6 Months Down
Where does the time go? We are halfway through the year which means it’s time for a cinematic recap. 2016 has already produced fantastic titles (see below) along with some resounding duds (Gods of Egypt, Zoolander 2). Typically the first few months of the year are the dumping grounds of Hollywood, but 2016 got off to a great start thanks to a collection of established franchises and was able to carry this momentum on the strength of several quality indies. Although the summer movie season is still in session and the heavily anticipated fall movies are right around the corner, this list aims to honor the films that were released between January and June who have earned the distinction of being “worthy,” and may even compete for the end-of-year shortlist. Whether it be for fantastic performances, beautiful production, a memorable score, or just a flat out gripping story; these are the top ten movies that had a lasting impression on me through the first six months and seared themselves into my mind.
10. Triple 9 – dir. John Hillcoat
Released: February, 26th
Triple 9 was the first real surprise of 2016 for me. Released very early in the year and to not much fanfare, I went into the theater with little in terms of expectations – and it made for a richer experience. Triple 9 tells the story of a corrupt unit of cops who moonlight as bank robbers. To pull off their next big heist, they need to create a large enough distraction to get the heat off their tail. Enter: new transfer Officer Chris Allen. This movie is a 2-hour testament to the power of great casting. The ensemble performances here are excellent across the board and easily the film’s greatest strength. Each character carries with them a palpable sense of history and world-weariness that can only be conveyed by high caliber talent. John Hillcoat has crafted a taut and genuinely suspenseful heist film, bravo.
9. Deadpool – dir. Tim Miller
Released: February, 12th
The “Merc with a Mouth” finally receives the big screen adaptation he so rightfully deserves (let’s just ignore the dreadful incarnation that appeared in X-Men Origins: Wolverine okay?). Despite not having the same number of on-screen heroes as the usual X-Men or Marvel movies, Deadpool uses its bare bones conceit to up the violence and milk the laughs. No other movie released this year contains as many jokes-per-minute nor as many over the top action sequences, and all of this is stuffed into a 1hr and 48 minute roller coaster ride. Thanks to a charismatic turn by Ryan Reynolds, an acid-tongued script, and a hard R-rating, Deadpool succeeds where many comic book movies fail…it’s stupid fun and it knows it. Oh and it’s also the highest grossing R-rated film of all time.
8. The Witch – dir. Robert Eggers
Released: February, 19th
As I’ve mentioned before in my review of The Witch, horror is not my favorite genre and I admittedly do not watch enough horror movies when they receive a wide release. That being said, The Witch is right up my alley. Having gained strong word of mouth at Sundance 2015, The Witch was on my radar for some time despite not knowing too much about it or the filmmaker. Similar to Triple 9, it seems that the less I know about a movie going into it, the more I end up enjoying the experience overall. While the anticipation of scares drew me in, what kept me there was the world building. The Witch boils down to two words: production value. Everything about this movie just feels authentic; from the wardrobe, to the period dialogue, to the haunting score. Atmospheric, patient, and downright creepy, The Witch makes me hopeful for the future of heady horror and Robert Eggers next feature.
7. Captain America: Civil War – dir. Anthony and Joe Russo
Released: May, 6th
After planting the seeds of conflict in last year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, Steve Rogers and Tony Stark now find themselves at odds over the future of their superhero group and the fate of Cap’s childhood friend turned brainwashed super-soldier, Bucky Barnes. This schism plays out quite dramatically with each hero being forced to choose a side: Team Cap or Team Iron Man. Is there any other studio on the planet besides Marvel that can manage the salad bowl of characters that have been introduced in a dozen previous films and still produce a cohesive vision? The action set pieces are wonderfully shot (standout being the showdown at the airport) and every blow feels fluid and crisp. Not only do the fights have physical clarity, but emotional as well. Every character’s motivation is clearly laid out and understood, which makes us care all the more about the consequences of these exhilarating fights. The Russo brothers are Marvel’s A-team and it’s no surprise that they’ve been tapped to helm both Avengers sequels, Infinity War Parts 1 and 2.
6. Everybody Wants Some!! – dir. Richard Linklater
Released: March, 30th
When a movie makes you feel like you’ve been hanging out with your buddies for 2 hours on-screen then you know it’s working on a different level. That’s what watching Everybody Wants Some!! feels like. It’s the fall of 1980 at a Texas college and we follow freshman pitcher Jake as he moves into the house he’ll be sharing with his new teammates for the upcoming school year. But rather than focus on their season or the game of baseball itself (there are only glimpses of the guys actually playing), Richard Linklater instead focuses on the unique interpersonal relationships that only a fraternity of brothers united through sport can develop. Linklater is truly a master of mellow vibes and natural dialogue. EWS!! is less about masculinity and more about finding your identity within a group and appreciating the subtleties of friendship, or as resident stoner Willoughby puts it, “the moments in between.”
5. Green Room – dir. Jeremy Saulnier
Released: April, 15th
Tension is the name of the game, and nobody plays this game better than Jeremy Saulnier. He started this exploration with 2013’s Blue Ruin and now with Green Room, Saulnier has perfected the trope of ordinary protagonists thrust into extraordinary predicaments. When punk rock band “The Ain’t Rights” find themselves in desperate need of a gig (really cash), the quartet hesitantly accepts an invitation to perform at a local neo-Nazi owned club. What follows is the tragic entrapment of the band backstage stemming from the unfortunate witnessing of a fatal event by the band’s bassist Pat (Anton Yelchin). Seemingly being groomed for slaughter by the club’s ruthless yet charming owner Darcy (Sir Patrick Stewart), Pat and his bandmates are forced to survive the night and fight for their lives. Green Room is compelling for many reasons, chief of them is watching the band transform from hapless victims to predatory foxes. If this movie teaches you anything it’s that you shouldn’t play shows for skinheads, no matter how well they pay.
4. The Nice Guys – dir. Shane Black
Released: May, 20th
After getting a shot to direct his own Marvel movie, it was time for Shane Black to return to his noir-comedy roots. I’m happy to report that The Nice Guys is a triumphant return to form. We’ve come to expect certain criteria when it comes to Black’s scripts: damsels in distress, ironic witticisms, and a scene or two set around Christmas time. But what really feels fresh this time around is the hilarious interplay between Crowe and Gosling. Their chemistry is electric and their personalities play off each other effortlessly. In addition to the high profile duo, joining the fray is relative newcomer and revelation Angourie Rice who plays Gosling’s precocious daughter. In a summer full of tent-pole franchises, The Nice Guys is original, unexpected, and wildly entertaining. Nice guys don’t always finish last.
3. Midnight Special – dir. Jeff Nichols
Released: March, 18th
It’s no secret that director Jeff Nichols is a filmcache favorite. His resume is growing more impressive with each new feature. His first of two scheduled 2016 releases, Midnight Special is already a highlight of the year for me. Nichols has decidedly improved his skill set as his budgets have expanded, and at $18 million this could be considered a blockbuster by his standards. One technique Nichols uses to approach his storytelling is a sharp economy of exposition. As a rule, he does not allow his characters to talk on-screen about things they should already know so as to just placate the audience. This narrative decision can cause some confusion among less attentive viewers but to those willing to buy into his world, the suspense of a father going to any lengths to protect his “gifted” son from government and religious forces is engrossing. Nichols does this with confident framing and swift pacing between locations. Throw in one of the best scores of the year from David Wingo and you’ve got something special with Midnight Special.
2. Zootopia – dir. Byron Howard and Rich Moore
Released: February, 10th
We really are in a new golden era of animated movies and have been for some time. For the past few years both Disney Animation Studios and Pixar have been on top of their respective games, and cinema as a whole is better for it. Zootopia is proof of this fact. Zootopia tells the story of anthropomorphic animals who live together in peace and harmony in the titular city. Judy Hopps, a peppy bunny, has always aspired for bigger things despite her diminutive size and cautious parents. Through sheer will and determination she joins the Zootopia Police Department and hopes to start her new life in the big city. When a sinister force threatens their utopia however, she reluctantly teams up with a sly fox name Nick. The magic of Zootopia, as has been the streak with several animated movies recently, is its appeal to both kids and adults. It accomplishes this difficult feat by being both incredibly joyous and incisively deep about race relations in a society. Behind Captain America (#7 on this list), Zootopia is the second highest grossing film of 2016 so far.
1. The Lobster – dir. Yorgos Lanthimos
Released: May, 13th
I’ve been anticipating Yorgos Lanthimos’s English-language debut for some time. In fact, three of the movies from my “Most Anticipated of 2016” list that I posted back in January made this top ten. The logline alone is one of the best premises in recent memory: Singles check into a hotel and have 45 days to find a romantic partner or else they will be transformed into an animal of their choice. It’s an absurd setup played extremely straight-faced. Colin Farrell is outstanding as the schlubby “David” who arrives to the hotel with his brother (who is now a dog thanks to an previously unsuccessful stay at the hotel). The tone is depressing yet comical. Lanthimos infuses the story with a sense of awkward dread and surreal deadpan humor that you can’t help but cringe-laugh at. The Lobster is a clever satirical takedown of the state of modern relationships. A must see.
–Weiner – dir. Jose Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg
Released: May, 20th
–The Neon Demon – dir. Nicolas Winding Refn
Released: June, 24th
–The Invitation – dir. Karyn Kusama
Released: April, 8th
–10 Cloverfield Lane – dir. Dan Trachtenberg
Released: March, 18th
–Finding Dory – dir. Andrew Stanton
Released: June, 17th
Of course this list is highly subjective so I want to hear your take as well. What do you think of this list? What are your favorites of the year so far? Do you think 2016 has lived up to the hype or underperformed? Let’s discuss in the comments below.