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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Hype Starts Here's Top 40 Movies of 2016 (40-26)

40. Jackie
        Apparently everyone forgot to tell director Pablo Larraín how you're supposed to make a biopic of an American icon. Where most movies would have taken a more expansive look at the immediate aftermath of John F, Kennedy's assassination, Jackie focuses almost exclusively on his titular widow, and even then places far more weight on deep-seeping confusion and loneliness than any political machinations. Credit Stéphane Fontaine's woozy, over-saturated cinematography and Mica Levi's domineering score for creating such a feeling of dread.

39. Everybody Wants Some!!
        Richard Linklater's long-anticipated spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused might somehow have even less plot than the 1993 cult classic. Jake (Blake Jenner) is an incumbent college baseball player who is shown the ropes of college life by the man-babies with whom he will soon be teammates. Set in the early 80's in sun-soaked Texas, the film boils down to a string of nights out consisting of lady-chasing and drunken debauchery, but the insanely talented slew of bright, charismatic young actors keeps you engaged.

38. Eye in the Sky
        In a way, it's almost strange that it took this long for us to finally get a drone bomb movie. Eye in the Sky chronicles the preposterous number of moving parts involved in an over-seas aerial strike, and the desperation of all to avoid culpability. Part 12 Angry Men, part The Hurt Locker with odd bits of humor dashed in here and there, it'll have you holding your breath on more than a few occasions, and offers a nice swan song for Alan Rickman's too-short career.

37. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
        Our first trip to a galaxy far, far away to not include a single utterance of the name Skywalker, Rogue One started our upcoming collection of stand-alone Star Wars flicks in style... and then more style. While I readily line-up with the horde of folks decrying to movie's lack of truly interesting characters who take on this mission to steal the Death Star plans, there's simply no denying the spectacle on hand, especially in the last hour, which makes any action sequence in The Force Awakens look positively meek by comparison.

36. Sausage Party
        Raise your hand if you thought that the Seth Rogen written-and-directed grocery store comedy was going to be about the loss of religious faith, and the label of otherness that it immediately assigns you within society? That's what I thought. Carrots, hot dogs, flat breads and bagels are all confronted with the truth when they discover that their concept of heaven (being purchased and removed from the store) has more similarities with hell. While the humor is sophomoric as always, Sausage Party manages to tickle the intellect through its jarring premise.

35. Certain Women
        Based on a trio of short stories by Maile Meloy, writer/director Kelly Reichardt's latest features the likes of Michelle Williams, Jared Harris, Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, and dazzlingly subtle newcomer Lily Gladstone all striving to succeed with what little they have in small-town Montana. Unfolding in a tryptic structure wherein stories only occasionally and unimportantly intersect, Certain Women, like all of Reichardt's filmography, is about patience and observance of life's miniature odyssey.

34. The Birth of a Nation
        What once was thought of as a sure-fire Best Picture nominee was no where to be seen on Oscar morning... or, for that matter, during the minimal summer release it received after a scandal surrounding writer/director/star Nate Parker swallowed up almost all of its hype. The film tells the true-life story of Nat Turner, a literate slave in the Antebellum south whose powers of intellect initially help his masters before turning into their worst nightmare. Meeting halfway between the solemnity of 12 Years a Slave and the hysteria of Django Unchained is certainly a strange middle-ground in which to make a slavery epic, by the cocktail provides some deeply impactful thoughts and images, and features what likely would have been a star-making performance by Parker.

33. Hidden Figures
        Seeming to come out of nowhere at the end of last year to win the hearts and dollars of American filmgoers everywhere (not to mention a pretty nifty Best Picture nomination), Hidden Figures tells the story of the African American women who helped launch John Glenn into space. A complete and utter triumph of narrative over craftsmanship, director Theodore Melfi does his best to step out of the movie's way completely, allowing his three talented leads (Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe) and the amazing true story to take over the proceedings.

32. Don't Breathe
        The complete and utter opposite of my calling Hidden Figures all style over substance, Don't Breathe is basically a stupid premise that gets literally everything else right. When a trio of cat burglars decide to take advantage of a blind man they believe to be sitting on a sizable law settlement, they find themselves in the middle of a horror show that doesn't require ghouls or demons to produce scares. Undeniably silly and jovially trashy in a way that defies what we're used to from studio fare, director Fede Alvarez reveals himself as a maestro of set-up and payoff, while Pedro Luque's deceptively gorgeous camera work keeps you on your toes.

31. Swiss Army Man
          Either fondly or detestably known simply as 'the farting corpse movie' since its debut at the Sundance film festival a whole year ago, Swiss Army Man is about as out-there as life affirming flicks get. Stranded alone on a lush green island, Hank (Paul Dano) discovers a washed up cadaver (Daniel Radcliffe) who is partially reanimated through either imagination or pure magic. The premise only gets weirder when bodily functions become a running theme, but each piece serves to explain something about the nature of humanity, no matter how microscopic, insignificant, or unsightly. It's a strikingly unafraid examination of the one thing we all have in common; being a fleshy bag of bones who learns the rules of the world one at a time.

30. Zootopia
        The seemingly impossible has come to fruition; after absorbing Pixar, Disney's in-house animation team has more or less passed the former titans of the genre in terms of quality output. The big, bright, and buoyant Zootopia follows Officer Hops (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) as she migrates from her humble suburban roots to join the police force of the titular metropolis, wherein animals of all shapes and sizes live in extremely tenuous harmony. The racism allegory is clear from a mile away, but the movie does an inspired job of breaking down the roots of xenophobia in a way that anyone could understand, all without skimping on the candy-colored grandeur of the animation.

29. Kubo and the Two Strings
        What a shame that the actual narrative of Kubo and the Two Strings isn't just slightly better, because it was quite possibly the most entrancing visual experience of the whole year. Mixing folklore and modern sensibilities, Laika's latest follows the young boy of the title as he embarks on a mythical quest to save himself from an evil grandfather. His journeys take him from one utterly dazzling set-piece after another, remarkable not only for the dark beauty and awe-inspiring intricacy of the stop-motion animation, but also for their immaculate action spectacle that would make most blockbusters green with envy.

28. A Bigger Splash
        Imagine if Earnest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises was set in Italy, subbed out jazz in favor of rock 'n' roll, and bore characters with even more baggage, and you've arrived at A Bigger Splash. Just as sumptuous as director Luca Guadagnino last film (I Am Love) but with a much more salacious and excitable group of characters at its center, the film features nothing more than a simple vacation, and the complications presented when an unexpected guest arrives. Those in need of plotting beyond how the characters simply feel in a given moment will be left out in the cold, but they will also miss out on a completely bananas performance from the irreplaceable Ralph Fiennes.

27. Sully
        As he's grown older (and older... and older...) Clint Eastwood's films have become more and more politically polemic, striving to explain a typically conservative way of thinking without ever appealing to sensibilities other than his own. Sully, the true story of airline pilot Chesley Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) whose miraculous Hudson Bay plane landing soon found itself under shrewd investigation, finally reaches across the aisle, taking America to task for her utter resistance of old-fashion heroism even when completely merited. Todd Komarnicki's cleverly-structured screenplay does a lot of the heavy lifting, as does Hanks' steely performance, but this is still Eastwood's best film in over a decade, and he deserves credit from haters like me.

26. The Edge of Seventeen
        Some coming of age movies seek to break the mold; The Edge of Seventeen emerges from it in pristine fashion, having learned from all the successes and failures of the genre's elongated history. Hailee Steinfeld stars as Nadine, a moody High Schooler whose life is thrown into chaos when her best friend starts dating her much ballyhooed older brother. Nothing on hand surprises unless you count first-time director Kelly Fremon Craig's savvy avoidance of a single pot hole, each character perfectly acted and fully realized, each scene popping with the humor and horror of growing up. 

Hype Starts Here's Top 40 Movies of 2016:

More Oscar Coverage:
The Seventh Annual Elwyn Awards
Final 2016 Oscar Predictions
Absurdly Early Best Picture Rankings for the 2017 Oscars

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