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The Best Films of 2016

Luke Miksa welcomes 2017 with a look-back at the best cinematic treats of 2016.

I’m back!

Another year full of movies is now behind us. I saw some bad ones, and a whole bunch of mediocre ones. But they will be rightfully ignored, as I focus on the best, the funniest, the most action-packed, and dramatically satisfying films of the year. Let’s focus on the good stuff!

A lot can be said while analysing this list. Three of the top ten spots are owned by Disney (with more just on the outskirts), but I guess that just goes along with Disney’s dominant year at the box office. Another note is that three of my picks (including the top two) would easily pass the Bechdel Test, which is great for the growing diversity in Hollywood.

A lot more made the short-list, but the following class of movies made for a culling not taken lightly (Zootopia was a Disney movie with a Breaking Bad reference, for crying out loud!). Also, let’s collectively pour one out for Rogue One sadly missing the cut — the final 15 minutes were absolute ecstasy for a Star Wars fanatic.

Missed the Cut:

Zootopia, Keanu, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Green Room, Eight Days a Week, Edge of Seventeen, Lights Out

 

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10. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

There weren’t a whole lot of great comedies this year. Only the Key & Peele comedy Keanu came close (very close), but this spot ultimately belongs to the This is Spinal Tap style mockumentary from The Lonely Island, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.

Popstar stars Andy Samberg as Connor4Real, a pop superstar in the vein of Justin Beiber, and follows the dramatic shifts in his professional and personal career. If you’re familiar with musical documentaries, you’ll definitely appreciate the subversive humour, but the stand-out is the catchy and hilarious soundtrack, which was to be expected with The Lonely Island calling the shots behind the scenes.

This was not a popular film — a box office disaster, all things considered — but I have the feeling that Popstar is a movie with real legs, destined to become a cult favourite.

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9. Deadpool

Deadpool didn’t have any right to even exist, let alone be of shockingly high-quality. This was a movie that lingered in production hell for nearly a decade; a pipe-dream of eventual star Ryan Reynolds. But after some leaked test footage received a tremendous amount of online support, Deadpool finally got the green light, and the finished product was a perfect storm of entertainment.

I still don’t understand how a character like Deadpool — breaking of the fourth wall and whatnot — worked so well on the big screen, but it worked so well on the big screen. Deadpool was a fresh voice in an overcrowded and stale slate of comic book movies: the action was great, the comedy was witty and razor-sharp, and best of all it stayed true to the tone of the source material. That’s half a miracle coming from Fox!

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8. Hell or High Water

I caught this late in the year, and boy howdy was this an absolute doozy of a film! Hell or High Water is the tale of two small-time bank robbers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) and the Texas Rangers after them (Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham), and the narrative is full of moral ambiguities and interesting, deep characters.

Hell or High Water is written by Sicario scribe Taylor Sheridan, and based on the last couple of efforts is a name quickly becoming synonymous with quality scripts. Director David Mackenzie shoots some amazing shots of Texas vistas and deserts, and delivers the movie with incredible confidence and pacing.

If you enjoy the films of the Coen Brothers, this is something you’ll dig. It’s equal shots Fargo and No Country for Old Men, with that great blend of sly, dark humour combined with a visceral storytelling edge.

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7. Captain America: Civil War

After the mid-year release of Captain America: Civil War, it’s my personal opinion that the top 3 Marvel Studios movies all have Captain America in the title. This is because for the most part the Captain America movies subvert the now standard Marvel approach to superhero stories to provide something different: For Winter Soldier it was a terrific tale of espionage — superheroes in a spy caper — while Civil War is the culmination of brewing tensions spanning multiple films.

The fireworks that erupt between the characters we love works well because the one thing Marvel do better than anything else is cultivate characters that we bond with. Civil War is emotionally cathartic in that respect, as all the conflicts are earned due to the time invested in these characters and their opposing view points.

But who am I kidding? Captain America: Civil War is solely on the list because of that airport scene; the single greatest superhero action sequence ever put to film.

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6. 10 Cloverfield Lane

The best horror movie of the year is not your typical slasher or ghost story; 10 Cloverfield Lane is the small, low-budget tale of Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who wakes up from a car accident trapped in an underground bunker with potential nutcase Howard (John Goodman), who explains to Michelle that she can’t leave the bunker due to the fallout of a major chemical attack, potentially by Martians.

What follows is an intense and claustrophobic mystery directed with confidence by Dan Trachtenberg, making his feature debut. The performances are incredible, and the plot is surprisingly full of various twists and turns leading to a tremendous climax.

Cloverfield in name only, there is only the loosest connection to the 2008 found-footage monster movie. JJ Abrams’ company Bad Robot has plans on converting the Cloverfield brand into somewhat of a genre anthology series, and I can’t wait to see where the next installment takes us.

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5. Pete’s Dragon

Steven Spielberg released a movie in 2016, an adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic The BFG. It wasn’t very good. But there was another Spielberg movie this year, he just had nothing to do with it. That movie is Pete’s Dragon, the re-imagining of the less-than-stellar Disney musical from the 70’s.

Spielberg made a range of action and fantasy films for an entire generation that had a particular feel, a sense of wonder, and relatable characters (I’m talking about classics like Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, and E.T). Pete’s Dragon fits perfectly right along with those titles.

Pete’s Dragon contains that sense of wonder, an un-ironic tale of a feral boy who lives in the wilderness with his friend, the titular green dragon Elliot. It’s rare these days for a children’s movie to be 100% suitable for a young audience, whether it be in tone or content. The story of Pete’s Dragon is told with such sincere earnestness by director David Lowery, and with incredible performances from the entire cast, it’s a movie that’s impossible not to love.

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4. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Ricky Baker (played magnificently by youngster Julian Dennister), is a young deliquent offloaded by child services to new foster parents Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and surly man-of-the-land Hec (Sam Neill). When Bella suddenly passes away, an inexperienced Ricky takes to the New Zealand wilderness, with the reluctant Hec quickly catching up. When Hec injures his ankle, the duo are forced to make camp for a significant amount of time. As time passes, authorities begin searching for the duo, mistakenly under the impression that the child has been abducted by his reluctant guardian. Now on the run, Ricky and Hec learn to overcome their differences and accept each other into their lives.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople was one of the more unique films of the year, plus one of the more entertaining and emotionally satisfying. Writer/director Taika Waititi is developing quite an eclectic resume, ranging from the hilarious horror/comedy vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows to more wistful comedies such as Boy or Eagle vs Shark. All these movies retain his distinct Kiwi sense of humour, and Hunt for the Wilderpeople shares the same quirks while maintaining a realistic and thoughtful emotional base. It’s just a terrific, fun movie.

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3. The Nice Guys

Shane Black is back and the world is better off for it. Known for his amazing screenplays (including Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and The Monster Squad), Black returns with another buddy cop (private eye) film in the vein of Lethal Weapon, and also returns to the director’s chair for the first time since Iron Man 3.

If you’re familiar with Lethal Weapon, and the way it pioneered buddy cop tropes for decades, you should have high expectations for The Nice Guys, especially with the great Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling in the leads. Good news! The Nice Guys is funny and action packed, and the story trucks along at a great pace that’s totally entertaining from beginning to end. A classic.

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2. Moana

As much as I love a great animated movie, I’m also ridiculously sceptical due to the poor quality of a lot of them. Just because something is a cartoon and designed for families does not mean they have to be pandering. Our children don’t have to grow up watching vapid movies like The Angry Birds Movie or Trolls, they’re better than that and so are we.

With that being said, Moana is exceptional. It’s the story of a young girl from an island, destined to become chief of her village, yet still longs for more. It’s a movie about self-discovery and adventure, responsibility, and family; universal themes perfectly realised in a fun and heartwarming movie (This was the one movie this year that made me cry in multiple spots). Moana is a great female hero for young girls and boys alike, and it must be refreshing for the Polynesian community to have an animated movie they can call their own.

The best part of Moana is of course the music: A soundtrack created by Lin-Manuel Miranda, well-known for creating and starring in the current Broadway smash musical Hamilton. Every song is gorgeous and catchy, and needless to say the soundtrack was an instant purchase and has been on loop in the car for a solid month now.

The fact that one of the main voice actors is favourite Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson doesn’t hurt, either.

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1. Arrival

There are three types on science fiction films: Smart and science focused, action-oriented, or a combination of both. The smart science/action hybrid is rare (Aliens, Starship Troopers), and the dumb action is abundant (hello, Independence Day: Resurgence), but there’s nothing better than a good, intelligent science fiction movie with a message.

Arrival hit with a terrific pedigree, with director Denis Villeneuve coming off a string of fantastic films in Sicario, Enemy, and Prisoners, so expectations were high. This is obviously my number one film of the year, so needless to say that Arrival went beyond exceeding these expectations.

The premise is basic: A number of alien ships appear all over Earth, and it’s up to a team of scientific experts, including a linguistics expert and a physicist played by Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, to communicate with the beings inside the vessels in order to determine their purpose.

The cinematography is superb, with especially impressive aerial shots, but it’s the narrative presentation of Arrival that makes it so amazing. The film features non-linear, out-of-context flashbacks which by the end of the film reveal a whole layer of hidden depth which is simply outstanding. The movie is basically about the power of language, and how we can use it in regards to immigration and bringing humanity closer, even in the most trying of times.

The unfolding nature of the alien language and how it relates to our concept of time is one of the greatest and most surprisingly original science fiction concepts. Arrival is simply an extraordinary film.

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Did I miss any of your 2016 favourites? Let me know in the comments below, or jump on board Facebook or Twitter and give me a yell.

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