As a die-hard film lover, I love this time of year. The Oscar season is picking up momentum and the Golden Globe Awards are just in the rearview mirror. While many people decry certain movies as either “artsy Oscar bait” or “bloated CGI blockbusters,” I have a great deal of respect for both genres of cinema. I always look back on my favorites of the previous year each time I hang up a new calendar.
If you are looking for some movie recommendations, allow me to be of service. Here are my top 10 favorite movies of 2016.
Antoine Fuqua’s reimagining of the classic 1960s Western is the sprawling, epic, no-holds-barred action extravaganza of the year. Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke lead a great ensemble. This movie’s sense of fun and adventure means that, when the time calls for it, the dramatic moments really work. Combining clever writing, genuine character moments and some of the greatest action sequences of the year — not to mention awesome cinematography and a great posthumous score from James Horner — “The Magnificent Seven” breaks the remake mold.
Murder. Blackmail. Scandal. Bad hair. Disco. In 1970s Los Angeles, trouble is around every corner. When worse comes to worse, the two worst detectives in L.A. are on the case. Ryan Gosling delivers one of the best comedic performances I’ve ever seen as the clumsy but observant private eye, and his chemistry with Russell Crowe is joyous. Shane Black’s writing and direction make this slapstick-crime-drama-film-noir-mystery-buddy-cop-comedy endlessly irreverent, compelling and hilarious.
“Risen” is far and away the best Christian movie I’ve ever seen. Everything about it works: the dialogue, the acting, the production value and, yes, the message of the Gospel. The framing of the Gospel story as a thriller is a genius move, and making the perspective from a scowling non-believer is even more so. It allows an audience to shed its historical hindsight and explore this story with fresh eyes. The audience is never preached to and no dogma is shoved down throats. Rather, there is an unforced wisdom, a quiet guidance. There is not a bad performance in the bunch, but Joseph Fiennes in particular is a tour-de-force.
Director Mel Gibson is back after a decade of “hugging the cactus,” and I, for one, am very glad. The story of Desmond Doss, an ardent Christian who enlists in the U.S. Army in the thick of World War II with the intent on being a medic in a combat unit, is unabashedly inspiring. Andrew Garfield’s turn as Doss is masterful, turning a goofy country bumpkin into a hero of the greatest magnitude. The war scenes are filmed like a horror film, heightening Doss’s valor and putting the audience right in a hellish foxhole. A+ performances from Hugo Weaving, Sam Worthington and Vince Vaughn are icing on the cake.
When I went into Peter Berg’s latest American tragedy film starring Mark Wahlberg, I certainly didn’t expect great characters and fully formed relationships, but it’s exactly what I got. Half of this movie’s run time is dedicated to getting to know the men and women we will later see get put through the wringer. Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, Kate Hudson and Gina Rodriguez become our best friends with their natural conversations and quirks, and when they go on to become everyday heroes, we’re on the edge of our seats. The latter half of the film — when things start blowing up and our new friends are in danger — is utterly thrilling and unforgettable.
It was a seemingly impossible task: continue the overall plot of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, be a suitable sequel to “The Winter Soldier” and “Age of Ultron,” and juggle thirteen main characters. Somehow, the Russo brothers stuck the landing with flying colors, making one of the best blockbusters of all time. Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. are fantastic — two of the best mergers of actor and character ever put to screen. The plot is deliberate and intricate, smart and riveting while still being 100 percent entertaining. Chadwick Boseman and Tom Holland leapt onto the scene with vigor, and the three battle scenes are the stuff of legend.
One day in 1966, a loving couple leaves class hand in hand. A young boy rides along his paper route. A news manager settles in for a humid, boring day. Then shots begin raining from the sky and hell comes to the University of Texas. Director Keith Maitland keeps the narrative careening forward like a freight train, never lagging, yet the audience also feels each agonizing second as if we’re in the crosshairs as well. We feel sorrow and shock at each bullet’s impact — not only because of the stylistic rendering of the violence, but because we feel like we know these people. After watching this film, I simply don’t have a bad thing to say, and I don’t want to spoil the experience by trying to put it into words. Maitland created a masterwork of a film and I thank him for sharing it with us. Seek this one out, if you can.
The New Disney Renaissance continues with its most thoughtful tale to date, “Zootopia.” In a world of anthropomorphic animals, a rookie bunny cop and a sly fox reluctantly team up to untangle a conspiracy that could bring their city to its knees. This is a very mature film — it’s not inappropriate or profane, but it respects its viewers, from small children to adults. The themes are important and very difficult to cover, but this movie pulls it off with unforced wisdom and it’s absolutely hilarious and entertaining, to boot. The mystery works, the humor works and the message works. Disney keeps hitting it out of the ballpark.
This is pure, essential science-fiction. Sure, it’s about aliens, but it’s really about humanity, communication and loss. Denis Villenueve proves he is one of the greatest directors working today. Amy Adams twists our hearts and expectations and forms a career-best turn as a linguist desperately trying to learn the language of the extra-terrestrials who landed on Earth. I love how this movie takes its time, finding power in stillness and thrills in language. As the credits rolled, I felt an emotion I honestly had never felt before. It’s amazing.
This is a perfect movie, and I don’t use those words lightly. Every frame, every musical note, every inflection and expression could be mounted on a wall in a museum. In one scene, it can go from original humor to a soaring song-and-dance number to pitch-perfect emotion. Both brilliantly crafted and unpretentiously enjoyable, “La La Land” will be studied in film classes and watched in living rooms on rainy afternoons. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are miraculous, and I truly can’t wait to see the illustrious career writer/director Damien Chazelle has before him. This is the best musical ever put to film, and it’s simply one of my favorite movies of all time.