Carlo's Favorite Movies of 2016

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Why are you here? Is it to see if Rogue One made the list? To see which foreign comedy and animated movie muscled their way into the Top 5? Why... why?! (Photo source: Digital Spy)

Hey, it’s not too late for an end-of-2016 list, aye? :) First, here's a bonus– the year’s most disappointing movies for me:
  • Midnight Special – A classic case of expectations meets the pavement. Some will disagree, but IMO this was a sci-fi slog.
  • The Divergent Series: Allegiant – I really liked the first movie and didn’t care much for the second. Now the fourth will go straight to TV, and Shailene Woodley isn’t even interested. This should tip you off to the quality of the third.
  • Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – One word: “Martha.”
  • Star Trek Beyond – Ah yes, "The Fast and the Furification” of the Star Trek franchise. Don’t get me wrong—I liked the previous two Trek films (and Furious 7, to be sure). That said, this movie frustrated me in a way that most people won’t identify with. I’m talking predictability, an appalling number of “coincidences,” stale action sequences, and much more. At times, things got so absurd I half-expected Vin Diesel to pop up in a Starfleet uniform, drive a muscle car through an asteroid field, and worst of all—survive.
  • Passengers – Boasts one of the most contrived endings I’ve seen of late. This showed promise with Starlord and J.Law on board, but as the proceedings grew more ludicrous I wanted off at the next stop.
Now on to the good stuff. Note that my list doesn’t include movies I haven’t seen yet (Hell or High Water); neither does it include brilliant films that just weren’t my cup of tea (Manchester by the Sea).

Just as “most disappointing” doesn’t mean “worst,” remember that “favorite” doesn’t mean “best.” Here we go, starting with some honorable mentions!

Photo source: Apple

HM: Sully (dir. Clint Eastwood)

Sully doesn’t grab you by the throat and scream “I’m a great movie!” It just goes about its business. So well, in fact, that you stop the world and take notice. Tom Hanks’s turn as clutch pilot Chesley Sullenberger (remember the “Miracle on the Hudson”?) is understated, collected.

A lesser actor would have strained for effect. A lesser team would have colored within the lines and told this story in strict chronological order. A lesser movie would have been a snoozefest.

This was not a lesser movie.

Photo source: Fox Movies

HM: The Revenant (dir. Alejandro G. Iñárritu)

The camerawork, friends, the camerawork. After The Tree of Life, Gravity, and Birdman, I call cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki one of the best in the biz. If cinematography could dance, let’s call Lubezki’s a Swan Lake on celluloid.

Leo DiCaprio’s Oscar for portraying frontiersman Hugh Glass was well-deserved. And the infamous bear scene means you will never look at Winnie the Pooh the same way again.

Just kidding, you’ll still love him. Man, that other bear tho.

Photo source:

5. Mei ren yu (The Mermaid) (dir. Stephen Chow)

If you don’t remember Hong Kong director Stephen Chow, maybe these classic flicks will ring a bell: Shaolin Soccer. Kung Fu Hustle. You may not have seen his 2013 Journey to the West, but why haven’t you? (It’s on Netflix!) I’m convinced that Chow is one of the greatest comedy directors alive, and The Mermaid only solidifies his legendary status.

All the usual Chow-isms are here. Bad CGI. Ridiculous action sequences. Laugh-out-loud moments from even obscure supporting cast members. Chow’s crew rolls deep in this bizarre amalgam of comedy, romance, action, fantasy, and (yes) mild ecological warning.

I know what you’re thinking: “But are there real mermaids?” What—in the film or in real life? It doesn’t matter either way. Just go see this movie.

Photo source: Apple

4. Arrival (dir. Denis Villeneuve)

Aliens visit Earth with unclear intentions, and the only one who can save the day is… a linguistics expert? Oh yes. This movie based on an acclaimed short story was my #2 most anticipated movie of 2016. It did not disappoint.

In Brian Truitt’s 4/4 star review in USA Today, he says that "Arrival is such a beautiful and thought-provoking film that it almost single-handedly makes up for every bad aliens-coming-to-Earth film you’ve ever seen.” I don’t think it’s a perfect movie, but it definitely sticks the landing with a brilliant twist near the film’s end.

Here’s to more smart sci-fi in years to come.

Photo source: The New York Times

3. O.J.: Made in America (dir. Ezra Edelman)

This is one of the best documentaries I have ever seen, bar none. O.J.: Made in America is comprehensive yet focused. Insightful yet engaging. Ambitious yet remarkably even-handed. It’s got one hand on the pulse of a mystifying figure and the other on the pulse of an entire nation, with awareness enough to recognize synchronicity between the two.

Ezra Edelman doesn’t just scrutinize the life of football star-turned-criminal O.J. Simpson. He does one better and skillfully places O.J. in his social, cultural, and geographic context. The Watts riot of 1965 and the beating of Rodney King prove extremely relevant, especially when the televised circus of O.J.’s trial comes to the forefront. Besides matters of racial tension, Edelman places the foibles of celebrity culture under the microscope as well.

I could say much more about this five part, 7+ hour ESPN masterwork. But Pat’s already written some thoughts about O.J. here, so check that out instead!

Photo source: The Movie DB

2. Zootopia (dir. Byron Howard and Rich Moore)

“Animated” doesn’t have to mean juvenile or inconsequential. Here’s what I said about Zootopia last February:
If you're a fan of animated movies, then here's a bold statement: Zootopia is Disney's best non-Pixar animated film since the 1990's. There, I said it. (Yes, that includes Big Hero 6, Frozen, and Wreck-It Ralph for me.) Not only is the genre fresh (buddy comedy meets film noir?) and the story well-told, but its themes of racial and gender discrimination make it an extremely timely and important film today.
I still stand by every word, and I’m not alone in extolling this movie’s virtues either. In a gutsy move, the American Film Institute (AFI) named Zootopia one of their Movies of the Year alongside widely-acclaimed heavyweights like Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight, and my #1 favorite movie of 2016 (see below). It’s that good. Walt Disney, welcome back to the top.

Photo source: Curbed

1. La La Land (dir. Damien Chazelle)

Here is a musical even for people who don’t like musicals. Here is a film gleefully prone to daring flights of fancy: acrobatic long takes, jazz improvisations, 50’s era dance breaks, and a healthy shot of magical realism. Here’s to the past, venerated but never duplicated. Here’s to a future filled with filmmakers who take risks; who create thoughtful art for more than mere franchise extension or the almighty dollar. And above all, here’s to the ones who dream. (Foolish as they may seem.)

So soon after 2014’s brilliant Whiplash, writer and director Damien Chazelle establishes himself as a bona fide force to be reckoned with. Like its L.A. setting at night, literally everything in La La Land shines. The acting. The camerawork. The writing. The music. And oh, that ending.

La La Land is romantic but not saccharine. It may leave you in tears or leave you inspired, but whatever it does it won’t leave you alone. It’ll prod the daydreamers to keep their feet on the ground, and urge the cynics to poke their heads into the clouds.

In the undying words of Shia LaBeouf, “make your dreams come true.”
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