I figured it was about time I started writing again. On January 1, The Cinematic Katzenjammer marked its fifth anniversary. Five long years had passed since I began this journey with my initial intent to watch and review one movie every day in 2012. Since then, a lot has changed. The site has seen all sorts of writers and contributors come and go, I have been lucky enough to interview a few actors I admire, and I’ve been a part of a podcast with some really great people. So before I go in to my annual top 10 list, I want to thank each and every one of you who have helped with, commented on, shared, or read anything on this site. I would not be typing this list without your support.
10. The Lobster
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos (who directed one of the very first movies I reviewed- Dogtooth), The Lobster was on my most-anticipated list from the beginning. Throw in Colin Farrell in another seemingly offbeat comedic role and toss in a grab-bag of supporting actors, there was little to not be excited about. Luckily the film delivered. The Lobster has to be one of the more original films in recent memory that takes a ridiculous premise and spins it in to a tale of loneliness and love. The first half is a hilarious black comedy that showcases all sorts of bizarre encounters while the second half changes pace a bit and becomes a much darker, bleaker drama. It really is two films in one, with each half being its own masterclass of its genre.
Zombie movies are so common these days that it is very hard for any single film to stand out as something substantial. It is a tired genre that has seen all sorts of twists, turns, and new imaginings that just water down the zombie flick to generic horror. Hell, even with The Walking Dead on TV, zombies have been reduced to nothing more than a dangerous menace in an otherwise boring melodramatic soap opera. Luckily, Train to Busan injects the zombie film with life and brings the undead genre out from its grave and in to something fantastic. At its heart, Train is much more drama than horror, and seeing the lengths a father will go to protect his daughter from the apocalypse is heart-breaking. As far as the action goes, the zombies in Train are fast, ruthless, and chaotic, contrasting spectacularly with the quiet story at center of the film. The characters are intelligent and react as many would think any normal person would in an end-of-the-world situation and show the strengths some will find in a time of crisis as well as the paralleled cowardice many would experience as they face their own mortality.
Laika Entertainment continues to demand the world-wide attention it deserves every few years with each new stop-motion masterpiece they deliver. What started with a much simpler Coraline (although they did help with Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride) has blossomed in to something remarkable with Kubo. Perhaps the most beautiful film on this entire list, Laika brings a world to life in Kubo in a way never seen before. Utilizing the stop-motion techniques they have mastered, mixed with an origami-esque theme, Kubo tells the simple tale of a boy looking for his family. Now even though the story may not be anything entirely unique, the journey is worth every moment of your time. Kubo is a brilliant example of perfect execution and it is as much a work of art as as it is a film.
7. Sing Street
John Carney is an underrated director. He manages to sell us the idea of a musical without ever having a film seem like a musical. Carney uses music as a tool to bring people together in his films. There is nothing showy or over-the-top about it. He does it quietly and effectively and he does it with passion. He is a man who understands the power of song and lets it creep in to his movies, as opposed to glossing them over with fancy musical numbers. It is incredibly effective. In Sing Street, he combines that ‘power’ of his with a coming-of-age story set in his native Ireland in the 1980s. It is part throw-back, heavy with nostalgia, part romantic tale of a kid chasing the girl of his dreams. Conor’s story at the center of the film is something we all relate to and it is accompanied by original songs that all feel like they were ripped from the 80s, and could easily be mistaken as classic hits of the rock world. Sing Street is packed with humor, love, and an appreciation for music and its power to affect all of us.
Ryan Gosling needs to do more comedy. That is fact. He has excellent comedic timing and does wonders with physical comedy. I knew that going in to The Nice Guys and was excited to see him showcase the ability even more. What surprised me the most about the film, however, was how well Russell Crowe fit himself in the genre. Stoic and demanding, Crowe has never truly showcased any comedic chops. And while he plays the more straight guy to Gosling’s Costello, he still has his own moments to shine. Comedy is not something that is easily done and Crowe manages to handle his own, while still being the muscle we know him to be. The Nice Guys is the third film directed by Shane Black, who is best known for his writing of the Lethal Weapon films. It is because the film is in such capable hands does it succeed. There is palpable chemistry between Gosling and Crowe, as there was between Glover and Gibson as Murtaugh and Riggs, and The Nice Guys is a wonderful reminder that the days of such action/comedy/buddy-cop stories are not completely gone forever. Unfortunately, The Nice Guys under-performed at the box office, so the likelihood of sequel films seem dim. But we can cross our fingers that lightning strikes twice and Hollywood lets Gosling and Crowe solve one more crime.
5. La La Land
La La Land is an easy film to love. Once you see it, you will completely understand how it has garnered the attention, awards, and buzz it has received. And that is exactly how I felt coming out of the theater. I enjoyed the movie, I recognized its outstanding merits and appreciated everything it successfully set out to be. However, La La Land crept under my skin and found a home. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone reunite for a third time, building upon their established chemistry and history. You immediately root for the duo and for their successes as individuals and as romantic partners. Their love is tangible and their struggles are real. La La Land is a film with a ton of heart and is much a love letter to romance as it is to Hollywood, the movies, and never giving up on your dreams.
Perhaps the biggest surprise on this list is Hell or High Water. Given the cast alone, I was excited to see the film, thinking it would be a cool little western. What I was not expecting was how masterfully made it is. It is a tight, tense, thriller that is also genuinely funny. It has incredible acting from the three leads- Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges, and Chris Pine, who gives one of the best performances of the year, let alone his career. At its core, Hell or High Water is a heist film, a genre that can easily get caught up in being nothing more than a generic cat and mouse. However, High Water focuses on the main characters and gives them a depth not normally seen in a cops and robbers film. Motives are understood, actions makes sense, and the conclusion is not black and white. It is a very real film, driven by real motivations.
Swiss Army Man is like no other film I have ever seen. On paper, there is absolutely no reason why any of it would work, let alone even get the green light to be made. In what world would a film about a suicidal loner befriending a farting corpse be something worthwhile and not some campy disgustingly bad kind of trash? Luckily, with Swiss Army Man, the absurdity is quickly dismissed as the tale continues and what starts as strange evolves into an incredible story about friendship, loneliness, creativity, and love. It features two outstanding performances from the always great and under-appreciated Paul Dano and a surprising outing for Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe. But perhaps one of the greatest things the film has to offer is the completely a capella soundtrack, including covers of both ‘Cotton Eye Joe’ and the Jurassic Park theme. Now, the film may not be for everyone, but if you can appreciate an original story (something rare in these days of film) that attempts to be like nothing you have ever seen before, you need to watch Swiss Army Man.
Taika Waititi is one of the best writer/directors working today. The man injects whimsy, love, and passion in to every single thing he makes. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is no exception, perhaps even being his best movie to date. Ricky Baker, the kid at the center of the film, is easily one of the best characters to come out of 2016 He is smart, troublesome, curious, and optimistic, and the way he views the world helps us transport ourselves back to our own childhood. In fact, the film is a reminder of how we should really never grow up and to always seek adventure, no matter what outstanding hurdles we may come across. Wilderpeople is also one of the funniest films I have ever seen and it earned the extremely rare pleasure of me rewatching the film immediately after finishing it the first time. I have maybe done that one other time in my entire life.
Read my whole review here.
Arrival is a very quiet film. It is more of an examination of humanity than it is a simple alien invasion flick. It gently crawls inside you and makes a home, tapping in to your brain and making you contemplate your very existence. It is a slow burner that takes its time with you, teaching you to slow down and observe. It never force-feeds any plot point or notion and instead gives you the tools to make your own conclusions. Leaving the theater, you will feel enlightened in some way, partially because you have just witness a masterclass of storytelling, but also because it earns your respect through its intelligence. Through its heavy emotion, beautiful cinematography, and hauntingly poignant score, Arrival is unlike anything you have seen before. There have been only a few days since I saw the film at its release where I have not thought about it and I cannot imagine I could ever forget the experience.
How many of my favorite films did you see this past year? What are some of your own favorites? Let me know in the comments below.