After watching 227 films this year, here is my list of the best that cinema had to offer:
- Focus Features
It was a solid year for animated films, from Disney gems Moana and Zootopia to the Japanese fantasy The Red Turtle. Stop-motion animation studio Laika, however, delivered the most unique storytelling and beautifully rendered images. Featuring a young Japanese boy facing his family’s dark past, Laika’s strikingly imaginative fourth project has undoubtedly produced another major player in the increasingly competitive animation industry.
- The Orchard
Anchored by the best female performance of the year, the true-life story on the troubled life and shocking death of 1970s TV reporter Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall) is an unflinching character study that explores one woman’s gradual mental breakdown, which leads to her committing suicide during a live news broadcast. Uncomfortably bleak, director Campos scrapes away at the agonizing details of Chubbuck anguish stemming from her stunted personal and professional life to reveal a tortured soul.
Although mainstream horror movie fans might not warm to its methodical pacing, the unnerving atmosphere director/writer Eggers creates can be compared to genre classics like Rosemary’s Baby. Set in New England during the 1630s, a banished colonial family is consumed by evil forces inhabiting the woods around them. It might sound like a supernatural narrative told before, but Eggers injects provocative religious themes many believers will find offensive and disturbing.
Strange and absurd in all the best ways, Colin Farrell stars in this delightfully unconventional dark comedy where single people are forced to stay at a hotel and given 45 days to find a partner or face some peculiar consequences. Greek director/co-writer Lanthimos designs a distinctive dystopian world and questions the idea of typical relationships and how couples connect at a surface level. The screenplay is wickedly funny, tragic and endearing.
Based on the unproduced play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, the absorbing drama by director/writer Jenkins examines—in three separate chapters—the life of a gay African American character as a child, teenager, and adult and reveals a different type of coming-of-age story that takes a compelling approach to cultural and sexual identity. Jenkins emphasizes its sincerity and avoids the stereotypical traps a narrative about a family broken by addiction usually falls into.
- Summit Entertainment
Taking his love for jazz music, director/writer Chazelle breathes new life into the old Hollywood musical genre much like 2011’s The Artist did for silent cinema. At the center of this charmer are an aspiring actress (Emma Stone) and a frustrated jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling), both of whom would like to find more success in their respective creative fields. Driven by an exhilarating score and a handful of magical moments, La La Land is an adorable, choreographed-to-a-fault work of art.
- CBS Films
On paper, director Mackenzie’s West Texas heist thriller about a pair brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) robbing banks to save their family home with an almost-retired Texas Ranger (Jeff Bridges) nipping at their boot heels feels like a tired template. But with a smart and refined script by Taylor Sheridan that is both tense and sarcastic, and a cast of fully fleshed out characters that demand investment, the contemporary Western is an exceedingly enjoyable surprise.
- Open Road Films/Amazon Studios
There is no need to know anything about NFL football to appreciate the inspirational life of former New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason. Directed by Tweel, the documentary follows Steve, after being diagnosed with ALS, a debilitating neurological disorder, recording a video journal for his unborn son. Along with a heartbreaking look at an elite and beloved athlete weakening before his family’s eyes, Gleason also offers a profound examination on faith, forgiveness, marriage, and parenthood.
- The Weinstein Company
The incredibly moving drama tells the story of Saroo, a five-year old Indian boy who is separated from his family and—20 years later—uses Google Earth to find his way back home. Director Davis taps into a Saroo’s childhood memories to create a delicate link to his new life and give him reason to hope. Far from melodramatic, Lion is the kind of film that will break you emotionally if you’ve ever lost a parent or a child.
- Roadside Attractions/Amazon Studios
Director/writer Lonergan’s expressive and impactful drama, which stars Oscar nominee Casey Affleck as a man who is named the legal guardian of his teenage nephew when the boy’s father dies, is a complex and thoughtful depiction of the grieving process. The range of emotion Affleck is able to convey in such a nuanced way is unbelievable. You can't get much more human than Lonergan’s script, which brims with sorrow, humor and heart.