Tuesday, February 14, 2017


The posting that makes me the happiest has now arrived for your reading consumption. As always, please remember that this listing is just a compilation of my personal opinions based entirely upon all of the films that I saw during the year of 2016.  I hope that you enjoy reading about the top ten films that affected me the most this past year, and if you haven't seen some of them, I hope that you will take a chance and try something of the beaten path as many of the films on this particular list represent a cinematic year where more independent fare rose to the highest peaks for me.

So, without any further hesitation...


10. "MILES AHEAD"  Directed by Don Cheadle
One of the year's most audacious films was also one of the most criminally underseen as it was barely released, therefore a film that never even had a chance to even try to find an audience.Now that it is available upon home video formats, you now have the opportunity to try Don Cheadle's directorial debut, as well as his co-writing and electrifying starring effort as the iconic Miles Davis in a film that is as defiantly unwilling to be pigeon-holed into the biopic format just as the real Miles Davis was unrepentant in his refusal to be pinned down as an artist.

Don Cheadle's "Miles Ahead" is no cradle-to-grave travelogue. Nor it is any sense of journey into the life of the artist at work, therefore gaining a certain perspective into his creative process. Because of those purposeful omissions, I can easily understand how the film may prove to be frustrating and even polarizing to some viewers. Truth be told, my Dad, for whom Miles Davis is and will always remain a personal hero, was seriously disappointed by this film for those very reasons. What I received from the film was the following: Cheadle has created a "portrait of the artist in turmoil," as the film places us smack in the maelstrom of Davis' self-imposed five year sabbatical from writing, recording and performing before his 1980 return. Drug addled, living in seclusion and drowning in psychological despair, Cheadle takes us through a non-linear narrative featuring characters that never existed in real life (Ewan McGregor's Rolling Stone journalist character), and events that never happened (Davis' gun-totting and feverish search for missing master tape recordings) and submerges them with key moments, iconography and individuals from Davis life to weave a dark tapestry where the symbolism is key and the film almost feels as if we are watching a film Davis himself may have made, something that daringly bridges the gap between esoteric art film and ruthless Blaxploitation.
(Originally reviewed May 2016)

9. "DON'T THINK TWICE"  Directed by Mike Birbiglia
One of the saddest films I have seen about comedy and aspiring comedians but it is also one of the very best. Mike Birbiglia's semi-autobiographical "Don't Think Twice" follows the travails of a tight knit collective of friends and competitors with a struggling improv comedy troupe and what occurs for all of the members when one (played by Keegan-Michael Key) becomes nationally famous after being chosen to join a "Saturday Night Live" styled late night live comedy television program. 

Birbiglia's cast of characters are all vividly drawn and performed and mostly, so piercingly observed with this often aching comedy of manners that explores themes of jealousy, envy, failure, missed opportunities and lost chances as well as the pressures of maintaining that brass ring once it has been caught. Birbiglia handles all of his material with a matter of fact quality that allows all of the emotional content to rise to the surface organically and without a trace of ill served melodrama as he superbly depicts how decisions can be made in less than a second but reverberate infinitely. 
(Originally reviewed August 2016)

8. "THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN"  Directed by Kelly Fremon Craig
Featuring a star making performance by Hailee Steinfeld front and center, Kelly Fremon Craig's debut film not only fulfills the promise of a smart, entertaining and artful teen film as previously created by the likes of the late John Hughes and Cameron Crowe, "The Edge Of Seventeen" raises the bar even higher. While essentially functioning without a plot, what Craig has delivered is a beautifully rendered character study of a young woman caught in the throes of teenage angst, social awkwardness and crippling insecurity plus a rage filled petulance against the world, a rage that is often misguided but culminates into a painful, vengeful meanness which threatens to leave her alone in a word she feels permanently out of step with.

Craig and Steinfeld bravely create a character who is more than prickly and quite unlikable for a large portion of the film because they understand that it is not always important for the audience to necessarily like this girl, it is their job to help the audience understand precisely where she is coming from. To that, they have succeeded tremendously as "The Edge Of Seventeen," through rich comedy, perceptive drama and various shades of nuance and empathy, is a richly detailed and executed presentation of that time of your life that can often feel so mercilessly interminable.   
(Originally reviewed November 2016)

7. "ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY"  Directed by Gareth Edwards
One of the films that I was most skeptical about during 2016 ultimately turned ou tto be one of the most sensational. Gareth Edwards' "Rogue One," the first of the planned stand-alone features in the "Star Wars" franchise was a daring feat and one that was accomplished brilliantly. In addition to its stand-alone status, the film essentially served as both sequel to George Lucas' "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith" (2005) and as an increasingly white knuckle prequel to Lucas' original "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope" (1977), as Felicity Jones (sigh) stars as Jyn Erso, a maverick and criminal who becomes the intergalactic Joan Of Arc as she leads a band of renegades on a top secret mission to air the Rebellion in finding the plans for the nearly ready Death Star, the ultimate weapon of the Empire.

With "Rogue One," Edwards masterfully pledges full respect to Lucas' original vision yet also created a chapter in the "Star Wars" universe that was gritty, more urgent and gradually built upwards in intensity to its jaw dropping climax which brilliantly linked up to the opening moments of the very first film, a feat that made me not only want to get back in line and see this film again, it made me want to race home and watch the original film all over again as well. Gareth Edwards has created a "Star Wars" film that worked heroically as a more adult war film than as a child's fairy tale, a distinction that was never a distraction but one that actually enhanced all that we have known from the previous seven films. And inadvertently, it has  become quite the timely film, despite existing a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away as "Rogue One" gave us a collective of multi-cultural characters who band together to resist against a tyrannical regime. Rebellions are built upon hope, indeed.
(Originally reviewed December 2016)

6. "KICKS"  Directed by Justin Tipping  
Another criminally underseen film from 2016 also emerged as one of my favorites, as Director Justin Tipping's hallucinogenic yet primal debut feature "Kicks" merged the elements of an urban thriller, dark fable, coming-of-age drama, and a sharp, sobering socio/political critique of Black manhood that was cosmic, surreal and blisteringly raw. This tale of a quiet, diminutive, unathletic teen (played brilliantly by Jahking Guillory) out to regain his prized stolen Air Jordans by any means necessary from the local tough Flaco (Kofi Siriboe) is as dreamlike as it is journalistic as the film explores the fetishization of shoe culture at the expense of our collective human culture. 

There has been some criticism of the film as being too terribly bleak to be enjoyed and to that, I have mulled over those views and have emerged with a thought. I think "Kicks" owes quite a bit of its stark nature to era of Italian neorealism as depicted in a film like Vittorio De Sica's classic "The Bicycle Thief" (1948), as Tipping's "Kicks" also creates a dangerously and depressingly real world where adult influences and jobs are non-existent, schools are an afterthought, and drugs, alcohol and violence (verbal and physical) are rampant in an unforgiving landscape where people are forced to live within a Darwin-ian existence. Therefore, what we have is a film where inside of its numbing inhumanity is a passionate, rage fueled plea for the protection and newfound cultivation of our humanity.
(Originally reviewed September 2016)

5. "FENCES"  Directed by Denzel Washington 
The national treasure that is Denzel Washington turned in a titanic performance and film overall with this third directorial effort, his adaptation of the classic play from the late August Wilson. Set in the 1950's, Washington's portrayal of Troy Maxson, once a champion baseball player in the Negro Leagues but unable to make the crossover transition into the Major Leagues and now earning his living in the Pittsburgh sanitation department, is a ferocious character study into the working class everyman--much like Arthur Miller's Death Of A Salesman--yet an everyman who just happens to be a Black man. To that end, "Fences" urgently speaks distinctly to the fullness of the African-American experience of the past and present as the lives of Troy and his family, including his wife Rose (played to perfection by Viola Davis), mirror the loves, losses, conflicts, frustrations, triumphs and devastating failures of each and every one of us, making the Maxson family one that is completely recognizable even as we regard the steamroller of a drama unfolding before our eyes.

While Washington's direction remains un-flashy, his performance is blistering in its raging fury and he roars through August Wilson's luxurious dialogue as if he is dining upon the finest meal that he has ever been served. With "Fences," we are witness to one of Denzel Washington's greatest performances in a film of immense skill, passion, texture, command, humor and the full-bloodedness of humanity. 
(Originally reviewed December 2016)

4. "SING STREET"  Directed by John Carney
Forget "La La Land"! This was the true movie musical of the year by a long shot in my opinion, yet many of you may not even realize this as it was another film that was criminally underseen. Set in 1985 Dublin, "Sing Street" tells the story of a boy desiring to impress and win the heart of the older girl of his dreams by forming a band, writing songs and creating a series of music videos just like the ones populating television music programs. 

Writer/Director John Carney, who previously helmed the Oscar winning "Once" (2007) and the even better but barely seen "Begin Again" (2014), has emerged with his most rapturously entertaining and affectionate feature to date which combines a harsh realism and socio/political critique with a delirious optimism and romanticism to the urgency of youthful inspiration and dreams as well as the magic of creation, in this case songwriting, video making and to a greater extent, establishing the first building blocks into one's future.  This is a deceptively simple film as it is an experience that carries a tangible dramatic weight, even as the film is flying high, because this tale of a boy wanting to attract a girl with writing songs becomes a journey of self-discovery, the growth of self-confidence and independence, as well as an exploration of sexual identity, rebelliousness, courage, strength and even salvation. And furthermore, much unlike "La La Land," I can still remember and hum the film's excellent songs to myself, nine full months after having seen the film for my one and only time (and without owning the soundtrack album to boot)!
(Originally reviewed May 2016)

3. "ARRIVAL"  Directed by Denis Villeneuve
The stunning, frightening, confounding, and enthralling science fiction drama starring a wonderful, commanding Amy Adams as a Linguistics professor assigned to communicate and ultimately learn the purpose of the sudden, mysterious appearance of 12 alien space crafts around the globe, is one of 2016's highest achievements. Denis Villeneuve delivered a science fiction film more than worthy of comparisons to the likes of Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968), Steven Spielberg's "Close Encounters Of The Third Kind" (1977) and Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar" (2014) for being a film about ideas rather than inter-galactic cataclysm.  

"Arrival," at its core, is a crucial film about the art and artistry found in language and the process of communication and potential understanding, a feat and goal that carries the further potential for ensuring a greater humanity as well as a certain expansion and enlightenment of the mind and consciousness itself.   
(Originally reviewed February 2017)

2. "MOONLIGHT"  Directed by Barry Jenkins
An extraordinary film of tremendous artistry and empathy, Barry Jenkins' astonishing "Moonlight" is a dissertation of Black manhood, a critique of inner city Miami life and a journey of self-discovery as told in three distinct chapters featuring three remarkably cast actors who inexplicably all feel as if they are indeed the same person to aching, devastating degrees.

"Moonlight," for all of its reticence is a film that utilizes its visual poetry to convey oceans of meanings and emotions, where deceptively simple vignettes are designed to convey existential quandaries deeply into the soul desperately attempting to find it sown footing within a world that is intolerant to anything existing outside of the so-called "normal" societal constructs of what a Black man should or should not be or become. This is a film that burrows deeply into the heart, mind and spirit and certainly goes a powerfully long way in allowing audiences of all walks of life to venture a while within the shoes of someone who tends to fall through the cracks of life and is also vilified within the media and some politicians and see traces of oneself in the process. As for me, the film not only accomplished that particular feat, Barry Jenkins gave me a character portrait the likes of which I have never seen before and the overall effect provided profound enlightenment. "Moonlight" is a film of searing pain and beauty and it is unquestionably essential viewing.  
(Originally reviewed November 2016)

1. "THE LOBSTER"  Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
I knew immediately after the conclusion of this rare example of fearless cinema, the very kind of which is in desperately short supply these days, that I had seen the best film of 2016 and furthermore, it is also one of the best films I have seen within this past decade.

"The Lobster," from Director Yorgos Lanthimos,  making his English language debut feature, is a film that defies classification, is defiantly polarizing and is firmly committed to the cinematic universe that it has expertly and disturbingly built. With an aesthetic that somehow feels like Wes Anderson crossed with Stanley Kubrick, the film depicts an unnamed future society where single people are forced to take lodging within The Hotel and over a period of 45 days, they are instructed to find a suitable life mate or else be transformed into an animal. 

Lanthimos takes this concept and utilizes it to create a sharp satire concerning the societal constructs, constraints and expectations placed upon single individuals vs. married or coupled partners and extends it into a harrowing nightmare comedy of existential urgency and doom where one knows the precise day and date of their human demise should they not find themselves coupled, the existence of love and free will be damned. For in the world of "The Lobster," couplehood is a world of barbaric Darwin-ian survivalism.

Colin Farrell elicits quite possibly one of his most committed performances to date as he represents a figure who challenges the system of this new world order and finds himself at the film's excruciating and absolutely brilliant ambiguous conclusion literally pondering if love is indeed blind.

"The Lobster" possesses no middleground whatsoever and I feel that whatever reactions one has towards it will be passionate it its approval or disgust, making discussions and debates more than lively to say the least. For me, this film kicked my ass, tremendously so, and it gave me feelings I have not quite experienced since I first saw Terry Gilliam's "Brazil" (1985) over 30 years ago.  

Yorgos Lanthimos' "The Lobster" is a one-of-a-kind film experience that represents the movies at its boldest and bravest.   
(Originally reviewed June 2016)

There you have it, dear readers!!! My Top Ten  Favorite films of 2016...and now, for 2017, I am more than ready. Let's make this a great movie year!!!

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