From Loveland’s Favorite Movies of 2016

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I usually don’t rank my favorite movies, but 2016 was too deep to ignore. I see a lot of movies in theaters, but rarely take the time to write about them. Something about music makes it easy to write about, while movies are more difficult for me. I’m no expert when it comes to music, but I’m definitely not an expert when it comes to film. Here, I try my best.

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10. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

I haven’t been much of a Star Wars fan since I first fell in love with the originals in the first or second grade. I’ve seen none of the prequels but jumped back onto the bandwagon when the Disney films started coming out in 2015. I really enjoyed Rogue One, although not for Star Wars reasons. It essentially boils down to a run-of-the-mill war movie set in the Star Wars universe, with top flight special effects, locations, and just enough Darth Vader to keep things spicy.

The cinematography caught me off guard, and Greig Fraser’s style lent itself well to a space war movie. He has action experience with Zero Dark Thirty and experience making pretty films having worked on Foxcatcher and Arcade Fire’s Scenes from the Suburbs.

Hopefully this serves as a decent entry point for new fans of the series, seeing as it has relatively little to do with the primary story arc as a whole. It’s essentially a sidecar movie, and — in that regard — it’s a very good one. I’m not expecting this to clean up on Oscar night, but not every movie has to do that. I found Rogue One to be a very entertaining blockbuster that left me satisfied and excited for the next installment. Mission accomplished.

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09. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

I’m a really big Harry Potter fan. Not tattoo myself and memorize the books-level, but I’ve read the whole series and seen every movie and handful of times. When I heard a “spinoff” series was coming, I was excited and skeptical. I’d love more Harry Potter movies, but I didn’t want anything that could somehow detract from the original series, which needs no supplementation, in my opinion. Fantastic Beasts was just what I needed.

Disregarding the movie itself, it was great to be back in the Harry Potter universe. The magic, the city, the creatures, the spells, all of it. I’m a huge nerd when it comes to that stuff and it was like stepping back into a familiar pair of shoes. It did leave something to be desired, although the first part of an extended series inherently has to waste a certain amount of time setting up the premise and the characters. I’m hoping this movie did a lot of the dirty work so the rest of the series has room to breathe and can stand on top of this foundation. By itself, Fantastic Beasts was fine. If it serves as a sufficient doorway to the rest of the series, I will look back on it much more fondly.

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08. Don’t Think Twice

When I heard This American Life creator Ira Glass had produced a movie, I knew I had to see it. I’m a huge fan of his work, and — while I wasn’t sure what to expect from a foray into film — I trusted his resume. It was worth my time.

For being as short as it is (just over 90 minutes), it’s remarkably sharp and nuanced. In addition to handling writing and directing duties, Mike Birbiglia stars in the movie. I have such a greater admiration for him now. Keegan-Michael Key, who I love, is fantastic. Gillian Jacobs, who I’ve never particularly cared for, also blew me away.

Yes, it’s the kind of meta script that actors love to create, but that also makes it fantastic. You can feel the depth of the performances because everyone on screen has lived the life they’re portraying. At times, it’s authentic to the point of being harsh and maybe even bitter.

I think one mark of a good film is its ability to make you empathize with things or people you’re completely unfamiliar with. I have no experience in comedy, I don’t know anyone with experience in comedy, and frankly I don’t watch a lot of stand-up or improv. However, I left Don’t Think Twice with a deeper understanding and empathy towards those following their dreams.

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07. The Revenant

(Yes, technically 2015. Close enough.)

Leo finally got his Oscar. I can’t say this is my favorite DiCaprio movie (Django? Inception? Shutter Island? Catch Me If You Can?) but he nailed the “Oscar bait” and brought home the trophy here.

My favorite part about this movie is how visceral it is. No, I wasn’t literally shivering in the theater, but I could feel the journey deeper than I thought I would. DiCaprio earned his award. You could practically sense his desperation through the screen.

The cinematography is drop-dead gorgeous and fills the movie without feeling superfluous. Two hours and 36 minutes of Leo wandering through the woods probably should not be this dialed-in and focused, but it manages to be. Oh, and Tom Hardy can still pull off an antagonist role really well.

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06. The Hateful Eight

(Yeah, technically 2015 again. I’m allowing it.)

I’m a big sucker for Quentin Tarantino. I guess it’s something like a guilty pleasure, because I’m typically not a huge fan of violent action movies. However, if you tell me it’s Tarantino, I’m sitting down preparing to see a guy get his head sliced off.

Clocking in at more than three hours, this is absurdly long, although I didn’t notice it too much. Most of the film takes place in a single room, so things are constantly moving without much room to stall. It’s three hours, but it’s a bustling three hours. The run time probably lends itself well to the plot, because those who get restless in a long movie can feel like they’ve also been snowed in at Minnie’s Haberdashery. It feels like a dialogue-driven Broadway play set to screen.

The cinematography seizes the few opportunities it has to be great, which is as much as I can really ask for. And yes, there are the overblown Tarantino moments I expected. Come expecting blood.

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05. The Jungle Book

I grew up watching Disney movies, like basically every American child. I’ve seen the original Jungle Book film hundreds of times. However, it’s important to note that it was never one of my favorites. I mention that because I loved this latest version. I came for the special effects and left blown away by what Jon Favreau was able to create.

Neel Sehti comes out of nowhere to nail the starring role, and is backed up by perhaps the most star-studded cast of the year. Along for the ride are Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, Christopher Walken, and Garry Shandling. The performances are airtight, the script is great, the special effects are stunning, and even the iconic “Bear Necessities” song makes a return.

I had so much fun with this one.

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04. Arrival

I’ve never been a sci-fi fan, but I’ve been known to fall in love with good ones. Gravity and Interstellar both blew me away. Arrival didn’t quite reach that level, but I still enjoyed it more than most of the movies I saw this year.

It gets points for aiming for many of the same notes Interstellar did, but loses them for ultimately failing getting there. It reaches for a giant glass but only manages to fill it up halfway, which excited me only to leave me longing for a bit more when it was all over. Again, I enjoyed this movie, but I’m a bit puzzled to see it garnering rave reviews across the board.

Regardless, the cinematography and the score should be applauded and Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner do a great job anchoring this one. Director Denis Villeneuve first blew me away with Prisoners and Arrival has some of the same fingerprints on it.

It’s a bit of a thinker, so come expecting to be untangling some thoughts for a few hours afterwards.

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03. The Lobster

Oh man. I’m a total sucker for an outlandish plot and black humor, and The Lobster has both.

It’s a quirky independent film with an incredible script and a penchant for making timid viewers feel uncomfortable. If you aren’t ready to belly laugh and a gruesome failed suicide attempt, you may not like this. Half of my theater was giggling while the other half squirmed. It was awesome.

It’s set in Ireland, so it’s gorgeous, and it stars Colin Farrell, who dazzles. John C. Reilly does his “here I am out of nowhere and I’m hilarious” thing. It’s charming and weird and beautiful and it gets your mind churning.

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02. Nocturnal Animals

From the moment I saw the trailer, I knew I had to see it. Starring Weird Jake Gyllenhaal (one of my favorite things to see in a movie), it stretches your expectations and leaves you wanting more.

It’s directed by Tom Ford (yes, that Tom Ford) and it’s shot incredibly well, despite how brutally dark and gruesome it is. It’s tough to watch at points, but I couldn’t seem to pull my eyes away. It’s like getting a root canal at The Louvre. It’s a bit pretentious, although I like a dash of that in my favorite movies.

Gyllenhaal, Amy Adams, and Michael Simon are the LeBron, Kyrie, and Love of the cinema world this year. They each deserve praise for their work here. I need to see this again so I can spend even more time untangling strings while the credits roll.

And, while we’re at it, that trailer is perfect. Too many nowadays spoil the whole show, but this one sets everything up brilliantly while leaving plenty of room to be surprised while watching the film itself.

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01. Moonlight

Tangled up in blue and steeped in timeless emotion, Moonlight blew me away. It’s a hairy subject to pick apart, but director Barry Jenkins handles it with grace and care, delicately weaving a coming-of-age story like I’ve never seen.

The Place Beyond The Pines is perhaps my favorite movie of all time, and Moonlight grabs that framework, takes it to War On Drugs-era Miami, and dunks it in midnight blue seawater. It’s devastating, intimate, bleary-eyed, and yet still hopeful. It’s the story of a child — then a boy, then a man — who’s fumbling desperately trying to find his role in the world.

Its color palate backs up its depressing tone, yet it remains hopeful and optimistic at heart, urging others with similar stories not to give up.

I’ve never seen a film with this level of critical acclaim. Moonlight currently boasts a Metascore of 99/100. Expect it to be drowning in Oscars.