caused by a broken heart. A complex and sometimes hard-to-stomach script that is beautifully brought to life by the eye of an artist of Ford’s caliber and truly accomplished performances from the likes of Jake Gyllenhaal, Amy Adams and an always magnetic Michael Shannon.

nocturnal-animals

THE JUNGLE BOOK (2016)

Despite it being a reimagining of a story that many of us are familiar with, I can’t think of another film released in 2016 that delivers so much joy and adventure. In the retelling of the Disney classic, director John Favreau uses motion capture and special effects very effectively to bring life, color and depth to a tale filled with an assortment of characters that include a small orphaned child, a gigantic evil snake and a bitter yet lovable bear voiced by the evergreen Bill Murray.

HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986)

I’ve never been a fan of Woody Allen, neither the person nor the director. However, I do recognize his skill in the telling of stories that, in most cases, revolve around love, deception, infidelity, marriage and adult relationships. Hannah is not particularly different to a lot of his other work except in that it excels at finding a careful balance between humor and emotional poignancy. It is also particularly interesting in its structure, cleverly weaving tales and characters through moments of introspection that are often thought but not heard.

hannah-and-her-sisters

PREDESTINATION (2015)

This film was on my radar before it was released but,  for some reason, I had not managed to watch it until early December. Though it deals within a very familiar sci-fi territory (time travel), it uses it only as a plot device that serves a larger story. Predestination is the kind of sci-fi we need more of: brainy, creative and surprising, without necessarily resorting to a long gamut of special effects to make its point across.

predestination

THE HANDMAIDEN (2016)

For director Park Chan-wook, it will always be hard to top Oldboy, one of the best thrillers ever made. His newest film is, however, filled with its own pleasures. Handmaiden is both devilish and stylish, rich in detail and awash with ornamentation in the form of texture, color, beautiful garments, great architecture and gorgeous people.

Though it may not have the same conviction and deceitful simplicity of Oldboy, the latest from Park Chan-wook feels like a natural extension of the talented artist stretching his creative muscles once again.

handmaiden

 QUIZ SHOW (1994)

As a cinephile, there are few joys greater than watching a very adept group of actors navigate complicated characters as if each and everyone of them was born to play the part. If one of these actors’ name is Ralph Fiennes, then you are surely to have a wonderful film in your hands. 

THE LEGO MOVIE (2014)

It took me a couple of years to get to this, but now I can see what all the fuzz was about. Though it may sound like an exaggeration (and it may well be), The Lego Movie feels like yet another forward step in the evolution of animated films, much like Toy Story was in the late 1990s.

The Lego Movie is silly, fun and extraordinarily inventive, making use of the Lego brand in surprising, funny and compelling ways. Though the story goes a bit off the rails at times, this animated gem never fails to keep us engaged.

lego-movie

THE NICE GUYS (2016)

I will confess I was one of the many people who were not exactly convinced of pairing Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling. Fortunately for me, I was thoroughly mistaken. The film is an interesting blend of genres that takes us back to the drug-fueled and conspiracy-loving 1970s where a private eye and a hired thug play messy detectives that compliment each other in ways they are not quick to recognize. Most importantly, The Nice Guys excels at comedy, filled with funny one-liners and hilarious physical comedy that borders on slapstick.

ZOOTOPIA (2016)

There are many great animated movies. However, there are only a handful that have dared to tackle broad adult subjects. Like the stupendous Ferngully long before it, Zootopia is the kind of animated film that dares to think outside of the box to teach us a thing or two about inclusion and the mutual acceptance of our differences. The fact that it came out at a time where the world seems to be spiraling out of control and inching towards massive conflict, Zootopia is the rare kind of project that is made better by the timeliness of its message.

zootopia

PHILOMENA (2013)

A touching drama with plenty of charm driven by the always excellent Judi Dench and a surprisingly nuanced performance by Steve Coogan. This is a modest and understated film that manages to navigate through a very sad tale with ease and plenty of wit.

STEVE JOBS (2015)

One of the most complex and dense scripts in recent memory, Steve Jobs treats its all-too-famous subject by narrowing down on a few key moments in the life of the icon. Surprisingly, the long-running scenes do a great job at summarizing the technological and cultural impact of the man, as well as it gives us a glimpse of his qualities and shortcomings as a father, husband, colleague and leader. Michael Fassbender’s performance is a master class in how to capture the essence of a very famous person without resorting to impersonation.

steve-jobs

ROOM (2015)

A psychological drama that is at its best in the first act, when a mom and her son are confined to a small room after being taken by a sexual predator. Though the film is filled with hard-to-stomach drama that seems all too real, the second act suggests that life can continue and happiness can be attained after such trauma. Room is about the victims and their strength, and not about the kidnapping nor the victimizer. In an age of sensationalistic news, Room is yet another reminder that the victims should be our focus, as well as the unbreakable human spirit that help them survive.

room

THE END OF THE TOUR (2015)

Based on a best selling memoir by David Lipsky, the film focuses on a 5-day stint the former Rolling Stone journalist spent with the late novelist David Foster Wallace, whose influential book Infinite Jest would suddenly make him the target of acclaim, adulation and fame. The film excels at giving us a portrait of Wallace that is both complex and troubled. At times it is also capable to translate part of the essence of what it means to be the kind of human whose great emotional awareness can bring on hardship and depression.

SHORT TERM 12 (2013)

I watched Short Term 12 shortly after Room and, in both cases, I was rather amazed at the emotional depth and dexterity of Brie Larson. In Short Term she leads an ensemble cast of other twenty-somethings, teens, and little kids that, without exemption, demand our sympathy. The film is nuanced, character-driven, hyper realistic and not easily forgotten.

Short Term 12 Brie Larson and Keith Stanfield

WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE (1993)

There are a few things that make this film unique and of its time. It deals with obesity in the crudest of manners, exposing both the limitations and social castration that can result from it. It also deals with the handicap of a child that was convincingly portrayed by a young Leonardo di Caprio in a role that would most likely be played by a mentally handicapped child nowadays. In addition, it focused on the stress and hardship it all brought to a young man (Johnny Depp) whose dreams were being put on hold due to the love and devotion he felt for his family. A moving and daring film.

CREED (2015)

Could there ever be another Rocky Balboa other than Sylvester Stallone? The simple answer is NO.

Creed is a return to form for the franchise and for the iconic character. Interestingly enough, Rocky is no longer the focus and yet, it is his personal story that gives Creed its emotional grounding. If Stallone’s iconic character weren’t enough, Creed also features a tour-de-force performance by the talented Michael B. Jordan.

creed

THE REVENANT (2015)

Overlong and anticlimatic, The Revenant is on this list for its cinematic beauty, a couple of remarkable scenes (one includes a bear yes) and a terrific ensemble cast led by Leonardo Di Caprio and Tom Hardy. Gonzalo Iñarritu’s best film yet.

SICARIO (2015)

Focused and unforgiving, Sicario is a dark and probably true account of the war on drugs. In a world many of us know little about, the line between good and evil is blurred, and sometimes law enforcers become victims and victimizers. In the middle of it all, the film places a motivated and well-intentioned female cop, portrayed with grit and depth by Emily Blunt, in one of her better roles.

sicario

SULLY (2016)

When dealing with strong, simple and focused scripts, few have the directorial ability of Clint Eastwood to turn something that could easily be mundane into a piece of cinema that is engrossing and inspirational despite a narrow scope.

To play a modern everyday man turned celebrity overnight, Tom Hanks excels in making us care about the atypical hero: a dutiful and intensely modest man who doesn’t bask in the brightness of the limelight.

AGUIRRE: THE WRATH OF GOD (1977)

Aguirre may not be the most elegant or polished of films, but what it lacks in finesse, it makes up with thematic ambition, daring to capture a kind of greed-fueled insanity that can lead to murder and betrayal. The film is infamous for the complexities of the shooting, as well as for the strained relationship between Werner Herzog and his lead, the magnetic Klaus Kinsky, whose performance belongs in the Olympus of acting. The last sequence alone, in all of its simple beauty and realism, is worth the quick 90 minute wait.

aguirre-wrath-of-god-still

I do hope everyone has a magnificent 2017!

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3 thoughts on “A return to blogging. Best films watched in 2016. 

  1. Looks like you had a great year of films—there’s lots in here I need to catch up on at some point this year—Moonlight, Arrival, Nocturnal Animals, The Witch are just a few of them.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, I wasn’t sure if I would get any comments after taking such a long break. You should definitely give those films a go. This was a good year for movies, especially in the latter part of the year.

  2. Happy New Year and welcome back! Enjoy reading your reviews. Of those films I particularly liked Hell or High Water. I agree the story makes you care about the bank robbers. There’s a melancholy to the humor which was well done.
    Woody Allen was on his A-game in the 70s and 80s and Hannah I have rewatched several times. Since the 90s Allen’s work to me is hit or miss.
    I disliked the coldness of Sicario, definitely more warmth and humor in Arrival. Although admittedly the beginning and ending scenes of Sicario were powerful.
    I’ll be seeing Moonlight and The Handmaiden during the next few months. Thinking of bringing back my monthly recap blog posts. I may as well share because I continue to write mini-reviews anyway.
    Ps John Ford=Tom Ford.

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