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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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2015 wasn’t a bad year, but I’m calling it a “bag” year.

What am I talking about?

Well, you know how sometimes movies just aren’t your bag? In an attempt to be a well-rounded cinema goer, I try to appreciate things that aren’t necessarily my bag. It’s one of the reasons that I do things like complete film lists, because then not only will it force me to confront things that aren’t my bag, it might also help me find new things that are my bag that I’d never have suspected were my bag. Most years I end up trying to catch up with some critical favorites which, on the surface, would seem not to be my bag. Sometimes I feel like I haven’t watched nearly enough movies to even have favorites. For example, what if instead of the ~60 new movies I saw this year, I had watched a different 60? That’s entirely possible. What if I have a bunch of favorite movies that I don’t know are my favorites because I never saw them?

Yet I feel like this year has been uncommonly predictable in the sense that I pretty much knew what I was going to like and dislike before I ever watched it. Most of the stuff that I thought would be my bag was my bag, and there weren’t a lot of surprises when I went looking for things that weren’t my bag. I mostly enjoyed movies from directors that I already favor (Baumbach, Tarantino, Villeneuve, Inarritu, Del Toro) and from genres that I favor (thriller, sci-fi), and disliked movies I didn’t expect to like (Jurassic World, Pixels). There were a couple of minor surprises – I liked Tomorrowland more than the consensus, didn’t love The Martian – but when I sought things a bit off the beaten path, like Tangerine or The Duke of Burgundy, none of it really made a big impression.

So while I’m pleased as punch to be a film aficionado right now, I can’t help but feel my own habits – and by extension, my year-end list – failed to capture the breadth of what filmmaking looked like this year. There’s no Holy Motors on my list, and no A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, no Sleepwalk with Me. It just feels like I didn’t see any stalwart indies or ambitious art films that I really fell in love with. Maybe that means I missed out. Or maybe it means mainstream movies were uncommonly good this year. I’d be more than happy to recommend Buzzard, for example, but to say I liked it better than any of the movies on this list would be dishonest – and there’d be no point in doing a personal list if it isn’t honest.

So with 2015 in the bag, here are the movies that are my bag this year:

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Up (2009)
Directors: Pete Docter, Bob Peterson
Starring: Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai
Running Time: 1 hr, 36 min
Rated: PG


Review by Brother Reed

You don’t need a review to help you decide whether or not you are going to see the new 3D animated movie, Up. You already know you are going to see it. The reason? You noticed it is the latest offering from Pixar studios; and because you’ve been paying attention for the last decade or so, you know that Pixar has been responsible for consistent, high-quality films such as Toy Story, The Incredibles, and Wall-E. With each new movie, the animation gets better as technological advances enable the team of creative wizards to render light and texture with stunning realism. Yet with all these steps forward, they continue to focus on stories full of heart, humor, and relatable characters – which is exactly what you can expect with Up. FULL REVIEW

Cars (2006)
Directors: John Lasseter, Joe Ranft
Starring: Owen Wilson, Bonnie Hunt, Larry the Cable Guy
Running time: 1 hr, 57 min
Rated: PG

Review by Brother Reed

There are three things that I hate. Yea, four are an abomination to me: movies in which a sport is a central part of the plot, movies in which a horse is a main character, movies in which a dog is a main character, and movies in which Hilary Duff is a main character. Usually a movie will have to pretty darn good to overcome any of these grave caveats. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. I liked Remember the Titans despite its sports theme, and Milo & Otis was one of my favorites as a child even though it was about a dog (and a cat). I can’t think of any movie that has survived Hilary Duff’s involvement, but on to the point. Movies about cars fare somewhat better than movies about sports; but it’s a dangerous area nonetheless since NASCAR, at least in some estimations, is a sport. So it was not without some nagging reservations that I went to see Disney and Pixar’s long-awaited latest film, Cars. FULL REVIEW