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….

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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.

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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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La La Land – This movie is so glorious I actually cried tears of joy in the theater

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I knew I was going to love La La Land, Damien Chazelle’s new film musical, but I wasn’t really ready for how it made me feel watching it in the theater today.  Damien Chazelle blew me away with Whiplash, an intense movie about a jazz drummer which opened Sundance a few years ago, and garnered J. K. Simmons a Supporting Actor Oscar.  The success of Whiplash let him make the musical movie he’d always dreamed of.

I went to see La La Land alone today because I. Could. Not. WAIT, but I will be dragging everyone I can to go see it on the big screen.  I want to see it as many times as I possibly can.  Critics have swooned, even Manohla Dargis wrote about how swept away she was watching it the second time.

I love movie musicals.  I live and breathe them.  I fell hard for Fred Astaire, adore Gene Kelly and the list goes on.  Those films of the past had magic.  Yes, they were earnest and wore their heart on their sleeve, but can anything convey like a song that heavenly feeling of falling in love?  Musicals have fallen out of fashion in cynical Hollywood as of late.  They are rare or you have to watch a Disney animated film to see one.  I have turned to Indian films to get my musical fix.

 

Today, in the theater, Damien Chazelle gave me the most precious gift.  He gave me a Hollywood musical, steeped in the traditions and with a love for Hollywood musicals of the past, and also fresh and adult and modern.  The movie made me smile from the first frames as an LA traffic jam leads to people getting out of their cars to dance and sing.

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Then we meet Emma Stone’s Mia, a struggling actress and Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian, a struggling Jazz piano player.  They run into each other a few times and banter before this glorious spontaneous dance:

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How gorgeous is that shot?!  The sunset on the hills, her yellow dress and red hair.  How they have those matching shoes.

There are bumps along the way, but one night they go to the Griffith Observatory after seeing Rebel With A Cause.  And then they fall in love, and the music takes them up into the stars.  I seriously started crying tears of joy at this.  I didn’t just choke up.  Tears were running down my face I was so happy.

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I loved all the camera tricks that Chazelle uses.  He’s studied the masters and gone even a step further.  This is a film where Damien Chazelle takes the every day and makes it part of a musical number.  We meet Mia’s roommates and a blow dryer gives Mia a moment worthy of a Bollywood number:

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People don’t just walk down the street to a party – they do this:

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I was only hoping for a few big musical dance numbers, but this a full fledged musical film with songs and dances throughout from start to finish.  The music is all original by Justin Hurwitz who also provided the score for Whiplash.  Ryan Gosling’s character is a jazz musician who is always composing and working on his music, so it makes sense in the film for moments like this one:

 

This is hands down my favorite film of the year.  It’s about a guy and a gal falling in love and struggling to make their dreams come true.  Maybe it doesn’t have the weight of Manchester by the Sea, or the important issues of a film like Moonlight.  But I cried more than once — for joy and for the beauty of it all.  That final sequence just left me again in tears it was so perfect.  So beautiful.  So bittersweet.  This is not a saccharine sappy film.

Chazelle fought hard to get this cast.  He had to really convince Emma Stone to make the leap and she didn’t make it easy.  Ryan Gosling took piano lessons for months so that he could convincingly play the piano in the film without editing cheats.  Gosling and Stone have shown in films like Crazy, Stupid Love that they have that X factor chemistry between them.  This film was almost cast with Miles Teller and Emma Watson.   Thank God Stone and Gosling became available — Emma Stone is likely to win an Oscar nomination for this film.

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La La Land is romance at its best.  Damien Chazelle has captured magic in bottle.  I plan to partake again and again.

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Moonlight – Like Watching Beautiful Poetry Come To Life

I had heard a growing chorus about the greatness of Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight from the festival circuit, and it is now gracing the number one spot on many critics’ Top 10 films of the year.  It’s a three-way Oscar race at this point, with Manchester By The Sea, and La La Land.

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Before I saw the film, I did not understand the movie poster for Moonlight, but it is actually perfection.  The film is split in three parts showing 10 year old “Little”, a young teen and then a young adult Chiron.  The poster shows all three actors split in thirds, and how they together make the whole person that is Chiron.

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This image released by A24 Films shows Alex Hibbert, left, and Mahershala Ali in a scene from the film, “Moonlight.” The film is a poetic coming-of-age tale told across three chapters about a young gay black kid growing up in a poor, drug-ridden neighborhood of Miami. (David Bornfriend/A24 via AP)

The film Moonlight is based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue which was written by Chicago Steppenwolf playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney.  Little/Charon is a young taciturn 10 year old in the first segment.  Chased by bullies who taunt him for being a “faggot”.  He hides out in a crackhouse, and is improbably rescued by the local drug dealer gang leader, Juan (Mahershala Ali in a tour de force).  Mahershala Ali I was mainly familiar with from his excellent work as the lobbyist Remy in House of Cards, but he’s one of those faces who has been in several TV series and movies like Hunger Games Mockingjay.  I’ve never seen him like this.  He was quite simply amazing.  He will be nominated for just about every supporting actor nomination available this awards cycle.

He takes young Little back home to his wife Teresa because Little won’t talk and say where he lives.  After Little spends the night, Juan takes him under his wing, and you fear what he might be grooming Little for.  But there is just this luminous scene where he teaches Little to Swim on a Miami beach.  Juan is the one who tells him about black boys looking blue in the Moonlight.  Little lives alone with his single mother nurse, and you can see in his big eyes how he craves a father figure.  He even asks Juan and Teresa, “What does ‘faggot’ mean?” and your heart stops.  Juan and Teresa explain, but also are accepting and tender.  Every character in this film has layers and complexities — the local drug lord, is the caring father figure, full of acceptance.

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The second segment shows lanky Chiron (Ashton Sanders) still being bullied at school.  He has one consistent friend, Kevin, who was his best pal in the first segment, too.  There is an incredible tender scene between Kevin and Chiron alone on  the beach one night.  But then afterwards, he is betrayed.  This moment in the still above is when Chiron looks at his beaten face in the mirror, and you can just see him girding himself, and saying, “No. More.”  He explodes, and it had my heart in my throat just like the ending of FandryFandry.  You’ve seen this poor kid, now with a crack addicted neglectful mother, just endure and endure and he just can’t any more.  Many movies would end there.

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But the final segment shows what Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) has become as an adult.  He’s now a drug dealer with gold teeth and macho attitude.  The way he dresses, and his car all show how he’s trying to live up to what Juan was.  He gets a call from Kevin (André Holland) out of the blue, and that sends him driving hours through the night back to Miami to see Kevin again.  The film ends so tenderly and with such a sense of hope.  My heart was just so full.

This is an incredible film.  Groundbreaking in its structure.  It examines the life of a young gay black man, and examines the toxicity of the roles of masculinity.  It’s complex, and it’s also just so luminously filmed.  It is a gorgeous film to watch.

2016 may suck in general, but we’ve been given such a gift this year with great films.  Don’t miss Moonlight.  It’s still playing in theaters.

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Manchester By The Sea – Casey Affleck is superb in Lonergan’s masterpiece

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Manchester By The Sea is out right now in limited release.  If you can find it, I urge you to go see this incredible film.   I saw this film in January at Sundance going in knowing next to nothing.  All there was in the program was this picture of Kyle Chandler and Casey Affleck who play brothers in the film.  And the name Kenneth Lonergan, the writer director.  That’s the name that made this film a must see for me.  He has only written and directed three films.  His first feature, You Can Count On Me gave us an incredible debut by Mark Ruffalo as Laura Linney’s ne’er do well brother.  His second film, Margaret, starring Anna Paquin, was finally released on DVD recently.

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This is the short review of Manchester By The Sea I wrote on Letterboxd after I returned from Sundance:

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Casey Affleck plays a janitor who has to return to his hometown when his brother (Kyle Chandler) suddenly dies of a heart attack.  He’s named guardian for his teenage nephew, and you come to understand through flashbacks why he is so reluctant to assume that role.  Michelle Williams plays his ex-wife, in a fantastic supporting role.  Lucas Hedges is the 16 year old nephew, and he is amazing.  This is a break out role for this young actor.

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.

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If you can, go see this film without watching the trailer, because the trailer shows part of a key scene between Casey Affleck and his ex-wife, Michelle Williams.  I think it has more impact if you don’t know what’s coming.

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Casey Affleck is a lock for a best actor Oscar nomination, and Manchester By The Sea is at the top of best of 2016 film lists, right after La La Land.  I haven’t seen La La Land yet (Dec. 9th can’t come fast enough), but Manchester By The Sea is the best film I’ve seen so far this year.

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The Academy makes a bold step and invites 683 new members – including Sharmila Tagore!

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After all the lack of diversity at the Oscars this year — not any actors of color and with no nomination for female director Ava Duvernay the year before, Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs has taken a very bold step to change the makeup of the Academy membership.  Last year they invited a large number of new members, but this year goes way beyond that with a whopping record 683 new invited members, many of them women and people of color.

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The list is really exciting!  There are so many new women directors now in the group, and that may have the most impact.  (Both Wachowski sisters were added.)  I note many new women cinematographers, too.  The total list had 46% women and 41% new members of color according to Variety.

Idris Elba, who won TWO SAG awards, and was shockingly not nominated for an Oscar for Beasts of No Nation was invited.  Other names in the acting category popped out at me like

Nate Parker (for acting, but he’ll be up for directing and best picture next year).

Chadwick Boseman – “Captain America: Civil War,” “Get on Up”
John Boyega – “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “Attack the Block”

Michael B. Jordan – “Creed,” “Fruitvale Station”
Daniel Dae Kim – “The Divergent Series: Insurgent,” “Crash”
Regina King – “Ray,” “Jerry Maguire”

Freida Pinto – “IMMORTALS”, “SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE”

and then Sharmila Tagore!

Among the directors, I was excited to see this name

Deepa Mehta – “MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN”,“WATER”

And especially for Marielle Heller who directed the wonderful THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL

AND!  Taika!

Taika Waititi – “HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE”,“WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS”

Taika Waititi is also the director of the upcoming Thor movie.  (Hunt for the Wilderpeople is amazing and is in limited release now in theaters.)

Check out the entire list here.

 

 

 

Birth of a Nation, next year’s Oscar Best Picture Winner

 

God willing, this will be next year’s Oscar Best Picture Winner.  I saw it at Sundance, and it is searing and phenomenal.  Nate Parker teared up at the standing ovation crowd at our screening talking about how difficult it was to get this film made.  Deservedly the Audience and Grand Jury prize winner at Sundance.

Scheduled for an October Oscar season release.