It's that time of year again, movie fans. The time where I look back and recap which films thrilled us and which ones let us down cold and hard. 2016 was a slow starting year at the theater and midway through I questioned if there was a film that thrilled me to use the words, "that was truly great". I didn't have a film that I would stand in traffic and campaign for. As we reach a week into the New Year, I have 10 great films and five not so great films to talk to you about.
There's no real order being established here. I've given up on best or greatest. Here are the lists. Take it for what it's worth.
Ryan Reynolds got to make the version of Wade Wilson that he pined for over 11 years. It was dirty, wildly entertaining, ruthlessly comedic, and didn't compromise a second of its running time. I have watched this film often, and it never loses steam or goodness with repeated sleepovers. There won't be a sequel out there that arrives with greater demand. At the age of 40, Reynolds created his masterpiece. There's a fine George Michael tribute in there too.
9.) Midnight Special
Director Jeff Nichols(Mud, Take Shelter) can't miss these days, and scored two gems in 2016 with this science fiction themed kick of nostalgia and Loving, a true story. Special combined elements from E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Abyss, and Super 8. Michael Shannon-Nichols' muse-plays a desperate father trying to protect his son at all costs. Joel Edgerton is the best friend who is helping him and Kirsten Dunst is the reluctant mother along for the ride. Nichols made this film because he wanted to describe the feelings of being a new father and the responsibility that came with it. He threw the sci-fi shade on top for extra juice. It's a great flick. Original and classy.
8.) Captain Fantastic
Actor Matt Ross wrote and directed this unique tale about a father who raises his kids off the reservation in the Pacific Northwest without the use of technology and electricity. Viggo Mortenson showed off his acting chops and the kids were fantastic, but Ross' work here made every single parent think about what they rely on to raise their kids. If you want a thought provoking film, this is your best bet. No superhero capes included.
7.) Hell or High Water
Talk about a modern western with a family drama kick. Chris Pine, Ben Foster, and Jeff Bridges are all award worthy in David Mackenzie's finest directorial effort. This film did a number of things. It put a new spin on bank robbing flicks, gave Pine a perfect character, Bridges a fine return, and Foster a chance to wrestle with the devil again. You know it's going to end bad, but the finale is so patient and well written that you beg for a sequel that won't happen.
6.) Hacksaw Ridge
Mel Gibson may not be welcomed into the mainstream film world as an actor, but that doesn't mean he can't leave a mark behind the camera. His biopic about the courageous Desmond Doss, the first American soldier to receive the Medal of Honor without firing a single bullet, is equal parts visceral action and powerful drama. Gibson never lets up on either pedal and has the perfect co-pilot in Andrew Garfield to drive the message home. Mel has still got it.
5.) Deepwater Horizon
Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg only know one way to tell a true tale about a dark bruise in the heart of American history. 100 percent visceral all the time. The BP Oil spill gets a dramatic retelling here, and works so well because Berg places the viewer in the madness and never forgets about the fallen oil workers who lost their lives due to a costly miscalculation brought on by greed. Kurt Russell is superb as Jimmy Harrell and Wahlberg turns in his usual commanding leading role as the engineer who straps on the unlikely hero boots. The adventure aspect never gets lost here. The film doesn't slow down. Like Lone Survivor, Berg and Wahlberg aim for the heart and win big.
4.) 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
Michael Bay didn't mess up the story of a security team protecting an American diplomat's compound in the middle of a war outbreak. John Krasinski and James Badge Dale held the anchors in place as the leaders of the team, and Bay didn't overdo the action or mayhem. It's a relentless real time affair, and I was taken aback by this film. This is the one film people will look at and wonder what I'm thinking. It was the first great film I saw in 2016 and a year later, it holds firm. It's the best work Bay will ever do.
3.) Bleed For This
I love boxing movies, and Ben Younger treated the best kept secret American boxing story with care here. Miles Teller blew me away as Vinny Paz, a Rhode Island champion who breaks his neck and attempts a comeback against all odds. The comeback boxing tale has been done to death, but this story is 100 % true so it sinks its teeth in even deeper. Aaron Eckhart is Oscar worthy as Kevin Rooney, Paz's trainer, and Ciaran Hinds steals scenes as Vinny's steel minded father.
2.) Manchester by The Sea
Kenneth Lonergan deserves Oscars for directing, writing, and pure bravery in getting the final cut on this devastating film. Casey Affleck turns in his best performance and Michelle Williams is equally strong. The city and shores brush up against the viewer's eyes and emotions as the characters act in unpredictable ways. The big mid-way gut punch is so well played that it may knock you out of your seat. This is the most uncompromising indie film you'll see this year or the next.
Denis Villenueve put himself on the radar with Prisoners and Sicario. He will put himself in the limelight with the Blade Runner sequel. This film stands as his finest achievement. An alien drama that tells a human story. Amy Adams makes you feel every emotion. She is superb. Jeremy Renner shows his range as an actor. The screenplay, based off a short story, from Eric Heisserer is marvelous and has a few twists in store. There is no exploding spaceships and predictably flat action here. This is an adult drama that will bring you to tears in the end. It made me sink into my seat afterwards.
Honorable Mentions: Loving, Gleason, Captain America: Civil War, Rogue One, 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Accountant.
Talk about an aptly named movie. This major release was a regretful experience. Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman, Tommy Lee Jones, Michael Pitt, Ryan Reynolds, and Gal Gadot got conned into doing this terrible thriller or they were paid handsomely. It was fun at times to see Costner go gruff and tough, but it was done a lot better in Open Range and Mr. Brooks. Oldman never stops screaming and Jones is coasting through his role. The ending is a laugh.
4. Operation Avalanche
The NASA found footage tale runs only 88 minutes, but it feels like an extended visit with the aunt you hate. It's bland, distant, and doesn't intrigue the viewer at all. It stunk. I saw it for you. Happy holidays.
3. Bad Santa 2
The first one was an unexpected gem and the ultimate anecdote to the routine holiday shlick. Billy Bob Thornton tore up the role of a drunk and womanizing thief masquerading as a Santa at the mall. The sequel recycled the same jokes, lost the fresh flavor, and featured Thornton on autopilot. The only delight was seeing Christina Hendricks, but she wasn't around enough. Skip this one. Watch the original.
2. Girl on a Train
Emily Blunt was good in the title role, but this was a mind numbing film that couldn't hide a single twist or gain any traction. You saw the emerging plot lines from a mile away, and the story fit the pages of a book far better than a movie screen. Some books don't need to be made into movies.
1. X-Men Apocalypse
Shame on you, Bryan Singer. The director made four great X-Men films, and then dropped this turd of a sequel. Oscar Isaacs was wasted in easily the worst villainous role of the franchise, and even Michael Fassbender looked bored. It went on and on, with Jennifer Lawrence popping up with weird hair and looking lost. This wasn't a typical Singer X-Men experience and it didn't look required at all. It felt tacked on.
There are films I didn't see. Moonlight, Fences, Live by Night, Patriots Day. I saw over 65 movies in 2016, and these were the best and the worst. One of the most important things as a film critic is not being afraid to love a film others merely liked or didn't like. That is why my recent favorite films of the year were End of Watch, Lone Survivor, and Chef. I like different kinds of flicks.
Which 2016 movies did you like or dislike? Share with me here or on Twitter, @buffa82.