Here’s to looking back at you

By Christopher Sanchez

sanchezch@mnstate.edu

Although I’ve seen many films this past year, it’s easy to miss some along the way. Some films I (regretfully) didn’t get a chance to see are “20th Century Women,” “Nocturnal Animals,” “The Lobster,” “Captain Fantastic,” “Lion,” “Edge of Seventeen” and “Silence.”

Honorable Mentions:

“Hacksaw Ridge”

“Zootopia”

“Moana”

“Captain America: Civil War”

“Sing Street”

“Arrival”

“The Jungle Book”

“Hidden Figures”

“13th”

10. “A Monster Calls”

There are certain movies that you truly feel were made for you. The tale of a young boy (strong newcomer Lewis MacDougall) who is going through the motions is certainly one of them. Between getting bullied at school and dealing with the deterioration of his cancer-stricken mother (Felicity Jones, lovely as always), you can’t help but feel this boy’s pain. A tree monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) tries to comfort the boy without sugarcoating the inevitability of letting go. The stories and their gorgeous watercolor illustrations help show the meticulous and thoughtfully made tale that director J.A. Bayona has created. It’s emotionally raw, but it never forces an extraction from your tear ducts.

9. “The Nice Guys”

Writer-director Shane Black’s newest buddy cop film had all the fixings of a runaway hit, but it didn’t make it big. So what the hell happened? We may never know, but so many missed out on a hilariously off-kilter comedy with mismatched—but winning—pair Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling. The two portray partners who are investigating both the disappearance of a girl and the death of a famous porn star in 1970s Los Angeles. Crowe has never been funnier, nor has Gosling, who is having a pretty damn great year.

8. “Fences” and “Loving”

OK, sue me. I couldn’t force myself to choose between two excellent character-driven dramas that focus on trying to achieve the American Dream. “Fences,” based on the August Wilson play, is small-scale and effectively intimate, but also a powerful look at 1950s Americana through the eyes of a middle-class couple (Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, Oscar-ready in the best way possible). “Loving” is a quietly impactful true-life drama of an interracial couple (Joel Egerton and Ruth Negga) in 1960s Virginia who have to fight the justice system to be married in the post-Civil-Rights era. Both are stories of the past, but they are still more than relevant.

7. “Deadpool”

Those who have been suffering from superhero fatigue will suffer no longer, as there is an injection of new blood. It will rejuvenate your soul—and the superhero genre as we know it—with the most badass type of hero. Anti-hero? Whatever he is, he comes in the form of Ryan Reynolds in the role of a lifetime. A breath of fresh air, Reynolds shows the gleefully anarchistic side of the guy in a tight spandex suit. God knows we all need a refreshing take on a genre that has lately reeked of dreariness and integrity. Sometimes we all just need to let one rip.

6. “Jackie”

Pablo Lorrain creates a gorgeous and stirring account of the assassination of JFK and an emotional portrait of First Lady Jackie O (Natalie Portman) as she tries to come to terms with her husband’s unfortunate death. This is not the biopic we’ve come to expect, but rather it offers a glimpse of the psychosis of a woman we all assumed was a glamorous, superficial mannequin. In this depiction, she has far more nuances than meet the eye. Portman nails Jackie O’s voice and mannerisms without becoming a total impersonation.

5. “Swiss Army Man”

Nothing has surprised me more this past year than having this “farting-corpse film” this high on my list. But what can I say, I was swept away by the farting cloud that is “Swiss Army Man,” a freak-of-nature miracle film. Newcomer filmmakers deemed “The Daniels” have conceptualized a deeply bizarre but surprisingly moving fantasy of two misfits, an emotionally troubled man and a flatulent corpse.

4. “The Handmaiden”

Acclaimed South Korean director Park Chan-Wook (“Oldboy”) has created a provocative and mesmerizing psychodrama that centers on a woman who is hired as handmaiden to a Japanese heiress. Alternative motives unspool quickly in this lush period drama full of sex, betrayal, suspense and twisty, extremely satisfying revelations.

3. “Manchester by the Sea”

It’s never easy to go back to a painful past, but sometimes we have to face the inevitable even if it hurts too much. Actor-playwright Kenneth Lonergan has created a painfully honest and raw drama of Boston native Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck, award-worthy), who is forced to come back to his hometown of Manchester after his brother dies of heart failure. Lee faces a dilemma when he is named guardian of his nephew (Lucas Hedges) while still dealing with his own raw wounds. Lonergan nails the nearly impossible: balancing the heart-wrenching with needed levity that gives the film gravitas, thanks to the terrific script and beautifully wrought performances.

2. “La La Land”

Who still thinks musicals aren’t hip? Well, I dare you to resist this infectious love letter to Los Angeles. Director Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”) has crafted one of the most joyous and swooning moviegoing experiences of the year. The glowing chemistry of leads Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling shines brighter than anything you’ll see on the silver screen this coming year. Stone’s journey to become an actress and Gosling’s passion for jazz give us hope and inspiration to follow our dreams, even if they don’t quite go the way we expect. The musical numbers are enchanting and pivotal to the plot, and the splendid cinematography and the actors’ natural allure culminate into a feel-good but bittersweet journey likely to be an Oscar front-runner.

1. “Moonlight”

No film last year hit me harder at every level than Barry Jenkin’s achingly beautiful chronicle of a young black male told in three stages of his life. The film bares all his struggles—from young boy to troubled teenager to man—growing up in a rough neighborhood, including being tormented and beaten up by classmates, ignored by his drug addicted mother (Naomi Harris) and conflicted about his sexuality. The boy does find solace when he encounters a father figure (Mahersilla Ali, incredible) who will influence his life and mold him into a man to be emulated. The journey Jenkins takes us on with this individual is magnificently crafted in every single way possible. It’s heartbreaking, moving, impactful and the hardest to shake.

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