29 December 2016

Goodbye 2016: Top Movies of the Year

In many ways, this is the only thing copycat Internet Sites like this work towards all year. What is the Top 10? Which ten films rise above the rest and are thus immortalized on the Internet forever? Well, here at Norwegian Morning Wood we fully acknowledge that this is a fluid process. At a certain level, films aren't really any better than any other - it's more informed by taste, context, and timing than anything. Considering our Top Films from 2015, it's amazing how much they've shifted around. In fact, only six remain intact from last year's bizarre total of eleven that I couldn't decide between. This will change year after year, and you can be damn sure that I'll also be updating our Top 10 History come January including 2013-15 films. You can of course get a sneak peak of 2015 updated right here:

2015 Update:

#10: Straight Outta Compton
#9: Inside Out
#8: The Martian
#7: Bone Tomahawk
#6: The End of the Tour
#5: Sicario
#4: Dope
#3: The Duke of Burgundy
#2: Ex Machina
#1: Mad Max: Fury Road

Alright, so let's dive into this:

#10: High-Rise

Dragonslayer...avid dancer....pool partier
The first of many on this list that's sort of ducked and dodged its way out of real contention, High-Rise should have been part of Tom Hiddleston's great suave year between this and The Nigh Manager, but that didn't really take off culturally the way it could have, either. I suppose he had to make up for it by falling in love with Taylor Swift. Anyway, this film is nuts, categorizing the fall of society within a single apartment structure while cannily skipping the actual brink of destruction. It's more fascinating the more you watch it and realize that every stupid action the characters take doesn't make a lick of difference as the politics in the eponymous high-rise inevitably shift regardless of any one's motivation. Hiddleston, our ostensible hero, actually takes a backseat to the mania of Luke Evans, always kind of a bleh actor who takes charge here.

#9: The Neon Demon

Models are always hungry for models.

There's a lot of weird movies on this list, which ought to give away my personal taste in films, but The Neon Demon owns weirdness in 2016. It starts innocently enough. With a way too young wannabe model posing as if her throat is slit. If there's one knock, it's that Nick Winding Refn could surely use an editor to speed up the first half, but as we get through it and continue exploring the depths of everyone's insanity that's when this flick really gets going. I forgot to add the Jena Malone molesting a dead girl's corpse bit to my scenes of the year, but beyond mere shock value, this film does magical things with its lighting, symbolism, and thematic ruminations of the nature and value of beauty itself. It's a trip, man.

#8: The Love Witch

"Put a sawbuck on Captain Nemo in the fifth at Belmont."
This assuredly isn't getting any easier. It's amazing that 2016 is an age where you can essentially replicate a film from any time period. This is usually done horribly, but writer/director Anna Biller owns it here, melding a horror/romance, if you can even call it that, story with technicolor 60s aesthetics and both 2016 thematic sensibilities and technology. I dare say it's Archer-esque in its playing with nebulous time periods, which only heightens what it's trying to say about woman's power in this world.

#7: La La Land

But can it beat Gangster Squad (2013)?!
Your presumable Oscar frontrunner, unless Moonlight (2016) gains a lot of traction, La La Land is the best antidote to 2016 - cheery, bright, hopeful, and special in all the right ways. It's weird if 2016 will be remembered for this cinematically considering all the other insane shit that went down this year. Gosling and Stone hook up on screen for the third time in five years, and have never been better. Original movie musicals are actually rare as hell, and this is a fun one to route for. It's a love letter to Los Angeles, musicals, and dreams with everything sold in crisp efficient fashion by wunderkind director Damien Chazelle.

#6: Silence

Some would call Catholicism the "Godzilla" of religions.
It felt like this movie took forever to come out, and it was worth the wait. Scorsese is in full-on serious filmmaking mode here, not comical insane Wolf of Wall Street (2013) mode or serious but insane Departed (2006) mode. This is an at times epically slow meditation on faith, our relationship with God, and dangerous clashes of culture. It could very well be the most beautiful film Marty has ever shot, and although we're weary to miss some of the wit and panache of his recent work (is it weird how Scorsese has gotten more irreverent and modern in his twilight years as a filmmaker?), this retains all of his expert precision of the craft, which is still tops for any working director.

#5: Arrival

Watch out for that giant kidney bean!
I just ranted at great length about this one, so for a more in-depth look, check that out, but suffice it to say that despite my personal objections with a lot of Villeneuve's directorial choices, just from an irritant's point of view, it's also a phenomenally locked-in story with excellent character and thematic growth. It's a great parable for our current age where there's a plethora of communication but no one really talking with or understanding each other. Also that shot. Right there. Best of the year. It also spins alien arrival tropes in new and fun ways - Contact (1997) be damned! For real, fuck Contact. This was totally and honestly different.

#4: The VVitch

Waaaaahhh! How is this is the scariest image
of 2016! The eyes! THE EYES!!
My mid-year #1 pick has been reasonably supplanted, but not really by any film released in the back half of the year. My one complaint remains that I had to crank the volume way up and eventually turn on subtitles to understand Daddy McMumble, but dialogue is really second to visuals and tone here, which aren't flashy, but eternally depressing, which truly engrosses us int he plight of these hapless farmers. It all clicks towards the end as the eponymous Witch almost takes a backseat to Beelzebub himself. Kids shouldn't play with evil black demonic goats. Just sayin. I also love how this list includes The Witch AND The Love Witch. Witches are big in 2016 I suppose - despite Hillary not being elected! Ohhhh I feel so dirty. I love you, Mrs. Clinton.

#3: Swiss Army Man

Someone really ought to discuss why 2016 was filled with such weird ass movies. We're not really even at the weirdest, although I did say that was The Neon Demon. Demon was probably the most fucked up, Swiss Army Man probably played with reality the most and our #1 pick played its bizarre reality straight. But sticking with our #3 pick, Swiss Army Man gets points not for its boffo premise, which I found easy to get passed (the farting Harry Potter corpse) and the fact that it's remarkably glib about what parts are real, symbolic, happening within Paul Dano's mind, or completely fictional. There's a sense that it plays with time and space with remarkable abandon, capturing the rationalizations of his hopeless stalker's mind who really just longs for some friendship and company. The corpse probably isn't the way to go. Or maybe Manny is real. Maybe he did go on a journey. Or, what's more likely, he just camped out creeping in Mary Elizabeth Winstead's backyard for a few weeks. Not great, Paul. Brilliant, weird, and totally comfortable and proud of itself, there's a lot to unpack here, from the subtle fact that they are supposedly miles from civilization but still feeding on discarded Cheesy Poofs, to the impossibility of his desert island escape without a farting corpse - everything clicks.

#2: Green Room

You know, the Nazis in Green Room got the candidate they voted for.
So I'm already changing my mind, after having named Green Room the highest 2016-made film I saw in the Calendar Year 2016, even if I actually ranked The Lobster higher, since at the time I was going by its true 2015 release rather than its 2016 US theatrical release. I need to stop digging these insane indie festival films. High-Rise presents the same issue. But since then I changed my mind - let's go by pure US release, which puts The Lobster ahead. Got it?

I still think that Green Room suffers from an anti-climactic ending, but that's also due to the first four-fifths of the film pouring on a steady breakneck tension. Anton Yelchin's farewell tour pairs him with Imogen Poots in a Fright Night (2011) reunion way better than Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011). Patrick Stewart is unrecognizable as a supremely evil yet tempered villain, and the whole Punk Rockers vs. Neo-Nazis in a confined space in the Pacific Northwest is a premise any 80s movie would have gone crazy with. The best moments are when that tension pops, though, and it's quick and merciless with its deaths, always accidental, sudden, and quick to move on since the characters don't really have a choice to sit and cry about it. Assuredly left off many Top 10's for the year, my love of genre flicks like this knows no bounds. Yelchin RIP.

#1: The Lobster

“You ever bully or hurt anybody again, I’ll come back and buttfuck your
father with your mom’s headless corpse on this goddamn lawn.”
As I was watching this insane exercise in cultural exaggeration I instantly knew it was the film I'd be rambling about at the end of the year. Somehow it's still Yorgos Lanthimos' most accessible film, as he swiftly introduces us to a simple premise - in whatever version of earth this is, and it's never quite clear whether this is just an insular city culture or the norm across the whole planet. If you are looking for love and haven't found it on the outside, you may check into this resort (it seems optional, right?), and either find someone in 40 days or be turned into an animal of your choice. You can obviously buy some time by pegging off deserters who choose to be single in some rebel camps that have rules to singlehood as stringent, if not more so, then those who believe you should be couples.

The whole film has a bone-dry sense of humour that works best when all the principal characters take their completely bonkers situation with the highest sincerity. There are some brutal moments, though. Colin Farrell plays a vulnerable love hack who fails at conning his way through and out of the system, and finally finds love in a place where it's forbidden. Rachel Weisz is equally as good as his near-sighted match, which in itself is a weird commentary on who we're supposed to hook up with. This is the kind of film you can talk forever about, but for me, hits on some big interests, namely cultural differences and restrictions, not so much the nature of love, but the nature of societal pressures to find (or not find) love, and a tone and premise that begs you to laugh then dares you not to. Everything clicks through a slow reveal of how the world works, which simultaneous simple yet drastically different than our own. The characters, most importantly, take all this world-building for granted, without winking at the audience or pausing to let us catch up. It's the kind of audience respect, another movie that knows and revels in what it is to wondrous results.

The Rest:

Again, I hate adding some honourable mentions. It's such a cop-out. But here are some other good films from this year, mostly bigger genre films that I really dug, but didn't stick with me as much. Except maybe Deadpool. Deadpool will stick with me forever. In no particular order:

Captain America: CIVIL WAR
The Nice Guys
10 Cloverfield Lane
London Has Fallen
Hell or High Water

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