The Fall movie season is on the horizon, and with it inevitably comes a wave of hotly anticipated festival hits, independently-produced game changers, and studio prestige pictures all gunning for one thing: gold. Now that the Summer movie season is more or less behind us, I thought I’d take a look back at the best and worst of the last eight months. These lists will likely look much different come January 2017, after studios have released the films they’ve been sitting on all year long, so it’s important to give credit to some of the movies that may become lost in the shuffle over the next few months.
10. Hail, Caesar!
Directed by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Written by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Starring: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum, Ralph Fiennes
The Coen Brothers’ most recent directorial effort wasn’t one I fell in love with immediately, but instead came to greatly appreciate it over time. The beauty of Hail, Caesar! comes in the form of its solid script, bringing with it absurd comedy, nods to beloved Hollywood classics, and difficult themes like religion and communist politics. The performance of future Han Solo Alden Ehrenreich as western star Hobie Doyle is perfect, and easily my favorite thing about the film. It may not feel like a major work by two of the greatest living American directors, but it’s quickly wormed its way into my heart.
Directed by: Byron Howard, Rich Moore
Written by: Jared Bush, Phil Johnston
Starring: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate
Disney proves once again that when they go outside of their comfort zone is when the time-tested production house delivers their very best output. Following the early law enforcement career of Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), Zootopia creates a beautiful and unique universe for viewers to really sink their teeth into. The world building, character development, and film noir-esque inspired plot come together in one fluffy, wonderful package. There’s a heck of alot here for audiences of all ages to enjoy, including some genuinely hilarious gags (the sloth sequence was a true highlight).
8. Maggie’s Plan
Directed by: Rebecca Miller
Written by: Rebecca Miller
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Julianne Moore, Ethan Hawke, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph
Greta Gerwig is quickly becoming my favorite working actor, and her performance in Maggie’s Plan is another home run from the talented young woman. She stars at the titular Maggie in writer-director Rebecca Miller’s dramedy about the complications of long-term relationships, and the lengths people will go to when trying to rid themselves of such burdens. Gerwig’s performance is as neurotic as always, but feels more mature and layered than previous starring roles in films like Frances Ha or Mistress America. Gerwig is propped up by a typical good performance by Ethan Hawke, and a hammy but solid turn from Academy Award winner Julianne Moore. Maggie’s Plan doesn’t quite reach the highs of Noah Baumbach’s Gerwig vehicles, but is still an intelligent, touching, and funny film in its own right.
7. Zero Days
Directed by: Alex Gibney
Written by: Alex Gibney
The newest addition to the list is also one of Alex Gibney’s best documentaries in years. Zero Days is the terrifying look at America and Israel’s long-standing nuclear tension with Iran, and the role played by a highly advanced computer malware called Stuxnet. While Gibney doesn’t get the answers he intends to, the reasons given for the lack of information are just as unsettling as the film’s subject matter itself. What Zero Days does feature is in-depth interviews with incredibly important figures in America’s modern domestic defense force, and a very narrow focus. If the subject matter interests you in any way, you shouldn’t miss out on this startling documentary.
6. Green Room
Directed by: Jeremy Saulnier
Written by: Jeremy Saulnier
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner, Patrick Stewart
In 2013, Writer-director Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin (the director’s second film) took the independent film scene by storm with its grounded, brutal realism and expert direction. You can imagine my surprise when his follow-up Green Room was every bit as good, especially with the description essentially being “punk band clashes with neo-Nazi’s after a performance”. For something that sounds like a B-level horror film, Green Room absolutely brings the goods. It’s violent as hell, tense, and features the same realism that made Blue Ruin so great. Green Room also features excellent performances from its entire young cast, consisting of the late Anton Yelchin in one of his final roles, Imogen Poots, and Alia Shawkat. Stealing the show is the veteran Patrick Stewart in an extremely intense and commanding role, showing that the aged actor isn’t afraid to venture outside of his comfort zone. In a weaker year, Saulnier’s Green Room would most definitely be at the top of this list. It’s truly an experience you can’t miss, as long as you can stomach it.
5. Sing Street
Directed by: John Carney
Written by: John Carney
Starring: Lucy Boynton, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Aiden Gillen, Jack Reynor
As somebody who adores musical films, John Carney is absolutely one of my favorite working directors, creating two of the best musicals of the last decade or so in Once and Begin Again. Carney’s Sing Street features the best elements of both those films, perhaps eclipsing both of them in terms of filmmaking and tremendous songwriting. Set in mid-1980’s Dublin, Sing Street follows a young man named Cosmo as he establishes his very own DIY alternative rock band while navigating the ups and downs that are growing up, including falling in love, dealing with bullies, and a turbulent family life. Sing Street is absolutely infectious in its energy and optimism, making it one of my favorite movie experiences of the year. It may feel minor in comparison to your typical heavy-hitting Hollywood drama, there’s nothing slight about John Carney’s Sing Street.
4. The Nice Guys
Directed by: Shane Black
Written by: Shane Black, Anthony Bagarozzi
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Keith David, Kim Basinger, Margaret Qualley
The sleeper hit of the summer came in the form of Shane Black’s The Nice Guys, harkening back to the days of good ol’ buddy cop movies. Black and Bagarozzi’s hilarious and intelligent script sees the unlikely duo of Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe trying to solve a series of adult entertainment-related murders and disappearances in 1970’s Los Angeles. Serving as both a tribute to the films of yesterday and as an original movie aimed at adult audiences, The Nice Guys was a breath of fresh air in a season focused largely on men and women in spandex beating the hell out of each other. Gosling and Crowe have incredible chemistry together onscreen, and the laughs come at you a mile a minute. The Nice Guys did the impossible and managed to stand out on its own during one of Hollywood’s most contested release period. If you’re looking for quality entertainment that doesn’t pander to younger crowds devoid of an attention span, The Nice Guys is absolutely for you.
3. O.J.: Made in America
Directed by: Ezra Edelman
Written by: Ezra Edelman
Starring: O.J. Simpson
ESPN’s 30 for 30 series of sports-related documentaries has an impossibly high turnout of incredible works, and their latest epic miniseries is without a doubt their greatest achievement yet. O.J.: Made in America methodically chronicles the life, career, alleged crimes, and subsequent trial of former football superstar O.J. Simpson. Made in America runs for nearly 8 hours, but every minute of this documentary is riveting, and really helps you understand how the prosecution fumbled a case that seemed so simple to win in the beginning. ESPN’s latest project looks at the socio-political climate of America in the early 1990’s, and without saying it implies that our currently climate is very similar. O.J.: Made in America is peppered with phenomenal archival footage, and features in-depth interviews with those closest to O.J. Simpson, Nicole Brown, and Ron Goldman. This documentary is a triumph, and nobody reading this should let the daunting runtime scare them away: O.J.: Made in America is a modern documentary masterpiece.
2. The Witch
Directed by: Robert Eggers
Written by: Robert Eggers
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie
Filmed a short distance from my lovely little city, The Witch is the hotly-contested Sundance award-winner and incredibly impressive directorial debut of filmmaker Robert Eggers. Set in 17th century New England, The Witch sees a young family exiled from their home settlement and sent to live on a farm on the edge of a large, menacing forest. From the moment the family touches down on their new home, they begin to experience unimaginable horrors. The Witch is without a doubt one of the most atmospheric horror films I’ve ever seen, filling viewers with feelings of dread every step of the way. Robert Eggers directs with an expert hand, bringing levels of subtlety that most novice filmmakers could never even dream of. This expert direction coupled with beautiful washed out photography by cinematographer Jarin Blaschke and a solid, genuinely frightening script make The Witch one of the most memorable horror films of the past ten years, sitting alongside modern masterpieces like It Follows and The Babadook.
1. Everybody Wants Some!!
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Written by: Richard Linklater
Starring: Will Brittain, Zooey Deutch, Ryan Guzman, Tyler Hoechlin, Blake Jenner, Glen Powell, Wyatt Russell
Richard Linklater is a filmmaker who at this point in his career shouldn’t require an introduction, but is sadly not the household name he deserves to be. Linklater has directed such incredible films as Boyhood, the Before trilogy (Sunrise, Sunset, Midnight), Dazed and Confused, School of Rock, and Bernie. Everybody Wants Some!!, the spiritual successor to the aforementioned Dazed and Confused, fits perfectly among this eclectic list of tremendous films. The premise is simple: the film sees a college freshman on his first weekend of college, making friends, meeting girls, playing baseball, and partying his face off. We follow an incredibly lovable band of jock-y varsity baseball players doing everything college kids do best, and I couldn’t have possibly had a better time doing so. Everybody Wants Some!! features sharp, hilarious writing by Linklater, a living, breathing 1980’s Texas backdrop, a hell of a soundtrack featuring the very best of the 70’s and early 80’s, and fun performances from a band of young up-and-comers. It may not seem like much at first, but as the saying goes: don’t judge a book by its cover. There’s much more to Everybody Wants Some!! than meets the eye, and anybody open to the experience is going a great time diving into it.
Top Ten Films of 2016 (So Far):
- Barbershop: The Next Cut
- Don’t Breathe
- Finding Dory
- The Fundamentals of Caring
- The Invitation
- Jim: The James Foley Story
- The Jungle Book
- Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
- Sleeping Giant
That’s my list! I’ll soon follow-up with my least favorite films of the year, and the films that disappointment and surprised me the most, as well as highlight some of my favorite performances of the year, and movies I’m highly anticipating and haven’t yet caught up with. If you feel I’ve missed anything or that I’m just plain wrong on one of my picks, let me know in the comments!