Ben’s Ten Favorite Movies of 2016

Ben2016

As spring 2018 arrives, I thought I would continue my new tradition of publishing my Favorite Movies of the Year list in as untimely a fashion as possible. A “Best of 2017” list turned in in April of the following year would constitute a laughable effort, but turning in a “Best of 2016” list instead? That’s the kind of unprecedented laziness Byting Reviews built its reputation on, my friend.

I liked 2016 in movies quite a bit, and my numero uno might go on to become my favorite movie of the decade. However, I can’t even begin to rank films two through ten in a satisfying way, so I’m instead arranging them alphabetically below:

The Edge of Seventeen – Hailee Steinfeld plays an emotional teenager whose relationship with her best/only friend sours when said friend begins to date her “perfect” older brother (the guy from Everybody Wants Some!!, which may or may not appear as the next entry on this list).

Steinfeld delivers big time. She already arrived in True Grit, but if she hadn’t, this would easily constitute a star-making performance. She’s funny, charismatic, engaging, emotional, and perfect for the story. The rest of the teen actors perform admirably, and Woody Harrelson routinely steals scenes as Steinfeld’s favorite teacher.

If this movie isn’t the funniest of the year, it’s damn close. Essentially, it’s a teen comedy, but unlike other such movies, the stakes and action stay realistic throughout. This keeps the attention on the star, and she elevates the movie with aplomb.

Everybody Wants Some!! – Richard Linklater writes and directs an ensemble piece about a weekend in the lives of a 1980’s Texas college baseball team. As with pretty much every other Linklater movie, there is no plot and nothing really happens.

But I LOOOOOVED it. All it is is a bunch of dudes hanging out and partying, but they feel like friends, and I loved spending time with them. Good enough for me!

The Handmaiden – Park Chan-Wook (Oldboy) returns to Korea to tell the story of a Korean handmaiden sent by a grifter to con a wealthy Japanese lady out of her fortune. As the story advances, the handmaiden develops some affection for the lady and begins to doubt her ability to follow through with the con.

^While the above describes the premise (and the movie, for the admittedly slow/mundane first 45 minutes), once this thing starts cooking, boy does it smell good. What you thought was a simple tale was actually working on several different levels at all times. This guy has mastered the science of twisted, fucked up revelations.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople – From the Kiwi writer/director of What We Do in the Shadows comes Hunt for the Wilderpeople, a story of a thirteen year old orphan who goes to a foster home on the edge of the New Zealand bush country. There, he and his new foster parents (who include Sam Neill) try to adjust to each other.

Shortly thereafter, the movie becomes a wacky, comedic chase/survival picture. I don’t want to say much more than that and that you should watch this movie. It’s very nice and gentle and tender and funny. I saw it with a packed house and everyone loved it. You could watch this with your grandma (or anyone, really) and have a great time.

La La Land – I found this absolutely delightful. The colors pop, the pace cooks, and the performers simmer. I think Gosling and Stone are great here and great together. The movie trades heavily on their charisma, and that decision pays off. While I don’t think the musical numbers reach The Lion King (or even Sing Street) levels, the movie features a few tunes that followed me out of the theater.

As a creative person and professional artist, I am potentially predisposed to favor stories about artistic struggle (see Street, Sing). Even so, I suspect each lead’s all-consuming drive to pursue their dreams carries a universal appeal/relatability. My fellow Byting buddies ripped this movie as insider navel gazing, but just because a movie tells the story of people involved in movies/entertainment does not mean the people in movies/entertainment don’t struggle, hurt, triumph, and have stories worth telling. If you want to read La La Land as Hollywood jerking itself off, you certainly can. However, I would argue that the filmmakers use a world they know inside/out as a backdrop to speak to a universal struggle/truth. The movie proudly emblazons a nostalgia for a bygone film era on its sleeves, but so do 4 of every 10 movie/television projects these days. La La Land’s admiration of Hollywood musicals is only more conspicuous than, say, Stranger Things’ admiration of 80’s sci-fi because La La Land takes place in the Los Angeles entertainment industry and Stranger Things does not.

The Lobster – I’m fairly certain this movie makes a profound point about dating, relationships, and singlehood, but I will not lie and say that I can come any closer than that to articulating it. Nonetheless, I loved the dark humor and the stilted, stylized dialog (which predicts a near future in which in-person human interaction/conversation regresses to an alarming degree).

Moonlight – Howard Hawks once famously said that a good movie has “three great scenes and no bad ones.” Moonlight certainly passes this litmus test, delivering some truly heartbreaking and memorable moments (the “turn” in the second chapter crushed me).

The Nice Guys – Just a really likeable, old-fashioned buddy cop movie. Ryan Gosling delivers, as does newcomer Angourie Rice.

Zootopia – Unfortunately, history will more likely remember 2016 for America losing its sanity and electing a racist, incompetent, lazy madman to its highest office than for any other reason. Bizarrely, no 2016 film better captured the attitudes of prejudice and ignorance that laid the groundwork for this than an animated children’s film featuring anthropomorphized animals.

Zootopia works on that level (even if, tragically, the world didn’t actually get to see “the first bunny cop”), but it also works on the level of a silly family movie with some funny jokes in it.

1. Sing Street – This movie rocked me to my core. I laughed. I cried. I loved it. I’ve seldom had an easier time making my favorite-movie-of-the-year selection.

But let’s back up. In 1980’s Dublin (Ireland), a teenage boy meets an aspiring model (a slightly older teenage girl). In order to woo her, the boy tells her he’s in a band (which isn’t true) and that she should come star in a music video with him. The girl agrees, and the boy desperately begins to cobble a band together to make his plan happen.

Like Once (writer/director John Carney’s previous movie), the music (nearly all of it original) plays a major role here. The protagonist spends a good deal of the movie creating new material, and we often see his songs play uninterrupted to their conclusion. The music (most of it in the vein of Duran Duran) is wonderfully fun and catchy.

At first, I followed this movie with semi-removed interest. I had my guard up. It’s a story about high-schoolers, and in my old age I tend to dismiss such tales as puppy love. I tend to intellectually denigrate the struggles and passions of characters at this age as ultimately fleeting and inconsequential. Unrequited love is a big element of the movie, and my current dating philosophy does not allow for this whatsoever. If a girl ain’t interested, I’m out. I have no use for pining in vain, and possess little/no sympathy for those that do it.

I couldn’t tell you precisely when, but at some point, the movie smashed through my cynical, jaded exterior and wrenched my heartstrings into gear. All of a sudden, I bought into everything. I bought into the characters’ emotions and the immediacy of their struggle. I bought into their passion. I felt inspired in a way that I haven’t felt in years (from a movie, anyway).

And so, Sing Street takes the prize.

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