Top Ten of 2016 (So Far)

So it’s officially the halfway point of 2016.  To date, I have seen 34 releases from 2016.  Last year I kept my midpoint list to a Top 5.  Of those five films, three remained in the top five while the other two ended up in the 10-6 range.  Initially, I was only going to do five this year, but looking back at my entire Top 20 of 2015, only seven of those were from the first half of the year.  I’m curious to see how many films from the first half of 2016 end up in my year-end list, so I decided to blow out my mid-year list for 2016 as I will inevitably do with my year-end list.  I’m also interested to see which films could rise and fall based on sitting with them over time or maybe revisiting them later in the year.  But for now, at the middle of point of the 2016 calendar, here is my Top 10 of 2016 (So Far):

10. 10 Cloverfield Lane
10 Cloverfield Lane 2

10 Cloverfield Lane features a small cast set mostly in a confined area.  This confinement is the type of restraint that lends itself to some of the best thrillers.  For example, part of the reason Alien is so great is that they crew is trapped on the ship.  Crimson Tide effectively executes the premise of being in a submarine that has no communication with the outside world.  Not that this film is in the class of Alien or Crimson Tide, but it uses the confinement of the characters to maximum advantage.  And keeping the cast to a minimum allows the audience to invest quickly in the stories of these characters.  It’s a small film with hints of a bigger event going on just beyond the periphery of these characters.  In that sense, it reminds me of Signs.”

9. Everybody Wants Some!!
Everybody Wants Some 1

Everybody Wants Some!! goes out of its way to make sure that it is not confused with a plot-driven film of any kind.  Instead, it is all about the party and living in and enjoying the moments.  It epitomizes the college experience of trying on new hats and seeing what fits and discarding when doesn’t in the moment.  One review I stumbled across called it the “arthouse Animal House.”  That’s a very apt comparison.  The film meanders from scene to scene, day to day, all with the specter of actual classes looming come Monday morning.  It embodies the tone of its soundtrack, embracing the laid back, party atmosphere of friends and teammates hanging out together and partying and enjoying life.  Given that real life rarely has the kind of conflict that most movie plots have, it embraces the leisure and comfort of friendship and camaraderie.  When the credits rolled, I wished I could’ve spent a few more hours with these guys.  In short, Everybody Wants Some!! is a great hang.”

8. Captain America: Civil War
Captain America Civil War 1

“The story in Captain America: Civil War is complex and treats the subject matter and the audience with maturity and thoughtfulness.  Bucky Barnes is a problematic element thrust into the equation, as he has personal ties to Captain America, but has also done terrible things in the past.  It’s something Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, T’Challa, and even Bucky himself have to wrestle with.  Scarlet Witch also has to learn how to deal with the responsibility of being an Avenger, and a discussion between her and Captain America plays out well in addressing the issue of reconciling loss of life that comes with the responsibility of fighting evil people in the world.  Likewise, the way the film addresses the mass destruction of previous films is handled far better than the way BvS tackled it.  More importantly, the film makes what I thought was a welcomed and necessary pivot away from the massive destructions of cities and made the third act about the destruction of relationships.”

7. The Jungle Book
The Jungle Book 1

“There are real stakes involved in Mowgli’s journey.  There’s a recurring theme of danger and protection running through the story; Kaa offers her own kind of safety for Mowgli, while King Louie’s offer of protection comes at a price.  There’s also a strong theme of community and finding out how to fit into the world around you.  Mowgli is raised like he is a wolf and is told not to use “man tricks” by Bagheera for most of the film.  It is only when he embraces who he really is that he is able to really fit instead of trying to be something he is not.  His friendship with Baloo helps to bring this out in him.”

6. Zootopia
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“Stereotypes, discrimination, inclusiveness, segregation, political correctness, and even religious tolerance can all be viewed in some way through the prism of the interactions between Judy and Nick, in how animals are viewed as predators and prey, in how Nick is initially refused service at a business, and on a subway scene where a little animal cuddles up to its mom when in fear when a predator animal sits down next to them, calmly reading his newspaper.  Initially, I winced at the P.C. message it seemed like the movie was sending, where in one scene in particular after a co-worker calls her “cute” politely corrects him, saying, ‘You probably didn’t know, but a bunny can call another bunny cute, but when other animals do it it’s a little…’  Thankfully, the movie shows that even Judy has her own prejudices and lessons to learn in stereotyping people.  By the end of the movie though, I think the message of the movie ends up in a really nice place, recognizing that real life is more than just a “slogan on a bumper sticker.”  Real tolerance and inclusiveness is about embracing that real life is messy, everyone makes mistakes, and because of that we all have a lot in common and being ok with that.”

5. The Nice Guys
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“While the dialogue is snappy and really hums, there is great physical comedy on display here.  Gosling, in addition to have great line deliveries, also has a great knack for the physical comedy that comes from being an at-times-literal fall down drunk.  He is the unquestionable star of this film in terms of what he delivers; it’s easily one of my favorite performances from him.  Crowe does not quite equal him, as he feels less at ease in an action comedy than a straight up action film.  He is given most of the physical action, which helps, as does the fact that he and Gosling have great rapport with one another.  It’s a pairing that really works, even if Crowe feels a bit out of place at times.”

4. The Witch
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“What impresses me most about this film is how every aspect of it works in concert together to create the mood and sense of mounting dread that is the tone of the film.  Eggers is clearly someone who has studied other films, and I sensed two particular films as possible influences.  First, and most prominent to me, was the pacing and several static, lingering shots of scenery and background, sometimes slowly zooming in, while overlaying a loud score that is heavy on string instruments that convey a sense of dread and distress that reminded me of Stanley Kurick’s The Shining.  Second, there is a recurring animal motif, particularly a rabbit that keeps appearing from the woods and a black goat that the family owns and calls Black Phillip (and that the twins claim speaks to them), that is reminiscent of Lars von Trier’s Antichrist which also takes place in a remote forest location.”

3. Midnight Special
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“People have labeled it Spielbergian, with some comparisons to E.T. and no doubt some of the emotional elements of the story.  I can see that, but I was also reminded of last year’s Disney movie Tomorrowland.  This is probably the movie that Tomorrowland wishes that is actually was.  Regardless of the comparisons though, Midnight Special succeeds because its shines its ray of light on the tender father-son relationship between Roy and Alton, and then further expands that to include Sarah.  In a lot of ways, the family dynamic at the heart of the story is tragic as forces have kept this family apart for so long, but it ultimately hints at hope even if their reunion is short-lived.”

2. Green Room
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“As I walked out of the theater and got into my car after seeing Green Room, I sat for a moment and realized I felt exhausted.  It took me a second to realize that it was because of the movie.  I was so incredibly tense throughout almost its entire lean 95 minutes that I had not just watched the film, but I had expended energy experiencing it.  I can think of a few other times that has happened with a film, but it is rare.  I hope Green Room finds a bigger audience as it has expended to a wider release.  Regardless of its box office performance, I have no doubt that it will continue to raise that status of Jeremy Saulnier.  He is a writer/director who is coming into his own and I’m excited for what he is going to produce next.”

1. The Lobster
The Lobster 4

“The world we see in The Lobster is one of polarization.  Everything is an extreme.  Find a suitable companion or suffer the consequences.  Remain a loner or suffer the consequences.  These are the poles we find in this world.  In our world, we see so many aspects of our society becoming more and more rapidly polarized, from our politics to our entertainment, to our opinions on just about anything.  People abandon the middle ground and the common ground for the extremes and insulate themselves in a cocoon of the like-minded.  Despite their desire to break free of the structures of The Hotel and later of The Loners, David and Short Sighted Woman are not able to break free of the mindset that they must be appropriately suitable for one another by sharing a defining quality.  When obstacles are thrown in their path that change their circumstances, they search for a new common trait to share.”

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