Rockie's Top Ten Movies of 2016
Rockie's not much for intros, he's cool, you're cool, so here, in no particular order, is his top 10 movies of 2016.
One of the scariest films I have ever seen in any genre. After a crappy tour starts to wind down, a punk rock band plays a final gig at a skinhead club and, boy, does it go south fast. Forced into the green room backstage after witnessing the aftermath of a brutal murder, the band is up against an army of skinheads, led by Sir Patrick Stewart, who will stop at nothing to silence them. This intense few-vs-many story is airtight and eerily realistic in how it serves its violence. Director Jeremy Saulnier proves that Blue Ruin (which you must see) is no fluke and his talent knows no bounds; his use of misdirection shows impeccable craftsmanship. I wanted to put this film in all of ten of my spots on this list, if that’s any indication of how much this rattled me. How can you dislike a film that has a spectacular Prince reference and one of the greatest final lines ever uttered in the history of cinema?
A perfect film about discovering your sexual identity in an area where it is damn near impossible to do so. The main character, Chiron, a closeted gay man, is played by three different actors, showing us the most pivotal moments of his life as he battles bullies, his mother and himself. There is nothing in this film that needs to be trimmed nor added; it is consistent right out the gate and refuses to dip in quality. Director Barry Jordans' previous film Medicine for Melancholy is good, but nothing can really prepare you for how much of a step up he makes with Moonlight. Great dramas can resonate with you forever if they stick the landing; Moonlight not only nails that ending, it delivers an atom bomb of a final image, which makes the film timeless and important.
Kubo and the Two Strings
The stop-motion animation team at Laika truly outdid themselves here and made a masterwork for the ages. Pound for pound, this is the greatest animated film of 2016. Loaded with tiny details that warrant multiple viewings, Kubo is also an emotional family-driven piece. Our hero Kubo is forced to grow up fast after his father goes missing and his magic-wielding mother suffers a traumatic brain injury, all while he's still an infant. His evil grandfather is after him, and scattered throughout his homeland are the only things that can protect him; an unbreakable sword, a helmet, and a chest plate. The mystical quest to retrieve these items, although fraught with peril, mold Kubo into a legendary animated character with important life lessons, which end up being vital for children as well as adults. Jaw dropping stop motion animation and an amazing story to boot, I cannot recommend this enough. Stay tuned after the credits for an amazing joke involving an animator and a huge stop-motion skeleton creation.
The Nice Guys
Shane Black is back in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang mode with this murder-mystery-comedy hybrid set in 1970s Los Angeles. Constantly drenched in alcohol or water, Ryan Gosling plays a private dick with a less-than-professional approach to his work. Landing a missing persons case that is way above his skill set he decides to collaborate with a neighborhood tough (Russell Crowe), the same tough who broke his arm only days prior. With undeniable chemistry, they traverse the city of L.A. to get the job done, with hitmen and corrupt officials on their asses. Hot damn this film is flat-out hilarious, too. Packed with that amazing knack for writing he’s known for, Black understands how to move his characters forward with Rocketeer-level propulsion. Fans of his work should own this one already; a worthy addition to your film collection. By the way, why does Shane Black hate ventriloquists so much?
One of the greatest father-daughter stories in recent cinema history. A driven workaholic woman has her world turned inside out when her estranged father shows up unannounced with the hopes of reconnecting. However, his idea of togetherness consists of dressing up and playfully embarrassing his daughter as well as harassing her peers. Can the walking "Dad Joke" get through to his tough-as-nails daughter or will he drive her completely mad, damaging their relationship permanently? Clocking in at 2 hours and 42 minutes, I hope you'll trust me when I say every scene matters in this film. Powerful enough to pull tears, while also making you burst into applause, Toni Erdmann is a very special film that will warm your heart. Fans of Whitney Houston rejoice, for this film honors her with arguably one of the greatest scenes of 2016.
Swiss Army Man
A film by Daniels (Dan Kean and Daniel Scheinert), Swiss Army Man is the most creative movie to be released under the stunning A24 label. Dark and inspired, this is also the most beautiful film about a multipurpose dead body you'll ever see. Paul Dano plays Hank, a man on a desert island, utterly alone, who is set on killing himself, until his discovers Manny, the farting corpse. Hank uses Manny to save himself, using him as a speed boat to get off the island with the aid of the corpse’s flatulence. It only gets crazier from there. Wholly original and completely sincere, Swiss Army Man smashes through new cinematic ground with childlike abandon. Surreal, with the hugest heart, the cliché “it must be seen to be believed” fits too well here. Also, the song “Montage” will surely stand the test of time.
It's about time we got a documentary about one our greatest living filmmakers. Directors Jake Paltrow and Noah Baumbach bring us a candid and intimate piece that has radical director Brian De Palma looking directly into the camera and explaining his work from A to Z. He is blunt and straight to the point without ever coming off rude or ungrateful, recounting the joys and pains each project gave him. In fact, he seems to be in rather good spirits throughout the documentary, even when he talks about his father's infidelity and the irreparable damage it caused his family. Film junkies should eat this up, as De Palma drops a king’s ransom of factoids, educating you and adding so much to the films you cherish. Considering how violent some of his output is, it’s simply the best to hear him say "Holy Mackerel!" like a 1950s newspaper reporter with coffee jitters. For De Palma fans, this is a must.
I love filmmaker Jeff Nichols. He reminds me a lot of director Ang Lee, in that he’s fearless and willing to try something new and he always manages to create a new cinematic treasure. After the melodrama of Mud and the nightmare of Take Shelter, it was a no brainer I’d be following this talent anywhere, especially into the sci-fi genre. Midnight Special is a grounded, emotional film with a heavy focus on characters, while being surrounded by the fantastical. A child with special abilities, possibly alien in origin, is on the run from cult members who worship the child and a government that wants to study him. Michael Shannon is his father and the two form a special bond as they take chances in their escape in order to achieve their mysterious goals. Very much like his previous film Mud, Nichols drops you right in the middle of the story, trusting you to put it all together. Midnight Special is a sincere sci-fi effort that should not be passed over.
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
Look, someone has to go to bat for one of the best action dramas of 2016 and I might as well be the one to die on this hill. As with Pain & Gain, Michael Bay proves yet again that if he steps away from “Robo Explosion Porn” he can churn out a much smaller film with the same amount of in-your-face impact. Competent with its action geography, the audience becomes fully aware of the surroundings, making each firefight totally coherent. Of course, Bay can't help himself and has to slap a thick slice of Americana cheese onto the film. There's a scene where a soldier calls his family via satellite phone and his wife is breaking down crying in her car with rowdy children at a McDonald's drive-through. It's the corniest scene in decades and I love it to death because it’s so bananas. Politics aside, I’m just here to say this thing has muscle and is way more about overcoming horrible odds than anything else. Incredible military combat from a guy who can order vehicles and weapons from every military branch as if he were ordering take out, Bay’s 13 Hours is his madness well-executed.
This thing is Paddington good, even Iron Giant good. Bold claims, yes, but rest assured this is a perfect kids film, one that all members of the family can enjoy and learn from. A boy is raised in the woods by a furry dragon after his parents die in a car crash; it’s weird and not an easy sell, I know. While the story may be odd, director David Lowery brings that stoic calm and easy style he showed us in Ain't Them Bodies Saints, combining it with that never-fail Disney Magic and knocks it out of the ballpark. Pete's Dragon earns every dramatic moment, which caused this filmgoer to cry three separate times. Follow Robert Redford's character and take him seriously, as he's the voice of the film; remember, never lose that magic no matter how many times life kicks you around. Find your dragon and fly.