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2016 Top 10 Films

List by-Jarrett Leahy

As the 2017 Academy Awards near, it’s time yet again for AmateurCinephile.com to release the site’s Top 10 list for the 2016 movie year. Every year, there are always films that unfortunately go unseen before the Top 10 posting, and this year is no different. But overall, I’m fairly comfortable with these selections and I hope you’ll give a few of them a watch if given the chance.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

-Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waititi)- A New Zealand-set, odd-couple comedy starring Sam Neill (Jurassic Park) and a precocious Julian Dennison, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a sweetly amusing outback adventure that will leave you wanting more. (B+)

-Swiss Army Man (Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinhert)- A man deserted on an island befriends a dead body that washes up on the shore, and, together, they find their way back to civilization. A farcical comedy with such a preposterous premise should have been dead in the water (pardon the pun) but in the hands of filmmakers Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert along with stars Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe, Swiss Army Man is a true absurdist gem that tugs at the heartstrings. (B+)

-Nocturnal Animals (Tom Ford) Fashion designer/filmmaker Tom Ford’s second cinematic effort is a dark and intoxicatingly raunchy mystery thriller that will keep you glued to your seat until the film’s bitter end (and be prepared for the most…unforgettable opening credits ever). Nocturnal Animals proves yet again that Amy Adams can do anything she wants. (B+)

-Captain Fantastic (Matt Ross)- A family living off the grid in the Northwest wilderness is forced to come back to the “real world” after a sudden, unexpected tragedy. Vigo Mortensen earns his second Oscar nomination for his celebrated portrayal of Ben, a complex family patriarch who is forced to re-evaluate the unconventional lifestyle choices he has made for his children. An amusing and heartfelt comedic drama, Captain Fantastic will leave you smiling inside. (B+)

AMATEURCINEPHILE.COM’S TOP 10 FILMS OF 2016

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10. The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos) A dystopian satire depicting a future where being single is against the law, Yorgos Lanthimos’ deranged and unhinged pitch black comedy is the film I’m most hesitant to recommend, for I foresee a majority of everyday movie fans not appreciating the movie’s quirky darkness. But if you’re the type that digs unusual and unconventional cinema, I promise you’ve never seen anything like it, as The Lobster’s true originality left me floored. (A-)

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9. Midnight Special (Jeff Nichols) A father and son go on the lam, evading capture from both Federal authorities and a religious cult which has become enamored with the young boy’s unexplained supernatural powers. Restrained and methodically paced, writer/director Jeff Nichols masterfully builds the mystical intrigue surrounding this young boy’s gifts. Blessed with a “beyond-his-age” performance from the gifted young actor, Jaeden Liberher, along with a first-rate supporting cast that includes the likes of Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, and Adam Driver, Nichols has added yet another impactful piece of cinematic work to go alongside his accomplished films, Mud and Taking Shelter. (A-)

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8. Sing Street (John Carney)After family hardships force a sudden change in schools, Conner, a young man growing up in 1980’s Dublin, decides to start up a band in the hopes of impressing the alluring new girl he is smitten with. Delightfully wholehearted, Sing Street is writer/director John Carney’s third music-based film, joining the much loved Once (2007) and Begin Again (2013). Chock-full of catchy originals and classic ’80’s tunes, Carney’s ode to youthful exuberance perfectly captures the naïve excitement of starting your first band. (A)

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7. Arrival (Denis Villeneuve) When unidentified spacecraft mysteriously appear around the globe, language specialist Louise Banks is charged with the difficult task of deciphering the complex communication of these new celestial species. After a string of successful films including Incendies (2010), Prisoners (2013), and Sicario (2015), it’s time to state the obvious that Denis Villeneuve is one of the most gifted filmmakers working today. Starring Amy Adams, whose superb portrayal of Louise Banks is arguably this year’s biggest Oscar snub, Arrival is an intelligently crafted science fiction drama filled with tension and emotional complexity. (A)

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6. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins) Told as a three-part drama, Moonlight follows the story of Chiron from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to survive in the dangerous urban projects of Miami all while coming to grips with a true identity that could make life even harder for him. Poetic and harrowing at times, this gay, coming-of-age story is a beautiful piece of cinema that raises questions about personal identity and the true nature of masculinity, all while shining a light on the constant struggles inner-city youth face on a daily basis. Easily one of the best of 2016, Moonlight will give La La Land a run for its money come Oscar night. (A)

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5. Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie) Writer Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) and director David Mackenzie prove again that the western isn’t dead just yet as they unleash this charged tale of two brothers who go on an eleventh-hour crime spree in hopes of staving off an impending bank seizure of their family’s ranch. Chris Pine and Ben Foster bring a genuine sincerity to their morally flawed characters, and Jeff Bridges has perfected the amusingly cantankerous curmudgeon. While nothing groundbreaking, Hell or High Water is a fine piece of filmmaking and a wonderful new addition to the western genre. (A)

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4. Love & Friendship (Whit Stillman) After making a name for himself in the ’90’s with a trio of highbrow, intellectual indie comedies, Metropolitan (1990), Barcelona (1994), and The Last Days of Disco (1998), writer/director Whit Stillman is back with this waggish adaptation of the Jane Austen epistolary novel, Lady Susan. Starring Kate Beckinsale in one of her finest performances, Love & Friendship tells the story of a high society widow who visits her in-laws’ estate in the hopes of escaping her checkered past and finding a husband for her flighty daughter. Blessed with a gifted cast, the film’s true scene stealer is Tom Bennett, whose uproarious performance as Sir James Martin left me in stitches. This is a Jane Austen film for fans and non-fans alike. (A)

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3. Everybody Wants Some!! (Richard Linklater) Described by some as the “spiritual sequel” to Linklater’s 1993 cult classic, Dazed and Confused, Everybody Wants Some!! follows a group of college baseball players over a two day period in the fall of 1980 just before the beginning of the new semester. Detractors have described the film as being “plotless,” but what Everybody Wants Some!! may lack in traditional storyline, it certainly makes up for in sheer amusement as it perfectly captures the overtly bro-tastic emanation that surrounds a college baseball team. I foresee Everybody Wants Some!! being yet another cult classic for Mr. Linklater. (A)

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2. La La Land (Damien Chazelle) What else can be said about La La Land that wouldn’t be superfluous? Writer/director Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to his award-winning Whiplash is a dazzling cinematic creation that truly jumps off the screen. A musical set in modern day Los Angeles, La La Land’s two stars, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, radiate sultry on-screen chemistry. The film’s overwhelming success at this year’s Golden Globes and subsequent haul of Oscar nominations has led to the inevitable backlash, but don’t let that scare you away from seeing one of the truly great films of 2016. (A+)

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1. Blue Jay (Alex Lehmann) Two former high school sweethearts reunite by happenstance, spending an evening together reliving fond memories and opening old wounds from the past. Voyeuristic in the sweetest sense, Blue Jay is filled with unspoken words, flirtatious expressions, and lighthearted banter that mask repressed feelings. A film about reuniting high school sweethearts could come off as timeworn or hackneyed, but Mark Duplass, who not only stars in the film but also wrote the screenplay, does an adept job infusing genuine emotion and universal sentiment into this taut, black and white, eighty-minute masterwork. Highlighted by a remarkable performance from the consummate Sarah Paulson, there’s no better way to describe why I’ve chosen Blue Jay as my number one film of 2016 other than: I simply LOVE THIS FILM! I hope you’ll have the chance to seek it out. (A+)

-Edited by: Michelle Zenor
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