Top Ten Favorite Movies of 2016:
Hell or High Water
is a wonderful movie, well-written, solidly directed with nearly
perfect performances from top stars like Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine and
Ben Foster all the way down to Buck Taylor as the old man in line at
the bank ("You're damn right I got a gun on me."). But more than
that, Hell or High Water is a movie for our time. From the
protagonists' efforts to get their land back from the bank that
swindled their mother legally but unethically for years to the Texas
Rangers who have to do their jobs fully aware they might not be the
good guys in this struggle to the common folk caught in between.
"We ain't stealing from you. We're stealing from the bank."
Birmingham is an unexpected force as Bridges' Ranger sidekick.
Their relationship mirrors that of the bank-robbing brothers, and
informs the motivations for the unresolved finale.
Elvis and Nixon
seen this movie innumerable times, in its entirety and certain
scenes. The subtlety and finesse of the direction by Liza
Johnson, the writing by Joey Sagal, Hanna Sagal & Cary Elwes and
especially the performances by Michael Shannon, Kevin Spacey, and Alex
Pettyfer is astounding. There is no real effort by Shannon or
Spacey to mimic the voices of these larger than life men of
history. Rather the concentration is on the unlikely nature of
the true story of the meeting, the encounter, and finally the
I am always careful to explain in my
recommendation of this movie that the viewer will enjoy the experience
much more if he or she already has a sense of the magnitude of these
iconic figures in history, culture, and lore. Without that sense,
many of the scenes may not have the impact they should. Nixon's
people outlining the dos and don't for visitors to Nixon's Oval Office
while Presley's confidants relay what the President can expect from the
King of Rock and Roll. At the same time, Presley, revering the
man and the office, practices how he will introduce himself.
than the Bill of Rights or even the Constitution of the United States,
the most requested from the National Archives is the photograph of
Elvis Presley and Richard M. Nixon shaking hands during Presley's visit
to the White House.
hearing so many mixed reviews for this movie, I wasn't expecting a
lot. It's often just this sort of situation when my expectations
get totally turned around. There's so much to like about this
film. I love the way in which it was told, the ordering of
elements, the plot twists and reveals. I shouldn't have been
surprised because it is directed by Gavin O'Connor who is fast becoming
one of my favorite directors adding this to Warrior and Jane Got a Gun,
and written by Bill Dubuque who wrote The Judge which was my favorite
movie of 2014. There is a lot of room for some excellent character work
from some of the best, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Cynthia
Addai-Robinson and a little known actor named Robert C. Treveiler who
is very good as Affleck's demanding father. Ben Affleck and Anna
Kendrick are their usual competent selves.
The movie clearly
had no intention of being a docudrama about autistic adults coping with
the modern world, so to whatever extent it got it right with Affleck's
portrayal, I was impressed enough to become invested in the humanity
and motivations of the character.
I recommend this movie, I always stress how poor the title is and how
much this movie does NOT deal with formal religion. It should
have been titled something like The Stolen Toolbox or A Weekend Saving
My Dad. And that's the next thing I stress, just how good an
actor the boy is in this film, Jaeden Leiberher and has been stealing
just about every film he's been in since debuting in St. Vincent.
He is so good in underwritten roles in Midnight Special and Aloha. And
despite it's ludicrous plot and presentation may even be good enough to
almost save the recent Book of Henry.
This is Bob Nelson's
first feature at the helm of his won script after gaining acclaim for
his script for Nebraska. As much as I enjoyed that film, this one
is even better. Just when it seems this story will get caught in
the ruts of timeworn expectations, Nelson shifts it in a different
direction, not with sharp wrenching turns to stretch believability but
enough to make you see things in an unexpected way. Oh, that's
where we're going? It made me nod and smile.
This is also
an unexpected place to find Clive Owen as a down-on-his-luck
construction worker and sometimes absentee father, but he nails it and
gives the movie it's shaky foundation. Robert Forster, who can do
more with three minutes of screen time than most actors can do with
ninety, does it again here. Patton Oswalt, Maria Bello, Tim Blake
Nelson, and Matthew Modine all provide their own moments of solid
Jane Got A Gun
extremely rare to have two films in my top ten from the same director,
but Gavin O'Connor's Jane Got a Gun was such a troubled production,
replacing Michael Fassbender and Jude Law in the cast and then starting
filming in 2013 only to have numerous other financial and
production problems until it was finally finished in 2015.
Then had trouble getting released with marketing and distribution
issues pushing it back into 2016.
Given all that, it's a
wonder it turned out as good as it is. A distinctive western, not
exactly in the pantheon of the tradition classics, but also not weighed
down by the ponderous constraints of the post-modern
western. By all indications, the production became a mission for
Joel Edgerton who traded his original role as the villain for the
former jilted lover and recruited aid for the title character.
Leaving the meaty role of the bad guy to Ewan McGregor who cast against
type does a masterful job. Natalie Portman is the grim but
stalwart soul of the story.
I'm an easy sell on any western that comes down the pike, but this is just a compelling story well-told.
first glance, this appears to be a straightforward, no-frills relating
of an unknown contribution of three black women to the success of the
space program, but that is, perhaps, it's greatest strength.
Director Ted Melfi likes to sprinkle his cinematic touches on a thinly
layer landscape so they shine almost in afterthought. This is
Melfi's second feature after St. Vincent which was near the top of my
best movies of 2014 so I am impressed with his work. Much of his
skill, like all good directors, is in providing his cast with the
tableau for them to do what they do best. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia
Spencer, and Kevin Costner do not let him down.
I am not
familiar with Janelle Monae's music, but she stands out in both this
film and in the Best Picture Oscar-winning Moonlight. Speaking of
Moonlight, Mahershala Ali bolsters a much more difficult role in this
film than his abbreviated, stilted, head-scratching Oscar nod in that
film. Kirsten Dunst also rescues a potentially melodramatic role
and makes it human.
Anyone looking for a documentary or a
history lesson from this movie will be able to find plenty of dramatic
license and inaccuracies to quibble about, but the tenor and intent are
right on. This is just pure and simple very fine filmmaking.
The Girl on the Train
came to this movie as one of the few literate people in the world who
had not read the book. I came to it also having heard and read a
majority of reviews which were lukewarm at best and scathing at
worst. It is not a movie without its flaws, but I was impressed
early on while watching. I kept being impressed the more I
watched. I was on alert for the missteps, the plotholes, the
wrong turns. Certain I must have missed something, I re-watched
it. I was even more impressed.
Again, I haven't read the book, but unless I missed
this is a really good psychological thriller. The first time
through I was expecting some version of unreliable narrator who fools
us as the audience as well as themselves, but this story stays
true. The resolution is as strong as the set up.
Blunt is more than credible as the protagonist. Alison Janney is not
surprisingly amazing in the thankless role as the confused but anything
stupid detective. Lisa Kudrow perfectly underplays a small
role. Haley Bennett who was also good in Denzel's The Equalizer is one
one makes the list based predominately upon the performance of Viola
Davis. Those who know me know my adage Daniel Day-Lewis is always the
best actor and Viola Davis is always the best actress. I am so
happy she finally won the Oscar she had coming for so long, certainly
for The Help and probably for Proof.
Even though I never
quite get all of Lanford Wilson, I do find the parts to be more
persuasive than the whole. It can sell is always good but even he
can't evoke enough sympathy t redeem this character. However,
Michael T. Williamson is inspirational as his brother, Gabriel and
Jovan Adepo more than holds his own as his son, Cory. Stephen
McKinley Henderson deserves special mention for his exemplary work in
the role of longtime friend, workmate, and moral conscience.
Free State of Jones
another Mahershala Ali performance that is better than his short work
in Moonlight. Beyond that, I was drawn to this movie because it
dealt with an important issue in American history which has been
largely ignored if ever included in the teaching of our past. I really
liked the way the movie bookended its story by showing how relevant the
issue still is. Finally, in a similar way that Hell or High Water
is a movie for our time, I found this movie to have a message which
should transcend all times. " It ain't my fight, you know? Don't
own no slaves. Ain't gonna die so they can get rich selling cotton."
"I mean, they just pick cotton for 'em. You-You was willin' to get killed for 'em."
addition to Ali's and another fine performance from McConaughey, I am
so impressed with the work of Gugu Mbatha-Raw. I really believe
she has the makings of a star.
am not going to delve into the incongruities, inconsistencies, or
logic puzzles which have already been hashed and rehashed regarding
this movie. Like The Matrix, Inception and Interstellar, I began
to enjoy this film as soon as I gave up trying to figure out it's
I liked the fact that Jeremy Renner's character
wasn't just an antagonistic prick, but rather a character as
intelligent and curious as his credentials would suggest. I liked
the non-linear storytelling fit together with the non-linear
resolution. I liked that the aliens were named Abbott and
Costello. I like any movie with Forest Whitaker and/or Michael
The Jungle Book
don't see the new version of the Jungle Book with its lush mixture of
live and CGI action as being one of the top ten films of the year, but
I am giving it a special mention because of the perfection achieved in
casting. Not that it wasn't a very well-made and entertaining
movie because it is, but the sheer joy from a geeky, film-nerdy
perspective of having Bill Murray in all his Bill Murray-ness infusing
Baloo the Bear with just enough heart to make it so much fun to laugh
at the sloth. Ben Kingsley as the wise and benevolent black
panther, Bagheera and Idris Elba, so perfectly menacing as the
man-eating tiger, Sheere Khan.
The kicker, the absolute
knock-it-out-of-the-park homer, is Christopher Walken as the
gigantopithecus, King Louie. The 1967 Disney animated feature
introduced King Louie with jazz great Louis Prima as the voice, and
although his "I Wanna Be Like You" is a classic, Walken's version is so
quintessential it is a permanent smile.
The movie also features
Garry Shandling's final film role of sorts as the voice of Ikki, the
porcupine who monitors the peace of the watering hole. Kudos also
to Scarlett Johansson as Kaa, the enticing snake, and Lupita N'yongo
and Giancarlo Esposito as Mowgli's wolf parents.
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