Spinning Platters film critics present their top 10 films of 2016
Spinning Platters film critics Carrie Kahn and Chad Liffmann each share their ten favorite films of 2016. Here is Chad’s list, presented in descending rank order. And check out Carrie’s list!
- 10.) Hail, Caesar!
It takes a few viewings to fully appreciate the tremendous wit and satirical humor in Hail, Caesar! When the Coen Brothers released their latest film earlier this year, it was met with a lukewarm reception from audiences and critics, partially due to the Oscar-worthy brilliance of their previous three films — A Serious Man, True Grit, and Inside Llewyn Davis. Compared to those three, Hail, Caesar! is a silly comedy, yet it’s actually both an entertaining throwback and a salute to the unseen Hollywood players of the 1950s studio system, specifically the Hollywood fixer, played here by a confident Josh Brolin. Mix in a few Golden Age film sets, including those of an elaborate synchronized swimming musical number, and a Roman sandal epic, and cap it off with a phenomenal straight-out-of-the-’50s song and dance number with a handful of handsome seamen (led by Channing Tatum), and you’ve got a colorful, slightly absurdist take on Hollywood yesteryear that only the Coen Brothers can manage and deliver. Hail, Caesar! also puts Alden Ehrenreich on the map; here he plays a lovable typecast singin’ cowboy, and you’ll see him again soon as a young Han Solo. (You can also read my full-length review here.)
9.) Hunt for the Wilderpeople
New Zealand director Taika Waititi (Flight of the Conchords, What We Do in the Shadows) has delivered a wonderfully offbeat and charming tale that plays out like a live action version of Up, without the flying house and talking dogs. Nevertheless, quirky characters (and dogs) still fill out this quasi buddy comedy, which has a fair amount of heartfelt emotion, too, thanks to Sam Neill as a gruff, outdoorsy curmudgeon who forms an unlikely bond with his rambunctious foster child, Ricky (Julian Dennison). Hunt for the Wilderpeople is heartwarming and laugh-out-loud funny, so definitely check out this under-the-radar indie.
8.) Hidden Figures
Like so many others, I knew nothing about them before this movie was announced, but I’m glad that the incredible women behind the 1960s space race at NASA are finally getting the credit they well deserve. Hidden Figures is an inspirational film about Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), three women who were at the forefront of the U.S. efforts to launch a manned-mission to orbit the Earth — yes, the John Glenn mission. Of course, because of the time period’s discrimination against women in the workforce, and especially women of color, they never got the credit they deserved. Hidden Figures is a celebratory film that comes at a crucial time when our nation needs to champion equality and respect above all else. (You can also read Carrie’s full-length review here.)
7.) The Witch
Psychologically terrifying using Kubrick-ian old-school filmmaking at its core, The Witch may be the most harrowing film in years. The Witch is the feature film debut from Robert Eggers, and I already can’t wait for the director’s next project. Anya Taylor-Joy gives a tremendous performance as the eldest child of a Puritan family cast out of their village and living among evil-infested woods. After their newborn baby is stolen away by a witch in the opening scenes, the family begins a gradual descent into chaos as they toss around blame, chastisement, and, finally, surrender to their deepest, darkest fears and insecurities. The Witch‘s subtitle is “A New England Folktale,” which is appropriate, considering the filmmakers studied and used real 17th century accounts describing witches and witchcraft. Plus, only natural light and candles were used to light the scenes, so the sets feel authentic to the time period. And then there’s Black Phillip, the family’s teased goat, who becomes a haunting symbol of satanic powers, and who will no doubt change the way you look at goats forever. Note: If you love goats, don’t watch this film.
6.) The Lobster
No film this year was more divisive than The Lobster. I’ve talked to people who loved it and I’ve talked to people who hated it. I’ve never talked to anyone who thought it was just ok. That’s because director Yorgos Lanthimos created a funny but unnerving tale that takes every aspect of our society’s obsession with matchmaking and traditional partnerships and flips those constructs on their gut-busting side. Colin Farrell gives a nuanced performance as a lonely soul searching for acceptance and solace in a resort for single people who will be turned into animals of their own choosing if they don’t find a suitable partner in 45 days. Yes, it’s that weird, but also that inventive and piercingly original. (You can also read my full-length review here.)
5.) Hell or High Water
Hell or High Water is a well-acted, smart, emotionally resonant modern Western heist film. That’s a mouthful, I know, but it’s true. It’s both a familial drama and a socially conscious ‘Robin Hood’ tale. Amidst the grandiose crane shots of the Texas horizons and the thrilling shootouts, Hell or High Water is bolstered by a script keenly interested in the complex relationships between characters and their moral obligations to each other and themselves. It’s by far one of the most well-rounded films of the year that didn’t get nearly enough attention upon its theatrical release. (You can also read Carrie’s full-length review here.)
This year has seen a lot of films tackle the themes of racial equality and social belonging, and Zootopia is arguably the best of the lot (except for #1 on this list). With Zootopia, Disney has delivered the most kid-friendly exposition on our society’s struggle with battling racial and gender discrimination. The film explores these themes while effortlessly including a plethora of pop culture references, visual gags, and highly original and hysterical critiques of the most frustrating characteristics of our government agencies. Jason Bateman and Ginnifer Goodwin lead an all-star cast as smart-as-a-fox fox Nick Wilde and over-achieving do-gooder cop bunny Judy Hopps. The intricate world and animal species that fill the buddy-cop-meets-crime-drama story beg for a Zootopia sequel. The impressive box office and critical acclaim also help. (You can also read my full-length review here.)
3.) La La Land
One of the most heartwarming films of the year, La La Land is a modern day musical with a whimsical yet refreshingly honest depiction of dreamers in love and the hardships that befall them. It’s a throwback to the Golden Age of Hollywood musicals and the likes of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, and while Gosling and Stone are no Astaire and Kelly, they do have an intoxicating chemistry that elicits a healthy dose of smiles, laughter, and tears from the audience. Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) directs with a clear love of musical theater and colorful textures. He’s aided by fantastic art direction and cinematography from Austin Gorg and Linus Sandgren, respectively. The film doesn’t break any new ground, nor is it the absolute best at anything it attempts (the songs are good, but not great, the dancing the same, the acting the same). And yet, there is something that feels so timely and emotionally resonant about La La Land and the modern day musical genre, that it hits hard, and the audience can’t resist its charms, nor avoid feeling the full extent of its heart and heartbreak.
William Carlos Williams’s imagist poem “This is Just to Say” has been my favorite poem for a decade, so hearing it recited in the appropriately poetic and lovable film Paterson was like receiving an extra cherry atop an ice cream sundae. Paterson is director Jim Jarmusch’s love note to the aforementioned poet and to the beauty and importance of introspection and humanism. What better way to capture such love of life than to place this story within the confines of a mundane section of Paterson, New Jersey, and offer as a lead character a quiet bus driver, played by Adam Driver. Driver is calm and gentle, and very matter-of-fact, like the observational yet imaginative poems he writes during his work breaks. Paterson is soothing to the soul and provides calm stimulation to any aspiring writer, artist, or anyone searching for a bit more meaning in the little things that make up our complicated world. (You can also read Carrie’s full-length review here.)
No other film this year was more tender, more human, and more awake than Moonlight. Moonlight transcends the coming-of-age tale with its three-pronged approach to the timeless story of a young black boy, Chiron, navigating bullying, sexual identity, and an abusive cocaine addicted mother in the Miami suburbs. East Bay native Mahershala Ali gives an award-worthy supporting performance as a local drug dealer turned mentor for young Chiron. Naomie Harris gives an equally powerful performance as Chiron’s mother. Director Barry Jenkins adapted Moonlight from the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney, and Jenkins infuses his film version with dramatic flare and remarkably complex characters. We grow alongside Chiron, and there is no scene this year more touching and more real than the reunion between Chiron and his high school friend, Kevin. Moonlight tackles the most critical issues affecting our society, but handles them with great care and sincerity. If you weren’t empathetic or cognizant of the real world lives like those depicted in Moonlight, this film will provide the images you need to see, and the emotions you need to feel.
Lots of Honorable Mentions:
- Manchester by the Sea – An extremely close #11. So close it hurts to omit. Manchester is a brutally honest and heartfelt drama with superb performances and a strikingly human script.
- Arrival — A timely conceptual sci-fi drama with a laudable lead performance by Amy Adams. Arrival is emotional, beautifully shot, and promotes a united global conscience.
- Moana — Moana may be traditional in its story structure, but its gorgeous animation and progressive plot elements make it one of this year’s most wonderful cinematic experiences.