Another year down, another wave of top ten lists. Over here at Flow Motion, we're constantly consuming films and catching up with what's relevant in the world of cinema. This list comprises my own favorite cinematic releases this year, minus a few highly praised films that I've yet to see (namely Moonlight, Arrival, and La La Land). It's unfortunate that a few potentially monumental films from this year have yet to meet our eyeballs, but there's still time to catch them in the new year.
In the interest of looking back on everything this year delivered, here's my top ten from 2016. Number one being my absolute favorite. Let's start out with some Cloverfield.
#10 - 10 Cloverfield Lane
(No, it's not placed here becuase "10" is in the title). Not really a sequel at all to Cloverfield, the 2008 found footage phenomenon, 10 Cloverfield Lane was more of a reserved and minimal bottle film. Rather than frantic survival and running from monsters, this story trapped it’s characters in an underground bunker at the suspicious mercy of John Goodman (giving one his best performances ever as the elderly and emotionally unstable Howard). Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Gallagher Jr. play two people who’ve somehow crossed paths with Goodman’s character, and he’s convinced them that the outside world is a poisonous and unlivable disaster zone. The resulting film is a mystery that leads toward truths about Howard, the bunker, and what may or may not lurk on the surface.
#9 - Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
While it doesn’t shake up the world of Star Wars too significantly, Rogue One manages to show us a proper war story happening in this familiar fictional universe. It’s an admirable recreation of the days of George Lucas’s original trilogy, but now it’s with a distinctly mature point of view on the violence, repercussions, and comradery of war in the galaxy far far away. The cast is thoroughly great, and as you’ve probably heard, Alan Tudyk is spectacular as one of the funniest droids ever. And Donnie Yen (although essentially playing a riff on his Ip Man portrayal) is a lovable and ass kicking addition to the newly established Star Wars canon. While there’s still plenty of fan service nods and references through out, the film stands confidently on it’s own and races from battle to battle with breath taking examples of war being waged. But here, there aren’t any Jedi’s to run through and sway the outcome. This is all about ground battles and star destroyers and Death Troopers. And the space battles are truly a special effects wonder to behold. Aside from the films rushed pacing, and a few strange digital recreations of some certain classic Star Wars characters, this is an action packed and deeply satisfying side story.
#8 - Hell Or High Water
Now here’s a shining example of a great contemporary Western. Chris Pine and Ben Foster play brothers who fall on hard times and turn toward bank robbery. They’re pursued by Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham as a pair of old and gruff Texas Rangers, and the film makes use of specific Texas character types and shows us two different friendships on opposing sides of the law. It unfolds as a down and dirty crime thriller, but there’s plenty of room for comedic and character building banter. The film’s third act takes a surprisingly suspenseful turn, and the final scene is a quieter version of a classic Western movie stand off. But what it leaves you with is just as dramatically explosive.
#7 - Doctor Strange
In some ways, Doctor Strange is Marvel Studio’s biggest gamble yet. In other ways, it plays things very much by the book and tells an origin story with beats audiences are very familiar with. It found a great balance, and made up for it’s shortcomings by embracing psychedelia and using kaleidoscopic visuals as elements of the mystical realm within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This film was genuinely exhausting to watch, and I mean that in the best way. It’s vast displays of other dimensions and planes of twisting skittle colored universes made for a film I felt that I’d been wanting to see for years. Benedict Cumberbatch, while not the absolute best choice for the titular role in my opinion, gave an undeniably charming performance. His American accent and smart alloc tone, now combined with knowledge of the mystic realm, should be a welcome addition in future Marvel films.
#6 - Captain America - Civil War
We’re almost through with the Disney-bought blockbusters, I promise. Look, I can’t deny it. I love comic books and the slue of films coming out based on them. While Doctor Strange gave me far more heady visuals and concepts that Disney/Marvel isn't typically known for, Civil War was the first real glimpse of a comic book splash page (two factions of colorful heroes/villains flying at each other in a wide view of chaotic glory) coming to life. On top of the action, the story was one of the best and most mature so far in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This was the chance to see the consequences of super powered battles happening all over the globe, over several different films, this franchise acknowledges it's destructive tendencies in this film. These heroes don't just lay a visually giddy smackdown on each other, they're forced to face each other on a moral level. I cheered like a kid and freaked out accordingly.
#5 - The Eyes of My Mother
My purest reaction is this: this movie hurt my feelings. It’s not accurate to say I enjoyed this film. But I appreciate the hell out of it. The directorial debut from Nicolas Peace is an unflinching black and white torture fest - that doesn’t show gore. Instead, it’ll suddenly cut away from a slow push in on a murder about to take place, to a very still frame of meat on a table. You put the pieces together in your head to realize the horror all on your own. It’s a character study on a young girl who is surrounded by tragedy at a young age, and she grows into the scariest horror movie monster I saw this year. Kiki Magalhaes operates with a predatory poise in her performance that is impossible to look away from. Like a great white shark or Michael Myers, this troubled girl is dead on the inside. She’s developed a genuine passion for murder, and she’s got plenty of time and space to experiment with it on her lonely farmstead. I thought The Witch was the most disturbing low key horror film I’d see this year. That film has high praises from me to, but The Eyes of My Mother truly left me shaken and uncomfortable as only great horror can.
#4 - Hunt For the Wilderpeople
If you took notice of What We Do In the Shadows, the hilarious 2014 vampire mockumentary, you got a glimpse of the New Zealand flavored wit the actor/director/writer Taika Waititi has to offer. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is his follow up, a charming coming of age story featuring Sam Neil as a grumpy old man who’s forced to take in a troubled boy bouncing through juvenile hall (played by hilarious newcomer Julian Dennison). The two characters find common ground and find themselves surviving in the forest, on the run from police who are desperate to find Ricky (Dennison). From clever Lord of the Rings inspired sight gags to a surprisingly action packed car chase climax, this film is a heartwarming slice of child-like adventure and an optimistic look at mischievous characters that society might deem as bad people.
#3 - The Witch
The second of the slow burn intense indie horror flicks you’ll find on this list, and the first feature from director Robert Eggers. A family in the 1600s is shunned from their village and forced to live in a dark forest upon accusal of involvement with witchcraft . Through sheer atmospheric horror brought on by the cinematography, and the convincing performances all around (particularly the breakthrough Anya Taylor-Joy, and her creepy younger siblings), we’re treated to a pitch black portrayal of a family being torn apart by paranoia and superstition. Is the threat of the supernatural real? Is a Witch really creeping in the woods, waiting to drag you away into the darkness? Or are people the ultimate monster? The end of this film has been the subject of debate, and in many ways it leaves you to draw your own conclusion. Side note: the goat and the evil staring rabbit in this film put in terrifying performances themselves.
#2 - Zootopia
More than any other animated film this year, Zootopia illustrates struggles with prejudice and xenophobia while also being an insanely clever version of an Earth that's void of humans. An anthropomorphic rabbit (Ginnifer Goodwin) is criticized for trying o become a Police officer, because that's just not a role fit for rabbits in the eyes of the public. A fox (Jason Bateman) is a sneaky con man, who ultimately has a good heart. The two embark on exposing underground corruption in the beautifully animated city of Zootopia, a giant metropolis with sections built to mimic various environments. Sky scrapers modeled after palm trees, a miniature city for mice and shrews, and an ice covered section are featured, just to name a few. Also touting a roster of brilliantly casted side characters (Idris Elba and Raymond S. Persi are stand outs), this film proved that Disney can still bring out truly creative and inspired stories that don't have to be about singing princesses. There's a joke in here that effectively disses Frozen, which is a welcome and snarky bit of self depreciation from the Mouse that owns us all (see numbers 9, 7, and 6 on this list...).
#1 - Swiss Army Man
One word comes to mind when considering the feature film debut from the duo known as Daniels: originality. Playing with intricate creativity much like a Michel Gondry film, Swiss Army Man starts off as a crude and oddball adventure between a talking dead guy who can't stop farting (Daniel Radcliffe) and a stranded loner who's trying to find his way back home (Paul Dano). What it becomes is an analysis of relationships, be it between lovers or friends, the need humans feel to hide their true selves from each other, and it even breaks apart the way cinema is supposed to work. Although it's not considered an outright musical, this film's score by Andy Hull and Robert McDowell of Manchester Orchestra is an a capella masterpiece. Through out the film, the characters do sing, but it's more like a quiet contemplation to themselves, rather than a broadway number. It mimics the Jurassic Park music a couple of times to glorious effect, as if to say you don't need a symphony orchestra to make this music sound grand. Apart form the score, it's the expertly frantic editing and use of practical effects that make this weird ass indie-to-the-max film work so well. It truly is like nothing you've ever seen, and the ending is one of the most challenging conclusions in recent memory. Stick through the disgusting body humor, and maybe you'll see the true heart of this film shining brightly through the muck and moss.