The Summer of 2016 is over and the Fall movie season is upon us. As the studios and indies prepare to unleash the prestige pictures and family friendly blockbusters they have been holding on for this moment, I’m taking a look back at the ten best films I’ve seen so far this year. Please bear in mind that there are titles like The Neon Demon and Hell or High Water that I would love to see, but have not yet received the opportunity to do so. Who knows? They might just make my end of the year list. But, for now, here’s my picks for the 10 Best Movies of 2016 … So Far.
1. Swiss Army Man
Yes, friends, the movie where Daniel Radcliffe plays a bloated corpse with astounding superhuman flatulence is the best movie I’ve seen so far this year. The debut feature from the visionary filmmaking duo Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (also know as “DANIELS”) is a remarkable achievement in storytelling and a vital testament to how the powers of friendship and the imagination can help the lowest of us overcome personal trauma and conquer our fears. Radcliffe is terrific, but the truly gifted Paul Dano owns this film with his best performance since There Will Be Blood.
2. Everybody Wants Some!!
Richard Linklater‘s spiritual sequel to his freewheeling high school cult classic comedy Dazed & Confused is joyfully wild and vulgar, but also rather honest and sweet about the complicated personalities who provide the engine that keeps the narrative moving forward. It’s smart, funny, and most importantly, achingly human. One viewing of this film and you’ll be quoting its dialogue for days and having each and everyone of the characters’ names matched with the actors by the time your viewing concludes.
3. The Witch
Robert Eggers’ indie masterwork is a haunting and compelling experience in cinematic horror that also works brilliantly as a provocative exploration of the limits of faith and the fragility of family in the face of a hostility that cannot be reasoned with or explained. Feel free to peruse my complete thoughts on The Witch via my Blu-ray review of the film from May.
4. Kubo and the Two Strings
The best animated feature, an eye-popping feast of magical folklore and astounding heroics brought to life with stop-motion animation that gives every single second of the film an unmistakable human touch. A cast of mostly familiar celebrity voices make beautiful work of a script by turns funny, haunting, and full of surprises. By the end I was in tears. Rarely does a film affect me that much.
5. Hail, Caesar!
Joel and Ethan Coen make their eagerly-anticipated return to comedy with a splashy satire of Golden Age Hollywood that alternately celebrates and excoriates the politics, personalities, and psychological complications that kept yesteryear’s studio system chugging along and churning out classy cinema. Brought to life by an all-star cast firing on every conceivable cylinder, Hail, Caesar! is a droll and colorful hoot that proves fewer contemporary filmmakers can make period pieces both entertaining and original like the Coen Brothers.
6. Captain America: Civil War
Wow, here’s a rarity for ya: a big-budget blockbuster event film stuffed with battling superheroes, expensive action sequences, and cutting edge visual effects that is blessed with wit, soul, brains, and most surprisingly of all – a moral compass. Strange but true, Marvel Studios’ biggest feature to date (at least until Avengers: Infinity War) will entertainment and enthrall you for every minute of its joyfully overstuffed two-and-a-half-hour running time, but it might also leave you debating to yourself or with friends the necessity of forcing costumed vigilantes adhere to a system of checks and balances.
7. The Nice Guys
Let’s face it, when it comes to making memorable buddy action comedies, no one is more suited to the task than Shane Black. He loves creating tough guy heroes with complicated pasts and flaws that render them all too human but sympathetic just the same. Black’s true gift is crafting dialogue composed of pinballing pop culture references, poetic vulgarity, and little clues to the vulnerabilities and neuroses concealed by his pistol-packin’ badasses. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe, both uncharacteristically displaying brilliant comedic chops, make one helluva dynamic duo in Black’s imaginatively convoluted comic thriller soaking comfortably in 70’s ambience and the holy trinity of sex, drugs, and sweet-ass music, but it’s young Angourie Rice who really steals the show as Gosling’s daughter, a soulful kid quite mature, intelligent, and of great assistance taking on the scum of the L.A. underworld and political power players for her age.
8. Green Room
After winning universal praise for his beautifully taciturn revenge drama Blue Ruin, Jeremy Saulnier returned to screens with a film that was everything his previous directorial effort wasn’t: intense, gory, and shocking – a hardcore siege flick bathed in blood and exploding with pure raw fury, pitting a hapless punk rock band against a small army of backwoods Neo-Nazis out to cover up a crime committed by one of their own. The cast, including the late Anton Yelchin, is across-the-board great, but it’s the one and only Patrick Stewart who delivers the performance you’ll be remembering the longest as the coldly logical leader of the murderous skinhead mob.
Just when superhero movies threatened to get too dark and serious for their own good, along comes this flick to give the genre a kick in the pants and discretely place a whoopee cushion on its favorite chair. Ryan Reynolds plays Marvel Comics’ wisecracking Merc with a Mouth as a demented love child of the Punisher and Bugs Bunny, delivering quotable quips and bloody mayhem often with the same breath. Director Tim Miller‘s long-gestating labor of love is so hilarious and committed to its mission to royally send up comic book cinema that you might be willing to forgive its occasional compromising to action movie convention.
10. Star Trek Beyond
An honest-to-goodness human blockbuster in a summer dominated by cynical, market-tested garbage, Star Trek Beyond boldly gets the rebooted franchise back on track in grand fashion with a refocused devotion to optimism and fun and some much-needed character and relationship development, elevated by a savvy and gifted cast more game for the real acting work than ever before. The result is a sequel that will make you feel all the feels if you check it out in the right mood. For more of my thoughts on Beyond, full review of the film from last month.
Best Documentaries: De Palma and Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made
Best WTF Film Festival Oddity: Too Late
I love detective stories. I love detective stories set in the modern day. I love detective stories set in L.A. I love films that refuse to follow the rules of traditional linear storytelling. I love films that choose instead to follow their own idiosyncratic paths to tell stories that defy expectation and predictability. I love genre films centered around characters who happily espouse an openness to engage in conversations focusing on popular culture to demonstrate that even narrative archetypes can have lives outside of the film frame.
I expected to love Dennis Hauck‘s Too Late, a detective story that pirouettes merrily through a fractured timeline in a series of unedited 22-minute takes shot on textured 35mm film that certainly fits the description of the films I just mentioned. Maybe after another viewing or two I will love it, because right now I’m still trying to figure out what it was all about. But any film that demands immediate repeat viewings will most likely reward them, and thus they can’t be ignored.