Sunday, January 1, 2017

Best Films of 2016

Wow, another year is in the books, and while few would call 2016 one of their favorite years ever, it's tough to argue that the movies were a total bust. In fact, there were so many good movies released this year that I'm hard pressed to narrow it down to 10. Of course, as usual there are several great films that I didn't get a chance to catch up on this year. The most likely to feature on this list would have been Arrival, Hidden Figures, A Monster Calls, Sully, and Patriot's Day. I'm sure I'll get to them soon, but I didn't want to wait for that to release my annual list of my favorite things from the past year in film. Hope you all enjoy!

Honorable Mentions

Finding Dory

In my review I stated that I was sort of reluctant for Pixar to make a sequel to the beloved Finding Nemo, but they've proved once again that they seem to be back on the right track. While I couldn't quite put it on my top 10 list, this still gives me hope that future sequels I care greatly about (The Incredibles 2 and Toy Story 4) will be handled with an equal level of care.

Jason Bourne

This trailer was so exciting to me that I would have been there opening weekend no matter how poorly the finished product turned out. Luckily, I found the film to be a worthy follow-up to the near perfect trilogy of Bourne films Matt Damon already gave us. While it wasn't quite at the same level of excellence (hence its exclusion from the top 10), its still one of the most exciting and topical action films of 2016, and therefore deserves a mention at the very least.

X-Men: Apocalypse

While the critical response wasn't quite what I was hoping to see, I still had relatively high expectations for the sequel to 2014's Days of Future Past. Click on the title for my full review, but I felt they more or less accomplished what they set out to do here. The continued screen time of Quicksilver alone is enough to get this film an honorable mention from me. Check it out if you haven't already had a chance.

Top 10 Films of 2016

#10   Doctor Strange

Marvel did it again with their newest and strangest (sorry about that) hero to date. Cumberbatch fits the titular doctor like a glove, and the trippy imagery combined with a fascinating new dimension to the Marvel universe makes this a shoe-in for a spot on my top 10 list. It's easily the best character introduction film since the first Iron Man back in 2008, and it gets me incredibly excited about what Marvel has in store for the rest of Phase 3.

#9   10 Cloverfield Lane

This is a film that slipped by everyone's radar this year, as it wasn't even announced until the first trailer debuted mere weeks prior to its theatrical debut. Its inclusion in the Cloverfield storyline isn't a hinderance to this movie at all, but merely adds another layer of intrigue to an already suspense-filled story. Add ot that the tremendous performance of John Goodman in a very different kind of role, and I can't imagine anyone not being at least curious to see what happens. I definitely recommend it.

#8   Deepwater Horizon

The trailer for this movie looked very powerful, yet I wasn't exactly itching to catch Deepwater Horizon the moment it was released in theaters. Perhaps it's the horrific nature of those events, but I had a feeling it would be an utterly depressing affair. While I can't say it was an altogether fun experience to watch, it was certainly a gripping and harrowing film that puts certain things into perspective. I teared up a few times when I realized that the horrors portrayed here actually took place. Another great collaboration between Peter Berg and Mark Whalberg. Bring on Patriot's Day!

#7   Zootopia

Disney seems to be supplanting Pixar a bit in the animation department these days. Zootopia looked interesting and fun from the moment I heard Jason Bateman's clever monologue in the initial teaser trailer. However, I wasn't expecting it to be so culturally relevant and socially sophisticated. Disney has a great knack for creating likable and relatable characters, and that is certainly the case here. Apart from being a bit predictable near the end, I thought this movie was a total triumph!

#6   Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Shocked that it's not higher on the list? I am, considering the hype I heard prior to seeing Rogue One on opening night. Don't get me wrong, I still really really liked this film, and I'm sure that on subsequent viewings I'm going to like it even more. The rag-tag group of rebels we follow are brave, loyal and offer the perfect amount of comedy relief. My biggest gripe about the film (the score) has been remedied (see below for more on that), and the ending was so exhilarating that I can't imagine how anyone could dislike it. A great start to the Star Wars standalone films!

#5   Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

As an enormous Harry Potter fan (the books first, but I liked the movies too), I was excited to finally see a movie set in the wizarding world where I didn't already know what was going to happen. It also didn't hurt that JK Rowling was returning to pen the script for Fantastic Beasts. The result was an expansion to the mythology that didn't rely too much on fan service and yet introduced us to new characters that I'm excited to follow in future sequels. Warner Bros, you have another blockbuster franchise on your hands with this one. 

#4   Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

BvS was easily the most divisive movie of 2016, and I therefore struggled to decide where to ultimately place this film in my list. To be honest, there are things I like more about this film than the #3 pick, but there are certainly a couple of things I would change as well. Ultimately, I thought this was a criminally underrated film, and one of the best superhero films in years. The script is a lot more complex and thought-provoking than people give it credit for, and Ben Affleck's Batman is a terrific new take on the character that I can't wait to see play out in the DCEU.

#3   Captain America: Civil War

Marvel's sequel to the game-changing Captain America: The Winter Soldier is as entertaining as it is challenging. This isn't exactly the feel-good movie that The Avengers was, but it does have some unparalleled moments of spectacle as well. Like I said, this was a tricky one to place, and it's really a coin-flip between this and BvS for me. However, the gut-wrenching plot twist that ignites this Civil War is so brilliantly executed that I had to give this one the slight edge over its DC counterpart. The drama is every bit as captivating as the action, and that's no easy task. Well done, Russo brothers.

#2   Moana

I would have never predicted that two movies excluded from my most anticipated films of 2016 list would take the top two spots. Disney pulled off a record-breaking year at the box office, but Moana is surprisingly my favorite of all of their blockbuster releases. The princess stories may seem a bit played out at this point, and yet Disney somehow brought us something refreshing and new to occupy an area that we didn't realize was lacking. The animation in this film will take your breath away, and the music is phenomenal (more on that below). I didn't think Disney could top what they did with Zootopia, but they actually pulled off something far greater. To me, this is the best Disney animated film (excluding Pixar) since The Lion King. Yeah, it's that good! 

#1   La La Land

Here we are, at the number one spot of my list and it's one that I never saw coming. I hadn't even heard of La La Land at this time last year, but I'm sure everyone will be hearing plenty about it soon. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are the best on-screen romantic pairing in decades, and their chemistry is even better here than it was in their first collaboration, Crazy Stupid Love. Read my review for my full thoughts on the film, but suffice it to say that the creativity is running over in this completely original musical that effortlessly blends comedy, drama and romance. It's destined to be an instant classic, and don't be surprised if it brings home a ton of Oscars in a couple of months. Do yourselves a favor and check out La La Land as soon as possible - The Best Film of 2016!

Worst Movie of 2016

Independence Day: Resurgence

Wow... was this movie a disappointment. I don't want to rag on it too much, but given how optimistic that first trailer made me, I was really let down by what Roland Emmerich and his team threw together here. Clearly they took a lot of time to come up with this sequel, but I fear it's one of those cases where they took too much time and overthought every element to the point where nothing comes together as a cohesive story. The effects are pretty great, but there's an unfortunate lack of city-destroying mayhem that was such a staple of the original. Add to that their half-witted attempt to shoehorn a sequel storyline into this concoction, and you get what was easily the worst film I saw all year. Please don't waste your time or money on this one.

Top 10 Scores of 2016

As is my tradition, I've also included a list of my favorite scores from this past year. I feel like even the most beautiful music in movies goes unsung (pardon the pun) by the general public, so hopefully this list will help someone gain a little appreciation for the artistry that goes into a score. Enjoy!

#10   The Jungle Book
(John Debney)

To be honest, the most memorable part about this score is the original theme interspersed throughout this soundtrack. Having said that, there are some new compositions here that make it a worthy listen. The film may have been a slight disappointment for me, but this music is pretty solid.

#9   Doctor Strange
(Michael Giacchino)

Giacchino is probably the most prolific Hollywood composer working today, which is why he's on here twice. His work on Doctor Strange may be a bit reminiscent of his Star Trek theme, but the overall sound is so unique that I never really drew that comparison until someone pointed it out. The Middle-Eastern flair he enriches the melodies with sets this film apart as the most peculiar in the Marvel universe, which is only a good thing.

#8   Arrival
(Johan Johannsson)

I haven't seen the movie yet (though I'm dying to), but I couldn't be held back from checking out this score. Johan Johannsson has done great work with Sicario and Prisoners, and he continues that ingenuity with his effort for Arrival. It's a moody theme that conveys the magnitude and power of an alien invasion, while also highlighting the mysterious nature of an extraterrestrial encounter. This will probably go higher on my list after seeing the film, and I can't wait to hear what he comes up with for Blade Runner 2049 next year.

#7   Captain America: Civil War
(Henry Jackman)

Henry Jackman is one of my favorite composers working today, and while I wasn't quite as taken with his score for Civil War as his extraordinary work on The Winter Soldier, I still think it heightens the complicated emotions that this particular story desperately needs. Just this one song is haunting, triumphant, and exciting at all the right moments, and I give Jackman a lot of credit for not relying too much on his previous work. Hopefully Marvel brings him back for Avengers: Infinity War in 2018!

#6   Suicide Squad
(Steven Price)

I feel like this score is a bit overshadowed by the soundtrack, but the music by Oscar-winning composer Steven Price is one of the best parts of the film! Soundtracks that don't include original music aren't that appealing to, as you can get that music in a lot of places. The only place that you can hear Price's multi-layered score is in the movie, and that makes it far more special. There are hints of his terrific work on Fury in this score, but it's definitely more melodic and fun, which is a perfect fit for a superhero film. Give this one a listen!

#5   Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
(Michael Giacchino)

If you've read my review, then you know that one of my big sticking points with this movie was the score. I couldn't appreciate it because I thought it didn't match up to the work by John Williams. While that may be true, I've since really come to love the work that Michael Giacchino has done here. It's all the more impressive when you realize he had about four weeks to write this score from start to finish (most composers get about four months). The score is a beautiful combination of tragedy and triumph, which isn't a sound we're necessarily accustomed to in Star Wars. However, it's perfectly fitting for the story being told in Rogue One. If you're underwhelmed by this like I was, PLEASE give it another chance! I'm loving it more and more each time I hear it. Now I think of it, #5 might not be high enough on this list...

#4   Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
(James Newton Howard)

James Newton Howard is a great composer, but I was a little nervous about how he was going to follow John Williams' footsteps (seems to be a lot of that this year). While he doesn't give us the same thing Williams did, it's a great fit for how JK Rowling approached this spin-off. Howard puts the same magic in the score, though the themes are all original and just as lovely in their own right. There was a lot to live up to, but Howard absolutely nailed it. Check it out for yourself!

#3   La La Land
(Justin Hurwitz)

You know a score is good when you're flooded with multiple emotions at once as soon as you hear it. That's exactly what Justin Hurwitz accomplished with this brilliant music. Not only are the songs in this film terrific, but the background score perfectly complements all of the other expertly-executed aspects of this masterful film. I defy anyone (especially if they've seen the film) to listen to this clip above and not feel something. It's a medley of all the themes of the film, so you can see hear what I'm talking about for yourself. Seriously a work of art, in every sense of the word.

#2   Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
(Hans Zimmer & Junkie XL)

Full disclosure: Hans Zimmer is my favorite composer working today. One of the main reasons is that he somehow finds a way to do things he's never done with each new score he writes. Batman v Superman is no different. There is so much to digest with this score, from the thunderous action scenes, to the heartbreaking flashback of Bruce watching his parents die, it's all captivating and instantly gripping. There are only so many words I can use to describe it, so take a listen to the selection above and hopefully you can appreciate it for yourself.

#1   Moana
(Mark Mancina & Lin-Manuel Miranda)

This may be a bit of a cheat, but I'm including original music (both lyrical and instrumental) into this category. With that in mind, it's impossible not to give the top honor to Moana. Lin-Manuel Miranda is a bona fide musical genius, and his talents are on full display with his work in Disney's latest animated film. The emotion at times is overpowering, with the vocal performance and the beauty of the melody blending perfectly the accentuate the experience of the character. Seriously, do yourself a favor and give this clip a listen. This isn't even the best version of this song in the film, and it's improved even more within the context of the movie. Look for this song to definitely be nominated for an Oscar too, by the way.

Top 5 Action Scenes of 2016

I don't know if I'll be able to find these clips, but I at least wanted to give a shout-out to all the best action scenes of the year. Let me know if you agree!

#5   Mirror-verse Duel (Doctor Strange)

One of the coolest visual spectacles of a visually mind-bending film, this duel is the first time we see the full extent of the sorcerers' powers (both good and evil).

#4   Ending Car Chase (Jason Bourne)

In a movie that falls just short of its predecessors, this is one action scene that goes to a whole new level. Watch as Jason Bourne relentlessly pursues a stolen SWAT vehicle that tears its way through Las Vegas.

#3   Airport Brawl (Captain America: Civil War)

One of the best superhero throw-downs ever filmed, this battle showcases the powers of each of our heroes while pitting them against other heroes. It's really an impressive scene, so just take a watch and enjoy!

#2   Batman Warehouse Fight (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice)

This is where we finally get to see Batman fighting in all his glory, ferociously taking down Lex's thugs in order to save Superman's mother. The choreography is impeccable, and we finally get to see Batman fighting in wide shots so we can fully appreciate his dominance.
(*Note: This is the R-Rated Ultimate Edition clip, so there is a bit more blood than the theatrical cut.)

#1   Final Battle (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story)

This one is too recent to have a clip online, but the glorious space battle between the Rebellion and the Empire as Jyn and her friends attempt to steal the Death Star plans below (in an equally exciting battle) is one of the best of the whole Star Wars saga. It's beautiful, but may be topped by the following scene that I can't discuss so as to avoid spoilers. Just go see the movie in theaters so you know what I'm talking about.

Top 10 Trailers of 2016

I'm not going to offer commentary on these. Just watch the trailers that I thought looked the most exciting prior to seeing the actual movie. This is a pretty interesting thing to reflect on in order to understand the power of marketing. Some of these movies definitely didn't live up to their potential (ID4: Resurgence, or TMNT 2... both of which capitalize on nostalgia), while others reflected the quality of their respective film quite accurately. Take a look and let me know which trailer was your favorite!

#10   La La Land

#9   Jason Bourne

#8   Doctor Strange

#7   X-Men: Apocalypse

#6   Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

#5   Independence Day: Resurgence

#4   Suicide Squad

#3   Captain America: Civil War

#2   Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

#1   Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Well, that's it for this year! What were your favorite movies/scores/action scenes/trailers from 2016? Let me know in the comments below. Hope you guys enjoyed this post, and don't forget to check back tomorrow for my Most Anticipated Films of 2017!