Top 10 of 2016
OJ: Made In America
Scope and scale are one thing, but using them to achieve something truly gripping is rare. Turning nearly 8 hours of a story that has been told countless times before into a nuanced thrill ride is a feat. To do all of this while tackling timely and important issues makes OJ: Made In America the year’s very best.
Sometimes a film just works. Sometimes the elements are just so beautifully melded together that you get a work deserving of the highest praise. The acting, the imagery, the production values, the direction, the editing—they all work together so seamlessly here that it feels like you are just watching events that happened. Moonlight has the Boyhood-effect of a story told over several years, but manages to do it without bringing back the same actors over a 12-year production. Instead, three different actors play two of the main characters, and their performances are so nuanced and thorough that each feels like a part of one fluid portrayal. Couple that with all the things not normally portrayed on film—Black mentorship; gay Black love and Black self-actualization—and the result is best summed as a masterpiece.
Usually the non-Pixar category in animation leaves a lot to be desired. This year, however, Disney’s Zootopia is the very best in children’s entertainment. While all the traditional children’s elements are all there—cute animals, meaningful lessons for kids and fun songs that make the whole affair soar—the real magic is in the way it mirrors today’s politics. With the election of President Donald Trump, there was much made about the way we view one another along racial lines and discuss people as others for political gain. In Zootopia, the same themes play out using stereotypes about foxes and rabbits and drug-like substances that create the equivalent of a war on drugs. While most of this will go over the heads of children, hopefully it is not lost on the adults that take them.
La La Land
This is the technical marvel of the year. Every element of the craft of moviemaking is executed at such a high level that you can't help but feel the movie's energy and charm. And while the film certainly has its substantive messaging flaws, there can be little debate that it is about as well-made as a film can be. Damien Chazelle's passion project oozes with the kind of attention to detail that can make a film feel like a true event.
Historical dramas can be a drag if you don't have the right ingredients. Fortunately for 2016, Hidden Figures have the right ingredients in spades. But above all else, it is the magical leading ladies that make the film worthwhile. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe all bring gravity, levity and grace to the three principal characters. Each provides the film with a different element of its magic and together the
In one of the more unusual offerings of the year, you have a story that alludes to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan told through a story of dance and competition in an urban community. It plays with reality in subtly hypnotic ways and is unlike most everything else. Points for originality and a fresh take on lives we don't often see reflected on screen in such empowering ways.
The Nice Guys
Buddy cop comedies were much more common a couple of decades ago. Since then, they have fallen out of favor largely because the material got stale. But while The Nice Guys represents a fairly conventional formula, the end result is anything but. In large par due to the leading men, Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe, the story unfolds in a way that is fun, unpredictable and oddly memorable.
Hell Or High Water
Populist anger at banks and other large institutions was one of the major themes of 2016, so any list of film highlights would be remiss not to include Hell Or High Water. It blends family drama with bank robbery and contemporary politics. Add in the fact that it is thoughtfully done and what more could you really ask for?
Here is another entry that unwittingly reflected the politics of 2016. Division, otherization, mistrust. These elements seem snatched from the headlines of a divided world. Couple that with a beautiful story of parental love and loss and you see yet another example of why 2016 was inarguably a solid year in film.
Southside With You
This is one that struck me so hard in the moment. It follows one of the most famous couples of all time, the Obamas, and chronicles their love from the very beginning. But the fame of the subject is not why this hit me so hard; it was the wholly fresh presentation of Black love. So often, the depictions of Black love we get are dripping with drama or novelty. Here, we get an almost exploration akin to Linklater's Before trilogy; happy to take its time and plant the seeds without showing every beat of what follows. It was romantic without being sappy; it was sentimental without being overwrought; it was sublime.
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