We’ve reached the halfway point in this year and that means taking some stock of what I have appreciated most, as far as the movies go. Clearly there is much more to come and various opinions can take on new levels of appreciation or the other way around, but I enjoyed coming up with this list. There’s also the fact that I haven’t gotten to see everything I’ve wanted to, which will hopefully change. Still, this list puts emphasis on what I’ve liked seeing, which are the deeper conversations that come from seeing retro-styled attempts at genre films, interesting social commentary, and good-natured fun in general.
The Top Ten:
Fittingly enough at number ten, 10 Cloverfield Lane finds itself on this list, as it delivers on its simple, yet mysterious story to great effect. Its ambitious nature (arriving out of nowhere and being a Cloverfield spin-off) and efficient direction from Dan Trachtenberg make this an engaging film to watch, with some killer sound design easily making it a great one to hear. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is solid as the unknowning, but take-charge lead, however, John Goodman gives one of his career-bests as the unstable Howard. Some may have been thrown off by the direction the film takes in the end, but I was a fan all the way through with this one.
Richard Linklater follows up his acclaimed Boyhood with a film deceptively slight by comparison. Everybody Wants Some!! works as a spiritual sequel to both that film and, more clearly, Dazed & Confused, which means we spend less time on plot and more time hanging out with the characters. These characters happen to be a bunch of jock dudes, but the film wisely balances their goofball behavior with more insightful moments that feel like a signature element for Linklater. Along with a killer early 80s soundtrack, there are plenty of laughs and fun with this one.
8. Green Room
Jeremy Saulnier brought us Blue Ruin a couple years ago and he has given us another killer thriller in the form of Green Room. It pits punk rockers against murderous skinheads, headed by Professor X himself, Sir Patrick Stewart. Plenty of inventiveness and a very dark sense of humor make this a fine film to appreciate for how it puts characters into an impossible situation and gets them to somehow solve it. They solve it in a violent manner for sure, but its handled with the right kind of grimy finesse.
I believe I admire this film more than I like it due to plot contrivances and some questionable logic, but Eye in the Sky still does better by asking tough questions than many other films that also deal with drone warfare. Gavin Hood has constructed a tense-thriller that only has so many ways it can go, but plays well with the players involved. Alan Rickman (in his final live-action performance) and Helen Mirren are just some of the pros involved with this story that spends its time weighing a situation where many lives can be saved at the cost of a few.
6. Sing Street
John Carney moves away from his previous star-studded film, Begin Again, and takes things back to a smaller level like Once with Sing Street. Hands down some of the most fun you can have with an indie film fit for anyone this year, Sing Street has an incredibly likable cast, great original songs and a sweet story that easily allows audiences to cheer.
5. The Lobster
On the other end of the spectrum is The Lobster, a pitch black comedy from Yorgos Lanthimos, director of the Oscar-nominated Dogtooth. The outlandish premise involves finding love or being turned into an animal of your choice, but that’s just the beginning. Colin Farrell leads a strong cast in a movie that celebrates its weirdness and provides some interesting commentary on societal expectations of relationships as well.
Leave it to Shane Black to deliver a wonderful buddy-comedy that receives great reviews, only for the film to make almost no impact at the box office. This neo-noir tells a fun story that is largely character-focused. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe make for a great team, with fine support coming in the form of its colorful cast and sparkling dialogue.
Taika Waititi made one of the funniest films of 2015 with What We Do in the Shadows and he has followed that up with a sweet-natured story that pairs Sam Neill with a much younger actor (Julian Dennison) to be grumpy towards, as the two go on the run in the New Zealand forests. Great use of scenery, a well-handled relationship and some great comedic antics make this one of the highlights of the year.
Jeff Nichols scores again with this Spielberg-influenced science fiction story that never strays from the Southern style Nichols has utilized for his other films, including Mud and Take Shelter. His idea was to have a couple guys traveling for mysterious reasons only at night, with no headlights on and it cleverly evolved into a father-son story with stakes matching Close Encounters of the Third Kind. There’s a great story here that is stripped down to the essentials, with no room for exposition. This is just a low-key affair that occasional cuts loose with some standout sequences and strong performances.
Amazingly it is Disney that has delivered my favorite film of the year so far. Zootopia, one of the biggest ‘not based on anything films’ ever made tells a neo-noir story blended with great animation, hilarious comedy and commentary on the racial politics of today. That is not at all what I expected, but it worked out well for both the Mouse House and me. It has all the complications you would want to better enhance the experience of a colorful family comedy. It’s a great film and the one I’ll happily champion the most, given how far we are in the year at this point.
And The Worst:
There is not much honor that comes with having this status, but there have been a number of bad films this year and these stand out as the worst I had to endure so far this year.
4. Ride Along 2
There is still plenty to look forward to, as the year continues on. The summer movie season is still upon us, with films like Suicide Squad, Jason Bourne and Kubo and the Two Strings, among others holding my interest. The fall should also be interesting with Snowden, Sully, The Birth of a Nation and A Monster Calls being among the bigger films I want to see. And there’s Rogue One to finish off the year. And all this says nothing of the smaller films bound to wind up as some of my favorites of the year. We’ll just have to wait and see how it all plays out.