I truly believe that every year in cinema develops its own tone, demonstrating the trend in art for that time. 2016 isn't even half over at this point, but still the general tone of cinema for this year is starting to take shape. And it's pretty exciting. With seven months to go, there have already been multiple films that have taken real risks. From indie films with unusual premises, to groundbreaking major blockbuster releases, to franchise films which have headed in an unexpected direction, to films that have accomplished unprecedented technical feats, the best movies of 2016 haven't just been good, they've been genuinely surprising. And I would say that this trend holds true even for the films I haven't liked so much. The films of 2016 have been inconsistent in terms of quality, but I feel that some of the lesser films I've seen this year at least failed while trying to accomplish something interesting. Perhaps the poster-child for this would be the Miles Davis biopic Miles Ahead. Directed by, written by, and starring Don Cheadle (who does deliver a great performance), the film doesn't even try to fit into any notion of reality, and basically reads as Miles Davis fan fiction. The whole thing is weird and underwhelming, but it is at the very least one of the more original films I've seen in recent years. It's just a shame it doesn't quite live up to the film I imagine Cheadle had in his mind.
But I don't want to talk about the films I didn't like, I want to focus on the film I did like. And there have been quite a few. So without further ado, here's a look at my top fifteen films of the first part of 2016!
#15-High-Rise and #14-The Lobster
|Tom Hiddleston broods in an elevator in High-Rise|
|Colin Farrell and his brother check into their hotel room in The Lobster|
#13-Tale of Tales
|Salma Hayek takes the phrase "Eat your heart out" too literally in Tale of Tales|
|Critics of Hardcore Henry point to its weak screenplay while fans of it say "WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"|
Hear me out. Both of these films are low on story, but the story they have is one of revenge (early in the film, Henry's wife is kidnapped and he spends the film trying to find her). Both of them are technical marvels, with harrowing stories about the difficult process of filming. The only difference is that The Revenant had a $135,000,000 budget and lots of awards recognition, while Hardcore Henry had a $2,000,000 budget and a 48% score on Rotten Tomatoes. But I would argue strongly that Hardcore Henry is the superior film. For one thing, it's a lot more enjoyable to watch. But I also think that it succeeds more on a technical level. I don't think that Hardcore Henry is getting its due for how miraculous it is that it has been pulled off. It's not as objectively beautiful as The Revenant, but these action sequences are so meticulously choreographed and the stuntwork is simply incredible. But what impressed me most about Hardcore Henry was the use of sound. The sound editing and sound mixing is off the charts. Because of the way the film is shot, the camera's view is limited, and so the film can't use any of the film editing tricks that are typically used to pull off action sequences. Instead, it relies on sound to make it clear to the audience what's going on. Watch any of the scenes from Hardcore Henry on mute and it'll make no sense, but thanks to this film's brilliant use of sound, you can perfectly follow Henry's actions and movements amongst the chaos of an elaborate action sequence. It's pretty exciting to watch as an audience member, but also as an appreciator of film.
|Sharlto Copley in one of the many iterations of Jimmy.|
|Ralph Ineson morosely chops wood in The Witch|
#10-April and the Extraordinary World
|April discovers electricity in the animated sci-fi thriller April and the Extraordinary World|
|Bored extras lounging around the set of Star Wars, the subject matter of documentary Elstree 1976.|
|The unfortunate protagonists of Green Room|
#7-Captain America: Civil War
|Iron Man and War Machine take flight in Captain America: Civil War|
|Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Mark McKenna writing songs in Sing Street|
|Deadpool and Negasonic Teenage Warhead have a sensitive heart-to-heart.|
#4-The Jungle Book
|The best movie villain of 2016 so far is a talking cat.|
|If Disney hasn't already started working on a Zootopia spinoff called Sloths then I am SO copyrighting that idea right now.|
Also, it managed to break practically every record previously held by Frozen. That's right. It defeated Frozen. That earns it several extra points in my book.
#2-10 Cloverfield Lane
|2/3 of the cast of the superb 10 Cloverfield Lane|
If I had any criticism about 10 Cloverfield Lane, I will say that I found the ending a bit disappointing. It's not a bad ending, but it's certainly not what I would have gone with. But the rest of the film is so strong that it hardly matters, which is why it's so high up on my list and has a good chance of making my top ten list at the end of the year. But there was one film that I liked even more.
|Christopher Plummer and Martin Landau plan an unlikely revenge quest in the thrilling Remember.|
Most people haven't heard of Remember. I don't remember seeing it advertised very much, and it came and went while it was in theaters. And that's a shame because it is easily my favorite film that I've seen so far in 2016. All the other films I've mentioned so far were great, but Remember engaged and affected me in a way that none of these other films even came close to. The film follows Zev (Christopher Plummer) an elderly man in an assisted living home whose wife Ruth recently passed away. Zev is approached by Max (Martin Landau, in a rare but very welcome film appearance in his later life), another resident of the home who asks if Zev remembers what he promised to do after Ruth died. Zev, who has dementia, says he doesn't, but Max gives him an envelope and asks him to read it and follow the instructions to the letter. Zev opens the letter to find stacks of money and detailed instructions. Following them he exits the home and gets into a cab that is waiting for him. And I don't want to say anything else because I hope that this beginning has gotten you intrigued to see this movie for yourself. But it's going to go to some really interesting places. When I've recommended it to people, which I've done often, I describe it as a cross between Kill Bill, Memento, and Schindler's List. So try to imagine that and this might give you some inkling of what Remember might be like.
What you might not be prepared for is simply how exciting it gets. Christopher Plummer isn't the first actor who comes to mind when you think "revenge thriller," but Oscar-nominated director Atom Egoyan and screenwriter Benjamin August use that unpredictability to their advantage. At one point, Zev stays in a hotel in room 238, an obvious reference to The Shining. At first, I thought this was an odd reference to sneak into the film, considering that Remember seemingly has little to do with the supernatural forces at work in The Shining. But by the end of the film I understood. This film may not deal with forces from another world, but it manages to extract thrills and horror from parts of our own reality, and somehow manages to craft moments that at once feel surreal and all too realistic. At times it's like a trip to the twilight zone. And, of course, it features some incredible performances. Plummer is brilliant in the main role. Seriously, considering this and his Oscar-winning work in Beginners, I actually think he's doing the best work of his career in his later life. And the supporting performances are great too. Landau is excellent, and Breaking Bad's Dean Norris practically steals the movie in a single nail-biting scene playing a brutish cop who's a proud member of the American Nazi party. I honestly cannot recommend Remember enough. See it if you can--it deserves so much more attention that it initially received.
|Dean Norris menacing Christopher Plummer in Remember.|
And there you have it, my picks for the top fifteen films of the first part of 2016! It's already been a great year, so I can't wait to see what not-yet-released films can top these selections. What are some of your favorite films of the year so far? Did I miss any of your favorites? Which films are you most excited to see that are coming soon? Let me know in the comments!