By Jacob Wampfler
20. Morris from America
Some film critics might wonder if we really need more “coming of age” films. I’ve wondered the same thing myself. If new “coming of age” films achieve the originality of Morris from America, however, the sub-genre will be vibrant and full of life for years to come.
Director Chad Hartigan deftly handles touchy subjects in this refreshing tale of the “only two brothers in Heidelberg.” Racial identity, racism, young sexuality, and father/son relationships are all carefully balanced amid the flow of seriously great rap tunes. The music, itself, is a character in the film. Morris (Markees Christmas) wants to be a rapper, an OG, but his father reminds him that originality only comes from the heart. Curtis (in a career-best performance from Craig Robinson) explains to Morris that you can’t rap about what you haven’t done. It’s a universal message for all of us to hear, and it makes Morris from America a heartfelt and poignant film for anyone to watch and love.
19. The Lobster
No amount of words can explain the complexity and absurdity of The Lobster. It’s a sci-fi film with no special effects and no aliens. It’s a love story by way of a scathing critique of human relationships and commitment. It’s also a vehicle for two of the most interesting performances I have ever seen from both Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz as David and the shortsighted woman he loves from afar. They are deadpan, monotone, and clueless, and they illustrate the film’s themes beautifully. Yorgos Lanthimos and his script-writing partner also deserve recognition for creating the detailed world in which this film takes place. Make no mistake, The Lobster is set in a dystopian future where singleness is outlawed. It’s a brutal reminder of how societal norms can create outcasts, and it stands as one of the most unique film experiences of last year.
18. 10 Cloverfield Lane
10 Cloverfield Lane set the bar high in staggering fashion for all thrillers that followed in 2016. Dan Trachtenberg’s directorial debut finds him already a deft talent as he brings a fresh voice to this well-worn genre. John Goodman is scary good as the man-in-the-bunker, Howard. The viewer is always set on edge due to his ambiguous portrayal of either a very well-prepared Navy vet or a raging sociopath. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is given her biggest role to date in this film, and she does not disappoint. I’ve seen her in multiple indie films, and I am supremely glad that she’s finally broken into the mainstream. 10 Cloverfield Lane is tense, chilling, and surprisingly thoughtful. As such, it’s one of the best thrillers of last year.
17. Captain Fantastic
Captain Fantastic is one of the most unique entries of cinema from 2016. It functions on a variety of levels – part family drama, part social commentary, part comedy – it’s hard to pin down precisely where this film fits. It’s for these reasons that Captain Fantastic astonished me to no end and left a lasting impression on me when recalling the great films of last year.
The ensemble cast alone stands as a perfect testament to this film’s strength, anchored by a deeply committed performance from Viggo Mortensen as the family patriarch, Ben Cash. He’s a fanatic and a recluse, and he raises his family as such. However, Mortensen never plays this as a caricature. There is striking nuance in this film, with the entire Cash clan. At times you truly see things from their perspective. At other times, you think they all might be more than just a little crazy. Director Matt Ross delivered a great film with Captain Fantastic and I eagerly await his future projects.
16. La La Land
Last year was the year that shattered what I thought I knew about myself and film. Animation and musicals are not what I would call fun movie experiences in many respects. Musicals especially are loathsome affairs for me, and it was no secret that I wasn’t giddy with joy to see La La Land. As I watched, however, I was blown away. Had I been wrong about musicals all along?
What drew me into to La La Land was it’s attention to filmmaking detail. I loved Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, and his second outing sees him honing his craft further. The one shots, the sweeping landscapes, and the dazzling colors all drew me in. I even learned what a “whip pan” camera shot was after seeing this film! Chazelle is a director who clearly loves to create. He wants to take the filmgoer on a journey, and he achieves that vision with precision and excellence. Add some pretty great music on top of all that and you’ve got a film that will win some awards at the end of February.
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