Best of 2016

Here’s our picks for the best of 2016.

 Bill IBill C
Best Movies1 Moonlight
2 Manchester By the Sea
3 Lion
4 The Edge of Seventeen
5 Hunt for the Wilderpeople
6 Birth of a Nation
7 Kapoor & Sons, Since 1921
8 Doctor Strange
9 Sausage Party
10 Deadpool
11 Silence
12 Star Trek Beyond
13 Arrival
14 Hail Ceasar
15 Hell or High Water
16 Eye in the Sky
17 Morris from America
18 Pink
19 Deepwater Horizon
20 Ones Below
21 The Girl on the Train
22 Weiner
23 Allied
24 Rogue One
25 10 Coverfield Lane
26 Free State of Jones
27 Jason Bourne
28 Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
29 Barbershop, the Next Cut
30 Captain America: Civil War
31 Passengers
1 Moonlight
2 Manchester by the Sea
3 Hell or High Water
4 Sausage Party
5 Don’t Think Twice
6 Eye in the Sky
7 Green Room
8 The Edge of Seventeen
9 Arrival
10 The Crew
11 Toni Erdmann
12 Hunt for the Wilderpeople
13 The Handmaiden
Best Documentaries1 Gleason
2 Weiner
3 Tower
4 Newtown
5 The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years
6 For the Love of Spock
7 Tickled

Bill I’s Best of 2016 Comments

Narrative Films

1 Moonlight – both beautiful in its depiction of a boy growing up to manhood, and the close friendship between 2 boys, and brutal in the reality of life with a drug addicted mother and bullying of a non-conforming young man
2 Manchester By the Sea – for a movie about grief it has plenty of wisecracks, and incredible performance by Casey Affleck and the kid playing his nephew. Such a non-Hollywood ending!
3 Lion – reminiscent of Slumdog Millionaire, based on a real-life story of a lost boy from the slums of India to adoption in Australia then search for his birth family. Young actor is amazing
4 The Edge of Seventeen – perfect mix of comedy and drama focused on an amazing teenage girl, great performance by Hailee Steinfeld, and a small but key role by Woody Harrelson
5 Hunt for the Wilderpeople – what a surprising film, tour de force by the teenage actor. Now that I am summarizing my top film list, I see that all top 5 films have young actors starring in them!
6 Birth of a Nation – what was life truly like from the plantation slave’s perspective. This film seems to show the realities
7 Kapoor & Sons, Since 1921 – A Bollywood film about a disfunctional family, lots of laughs, characters and drama
8 Doctor Strange – My favorite “super hero” film of the year, with focus on character more than theatrical stunts
9 Sausage Party – how to take essentially a one joke premise and make it rolling on the floor funny, genius from Seth Rogan and friends!
10 Deadpool – I had no idea what I was getting into when this innovative, in your face film played out. What violence, what crudity, what fun!
11 Silence – a “great Scorcese film”, but didn’t really capture me until the end when Liam Neeson starts talking.
12 – Star Trek Beyond – very well done, true to Star Trek
13 – Arrival – Slow exposition, but Amy Adams keeps it compelling, and I walked out at the end thinking how well out together the plot was
14 – Hail Caesar – best dancing/singing scene in my film going life
15 – Hell or High Water – Jeff Bridges is a smart, tough ass dude, hunting down some wild criminals in the west
16 Eye in the Sky – extremely topical take on ethical questions of using drones to take out bad guys
17 Morris from America – another amazing teenager performance, showing a great father son relationship (Craig Robinson as the dad!)
18 Pink – Indian film, but no singing and dancing, as the rape culture gets examined and dismantled piece by piece in the courtroom by a crafty old lawyer
19 Deepwater Horizon – what is life like on an offshore oil rig, and what actually happened when it exploded
20 Ones Below – don’t think this film was widely shown, but very well done, about a happy young couple with a baby having to deal with suspicions about their creepy nice downstairs neighboors. What an ending!
21 The Girl on the Train – talk about creepy, Emily Blunt holds this film and my interest throughout
22 Weiner – Amazing documentary about Anthony Weiner’s self destruction (his second!) in real-time
23 Allied – Maybe this should be rated higher, as it is extremely well done war/spy romance thriller with Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard
24 Rogue One – Star Wars prequel, fun, action, well done
25 10 Coverfield Lane – best depiction of a creepy dude played by John Goodman. This kept me guessing till the end, then I had to laugh, but it was fun
26 Free State of Jones – Matthew McConaughey as a Civil War good guy, leading the rebellion within
27 Jason Bourne – another typical, action with Bourne
28 Whiskey Tango Foxtrot – Life as reporters in the war zone
29 Barbershop, the Next Cut – lots of talk, lots of laughs, but reality about senseless (is there any other kind) gun violence
30 Captain America: Civil War – super heros battling it out, made me wonder why are they fighting each other
31 Passengers – great premise, fantastic depiction of travelling in space, and great ethical question. Turns into typical disaster story at the end

 

Bill C’s Best of 2016 Comments

Narrative Films

1 Moonlight – Great character study of inner city kid at three important junctures of his life.
2 Manchester by the Sea – Well told story of a man trying to cope with having to deal with his nephew after the death of his brother.  The story unfolds slowly with great performances.
3 Hell or High Water – A modern western.  Great interplay between all the characters
4 Sausage Party – Funniest (and rudest/crudest) movie of the year.  Based on the coming attraction I thought it was a one joke movie but it was much more
5 Don’t Think Twice – The people in an improv group reach a moment of truth and a fork in the road.  Funny and touching.
6 Eye in the Sky – Tense drama as the controllers of a military drone have a target in sight but what action to take is not so clear cut.
7 Green Room – Another tense drama/trhiller.   A punk rock band gets booked in a club run by evil Patrick Stewart.  Pretty violent
8 The Edge of Seventeen – An entertaining coming of age movie.  Great interaction between Hailee Steinfeld and Woody Harrelson.
9 Arrival – Amy Adams is terrific in their thinking ma’s sci-fi fi/alien movie.
10 The Crew – Excellent French action movie focusing on botched job by a group of thieves.
11 Toni Erdmann – Quirky German comedy as a father tries to ‘help’ his daughter balance her life.
12 Hunt for the Wilderpeople – Offbeat New Zealand comedy about a city kid trying to bond with a new foster family
13 The Handmaiden – A period piece Korean crime drama from the director of Old Boy

Documentaries

1 Gleason – Moving documentary as former NFL player (and wife) show great courage as they deal with his diagnosis with Lou Gehrig’s disease as he also documents lessons for his son before all his physical abilities are gone.
2 Weiner – Anthony Weiner allowed documentarians full access as he attempted a political comeback by running for mayor after his (first) sexting scandal.   The film makers hit gold when things don’t work out as Weiner hoped.  Poor Huma Abedin.
3 Tower + Newtown – Tower is the retelling of one of the first mass shootings in U.S. history 50 years ago at the University of Texas tower in Austin.  Newtown covers the more recent mass shooting that killed 20 6+7 year olds in Newtown Connecticut.  Both just make you shake your head  when considering the lack of reasonable gun control laws.
5 The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years – Entertaining documentary about the Beatles.
6 For the Love of Spock – This is really a documentary about Leonard Nimoy.  Entertaining.
7 Tickled – Weirdest documentary of the year.   This documentary about tickling turns very dark.

 

Fences

Bill I’s Review – 3 out of 5

A platform for tremendous acting by Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, it’s a great way for those of us who haven’t seen the play on Broadway to experience this well written production. Yes, a movie version of a play, with most scenes set in the backyard, or kitchen, of an old brownstone in Pittsburgh in the late 1950s. Lot of talking from the lead character played by Denzel, a blowhard, a has been baseball star (from the Negro leagues before blacks were allowed in Major League Baseball), a hard working, hard drinking family man who beats down his teenage son verbally while ostensibly instilling discipline and forcing him down a reasonable career in his eyes and not following his own path of refuse collector/driver. The second half allows Viola to come to the front and take charge of the household when her husband stumbles. Solid film, just not too exciting or compelling enough for me to rave about.

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Rogue One

Bill I’s Review – 3.5 out of 5

First, let’s see if this film follows the legacy of its predecessors. Does it focus on a young warrior who has father issues? Check. Does the main bad guy wear a billowing cape? Check. Is the fate of the galaxy in jeopardy? Check. Are the foot soldiers of the bad guys in full armor uniforms where they all look alike, faces covered, and just get mowed down while having terrible aim and slow reactions? Check, check, check. Is there a funny robot? Check.

So far, so good, although not many surprises. Now more questions that arose for me while I watched. Why do so many vehicles and equipment in this super advanced society have steam shooting out of them? (my best guess: the better to appear dramatic and give the good guys cover). Where is the wind that causes the bad guys cape to billow when he’s standing literally in outer space? (guess: maybe it’s the air rushing out of the spaceship?). Why do most of the characters have English accents? (guess: the best actors are English, right? Laurence Olivier, Anthony Hopkins, Judi Dench, Sacha Baron Cohen…) When do these characters ever eat or sleep? (guess: they’re taking some kind of futuristic super amphetamine) How do they travel from one galaxy to another so quickly? (guess: worm holes, what else?) Finally, not to give too much away, but pay attention to the data warehouse of the future, where you actually have to remove the data with a mechanical arm from its slot in the shelves.

I hope I didn’t give any spoilers. Pretty fun film, good for all ages.

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Lion

Bill I’s Review – 4 out of 5

The first half is somewhat reminiscent of Slumdog Millionaire in that it focuses on the plight of a 5 year old boy from a poor rural family in India. He and his older brother, whom he adores, spend their days jumping freight trains to steal coal, then turn over their booty to their hard working mom. It’s not much of a spoiler to disclose that the boy gets lost, and without cell phones, or even phones, or even a correct town name or name of his mother other than mum, there’s no chance he will be found. Stuck in a child’s prison (aka an “orphanage”), he ends up being adopted by a family in Australia, and the rest I will not tell here. The actor playing the young boy is amazing, and the scenes of beauty (at first, by his home) and then chaos (in Calcutta) and danger at every turn are amazing. It got a little slow for me when 20 years go by and the boy is now living a normal life in Tasmania (more amazing scenery by the coast). It picks up at the end, and what an ending. Dev Patel as the grown up boy, and Rooney Mara as his love interest, are both very good. Nicole Kidman as his adoptive mother I thought was a little overly dramatic. Very cool photos during the credits of the actual boy/man whose story the movie is based on. Highly recommended for ALL ages.

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

I liked this as well and for many of the reasons that Bill articulated.  While this shows great beauty in India it also shows tremendous poverty and the incredibly tough life the poor have.  As Bill states, both actors playing Saroo are excellent (Dev Patel starred in Slumdog Millionaire also).  A very moving ending and definitely stay during the closing credits.

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

Arrival

Bill I’s Review – 4 out of 5

I agree with one reviewer’s characterization of Arrival as achieving what Interstellar tried (and failed) at, as a “thinking person’s movie”. I suggest that you not read any reviews in advance of seeing this film, so that you go in like me, having no idea of the plot or character elements beyond the most basic:  alien spaceships have arrived on (or over!) Earth and Amy Adams’ linguistic expert character, teamed with Jeremy Renner’s scientist, try to help the US government figure out what they want. The slow unraveling of this mystery is masterfully done, with soundtrack, cinematography, and hints at what is happening doled out to the viewer. It’s tense, it’s fun, it’s scary in a non-typical alien disaster movie way.  It gets a little slow at times for me. Amy Adams is great, as usual. And it resonates with today’s global political climate. I walked out proud to have figured out the plot, with a little help from my wife, and admiring how it was woven together. Unlike when I left Interstellar, furiously disputing the outlandish logic and plot elements. Arrival is terrific, highly recommended for all ages, say 12 and above!

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Hacksaw Ridge

Bill C’s Review – 3.5 out of 5

Hacksaw Ridge is based on the true story of Desmond Doss. During WWII, serving in the Pacific, he became the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor while serving as a medic.

I almost felt I was getting two movies for the price of one.  The first hour is Doss growing up, family turmoil, falling in love, enlisting and standing up for his desire to serve in a capacity that does not  require him to kill.  The second half is the story of his participation in the battle for Okinawa, his incredible bravery while sticking to his principles.  The war scenes are extremely well made but also incredibly violent (so if you don’t like disturbing war images skip this film).

This is Mel Gibson’s first directorial effort in 10 years (time flies),  It’s a well made film and it does it good job in telling the story of Desmond Doss (stay for the closing credits to see pictures/interviews with Doss and others).  My biggest knock was there are parts (in both halfs) that felt formulaic and all the expected caricatures of characters in an army barracks were provided.

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

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Deepwater Horizon

Bill I’s Rating – 3.5 out of 5

Disaster flicks have both come a long way, and stayed the same, from back in the day, such as 1972’s Poseidon Adventure. Similarities: A huge structure, which encounters a problem that quickly escalates into total destruction, while our characters take heroic, mostly, actions to rescue others, and try to escape with their lives. Come a long way in that the super HD reality of the structure is incredible, with the feeling that you are inside the oil rig (yes, that’s the name of it, Deepwater Horizon, true story), with things popping, dials rising into the red, water blowing gaskets (or whatever they blow), and fire and explosions go off while people get blown away, injured, jump into the fiery water, helicopters rescue, etc. I knew the story going in (oil rig blew up after it’s corporate owner, BP, cut corners in safety measures), but the suspense is high and overall great action throughout.

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The Girl on the Train

Bill I’s Rating – 3 out of 5

I was going to avoid this film due to its relatively low score on Rotten Tomatoes but when I read a positive recommendation from my friend Leslie Waltzer, I decided to give it a shot on a slow weekend. It’s been compared to Gone Girl, and I agree with those comparisons that it’s not as good, but still kept my attention, and watching Emily Blunt’s excellent portrayal of aforementioned train girl, she is captivating, while I tried to figure out what’s going on. Is she nuts, obsessive, schizophrenic, scorned ex-wife, jealous wannabe trophy wife, deluded alcoholic, or a sane person just trying to do the right thing. I won’t tell here. I can recommend a much better film, The Ones Below.

Bill C’s Review – 2.5 out of 5

I’m not sure why I saw this movie either.  There was so much hype about this book that I read it before the movie came out.  I didn’t really like it because there were no characters in the book that I liked.  I guess I watched the movie to see if they made any more characters more likable.  Maybe a little but this won’t make my top ten list.

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Birth of a Nation

Bill I’s Rating – 4 out of 5

I resisted seeing this film due to the recently made public story of the director and actor, Nate Parker, being accused of rape years ago. It’s the Woody Allen, Roman Polanski issue, where I refuse to patronize these “artists” who have abused women/girls, whether or not they have been convicted. But, spurred on by a tweet from actor Hal Holbrook, along with Gabrielle Union’s online encouragement, I decided to see the film, and I’m glad I did. It’s very well done, incredible portrayal of slavery life on southern plantations in 1809.  Beyond what are now cliche characters (vicious plantation manager, maternal slave owner, incredibly cruel plantation owners, house slave, cotton pickers, etc.) it showed how religion was used to give hope of a rewarding after-life to those toiling this life’s hell, as well as to strike fear of a demanding God to obey their masters. Nat Turner does his duty, including being carted around to nearby plantations as the preacher who will keep the slaves obedient and in line, while their labor is extracted in the way one would ride one’s horse as long as possible while spending as little money and food as possible, no personal love or care necessary. Until a line is crossed, which in this case is rape and beating of his wife. Articles have been written protesting this subservient role of the black women, who in this film are powerless and serve as a reason, an affront to the men’s egos, who passively nod their heads while they see their men go off to act on violent, and certainly suicidal, rebellion. It becomes a revenge film at the end, portraying some graphic violence, and not in the Tarantino “fun violence” sense. The final scenes of “strange fruit” hanging from the trees are haunting, as is the crowd’s animal like lashing out as Nat is brought to the hangman. It made me think, has it really been only 200 hundred years since Americans acted this way? Slavery continued until 150 years ago. Lynchings and the KKK continued to occur until when, only 60 years ago? Civil rights violence with Bull Connor and the March in Selma was in the 60s. Haven’t we progress so far since then? Are we really such a progressive society? That’s a different film. In fact, such a film was made; I reviewed Fruitvale Station only 3 years ago.

The Birth of a Nation Movie Review

 

Fantastic Fest 2016

This was my third year attending Fantastic Fest and I now look forward to this every year.  Fantastic Fest is the largest genre film festival in the U.S. and features horror, science fiction, action, fantasy, foreign , and cult or anything else that strikes Tim League’s fancy.   The festival is wholly contained  in Austin at the Alamo South Lamar theater (except for special events) so there are no worries about traveling to other venues to make it to a film on time.  You  pick the movies you’d like to see the following day  online and that evening receive your schedule.  You don’t always get your first choice but being forced out of your comfort zone is not a bad thing,   you usually get your first or second choices and you don’t have to worry about whether you’ll get into the movie you go to.

In addition to the movies with directors, producers, and actors in attendance, there were several events and parties at the neighboring The Highball, including  podcasts with Leonard Maltin  and the  Doug Loves Movies podcast with Doug Benson.

Here are a few that  I really enjoyed (not in any specific order):

The Invisible Guest – This movie from Spain is a very good mystery/thriller with lots of plot twists and turns.

The Handmaiden – This and the next two are excellent films from South Korea.The Handmaiden is the latest from Chan-Wook Park, the director of Oldboy.  This film is set in the 1930s and their are more twists and turns in this one than in the Invisible Guest above!  I think this will be released in the U.S. in the next few weeks.

Age of Shadows – This one is also set in the 30s (maybe 40s) in Japan occupied Korea.  A Korean police chief is ordered by his Japanese superiors to hunt down members of the Korean resistance.   His allegiances are tested!

Asura: The City of Madness – The story of a corrupt cop who is caught between the corrupt mayor he works for as an enforcer and the district attorney.   Very atmospheric with lots of violence.  The director could have probably chosen a more subtle final act but he went for all the gusto.

Toni Erdmann – A funny and touching German movie about a man trying to reconnect with his adult daughter in unconventional ways.  Very funny with some important life lessons.

The Crew – An excellent French heist thriller.  This is a  taut, action packed 81 minutes

Arrival – Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner star in this mystery, science fiction drama as scientist trying to communicate with aliens before an apocalypse can occur.  This opens in November.