The 2017 Academy Awards are finally upon us, and this year we can safely praise the industry for not imitating #OscarsSoWhite. The hashtag heard round the world last year explained the lack of diversity in Oscar nominations, but not this year.
The Academy has nominated four Best Picture movies about people of color (Fences, Hidden Figures, Lion and Moonlight), seven acting nods for performances of color as well as nominations in categories such as directing, screenplay and cinematography.
This year it really comes down to two movies. One focuses on black America and personal diversity while the other is about following your dreams. Moonlight and La La Land are undoubtedly the two movies to beat.
While I’m fearful that the overrated La La Land will sweep the Oscars, Trevor Dueck argues that “two white tarts dancing and singing in Hollywood might have come out a year too late.” I’m not so sure about that though.
As the director of Moonlight Barry Jenkins explains, “They could not be more different films. I don’t think a love for one has to be to the rejection of the other. I can only speak to the film I made, which was made in the service of shining a light on a character who is often marginalized. Where that falls in the context of the awards season, I can’t say. But I love that regardless of where we are right now, a year and a half ago, we sat down to make this thing, and that’s exactly how I felt and it’s how I feel now.”
Everyone knows my stance on the undeserving Goliath that is La La Land (see here), but this feel-good musical has earned a whopping 14 nominations, a record only shared with All About Eve and Titanic. WTF, right? Even the LA Times asks who will survive the onslaught of La La Land? After sweeping the Golden Globes, it’s proven to be an unbeatable force.
But there were more great movies this year than those two. Many of those movies were ignored by the Academy entirely but were some of my favorites of the year.
Here are my top 10 personal favorite movies of 2016!
Plot: “A national manhunt is ordered for a rebellious kid and his foster uncle who go missing in the wild New Zealand bush.”
Director: Taika Waititi
Actors: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison
Bottom Line: This under-seen indie is both hilarious and heartwarming with the brilliant duo Sam Neill and Julian Dennison. Director Taika Waititi scores yet another hit on his resume with this one.
Plot: “A hopeless man stranded on a deserted island befriends a dead body and together they go on a surreal journey to get home.”
Director: Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
Actors: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe
Bottom Line: This movie’s concept may seem strange, but if you give it a chance, you’ll thoroughly enjoy the experience. Radcliffe is certainly not Harry Potter anymore and gives one of the most exceptional performances of 2016.
Plot: “A divorced father and his ex-con older brother resort to a desperate scheme in order to save their family’s ranch in West Texas.”
Director: David Mackenzie
Actors: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges
Bottom Line: This was a total slow-burner for me, but once the movie accelerated, it was an incredible ride to be on. Tremendous performances by the entire cast, especially by Ben Foster. Where’s his Oscar nod?
Plot: “A family in 1630s New England is torn apart by the forces of witchcraft, black magic and possession.”
Director: Robert Eggers
Actors: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie
Bottom Line: Audiences either loved or hated this one, and I absolutely loved it. It has one of the best ensemble casts with an ending that will leave you questioning the entire movie. Shoutout to Black Phillip.
Plot: “After he is diagnosed with ALS, former professional football player Steve Gleason begins making a video diary for his unborn son, as he, his wife, and their friends and family work to raise money for ALS patients as his disease progresses.”
Director: Clay Tweel
Actors: Steve Gleason, Michel Gleason, Scott Fujita
Bottom Line: I questioned whether or not to put a documentary on a top 10 movie list, but I couldn’t exclude this one. This isn’t a doc about football nor about living with ALS. Gleason is about being human and learning how to survive under extraordinary circumstances. This is necessary life viewing.
Plot: “In the forests of the Pacific Northwest, a father devoted to raising his six kids with a rigorous physical and intellectual education is forced to leave his paradise and enter the world, challenging his idea of what it means to be a parent.”
Director: Matt Ross
Actors: Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay, Samantha Isler
Bottom Line: Viggo Mortensen tremendously leads this movie that delves into a territory I’d be most uncomfortable with – an existence void of the toxic influences of society. The horror! Right?
Plot: “A punk rock band is forced to fight for survival after witnessing a murder at a neo-Nazi skinhead bar.”
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Actors: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Sir Patrick Stewart
Bottom Line: There are some movies that make you question where you stand on Darwin’s survival of the fittest theory – Green Room is one of them, and I don’t think I’d survive. Sir Patrick Stewart (Darcy) 30 pages deep into reading the script, stopped reading to immediately set his home security alarms and open a bottle of scotch before finishing the script. This movie is brilliantly intense.
Plot: “A five-year-old Indian boy gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia; 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family.”
Director: Garth Davis
Actors: Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara
Bottom Line: One of the more unbelievable and uplifting true stories I’ve seen on screen, Lion delivers a story on hope and family led by a tremendous cast. If we needed a feel-good movie in 2016, look to Lion to be that movie.
Plot: “When twelve mysterious spacecraft appear around the world, linguistics professor Louise Banks is tasked with interpreting the language of the apparent alien visitors.”
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Actors: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
Bottom Line: If E.T.’s landed on Earth tomorrow, what would you do? If you had the option to change the course of your life, would you do it? Arrival is the most cerebral experience of 2016, and the intimate nature of the film has everything to do with that.
“Moonlight’s commercial and critical success was one of the cracks in the wall that allowed light to shine into this sometimes pitch-dark year.” via Slate
Plot: “A timeless story of human self-discovery and connection, Moonlight chronicles the life of a young black man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami.”
Director: Barry Jenkins
Actors: Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Trevante Rhodes
Bottom Line: Barry Jenkins is the first black writer-director to be nominated for Best Picture, Director and Screenplay for Moonlight…how great is that? Being poor, black and struggling with sexual identity are things I know absolutely nothing about. What I can relate to in Moonlight is identity and how society can negatively affect personal development in crucial stages of life. It’s bold exploration of personal adversity is exactly what the world needs to see right now.
There you have it – my personal top 10 favorite movies of 2016.
What movies made your list that didn’t make mine??