Monday, January 9, 2017

Beta's Top Ten Favorite Movies of 2016

I’ve managed to put together another Top Ten Movie list but before I get to that I want to quickly talk about the the current state of Beta is Dead. I have plans to start posting regularly again, though what ultimately turns out to be “regularly” I cannot at this time assume. That said I have plans for the beginning of a new series of blogs starting January 14th (to coincide with the anniversary of the blog) which I have been planning for a while as well as the annual Black Superhero Month in February. We’ll see how it goes; best laid plans and all that.

Alright, enough of that jibber jabber. 2016 was not a great year and as far as movies went there were probably more disappointments than winners. That said there were still plenty of good films out there all year round, so much so that I actually had a hard time figuring out which movie would make the list. For example the likes of Deadpool and Star Trek Beyond just barely didn’t make the list. And, as always, I’m just one man with a full time job so my ability to see every movie in theaters was severely limited and as a result I missed a lot of flicks that acquired critical buzz. Moonlight, Jackie, Fences and others all alluded me this year and therefore weren’t considered. Loud sigh.

My ten personal favorite movies of the year after the jump.

#10: Moana
Romantic Subplot: Not Included
Moana is another entry in the ongoing saga of Disney continuing what is a third golden age of animated films for them (not done by Pixar). While this flick is far from perfect, and as a musical it still feels far below the upper echelon of Disney's best, it does provide a strong female protagonist who doesn't need rescuing, a non-white/non-European setting and featuring a chase scene that is basically Mad Max: Fury Road on the Ocean meaning it’s more than worth a look. It's not as good as some other recent Disney cartoons, and it isn't even the best animated film of the year but it's a fun movie that the entire family will enjoy. 

Also, "Shiny" is an underrated tune, especially if you're a David Bowie fan, and it is the closest thing to a Villain Song that this movie has. I cannot get it out of my head!

#9: The Jungle Book (2016)
There are too many people. There are not enough Tigers
I am not the biggest fan of the recent trend of Disney remaking classic animated films as live action ones, having ignored most of them so far, but on a whim I ended up seeing The Jungle Book and was shocked to see that Jon Favreau made a heartwarming and charming feature that didn't suffer at all from issues that normally come with such re-imaginings. Well acted and cast, The Jungle Book was entertaining from start to finish and I left the theater buzzing about it in a way I was unprepared for. Aside from a strange ending that was obviously calling for a sequel that should never happen, and Christopher Walken absolutely butchering one of the great Disney songs, this flick was a near perfect family film.

#8: Kubo and the Two Strings
The movie starts with Kubo having his eye removed
You know, for kids!
Prior to this movie I had never seen a film produced by Laika (Coraline, The Box Trolls, ParaNorman) so perhaps that is why I was so unprepared by how absolutely beautiful this animated feature looked. Being one of the most gorgeous films I have ever seen might have been enough to warrant inclusion on this list but Kubo also has great storytelling that does not underestimate its audience the way the average animated film does, even more so than Pixar a lot of the time. It can be a bit of a hard watch due to its tone but there needs to be more films like this in existence and the fact that it did so poorly at the Box Office is a very damn shame.

#7: Rogue One
Give Alan Tudyk the f**king Oscar!
The announcement of Disney and Lucasfilm's plan to release a new Star Wars film every year for the foreseeable future was, for me at least, equal parts thrilling and terrifying as while there was potential for immense entertainment there was also the risk of over saturation. Thankfully Rogue One is a great flick. It's better to say that this is not a Star Wars film but rather a film that takes place in Star Wars' setting. I loved how different it was from the episode films, I loved the tone, and I loved the exploration of the Star Wars universe in a new and cool way. It's like an expanded universe novel bring brought to life, which to me feels like a good time at the movies. It was far from perfect but I actually think I enjoyed this more than The Force Awakens. Come at me, bro.

#6: Captain America: Civil War 
Let's face it: Age of Ultron was a big disappointment. It couldn’t live up to the original Avengers movie or even to the ever growing popularity of Guardians of the Galaxy. However Civil War is the Avengers sequel we should have gotten. Somehow blending the more subdued aspects of Captain America: Winter Soldier with the over-the-top superhero fan service of the Avengers movies, Civil War is yet another top tier outing for Marvel Studios. Managing to balance a ton of characters while also having a gripping plot and a third act that plays out differently from the standard superhero film, this flick is proof that while a lot of these genre films are falling flat on their faces Marvel Studios still know what they’re doing and are doing it better than everyone else. I'm unsure if I had more fun at the movies in 2016 than while watching the big fight scene in the second act.

#5: Hell or High Water
Sadly there are no horse chases
There were several westerns released in 2016 but none of  the ones I saw compared to this modern south Texas-set flick. Focusing on two brothers so desperate to save their family's land that they willingly turn to crime, Hell or High Water is a well written, well-acted production that had me all in from the opening minutes. Jeff Bridges and the underrated Ben Foster are both great but Chris Pine turns in a surprising performance that has been heads and shoulders above anything I'd previously seen him in. There's more substance here than the vast majority of movies I saw this past year.

#4: La La Land 
Why yes, I did start dancing as I was leaving the theater.
The idea of making a classic Hollywood musical in 2016 seems like potentially lackluster endeavor and, indeed, I do not feel that La La Land completely sticks the landing (I feel like the last ten minutes of that the film was like the director repeatedly punching me in the mouth). However the stuff I liked about this movie by far outweighed what I didn't. This is a gorgeous movie with a tone and atmosphere that feels completely lost in modern films but completely welcomed. I spent huge portions watching this flick with a huge grin on my face, which is something I don’t recall having done before in my life. I was extremely emotionally invested in this throwback and, while I will probably never watch it again, I have to awkwardly admit that this was one of my all-time favorite movie going experiences.

[Edit: After thinking about it I’ve changed my mind; I’ll probably watch it again]

#3: Zootopia
Talking animals?! What folly is this?!?!
When I saw the original trailer for this movie I was completely and utterly unimpressed. However the fact is that Zootopia turned out to be not only the best animated film of the year but also a shockingly poignant story that puts in the upper echelon of film in 2016. That Zootopia is a not-so-subtle allegory about racism isn't immediately clear since the main character is an adorable bunny cop but this is a great movie to take your kids to see in order to facilitate a conversation about judging people for what's inside rather than what the stereotypes suggest they should be. Frankly this is Disney’s best animated film since Wreck-It Ralph.

#2: Arrival
Pictured: A weather balloon. Probably.
Arrival fills the hole in my heart formed after The Martian left theaters. The best thing about this movie, aside from the acting and the script, was that it was a great subversion of the typical Hollywood "Alien Invasion" picture. In a year that also saw the release of a sequel to Independence Day, that no one was asking for, Arrival almost feels like it was a mocking the "disaster porn" genre that these type of films usually fit into. This is not an action film; it is a pure science fiction film that requires you to think and pay attention and has an ending that I not only didn't see coming but actively blew my mind while watching it. I cannot say enough good things about Arrival and, luckily, most people agree with me.

#1: 10 Cloverfield Lane
John Goodman is scarier than Clover was
I liked Cloverfield when it was originally released however I have liked it less every single day since then and now I'm pretty good with never seeing it again. The fact that a movie that invokes its title ended up being my favorite film of 2016, something it maintained since I saw it in March, is a testament to how good this flick is. Not a sequel, and not really having anything to do a with the original film other than thematically, 10 Cloverfield Lane is an emotional thriller that creates an incredibly tension filled atmosphere with very little in the way of set pieces. Taking place almost entirely in a bomb shelter this movie is dependent on the acting and the script in a way that most of the other movies on this list are not. John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead are fantastic here and over the course of the film I was on the edge of my seat, completely unsure what would happen or even what was true and what was the rantings of a madman. This movie is goddamn perfect, at least for the standard that I have for watching films, and it's only sour note is the fact that it shares a title with Cloverfield which will forever draw comparisons between the two. As there aren’t any obvious links between the two movies I will say this: 10 Cloverfield Lane is a much, much better movie than Cloverfield and, really, the two don’t have much in common. Best movie of 2016 for me and it wasn't a hard decision at all.

That's it for this year. As 2017 begins I have to wonder if it will bring me joy or tons of movies stubs stained with buyer’s remorse. Really it could go either way. Regardless I look forward to it.

I want to believe, but DC is a garbage fire right now...

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