Jake’s Top 5
I was not excited about seeing this film at all. In fact, I was incredulous when reviews started to pour in with nothing but praise for this movie about a world in which animals wear business suits and work desk jobs, like at the DMV. I don’t know if there will be a movie all year that endears itself to me as much as Zootopia for all the reasons stated above.
Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman) have a chemistry in this movie that blew me away. They are funny, lovable, and even have scenes of downright heartbreaking dialogue as the mis-matched bunny and fox detective duo. Rounded out by a stellar voice cast and highlighted by breathtaking animation, Zootopia will remain one of the best animated films and biggest surprises of 2016.
4. 10 Cloverfield Lane
10 Cloverfield Lane is an impressive film on numerous levels. John Goodman delivers a career performance as the man-in-the-bunker, Howard. Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Gallagher Jr., Michelle and Emmett, do some serious work with this fantastic script as the only two other major characters on screen. This is economical filmmaking at it’s finest. It’s tight, claustrophobic, and never tips its hand until the final act in which all hell breaks loose. As with other films on my top five, I can’t say much at all about the film without spoiling major plot developments. Check it out and be prepared for your jaw to absolutely drop.
3. The Nice Guys
Shane Black (Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang) has delivered another high-light reel of hilarity with this buddy-cop style, 70’s era comedy about two misfits trying to earn a buck. Through the lens of private detective work, Holland March and Jackson Healy (Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe) give the viewer a feast of comedic gold in both dialogue and action. Bolstered by a strong performance from newcomer Angourie Rice, The Nice Guys is everything that I love about cinema. I couldn’t even begin to describe the plot if I tried: something about an adult film star and a government cover-up and the United States auto industry? You don’t need to know the details before seeing this film. Watch it, laugh your ass off, and repeat.
2. The Witch
I shudder to think on what Robert Eggers will bring to the screen after his debut film, The Witch. Not only is The Witch a deeply disturbing film concerning the satanic arts, but it is also a near-masterpiece exercise in slow-burn horror that remains one of the most uniquely terrifying experiences I have ever viewed on screen. The horror of this film comes from the unseen and the unknown. This creates an atmosphere of dread and ramps up to a truly unsettling conclusion.
Eggers committed 100% to the authenticity and accuracy of the story he sought to tell. Drawing from source material concerning the Salem Witch Trials of the 17th century, Eggers spared no detail in this film. Costume and set design, even dialogue were all carefully chosen to fit this time period. The actors all deliver their lines in mesmerizing Old English for the entirety of the film (a factor that, I believe, led to a largely negative audience response). Anya Taylor-Joy as the young Thomasin delivers a performance that will likely ensure her acting status for years to come, and the supporting cast rises to the occasion as well.
The Witch is a deeply spiritual and religious experience as well. By highlighting the pillars of Puritan and Reformed Christianity, it examines sexuality and femininity in an entirely new light. The Witch is shocking, eerie, and truly horrifying which makes it an exercise in genre filmmaking of the highest order.
1. The Hunt for the Wilderpeople
This New Zealand indie film is absolutely enchanting. Directed by Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Thor: Ragnarok) and starring almost no one you’ve ever heard of – excluding Sam Neill – I enjoyed every second of this hilarious yet poignant story about Ricky, a young boy on his last strike before being sent to juvenile prison. His final chance in the foster system resides in the New Zealand countryside with Bella and Hec, an older couple with no children of their own. Ricky goes to live with his new family when a startling event out his control forces him and Hec to go on the run in the New Zealand bush. A nation-wide manhunt ensues for the two fugitives who must rely on the “knack” and each other to survive.
I can’t begin to praise this film enough. Waititi’s direction and eye for his native New Zealand’s landscapes create a beautiful atmosphere where the viewer feels as though they are transported into Ricky’s world. Waititi also gives a short but supremely noteworthy cameo appearance in the film. Julian Dennison (Ricky) logs an amazing performance and proves that he should be in every movie from now until forever, and both Sam Neill (Hec) and Rima Te Waita (Bella) give sincere and heartfelt portrayals of their respective characters.
Cinematography, score, script, acting, and direction, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is the real deal. It reminds me of everything I loved about childhood favorites like The Sandlot, The Goonies, and Hook and I will look back on Wilderpeople with great fondness for the rest of my life.
Sam’s Top 5
5. 10 Cloverfield Lane
From the very beginning I knew that 10 Cloverfield Lane was going to be a breathtaking and intense thrill ride. This film does so much with a very limited cast and set as three cast members do what I have seen dozens of actors fail to do. Of all of the cast members John Goodman really became the centerpiece of the creeping terror that is 10 Coverfield Lane. He seems to morph into a new, more terrifying incarnation in each scene. You never really never know what his character will do next.
I actually did not know that this film was a sequel to Cloverfield until about a week before it came out, but it definitely has revitalized my interest in the franchise and I cannot wait to see what they can come up with next.
4. The Nice Guys
The Nice Guys was a welcomed surprise for me. I don’t see as many films as my two brothers usually and this is one I may not have seen on my own if not for the podcast. I am so glad that I did. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe are hilarious together. Every scene between the two of them is comedy gold, and that is before adding Angourie Rice as Gosling’s daughter. Rice may be one of my picks for best child performance of the year. She took this already hilarious comedy to a new level.
This movie, besides its obvious comedic elements, also succeeds in other areas. Its story is simple yet captivating. It has quite a few twists that come unexpectedly. It also has an insane cold open that leaves you wondering what will happen next. One of my favorite parts of this film though, is its dedication to depicting the 1970s as intricately as possible. This comes out in many ways but most importantly in the amazingly chosen soundtrack. It is obvious that Shane Black put a lot of thought into this film, as he did with Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. I am hoping we can see more from him in the future.
My expectations going into Deadpool were as high as they could possibly be. I have played the Deadpool video game. I have read many Deadpool comic stories. My idea of what needed to be presented in the film adaptation was very specific. Every expectation was completely met. Ryan Reynolds was born to play Deadpool.
I cannot speak highly enough about comedic excellence of this movie. Every moment, from the hilarious opening sequence to the awkwardly animated closing credits, had me laughing out loud. The casting, besides Reynolds, was also impeccable. TJ Miller as Weasel was a high point in particular, especially in the scenes where he described how Deadpool’s face looked. All in all I received a ton of enjoyment out of the relatively small amount of money they spent on this wonderful film.
I went into Zootopia with fairly low expectations. I figured it was just going to another anthropomorphic animal film. It was not. The first thing I noticed was how beautiful the animation was. The scene where Judy Hopps rides into the titular Zootopia is so breathtaking, You can see the time they put into every detail.
This movie gets much more right besides the animation. The voice talent is expertly cast. From Jason Bateman as Nick Wilde to Idris Elba as Chief Bogo, everyone voices their character perfectly. The plot is also surprisingly well thought out and it addresses many key social issues that our society is currently facing. All of this comes together to make an unexpectedly entertaining and poignant animated tale.
1. Sing Street
I was introduced to Sing Street by Joe, who told me that it was from the same director as Once, which is a film that we both loved. I agreed and proceeded to have my mind blown. The first thing that impressed me was the acting chops of the young actors in this film, especially Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, who plays the main character and has never acted in anything before.
Acting is only a small part of what makes this movie amazing though. The soundtrack of this film is so 80’s and so epic. Both the songs by actual 80’s bands and those written specifically for the film are perfectly placed and make every minute of this film a unique experience. Probably my favorite part about this movie is the dynamic between the main character and his brother. They joke and laugh for much of the film but they also help each other through hard times, many times due to their shared love of music. As a brother that shares a love of something (Cinema, bro) with his brothers this part of the narrative really touched me and skyrocketed this film to my number one spot.
Joe’s Top 5
5. The Nice Guys
The Nice Guys is funny as hell. Director Shane Black delivers gold in this hilarious, entertaining adventure. From the incredible cold opening to the end credits, The Nice Guys is surprising and fun. Black manages to craft great characters and an even better narratives that twists and turns quite unexpectedly throughout. And it feels like it is straight out of the 70s.
But the true key to the success of this film is its cast. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe are the perfect pairing, and their chemistry as a comedic duo is demonstrable. Both men stretch their comedic range to its limit, delivering hilarity in nearly every scene they are in, but also capturing some rare moments of sentimentality. And these two are only bolstered by the performance of newcomer Angourie Rice as Gosling’s daughter. She is the latest child actor in recent years to blow me away with her performance as she perfectly anchors the film while going toe to toe with the comedy chops of Gosling and Crowe. Without her, this film is good, but with her it becomes a truly great film.
4. Make Happy
I believe Bo Burnham is the George Carlin/Louis C.K. of my generation because he transcends the label of comic. He is a true artist in every sense of the word and this is only further solidified in Make Happy. His new Netflix comedy special is every bit as funny as his last, but he also manages to bring serious reflection into the mix that is both deeply moving and incredibly poignant.
Throughout a show featuring incredible songs about how country artists are fakes and straight white male privilege, Burnham not only makes you laugh but thoroughly entertains. The production of the show is brilliant as he uses lights and pyrotechnics to enhance the humor and the drama. And it is the drama that truly brings the show to the level of greatness.
Burnham’s jokes have always been a bit inside baseball, speaking to the problems that come with performing and being a comic. In Make Happy, he reflects on the complicated relationship he has with fans, linking this to the performance nature of social media today. You can sense there is a deep underlying pain behind his words as he works through his problems in a beautifully haunting final number. As only a true artist is able to do, Burnham shows that you can not only make an audience laugh their asses off but bring tears to their eyes, and he does it all within a one hour comedy special. Amazing.
3. 10 Cloverfield Lane
Dan Trachtenberg. That is a name barely anyone had heard before 2016. Now though, after his directorial debut in 10 Cloverfield Lane, he has become an extremely sought after talent. From the moment the credits flashed amid the loud chaos of a car crash, I knew this film was going to be special. The film is easily one of the best made thrillers I have ever seen, keeping me on the edge of my seat all the way to the fantastically crazy ending.
While Trachtenberg’s direction and eye were certainly a big part of what makes this film great, it is the cast that really sells it. John Goodman gives an Oscar-worthy performance as the possilby-crazy and menacing Howard. John Gallagher Jr. provides much needed comedic relief and innocence to the film. And Mary Elizabeth Winstead carries this entire film through the intense action as well as the quieter emotional parts. This cast truly feels real, which makes the threats to them even more terrifying.
2. Sing Street
In these dark times of floods, war, Trump and Suicide Squad, along comes Sing Street, a film that is so audaciously positive and fun, I’m surprised I wasn’t annoyed by it. Directed by John Carney, the man who also brought us the wonderful Once, Sing Street is chocked full of incredible music and even better characters. In these characters, he really gets to the heart of what it is to be young and to dream wildly.
In this sweetly beautiful love story, Ferida Walsh-Peelo makes his film debut with a bang. He is an absolute revelation as Connor and carries the film through all of the wild fun. Connor’s relationship with his older brother Brendan, played by Jack Reynor, is both funny and deeply moving as both actors deliver incredible performances. And the rest of the cast are mostly unknown, like Carney did with Once, though this time he is able to bring brilliant production design and cinematography into the mix to craft a superbly stunning film.
Lamb is certainly one of the most daring films I have ever seen, tackling the extremely taboo subject matter with an angle that at times seems almost wrong. It challenges your expectations and forces you to put aside judgment so that you can be fully enveloped in the beautiful complexity of the film. In Lamb, you find that love and morality are not always clear cut concepts and to truly understand this film, you must be willing to accept uncomfortable conclusions.
Bolstering the daring narrative of the film, Ross Partridge and Oona Laurence give stellar performances as the unorthodox kindred spirits. The amount of depth these two bring to their characters is incredible and their chemistry is palpable. Plus, the film has a mesmerizing score paired with beautifully subtle cinematography. These elements provide the beauty of the film that is so needed with such an uncomfortable subject matter.
AJ’s Top 5
5. The Nice Guys
Writer/director Shane Black translates the quippy, fast-paced dialogue for which he’s been long since renowned into a 1970s setting without missing a beat. As violent as it is hysterical, The Nice Guys boasts terrific performances, a compelling crime narrative, and pitch-perfect comic timing.
4. The Witch
A Puritan girl comes of age in this intensely atmospheric horror tale. The Witch‘s ending undoes a bit of the ambiguous magic the first two acts weave so effectively, but it’s not so crippling as to detract from the quality of the performances and unsettling vibe that Robert Eggers maintains from the first frame onward.
3. Hail Caesar
The Coen Brothers simultaneously pay tribute to and highlight the flaws of Old Hollywood in this star-studded period farce. With their trademark offbeat style, the Coens mix together elements of moviemaking, socialism, religion, and existentialism into one quirky, often perplexing, and totally entertaining package.
2. Captain America: Civil War
In terms of theme and cast of characters, Captain America: Civil War leads the Marvel Cinematic Universe into one of its most complex chapters and pulls it off with flying colors. More than just an entertaining display of superheroics and riveting action sequences, the film delivers on a compelling narrative about forgiveness and how “doing good” is far from a black-and-white concept.
1. 10 Cloverfield Lane
10 Cloverfield Lane is an incredibly tense and wicked thriller that constantly plays with your expectations. Boosted by a small but solid ensemble (featuring a revelation of a performance by John Goodman) and a mastery of claustrophobic geography, director Dan Trachtenberg succeeds in making his “side-quel” to 2008’s sci-fi thriller Cloverfield its own singular, creepy-as-hell experience.