Oscar Preview Part I: My favorite 20 films of 2016

With the Academy Awards airing next weekend, I've decided it's finally time I've gotten around to posting a list of my favorite films from 2016. I still haven't watched every movie that came out last year (and I probably never will) and I'm sure some films I missed deserve to be on here. I'll try harder next time. 

1. La La Land (Damien Chazelle)
A sweet escape -- great music, excellent photography and gushing delight. Gosling and Stone have infectious onscreen chemistry and this simple love story/musical hybrid is a cinematic treat.

2. Nocturnal Animals (Tom Ford)
Tom Ford drips style in every frame. A dark feature where Ford embraces his inner Hitchcock/DePalma that jettisons his debut A Single Man. Nocturnal Animals is a harrowing film with excellent performances from leads Adams and Gyllenhaal, but most especially the two supporting roles from Shannon and Tyler-Johnson. 

3. O.J.: Made in America (Ezra Edelman)
Made in America transcends what a "sports" documentary can be -- adopting the Ken Burns eye for detail and meshing it with engrossing, wide-range storytelling that speaks more about modern American culture than it does of The Juice.

4. The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos)
A true knock-out film. Intense and hilarious. Colin Farrell flexes his versatility with a fascinating, gentle performance of a beige "everyman" in a dystopian game of love connection that reflects on romance in today's age.

5. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)
What Moonlight does best is stick with its viewer -- you will never forget about Chiron and Juan -- because there are muted scenes, penetrating facial expressions and soulful body language captured by deft film-making that paints pictures evoking endless words.

6. The Neon Demon (Nicholas Winding Refn)
The Neon Demon is the movie I've watched the most this year and each time there is a different moment or visual element that I appreciate more. Nicholas Winding Refn captures the beauty in the grotesque, the ugliness in the pristine.

7. Fences (Denzel Washington)
I have not seen the play Fences on-stage, but I've been to enough theater productions to say this film is the best "play" I've ever watched on film. Denzel makes us feel like we are hanging in the backyard with Troy Maxson as he rants and raves and Viola Davis shatters the heart with her riveting performance.

8. Spa Night (Andrew Ahn)
A mysterious, edgy, sexy gay film. It recalls early Todd Haynes and Greg Araki with its homo-eroticism, lensed through the eyes of a curious Korean guy who discovers more than he bargained for at a day spa in LA's Koreatown.

9. The Nice Guys (Shane Black)
Ryan and Russell make for a dynamic duo -- great action, comedy and '70's nostalgia -- good times.

10. Manchester By The Sea (Kenneth Lonergan)
A devastating film with marvelous performances from Affleck, Williams and Hedges. A New England tragedy that offers up plenty of laughter as medicine.

11. Hacksaw Ridge (Mel Gibson)
Mel Gibson's comeback is brutal, inspiring, manic and hopeful. The story of conscientious objector Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) caught in the furious battlegrounds of Japan during WWII is a war film that succeeds in making peace with the violence of combat.

12. Silence (Martin Scorsese)
A years in the making passion project from Martin Scorsese, this is an epic, craftsmanship film of religious faith and suffering that torments and challenges the viewer to reconcile how far they would go for their beliefs.

13. De Palma (Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow)
Legendary director Brian De Palma sits down and candidly chats about his filmography, making you remember Causalities of War and that "oh, yeah, he also directed the first Mission Impossible." De Palma is a treat for film buffs and definitely makes you want to go back and comb through the director's surprisingly prolific oeuvre.

14. Cemetery of Splendour (Apichatpong Weerasethalkul)
A wacky art film that is more museum piece than narrative feature. The substance is amorphous, the style oozes.

15. Jackie (Pablo Larrain)
With a powerful score from Micah Levi, a masterful portrayal from Portman and the right amount of directorial exuberance from Pablo Larrain make for a spellbinding dive into Jackie Kennedy's private world of grief following JFK's assassination.

16. Denial (Mick Jackson)
Not sure if you can get more "alternative facts" than the true story of asshole historian David Irving (the magnificent Timothy Spall, who definitely deserved an Oscar nomination) arguing that the Holocaust never happened. Denial is a peppy legal thriller with some excellent courtroom drama that is engaging and thought-provoking and was unfairly slept-on at the box office.

17. 10 Cloverfield Lane (Dan Trachtenberg)
John Goodman, who at times delivers his performance in the zany spirit of a SNL skit, is amazing as a suspicious doomsday prepper holding a man and woman hostage in his bunker. There is plenty of humor and chills in this fun movie which is better than the "original."

18. Kicks (Justin Tipping)
Mahershala Ali is receiving just praise and nominations for his superb performance in Moonlight, but I urge everyone to seek out Kicks, an intense indie drama that recalls '90's masterpieces such as Menace II Society and Boyz n the Hood. Ali plays the jaded uncle of young Brandon (Jahking Guillory), who goes to drastic means to seek revenge on the neighborhood bullies who stole his prized Air Jordan sneakers.

19. Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie)
Chris Pine and Ben Foster are kinetic forces as buffoonish bank-robbing brothers who get in too deep in this Texas-fried neo-western that captures a gritty slice of "Trumpland" desperation.

20. Knight of Cups (Terrence Malick)
Christian Bale stars in Terrence Malick's gorgeously filmed 118 minute commercial for the men's cologne Tarot.


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