All eyes may be on Damien Chazelle’s La La Land, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea, or any of the other Oscar darlings, but 2016 offered a lot of other great movies. Below are Wylie Writes’ top picks; don’t forget to click the highlighted titles to read each contributor’s review!
#10. Uncle Kent 2
Uncle Kent 2 is an immersive, hilarious nightmare inside the mind and indulgence of a madcap schmuck. It’s best described as Curb Your Enthusiasm meets Adventure Time with a dash of Spike Jonze’s Adaptation. It holds up wonderfully.
#9. The Jungle Book
Jon Favreau’s re-imagining of the Disney classic is mind-blowing. Along with the accompaniment of a great voice cast and a star-making performance by young Neel Sethi, the filmmaker – along with a team of brilliant artists – did a flawless job building imaginative environments and adventures. When I start thinking about The Jungle Book, I immediately want to start watching it.
#8. The Neon Demon
Trevor Jeffery wasn’t hot for Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest trip, but I thought The Neon Demon was striking, alluring, subversive satire. Refn tells the story through fetching jaw-dropping visuals, patient performances that emphasize the gradual change of the characters, and a buzzing score by Cliff Martinez (Drive, Spring Breakers) that adds to the overall pulsating unease.
#7. Kubo and the Two Strings
A beautiful film; both visually and through its resonating messages of storytelling and controlling your own destiny. Another stellar home run from the unfortunately underrated LAIKA. Give these guys an Oscar already!
#6. Midnight Special
Jeff Nichols’ gem is a proper throwback to classic out-of-this-world science fiction with sensational performances, crisp cinematography, and shocking visual effects. This one gives you chills.
Even though this award-winning tragic crowd-pleaser was neither melodramatic or gratuitous, Borealis was undetected by movie goers during a brief run in Toronto. It’s Sean Garrity’s best film, the strongest work from actor/screenwriter Jonas Chernick, and a stupendous breakout for the cast.
Another underrated gem! Mountains May Depart is China’s answer to The Place Beyond the Pines, yet it still stands out on its own. It’s an excellent film that holds significance – and our attention – for the duration of its generationally relevant story.
#3. Finding Dory
Only Pixar could find a way to reevaluate quirky comic relief as a poignant study on mental and physical disabilities. Finding Dory isn’t just a warm return with clever characters, it’s just as important and perfect with handling its own story as Inside Out was towards mental health.
#2. The Witch
What will surely be referred to as a modern horror classic, The Witch evokes deep, unsettling emotions through its haunting story and direction. A career-high for everyone involved.
Jay Cheel (Beauty Day) has created a mind-melting, eye-opening documentary where audiences walk away having their own concepts of time and passion redefined. The two featured stories brilliantly blend into an overall arc of ambition, love, and science fiction. How to Build a Time Machine is a rare type of perfection.
As someone who edits the work of Wylie Writes, I too watch a lot of movies – usually with Addison. Here’s my list:
#10. Holy Hell
#9. The Little Prince
#8. 10 Cloverfield Lane
#7. The Edge of Seventeen
#6. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
#5. Midnight Special
#4. Kubo and the Two Strings
#3. Morris from America
#2. Life, Animated
#1. Other People
A short-but-sweet piece of local flavour that might only be interesting to some very specific niches that involve southern Ontario, Cancon, and Shakespeare. It’s an engaging look into the process of researching and preparing for a Shakespearean role, as well as a sympathetic yet realistic look at a notoriously stringent director.
The exciting return of a not-so-forgotten franchise, as seen in real people (same deal for my #8 pick). Brendan Mertens’ doc shows superfans of the series applying Ghostbusters to their everyday lives in really appealing ways. Mertens could’ve chosen a more cynical direction, but Ghostheads celebrates people’s love of the movie instead of shaming it – it’s always the better option.
The return of the franchise is enough to make it on the list. Besides restraining Meliisa McCarthy to a verbally-restricted PG-13 rating, Paul Feig’s movie was funny, had great ghost-busting, and the characters were charming, most notably Kate McKinnon.
To date, Kubo and the Two Strings definitely features the best stop-motion animation. The technique is so smooth, it’s easy to forget that the film isn’t predominantly CGI. Cool details elaborate on its basic monomyth and feudal Japan setting, along with wonderful designs. At the same time, though, it’s culturally insensitive that very few people of Japanese ancestry worked on the film.
The Little Prince is two movies in one – one half is a really great, stop-motion retelling of the famous children’s book, the other half is a ponderous story structured around the children’s book. Audiences instantly fall in love with the understated stop-motion retelling while the other portions warm up. It’s utterly charming!
#5. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
It seems as though director Gareth Edwards made a Star Wars film for adults. Rogue One is a throwaway line of dialogue come to life. It’s got the benefit of being a good addition to the Star Wars universe, without the campiness of being “just another retread”. Minor issues aside, if this is a good indicator of future films in the franchise, then I welcome these adventures with open arms.
#4. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping features The Lonely Island doing what The Lonely Island does best: satirical pop music mixed with absurdist comedy. When these guys are given free reign over a film, you are guaranteed three things: it’s going to be bizarre, it’s going to be next-level hilarious (mostly due to the bizarre set-ups), and it’s going to sadly under-perform with audiences.
Moana is probably the best computer animation I’ve seen in a very long time. The colours and textures are palpable, and the characters are warm. Everyone is interesting, too – while still being Disney characters to the core, they’ve got that 10% shift that makes them stand out from 70+ years of archetypes. Also, it would be a failure to miss mentioning Lin-Manuel Miranda’s catchy-as-heck soundtrack.
The first animated buddy cop comedy done by Disney, and they immediately get it right. With its strong message about tolerance and stellar animation, Zootopia perfectly satirizes the 1980s buddy cop genre while also giving it legitimacy. It leaves you to believe that Disney is on a great upswing with their animated features.
#1. Too Late
Between the overtly cool noir aesthetic, the 20-minute long takes and a stable of highly-qualified actors, Too Late is an absolute must-see. You’ll be engaged by the intrigue writer/director Dennis Hauck builds, the unbroken 20-minute takes – a serious achievement in filmmaking – and the fantastic performances (more notably John Hawkes and Dichen Lachman).
#5. De Palma
De Palma is a love letter to twentieth-century cinema, and an engaging look into the mind of an artist whose career has been nothing if not eclectic. Directed by Jake Paltrow and Frances Ha’s Noah Baumbach, this is a documentary that offers up a rare insight into an artist’s view of their own career.
The Last Man on the Moon is an eloquent and thoughtful snapshot of a period in American history that is too often romanticized. Documentarian Mark Craig’s unassuming style and the film’s emotional impact should not be underestimated.
Armed with a cast of proven talent, Denial isn’t the kind of film that is made very often these days. It offers a refreshing change for those who appreciate a film that presents complex moral and judicial issues without talking down to its audience.
Top-notch performances from a talented cast form the back bone of director David Mackenzie’s contemporary take on the western heist genre. However, Hell or High Water is more than a well-executed thriller. It is a carefully crafted film that isn’t afraid to cast a bold light on modern issues.
#1. Miss Sloane
Solid pacing and a talented cast are on full display in Miss Sloane, director John Madden’s political thriller that has been generating well-deserved buzz. Jessica Chastain carries most of the film with her remarkable performance as Elizabeth Sloane, a feared and much-sought lobbyist on Capitol Hill.
In Alphabetical Order:
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
The under-appreciated Batman v Superman has its flaws, but Zack Snyder shows more creativity here than most rival movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Far from the brilliance of the original, Blair Witch is nonetheless a tightly directed horror film. A worthy follow-up to one of the greatest horror films of all time.
Andrzej Zulawski, a late titan in Polish cinema, leaves us with Cosmos, an imperfect, emotionally ambivalent film that showcases Zulawski’s kinetic energy as a filmmaker.
The Edge of Seventeen
An excellent coming-of-age dramedy that balances its cynical comedic energy with a resonant, serious examination of depression and teenage alienation.
Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room is a fierce, frightening thriller that arrives uncomfortably at the right time as fascism and white supremacy become more visible in political discourse.
Mel Gibson’s excellent historical war drama strikes a careful balance between aggressive violence and genuine religious overtones.
João Pedro Rodrigues’ brilliant and sexy The Ornithologist queers religion to explore both sexual and religious identity.
Paris 05:59: Theo & Hugo
A charming love story that develops between two gay Parisians over the course of a night.
Another masterpiece from Martin Scorsese, Silence is a challenging, sweeping film that often times feels as though it had been made in the 1970s.
Using the best of their austere sensibilities, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s The Unknown Girl is a masterful follow-up to their equally masterful Two Days, One Night.
The Best Short Films of 2016:
All I will say about Sevince is that there is an terrific twist that you cannot see coming.
The obligatory Pixar choice, this adorable and beautifully rendered short about a baby bird learning to catch her own food is a feast for the eyes.
#8. The Dog
With the way that technology has become so ingrained in our lives, it’s possible to look at certain mechanical objects as an important part of one’s life. The Dog is the story of a couple who are trying to keep their mechanical pet alive after the company which produced them stopped doing repairs for them.
Police brutality is a very real thing and giving them unlimited power is simply not going to help. This riveting short documents the Toronto mass arrest of G20 protestors.
#6. Vitamins for Life
This two-minute film introduces the viewer to a variety of lesser-known vitamins, which account for a lot of those bodily functions you simply were not aware of. Vitamins for Life packs so much absurdity into such a condensed time, you can’t help but love it.
#5. Greener Grass
Another film where the less said, the better. Greener Grass is very weird and unforgettable.
#4. What Happened to Her
It’s rather easy to forget or ignore the fact that the corpse in the movie you are watching is a real person, but this short doc attempts to make you remember that. What Happened to Her has great uses of intermingling shots of corpses from a variety of media sources, dubbed with the voice of such an actress as she speaks of the process that goes along with being a cinematic corpse.
This is a strong, seemingly straight-forward film noir mystery. Then, the cryptozoological elements find their way in….
#2. Dear Lorde
A young girl writes letters to a variety of public figures from her house in the American desert. She asks them questions that they could not possibly have the answer to and, in the process, comes to terms with the sorts of dilemmas that filmmakers Emily Vey Duke and Cooper Battersby are famous for.
#1. Who Killed Eloa
A rage-inducing study of socially-accepted misogyny, this short tells the story of a young girl who was held hostage by her ex-boyfriend. This story somehow became a love story, turning the abuser into a hero and the abused into a goal. When Eloa dies at his hands, the film places the blame on all of society, beyond the murderer himself. Who killed Eloa? It was a joint effort.
The Best Feature-Length Films of 2016:
#10. TIE: I, Daniel Blake/Toni Erdmann
Two very different films, but equally as satisfying. There’s been plenty of positive talk around both movie; anything I say about them would just be a reiteration of what has been said a thousand times before. I will simply say this: believe in the hype!
This film got a bit of a reputation at TIFF last year, but it doesn’t do the film justice. Raw is not a horror film: this is a family drama by way of a horror film. The family dynamics are the real focal point here, although the body horror is not to be dismissed either. Minimal and modest, but also absolutely effective.
#8. Into the Inferno
This has been the year of Werner Herzog and it was really difficult to choose between the techno-terror of Lo and Behold or the painfully self-aware pseudo-comedy of Salt and Fire. But ultimately, this straight-up horror film wins on imagery alone. There is plenty of footage shot specifically for the doc, occasionally taking the viewers into the centre of volcanos, but the scariest sequence here was shot by third party photographers who made a career out of getting as close as possible to the lava. Into the Inferno is intense!
#7. The Lure
A cannibal murdering mermaid musical is not something that I ever thought I would see, nor was it something I thought I would want to see, but The Lure managed to be a unique entry in the genre of “weird things we’ve thrown together” because it is not infatuated with its own cleverness. The weirdness comes naturally, stemming from beautiful cabaret musical segments and the filmmaker’s great attention to detail.
#6. Under the Shadow
It is uncommon to see a truly scary horror film nowadays. It’s also just as uncommon to see a truly innovative horror film. It is downright rare to see a horror film which falls into both categories. Apparently, all it takes is a bit of real life horror mixed in with lesser-known religious imagery, because Under the Shadow has placed itself in contention for one of the scariest films ever made.
#5. Free Fire
This film can be best described as a “feature length first-ten-minutes-of-an-action-movie”, which oversees a gun deal gone wrong. What follows is a lot of guns, a lot of bullets, and a lot of surprisingly hilarious gruesome injuries. Add in a brilliant cast – including the vastly underrated Michael Smiley – and Free Fire is a total demystification of the action genre: when Mel Gibson gets shot in the leg, he gets a cool limp and a story, but when Cillian Murphy gets shot in the leg, he gets nothing but agony and the loss of his leg. This is an absurd new entry into the canons of cruel cinema.
As someone who reads a lot of morbid literature, when the victims are mentioned, they are a statistic at best and an exploitable narrative element at worst. It could be said that the victims are essentially cartoon characters, which is why this film, a documentary on the Charles Whitman shooting at the University of Texas, works so well: telling the story of that day from the victims’ perspectives, director Keith Maitland animates everyone to keep them distant. It is quite easy to go for a majority of the film without feeling too overwhelmed by the events – note the word majority. Bring tissues!
The following sentence would be insulting in most cases, but I mean it here with the utmost respect and fascination: no one has been able to express boredom and ennui in an artistic work quite like Jim Jarmusch does. Patterson wakes up. He writes poetry. He drives a bus. He goes home. He walks the dog. He has a beer. He goes to bed. Life is just a series of repeating rituals, less boulders and more bake sales. With the addition of concepts of Buddhism and a filmmaking style which gives importance to every background character, Paterson is peerless.
The most bittersweet of media in 2016 came as a result of brilliant artists giving the world one final work before leaving this mortal coil. Along with David Bowie and Leonard Cohen, the world lost one of its greatest filmmakers this year, when Andrzej Zulawski’s self-imposed ban on filmmaking came to an end after fifteen years, shortly before his death. This tale of life is a great way to end a beautiful oeuvre.
#1. The Unknown Girl
The Dardenne brothers are a strange breed of filmmaker who seem almost incapable of making a bad film. Their most recent film deals with immigration and racism in Europe in a way that very few could handle or, perhaps more importantly, get away with.
Do You Tweet? Follow These Tweeple: