Over the years, as Disney has begun remaking each of their former animated classics, I've discovered that my reactions to these remakes fall along a wide scale. There's the one I detest (Maleficent) and the one I adore (Cinderella,) and everything in between (the ambivalence of The Jungle Book and Alice in Wonderland falls here.) From the previews, I got the sense that this film, unlike Maleficent, stayed incredibly true to the source material...so that had to be a good thing right? But the more I saw, the more it seemed that the film was just a literal reenactment of the animated film with little else to offer. After finally seeing it, the best thing I can say is that I didn't feel outraged as I watched it that it was a total ripoff....but I definitely didn't fall in love with it like I did Cinderella either.
Beauty and the Beast is a mixed bag. There are things that it gets right (such as the production design and costumes which really bring the fairy tale to life) and many things that made me scratch my head. Time to air some grievances. Emma Watson certainly makes a likable enough Belle, but she really isn't much of a singer. In fact, some of the musical sequences are the weakest part of the film because they're either TOO much like the original (the opening song Belle being one of the greatest offenders,) or they're new songs that don't manage to resonate or recapture the magic to belong alongside the other classic tunes. Too often the new songs are used to compensate for character development, and in a live action film that just didn't work for me. In many scenes, these new songs are used as placeholders for why characters make certain decisions, or why they feel a certain way...but it just comes across as hollow when some well thought out dialogue could have done the trick and shaved off a few more minutes from the runtime. Other random complaints include that the beast's CGI is a bit all over the place, Emma Thompson plays her part as if just doing a terrible impression of Angela Lansbury, and some of the CGI designs of the furniture just are kinda ugly (again sorry Mrs. Potts.)
My absolute sincerest apologies for not getting this list to you sooner. I had fully intended to post this back in January before I was hit with all the Sundance craziness, but that just didn't happen. Before I knew it, I had like 15 reviews to write, and no time to find to put this list together. Since then, I still figured I needed to catch up on everything I could...and yet, I still didn't have time to watch everything! Still, as usual, I had a hard time narrowing down some movies, so I cheated and added in a few ties. So this isn't so much a top ten as it is a top twelve. With all that in mind, let's get started shall we?
10 TIE: SILENCE & HELL OR HIGH WATER
Originally, I had planned to give Rogue One a spot on the list due to wanting to finally give some Star Wars love after my disappointment with The Force Awakens, but then I ended up seeing these two films and let them steal a tying spot. Silence and Hell or Highwater both feature male duos. However, the duos of each film couldn't be more opposite. Silence focuses on the difficult experiences that two priests have during their mission to Japan in the 1600's. Hell or High Water focuses on two brothers in modern day Texas who rob banks. The films couldn't be more different, but I honestly couldn't choose which film deserved the #10 spot. Silence was an incredible spiritual experience of a film that was very thought provoking and well made. And Hell or High Water was tightly made and highly entertaining. Both are solid films with fantastic performances by their leads. Original review for Silence HERE
9. THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN
The Edge of Seventeen isn't totally a movie that everyone will connect to, or be featured on everyone's top ten list, but it was an extremely personal one for me. The film follows the lead character of Nadine, who certainly wasn't the most likable protagonist, but her lonely high school experience after a fight with her best friend really resonated with me. The Edge of Seventeen felt like a representation of youth that was honest and fresh. I was honestly surprised how much I loved this film, and can only wish for more like it. Original review for The Edge of Seventeen HERE.
8. 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE
Speaking of surprises, 10 Cloverfield Lane had to be the biggest one of 2016. The movie came out of nowhere and ended up being amazingly good. I saw it three times in theaters and it totally held up every single time. It's so gripping and well done, I easily could have given this spot to some of the more Oscar bait films I watched at the end of the year, but this one just won me over and I wouldn't budge. Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman shine in this movie, and Goodman, in particular, does some of his best work in years.
Lion is definitely one of the most heart-wrenching films of 2016. The film kinda puts you through the ringer as you witness the true story of a four-year-old Indian boy who winds up miles and miles away from his family and no way of knowing how to get back to them. I found his plight (and the consequences of it) very gripping, and also fascinating. The performances here are also fantastic, and by the end, I found myself (and my mother and stepfather) sobbing.
6. NOCTURNAL ANIMALS
Two stories are being told in Nocturnal Animals. One focuses on Amy Adams's character as she receives a manuscript from her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal) that he asks her to read, and the second is the actual story inside that novel of a man heading out on a family vacation with his wife and daughter that turns insanely violent. The second storyline was what hooked me, because it was basically an absolute nightmare turned into film. The film is so gripping, and it left me thinking about it for days afterward. There's so much to dissect here, and that was almost half of the fun.
5. TIE: DON'T BREATHE & THE WITCH
What a year for horror it was. Even though I saw The Witch two years ago at Sundance 2015, it wasn't released until February of last year, so since it hadn't released to the general public yet, I didn't feel like I could include it on my 2015 list. I was very happy to see it finally released a year ago and get the praise it deserved from film critics and lovers of the genre. It's honestly such a great and unique addition to the horror genre. It's a very slow and moody film that builds up to the incredibly tense finale. But that wasn't all for the year in horror. Don't Breathe, which was released last August somehow managed to be equally wonderful, yet a very different brand of horror. While The Witch took its time to revel in the world it created, the tension in Don't Breathe never lets up and it's an absolute thrill ride. I seriously loved both of these horror films and had to include both on my top ten list. Original review for Don't Breathe found HERE. Original review for The Witch found HERE.
Every year for the last four years, we've had some sort of space movie come out in the fall (see Gravity, Interstellar and The Martian.) Arrival doesn't take place in space but somehow fits among these films. In particular, Arrival felt like a spiritual sibling of sorts to Interstellar. That not be something that everyone loves, but as someone who adored that film, I felt similar adoration with Arrival. The film is beautiful and it works on many levels, but it owes pretty much all of its success to Amy Adam's fantastic and sincere performance. Arrival felt simultaneously realistic and fantastical. Almost as if, should that type of event (the arrival of aliens) really occur, this is how it would go down. This grounded approach was refreshing when the film easily could have felt redundant. Original review of Arrival HERE.
3. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
Manchester by the Sea is a deeply disturbing tragedy that is quite frankly a masterpiece. The film is so incredibly beautiful, yet affectedly heartbreaking. It works because of Casey Affleck's performance of a man so removed from feeling, that we can't help but feel disconnected with. We know there's more beyond the surface, but never does he want to engage with anyone enough to show it. Michelle Williams too in her small screen time is amazing, and their scene together near the end of the film (you'll know the one) is one of the most personal scenes ever filmed. Honestly, this is just a perfect movie. Original review for Manchester By The Sea HERE.
2. LA LA LAND
If Manchester By The Sea is a perfect movie then what other two films can beat that? Just a couple of other perfect ones. There has been quite a bit of backlash against La La Land, but I refuse to bend to it. I saw it back in November, far ahead of its release date, and was able to appreciate it for what it was before too much of the hype had gotten to people's heads. La La Land is a beautiful film about relationships, and if there's one thing I love, it's a movie about relationships (*cough 500 Days of Summer cough*) It's also about following your dreams. This movie didn't truly GET me until the epilogue, but that ending solidified it as one of my favorite movies about relationships. And that's a big deal to me.
1. SING STREET
For much of the year, Sing Street had retained the number #1 spot, until La La Land had knocked it to #2. But the more I thought about it, the more this movie was MY movie. I just love everything about it. It's so watchable (it's like my new The Way Way Back,) and has one of the best soundtracks in recent memory. Like La La Land, it too is all about following your dreams and the ending here is just absolutely wonderful. It also features a wonderful brotherly relationship that is one of the highlights of the film, and Jack Reynor just steals every scene he's in. I honestly can't recommend this movie enough, nor stop singing its praises. I just love this movie so much. Original review for Sing Street found HERE.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: ROGUE ONE, JACKIE, HACKSAW RIDGE, MOONLIGHT, BATMAN V SUPERMAN (sorry haters), FENCES, A MONSTER CALLS.
Three years ago, The Lego Movie came out and pretty much surprised everyone. Unfortunately this time around, the surprisingly good factor wasn't something that could really happen with The Lego Batman Movie, since Batman ended up stealing all the scenes in The Lego Movie. Basically it was hard for anyone not to have expectations. Because of this, I didn't think there was any way for The Lego Batman Movie to live up to the movie it spun off from.
Rememory takes place in a distant future where an invention has been made that can extract pure, unfiltered memories. Unfortunately, the creator of the invention dies under mysterious circumstances before it is released to the public, so a man named Sam Bloom (Peter Dinklage) who has a vested interest in the machine, takes it upon himself to solve the puzzle. After befriending the inventor's widow and "borrowing" the prototype machine, he looks through the recorded memories for clues to figure out what really happened, as well as to solve some of his own inner demons.
Still, for what the film actually is, I do feel that it was well made and entertaining enough. It's just not something that's going to stay with me for a long time like it could have. Peter Dinklage certainly gives it his all, and of course, it was nice to see Anton Yelchin again in one of his final roles even if it wasn't the most fleshed out part. EMILY RATING: 7.5/10
Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara play a young couple whose love story seemingly ends abruptly when he dies in A Ghost Story. Affleck's character, who is simply listed as C in the credits, discovers his existence still continues after death, but unfortunately, it consists of witnessing life silently under a sheet. Restricted to the confines of his house, he's forced to watch his former lover grieve extensively. If there's one thing to know about this movie upfront, it's that all scenes (and shots really) are incredibly drawn out and the film really revels in its simplicity and taking its time. In an early scene in the film, we witness the couple cuddling and it seems so earnest and sincere, and the length of it makes the audience feel uncomfortable--like we're intruding on their intimacy. It's the type of film that asks a lot of its audience because most of the scenes give you plenty of time to think. Also, when discussing Affleck's performance, it's hard to know what to say where his face isn't visible for 90% of the movie. Nor does he talk either. The film is practically a silent film as there is maybe only 10 minutes of dialogue total all throughout.
A Ghost Story is absolutely not a film for everyone. In fact, I'd definitely say that there is a very small audience for this film. It definitely knows it's an artsy movie and embraces that to a degree that is definitely alienating to a mainstream audience. But Ghost Story definitely doesn't care. However, even indie-loving audiences might find the constant long drawn out scenes to be pretty tedious to sit through. I can certainly understand audiences finding A Ghost Story to be a frustrating film experience, but at the same time, I can't help but admire its boldness and uniqueness. When it comes down to it, even if it wasn't the easiest film to sit through, its true originality is much preferred to some of the more uninspired offerings from Hollywood as of late. EMILY RATING: 8.5/10
Brigsby Bear is the bizarre tale of a man (Kyle Mooney) who was kidnapped as a baby, and raised by his captors in a bomb shelter. He learned about the world and proper morality through watching his favorite television show, "Brigsby Bear." His life is turned upside down when he's rescued by the cops and discovers that he is the only person in the world who has ever seen or heard of Brigsby, as it was a show that was lovingly produced just for him by his captors. Struggling to cope in life in the real world (or as he sees it, a Brigsbyless existence,) he seeks for closure by creating a film to conclude Brigsby's adventures.
Brigsby Bear could have been taken in a lot of different directions. It would be easy to make the film a full-fledged comedy and err on the crass and outrageous side. Fortunately, the filmmakers kept it more honest and warm, while still managing to be pretty funny. I think this decision was the right one, as the combination of humor and drama is able to leave a more lasting impact on the viewer. The film has a capable cast and everyone seems to be having a great time. Nostalgia for 80's tv series abounds whenever we get glimpses of the protagonist's beloved show and you can just sense the care that was put into every aspect of this movie.
The movie definitely has the familiar feel of a quirky, clueless but lovable fish out of water type, akin to Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Elf and Enchanted, but luckily, it manages not to feel tired. Some of that comes in combining that indie with another indie: the making a movie indie (as previously seen in Son of Rambow and Me & Earl & The Dying Girl.) Brigsby Bear accomplishes the rare feat of making a far fetched story feel grounded. It manages to be light hearted and serious all at once, but most importantly to note, it's a fun film. EMILY RATING: 8/10
Band Aid is a very well rounded little film. It's light and funny when it needs to be, but it definitely can pull a dramatic punch. In some of the fights near the end, I was very stunned to see how real these fights were portrayed and how cutting their remarks were to each other. It certainly shows the power of words and how much they can destroy. Band Aid also makes a commentary of the differences between men and women with how they deal with conflict, stress, and grief. I found it all strangely comforting.
I also, of course, must mention the musical aspects of the film. Lister-Jones amazingly was able to pen up lyrics and melodies that managed to be catchy, creative, and funny all at once. The songs are certainly one of the highlights of the film, and seeing how they come up with these songs. You definitely wish there were more of them. I'll definitely be looking for the soundtrack when it comes out. EMILY RATING: 8/10
The simplest way to summarize the plot of Thoroughbred is to say it's a film where two teenage girls strike up an unlikely friendship, then later plot to kill one of the girl's stepdad. The film stars teams up two former Sundance darlings Anya Taylor-Joy (star of The Witch) and Olivia Cooke (star of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,) and it also happens to be the very last performance of the late Anton Yelchin. Already excited by its cast, I soon saw that Thoroughbred was getting a lot of positive reviews and some modest hype. Many people labeled it a "twisty thriller" and I was surprised to find myself in disagreement to the type of film I thought Thoroughbred was, namely, a more straightforward dark comedy.
I'll be honest, from what I read prior to seeing the film, I was expecting a little more than what I got from Thoroughbred. That's not to say the film wasn't good or well-made, I just was expecting a very different film. What I got was one that was more simple, but very fun, and one that I wished had a lot more Anton Yelchin in it. EMILY RATING: 8/10.
Manifesto isn't so much a film as it is a piece of art. And come to find out, that's exactly what it was to begin with. Manifesto wasn't conceived as a feature length film, but rather thirteen separate mini films that artist Julian Rosefeldt created as an art exhibit. The films all featured Cate Blanchett playing different fictional people all reciting various real life manifestos on art that were given throughout history. But it's the settings and situations these people are put in that makes the words they're saying pop and whether the speech fits the situation that it truly makes an impact. Each of these videos were places as separate installations, all unified in theme playing at the same time. Somewhere along the way, someone must have felt that Cate's performance should be seen by a bigger audience and so the footage was re-edited into a feature film.
In To The Bone, Lily Collins plays Ellen, a girl struggling to overcome her anorexia. Apart from her half-sister, her family seems helpless to try to understand her or see her as anything more than a problem to be solved. Ellen has a lot of unresolved issues with her broken family, which makes her feel like her anorexia is the one thing she has control over. Her mother left her father and became a lesbian, marrying her best friend. Her father is too busy to ever bother seeing her but did have the time to remarry a woman she has no connection with. Her stepmom, whom she can't stand, is left with the task of watching Ellen and her only solace is her half-sister. Fed up with Ellen's inability to change, her step-mother seeks the help of a renowned new doctor (Keanu Reeves) to enroll Ellen in a different kind of therapy in hopes of curing her anorexia once and for all.
To The Bone is a nice dramedy, but didn't exactly break new ground for me. If some of the supporting parts had had either a different person cast or more depth to them, I probably would have liked the film more as a whole, because I would have bought how much these relationships affected her. Still, there's plenty here that's worthwhile to see from Collins' performance to the insights of anorexia as well as the extreme harm of unresolved family stress. EMILY RATING: 8/10
Ingrid Goes West is like All About Eve crossed with Fatal Attraction for the social media age. The film is all about a girl named Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza), who we learn right from the start takes her obsessions with people a little too far. After burning a bridge with her last Instagram idol, Ingrid needs something or someone else to occupy her time. Soon she discovers a new candidate worth stalking: Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen,) a lifestyle photographer with a perfect life. In hopes of becoming Taylor's new best friend, Ingrid takes her inheritance money from her mother's recent passing and moves out west, determined to cross paths with her new fixation.
The premise of Killing Ground is a simple one. A young couple camping in the woods of Australia discovers an abandoned tent near their campsite. When no one comes back to it, they become increasingly concerned, especially when a toddler wanders onto their campground with no parents in sight. With such a simple story, it would be easy for Killing Ground to be generic. Fortunately, the film doesn't tell the story in typical fashion and leave what happened to the other tent a mystery to the end. Instead, the film cuts back and forth between the couple who stumbles onto the scene and the story of the inhabitants of the tent who went missing. In doing so, it ramps up the tension to an almost unbearing degree as you begin to piece together the danger that the protagonists face.
I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore follows the story of Ruth (Melanie Lynskey), a woman who is constantly losing faith in humanity and wonders if there's really a purpose to life. These feelings only escalate when her house gets robbed and local law enforcement doesn't seem too concerned in solving her case and helping her find justice. She ends up finding an unlikely partner in her neighbor (Elijah Wood) and the two decide to take the law into their own hands and teach the people responsible a lesson.