Moonlight. A swrirling uproar of beautiful light and powerful story, Moonlight is among this year’s most important cinema. Uninterested in catering to its audience or to anything that betrays its own patient tone and pace, Barry Jenkins presents a film about being black in America, of sexuality, of poverty. Reflecting much of Jenkins’ and screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney’s upbringing, Moonlight is a very human portrayal of cinema not often found, well, anywhere.
Set primarily in Miami in three distinct acts during three different times in a young man’s life, Moonlight explores masculinity and the pressures it can have on a young man when his life is spent growing up around violence. To call it a movie about homosexuality or drug abuse or the human spirit would be a disservice to what Jenkins has done here. Moonlight is a movie about struggling, within and outside. As Little, Chiron, and Black (the same character but played by different actors at different ages) all grapple with making sense of their surroundings and themselves within it, dread can never escape them. The color palette of their world is deep blues and purples that cast dark skin in a muted radiance.
Moonlight is a quiet and tense study for those who suffer quietly. A beautiful yet humanely ugly representation of an urgent American struggle. — KGK
Green Room. Did it go far enough with its politics? It did not. A curious thing, considering that Green Room is stuffed to the brim with angry skinheads just looking to get their asses kicked. Still, it does carry with it an incredible amount of catharsis. Wanna-be Nazis get theirs in this movie; seeing’s though we now live in a country where the President has David Duke’s full support, every little bit of subversion helps. That’s about as topical as Green Room gets; luckily it has other equally engaging things to do with its running time. The name of the game is Mayhem.
Jeremy Saulnier may have taken a shortcut past political allegory with this poisonous little punk anthem, but there’s no arguing that he also took the tropes found in other hostage films (so frequently abused by lesser filmmakers) and hung it by its toenails. Green Room escalates in the same way Saulnier’s first feature, Blue Ruin, escalates. Yet the savagery seems… more, here; oftentimes pain is employed simply to stave off further bedlam. (That tenuous, but no less ferocious, peace is often brokered onscreen by the late Anton Yelchin and, of all people, Patrick Stewart.)
It kicked us upside the head with a steel-toed boot. And since it’s not such a stretch to say that Saulnier’s next film may be exploring the color red, a la Kieślowski… well. I’m wincing already. — JJ
Captain America: Civil War. Hollywood has been struggling with the superhero genre for years, which is evident in Warner Bros.’ incompetence in handling the DC universe post-Dark Knight. While those goofs delivered two exceptionally poor entries in the genre, Marvel reminded the world of geekdom of its supremacy with the excellently-executed Captain America: Civil War. With a plot that hinges on Marvel apologizing for botching the second Avengers flick, Civil War is the mulligan that made fans breathe a collective sigh of relief.
This third entry in the Captain America series is very much an Avengers movie, but Chris Evans’ performance as Steve Rogers keeps the adventure from losing focus. While it would be easy to get caught up in nitpicking some of the exhaustive plot’s weaker points, Civil War retains an uneasy balance between darkness and fun. This is greatly aided by one of the best action-figure bash-ups yet. (An airport sequence where Scott Lang proves his worth and Spider-Man finally comes home.)
The climactic battle between Cap and Tony “Retired Man” Stark is brutal and bone-chilling, ultimately delivering the closest thing to stakes the MCU has seen yet. With an ensemble cast that earns every cent of their paychecks, newcomer Chadwick Boseman stands out as T’Challa, aka Black Panther, whose homeworld of Wakanda offers a stunning sneak peek into what Marvel has in store for our cinematic future. Captain America: Civil War is simply the right way to do overblown, comic book-style action. The only way. — MF
The Witch. I defy you to find a more sumptuous display of horror, tension, and despair in 2016. Set in a New England wilderness when America was just beginning to figure itself out, The Witch concerns itself with fear — fear of close places, fear of the unknown, fear of family, hearth, and home. Also a pernicious little fellow named Black Phillip.
Robert Eggers’ directorial debut tests the limits of our endurance. Every moment in The Witch is methodically considered, its pace deliberately set, which makes watching the film’s close-knit Puritanical family come undone all the more torturous. (With each swing of the patriarch’s axe, it seems, doom reverberates more violently in our chests.) Its period settings (let’s say it takes place in The Year of Our Lord 1630-ish) are faithfully realized, filmed with the care and precision of a master storyteller. Total immersion that’s only cut by intermittent slashes of pitch blackness, moments of unsettling evil that seep into the film’s later moments of sheer agony. It leaves you gasping, white-knuckled, sweating… and yet you can’t look away.
Because the world of The Witch is one of splendor. It’s rapturous, subversive message is one that we’ve played with in our hearts more than once: If the world you know is unsatisfactory, let it burn to the ground. There are greater pleasures just beyond home’s thresholds. — JJ
Deadpool. The superhero movie genre is here to stay, whether you like it or not. Fortunately, it’s finally able to poke fun at itself. Deadpool slices and dices at itself, a cracked funhouse mirror this notoriously self-serious genre. Just as The Merc with the Mouth himself is hyper aware that he is in a comic book, Deadpool too is aware of itself as a movie. So naturally it laughs right alongside its audience. There’s no pretension here — just big-time fun.
Deadpool is not the first rated R superhero movie (Punisher: War Zone and Blade were just as violent) or even the first R movie to mix violence with comedy (neither was Kick-Ass). But what Deadpool does for the meta-hero-verse at large is give fans a break from the groaning melodrama of adults dressed up in spandex. Twentieth Century Fox defied Deadpool‘s shtick at first, a shimmer of cape fatigue and panic that resulted in one of the most profitable gambles of the year. That boldness is the closest thing to a New Wave movement the superhero genre will ever hope for. It’s truly that glorious.
Deadpool isn’t great because of its hyper-gore violence or its potty mouth comedy, it’s great despite those things. Because it wants to have fun and it’s stylish as it does so. It’s lodged right in the sweet spot of taking itself seriously and sawing its own hand off at the bone. More risks, more silliness, more non-traditional heroes, and less super-macho posturing, please. — KGK
What was YOUR favorite film of the year? Let us know in the comments section below.