2.24.2017

My Top Ten Of 2016


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. 

7. LION
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.

4. ARRIVAL
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.

2.10.2017

Everything is Batman


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.

The Lego Batman Movie chronicles the adventures of Bruce Wayne, and his altar ego Batman as he constantly saves Gotham City from crime. His world is turned upside down when Commissioner Jim Gordon retires and appoints his daughter Barbara, who has a much different view on Batman being the sole person the city relies on to solve their problems, to take his place. Batman prefers to work alone and doesn't want to have any attachment of any kind, or to allow anyone into his life. But when Joker unleashes a terrible chaos onto the city (featuring almost every villain you can think of,) Batman must reconsider the value of being a part of a bigger team.

The Batman Movie is an incredibly funny and enjoyable film. Any Batman fan will totally enjoy this movie because there are homages galore to all of his past movies. However, as fun of a protagonist that Lego Batman is (and yes there's a reason he was one of the highlights in The Lego Movie,) we perhaps get too big of a dose of him here. He was a great supporting character, but having him as the lead wasn't quite as fun as having the more humble everyman Emmet from The Lego Movie. Still, Arnett is absolutely hilarious in this role, and it's fun to see him interacting with his Bat family. Michael Cera's Robin was a fun addition too and brings a good dynamic between the two, but I found myself a little underwhelmed by Rosario Dawson's Barbara Gordon. Still, there's more than enough hilarious cameos to rival the first movie...and it's just really fun to think that the Lego Movie universe is one where almost any single crossover is possible (aside from Marvel....and yes the "Iron Man Sucks!" joke was one of my favorites.) The action that results because of these combinations is seriously fun and it certainly makes me excited for any future Lego installments. So while everything is most definitely awesome, it doesn't quite surprise you the way the first one did. But it's still solidly fun and enjoyable in its own right to be sure. EMILY RATING: 8.5/10

Sundance Review: Crown Heights

Crown Heights is all about the real life story of a man who was wrongfully convicted for murder in the 1980's. His best friend knows that he is innocent, and spends a few decades of his life trying to prove it. The filmmakers behind Crown Heights wisely decided to capitalize off of the success of Serial and Making a Murderer in deciding to tell this story, that it's no surprise a movie about wrongful imprisonment won the Audience Award at Sundance. Seeing one more injustice in the world is something that resonated with audiences, and the efforts one man made to make it right are definitely inspiring.

The story was told a little differently than I expected, with a lot less focus on his original trial, and a lot more about his many years in prison. The second half of the film shifts the focus even further, as the best friend working on his case almost becomes the new main character. At first it was a little odd to me to have the trial over so quickly and not knowing where the film would go, but towards the end as the film concludes its story, I appreciated that decision. It allows the climax of the film to be a lot more impactful, and a lot more interesting.

Crown Heights is a solid film. It features great performances and a simple, but fascinating story. The two men's plight, one in prison, and the other in his own mental prison until he frees his friend are definitely stories worth telling. Another thing I was intrigued by was that our protagonist was in fact a criminal, just not a murderer, which took the film to other interesting ethical dilemmas. Crown Heights will definitely make an impact on those who view it, but probably isn't one of the strongest winners to come out of Sundance in recent years. EMILY RATING: 8/10

2.08.2017

Sundance Review: Rememory


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.

Rememory is such a great concept that it's a little disappointing that the filmmakers took it in the easiest route that they could: a simple whodunnit. That doesn't mean it's not an interesting or good film, it's just that it doesn't live up to the potential of its premise. There are so many more fascinating places that this film could have gone with exploring the power of memory. The film definitely touches on some interesting ideas, and in particular, the revelations in the latter half of the film are good. I just couldn't help but wish I could see more movies set in this world, with much different genre focuses.


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

2.07.2017

Sundance Review: A Ghost Story



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

Sundance Review: Brigsby Bear


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

2.05.2017

Sundance Review: The Discovery

Imagine a world where scientific proof of the afterlife has been discovered. Such a world is where the film The Discovery takes place. Human life has considerably altered since the discovery, as many people's views on suicide have evolved. Pure curiosity has enticed people to take their lives, not to end them...but to see how they continue on another plane of existence. Jason Segel plays Will, the son of the acclaimed scientist Thomas Harbor (Robert Redford) who changed the world with his findings. Will has always been skeptical on whether or not his father's evidence should be accepted as fact, and when he meets Rooney Mara's Isla, his beliefs are put even further to the test.

Several films that came to the festival this year had really cool premises, but The Discovery might have explored theirs the very best. The world director Charlie McDowell creates is a fascinatingly bizarre one, yet somehow seems simultaneously seems like a plausible one. He masters the tone of the film in keeping it mysterious enough that the audience isn't sure whether to doubt along with Will or to believe like everyone else. He poses a lot of questions in the film and the joy comes in waiting for the answers.

Jason Segel and Rooney Mara make a strange pair, and occasionally it's hard to buy. Fortunately, though, both actors were dedicated enough to make it work, and their efforts were not in vain. But The Discovery isn't so much about the characters as it is about the journeys they take. I'd heard some mixed reception to the film before I saw it about how they didn't care for the ending, but when I saw it I felt that it only made everything stronger. The Discovery is an interesting film that takes a concept and explores several different facets of it and does it well. Thankfully for those clamoring at the bit to see this film, it will debut in March on Netflix...so you won't have to wait all year to see it. EMILY RATING: 8.5/10

2.03.2017

Sundance Review: Band Aid

Hearing the premise of Band Aid it's easy to imagine the film being a broad comedy. The film centers around a married couple who always find themselves at each other's throats. They are helpless to know how to resolve these fights, until one day when one of them decides to use their arguments as inspiration for songwriting. And so, the two of them, along with their kooky drumming neighbor, form a band and use it in getting their anger out at each other. With the people involved (Fred Armisen, Adam Pally and Zoe Lister-Jones,) I definitely expected it to be hilarious, but I found myself caught off guard by its realness in its more serious moments. The sweetness that underlies in some of the more dramatic instances in the film make it more rewarding and memorable than if it had just been a straight comedy.

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

2.01.2017

Sundance Review: Thoroughbred


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.

Thoroughbred feels like it starts in the middle of a story, which is cool because the characters feel lived in. Cooke's character, Amanda, doesn't have many friends because of her past, as well as the fact that she puts people off because of her inability to feel feelings. She claims she's never experienced fear, sadness or joy and her frankness is a welcome change of pace in the eyes of Taylor-Joy's very polite Lily. The two are almost polar opposites as Amanda always says what she thinks, while Lily is much more the type to want to appear that she's calm and collected. After Lily lets slip her negative feelings towards her stepdad, Amanda nonchalantly suggests to Lily that she try to murder him, and before too long the idea has taken hold in her mind. Amidst the planning, Anton Yelchin's lovable drug dealing character Tim gets shoehorned into the action. Yelchin isn't in the film nearly enough and I have to wonder if he died before all his scenes were shot. He feels set up to have a bigger role in the film, and then he pretty much disappears, and I have to say the film suffers because of it. Luckily though the two leads are terrific and carry the film.

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.