David Vicari's Picks:
2016 wasn't too bad of a year for films. While the quantity of really terrific movies was low, the quality was very high in a small collection of releases. First, some honorable mentions: 10 Cloverfield Lane, Allied, Doctor Strange, Don't Breathe, Green Room, Midnight Special, The Nice Guys, The Shallows and Zootopia.
10. Eyes of My Mother - A disturbed young woman (Kika Magalhaes) living on an isolated farm feeds into her twisted desires in this black and white nightmare. Probably the most unsettling character study since Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986).
9. Deadpool - Ryan Reynolds scores as the title character in this smart, fresh and hilarious take on the comic book genre. You know you're in for a treat when the opening credits make you laugh.
8. Silence - Martin Scorsese's adaptation of Shūsaku Endō's 1966 novel is an intense exploration of religious faith. Two Jesuit priests, in the 17th century, travel from Portugal to Japan to find their missing mentor. Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver, as the priests, are excellent. Brutal torture scenes.
7. Everybody Wants Some!! - Richard Linklater's "spiritual sequel" to Dazed and Confused (1993) is a worthy follow-up. It's 1980 and a group of college baseball players have their last hurrah during the weekend before classes begin. Vivid characters and conversations, the film is smart, funny and cleverly foreshadows the Reagan Era and the "Big Business" consumerism of the 1980s.
6. Love & Friendship - Whit Stillman's period comedy, based on Jane Austen's novella Lady Susan, is breezy fun. Through devious means, Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale), plots to find a husband for herself and her reluctant daughter. Beckinsale has never been better!
5. Hell or High Water - Jeff Bridges and Chris Pine star in David Mackenzie's thinking person's cops and robbers film. Pine is a divorced father out to save the family farm - by robbing banks. The film is packed with moral complexity and characters that make sense. Great supporting performances by Ben Foster and Gil Birmingham.
4. De Palma - Fascinating and personal discussion with master filmmaker Brian De Palma about his movies (Carrie, Dressed to Kill, Scarface, The Untouchables). De Palma, himself, is a very funny and engaging interviewee. This is a must-see for up and coming filmmakers.
3. Sing Street - Another terrific, personal musical drama from Irish filmmaker John Carney (Begin Again, Once). In 1985 Dublin, 14-year-old Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) decides to form a band and make a music video - all to win the heart of cool beauty Raphina (Lucy Boynton). This is a film that just makes you feel good.
2. Gleason - This documentary about former New Orleans Saints safety Steve Gleason and his battle with ALS is unfiltered and often hits you in the gut. It's heart-wrenching yet incredibly inspiring.
1. La La Land - Damien Chazelle's salute to the movie musical is the thing of cinematic dreams. Can a Jazz musician (Ryan Gosling) and an actress (Emma Stone) make their relationship work in Hollywood? I love everything about this movie - the performances, the songs, the cinematography - which is not a spoof but a sincere musical.
Fritz Esker's Picks:
Honorable Mentions: Sully, Hacksaw Ridge, Moonlight, Café Society, The Founder.
10. The Nice Guys - Emma Stone is not the only co-star Ryan Gosling had terrific chemistry with this year. Gosling paired with Russell Crowe in writer/director Shane Black's action comedy about a 70s detective who teams up with hired muscle to solve the murder of a porn star. It's the kind of fun, mid-budget R-rated entertainment aimed strictly at grown-ups that Hollywood seems reluctant to make anymore.
9. Green Room - Jeremy Saulnier's brutal, unrelenting siege thriller focuses on a punk band who stumbles upon a murder at a Neo-Nazi bar. They have to fight their way out. Like Hell or High Water, it takes a simple premise and knocks it out of the park. Patrick Stewart's sadistic club owner is the year's best villain.
8. Arrival - Amy Adams plays a linguist trying to establish communications with alien visitors. It's tense without being melodramatic and it features a rarity: a plot twist that genuinely catches you off guard but makes perfect sense in retrospect.
7. Don't Think Twice - In a way, this film about an improv troupe thrown into upheaval when one of its members makes it on to a Saturday Night Live clone is a cousin to La La Land. Don't Think Twice is more of an ensemble comedy, but it also addresses themes of how far should a person go to achieve his/her dreams and the toll it takes on personal relationships. It's funny and bittersweet in equal measures.
6. Zootopia - Yes, it's an excellent family film with a good message about tolerance and how governments control populations through fear. But, most importantly, it's also loads of fun and tells the best family film detective story since Who Framed Roger Rabbitt?
5. Hell or High Water - A tense cat-and-mouse film about two bank-robbing brothers pursued by a Texas marshal. It's an elegantly simple setup, but one that director David Mackenzie executes brilliantly with the help of stars Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, and Ben Foster.
4. Sing Street - Speaking of the optimism of youth, writer/director John Carney's musical (what a great year for musicals) tells the story of an Irish boy in the mid-80s who forms a band so he can shoot a music video to impress a girl. Like La La Land, it radiates charm and sincerity. And in a year full of movies with endings that were either bittersweet or downright bleak, Sing Street proved that a happy ending could be done with grace and artistry.
3. Everybody Wants Some!! - Richard Linklater's "spiritual sequel" to Dazed and Confused is its equal. It follows a college baseball team on a wild weekend to start the school year. Very few writers are as good as Linklater at making idle conversation fascinating. But there's more to it than just talk - it's a movie about passion and the fleeting optimism of youth. And it's very funny.
1. (tie): La La Land - I'm taking the coward's way out and calling a tie, but I love both of these films. Writer/director Damien Chazelle's passion project is an homage to old-school musicals. Passion radiates from every lovingly shot frame. The film's heart-on-its-sleeve sincerity is contagious. The songs are great, stars Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are great, and the film is…well, great.
1. (tie): OJ: Made in America - It may be a cheat to list this 5.5-hour documentary, but it played at a couple of film festivals and is eligible for an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary, so I'm counting it. Ezra Edelman's sprawling, masterful juggernaut of a film tackles race, celebrity, sports, police brutality, domestic violence, America, and personal tragedies in a way that's illuminating, heartbreaking, and bleakly funny.