Ed. Note: My apologies for how late this is. It took me a while to figure out exactly what I wanted to say about each of these ten great films. The Best of 2016 breakdown will continue as scheduled this Wednesday
Last week, I stated that 2016 was a pretty terrible year for films. This is a statement I stand by this week, but there’s a caveat I need to add. Yes, as an overall effort, the year was a dud and a disappointment. However, with one month at the beginning of the year, and two months at the end of the year, there was a small slate of films that can stand the test of time as some of the best of the decade. Some directors felt the call to change the game, and they did so, in every way, shape, and form. So, in order to honor those achievements in making me laugh, cry, and overall feel human in an otherwise bleak year, I’m happily here to share with you the Top Ten Films of 2016.
Before we get into basics, I should explain to you a little bit about the way I judge films, both for reviews and for rankings. Some people create their list based purely on what is “best.” And I do feel that this is admirable. However, even when the film wishes to educate or innovate, the overall purpose of films is to entertain-it needs to transport you into a world all its own, and to allow your emotions to take some form of journey, whether that be to crush you like Casablanca or make you laugh uncontrollably like Animal House. Yet the same problem is raised when you look at films that are simply pure entertainment. These might tickle the funny bone for a couple of hours, but don’t we deserve more than average performances in an average plot with average filmmaking? I believe we deserve higher standards from the people taking our money. So with both of these systems inherently flawed, I have decided to judge films as a median of both: I score the film based on how much it entertains me, as well as how innovative and different it is. The median of these two scores helps me decide if the film is great, average confection, or a stinker. It also allows my Top Ten list to be populated by high art projects and the silliest new animated/superhero movies. I get the best of both worlds.
One more thing to note: I am just one man, running this site concurrently with the hopes of making money. As much as I try, and as hard as I try, it is just impossible for me to see every movie before posting this list. Now, once we reach this point of January, it is very unlikely that a film will end up coming along to break through into the Top Ten. It’s usually fairly concrete at this point. However, that doesn’t mean that it is impossible-in 2014, I posted my Top Ten list with Into the Woods firmly in place as #10, only to finally see The Guest two weeks later, and then ended up reevaluating The Grand Budapest Hotel a week after that. So while I’m confident in the ten films I’ve picked, please note that it is in no way complete, not when there are films out there like Toni Erdmann, Elle, Certain Women, The Red Turtle, or Paterson. Any of these films could potentially prove this list obsolete in a matter of weeks. However, as of the day I started writing this post, January 25, 2017, these are the ten best films out of the 103 that I have seen.
Now that these disclaimers are out of the way, let’s start talking film with my Honorable Mentions. There were some films I expected to dislike, or to look down upon for some reason or another, only for them to end up impressing me on one level or another, despite obvious flaws, like Sully, Hacksaw Ridge, and Patriots’ Day. Then there were films that I thought were fine or good as overall products, but featured one or more performances that changed the game, like Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in Fences, or Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges and Michelle Williams in Manchester by the Sea. I watched masterful directors return to their roots with two wonderful films that ended up not living up to their own oeuvres, like Steven Spielberg’s The BFG and Martin Scorsese’s Silence. I had my mind blown by the arthouse scene, which gave us the new classic horror film Hush, the decidedly quirky love story The Lobster, the existential surrealist buddy film about a magic farting corpse that was Swiss Army Man, and an indie film masquerading as a big budget family blockbuster in Pete’s Dragon. And speaking of family films, the animation game has rarely been stronger, with Moana and Sing both warming my heart, while Kubo and the Two Strings truly positioned itself as an animated masterpiece. And I laughed-oh, did I laugh. There were some excellent comedies this year, from the bizarre VOD Nicolas Cage film Army of One and the Funny or Die send-up Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal: The Movie to the more mainstream comedy of The Edge of Seventeen and Sing Street, from the indie improv dramedy Don’t Think Twice to the underrated Lonely Island masterpiece that was Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. Any one of these films I would feel confident recommending at the drop of a hat, even if they weren’t in my Top Ten.
Then there are the documentaries. I consider documentaries to be a different medium altogether when it comes to filmmaking (a controversial opinion, I know) and therefore consider the best documentaries for an individual list all their own. I will be sharing my final list of the best documentaries of the year next week with the Sacred Wall Awards (consider this your teaser), but I will say that if there were three documentaries that made me pause before eliminating them from consideration for this list, they were the game-changing and ingenious O.J.: Made In America, the racially charged, highly intelligent, and highly electrifying 13th, and the sobering, unflinching documentary of unification in the face of adversity that was the 1966 Dallas Shooting documentary Tower. All three documentaries utilized their craft in an entertaining, educational, and overall empathetic way.
And before we reach the Top Ten, allow me to give some individual time to some films that were within a hair’s breadth of making the list, appearing in one form or another on rough drafts of the ranking. 20th Century Women was one of the funniest and warmest movies I’ve seen in a long time, anchored by two phenomenal performances by Annette Bening and Greta Gerwig. American Honey was a down-and-dirty road trip through lower class America-creepy, beautiful, poetic and lyrical all at the same time, featuring a star-making turn by Sasha Lane, as well as Shia LaBeouf’s best work in years. Loving is a film that goes quiet when most films would go bombastic, and anchors its story of the importance of love in the face of adversity in the performances of Joel Edgerton and especially Ruth Negga. The Handmaiden is a complex psychological thriller out of Korea that comes the closest to being an heir to Alfred Hitchcock as I’ve ever seen, and is an artistic accomplishment that any film lover can appreciate. Arrival is one of the most rich and complex films to come out this year, the type of film that critics and audiences can bond over in their general love for the craft, filled with twists and turns as it tells a universal story of love and commonality, and features the best work of Amy Adams’ career. And then there’s the film I thought for sure would be on this list: Zootopia, arguably one of Disney’s greater achievements. From a stellar voice cast to phenomenal animation (I mean, did you see how real that fur looked?), from the powerful portrayal of a male-female friendship (I’m a sucker for films about cynical males befriending optimistic females, considering that’s pretty much all of my friendships) to the hysterically noir script, the film is as entertaining as it is timely, using an original fairy tale for exactly the reason they were invented: to tell a parable about the world around them. The use of predator-prey relationships is one of the greatest misdirects in film history, and it ended up making for one of the most entertaining films of the year. You should check it out, even if I couldn’t fit it on this list. And now that those films have been established, it’s time to stop dilly-dallying. Here are the Top Ten Films of 2016!
Right off the bat, I’m sure you’re thrown. “A superhero movie on a top ten list? Huh?” And therein lies the magic of Deadpool: it is simultaneously a raunchy comedy, a superhero film/satire, an innovative storytelling experience, and a demonstration of the importance of one pivotal performance.
Truth be told, I actually wasn’t that excited about Deadpool when it was first announced. I knew people liked the Merc With a Mouth, and I’ve liked Ryan Reynolds all the way back to his days in Van Wilder and Just Friends. He has this way of embodying the sarcastic assh*le who is thoroughly unlikeable and yet completely lovable, my favorite style of protagonist for personal reasons (c’est moi). But I just wasn’t interested in another superhero movie, nor was I won over by the trailers.
But the reviews kept rolling in, and my friends were raving, so I saw it on a whim late one Friday night. And as it turns out, it was one of the best of the year, and that didn’t change over the course of ten months. The fourth wall-breaking storytelling was fast and whip-smart. The dialogue was sharp and funny, providing an endless amount of classic dialogue that will be quoted for years to come (one particularly great line involves Deadpool telling the X-Men that “It’s weird we only see two of you. It’s almost like…the studio couldn’t afford any more X-Men…”). The action sequences are expertly shot and riveting throughout. And then there’s Reynolds. My God, Reynolds. This is far and away the greatest performance by an actor in a superhero movie maybe ever (Heath Ledger excluded). Ryan Reynolds is witty, sarcastic, motor mouthed, and is the perfect embodiment of a “Bad Good Guy.” It’s one of the best performances of the year, perfectly embodying the film through improvised one-liners and a cocksure attitude.
I think the moment that truly captures what makes this film special is the opening credits. Most films can’t claim that their credits are the moment the film truly becomes great, but then again, Deadpool isn’t most films. The credits play out as the camera pans over a freeze-frame moment from the film’s famous highway action sequence, showing Deadpool giving wedgies, poking out eyes, and rubbing his crotch on villains’ faces. As it plays out, the film reveals the cast and crew as “Produced by Douchebags,” “Written by The Real Heroes Here,” and “Starring God’s Perfect Idiot,” a title that sits over a People Magazine naming Reynolds Sexiest Man Alive, as well as ticket stubs to Reynolds’ biggest flops (specifically Green Lantern). It’s groundbreaking, it’s funny, and most importantly, it’s Deadpool. And it’s one of the funniest, smartest, most entertaining films of the year.
Biopics are known for their formulaic nature. The character is born, they grow up to do great things, their most important moment happens, and then they die, sometimes as an afterthought. Rarely do they ever give us a character study, where we learn about the psychology of the character, the flaws that make them human as well as the triumphs that make them great. Sometimes the two can cross over, like 2014’s Selma. And sometimes a biopic can refuse to be a biopic altogether, choosing instead to fully embrace the character study, and all the haziness that goes with it. This is precisely what Pablo Larraín’s Jackie opts to do, and this is precisely why it ends up becoming such a great piece of filmmaking.
The film plays not as a straightforward story, but a fever dream surrounding the worst month of someone’s life, as well as an exploration into the creation of a legacy. Natalie Portman plays Jackie Kennedy as a woman on a mission to make sure her husband, who was cut down before he could actually accomplish his dreams for a greater America, would be remembered for attempting to create it. Careful editing and storytelling create an illusion around what is real, and what is just a story we tell ourselves about great people doing great things. We look upon Jackie’s intelligence and determination with great awe and appreciation, but we also look upon the murky underside of the story we don’t like to remember. This is demonstrated in a fantastic scene where a mortified, heartbroken Jackie stumbles around the White House packing, continuously pouring wine to distract from the pain while Richard Burton’s “Camelot” plays, or in a sequence where the audience finally is shown the result of the J.F.K. assassination up close and personal, in all its gory horror. It’s a film that deals with memory, reality and fiction, and what it takes to build a legend.
What anchors this film, however, is the performance of Natalie Portman. This is, hands down, one of the greatest performances of the year (if I had to rank them, I’d call her #2, and only just missing out on #1). She goes beyond a series of tics and traits to fully capture the essence of the former First Lady. It’s almost impossible to watch this performance without slipping out of reality, and at times you feel you are not watching Portman act, but actually witnessing Jackie Kennedy in the White House. It’s a beautiful, powerful creation, and it’ll stand the test of time as one of the all-time greats. Jackie is a throwback to a time of classiness and legends, and what this meant to us as Americans. It’s a truly remarkable film anchored by a truly remarkable performance.
Original Review posted here
8. Hidden Figures
Sometimes a film can just be everything you expect it to be and still be great. That’s precisely what happened with Theodore Melfi’s Hidden Figures. Nothing about the film is necessarily groundbreaking or innovative (apart from the story itself). Indeed, it’s the epitome of that biopic I was just describing moments ago. However, when you have this great a cast doing everything right alongside pleasant enough storytelling, you can turn “traditional” into “vintage,” and turn “typical” into “wonderful.”
It’s really remarkable how simple this film is. It’s restrained in its portrayal of everything, hinting at the horrors of racism while never allowing it to take the forefront, instead focusing on the overwhelmingly positive feeling you get watching a bunch of really smart people attempting to achieve the impossible: sending a human into space. Yes, this is done through some heavy-handed imagery, but every image of Kevin Costner carrying an axe to literally chop down segregation is countered by two of actresses Janelle Monáe and Taraji P. Henson carefully making the case against not only the overt racism of segregated bathrooms and libraries, but the underlying racism of “Well, that’s just how things are,” or the use of electrifying music to amplify the absurdity of the entire ordeal, like the leitmotif of Pharrell’s “Runnin,” which appears multiple times throughout the film.
Of course, this film doesn’t work if the actors aren’t funny, smart, lovable, realistic, and human, all at the same time. Luckily, that’s precisely what they are, with the decidedly larger-than-life Taraji P. Henson reining it in so that co-stars Janelle Monáe and Octavia Spencer can steal the spotlight. All three women give some of the best performances of the year, and through their acting, give a voice to an underrepresented story about three African-American women who helped change the course of American history. This is a fun, simple story that makes the whole thing look deceptively easy.
Original Review posted here
7. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Last year, one of the warmest surprises was a small New Zealand film titled What We Do In The Shadows, which I purport is the movie I’ve laughed the hardest at in theaters. I knew that I would like it-Jemaine Clement was one of the minds behind Flight of the Conchords, one of my favorite bands and television shows, walking a brilliant line between Spinal Tap and Wes Anderson. However, what Shadows graciously introduced me to was the brilliant mind of Taika Waititi, the man who directed, co-wrote, and starred in the film (and, incidentally, gave the best performance). Waititi established himself as a bold and witty director, and I was crushed when, at the end of the year, I just couldn’t make a spot for the brilliant comedy. Luckily, I can redeem that fact this year, as Waititi’s newest film, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, can decidedly take a spot on my Top Ten.
A simple tale of a gruff old man and a troubled young boy who bond in the New Zealand wilderness, this is a film I’m sure you’ll feel you’ve seen a thousand times. And yes, in a way, you have. However, what helps make this film unique and enjoyable is Waititi’s unforgettable voice. Each line is so ridiculously quirky, and delivered so deliciously deadpan, that there’s a sense of joy that can’t help but radiate. It doesn’t hurt that these lines are delivered by the perfect actors for each part. Sam Neill gives what may be his best performance ever as the grizzled Uncle Hec, but he would be nothing if it weren’t for the fact he’s acting alongside Julian Dennison as Ricky Baker. Ricky Baker may be the greatest child character ever created, he’s so wonderfully unique and lovable. Anyone else would have made the hip-hop loving troublemaker obnoxious and unlikeable, but Dennison gives Ricky naïve spunk, and the image of Baker dancing around to imaginary music as Neill looks on confused is one of the best of the year. Of course, the film really belongs to Rachel House, who plays the Child Services agent who doggedly pursues the heroes, convinced that a crazed Hec has kidnapped Ricky. Her quest drives her more and more insane (as all great quests do), and she has thousands of great lines throughout, from a hilarious exchange about The Terminator to her repeated catchphrase “No Child Left Behind. That’s [Child Services’] motto,” to the final chase, where she screams at a driving Ricky Baker from the back of a tank “You don’t even have your full license!”
This is the type of film that’s nice to pop in late on a Friday night after a long week. It’s a decidedly sweet, wonderfully hilarious, and wholeheartedly joyful movie, and it’s one I’m glad I saw. I hope that Waititi is around for a long time to provide us with more of his offbeat comedies.
6. The Nice Guys
I’m sure you’ll have noticed by this point that witty movies with great one-liners and throwback feels are sort of my bread and butter. I’m a simple man of simple tastes: I want good stories with good actors saying great lines. And no one has this market cornered quite like the twisted mind of Shane Black. A writer-director who clearly grew up watching the 70s neo-noir genre, following not-so-good men doing what’s right to defeat a much-worse evil, Black continues to find way after way to turn this genre on its head and milk it for comedy gold. And after many great outings with actors ranging from Mel Gibson to Robert Downey, Jr., I think Black may have found his dream team: Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling.
Make no mistake: Gosling’s performance in this movie is the stuff of legends. One part Steve McQueen, one part Peter Sellers, one part Columbo, and seven parts Curly from The Three Stooges, Gosling’s bumbling from clue to clue while delivering one liner after one liner is fun to watch. However, it’s nothing compared to watching the way he throws himself into stunt after stunt. Having his arm broken, falling off a roof, rolling down a hill, cutting his hand on broken glass, an extended joke involving sitting on the toilet while holding a cigarette and aiming a gun with a broken hand are all par for the course in this remarkably physical performance, and there may not be a better delivered line all year than when Gosling, after falling off the roof, postulates that, “I don’t think I can die!” He’s like a human Wile E. Coyote, and the world is all the better for it.
Crowe, meanwhile, is no slouch himself, playing the straight man to Gosling’s lunacy, and he gets the bigger arc as the bad man who wants to go legit. And if Ricky Baker is the greatest male child actor of the year, then let the record show that the greatest female child actor of the year is Angourie Rice, who plays Gosling’s daughter and, ironically, the smartest of the detectives in the film. Watching the look of shock and embarrassment on Crowe and Gosling’s faces as they realize they’re getting outsmarted by a thirteen year old is a constant source of comedic material, and it adds another layer of pure joy to the film. Look, in a lot of ways, the mystery at the heart of the film is a MacGuffin, an unimportant plot point designed to get our characters from one situation to the next. At times, it’s possible to forget what exactly the mystery is. But that’s ok, because while other films find joy in trying to solve a brilliant whodunit, Black is more interested in the journey our characters take getting there. And thanks to funny one-liners, great dialogue, and a whole lotta booze, that journey is one hell of an exciting trip.
5. Hail, Caesar!
This is a list of things I love: films about movies, movies directed by the Coen Brothers, comedies that make no sense, films with an abstract take on faith, films with extended Channing Tatum dance numbers, etc. Fortunately for me, Hail, Caesar! is all of these things and more. I went in expecting O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and ended up discovering that the film was instead a cross between The Big Lebowski and A Serious Man.
The Coen Brothers never like to make a simple movie with a simple premise, so why should their film about faith be any different? Now, at this point, people who have seen the movie may be looking at me a bit funny, as there is nothing on the surface to indicate that this film is anything more than a silly showbiz comedy. However, it is when you dig deeper that things truly begin to sing. The hero of this film, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), is a devout Catholic, constantly hoping to be a good man, and to find something more important in life. This film uses the cinema as a metaphor for faith. Movies are mocked, as a light form of distraction, a sweet nothing to distract us from the pain of existence. What Hail, Caesar! does is use this to explain the reason for faith to the world: while many people mock and ridicule the religious for their belief in what essentially can amount to a “distraction,” to them, it is a higher state of being. They are bringing goodness into the world, and while that may just be seen as a distraction, there isn’t anything wrong with that. By comparing faith to cinema, it is poking fun at the silliness of both while still highlighting and elevating the reason for their necessity.
But that’s not to say this film isn’t funny. Indeed, this is one of the funniest movies of the year. How many other movies include Scarlett Johansson as a foul-mouthed Busby Berkeley star, Channing Tatum in a Gene Kelly-esque dancer who performs a homoerotic sailor tap dance (one of the best scenes of the year, for the record), Tilda Swinton as twin sisters, both gossip columnists, who harass the protagonist, a recurring joke about Hollywood Communists, and a three minute scene where Ralph Fiennes tries to teach a John Wayne-esque cowboy how to say “Would that it were so simple.” This is a definitively funny movie, and when combined with its thematic elements, it makes for one of the best movies of the year. This isn’t a film for everyone, as my parents have both continuously berated me for loving this movie. But if you’re a fan of comedy, faith, and the silliness of existence, then Hail, Caesar! is the film for you.
4. Hell or High Water
There are some films that just sort of perfectly represent the time and place a film takes place in. For 2016 America, that film is Hell or High Water. No film truly captures the pain this country has gone through the way that this film does, and therefore no film can truly explain the rise of political figures like Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders the way this film does. Furthermore, there’s really no better study of morality on screen than the Western. Yet while most Westerns have a clear hero and clear villain, Hell or High Water flips the script: there are no “heroes” or “villains,” just a group of man trying to do what they can to survive in a system that’s been rigged against them.
This is a film that truly cares about its characters. None of them are truly perfect: Chris Pine is technically a “villain” who robs banks, even if he’s doing it to fight the corruption that’s destroyed his town and his family, Ben Foster is fighting for similar reasons, but as likable as he is, he’s clearly a flawed, warped man, and Jeff Bridges is a Texas Ranger struggling with the moral choice, trying to do his job and what is right, even if he’s got a bit of a bigoted streak (questionably-he loves his half-Indian, half-Mexican partner, but the quips and comments he hurls at him are defiantly un-PC). Watching them weigh each decision’s moral repercussions, while the action and the tension slowly builds demonstrates a master class in acting, writing, and directing.
While we’re on the subject of writing and acting, this film is also a perfect example of how to flesh out a world using the bit parts and extras. Even the smallest of roles feel massive in this Western setting, with characters ranging from bank owners to sassy waitresses stealing the spotlight with warm, original, and oftentimes fiery scenes that build the world around our four characters (character actress Margaret Bowman honestly deserves an Oscar for her total of two minutes onscreen). Most filmmakers wouldn’t give the best dialogue or best moments to people in throwaway parts, but this film makes the case for why they should. Building the world around the protagonists makes us care more about what’s going on, and this is something that director David Mackenzie and writer Taylor Sheridan have really managed to pinpoint. They’ve captured a mood, a genre, and a reality all inside a bottle, shaken it up, and released the contents into the world in the form of one of the best movies of the year.
Original Review posted here
When I first saw Moonlight in November of last year, I gave it an A. It took me about a week to realize I had made a grave error in not giving it an A+. Moonlight is a master class in filmmaking across the board, from direction to acting to writing to cinematography to editing to score. Every single aspect of it is top of its game, and the smallest quibbles I had with it really don’t add up to much in the grand scheme of things. There really hasn’t been a film like it before, and I’m not sure there will really ever be a film like it again. It exists in a world of its own, where it can explore a wide variety of themes without ever being a movie “about” these themes.
This is an empathetic movie, a movie about one boy’s life and the people he encounters as he deals with issues of race, sexuality, and drug culture. However, while these are all issues that would seem preachy or after school-special-ish in any other film, here they are just part of the story. They are a piece of a much larger tapestry, woven together in a blanket of humanity. At times, the film is dark, at times it is incredibly uplifting, but no matter what, it never loses the human edge that makes is a masterpiece.
I could continue to go on and on about how the cinematography is beautiful, or how the scenery is lush. I could describe the artful and skillful editing or the unique and operatic score. I could even describe how unique and flawless the performances are, especially from Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monáe, Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, Alex Hibbert, André Holland, Jharrel Jerome, and Jaden Piner. I could describe how the writing and direction by Barry Jenkins are both some of the best I’ve ever seen, period. However, I don’t need to, because this film speaks for itself. It’s a film that deals with political hot button issues, but never gets political itself, and that’s because it doesn’t need to. It’s a film about humanity, and humanity speaks for itself. It may only be my third favorite of the year, but if there’s any film from 2016 that’s going to be talked about ten, twenty, thirty years down the road, it’s this one. This is, truly, a work of art.
Original Review posted here
2. La La Land
What else can I say about La La Land? The film has surpassed just being a great film. Huge box office returns, no one truly disliking it (Film Twitter doesn’t count), a record-setting 7 Golden Globes, a record-tying 14 Academy Award nominations, this has surpassed the usual acclaim of a fantastic film and crossed over into full out cultural phenomenon. And I loved it.
I really can’t find anything negative to say about La La Land. The characters are both so wonderfully drawn that even when they veer toward cliché, they still feel warm and open enough that they seem unique. Emma Stone turns ingénue Mia Dolan into a force of nature, feeling wonderfully optimistic, sassy, smart, and goodhearted all at once. You root for her to finally be discovered, and you feel for her every time those saucer-dish eyes begin to well up with tears. Ryan Gosling, meanwhile, knows exactly how to play this type of role, keeping Sebastian obnoxiously stubborn and fussy while keeping him likable with a winning smile and a damned perfect tuft of hair that falls over his eyes. Of course, it’s hard not to like people wearing some of the prettiest, most eye-popping dresses and fanciest suits in the history of cinema who are winning us over through some skillful soft shoe to the best score in twenty years, at least. I’m not sure the last time I’ve seen a film as gorgeous as La La Land, but there’s no way it’s any time in recent history.
However, there’s really only one reason this film is this high on the list, let alone why this film is on the list at all, and that’s the ending. To break it down for you, the beginning of this movie is great, the middle is very good, but the ending is where things kick off into a different world altogether. The final fifteen minutes of this movie are, for lack of a better word, perfect. There’s no other word for it. The minute Emma Stone begins singing “Audition,” the film makes no missteps. And yes, Stone’s performance of that song is indeed a great moment, but that’s not what people talk about when they refer to this ending. They refer to the Epilogue, which, without spoilers, stands uncontested with the ranks of classic movie scenes ranking from the plane scene in Casablanca, the “Flying” scene in Titanic, the chariot race in Ben-Hur, and the closing of the door in The Godfather. It is classic filmmaking that will be studied and talked about for years to come in its sheer awe-inspiring brilliance.
Original Review posted here
1. Everybody Wants Some!!
I graduated from college in May of 2016. Because I took mostly easy Intro classes, and finished my senior project early, I spent most of the month of April driving around and seeing movies. I was in a nostalgic mindset, realizing that I would be leaving the relative bliss of college and the swim team I had become accustomed to seeing on a daily basis. In early April, one of the movies I went to see was Everybody Wants Some!!, Richard Linklater’s follow-up to the incredible Boyhood, and described as a “spiritual sequel” to his breakout hit Dazed and Confused. As Linklater is my favorite director, I knew going in that I was going to like it. What I didn’t realize was that I was going to love it, and would soon declare it one of the eight movies I consider my All-Time Favorites.
It’s hard to describe the reason this film just works in the way that it does. It’s not that the dialogue is necessarily filled with funny one-liners. Indeed, while this film is funny, the dialogue isn’t filled with hits like, say, Deadpool. It’s not that it has some deep, philosophical plot. The movie instead chooses to have no plot-no stakes, no major growth, nothing. It’s just a series of events as we watch a bunch of college kids make small choices, the way that real life would. And it’s not that these actors are giving bombastic performances. No one in this is necessarily performing these big scenes where they learn their lessons and cry. No, instead they play things incredibly real, and incredibly grounded. Watching these teammates interact put me immediately back to my Freshman Year, meeting the Seniors and attending the parties. Each character reminded me of one of the fellow swimmers I had interacted with, from the guy who is constantly on the phone with his girlfriend, to the overly-competitive one, to the smooth womanizer, to the bumbling-but-lovable freshman, to the idiot stoner. Hell, even the character that has been the most criticized as “not feeling real” seemed perfectly legitimate to me-I don’t know a team that doesn’t have the assh*le who thinks he’s better (at everything) than he actually is, and who the team only puts up with because, well, that’s what teammates do. Their bonding moments were our bonding moments. Their parties were our parties. Their camaraderie was our camaraderie. It is incredibly rare for a director to so perfectly capture a time, place, and personality so perfectly, and the fact that Linklater so perfectly embodied my time in college with my teammates is a testament to his skill as a writer and as a director.
Sure, there’s other stuff that makes this film great too. The soundtrack is one of the best of the year, by far-a sequence where four teammates sit in the car singing along to “Rapper’s Delight” almost had me in tears, it was such a great throwback to my Freshman Year. And there’s also a litany of fantastic, star-making performances. My favorites include Zoey Deutch, Tyler Hoechlin, Temple Baker, J. Quinton Johnson, Forrest Vickery, and especially Glen Powell, who walks away from this film the way Matthew McConaughey walked away from Dazed, ready to embrace stardom off his kindly-yet-sarcastic role as Finnegan. I feel that this film boils down to a feeling, one that is filled with warm nostalgia and optimistic recollection. I don’t know if anyone else can necessarily appreciate this film the way I can. It might be something that just specifically spoke to me, at a specific time in a specific place. All I can do is tell people how significant this film is, and hope that they can watch it and appreciate it as well. Because if they can, they are in for a treat.
I hope that you all enjoyed my recap of the best films of 2016. If you haven’t seen these ten excellent films, please do yourselves a favor and go see them now, rent them, or better yet, purchase them. That way we can continue seeing the best that these filmmakers have to offer for years to come. This Wednesday, I’ll be writing about my favorite performances, scenes, and more from the year, and as always, I’ll be looking forward to the next year, and eagerly anticipating what films will shock me and end up on next year’s list. In the meantime, you can check out my overall rankings of every film from 2016 that I watched right here, at The State of the Race. Thanks for readin