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The Best Films of 2016

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2016 has been over for three weeks and although I am late with my list, the standard idea is that if you get you list posted before the Academy Awards show is televised, you are still in good shape. Since the Oscars won’t be broadcast until February 26, I am in really good shape. I have been trying to see as many as I can within my schedule so I can be as thorough as possible. Although there are a few that have not made it our way in Nashville, my list is still pretty complete, for me anyway. Without further delay, here we go.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi – Michael Bay’s (yes, you read that right) documentation of what happened in Benghazi on September 11, 2012 at our embassy. It ended with the deaths of four Americans including our ambassador. Bay wisely keeps politics out of this film and makes it about the people who were there. This is their story and it is heroic, powerful and an earnest homage to those who lost their lives.

The Invitation is a small independent film about a grieving father, Will (Logan Marshall-Green) who has just suffered the death of his child. He and his wife are invited to a dinner party by his ex-wife and her new husband and while they are there, strange behavior and goings on start to occur. As the night progresses things begin to escalate out of control. But is it for real or is it all in Will’s fragile mind. Director Karen Kusama and writers Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi have the right tone for this electrifying and moody thriller. It is a slow boil but the final act is incredible. Once you see that everything else in the film makes perfect sense. This is a masterfully crafted thriller.

DeepWater Horizon/Patriots Day is Peter Berg’s trilogy of tragedy completes itself and as in the case with Lone Survivor from 2013 these films put human faces to some of the biggest tragedies in American history. With Deepwater and Patriots Day, Berg painstakingly recreates these dark days with amazing detail, outstanding performances and with great deference to those who were affected. These films are a gut punch and challenge the viewer to think about the circumstances leading up to these horrific tragedies. They are heart breaking but still hopeful that better times await us.

Zootopia is a delightful family film that has a little something for everyone. Funny, sweet, observant and smartly written, Bryan Howard and Rich Moore have created another classic for Walt Disney. Jason Bateman and Ginnifer Goodwin lend their voices to Nick Wilde and Judy Hopps as a con artist and a cop who join forces to find a group of missing “persons”. Of course, they are not people but in Zootopia’s world is has the same sense of earnest justice and I loved every second of it. The voice talent is spot on starting with Bateman and Goodwin leading the way.

Star Trek: Beyond is a return to the old days of a Star Trek episode. Fast, funny and loads of fun this film takes us to the planet Altamid to save a group stranded on the rock. Under false pretenses, the USS Enterprise makes its way to the planet only to be ambushed by Krall (Idris Elba) stranding the entire crew, as well. Say what you want about whether or not this franchise is getting tired, but not to me. “Beyond” is exciting and rousing entertainment with great performances from the leads and Idris Elba.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story will be compared to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Rogue One is a supposedly stand-alone film which I can understand why. But it is every bit as deep and meaningful as “The Force Awakens” although the story is different. Felecity Jones shines as Jyn Erso, a rebellious young lady swept up into the rebellion against the hideous Empire. Sent with a group of other rebels, they are tasked with stealing the plans for what will be known as the Death Star. Director Gareth Edwards has made a new Star Wars film that feels every bit as fresh as its predecessors.

Captain America: Civil War is the latest edition to the Marvel cinematic universe and this is another franchise that some might feel is getting a little overdone. Not me. This is quite simply one of the best superhero films of all time. The Avengers have parted ways to a certain degree after Captain America refuses to sign the Sokovia Accords which tamps down the Avengers and their ability to head into countries unless they are specifically called. Half of the team wants to sign it, the other does not. Throw in Hydra henchmen, Helmut Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) and you have an immensely satisfying summer film.  More than just a popcorn flick, it actually has something to say. Directed once again, by the Russo brothers, Anthony and Joseph, who show just how much material can be delved into in one film and still be fun.

War Dogs stars Jonah Hill and Miles Teller as two young arms dealers who strike it rich when they land the largest military contract in American history from the Pentagon and the Defense department. This true story is not only fascinating but injected with lots of humor with Hill and Teller simply tearing apart the screen with their performances. Great supporting performances by Bradley Cooper and Ana De Armas, a very clever script that gets into the psyche of arms dealing and how it leads to betrayal and Todd Phillips gumptious direction make War Dogs a tremendous achievement.

Imperium flew under the radar but it is every bit as relevant to today’s debate on racism and hate groups. Daniel Radcliffe continues to pick very risky projects to expand his range past Hogwarts and Harry Potter. Trust me, this is not a role many people with Radcliffe’s resume would dare to take. Based on a true story of an undercover FBI agent who infiltrates the local KKK chapter in order to uncover their recent activity only to find an even darker and nefarious agenda at work. Radcliffe is simply amazing and the film is a very smartly written thriller with a tremendous ending.

Eye in the Sky is a film that did not secure an actual release date until April 1, 2016. Originally set for release in 2015, it sat on the shelf for months before being released to the public. I can only surmise that the subject matter was the reason for the wait time. In any event, Eye in the Sky is a powerful film about drone strikes carried out by countries who have been hit with terrorism. The film is basically a day-in-the-life of a drone pilot and all of the bureaucratic red tape that goes into a single drone strike, sometimes with unintended and devastating consequences. Awesome performances from Aaron Paul, Helen Mirren and the late Alan Rickman bring the material home to roost in a complex but extremely well-written thriller that is partially based on real events.

Deadpool is another Marvel film but before you roll your eyes, this film was different. First off, it is Marvel’s first R-rated superhero film and with good reason. Deadpool is a foul-mouthed, smart-ass mercenary who runs afoul of the villain, Ajax (Ed Skrein) after a rogue experiment creates Deadpool out of Wade Wilson. The “Merc with the mouth” wisecracks his way through Deadpool with Ryan Reynolds perfectly cast as the title character. This was funny and brilliantly realized as one of the most faithful films to the original source material ever put to film. They have gone to great lengths to do the comic justice and it shows.

Hacksaw Ridge is my pick for the best film of 2016. Mel Gibson’s rebirth as an amazing director is realized telling the true story of Desmond Doss, America’s first conscientious objector in World War 2. But that is not to say Desmond Doss was a coward. To the contrary. His life leading up to World War 2 was difficult as Doss saw the effects of war take its toll on his father, Thomas Doss, a vet of World War 1. Vowing to never pick up a gun, let alone use it lands Desmond in a court martial. He wants to serve and in fact, volunteered for service as a medic. His story is incredible and deserves to be told. Gibson, for all of his troubles, still creates unbelievable films that are graceful, timely and deeply moving. Andrew Garfield will be up for the Oscar for Best Actor as Desmond Doss and he is certainly deserving of it. The supporting cast is also incredible with Teresa Palmer as Doss’ lovely wife, Vince Vaughn, Luke Bracey and Sam Worthington as his fellow soldiers who do not understand Doss, at first but realize he is one of the bravest men to have ever served. To see his story, you will know why. A true story that has to be seen to be understood.

Honorable mentions usually are added and since I have more than ten films as my best-of list, there will be a couple less of the honorable mentions. I know, I know there are only supposed to be ten for these best-of lists but this is my list, so……

Into the Forest is an independent Canadian film based on the book by Jean Hegland about two sisters isolated in their home in the forest after a world wide blackout takes out the power. What people will refer to as a “chick flick”, is to underscore what this film does. Starring Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood as the sisters, Into the Forest is a beautifully shot and wonderfully acted film about the love of family and uniting when the world is ending. Page and Wood are simply terrific as the sisters.

Suicide Squad…..? Yes, you read that correctly. I don’t care that most crapped on David Ayer’s film. This film was not as raw as it could have been thanks mostly to the studio meddling to get a PG-13 rating. But having said that I still had a blast with the characters and the theme of bad people being called on to do “some good”. A great cast with Margot Robbie stealing the show as Harley Quinn. I even saw Jai Courtney turn in an excellent supporting role as Captain Boomerang. That alone is worth saying something about.

The Witch may not be for everybody but it is a creepy and dark film about a family under attack from a witch, deep within the forest. Already being cast out from their original society for heresy, a family sets up shop next to the woods that hold an unspeakable and merciless evil. Anya Taylor-Joy is the oldest daughter of the family, that is blamed for all of their misfortune, but is she really to blame? Unnerving and another film that boils slowly but effectively to a graphic end. Be warned, they speak in old Elizabethan English and their accents are quite thick. I saw at least two couples get up and walk out after about ten minutes. Trust me. Turn out the lights, put on the closed captioning and understand everything.

10 Cloverfield Lane is a film that may or may not be a sequel to the smash success, Cloverfield that came out in 2008. I was not expecting too much from 10 Cloverfield Lane since I was someone who despised Cloverfield. It was the rare time I was rooting for the alien to win. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a film rather Hitchcockian in flavor thanks to masterful direction from Dan Trachtenberg with a tightly written script by Josh Campbell, Matthew Stucken and Damien Chazelle. Edgy performances from Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr. and an especially twisted performance by John Goodman make this film an edge of your seat thriller. I even dug the climax even though some have downplayed it as contrived and silly. Not me. Stark, gritty and darkly comedic, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a wild ride.

There you have it, folks. Hope you enjoy this list. Next up, the flip side with the worst films of 2016. Coming soon to your various computation devices. Thank you to every last one of you out there for reading and visiting us at Movie Slackers! May God bless each and every one of you out there in the new year.