R0BTRAIN's Very Late Top 10 Films of 2016

R0BTRAIN's Very Late Top 10 Films of 2016

So I know this is really late, but I wanted to catch as many 2016 movies as a could before I nailed down my top 10, and due to my location it's tougher to get to see everything I wanted to before the end of the year. Love it or hate it, 2016 was certainly an interesting time at the movies. Yes, the summer movie season (which is one of my personal favorite times of year) was mostly a failure, and even the award hopefuls seems to have yielded a smaller crop in 2016, but at the same time this past year kept surprising me with great movies that came from unexpected places. Films I had initially written off ended up being terrific, smaller movies got a lot more attention from me this year, I had more time for foreign cinema, and even an ESPN documentary ended up being one of the best of things to come out in any form. 2016 may not go down as one of the best years in a cinema history, but when all is said and done, there were plenty of movies that film makers could be proud of. 

And with that, It's Clobberin' Time!

10. Killzone 2 (AKA: SPL II: A Time for Consequences)

Starring: Tony Jaa, Wu Jing, Simon Yam, Zhang Jin, and Louis Koo

Directed by: Cheang Pou-soi

While it's really just a spiritual sequel to Wilson Yip's 2005 face-kicking masterpiece Killzone (AKA: SPL ), this Tony Jaa/Wu Jing vehicle ended up being the best pure action film of 2016, able to satisfy the most ardent fans of onscreen fisticuffs. While the movie's tale of undercover cops and over-the-top villains will seem familiar to fans of Hong Kong cinema, director Cheang Pou-soi manages to stage not only incredible onscreen violence but also the best dramatic turns ever from stars Wu Jing and Tony Jaa, as a cop posing as an inmate in the world's worst prison and a security guard at the prison who has been taking money on the side in order to help his horribly ill daughter. As two stars who have struggled in the past when it came to their movie personas when not elbowing people in their throats, I was more than impressed that these two were able to carry this film when it came to the tortured lives these characters had to lead.

Of course, the real attraction here are the film's many many kung fu fights which range from an insane prison riot, to a jaw dropping sequence involving a bus, to a high rise showdown that will leave you on the edge of your seat. Capping off a banner year for star Zhang Jin as a corrupt prison warden/kung fu expert (along with his movie-stealing role in Ip Man 3), the final confrontation on the top floor of a skyscraper is a pure action magic. If Hollywood didn't supply you with a satisfying adrenaline rush this year, then by all means give this one a shot.

9. Swiss Army Man

Starring: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Directed by: Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan

By far the strangest movie I saw this year, I wrote about Swiss Army Man back in the summer, where it seemed to be an island of magical realism and big laughs among a sea of terrible blockbusters. I'll be the first to admit that the film isn't for everyone, but I think patient viewers that are a bit more open will find a treasure-trove of a movie full of whimsy, affirmation, and plenty of uncomfortable moments as well. The picture still works best the less you know about it, so I won't go into too much detail, but I'll say that Daniel Radcliffe's performance as a farting corpse is the best of his career, and may still deserve an Oscar nomination.

8. OJ: Made in America

Starring: Marcia Clark, Gil Garcetti, Bill Hodgman, F. Lee Bailey, Carl E. Douglas, and Barry Scheck

Directed by: Ezra Edelman

While I would have already counted myself among the legion of fans of ESPN's 30 for 30 series of documentaries, I had no idea how just how much Ezra Edelman's 7 1/2-hour documentary would affect me. Now, before you say anything, I know that Made in America did appear on TV in a mini-series-like format of six episodes, but its initial premiere was at Sundance where it was shown in its original giant-feature-length format so I’m counting it. Especially, since the result is perhaps the best documentary I’ve ever seen. 

Speaking as someone that remembers what it was like watching this trial on television, I was shocked at the power of this documentary’s narrative, going into full detail about why OJ Simpson was seen as such a hero to his post-trial life of tragedy and crime. The running-time also allows for the film to explore the relationship between the LAPD and the city’s African-American community and the struggle for civil rights in the city, which adds further layers to this story and a context that so much of America didn’t have a feel for at the time of the trial. The length of this doc simply flies by, and in fact a reading of the events of the murder by Assistant District Attorney Bill Hodgman may actually be the most powerful scene in any movie I saw all year. Be assured that at the end of this documentary, you will probably have no doubts of who did the murder, but also have no doubts as to why OJ was declared not guilty of the charges. 

7. Captain America: Civil War

Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, and Jeremy Renner

Directed by: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo

For comic book cinema, this was the year of the superhero vs superhero conflicts. Batman fought Superman, Magneto and Storm fought the X-men, and even on TV Daredevil and the Punisher duked it out while The Green Arrow and Flash had to team up against a brain-washed Supergirl and the Legends of the Tomorrow. The best of all these examples in 2016 was the Russo Bros’ Captain America: Civil War, which hit theater screens with the same intensity that made their Captain America: Winter Soldier so enjoyable, but with so much more humor, that it may rank as possibly the best Marvel Studios outing to date. With huge action set-pieces, tons of laughs and plenty of superhero melodrama, this looks to be the the zenith of the Marvel formula on display so far, and shows why the studio is currently winning the comic movie war with its competitors. 

6. La La Land

Starring: Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone

Directed by: Damien Chazelle

How many times in your life have you heard someone say they that don’t like musicals as a movie art-form? You should find them and dare them to watch this movie.

Damien Chazelle’s tale of two lovers trying to find themselves and fulfillment with their art of choice is a 10 megaton bomb of charm and joy, with Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling displaying their unbeatable chemistry together once again. (Is it too much to ask that these two only ever make films together from now on?) After the mesmerizing spell cast by his previous film, Whiplash, Damien Chazelle presents his own take on the classic Hollywood Gene Kelly and Busby Berkley spectacles of yesteryear and the results are absolutely infectious. Each number is more top tapping than the next, leading up to the film's rapturous and heartbreaking finale. La La Land is a wonder to behold. 

5. The Wailing

Starring: Kwak Do-won, Hwang Jung-min, Chun Woo-hee, and Jun Kunimura

Directed by: Na Hong-jin

If the two Korean films that made my Top 10 of 2016 and the third picture (Train to Busan) that threatened to do so were indicative of the year that Korean cinema had, I can only be despondent that I didn’t have more access to the country’s movie lineup this past year. On almost all levels, The Wailing is an absolute triumph; funny, touching, and ultimately tragic and thoroughly terrifying. Like the formula that made so many Stephen King novels famous, director Na Hong-jin constructs a film around getting to know the characters of this film and their setting for a very long time before really turning up the elements of dread that ultimately envelop the movie, which in this case is some of sort blight which is causing the citizens of a small village to start killing one another. 

With this movie Na Hong-jin becomes a name to watch out for, really establishing himself as a South Korean director with huge crossover potential just as Park Chan-wook (Oldboy), Bong Joon-ho (The Host), and Kim Jee-woon (The Good, The Bad, The Weird) were able to do before him. While his previous films, The Chaser and The Yellow Sea, are both incredible thrillers and manage to show exactly what sets Korean cinema apart from the rest of the world, The Wailing simply manages to reach another level. Helped in part by the excellent work of Kwak Do-won, who gives one of the great everyman performances, this is a masterpiece that will continue endure for the director and hopefully just ends up another step in a long career of gigantic hits.

4. Hell or High Water

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, and Gil Birmingham

Directed by: David Mackenzie

One of the aspects that I really love about David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water is that if you changed the setting from modern Texas to 1880s' Texas, the movie would still probably work story-wise. Yet, part of the film’s power comes from a very palpable sense of decline in a very modern way. Towns are boarded up and jobs seem scarce, illustrating fears that a lot of the country is feeling right now. It also makes the main characters in this film, played by Chris Pine and Ben Foster, easy to relate to as they rob banks across Texas in a scheme to buy back the family farm from the very banks they are robbing. It’s a simple story that resonates, just like every classic western ever made, only this one is elevated by fantastically haunted performances, especially from Jeff Bridges as the retiring Texas Ranger out on his last case, a wonderful script by Sicario’s Taylor Sheridan and the beautifully dusty cinematography of Giles Nuttgens. To be at once timeless but also be able to tap into modern zeitgeist is a tricky proposition, but Hell or High Water pulls it off with aplomb.


3. The Handmaiden

Starring: Kim Min-hee, Ha Jung-woo, Cho Jin-woong, and Kim Tae-ri

Directed by: Park Chan-wook

I’ll have to be deliberately vague when talking about this picture, but of all the films I saw in 2016, no movie had me on my heels as much as The Handmaiden was able to, never knowing which direction it was possibly about to take next. Park Chan-wook’s return to Korean cinema is a triumph of style; showcasing gorgeous camerawork and a dizzying plot that will have you screaming with delight. While the director is still taking a no-holds-barred approach to his storytelling, this is his least dour film, even if it is still not for the faint of heart. While his pictures are never to be ignored, I don’t know that they’ve ever been this much fun, and letting this film take you on its roller coaster of a ride is well worth the price of admission. Like I said, this may not be for everyone, but few movies this year could even claim to be more cinematic than The Handmaiden


2. Arrival

Starring: Amy Adams. Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Tzi Ma

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve

While I would've already considered myself a fan, I'd have to say that for the most part I've usually admired and respected the works of director Denis Villeneuve more than I've felt a real emotional attachment to them. Prisoners is a classic example of a movie that I could tell was extremely well made, but at the same time the film was still a pretty rough sit and therefore did not lend itself well to multiple viewings. Sicario is a picture I am much quicker to recommend, but also understand that it's tale of drug-war assassinations and power struggles might not be for everyone. With Arrival, I can finally say that I have been 100% been indoctrinated into Villeneuve's fanbase. 

This is a confident, inspirational, and gripping story of people coming together to save the world, but not in an Independence Day-type way. Instead, it’s a movie about ideas and getting past language barriers, and not just with the aliens, but the cultural and language barriers of the people of Earth. With all the upheaval in the world, this was exactly the film I needed to watch when it came out because it gave me so much hope. With a Blade Runner sequel on the horizon, it's safe to say that I can't wait to see what Villeneuve has up his sleeve next. 

1. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Jiang Wen, Riz Ahmed, and Forest Whitaker

Directed by: Gareth Edwards

So I will not pretend to be impartial at all when it comes to this pick for #1, but I don’t really care. Whether my feelings about Star Wars as a franchise had a major influence on my enjoyment of this movie doesn’t really matter when I think about just how much I ended up loving it. Rogue One filled me with excitement like no other film in 2016 and I can’t wait to see it again.

The film’s ragtag group of characters also provided me with no end of enjoyment, and the film’s story added an edge to this series that hasn’t been seen since George Lucas issued out the Special Editions in 1997. On top of all that, the movie’s action is spectacular and manages to give us perhaps the best Darth Vader scene ever, which is amazing considering how iconic the character already was. I’ve already written a ton on why I loved this film so much, so I’ll just say that if Rogue One and The Force Awakens are indicative of the quality of pictures we’ll be receiving from Star Wars in the coming years, then the future for this 40 year old franchise is still very bright indeed. 
     

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