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2016.

Just saying it is enough to make some of you cringe.

There’s an ongoing narrative about how awful this year has been, and not just in American politics. I’ve heard more than a few people say that 2016 has been underwhelming for movies, too, and I can certainly see where they are coming from. Personally, I’ve found a great many movies this year to be disappointing. In a lot of cases I was either let down by something I was anticipating, or I didn’t share my peers’ enthusiastic response to films I enjoyed. I found Deadpool, Jackie, Zootopia, and The Magnificent Seven to be uninspiring at best. Two of my favorite up-and-coming directors (Jeff Nichols and Denis Villeneuve) released three films between them and none was particularly strong. And even though I liked Arrival, Rogue One, Sing Street, Hell or High Water, The Wailing and others, I wouldn’t say any of them were better than pretty good. So in some sense my experience fits the concept of a weak year.

However, we live in a time when the media harvest is nothing if not plentiful. There are so many movies being made by so many people that you’re bound to find the good ones if you look long enough. While I merely scratched the surface of all the films released this year, that was enough to reveal gold amidst the dross. This year saw new films by Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, the Coen Brothers, Nicolas Winding Refn, Paul Verhoeven, Shane Black, Clint Eastwood, John Carney, Richard Linklater, Whit Stillman, and Pixar. We had exciting debuts from Robert Eggers, Kelly Fremon Craig, Dan Tractenberg, and the Daniels; and auspicious new features from such talents as Jeremy Saulnier, Damien Chazelle, and Fede Alvarez.

It’s not every year you witness a masterpiece, but my number 1 film of 2016 is just that. So let’s get there, shall we? Here are my 15 favorites from 2016:

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Godzilla (2014)
Director: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen
Running Time: 2 hrs, 3 mins
Rated: PG-13


Review by Brother Reed

SPOILER WARNING: This review references the movie’s ending and other plot developments throughout. Read at your own risk.

The moment the screen went black, I threw up my hands in exasperation. It was an emotion that had been building slowly over the past hour. This was the first time that I, a lifelong Godzilla fan, had ever seen the King of the Monsters on the big screen. I should be ecstatic. The last time he came to an American cinema was a universally recognized travesty, disowned and dismissed by most fans as an affront to the character’s legacy; and this new movie is by all accounts a superior entry into the well-loved saga. So why was I so disappointed? In fact, disappointment is really the wrong word for it. I was angry. I felt cheated. Bamboozled. Snookered. Ne’er-done-well. I won’t reproduce here the exact comments I made in the theater but here’s a visual aid:
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non-stop-poster Non-Stop (2014)
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Starring: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery
Running Time: 1 hr, 46 mins
Rated: PG-13


Review by Brother Reed

What about Non-Stop, though?

Non-Stop may have had the most effective advertising of any movie in recent memory. That Key and Peele tie-in sketch, for all its transparency, completely cemented the title of the movie in my consciousness. Now I haven’t actually loved any of these Liam Neeson tough guy movies, though I thought Taken was alright. Unknown and A-Team were completely forgettable. Still, there isn’t a lot of competition right now so I went out to see the conspicuously hyphenated Non-Stop, featuring the incomparable Liam Neesons. READ FULL REVIEW

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway
Running Time: 2 hrs, 45 min
Rated: PG-13


Review by Brother Reed

In 2005, Batman Begins pioneered the now ubiquitous gritty reboot (in film – it was being done in comic books more than a decade prior) and reintroduced a generation to Gotham’s mythic hero in a way that was more realistic than ever before. Then in 2008, the ludicrously popular follow-up The Dark Knight permanently changed our perceptions of what comic book adaptations could be; it was heady, mature, cerebral, and morally complex. It also featured Heath Ledger in a career-defining role that defied expectations. His Joker was initially supposed to carry over into the third part of the trilogy. READ FULL REVIEW

Red (2010)
Director: Robert Schwentke
Starring: Bruce Willis, Mary Louise-Parker, Morgan Freeman
Running Time: 1 hr, 51 min
Rated: PG-13


Review by Brother Reed

Remember a few years back in Live Free or Die Hard when Bruce Willis was old? Well in Red he’s still old, and this time so are all his friends. If you think that sounds depressing, you could hardly be more wrong. It’s like if the gang of retirees who occasionally meet for breakfast at Hardee’s had at one point been highly-trained government operatives and are just biding their time until something exciting comes along. The over-the-hill cast of this over-the-top thrill ride are quite obviously having a blast, and their contagious energy is what makes the movie so much fun. Red is a movie that you can’t take seriously because you were never meant to. You were meant to laugh at one-liners and cheer when the good guys win. READ FULL REVIEW

Taken (2008)
Director: Pierre Morel
Starring: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen
Running Time: 1 hrs. 93 min
Rated: PG-13


Review by Brother Reed

Taken is a one-man show. Liam Neeson is that man, and he is bringing his A-game. You may hear Taken described as a pulse-pounding thriller, a relentless action film or a gritty revenge flick. All of those things apply, but probably the most apt qualifier is the one I can’t say: bad*ss. If you hear anyone summing up Taken with that word, be aware that they are not amiss. If you are one who balks at such language, you may want to grant some leniency to the offending party knowing that sometimes there just is not a proper synonym. This tightly-handled film, like its protagonist, is singular of mind and purpose and also very effective. FULL REVIEW

Star Trek (2009)
Director: J. J. Abrams
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Eric Bana
Running Time: 2 hrs. 7 min
Rated: PG-13


Review by Brother Reed

When I heard they were remaking Star Trek, or rebooting it, or whatever it was, I was none too pleased. The commercials came on advertising young upstarts who looked awkwardly unlike their 60’s series counterparts, lots of laser blasts and explosions, some sensual images to increase appeal, and Simon Pegg. Not that I have any real attachment to the original television show. My father likes it, but I always sort of respected it and not much more. I have never read a Star Trek book, and probably couldn’t tell you the names of the crew. If anything, I was more of a Next Generation guy, ‘cause they had Jean Luc and the guy from Reading Rainbow. FULL REVIEW