It’s time to take a look at the year in popular film and entertainment. As someone who used to review films, I still like to share my thoughts with readers from time to time. With Film Vancouver, I hope to offer the odd review or commentary on current pop culture. This year I am adding my top series into a separate list, because we’ve past the point where the best story content out there is on streaming services and pay cable, not in theatres.
TOP TEN MOVIES
First up, my top ten favourite films of the year. I was able to see about 90% of the year’s theatrical releases and almost all of the year’s most popular award favourites. A few caveats include Silence, Jacky and Elle, which I have not been able to see yet. Still, I think this list should hold based on what I know about those films. Hopefully you agree that all of these are great, even if you would put them in a different order or add some others. Feel free to share your own thoughts on Facebook!
10. Moonlight (tie)
Moving, expertly directed and performed, and unique in it’s setting and focus, Moonlight is important and touching, but misses opportunities to connect in the third act.
10. Midnight Special (tie)
Independent science fiction drama is the most exciting sub-genre today, and Midnight Special continued to prove why. Michael Shannon was superb, as was the direction.
9. Star Trek: Beyond
The best blockbuster of the summer season got back to the roots of what Star Trek was and is, and it proved that Justin Lin is more than just fast muscle cars and silly action set pieces.
8. Hunt For The Wilderpeople
The first fifteen minutes of this moving comedy from New Zealand play like a Pixar film and will hook you even more. It’s a simple, silly and hilarious film that is as welcome as it is unexpected.
7. Kubo And The Two Strings
Beautifully animated with more pure imagination then any other film on this list, Kubo is the best stop motion film since Coraline and will stay with you. A classic in the making.
6. Hell Or High Water
A western bank robber movie set against the 2008 real estate aftermath. This clever drama is both moving and insightful, giving us a glimpse at modern Americana.
Overlooked but not overdone, Snowden is Oliver Stone’s comeback film. Editing, directing and writing make Snowden one of the year’s best, most entertaining and thoughtful films. You cannot ask for more, and the subject matter is crucial.
The best animated film of the year was always going to be funny and cute, but adults were caught off guard when they realized this kiddy film about talking animals had more for them than their kids. Its vital conversation about equality and acceptance in modern ‘evolved’ society, as well as it’s inside jokes and flawless detective yarn make Zootopia the best family film too.
3. La La Land
La La Land was not the first trip down nostalgic Hollywood lane, but it was the most effective, thanks to Ryan Gosling’s and Emma Stone’s chemistry and charm. It is a musical, but the score or songs don’t quite catch, keeping it from the climbing higher. Instead the real strength of the story is the May to December romance. Would it work without the nostalgic style or even the music? Yes, yes it would.
2. The Nice Guys
If you were one of many who missed the Nice Guys in theatre, you and I have a bone to pick. Not only was Ryan Gosling in this one too, but it will make you remember why Russel Crowe was so damn popular ten years ago. Shane Black’s noir detective comedy is exceptionally clever, has amazing chemistry and is genuinely thrilling. If Hollywood exists to entertain, move and dazzle us, no film succeeded better at all three than The Nice Guys.
1. Manchester By The Sea
To call Manchester by the Sea an exercise in naturalism would be an understatement. The script, the directing and performances all give themselves time to breath and feel as grounded as possible. The result is a human tragedy that by 35 minutes in will shake you to the core. It also means spending a little longer than necessary in darkness with a plot that is just a tad slow. Still, there is no drama more genuine or expertly crafted this year.
The Real Feature Winners?
Deadpool and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Both films gave fans a super dose of fan service and bookended an excellent year with memorable, successful films that left blockbusters and the industry in a better place than they found them. While they don’t make the top 10 for excellence, they will live on longer than many of them.
Warner Brothers and in particular, Suicide Squad. The worst film of the year was also one of the most anticipated, and despite being declared a hit, underperformed along with Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. Honourable mention to Jason Bourne, which undid a nicely wrapped up trilogy with mediocrity.
TOP TEN SERIES
Television and online series have quickly become the more exciting medium for creators. The budget flexibility, freedom on cable and more time to find audiences before being swept aside has lead to a new golden age in series. Here are some of my favourites from network, cable and streaming services. This is a combination of drama and comedy, mixing returning with new series, but there were plenty of other series I would have liked to include, or shows I love that just had weaker seasons this year.
10. Preacher Season 1
Violent, funny and full of big ideas. What more could you want, as long as you’re not too religious.
9. Archer Season 7
Archer and the gang still have the goods and find new ways to be inventive every season. It wasn’t their best year, but in their best year they’d be leading this list.
8. The Good Place Season 1
Kristen Bell and Ted Danson are amazing and so is the premise. The show keeps finding new ways to milk laughs of all types and is only half way through it’s first series.
7. Full Frontal With Samantha Bee Season 1
Immediately, Sam Bee made us regret and rejoice her rejection of Daily Show hosting duties. Her new show has more balls and more passion.
6. Game of Thrones Season 6
The most upbeat season of Game of Thrones is also its best for sheer plot movement and entertainment value.
5. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency
The weirdest, best written and amazing event series of the year, which in any other year would be a big deal.
4. Daredevil Season 2
Daredevil Season 2 connected us to Electra and the Punisher and set up The Hand. It was more like Daredevil from the comics and bigger and better in every respect than season 1. Even King Pin is back.
3. The Americans Season 4
It’s been called the best series on television and it’s not hard to see why. The best writing, dramatic performances and edge of your seat tension continued to build towards the final season.
2. Stranger Things Season 1
The phenomenon that is Stranger Things was as exciting as it was imaginative and sometimes frustrating. Combining so many 80’s tropes into a single plot should have made for a mess, but instead it is glorious.
1. West World Season 1
Stunning, smartly written, expertly performed, poetic and epic in every sense of the word, the other shows on the list don’t come close to this powerful entry into Michael Crichton’s world. Will it be sustainable for more than a couple seasons? It’s HBO, so it doesn’t really matter, but all signs point to yes.
The Real Series Winners?
Netflix and FX. The streaming giant had three of my top ten, plus a surprisingly strong season for House of Cards, Bojack Horseman, Narcs and Luke Cage. FX scored big with American Crime Story, The Americans and more. HBO had the two biggest series, but not much else.
The Walking Dead and Network Television. Special mention goes to Legends of Tomorrow, which lowers the bar for super hero writing to new, depressing lows.