2016 was a really shitty year for humanity and the world, but the silver lining is that it was a phenomenal year for movies. This top 10 list is easily a better list of movies than last year, or the year before. Without further ado.
Very special honorable mention:
Colossal, a great movie I saw at TIFF which originally made my list. Since it's not getting a theatrical release till late 2017, I decided it'd be pointless to include it on my list if no one can see it. So, you'll be sure to see it on my 2017 list. It's definitely the weirdest, funniest, most original Godzilla type movie ever made.
Deadpool, Train to Busan, Sleeping Giant, La La Land, Manchester by the Sea, Bad Moms, Other People, Jungle Book, Moonlight, Lights Out, The Shallows, Nerve, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Kubo and the Two Strings
10. Captain Fantastic ****1/2
Manchester by the Sea is the dramedy that's been getting most of the acclaim, and while it is a great, darkly funny, and devastating movie about grief, Captain Fantastic holds similar qualities, but it's more memorable to me. It's a more original story, with more unique characters, and so interesting...oh shit, Viggo's character hates the word "interesting" when critiquing art.
This isn't typical "escapist entertainment", but I just loved spending time with this fascinating family, living in the wilderness away from civilization, with a father teaching his kids important survival skills, and teaching them to be profound, independent thinkers, and treating them like adults even at the earliest age. I could watch a whole fucking TV show that's just their lives in the wilderness, but they do eventually have to make the trip into civilization, where they try to relate to the city people, and it makes for some great comedy, some emotionally wrenching moments, and a good debate about parenting.
Captain Fantastic also has the performance of the year by Viggo Mortensen and the best cast of child actors of any movie, who play such challenging, and unconventional child roles. t's a movie that'll stay with you for a while. I definitely want to re-visit this movie soon.
9. The Handmaiden ****1/2
It tells a story with a 3 chapters structure, often presenting the same moment, but unravelling new details and different vantage points, as the audience slowly pieces everything together, but getting tricked multiple times while trying to piece if all together.
A friend of mine saw this at TIFF and sold me on this movie about awesome lesbian sex scenes. I saw it and texted her to tell her how much I loved the movie and she asked whether I still would have enjoyed the movie without the explicit lesbian sex. I'm like, "Fuck yeah. Even without it, it's a great movie and tells a great story, and it's kind of beautiful. But...the lesbian sex scenes are like the icing on the cake. They didn't really have to be there, well maybe they did, but they didn't need to be THAT explicit to almost porno territory, but it kind of made the movie even more awesome.
8. Sing Street ****1/2
LA LA LAND is a great musical; it broke records at the Golden Globes, it won the people's choice award at TIFF, and don't be surprised if you see it win best picture at the Oscars. With that being said though, LA LA LAND was the 2nd best musical of the year.
John Carney has created his own subgenre of "grounded in realism low budget musicals" which takes the cheesiness and contrivance of having characters break into musical numbers, and instead has the musical numbers come in completely realistic, low key ways. First he charmed audiences with ONCE, then there was BEGIN AGAIN, and now I think SING STREET is his best; a celebration of music and its transformative power in our lives. John Carney is especially fascinated with how music can bring 2 people together to form a truly special connection.
No matter what bullshit is going on, we have music to get us through it, as a catharsis for our pain. Most of all, Sing Street is one hell of an inspirational movie reminding all artists to take whatever pain and bullshit that's going on in their lives and turn it into art, because why the fuck not? Pain and suffering can be the best inspiration. Just like John Carney's other movies, Sing Street is the kind of movie that will make you want to hug the fuck out of anyone in sight after watching it.
7. The Little Prince ****1/2
By a landslide, the best animated movie of 2016. Although it's a family movie and there's enough cool visuals to keep the kids entertained, I think adults will be far more moved by this than kids. It's a great coming of age story, a little girl who truly learns what it means to grow up, against her mother's vision of what it means to be a grown up. As the aviator says, "Growing up isn't the problem, forgetting is."
Childhood is the period of our the world is a true wonder, how much of that are we losing we age? Little Prince kind of reminded me of Bridge to Terebithia in being movie directed at children that's bittersweet about dealing with loss, but ultimately what you get out of it. It also has a lot in common with my pick for #4, though this one is not quite as tear jerking. Most of all though, it's a very entertaining movie, weird and abstract at times, with very well developed characters and although not hilarious, its sense of humor is clever when it's there. There would be no Oscar upset that would make me happier than to see Little Prince pull a shocking upset for best animated movie. The favorite to win is ZOOTOPIA, which I guess I'm kind of okay with; as long as it's not Finding Dory, fuck that mediocre bullshit!
6. How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town ****1/2
This was a solid year for Canadian Cinema, but How to Plan an Orgy definitely takes the top spot as best Canadian movie of 2016, and the funniest raunchy sex comedy I've seen in a long long time. I'll call this the highest brow low brow sex comedy. There's a uniqueness to the gags, and everything about the awkwardness, inadequacies, and problems in the bedroom, including how no one can control their orgasm face which is captured with such hilarity and artistry. Let's not write this off as just low brow American Pie like trash. There actually is a lot of wit and intelligence to the dialogue writing as well.
I really enjoyed the ensemble approach, highlighting that all the characters have something different or a different motivation to get out of the orgy. But what surprised me is that despite how absurd the premise of the movie is, when the comedy dies down for some drama which usually fails in just about every raunchy comedy, it actually works in this one. I'm impressed that a movie called How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town has surprisingly very good character development, with the most beautiful and poetic ending imaginable.
5. Mei Ren Yu (The Mermaid) ****1/2
This is the #1 highest grossing movie of all time in China, and well deserved!!
If you've seen Dances with Wolves, Avatar and Pocahontas, you'll definitely recognize the exact same structure this movie will go through, but this one takes a much wackier, comedic approach, while still delivering social commentary about human greed and how badly we're fucking up the environment.
It's kind of like a Chinese Avatar meets a Chinese Monty Python though I take The Mermaid over Avatar, Wolves and Pocahontas any day. It pulls everything off in a brisk 90 minutes, and my god is this movie funny! You don't need to be Chinese to appreciate the humor; there's a uniqueness to its sense of humor that's sorely lacking in Hollywood comedies. Hollywood comedies rely a lot more on pure dialogue humor nowadays, and there's just something so much more creative about this movie's comedy. It's very goofy, but clever in its goofiness and has its fair share of physical comedy as well as some great dialogue writing.
There's a scene of a billionaire that walks into a police station to report that he'd been abducted by mermaids. I don't know how much of this scene was improvised, but holy shit, funniest scene of the year! When this scene began, I knew it'd be funny, but it just absolutely blew my expectations away. This scene should be studied by all comedy directors.
So, the CGI is a little cheesy, but there's a charm to it and a sense of filmmakers being very aware of how cheesy it looks, and just having fun with it.
To my fellow Chinese people, you absolutely must watch this movie!! For the non-Chinese who's bored of the same shit from Hollywood and want something different, give this a try! There is no other comedy movie like it.
4. A Monster Calls ****1/2
I think all movie theatres that play A MONSTER CALLS need to give out packets of tissues with the purchase a ticket and maybe free counseling too (okay maybe the latter is an exaggeration...or maybe not!) I think it's without a doubt the heaviest drama I've seen in a long time, and I'm surprised that a dark fairy tale could have so much more of an emotional resonance than most actual dramas. You may need to sit there till the credits are finished rolling to fully compose yourself.
I hope I don't make it sound like an all out depressing movie; it's a beautiful movie that very maturely deals with grief, and coming to terms with loss, confronting pain, and the psychology and conflicting emotions of seeing a loved one fight for their life. I almost think that if you've lost very close loved ones, this movie may even be therapeutic. It uses a giant tree monster (and a very inspired casting choice to go with Liam Neeson to voice the monster) as a metaphorical device, as he shows up to try to help the child come to terms with his mom's cancer and help unleash the monster inside of him instead of holding all the pain and sadness inside.
With that said, it goes about it in a very entertaining with some very impressive visual effects, and directed with great style, including some brilliant water color animations that are used when the monster tells stories to the child. There's a nice light comedic chemistry between the boy and the monster. I've never heard of Lewis MacDougall, but best child performance I've seen in a long time. You may feel emotionally drained by the end of the movie, but it's worth it, damnit!
3. Maggie's Plan ****1/2
I love going into a movie with mediocre expectations and being absolutely blown away. MAGGIE'S PLAN is the best romantic comedy I've seen in a very long time. If I can give an award to the best dialogue writing, the wittiest one liners, this is it. The dialogue writing rivals Woody Allen in his prime.
It's been described as Woody Allen meets Noah Baumbach, but I think it beats any Woody Allen movie of the past (goes through Woody Allen's imdb) 20 years and sure beats any Noah Baumbach movie. The movie has one of the most quirky, memorable love triangles, a very unique premise, and has such fun, interesting, eccentric, messy characters. It's a hilarious celebration of the messiness of love, and how perhaps it can be our flaws that connect us together. Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke and Julianne Moore all have great comedic chemistry with each other and are all so good in their own ways, it's hard to pick the best of the 3.
This is not a movie I can recommend to everyone. It definitely requires a level of nerdiness to appreciate a lot of the humor, and the more english and literature you've studied in college, the more you'll get out of it, as it has a lot of fun with taking the piss out of the pretentiousness of academia, and high art culture which are not targetted enough in comedies.
2. Eye in the Sky ****1/2
Eye in the Sky is the best political thriller I've seen in a long time; it's almost like a war movie stage play. It is absolutely fucking intense and suspenseful from beginning to end. It's a morally challenging movie that can be debated well after the credits roll. There is no easy answer to the dilemma. You have the most dangerous terrorists you can take out with a drone attack, but you also have an innocent little child nearby who is very likely to die from the attack. What is the right thing to do? Is killing a child justified if it results in saving the lives of many from a future attack?
We hear about drone strikes in the news all the time, but we still know very little about it. Eye in the Sky is fascinating at shedding a light on everyone involved in drone strikes, from the military to the politicians to the drone pilots themselves and the psychological mindfuckery that comes with their jobs and of course the most unfortunate thing about the drone strikes: the innocent victims that are in the wrong place at the wrong time. It also looks at the political and propaganda ramifications of drone strikes. This movie is uncompromising, unforgettable, and at times disturbing.
It also includes the best performance from Helen Mirren in a very long time, and a great final performance by Alan Rickman.
1. Doctor Strange *****
Hoooly shit!! was the thought that popped in my head, over and over and over again through-out the entirety of Doctor Strange. I kept thinking, "If the movie stays this awesome, it'll be the #1 movie of the year. Please stay this awesome." And you know what? The movie got even awesomer, and awesomer, here it is, not only taking #1 by a fucking landslide, but I think it even makes my top 10 best movies of all time.
My mind is still blown by this turn of events. Never in all my days post-getting a degree in film studies and becoming a huge film nerd/snob (I'd like to think I've become much less a film snob over the years), and repeating the whole, "Go indy films! Fuck mainstream Hollywood movies!" rants over and over at bars, to family members, to other film snobs, on messageboards, on facebook...never did I ever predict that one day I'd be putting a fucking Marvel comic book movie as my #1 movie of the year.
Here's the thing. I still believe that creativity, imagination, surrealness, being out there; those are qualities more often associated with independent films; DOCTOR STRANGE shows that when you take those exact qualities and give it a huge budget, then holy shit nothing compares. DOCTOR STRANGE is the most visually dazzling movie in...the forever. It has the most impressive visual effects I've seen in such a long time. Every time you see an awesome action scene, it ends up getting topped by the next one, and then the next action scene tops that one, and you can never predict just how wacky, offbeat, batshit crazy, insane and psychedellic the action scenes can get. The movie plays around with time manipulation, bending space, and when INCEPTION teased at the whole folding a city, but doing nothing with that, here's DOCTOR STRANGE bending space and delivering the most insane action scene.
I've been splooging all over the visuals, but let's not write this off as a leave your brain at the door movie. The screenplay is every bit as good as its visual effects and that says a lot. It's every bit as mind blowing as it is trippy as fuck. The movie is fucking hilarious with far more intelligent dialogue writing than you'd expect from a Marvel movie, delivered by such amazing A-list actors; I'd give a fucking Oscar nomination to Benedict Cumberbach, who puts on the best performance, the best character arc, and funniest person ever in a Marvel movie. Hell, even the first 40 minutes of Doctor Strange, showing his car accident and his long road to recovery is a solid fucking drama.
I don't have too much more to say than that. I think I've done plenty of splooging on this movie. It's not just another blockbuster popcorn movie. This is escapist entertainment at its best, done with so much creativity and energy.
Other Special awards:
Trippiest movie of the year:
Special honorable mentions: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them, and Trolls
Best Use of 3-D in a movie:
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Best visual effects:
Doctor Strange, by a landslide.
Horror movie of the year:
Most memorable performance of the year:
Viggo Mortensen in Captain Fantastic
Funniest scenes of the year:
-The Mermaid - Billionaire goes to the police station to report being abducted by mermaids
-Bad Moms - Kathryn Han explains to Mila Kunis how to handle uncircumcized penises, using the hoodie that Kristen Bell is wearing as a demonstration for handling foreskin. Kristen Bell stays silent the whole scene, but steals it with one line of dialogue.
-The Handmaiden - The hanging scene...I won't give anymore away, but great dark comedy!
How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town