Following the 2015 Oscars season, this year has hit the ground running with big blockbusters, original concepts, a few disappointments (*cough Batman v. Superman cough*) and pleasant surprises.
Rather than wait till the end of the year to put out a “Best of” list, I’d rather break 2016 up into thirds and update my list accordingly. Following the “Best Picture” win of last year’s #1 film, Spotlight, the process has begun. At this point, I’m looking for the Mad Max: Fury Road and the Me and Earl and The Dying Girl of this year…In other words, what blew me away and what did I enjoy the most from start to finish.
10. Elvis & Nixon
Based on the story behind the famous photo taken in 1970 between Elvis Presley and the President, the single most requested photograph in the National Archives, Elvis & Nixon is like an 86 minute long Saturday Night Live sketch that doesn’t get old. The White House scenes were shot on the West Wing set. Master of impressions, Kevin Spacey nails it with Nixon and you’re reminded of Frank Underwood, a little. Michael Shannon is more himself than an Elvis impersonator, which fits the role perfectly. And the supporting cast of Alex Pettyfer, Johnny Knoxville, Colin Hanks and Evan Peters compliment the stars perfectly.
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Johnny Knoxville and Alex Pettyfer
Director: Liza Johnson
9. Everybody Wants Some!!
Richard Linklater’s sorta-23-year-followup to Dazed and Confused was much better than I expected. It seems harder than ever these days to write good comedy and the delivery is remarkably natural in this film. It’s a party genre film, no doubt, but it’s far less cliche as the American Pie films and their straight to video spinoffs. I appreciated the “welcome to college” and late 70s-early 80s themes, the real competitiveness between NCAA baseball teammates, and nothing feeling particularly forced. Matthew McConaughey would’ve been a great fit, even now, appearing in Everybody Wants Some.
Starring: Blake Jenner, Tyler Hoechlin and Ryan Guzman
Director: Richard Linklater
8. 10 Cloverfield Lane
The Cloverfield sequel was a pleasant surprise to start the year, and really had almost nothing to do with the first film. Rather than just be a monster movie, it was a genre-bending captive/killer/suspense-thriller flick filled with twists at every turn. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is good, John Goodman makes your skin crawl in the best/creepiest ways, and John Gallagher Jr. continues to be one of my favorite Indie actors on the planet.
Starring: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Gallagher Jr.
Director: Dan Trachtenberg
7. The Jungle Book
When the ending credits rolled on The Jungle Book, my first thought was “I hope the people in charge of Jurassic World II were taking notes.” This movie shows you how CGI is supposed to be done and it was nice to see a “live-action” retelling of a Disney story that you grew up with not suck. It solidified Jon Favreau as great big budget film director. You could also tell that older veteran actors like Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley and Christopher Walken were having fun in their roles, and that makes it more fun for the audience.
Starring: Neel Sethi, Idris Elba, Bill Murray and Ben Kingsely
Director: Jon Favreau
If you haven’t noticed, it’s been a really good year for Disney. They rode the box office success of Force Awakens into 2015, Jungle Book knocked Batman v. Superman out of the top spot pretty quickly, another film further down this list is KILLING it, and they have another Star Wars film on the way. Add Zootopia to the sterling 2016 scoreboard for Disney. It was funny and very will animated, but it also didn’t hold back regarding it’s commentary on equality and relevant social issues in our country today. There were also some excellent hat-tips to The Godfather, LA Confidential, Chinatown, and Breaking Bad.
Starring: Jason Bateman, Ginnifer Goodwin and Idris Elba
Director: Byron Howard and Rich Moore
5. Eye in the Sky
Eye in the Sky did not get enough promotion for how good a film it is. It’s similarly suspenseful as Captain Phillips, maybe more so, and coincidentally has Oscar nominee Barkhad Abdi (the pirate from Captain Phillips) in a key role. Helen Mirren is as cold and awesome as ever, Aaron Paul pulls your heartstrings, and it’s one of Alan Rickman’s last performances on the big screen. When I left the theater, I instantly believed it was one of the best films of the year…that hardly anyone has heard of.
Starring: Aaron Paul, Helen Mirren and Adam Rickman
Director: Gavin Hood
Deadpool exceeded so many expectations. It broke box office records as a hard-R movie. It made the 13 times more than its $58 million budget. It also put serious pressure on the superhero films to come, that wanted to be darker and dirtier. Ryan Reynolds was perfect in the role, making fun of other superhero franchises, the X-Men, and even his own films in the past. It was very meta and hilarious. The action and comedic timing by the supporting cast was awesome as well. Deadpool’s “fight” scene with Colossus will go down as one of the funniest ever for the genre.
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, TJ Miller and Morena Baccarin
Director: Tim Miller
3. Midnight Special
It’s Michael Shannon’s 2nd appearance on this list and it is a good one. Midnight Special recalls some of the feelings you had seeing E.T. for the first time, although not nearly as lighthearted and not on Spielberg’s level. The movie does a great job riding on the mysteries of everyone involved and emphasizing the father-son relationship. Joel Edgerton is an awesome badass partner-in-crime and Adam Driver (aka Kylo Ren) provides well-timed relief. It’s a hard film not to appreciate if you’re a fan of mystery and sci-fi.
Starring: Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst and Joel Edgerton
Director: Jeff Nichols
1b. Sing Street
The reason there’s a “1a and 1b” is because I’ve been so torn on the Top 2 movies on this list as they were both so awesome to me. Sing Street is my Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and even better than that. It’s a love story that hits close to home. The inspiration for the lead character, Cosmo (played by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), to chase his dreams is similar to my own. The music is fantastic and I fully expect to see it on Broadway as soon as possible. It’s also one of the few movies set in the 80’s that does so un-ironically. It made me respect Jack Reynor much more as an actor. I smiled watching this film from start to finish and that’s why the inner debate I have, on whether it’s my favorite or not, will likely last all year.
Starring: Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Jack Reynor and Aidan Gillen
Director: John Carney
1a. Captain America: Civil War
Captain America: Civil War was a perfect superhero film. It might feel that way because Batman v. Superman was such a letdown in similar circumstances, but Civil War was able to accomplish so much that its DC rival couldn’t. The movie didn’t force you to choose a side between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark. Every hero showcased why they belong and made you feel like a kid in awe. The comedic timing was right on. The introductions of Black Panther and Spider-Man were seamless and awesome. The heroes were aware and conscientious of the destruction they were causing. Most importantly, the action was everything you hoped for from a film with this much hype. Similar to Force Awakens, Civil War gets bonus points for meeting and even exceeding the fans’ expectations and reminds you that THIS is how you make a superhero movie.
Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr. and Sebastian Stan
Director: Joe and Anthony Russo
Any films too high or too low on the list? Would you recommend some more that are in theaters? Let me know on Facebook or Twitter and be sure to listen to The Piffcast where we discuss topics just like this.