Look: I’m not a film buff. My knowledge of film-making is superficial, I’ve never made a creative film, and my bar for enjoying movies is very low.
That being said, I like lists, I like good entertainment, and while I don’t have any film training, I have an analytical mind that can’t stop thinking about the ‘how’ or ‘why’ of something. So…I’ve a list!
I self-select for movies a lot, meaning I don’t go and see something I might like; I value my time and I am risk averse when trying new things. That being said, I still saw a dozen movies released this year, all in the theaters. Doing a top ten would be silly with that number, so I’ll stick with the tried-and-true method of assigning differently-colored metallic alloys to my top three films, with an honorable mention because this is my blog and I have that power.
Lacking ados of the further variety, etc.:
HONORABLE MENTION – Rogue One
Rogue One is most definitely a Star Wars movie, but you get the distinct feeling that it doesn’t really believe that. There are an awful lot of sly references to the other movies, some of which are pretty neat, and others of which are the equivalent of a kid in school boasting about how his uncle knows Kevin Bacon (said uncle actually just ran into K-Bac one time at Denny’s).
The film also can’t really decide if it wants to be spy thriller, buddy comedy, or action movie, and it juggles some great characters (Jyn, K-2SO) with some that just sort of feel like they are just there because why not (everyone else).
If it feels like I’m harping on this a lot, since this is a Star Wars movie, I have to explain why it’s not one of my favorite movies and not the other way around.
I still like it a ton, of course. The music is fantastic and surpassed all my expectations (it’s the first and hitherto only Star Wars film without the legendary John Williams at the helm). It ends brilliantly. It’s fun and exciting. Darth Vader is in it and does things. It is consistently beautiful, not in the “nice CG” way but the “wow, this is fantastic art direction” way.
It’s a Star Wars movie. But it’s not a STAR WARS MOVIE.
BRONZE MEDAL – Arrival
Arrival is the rare science fiction movie that’s also a critical darling – it’s got a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes and has a pair of Golden Globe nominations (one for Amy Adams for Best Actress, the other for Johan Johannsson for Best Original Score).
You know why? It’s amazing, that’s why.
To elaborate: it’s thrilling despite a lack of use of violence, thought-provoking without being haughty, personal at the same time as grandiose. It’s got an excellent score and, most importantly, feels unique, an extraordinary achievement in the land of big-budget science fiction glut.
Science fiction, at its best, offers a glimpse into humanity in a way that literally nothing else can do. Arrival is science fiction at its best. It’s a beautiful movie, too, on a micro and a macro level. It’s never cheesy, doesn’t overstay its welcome, and presents bizarre circumstances in believable ways. Go see it.
SILVER MEDAL – Zootopia
There was a moment in Zootopia where I sort of looked around the theater and thought to myself, “Gee, Disney, this is awfully on the nose.” The film tackles themes like prejudice, racism, redemption, and adjusting to a place where you are completely on your own and nobody believes in you.
At this point I would like to reiterate that, yes, Zootopia is an animated movie and, yes, it’s still a hilarious blast.
Zootopia has a great world filled with interesting characters and a story it needs, and wants, to tell. It’s funny when it needs to be, serious when it has to be, and is always charming.
It’s so confident of itself that its main trailer (embedded above) was just a clip of the movie. That was, in and of itself, a brilliant move.
Zootopia is so good, I hope it never gets a sequel. It will. But one can dream.
GOLD MEDAL – La La Land
Why do we watch movies? To get away from it all? To see spectacle? To emotionally engage with relatable characters and get swept off our feet?
La La Land does it all, a modern musical movie where that just doesn’t happen in live action film anymore. La La Land, or L3 if you want to be really annoying and hipster, wins the Gold for many reasons. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are fantastic. The music is superb. I’m a sucker for unconventional and/or bittersweet endings, which the movie provides.
The biggest, though, is that it captivates and it never lets go. It reaches for the stars, knowing full well that reaching for the stars is impractical and impossible, but it does so anyway. It succeeds.