Best Films of 2016
Hell or High Water. Throwback to the great gritty ‘70s thrillers about brothers robbing banks and the about-to-retire Texas Ranger who’s chasing them, with a subtle satisfying twist at the end.
Tower. Documentary about Charles Whitman, the sniper who opened fire on the University of Texas campus in 1966. A moving combination of rotoscoped animation recreations and present-day interviews.
The Handmaiden. Korean period thriller is the most visually beautiful film of the year with unashamed eroticism and a twisty plot.
The Invitation. Another unpredictable thriller about a couple attending a dinner party that’s filled with nasty surprises. Premiered on DVD and pay-per-view.
20th Century Women. Soft-spoken ensemble drama about a young man’s coming of age in a ‘70s household with three complex, demanding women.
Hail, Caesar! The Coen brothers’ affectionate tribute to Hollywood in the 1950s is the funniest comedy of the year.
Rules Don’t Apply. O.K., another movie about Hollywood in the ‘50s and ‘60s is almost as funny with brilliant work by Warren Beatty as an increasingly unpredictable Howard Hughes.
Nocturnal Animals. Tom Ford’s unconventional second film (after A Single Man) is a thriller that’s almost impossible to describe but absolutely riveting all the way through.
Zootopia. In a year filled with excellent animation, Disney’s swiftly paced, smart comic suspense film could be the beginning of a fine series.
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
The Nice Guys
The Grand Budapest Hotel – Ralph Fiennes is the concierge of a European hotel who takes young Tony Revolori under his wing. Writer/director Wes Anderson’s quirky sensibility finds a perfect match in this funny and surprisingly touching story.
The Homesman – Tommy Lee Jones’ Western is austere, brutal, touching and surprisingly funny at the most unusual moments. Hilary Swank, as usual, is near perfect.
Blue Ruin – Virginia filmmaker Jeremy Saulnier’s low-budget revenge thriller has been compared to the Coen brothers’ Blood Simple. Macon Blair plays Dwight, an addled beach bum who goes back home to exact vengeance on the man who killed his parents. The year’s sleeper.
American Sniper – Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of Chris Kyle’s story does for the war movie what he did for Westerns with Unforgiven. It’s an often difficult-to-watch portrait of a man and his family. Perhaps Bradley Cooper’s best work to date.
Nightcrawler – Imagine Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle with a touch of Breaking Bad’s Walter White. That’s Jake Gyllenhaal in a grim update of Network, about a bizarre young man who films accidents, fires and crimes in Los Angeles.
Top Five – Curiously, writer/star/director Chris Rock tells essentially the same story we saw in Chef and Birdman. His version is the funniest, freshest and smartest.
Inherent Vice – Paul Thomas Anderson’s parody follows a laid-back detective (Joaquin Phoenix) as he ambles through a convoluted but finally unimportant plot that cuts the dark heart of ‘70s California political corruption. Perhaps too druggy, sexy and funny for the mainstream.
A Most Violent Year – J.C. Chandor spins out a understated, complex tale of political and business corruption in the bleak New York winter of 1981. Not to be missed.
Best Movies of 2012
Technological changes finally caught up with the movie business in 2012. Several of the best films actually made their debut on DVD and pay-per-view. After minimal theatrical releases, they went directly to cable pay-per-view, DVD and other formats. I downloaded one of the year’s best, Bernie, to a handheld device, and I suspect that trend is going to become increasingly more important.
Seven Top-Ten Theatrical releases of 2012:
Silver Linings Playbook – Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are unlikely lovers in the year’s most unusual romantic-comedy/drama.
Lincoln – Steven Spielberg’s look at the last months of the President’s life is the front-runner for all of the major awards.
End of Watch – Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena are uniformed LAPD cops and best friends. Perks of Being a Wallflower – A high school freshman falls in with a senior clique and is smitten by Emma Watson, and who could blame him?
Flight – Denzel Washington is brilliant as an alcoholic pilot.
Argo – Ben Affleck directs and stars in the fact-based story of the rescue of American embassy personnel from the home of the Canadian ambassador in Iran.
Django Unchained – Quentin Tarantino’s spaghetti Western/comedy is set in the antebellum South.
Eight Top-Ten DVDs of 2012:
Bernie – Jack Black deserves an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of a funeral director who murders the meanest woman (Shirley MacLaine) in a small Texas town.
Ted – Mark Wahlberg and his best friend, a live stuffed bear (voice of director Seth MacFarlane) can’t quite seem to grow up.
The Campaign – Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis compete for a North Carolina House seat. Funny and nasty in all the right ways.
Arbitrage – Richard Gere is excellent as a New York financier who finds his life crumbling as he tries to put together a deal that will save his company.
The Artist – Last year’s big Oscar-winner loses nothing on DVD.
Hugo – Audiences missed Martin Scorsese’s valentine to silent French movies in theaters, and if it’s not as impressive on DVD, it’s still thoroughly enjoyable and moving.
American Horror Story, Season One – A fiercely original, challenging and frightening story of a troubled family that moves into a haunted Los Angeles house.
The Muppets – One of 2011’s best brings Kermit and company out of retirement. Grand fun for audiences of all ages.
Mike’s Seven Top-Ten movies of 2011
(in no particular order)
The Artist – Jean Dujardin channels Peter Sellers as a silent film star facing the introduction of sound.
The Muppets – Kermit and company attempt a comeback. Terrific humor and songs.
Super 8 – Kids making movies and a monster on the loose in 1978. The summer’s best popcorn movie.
The Descendants – George Clooney deals with the death of his wife and other family problems.
Win Win – Paul Giamatti is a small town lawyer dealing with economic problems and a troubled teenager. Thoroughly engaging and smart.
Moneyball– Brad Pitt tries to turn the Oakland A’s into a winning team using unorthodox methods. Fascinating even if you don’t care about baseball.
Hugo– Martin Scorsese spins a fairy tale about movies and a boy who lives within the walls of a train station in 1920s Paris. Perhaps the year’s most entertaining release.
Honorable Mentions: Crazy Stupid Love, Bridesmaids, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Debt, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, pt. 2, My Week with Marilyn
Mike Mayo’s Seven Top‐Ten Movies of 2010
Inception. Thoughtful, ambitious, challenging, entertaining, and, most important, original—not a sequel, not a remake. This is what big‐budget Hollywood escapism can be.
The King’s Speech. Anchored by a brilliant performance by Colin Firth, and in the end, a story that is surprisingly moving.
True Grit. The Coen brothers’ Western has a rougher, more realistic quality than the 1968 film, and better performances from a more talented cast. O.K., Jeff Bridges isn’t John Wayne, and he doesn’t try to be.
127 Hours. James Franco turns in another remarkable performance and director Danny Boyle manages to make the bizarre true story completely involving, and surprising all the way through.
How To Train Your Dragon. Superb animation, goofy characters, and, again, it’s original.
The Illusionist. Old-fashioned hand-drawn animation with a wry sense of humor and genuine warmth.
The Complete Metropolis. Finally, years after I saw this one in grad school, the plot actually makes sense, and it’s still impressive.
Honorable Mentions: Easy A, The Town, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Shutter Island, Toy Story 3, Black Swan.
Mike’s Eight Top‐Ten films of 2009
Inglorious Basterds. Quentin Tarantino’s audacious approach to the war film refuses to follow any rules and ends up being thoroughly engrossing and original.
Avatar. Despite its flaws, James Cameron’s s‐f adventure creates a beautiful, richly detailed world that’s a joy to discover. Along with Tarantino, he reminds us what big‐screen movies are all about.
An Education. The year’s best coming‐of‐age story. Carey Mulligan’s performance is remarkably mature and Peter Sarsgaard is equally seductive.
The Informant! The forgotten comic drama of the year with Matt Damon’s best performance. One of those stories that would make no sense unless it were true.
Up. Pixar continues to make the most imaginative, surprising and moving stories, CGI or live action.
The Hurt Locker. Kathryn Bigelow’s emotionally cool look at a slice of the Iraq war is as understated as Tarantino’s war film is operatic.
Star Trek. J.J. Abrams’ take on a familiar franchise is fast‐paced and thoroughly entertaining.
Harry Potter and the Half‐Blood Prince. The latest entry in the series is darker and more complicated and still engrossing.
Honorable Mentions: The Hangover; (500) Days of Summer; Adventureland; A Single Man; District 9; Anvil, the Story of Anvil; It Might Get Loud; Up in the Air; Sherlock Holmes.
Mike’s Eight Top Ten Movies of 2008
Slumdog Millionaire. Danny Boyle’s Dickensian epic about a kid who grows up in the slums of Mumbai and competes on the Indian “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” is the year’s best pure crowd‐pleaser.
Iron Man. Everything I want to see in a big summer special effects movie: Good effects, solid story, excellent acting and humor.
Bank Job. Based‐on‐fact heist movie with smarts, humor, grand plot twists and a solid performance by Jason Statham. The year’s sleeper.
Burn After Reading. The Coen brothers at their best with the wicked story of half a dozen characters who are in way over their heads. Terrific ensemble led by George Clooney, Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt.
Frost/Nixon. Frank Langella is going to get an Oscar nomination for his interpretation of Richard Nixon during his first public interrogation after Watergate.
Milk. Sean Penn is going to get an Oscar nomination for his interpretation of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official who was murdered in office. Excellent political biopic.
The Visitor. Richard Jenkins ought to get an Oscar nomination (and he ought to win) for his interpretation of a widower who finds himself after he meets two immigrants.
Wall‐E. Admittedly the first half is better than the second, but Wall‐E is the animated equivalent of Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin, a hard‐working little guy who falls for a glamorous babe and wins her.
Mike’s Seven Top‐Ten Movies of 2007
Michael Clayton. A multi‐million dollar product liability case drives one lawyer (Tom Wilkinson) insane and forces another (George Clooney) to question everything about his life. Complicated in all the right ways with brilliant dialog, legitimate surprises and great characters. Best film of the year.
Hairspray. Pound for pound, to use an apt metaphor, the adaptation of the Broadway adaptation of John Waters’ original is the most enjoyable movie I saw all year. I smiled a lot. Watching John Travolta and Christopher Walken dance together is worth the price of a ticket or a DVD all by itself.
Zodiac. O.K., after Fight Club, I’m now convinced that David Fincher is the real deal. Instead of focusing on the bloody details of the famous San Francisco murders, he’s interested in the way that people become obsessed and what that obsession does to them. He sticks closely to the facts and arrives at exactly the right ending.
Juno. The stars are perfectly aligned for young Ellen Page, writer Cody Diablo and director Jason Reitman in an intelligent, funny story of a pregnant teen, her family and an adoptive couple. What could have been an exercise in stereotypes is bracingly original all the way through.
Lars and the Real Girl. The premise—shy guy buys an anatomically correct sex doll and calls her his girlfriend—sounds creepy, but the filmmakers turn it into a genuinely sweet, slightly Woebegonian story with superb performances from Ryan Gosling and Emily Mortimer as his understanding sister‐in‐law.
Charlie Wilson’s War. Three stars—Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Phillip Seymour Hoffman—at the top of their game ought to be enough to separate this comedy from the pool of contemporary war movies that nobody’s going to see. It’s bright, sharp, sexy and the office scene is a brilliant set‐piece.
Lust, Caution. The intense sexual scenes have earned Ang Lee’s film an NC-17 rating, but at heart, it’s a carefully wrought spy tale in the John LeCarré mold. Stars Tony Leung and Tang Wei are letter perfect as lovers in occupied China during World War II.
Mike’s Seven Top-Ten Movies of 2006
Children of Men. An adventure with an unheroic hero (Clive Owen) and a grim look at a possible near future, this one has stayed with me more than any other movie of the year.
United 93.Perhaps the most unconventional film of the year is also the best, to date, on the events of 9/11. It’s good to see that Paul Greengrass has been nominated as Best Director.
The Departed. Wildly violent, complicated and funny, this is the most entertaining movie Martin Scorsese has made in years. “And Oscar goes to…”
The Devil Wears Prada. Who knew that Meryl Streep could turn in such a brilliantly understated comic performance? Well, we all should have known. One of my favorite comedies of the year.
Little Miss Sunshine. A terrific ensemble cast (don’t forget Greg Kinnear and Toni Collette), a sharp script, and, a tone that’s never too cute. Sleeper of the year.
Letters from Iwo Jima.Clint Eastwood’s view of the battle from the Japanese point of view is a more straightforward war film than Flags of Our Fathers, and more moving.
The Illusionist. For sheer old-fashioned, what’s-going-to-happen-next story telling this one is hard to beat. And then there’s Paul Giamatti’s supporting work which deserved an Oscar nod.
Mike’s Seven Top-Ten Films of 2005
King Kong. An impressive, if overlong remake of a masterpiece.
Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. Tommy Lee Jones tells a fine complicated story of contemporary western violence.
Good Night and Good Luck. Nicely nuanced view of a complicated piece of history and superb black and white cinematography.
Capote. Phillip Seymour Hoffman at his best as the troubled writer creating his masterpiece.
Jarhead. Nightmarish view of the first Iraq war.
The Squid and the Whale. Excellent examination of a very troubled family.
Munich. Suspenseful, complicated, morally complex—simply the year’s best.
Honorable Mentions: Match Point, Walk the Line, Upside of Anger, Crash, Batman Begins, 40-Year-Old Virgin, Lord of War, Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, Wallace and Grommit: Curse of the Were Rabbit, Syriana, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.