2016 was rough. It knocked me down more times than I would like to remember. And in times of strife, I often go to the movies. The films of 2016 helped me deal. While some allowed me to escape, others reminded me of my own sadness and allowed me to cope (or not), along with the movie’s main characters. There are common themes between the movies in my “Top Ten” for 2016: grief, loneliness, friendship, love, hope and “growing up.” But while these quantifiers of the human experience prevail, there are also the films of 2016 that were just plain terrifying.
Here we go:
10. The VVitch
Part of what makes Robert Eggers’ The VVitch so scary is its isolation. A family shunned from society, living on the outskirts of a desolate wilderness in Puritan times is terrifying enough. Now add baby snatching and a goat named Black Phillip. Anya Taylor-Joy shines as Thomasin, the daughter accused of witchcraft.
9. The Lobster
I am including The Lobster, in my group of “just plain terrifying” films of 2016. With an amazing cast – John C. Reilly and Ben Whishaw are both painfully hilarious – the film starts out with an extremely dry sense of humor, but by the its end, you are destroyed by the potential fates of main characters played by Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz.
8. Kubo and the Two Strings
Laika Animation’s latest is a dark tale. Kubo, a one-eyed Japanese boy, takes care of his ailing mother, who occasionally shows signs of her former self while retelling stories of his father, a great warrior. There is a palpable loneliness and earnest dedication to the character of Kubo, watching his mother grasp at her fading memories. To raise money he busks in the local village, but his mother warns that must return home before nightfall or else his grandfather, the Moon King, (along with Kubo’s terrifying twin Aunts) will return for his other eye. The stop-motion animation in Kubo is amazing, demonstrated when its title character, playing a guitar-like shamisen, brings origami to life. The musical score by Dario Marianelli is complex and beautiful, and features Regina Spektor’s cover of the Beatles, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”
Based on the trailer alone, Joshy looks like a hysterical film about a friends weekend of drinking and debauchery. It features a great ensemble cast, including: Nick Kroll, Jenny Slate and Thomas Middleditch, as Joshy. The actual movie is way more sobering, as Josh’s friends try to help him forget the circumstances that ended his recent wedding engagement. His two friends, played by Adam Pally and Alex Ross Perry, do a pretty terrific job of stealing the show. But it is Middleditch as Joshy, who really delivers, with his best performance since All’s Fair.
6. Don’t Think Twice
I’m a huge Mike Birbiglia fan. More so than hilarious at standup, Birbiglia is an excellent storyteller. His previous film, Sleepwalk With Me really lent itself to his first person narration. In Don’t Think Twice, he takes control as solo director, in this film about an Improv group. While the movie focuses primarily on the stories of Samantha (Gillian Jacobs) and Jack (Keegan-Michael Key), the rest of the troupe each has their own plight, struggling to make it big, or “grow up” and realize different goals.
5. Manchester By the Sea
This film is sad, but not over the top, dramatic; it’s real life sad. This is best displayed by Casey Affleck’s understated performance as main character, Lee Chandler. Asked to take care of his nephew, Patrick (in a standout performance by Lucas Hedges), after his brother dies, Lee must return to his old hometown to handle funeral arrangements and deal with his past. Affleck plays Lee as a shell of a man. We see fragments of his former self told through flashbacks, spliced throughout the story without warning. As we glean more and more information, we are finally confronted with why Lee is the way he is. But despite the intense sorrow, the film is peppered with scenes of hilarity and everyday normalcy, as Lee spends time with Patrick, a boy with, “two girlfriends and a band.” The scenes between Lee and Patrick are some of my favorite in the movie. And although the characters in Manchester are never totally healed, we see progress, and recognition of the fact that everything may not be okay.
4. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
I love director Taika Waititi. Do yourself a favor and start watching all his films: Boy, What We Do in the Shadows, and now, Hunt for the Wilderpeople. With a larger budget, Waititi shoots in his native New Zealand, showing off amazing scenery, an awesome soundtrack and legendary Sam Neill, as Hec, the crotchety, adopted “uncle” to Julian Dennison’s Ricky Baker. A city kid wanted by Child Protective Services, Ricky flees to the New Zealand bush and quickly realizes he can’t make it on his own. Hec finds him and adventure ensues. This movie made me laugh out loud the most times of anything I saw in the theater in 2016. Like I said before, do yourself a favor.
Moonlight is intense. As it chronicles the life of Chiron, we witness three different actors portray him at various points in his life. Chiron is often silent and thoughtful, allowing more to be said by a glance than a whole string of dialogue. Although he is only in the early part of the film, Mahershala Ali is amazing as the drug dealing father figure to Little, (the youngest version of Chiron), whose own mother, (played by an equally excellent Naomie Harris), is an addict. Little knows he is different. As he ages, we see teenage Chiron come to the realization that he is gay through an encounter with a friend he has known since childhood. In that moment, we feel as Chiron feels: not alone. What happens next shapes the portrayal of adult Chiron (now known as Black). The tenderness and longing we see in each incarnation of the same character as he struggles to grow up and find his place in the world is devastating.
2. La La Land
A good musical stays with you days after you see it. Humming songs you don’t yet know all the words to, or tapping your fingers to their rhythms. After seeing La La Land a second time, its original songs have become fairly cemented in my mind. Damien Chazelle builds off his previous film, Whiplash, and uses jazz as a way to translate love and hope. He does his best to recreate the fabulous movie musicals of the golden age of Hollywood, down to their long takes and color palette. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are neither professional dancers nor singers, but their performances are earnest and heartfelt, as lovers who push each other to realize their dreams and be their best selves. But the music is what ties it all together, haunting you long after the film is over, and dang, composer Justin Hurwitz does the job.
1. Swiss Army Man
Paul Dano plays Hank, a lonely man on the verge of suicide, and Daniel Radcliffe is Manny, the farting corpse that saves his life. This movie starts out as one big fart joke but the Daniels, (directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert); create a beautiful, deeply affecting movie. The soundtrack, which incorporates singing and sound effects made by its two main characters, adds to the epic experience of this film. It’s no surprise that the Daniels have a background in creating music videos when you watch sequences like the one during the song, “Montage.” The film tackles the message that love is possible when you can be yourself, and that you’re finally able to be your most honest self when you are loved. Daniel Radcliffe was quoted in an interview as saying, “We lure them in with farts and then we attack them with heart!” A truer statement could not be made.
Besides watching movies, Diana likes the great outdoors, drawing and reading comics, and just generally rocking out. She has a BA in English Literature and is an art school drop out. IG: @dldimuro