The movies released in 2016 film year ranged from comic book movies to deep emotional tales. There were numerous releases that will get Oscar attention and an equal amount that will fill up the Razzies nomination list.
Selecting the best and worst is always open to debate. My selections are based on the hundreds of films I watched during the past 12 months. They are the titles that were memorable either through superb writing, outstanding performances or solid laughs.
This is my list of the best of 2016. Several of the films have either just opened or will open soon in Fresno. A few are also available on DVD if you would like to compare notes.
Here’s my list:
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1. “Hell or High Water”: This modern-day twist on the Robin Hood approach to economic parity has superb writing, Oscar-caliber performances and a serious social message that it makes it the best picture of 2016. Although the theme could have been preachy, it manages to make a monumental statement with quiet reserve and compassion.
It’s a powerful story about hope and despair, success and failure, desperation and determination. And yet director David Mackenzie never forces any of the sides. He just presents the story to the viewer to consume, debate and then decide.
2. “Moonlight”: The movie, written and directed by Barry Jenkins, is a slow journey through the pain-filled life of a young black man charted from his troubled childhood to his uncertain adulthood. The way Jenkins has structured his work isn’t to give us a fully formed adult but to give the audience a ringside seat to see the outside influences that shaped this young man.
It’s painful and frustrating to watch at times but compelling and engaging.
3. “Captain Fantastic”: The film relies more on brain than brawn to tell the story of a family living way off the grid. Under the guidance of director Matt Ross, the story offers alternative opinions, smart arguments and real conversations about the health and development of children.
This is is everything that comic book-inspired movies aren’t. Instead of trying to visually overpower the viewer with crashes, explosions and huge fight scenes, “Captain Fantastic” is a deep examination of parenting, family, excess, isolationism, hope and the challenge of making the right decisions.
4. “Loving”: The story of Richard and Mildred Loving is one of the most important in the world of social change and race relations. It was their mixed marriage that became the basis for the 1967 Supreme Court to ruling that state laws prohibiting interracial marriages were invalid.
That element is the framework for the feature film from director/writer Jeff Nichols in his film “Loving.” While the court battle is historic, the real truth and passion in the production comes out of the relationship between Mildred (Ruth Negga) and Richard (Joel Edgerton).
5. “Jackie”: “Jackie” is a career-defining role for Natalie Portman. The actress has been going between serious work, such as in “Black Swan,” and more box-office-driven production as “Thor.”
Nothing compares to her performance as former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy. It shows Portman has the skills to transform herself into a role so deeply that most evidence of the actress gets lost inside the skin of the part she’s playing.
6. “For the Love of Spock”: Adam Nimoy’s original idea for the documentary “For the Love of Spock” was to take a detailed look at the character that his father, Leonard Nimoy, had created on the TV series, “Star Trek.” The film fills in details of how Spock came into being and grew into such a beloved figure.
The filmmaker accomplishes this and, in the process, gives “Star Trek” fans a comprehensive story of everything from the struggle to create the right look for Spock’s ears to how Nimoy came up with the idea for the Vulcan greeting of “Live long and prosper.” It is a fascinating look at the acting process.
7. “Fences”: Director/star Denzel Washington’s decision to stage the film like a stage production makes the acting work even better. There’s no need for countless sets, wardrobe changes and relentless camera movement when the story and actors are so compelling.
The film version of “Fences” pays tribute to the literary strength of the original novel by August Wilson. Washington’s work as director and actor along with the amazing cast delivers Wilson’s story in proper and impressive style.
8. “Deadpool”: How much you like “Deadpool” will depend a lot on how familiar you are with the Marvel Comics character. Those who have read the books know he’s not the typical defender of justice who believes in truth and honesty.
Deadpool is a foul-mouthed jerk who would rather put a bullet in a bad guy’s head than to take him off to jail. He loves to talk about sex, violence, sex, sex, sex and more sex. And, just like he does in the comics, Deadpool has no problem breaking the fourth wall.
He doesn’t just break the wall, he destroys it with a constant barrage of dialogue delivered directly to the audience. It even continues through the additional scene after the credits.
9. “The Little Prince”: The film debuted on Netflix but did get enough of a theatrical run to qualify for the Oscars.
Director Mark Osborne’s film adaptation of “The Little Prince” uses the original story as the core while building a parallel story that makes the movie more accessible. At the heart are the same magical elements that have made the book such a treasure. They are just delivered in a less-complicated form.
What he’s done is put together a film that’s stunning to look at and compelling in story. He shows great respect for the original book by keeping the tale as the core.
10. “La La Land”: Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are cute falling in love and do a decent job of dancing. In fact, Stone looks far more comfortable with the dance numbers than she does with the singing.
They are good enough to hold the movie together until this last act. The movie becomes a brilliant mix of musical performance and visual storytelling as soon as Stone sings the showstopper “Audition (The Fools Who Dream).” Stone delivers the tune – that summarizes the themes of the film brilliantly – with a power and passion that is nowhere to be found in the earlier numbers.