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Films that nearly cracked the list
Arrival is a terrific sci-fi film. Helped by great cinematography, music, production design and direction, Arrival stands out as one of the more interesting sci-fi films in recent years. With a script that greatly manages to handle the complexity and nuance of language and communication, Denis Villeneuve's film manages to delve into themes and ideas that are just as relevant today.
The film also offers some strong human connection and emotion. Amy Adams carries much of this film on her shoulders, and while she is mostly always brilliant in her films, her performance in Arrival ranks amongst one of her best.
The film is not without its flaws though. At least for me personally. I was not fully satisfied with the last act and how it all seemed to wrap up. It was a combination with it all seeming a bit rushed and a slight disappointment with that they decided to go there. That being said, Arrival is great.
Captain Fantastic (2016)
With an Academy award worthy performance by Viggo Mortensen at its core, Captain Fantastic is a weird, funny and thought-provoking film that raises just as many question as it answers on things like child raising and society.
The film could easily fall into the trap of turning in to some sort of smug self-congratulatory film with dull caricatures as characters, but Captain Fantastic is a nuanced and wonderful film.
A Monster Calls (2016)
Doctor Strange (2016)
Doctor Strange is first and foremost a visually impressive film. One that successfully translates its source material over to the big screen. There's a lot of fun visuals to behold and it's all used in very clever ways. This is a film that opens up a new door in the Marvel cinematic universe and it brings in a lot of fresh air at a moment in which the franchise is starting to need it. Doctor Strange's play with time and dimensions not only gives us some neat looking action sequences, but it also makes sure that film avoids falling into some of the traps and flaws that seems to haunt the Marvel superhero films. The biggest one being a weak villain and an underwhelming third act. The villain is not too memorable, but he's dealt with in such a clever way that it makes up for him being slightly subpar.
Benedict Cumberbatch is great in the lead role. Bringing some of that "asshole" persona that we've seen do so well in Sherlock with him, Cumberbatch manages to carry this film on his shoulders and offers himself up as a much welcome addition to future Avengers films.
Hardcore Henry (2015)
A film that is built around its first-person video game gimmick. There is no story or proper characters here. Everything is as simple as a violent video game. The closet thing that can resemble a story here is that "you" will get sent around to various places to neutralize some guy or get something, and along the way there's a lot of bad guys to kill. I love this very simple approach. It suits the style of this film perfectly, and I would much rather have absolutely no plot and no characters, than some half-arsed attempt at creating a story and some character development. Which is something that most action film struggles with. Instead we get a stylistic, violent and fun thrill-ride that never lets go of you until the end credits.
The film is so full of energy and creativity that the gimmick of it never wears out its welcome. There are plenty of surprises along the way, and everything in it so well-put together that you can't imagine the film being different in any way. The brutal violence, the humor, the soundtrack and frenetic pace all fits so nicely together with its premise. Hardcore Henry is a brilliant accomplishment and easily one of the best action films in years. This is one film I'm going to revisit quite frequently.
Manchester by the Sea (2016)
I don't think it's controversial to say that Casey Affleck is a better actor than his more known brother. Manchester by the Sea is another proof of that. His performance is excellent, and while Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges are good in their respective roles, this is a film that is driven by Affleck's haunting, subtle and low-key performance.
The film itself is depressing as hell. You can't help but to feel sad and sorry for Affleck's character, and this strong emotional connection is what makes this film such a triumph. It's not something that I would mentally want to see again immediately, but the overall sadness and quietness to this film is magnificent.
Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
That Hugo Weaving didn't get any award recognition for his supporting performance in this film is an outrage. Andrew Garfield is excellent, but Weaving's performance was emotionally devastating and powerful. The film itself is brilliant. A thought-provoking and emotive film that is stunningly told.
It took the risk of getting too preachy, but director Mel Gibson managed to steer it all the way home. The battle scenes are intense and brutal. The gruesomeness and meaninglessness of war is truly felt. It's really good.
Hell or High Water (2016)
This film is first and foremost an example of excellent writing. The dialogue is top-notch, the characters are skillfully crafted and developed, and the film manages to steer clear away from genre cliches. As far as modern westerns go, Hell or High Water is among the best. It definitively should have won an Academy Award for best screenplay.
It's a film that truly understands that fully embodied characters are far more important than mindless action. They've managed to create characters that emotionally resonate with me in one way or another, causing me to care about them. This directly causes the gun play to feel much more tense and impactful when the bullets suddenly are flying. This also has a direct effect on the pacing on the film. Seeing as I'm interested, thrilled, moved or amused by whatever is going on, there was never a moments where I thought the film moved too slowly or dragged a bit. It's an excellent film.
The Conjuring 2 (2016)
This is the perfect horror film in absolutely every regard. James Wan have continuously grown as a horror filmmaker, and The Conjuring 2 might be his best outing. A suspenseful and atmospheric horror film that toys and plays with you and your expectations all the way through. Wan is at master at building atmosphere with the usage of his camera work, music and sound, along with some overall creepy imagery. He's exceptionally talented at slowly building dread and terror. Yet, Wan also knows that atmosphere isn't much if you don't release into full horror. Which he does. I very rarely jump in my seat, nor am I easily scared, but with The Conjuring 2 Wan scared the crap out of me.
You see, the one thing that Wan does that plenty of other horror director should take note off, is that Wan messes with the timing of his scares. In most horror films the scare usually comes at the exact moment when you're prepared for it, thus lessening the impact. In The Conjuring 2 the timing is constantly changing, meaning that you'll most likely end up being caught off guard, making the scare effective and frightening.
Wan also knows that scares and atmosphere is useless if you don't have proper characters to get emotionally invested in. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are amazing, and their chemistry is so wonderful that there where a few times were I teared up a bit. Wan knows that we wants to be scared, but he also makes sure that we care for the characters. Which is why he spends an equal amount of time to build up the characters. There is a scene in the film that has Patrick Wilson doing a rendition of Evis Can't Help Falling in Love. A very simple scene, yet so emotionally effective that it ups the film to a whole another level.
The Conjuring 2 is quite simply a collage of everything that Wan has done greatly previously, though this time he has managed to master everything to perfection. It's an atmospheric and scary horror film that also manages to be emotionally investing. That's something rare.
La La Land (2016)
Upon leaving the cinema after seeing La La Land, I told my significant other that I found this to be a magical piece of cinema. Joyful, colorful, energetic, quiet, funny and emotional. This film managed to strike every point it needed to strike and I was sitting in my seat smiling like an idiot the whole time (except for the film's sad and bittersweet moments, which are all beautifully crafted).
La La Land is essentially just a wonderful experience. It has gotten an Oscar nomination in almost every department it was eligible in, and rightfully so. For me personally, La La Land is as good as perfect.
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