Saturday, December 31, 2016

My Top Ten Films of 2016

Top ten lists are, of course, silly things. A year or two from now, I may look at films on this list and realize I haven’t given them another thought. There may films I haven’t seen from this year that will become favorites, or films I saw, like Zootopia or Kubo and the Two Strings, that I’ll think I should have found a place for. But I love reading these lists, so I might as well go on making them myself.

10) Captain America: Civil War This film really makes the list because of one scene. The whole film is fun, but the scene where Tony Stark meets Peter Parker captures the character of Spiderman better than even the first, very good, Sam Rami films (I & II, not III).

9) The Witch This is a very odd horror film about, not surprisingly, witches. It is set in 17th century New England in the days of the witch trials, but the conceit is that the witches are real. Much of the dialogue for the film is taken from the transcripts of the Salem witch trials, adding a depth of realism.

8) The Lobster The last film was odd. This film manages to be even more odd. In the future, single people must find a mate or be turned into an animal. Yes, turned into an animal, of their choice. Colin Farrell has decided that if he doesn’t find a woman to love, he will be a lobster. It’s in the tradition of the avantgarde works of the 1960’s, but writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos doesn’t take it all too seriously.

7) Captain Fantastic Viggo Mortensen gives a great performance as a hippie, homeschooling father of six who must deal with the death of his wife and with in-laws who want a very different life for their grandchildren.

6) Hell or High Water Chris Pine and Ben Foster play Texas bank robbers who might be folk heroes if they had lived in the old west or days of the depression rather than the present day. Jeff Bridges plays the Texas Ranger who seeks to bring them to justice.

5) Hunt for the Wilderpeople Last year, a film from New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi made my top ten (What We Do In the Shadows), and he makes it again with a whimsical story of a foster child taken in by an elderly couple at the edge of the wilderness.

4) Love and Friendship Whit Stillman is one of my favorite screenwriters. He is very witty, and he usually directs his own story. For this film, though, he decided to adapt someone else’s work. He managed to find someone else with an equal, perhaps superior wit: Jane Austen. Stillman turns Austen’s unfinished novel, Lady Susan, into a very complete film.

3) Hail Caesar Joel and Ethan Coen tell a story of old Hollywood blending Biblical epics with Communist plots (the communists are as real in this film as the witches are in The Witch). This is one of the Coens’ “funny” films, more in the vein of The Hudsucker Proxy and Burn After Reading than serious films like Fargo and No Country for Old Men. The critics didn’t regard this film as highly as most from the Coens, but I liked it very much and thought it had some interesting things to say about faith.

2) Hacksaw Ridge Mel Gibson tends to make brutal films, and this is not an exception. But it is a powerful true story of a pacifist, Desmond Doss, who nonetheless desired to serve as a battle medic in World War II. I saw a number of Christian films this year, most of them not very good, but this story of a Christian man was excellent.

1) Sing Street  A number of people put the film La La Land at the top of their favorites for the year. It is a good film, an entertaining musical, but it’s not my favorite musical of the year. This film from John Carney, the creator of Once, is an autobiographical tale of his life in Ireland in the 1980’s. A young man in a Catholic high school tries to impress a girl by asking her to appear in his band’s music video. Though, in fact, he doesn’t have a band. But he forms one, which leads to a hope to build a new life. Mindy and I watched this film in the midst of our year long journey of touring the country and found in the film a kindred sense and appreciation of adventure. We’ve watched it twice, and I think we’ll almost certainly watch it many times again.

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