My Top 10 Hollywood Films of 2016

Tomorrow, Tuesday, January 24th, is one of my personal holidays.  Oscar nomination announcement day!  And while I’m late, I’m just under the wire before those announcements to give you my personal list of my top Hollywood films of 2016.  Apologies for getting to this later in January than I’d hoped.  My father was in the hospital for almost two full weeks.  Fortunately, he’s doing better, and I’m glad to be thinking of movies again instead of ICU and breathing tubes.

A major caveat is that I have not been able to see some of the films of 2016 that came out very late in the year for Oscar season.  Especially with my father’s illness, I have not seen Silence, Jackie, or Fences yet, just to name a few.

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1. La La Land

Did you have any doubt after this rapturous review describing my tears of joy, that La La Land would be my favorite film of the entire year?  I live and breathe movie musicals, and Damien Chazelle reviving the genre in Hollywood is my dream come true.  My love of musicals are why I love Indian Cinema so much (I’ll be posting a separate top list for Indian Cinema).  La La Land garnered a record number of Golden Globes with seven, and could make history tomorrow with a shattering 15 Oscar nominations.  With a musical, you add in song, score, etc. to all the traditional categories.  The previous record number of nominations would be 14 (All About Eve and Titanic).  Could it sweep?  Maybe….

Moonlight

2. Moonlight

Moonlight is a movie that has really stayed with me.  I have been frankly amazed at how well this film has done.  I’m not sure it will resonate with the average Academy member (white, male and over 65), but it really did with me.  I’m crossing my fingers that it gets lots of nominations, especially for director Barry Jenkins and that Mahershala Ali wins Supporting Actor.  He was amazing.

manchesterbythesea_trailer3. Manchester By The Sea

I was privileged to attend the premiere of Kenneth Lonnergan’s Manchester By The Sea at Sundance last January.  I didn’t know what I was about to see, just that I had to see the latest film by the man who made You Can Count On Me.  I didn’t know that Casey Affleck was going to rip my heart out with his devastating performance.  Viewers now know that this is a sad film, but it has wonderful moments of comedy, especially with Affleck’s relationship with his nephew, played by Lucas Hedges, who I hope will get an Oscar nod tomorrow morning.

CAPTAIN FANTASTIC

4. Captain Fantastic 

Captain Fantastic may be a career best performance for Viggo Mortenson, as the father of six children, determined to home school them completely off the grid in the wilderness of the Northwest.  I hope and pray that Viggo gets recognition tomorrow with an Oscar nomination.  The film has kind of fallen of the radar, except that Viggo’s performance cannot be denied.  I strongly urge you to give this film a chance.  It’s available for rental on Amazon, Youtube, etc.  It was one of my favorites from Sundance last year.

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5. The Lobster

I loved every absurd moment of The Lobster.  Colin Farrell was amazing.  Highly recommend, and it’s now included with Amazon Prime.

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6. Deadpool

Oh, my goodness, I did not realize how stale the superhero movie genre had become until the fresh air of Deadpool.  Ryan Reynolds was made for this role, and aren’t we all so glad he fought so hard to win this role and get the movie made.  Second favorite thing about the movie is the snarling teenage girl X-men.  Love her!!  It’s a great film to rewatch as there is just so many little nuggets of goodness to catch.

7. Hunt For the Wilderpeople

You MUST see Hunt For the Wilderpeople.  Taika Waititi, the writer director has created a comic masterpiece about a young Maori foster kid and the ultimate curmudgeon, Sam Neill.  I feel so much better about the upcoming Thor movie, because Taika Waititi is a comic genius.   It’s included with a Hulu subscription right now, and also available to rent online.  You’ll thank me.

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8. Hell or High Water

Such a fantastic script for Hell or High Water.  Chris Pine and Jeff Bridges were particularly good.

9. Ali and Nino

I saw this sweeping historical love story epic, directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Asif Kapadia (Amy), at Sundance.  It only got a limited release, but it’s available to rent on demand.  It has a script by  screenwriter Christopher Hampton who wrote Atonement.  I could eat this movie with a spoon, it’s just so wonderful.  Ali and Nino tells the story of a Muslim prince of Afghanistan who falls in love with a Christian young woman (her father is played by Mandy Patinkin).  It’s set in the time of World War I, and I had no idea that Afghanistan was almost at democracy.  The movie was filmed just across the border in Turkey and the scenery is just stunning.

arrival210. Arrival

Choosing a last film of a top ten feels very arbitrary because there were a couple of films that were all about equal for me.  This could also easily be Zootopia, which I really enjoyed.  But I’m picking Arrival for Amy Adams’ wonderful performance.  This is the kind of Sci-fi movie I enjoy, one that makes you think.  Amy Adams sells you on this movie, and hip hip hurray, it was so much her movie.  Jeremy Renner was very much the supporting actor.  Linguist Amy Adams led the team who tried to communicate with the aliens, although  my brother pointed out that you didn’t really see her lead her team in an active way.  I hope Amy gets an Oscar nomination for this wonderful film tomorrow morning.

 

 

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What I saw and liked at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival

I have attended Sundance since 2008, but this year we were able to attend the entire festival, so we saw quite a few films.  I saw 22 feature length films, and several shorts.

This year was special because our friend Tahir Jetter‘s How To Tell You’re A Douchebag, his first feature, premiered at the fest.   It’s a romantic comedy set in Brooklyn.

I’m biased, but for a very limited budget, I thought it was great.  Here’s a balanced review from The Guardian.

It’s difficult for me to name just one film as my favorite from this year, because there were several standouts for me.   For my full list with reviews, here is my Letterboxd list for Sundance 2016

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  1. Captain Fantastic — “Deep in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, a father (Viggo Mortensen) devoted to raising his six kids with a rigorous physical and intellectual education is forced to leave his paradise and re-enter society, beginning a journey that challenges his idea of what it means to be a parent.”  Viggo is AMAZING in this film as an extreme home schooling dad, in probably my favorite film.  I can’t think of anyone else more perfect for this role.  The young actor who plays the oldest son is also incredible.  A ★★★★½ review of Captain Fantastic (2016)

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2. Manchester By The Sea – Kenneth Lonnergan’s film stars Casey Affleck and Michelle Wiliams.  Affleck has to return to his home town Manchester By The Sea when a family member suddenly dies.  You gradually learn why he is so reluctant to be the guardian for his 16 year old nephew.  Searing film that we will be seeing come Oscar time, to be sure.  Five stars!!  Lucas Hedges is great as the young nephew, but Casey Affleck’s melancholy superb acting had me sobbing — not just tears down my face but holding my hand over my mouth to keep quiet in the theater sobbing.  This is a masterful movie about real people and their grief.  A ★★★★★ review of Manchester by the Sea (2016)

3. The Birth Of A Nation – Nate Parker’s slave drama about Nat Turner’s revolt in 1831 deservedly was the most talked about film at the festival.  It won the audience and grand jury prize.  I expect it to win Best Picture at the Oscars.  Just an incredible film.   Nate Parker choked up with tears at our screening talking about how hard it was to get his film made, and it received standing ovation after standing ovation at the fest.  A ★★★★★ review of The Birth of a Nation (2016)

4. Ali and Nino – I LOVED this sweeping romantic epic set in WWI era Azerbaijan.  Ali is a Muslim prince who falls for the aristocratic Christian Nino.  Mandy Patinkin plays Nino’s father.  The director, Asif Kapadia, just won the Oscar for his documentary film Amy, and I loved previous Sundance doc Senna.  So glad to see a new narrative feature from him.  A ★★★★★ review of Ali & Nino (2016)

5. Hunt for The Wilderpeople   A hilarious comic romp by director Taika Waititi.  (I have great hopes for the next Thor movie after seeing this movie, and laughing through Taika MCing the Sundance award night.)  Sam Neill is more curmudgeonly than ever, and has a fantastic reluctant relationship with his foster son played by newcomer Julian Dennison.  The film is out in New Zealand already, so you can see for yourself in the trailer below:

6. Other People – A gay writer son comes home to help take care of his mother when she is diagnosed with cancer.  Molly Shannon is the mother, and you’ve never seen her like this.  She’s fantastic.

7. Green Room – Patrick Stewart as the villainous owner of a Neo-Nazi punk rock club.  I don’t need to say anything more.  Anton Yelchin and his punk band have to escape a green room at the club after they witness a murder.  There’s a trailer already for this incredibly intense thriller.

Now we get down in the list to films that were good, but not my favorites.

8. Belgica – Two brothers run a hip nightclub in Belgium.  Predictable what happens, but the music was particularly good on the soundtrack.  Many parallels to the refugee crisis.

9. Morris From America – Craig Robinson and his son, played by Markees Christmas are the only black people in their entire German town.  Markees young 13 year old character loves rap and is incredibly sweet.

10.  Southside With You – This is the story of Barack Obama and Michelle’s first date when she was his mentor at his summer job at the law firm, Sidley Austin in Chicago (my husband’s firm.)  I really liked this film, even if you couldn’t even tell it was filmed in Chicago.

11. Sand Storm – set in a Bedouin village in Israel.  Everything changes when the father in this family drama decides to marry a second wife.  Really compelling story, with a debut Israeli director.  This clip shows the moment the first wife must welcome the second bride:

12.  Halal Love – Four tragicomic interconnected stories about how devoted Muslim men and women are trying to manage their love life and desires without breaking any religious rules.  This film set in Lebanon was really entertaining and super interesting.  I did not know before this film about “temporary” halal marriages.

13. Brahman Naman  A raunchy sex comedy set in the ’80s in Bangalore.  The film is in English and is sort of an Indian American Pie.  Naman and his friends are all on their college quiz team, which evidently was a huge thing.  Was not expecting an Indian movie where the opening scene has Naman masturbating in the door of a fridge!

14. Mapplethorpe:  Look At the Pictures  This fascinating documentary just started airing on HBO this week.  I really didn’t know that much about him, other than remembering Jesse Helms ranting about him in the ’80s.

15. Holy Hell was an amazing documentary filmed inside a cult.  The director was the official videographer of the cult for years, and had incredible footage.  The Q&A with several former members of the cult who were in the documentary was particularly powerful.

16. Life Animated – moving documentary about a family with an autistic son, who they finally are able to reach through his love of Disney animated movies.

And now the disappointing films on the list.

17.  Love and Friendship – Based on an unfinished novel by Jane Austen.  Had some really hilarious zinger lines, and it was very fun to see Chloe Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale in this movie.  But it dragged and could have used tighter editing.  Hopefully they tightened it up for theatrical release.

18. Certain WomenThree stories of women in the modern AmericanWest.  Performances were great, especially the acting of the Native American lonely rancher (Lily Gladstone).  But oh, my, god was this movie like watching grass grow.  So slow.

19. Yoga Hosers – Midnight movie starring Kevin Smith and Johnny Depp’s daughters as clerks of a Canadian convenience store.  It was worth seeing just to see  Kevin Smith choke up talking about coming back to Sundance with this movie.  It was amusing and silly, but Brat Nazis?  Really?

20. Jaqueline (Argentine) – decidedly quirky doc film within a film.  I fell asleep during it to be honest.

21. Swiss Army Man – I have NEVER seen so many people walk out of a movie at Sundance!  People in the 4th row walked out 1/2 an hour in!  This was my 23 year old son’s favorite movie, and my husband hated it.  But it’s like a train wreck that you can’t help but watch.  Daniel Radcliffe is a farting corpse that Paul Dano rides like a jet ski to escape a deserted island.  And that’s just the first 10 minutes.  The trailer just came out, so you can see for yourself with this truly bizarre film.  I shouted “WHAT?!!!” when “The Daniels” won the jury prize for directing at Sundance.

But Swiss Army Man is a screening I will NEVER forget.  It was worth it just to say I was there!

22. Christine – Rebecca Hall plays Christine Chubbock, a Tampa TV reporter who committed suicide on air.  The acting was very good, but again, the tempo of the film was slow for me.

Overall, a very strong year at Sundance.  Again, here’s my full list with reviews, here is my Letterboxd list for Sundance 2016, including the shorts.