REEL BRIEF’s Top 20 Films of 2016

Here are the 11-20 ranked best films of 2016:

20. Denial

Based on the book “History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier”, this British-American film tackles the historic true courtroom drama from the early 1990s.  In 1993, professor Deborah Lipstadt published her book condemning David Irving as holocaust denier, causing Irving to sue claiming libel in the English courts.  Mrs. James Bond, Rachel Weisz, spearheads a fast-moving storyline with stirring performances from Weisz and her costars Tom Wilkinson and Timothy Spall.  Although the film’s Holocaust history is always noteworthy and refreshing to see further explanation for viewers, its the sidebar professional relationships between Weisz and her attorneys that’s most compelling to watch develop and grow. 1

19. 20th Century Women

Set in Santa Barbara, California in 1979, Annette Bening’s Dorothea Fields character is a determined helicopter Mom raising her rebellious son, Jamie, in this dramedy loosely based upon American film and music director Mike Mills’ childhood. In Bening’s best screen performance we’ve seen in decades, Dorothea must seek parental help from two young women….an Earthy punk artist and a slick footloose teenage neighbor. Slightly long, this film will make every parent feel right at home living with teenagers in 2016. Despite a strong field of female lead performances this year, Bening may steal an Academy Award nomination in late January.  Likewise, Greta Gerwig deserves to be mentioned in the Oscar talk for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.

18. Remember

Academy Award winners Christopher Plummer and Martin Landau star in the riveting retaliation story.  We find both of these old-timers living in a retirement home, mourning the loss of 90-year old Zev Guttman’s (Plummer) beloved wife, Ruth.  Providing comfort to Zev is his BFF Max (Landau), who hatches an elaborate plan for his sidekick to carry out.  A scheme that will give these men peace of mind in their final weeks or months. Dramatic. Bold. “Remember” is a thrilling mystery about revenge…a dish best served cold–and old. A must-see for audiences wanting to catch an unsolved mystery with twists, turns and a fascinating performance.

17.  13 Hours

“13 Hours” is an intense, action-packed story of bravery.  It raises adrenaline from a growing threat and through violent battles–with some graphic war wounds depicted.  The film closes ranks and gives us an up-close, first-hand account of the heroic men doing our nation’s heavy-lifting down range.  It methodically walks Americans through the multiple pleas for support that emerged from Benghazi as the State Department’s compound and CIA annex erupted in gunfire. It properly identifies those terrorists behind the preplanned attack on September 11, 2012.

This movie exposes the news reports and smokescreens from inside the Beltway…the false narratives put out by so many. And that’s the film’s most glaring feat–honoring, as a nation, those who lost their lives that night and getting the truth out there for the families involved.

16. Manchester by the Sea

Casey Affleck’s spectacular performance is this film settles any bets as to which Affleck brother has the best acting chops.  Equally entertaining is the job Lucas Hedges does as the boy who loses his father unexpectedly to start the film. The movie does a lot right.  It somehow makes a slow plot reveal work without losing viewers… mostly due to its believable acting and mysterious storytelling rollout. The movie also makes good use of flashbacks to explain the family dynamics and history. And lastly it injects a grown-up Ferris Bueller, aka Matthew Broderick, into a small scene as a harmless character.  Unfortunately, “Manchester by the Sea” dropped at least 10 ranking spots because of an unremarkable and bland ending.  When it’s all over and done, a memorable “Manchester by the Sea” journey by moviegoers never materializes.  Casey Affleck’s character lets down his brother, and, ultimately us with a timid, lackluster finale. 

15. Snowden

This red-meat film takes on the U.S. spy agencies and government contractors charged with staying one step ahead of our adversaries. To Stone’s credit, “Snowden” isn’t politicized and equally blames the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations for the loss of our citizenship’s privacy. Viewers see how secrecy is both a necessity to a nation’s continued security and an unwelcome intrusion, hell-bent on collecting on everybody in order to investigate and stop only the dangerous.

“Snowden” is an American rights story that resonates well beyond the simplistic patriot or traitor media headline still propagated today.  It arms us with enough background on mass surveillance to ask ourselves the hard questions on personal privacy and seek answers from individuals and agencies used to operating in secrecy and outside of public view by necessity.  It would behoove all Americans to get more knowledgeable on the FISA Court and the authorities and powers it grants to so few.  And to weigh, individually, at what cost are we willing to forgo our privacy in this high-tech gadget and social media world.

14. Deepwater Horizon

In director Peter Berg’s most heart-racing and entertaining motion picture of his career, moviegoers find themselves center stage in the true life oil rig disaster forty-one miles offshore the Louisiana coast back in 2010.  More than just an action-thriller, this film is an intense behind-the-scenes story about modern-day explorers and their fascinating lifestyle; searching and drilling miles below the ocean surface for precious oil in profitable, but, dangerous waters.

“Deepwater Horizon” scores a film trifecta…a sensational cast and a sharply written script are captured by amazing cinematography and its use of special effects. The film’s overarching success is found in its crisp storytelling.  A jargon-filled script is never dumbed-down to us…the oil drilling novices attempting to get our sea legs in an hour and thirty-nine minutes. Rather, “Deepwater Horizon” uses superbly timed subtitles and a supporting cast oozing Cajun charm to explain drilling exploration.  We may not know the names of all 126 crew members fighting for their lives, but we can easily separate the decisive from the indecisive, the heroic from the callous.

13. Collateral Beauty

Dissecting the complexity of grief, the year’s most star-studded ensemble follows the life-changing circumstances and aftermath of one Howard Inlet (Will Smith).  This underrated film explores the role that death, love and time in our daily lives and how they intertwine.  A fresh storyline and unusual plot lure viewers into this tightly-crafted, yet uplifting, journey.  From the director of 2006’s “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Marley & Me” (2008), the movie quickly moves between emotions without missing a step.  The Hall of Fame cast consists of Smith, Kate Winslet, Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren, Edward Norton, Naomie Harris and Michael Pena. While each character only has modest screen time, all of these top-shelf actors and actresses bring their “A-game”.  Director David Frankel deserves praise for bringing up the difficult subject of grief and handling it in such a powerful and realistic manner.

12.  The Accountant

Academy Award-winner Ben Affleck packs a powerful punch in this year’s most spirited action-thriller. “The Accountant” unflinchingly takes on autism, the brain disorder we find Affleck’s character diagnosed with at a young age.

The film’s most impressive accomplishment is found in its storytelling. The movie is anchored by Academy Award-winner J.K. Simmons (“Whiplash”) and Oscar-nominated Anna Kendrick (“Up in the Air”), both attempting to find out more about Affleck’s fondness for tracking money.  Kendrick effortlessly portrays a company accountant who smells trouble rising from her employer’s cooked books. She singlehandedly offsets this edgy, intense movie with a humorous and softer answer to all the math quotients and violent deaths.

“The Accountant” is a fascinating, heartfelt case study into one’s autism and his attempt to live independently.  An exceptional cast reveals several sharp twists with exhilarating action scenes while navigating tax codes and the corporate bottom line.  This film is an adrenaline rush of discrepancies and irregularities in people’s lives that culminates in a touching conclusion. The movie ledger’s bottom line: “The Accountant” gives viewers a wise investment with a huge profit margin!

11. Miss Sloane

“Miss Sloane” is an edgy, fast-paced political thriller with several surprising plot changes and unforeseen turns.  Washington lobbyist (Jessica Chastain) shakes up the Beltway power with rapid-fire script lines that draws easy comparisons to last year’s stellar performance by Michael Fassbender in “Steve Jobs” (with Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay).

Make no mistake, Jessica Chastain carries this film on her character’s steely-eyed confidence, masterful political game and 4-inch stilettos. A victim of poor political timing, “Miss Sloane” never made a mark on theater box office sales, coming out the same month as one of the most heated presidential elections in modern history.  

Years from now, though, this political masterpiece will be able to hold is own against any Washington insider flick.

***

Tomorrow my Top 10 movies will be announced. 

© 2016, Patrick. All rights reserved.



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"Patrick, you are my go-to guy when it comes to the box office".   - Judy O.

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