BEST MOVIES: 2016
BEST DOCUMENTARIES: 2016
BEST TV: 2016
M O V I E S :
2 0 1 6
To what lengths will you go to escape constriction?
Director Park Chan-wook (SNOWPIERCER) transplants a victorian novel into Korea's occupation by Japan, crafting a chameleonic mystery from shifting perspectives. The film is gorgeous to watch, a pleasure to puzzle out, and faceted to rewatch.
-THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN
Hitchcock's themes of intrigue, identity, and perception get a refreshing makeover in this sharp and twisty film, led by the always impressive Emily Blunt.
-HELL OR HIGH WATER
A neo-western full of character and complexity, quietly charting the desperation of navigating a heartland betrayed by political greed.
Three stages of life for a boy seeking (hiding) his identity among the minefields of southern gang territories.
Naomie Harris steals it as the disintegrating mother.
-EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT/ El abrazo de la serpiente (Spain)
An alternate parallel to Conrad's "Heart Of Darkness" (and APOCALYPSE NOW), this B/W film follows two timelines down the Amazon on a surreal quest for enlightenment.
Based on Margot Lee Shetterly's book, this true story unveils the neglected story of the three African-American female mathematicians who put NASA on course for the moon.
Shot in one single continuous take, this film follows a young woman through the labyrinth of Berlin in an arc toward chaos.
Down with all bigotry and repression, always.
A grand take on the life of Nat Turner, who rose up against slavery, this ever timely rebuke stars its co-writer/director, Nate Parker.
I'm a fan of the original film since it came out.
This clever and reverent retelling does everything well that one did, while being often loopier, refreshingly less fratboy, and downright poignant at the end.
An indie character comedy more than it is an alternative rom-com, with improv zing, hilarious lines, and a crack cast.
Julianne Moore quietly swipes the second half from the leads.
-TONI ERDMANN (Germany)
Rebecca Miller's exploration of an estranged father and daughter is a gently swelling rollercoaster, by turns insanely long and rambling while sentimental, ambivalent, mischievous, and at times wildly absurd. And all the more real for it.
-FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS
Jenkins was a sincere and unintentionally ludicrous person, and in this biopic Meryl Streep transforms a fun romp into something more fragile and sweet at its heart.
Star Wars Story
This prequel film's unexpected realism brings a new depth and intensity that, as a hardcore fan from the very beginning, overwhelmed me emotionally.
This moody contemplation on the value of tolerance and communication is required viewing right now.
A familiar story made new again with mystery and surprises, sold by empathy and intelligence.
Here's why this fine film is severely underrated.
When the original Star Trek series ended too soon after three seasons in spring 1969, fans longed for an expansion of the five year mission. In the early '70s, as syndicated reruns unified its faithful base, the fans took control: they wrote original books for Bantam, drafted blueprints, charted out Federation histories, and created the first massive Trek conventions along with costume competitions. At the heart of this was one unifying goal: to finish the mission, but - in the wake of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and the Dune books- with a more expansive scope and a deeper ensemble character approach.
This popular groundswell led to the Animated Series (1973-1974), which did just that: the series is valuable because it expande the visual palette and scope, while deepening details about the characters (Spock's past; the name Tiberius), and Alan Dean Foster's book adaptions amplified those even further. Fandom had defined the pattern going forward; there would now follow a cycle of new Star Treks expanding the mythos with a more ensemble approach.
Look at how that underlying thread governs what followed. The STAR TREK films (1979-1991) reunited the original crew in adventures with scope (STAR TREK 1) and ensemble depth (STAR TREK III and IV). And new TV shows continued weaving this pattern, expanding the general mythos with new casts: Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987), Deep Space Nine (1993), Voyager (1995), and the shamefully-underappreciated prequel Enterprise (2001).
These are all valuable on their own merits, but they are actually alternate surrogates for the original goal without specifically being that goal: finishing the original mission with the original crew in deeper, wider dimensions. This is because of the passage of time. The first films start a decade after the show, and the original cast had matured while new tech and fashion styles transformed their world; they are the same, but it feels like being somewhere else. Once you change casts for the new shows, that subliminal gulf grows larger. The quiet truth, often unspoken, is that we watch and enjoy all these for themselves, while underneath wishing that we were seeing the 1969 and 1970 seasons that never came.
(Now, with the means of production more readily at hand, many fan-made productions have actually attempted to do just that, but without official sanction.)
It took J.J. Abrams' recent reboot films to bring this cycle officially full-circle. Now we have the original setting and a reset for new possibilities in the original mission. Audiences were won over by the sheer energy of the first film (2009), but some were woefully less appreciative of the better, focused sequel (2013). And with STAR WARS ascendent on a golden return, this third film didn't get enough play from any side. That's a mistake, from the film execs who bungled the marketing during Trek's 50th anniversary, to the blasé mehs who came too late without enough total context for appreciation.
Writer/actor Simon Pegg has done what we've waited four decades for. Sure, it's rollicking fun and there are familiar themes and clever easter eggs celebrating the entire history of the franchise. But the real triumph of the film is that a fan has become a pro who fulfilled the initial dream: this is the original characters in their period styles, on the original mission, but in expansive scope, as a truly interactive ensemble. That exact combination hasn't really happened before in live action, and it's what we've all waited for since 1969. It's easy to miss that distinction, after decades of so many versions, but it is the crucial difference. The first reboot film may've set the universe, the second set the ship, but the third film gives us the fuller possibilities of the original team on the actual original mission itself. Instead of another Kirk/Spock film with the cast careening around their orbit, this time the bridge crew become a family when everything else is gone but their mission and their connection. Seeing Kirk on a planet again with Checkov, or Spock and McCoy bonding in a cave, isn't just a flashback, it's releasing the pause button on the original series to at last flash forward with untapped possibilities. This isn't nostalgia... it's new life.
Thank you, Simon, from someone who came the whole way. You've boldly gone where all of us really wanted to go.
This film is completely riveting simply as one of the finest character dramas of the year.
-10 CLOVERFIELD LANE
Like The Twilight Zone, producer J.J. Abrams uses the name 'Cloverfield' as an anthology for trying edgy ideas.
This is another solid character drama built on tension and paranoia, with askew turns.
-I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE
Like a Shirley Jackson story in spirit (and title), this well-crafted quiet burn builds on the spartan shots and tense score of the Perkins brothers.
I M A G E S
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Even amid the most astounding visuals and wildest concepts, the film stays consistently grounded with character interplay and gentle humor, always staying clear while flowing fast.
This excellently made film is one of Marvel's best, accessible to all while being everything that a fan could have hoped for.
-CAPTAIN AMERICA 3: CIVIL WAR
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The Cap films excel on character build grounded in espionage action.
Even amid a maelstrom of guests, Cap's ethical center holds this marvelous film taut and true.
-X-MEN 6: APOCALYPSE
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The previous film X5 was pure greatness, so this generally good film with minor flaws got unfairly thrashed.
It's still a good film regardless, unlike certain other truly terrible hero films this year that thoroughly deserve that scorn instead.
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A spellbindingly beautiful film from Laika (CORALINE), this hand-animated period Japanese parable is a complete charmer.
The flashbacks of adorable baby Dory lift this Pixar frantic antic to full crest.
-MISS HOKUSAI (Japan)
Beautiful to see, while strangely uneven in story and score.
This could have been one of those CG clatter films that get fobbed off on family audiences, but it instead proves to be a smart and timely allegory about diversity and acceptance.
Deftly capturing Jacques Tardi's art style ("The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec"), this sly and quicksilver steampunk opus is -like Tardi- cheeky, inventive, and a bit bent.
-STAR WARS: REBELS
The Star Wars: Clone Wars animated series had all the strengths and weaknesses of the prequel films, expanded.
But Rebels has all the strengths of the original 1977 film in style, tone, and wonderful McQuarrie art aesthetic.
This is the show you've been looking for.
D O C U M E N T A R I E S :
2 0 1 6
Ron Howard's loving documentary follows the greatest band of all time performing live, from their early tours to their final 1966 bow-out.
-MISS SHARON JONES!
A fine celebration of Soul renaissance leader Sharon Jones in concert with her band, the Dap-Kings.
Rest In Power.
PBS' terrific mini-series about how pop music has been consistently revolutionized by studio wizardry.
Jim Jarmusch's excellent documentary on The Stooges will have you pumping fists and writhing floors.
A fine overview and primer to the history of Hip Hop, from its fledgling 1973 beginnings to the worldwide industry it has become. Groundbreaking music, guests galore, and laughs and insights.
(See also: The Get Down TV series)
From Ava DuVernay (SELMA) comes this blistering indictment of the prison system as the extension of slavery.
A fun and interesting doc following the experiences of the supporting players and extras from the original STAR WARS.
-FOR THE LOVE OF SPOCK
A touching rumination on the impact of Leonard Nimoy and his universal counterpart.
T V :
2 0 1 6
The best character show on television comes to a graceful finale.
-BETTER CALL SAUL 2
The other best character show on television grows deeper with the stealth ascent of Kim.
-MR. ROBOT 2
Morphing past its influences (V FOR VENDETTA, AMERICAN PSYCHO, FIGHT CLUB), the cinema-level series comes into its own as a harrowing and brutally honest psychological thriller and political wake-up call.
-MASTERS OF SEX 4
A fine closer, rich with character and nuance, by one of TV's best and most underrated series.
-THE NIGHT OF Maxi-series
A devastating critique of the American justice system and entrenched bigotry.
Riz Ahmed shines.
Alex Haley's pivotal classic about his family history gets adapted again into a new mini-series.
All the rich potential of Michael Crichton's original 1973 film comes to full fruition in this masterful and complex epic.
-THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE 2
Based on Phillp K. Dick's book, this alternate history warns us against an America taken over by Fascism.
But, in the real world, ... it's too late.
-12 MONKEYS 2
A time-travel show that turns itself inside out like silly putty should have fallen apart by now, and yet it streams along stronger than ever.
-GAME OF THRONES 6
The tipping point becomes drastic and deadly unilaterally. Everything is landsliding toward the epilogue.
Few alien-invasion shows have ever held me, but this one does with character, action, and jolts.
This parable about a future Corporate dystopia is exactly about right now.
Potentially the new LOST, with a rich scenario and moving character flashbacks, set in a dystopia where the poor compete to be the 3% allowed to a promised paradise.
Brit Marling (ANOTHER EARTH) returns to co-write/co-produce/star in this outrageously ambitious mindbender.
Brit is another SciFi fan turned pro producing thoughtful and adventurous work who deserves our support.
-THE EXPANSE 1
High marks for the plot and scope, but lukewarm results with the characters.
The delightful suprise of the year, this homage to early '80s Lucas/Spielberg/Carpenter films is a timeless blast.
-THE X-FILES 10
A mini-series reunion, with six episodes in each of the series' narrative styles.
(After all this time, I finally realized I mainly love the funny ones.)
-THE MAGICIANS 1
It's a coin toss. The plot intricacy and breadth is impressive, but the obnoxious cast and cruel shocks are abrasive.
One of the finest shows being made only gets grander and deeper in its lateral move to France.
No mere time travel story or romance novel, this intensely nuanced character play is energized by the most fully realized and believable love story on the screen.
A terrific remake of the great Swedish Äkta människor/ Real Humans that only improves it.
-ORPHAN BLACK (Canada/BBC) 4
Tatiana Maslaney. Nuff said.
-BLACK MIRROR 3 >Netflix
The chilling anthology show forecasting the unintended repercussions of current tech returns, as satirical and prescient as ever.
-DOCTOR WHO (Christmas Special)
A loving homage to comic superheroes (particularly Supes and Bats), surprisingly canny within thrifty time, with a charming standout performance by the 'lois', Lucy (Charity Wakefield).
-CLASS ⇧ 1
This loose Doctor Who spin-off could have been a formula CW-style teen scarefest, but great lines, rending moments, and the mesmerizingly arch charm of the alien Quill (Katherine Kelly) lift it above.
-CRAZYHEAD ⇧ 1 >Netflix
From the typically bonkers and sacrilegious creator of Misfits comes the hilarious saga of two London women kicking some demon ass.
-DAREDEVIL ⇧ 2 >Netflix
The past was prelude, and the red devil rises in this impeccable adaptation of the arrival of Elektra.
We've waited three decades for this to be done right, and -with the pitch-perfect casting of Élodie Yung- they nail it.
-LUKE CAGE 1 >Netflix
Reeling from the events of Jessica Jones 1, our man does his soul-searching in Harlem.
A celebratory ode to African American history with themes and shout-outs galore, fueled by a letter-perfect funksploitation soundtrack by Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad.
-AGENT CARTER 2
Hayley Atwell does one last series turn as '40s superspy Peggy Carter, the mother of S.H.I.E.L.D.
-AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. 4
The show turns edgier and more surreal, charting out the supranatural aspects of the Marvel universe, with a fiery debut by the new Ghost Rider.
This Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. webseries spin-off focuses on Yo-Yo Rodriguez, the Columbian dervish who'll snap your head back.
The pleasure of the DC/Berlanti-verse shows is seeing the Silver Age Of Comics come to life. As a desperately needed antidote to the dour Snyder-verse films, any formula loops, teenie focus, or dumb missteps involved are forgiven in the fun of it all.:
Martian Manhunter. Miss Martian. Lynda Carter!
-THE FLASH 3
Kid Flash. Earth 3.
Mr. Terrific. Ragman.
-LEGENDS OF TOMORROW 2
The Justice Society of America. The Legion Of Doom. Vixen.
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-ELEMENTARY ⇧ 5
The fun of this stealth alternate to Sherlock is its gleefully serpentine mysteries, dry social satire, and the impish chemistry of Holmes and Joan Watson.
-SHERLOCK ⇧ (Christmas Special)
A standalone set in the classic Victorian era, this feminist manifesto strikes a timeless blow against repression.
-HAPPY VALLEY (UK) 2 >Netflix
Creator Sally Wainwright is at the top of her game.
Star Sarah Lancashire's performance in Episode 3 alone is the equal of any awards nominee.
-THE FALL (UK) 3 >Netflix
The trilogy of Gillian Anderson's relentless hunt for a serial killer reaches its vital and wrenching finale.
-RIPPER STREET (UK) 4, 5
Against all odds, the unsung White Chapel coppers get two more seasons of grit, wit, and writs.
Unafraid to take perverse risks at every turn, and pulls them off regardless.
Baz Luhrmann's stunningly operatic fantasy about the rise of Hip Hop in the 1977 South Bronx is an absolute Must-See.
-BROAD CITY 3
The crazed Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson kick all the butt.
-CHEWING GUM ⇧ (UK) 1
Michaela Coel unreels her lunatic farces like she's determined to burn it all down cackling.
-ATLANTA ⇧ 1
Besides being sharply hilarious, Donald Glover's acerbic slant on the southern Rap scene is often incisive and moving.
This show is so funny that you'll miss half of the great lines from laughing over them.
-ASH vs. EVIL DEAD 2
Lee Majors! As if Bruce Campbell and Lucy Lawless weren't great enough.
Hey, who has time (or money) to see everything?
FREE STATE OF JONES
THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN
THE JUNGLE BOOK
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How STAR WARS Is Changing Everything!