EDITORIAL: The Best of 2016 (so far)
The end of June marks the cinematic continental divide of 2016. Six months down. Six months to go. While the movie calendar is always back-loaded in November and December for awards season, there are always quality films to be found in the first half of the year. Through press credentials, I've been lucky enough to see and review more films than most, 47 (as of June 10), my highest half-year total in the website's six-year history. Still, I have my blind spots of missed opportunities ("Green Room," "Sing Street") and I'm not quite cool enough (or rich enough) to be privy to the future heavyweights that come out of the Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca, and Cannes Film Festivals. Many of my personal most-anticipated picks and my crystal ball Oscar prognostications are still coming.
Since it's only been a half-year, I'll split a year-end "10 Best" list into a Top 5. True to this website's theme, I present you my picks for the "Best of 2016 (so far)" coupled with their best life lesson from my full reviews. Those full pieces are linked below, unless they are too soon to publish.
MY PICKS FOR THE BEST MOVIES OF 2016 (SO FAR)
1. "LIFE, ANIMATED"
For the first time ever, a documentary tops a "Best of" list on my website. Debuting locally at the Chicago Critics Film Festival this past May, this movie hit my right in the guy as living embodiment of what I preach on this website. Owen Suskind is autistic and his trigger, passion, and barometer for seeing and interpreting the world at a young age became the animated films of Walt Disney Pictures. As a human story and documentary, "Life, Animated" is one of the most profound and meaningful experience I've ever had watching a film. Seek it out July 8, 2016 when it arrives in theaters. (full review publishing on July 15)
BEST LESSON: WE ALL LEARN THE WORLD THROUGH A DIFFERENT LENS-- Call the "lens" whatever you like: your influences, your inspirations, your idols, your upbringing, your environment, your cognitive development, etc. Every one makes sense of the world we live in a different way and with different rationalizations. This is Owen's and it just happens to be Disney movies.
2. "COMING THROUGH THE RYE"
For the last several years, independent and smaller films have topped my half-year "So Far" list above the mainstream popcorn flicks. With no effort to be a pompous and artsy critic, I have always promised you those films ("Far from the Madding Crowd" in 2015, "The Grand Budapest Hotel" in 2014, and "The Place Beyond the Pines" in 2013) are wonderful hidden gems that are very worthy of your attention. After "Life, Animated" at #1, "Coming Through the Rye" at #2 is such a film. A festival winner at the Phoenix Film Festival still searching for distribution, I hope a lucky day comes where more people can experience this J.D. Salinger-influence coming-of-age homage with touching performances and themes. (full review)
BEST LESSON: FINDING THE BRAVERY TO DO SOMETHING OF YOUR OWN-- The main character Jamie feels that staging "The Catcher in the Rye" at school can validate his value and his coolness independent from the typical popularity. He feels that if others can see him play Holden that they will understand him better through the play's performance and artistic expression that relates to him. The real truth is the courage to represent yourself, blaze your own trail, and create your own masterpiece with your own life, without standing on the shoulders of others.
Raucous, populist blockbuster popcorn barges in and I'll never be mad about. Only three films so far this year have gotten a full five-star review from me and this is the third. As a comic book guy, it was nearly impossible not to have fun and be wildly impressed by the referential humor dripping from this blood-soaked adventure. I've haven't had more fun at a movie all year. More please! (full review)
BEST LESSON: RETAINING YOUR PERSONALITY IN THE MIDST OF HARDSHIP-- With all of the horrible crap that happens to this character, how and why does Deadpool keep spitting jokes? It's because this character has the bona fide personality of a confident extrovert, not a brooding or angst-ridden wuss. It is a complexion that feels immediately fully-formed compared to other origin stories of tedious and predictable self-discovery (you know, like every single "Spider-Man" film).
4. "IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE"
So far, the best four-star movie I have seen this year is a film audiences still have to wait until September or October to see. I was lucky enough to view and enjoy Ti West's tropes-subverting western "In a Valley of Violence" at the Chicago Critics Film Festival in May. Led by game performances from Ethan Hawke and, of all people, John Travolta, West toys with the western mythos and brings his sharp tools and horror film chops. The results is steely, violent, and unexpectedly giddy blast, the kind of western Quentin Tarantino thinks he makes. (full review coming in October)
BEST LESSON: THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A KILLER AND A THIEF-- The men in this Western can be sorted into two groups. Everyone fashions themselves to be tough as leather, but their motivations are different. The thieves represent the people who are selfish, those that think, act, take, and even kill solely for themselves. The true killers are the ones that act with resolve, integrity, and know the weight of the violence they wield. There's a distinct difference.
5. "MIDNIGHT SPECIAL"
Not far after "In a Valley of Violence" in quality is Jeff Nichol's hardscrabble science fiction film from March. Polarizing for sure, I found wonder and suspense in this twisty family drama disguised as a pursuit thriller. Michael Shannon is at the top of this game and I loved the perplexing and challenging questions and themes posed by Nichols. "Midnight Special" was one of very few times in the last few years, where my jaw was open in amazement by the time the film was done. (full review)
BEST LESSON: ONE MAN'S PROPHET IS ANOTHER MAN'S FANATIC-- The patient development of "Midnight Special" through the opposing lenses of peril versus divinity creates questions as to whose side has the right assessment on Alton. Could the government be wrongly quelling a living epiphany or are Roy and the religious radicals blind to his destructive capability? Who is the reality and who is the fantasy?
THE NEXT FIVE:
"High-Rise," "Hunt for the Wilderpeople" (publishing July 8), "Elvis & Nixon," "Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World" (publishing August 18), "Born to Be Blue," "The Invitation," "Race," "10 Cloverfield Lane," "Beauty and the Beast (La Belle et la Bete)" (publishing in September). "Kung Fu Panda 3," "Zootopia" (no review), and, yes, even "Captain America: Civil War" and "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice"