Our contributing critics pick their best and worst movies - The Buffalo News

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Our contributing critics pick their best and worst movies

We asked some of our most dedicated contributing critics to do three things: 1) Pick their five best Movies of 2016, no matter who actually reviewed them. 2) Pick their five worst and 3) Keep the lists very short.

Here are their choices:

From Susan Wloszczyna

The best of 2016

"Toni Erdmann": A  German-made comedy about a divorced middle-aged father desperate to be closer to his workaholic 30-something daughter  justifies its epic-length by constantly surprising the audience with each new scene while producing continuous outbursts of laughter.

“Zootopia”: Animated films, at least the best ones, are rarely just for kids. Certainly, the nefarious strategy afoot in this amusing tale of a mammalian metropolis that relies on fear of the other to control its citizenry could not be more timely. Plus, the idea achingly-slow sloths manning the DMV is hard to resist.

“Hell or High Water”: A modern-day Western that turns upon the aftershocks of the housing market crash of 2008 as two desperate brothers pull off a crime spree to save their oil-rich homestead. The ensemble headed by Jeff Bridges as a Texas Ranger is top shelf as the cast makes hay out of every scene, line of dialogue and second of running time.

“La La Land”:  Damien Chazelle literally gives the musical genre a lift. Yes, stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone engage in flashy footwork and break into melodic interludes. But it is easy to get caught up in their showbiz hopes and failures as they fall for one another against a gorgeous backdrop of an eye-popping primary-colored City of Angels.

“Florence Foster Jenkins”: Only Meryl Streep could turn bad singing into an art as a real-life  opera diva who never met a note she couldn’t miss.

The worst of 2016

“Independence Day: Insurgence”: In a year filled with sequels that no one asked for, this 20 years in the making follow-up to the original alien invasion blockbuster that dared to blow up the White House was a CGI disaster itself that sorely missed an MIA Will Smith and coherence.

“Ghostbusters”: This gender switch on the Bill Murray paranormal comedy from 1984 was unfairly subjected to misogynist online slams by fans of the original. But, sadly, the cast topped by Melissa McCarthy was haunted by too many callbacks to the first film and, save for Kate McKinnon, never came close to having as much fun as their spook-chasing predecessors.

“The Choice”: Nicholas Sparks romances have different settings and the hair color of the leads might change but generally they follow the same bumpy road. But the deplorable twist in this particular variation of canoodlers kept apart by a tragic event dared to make light of one of the hardest decisions a loved one can face.

“The Divergent Series: Allegiant”: If anything good comes out of this inferior version of “The Hunger Games” failing at the box office, it might bring an end to having to watch young people in a dystopian society kill one another.

“Nine Lives”: You’d think that Kevin Spacey would have his hands full with his hit show “House of Cards.” But, unfortunately, he found time to provide the voice of a self-centered Trump-like mogul who magically inhabits the body of a cat and learns to lick, oops, love his family.

From Christopher Schobert

I’ve kept this list to films that are currently playing in Buffalo or played here in the last year. And while my personal top ten list includes the widely acclaimed “Jackie,” “Moonlight,” “American Honey,” and “A Bigger Splash,” I’ve decided to highlight a few less-heralded 2016 entries here. OK, a few less-heralded entries and “La La Land.” I couldn’t skip that one.

Five Greats

“Sing Street”: John Carney’s story of a 1980s high school rock band in 1980s Ireland feels like the kind of indie film that would’ve been a worldwide crossover success in the booming mid-to-late 90s. (It’s like “The Commitments”’ younger cousin.) But that era is long gone, and in this age of streaming and shorter theatrical lifespans, “Sing Street” came and went. With fine acting from a likable young cast and the year’s most purely enjoyable soundtrack (a collection of New Wave and post-punk pastiches), “Sing Street” is funny, moving, and beautifully optimistic. Best of all? It’s streaming on Netflix right now. Watch it, and prepare to fall in love.

“The Handmaiden”: South Korean psychological thriller “The Handmaiden” is a wildly emotional love story, and an unexpectedly moving examination of a fascinating time period: 1930s Korea, then occupied by Japan. In this gleefully perverse romance, a woman is hired as a handmaiden to a Japanese heiress, but secretly she is involved in a plot to defraud her. Eventually, a deliciously conceived twist upends “The Handmaiden,” and we see many of the preceding moments from a different perspective. The final hour or so of this long (nearly two and a half hours) film features moment after moment of surprise.

“Certain Women”: Kelly Reichardt’s “Certain Women” is quietly brilliant, aesthetically mundane,and emotionally tumultuous. For nearly two hours, we watch the lives of four women (barely) intersect in a series of moments that, at first glance, seem to have only modest importance. Yet by the time the Montana-set film comes to an end, we understand — even if the characters do not — just how vitally important these events have been. It’s a world of uncertainty, and it’s wonderfully enthralling.

“High-Rise”: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, and Sienna Miller star in a divisive, difficult, and ridiculously brilliant 1970s-set nightmare of adrenaline and ecstasy. Some will find it horrifying, others exhilarating. But no one will find director Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s 1975 novel even remotely boring. Above all else, this film about class warfare and the gradual descent into chaos at a tower block takes the “predictive fiction” (as Wheatley calls it) of Ballard’s novel and offers it as a reflection of today. It does so with savage humor, gurgling sexuality, and an air of ever-approaching menace.

“La La Land”: Like “Sing Street,” this modern musical starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling is an invigorating reimagining of familiar cinematic tropes. Yes, the antecedents are clear. (Chiefly, Jacques Demy’s “Umbrellas of Cherbourg” and “Young Girls of Rochefort,” Woody Allen’s “Everyone Says I Love You.”) But it is limiting to call the film a rehash. Chazelle has crafted a uniquely widescreen experience of catchy songs, stunning visuals, and note-perfect performances from his leads. It’s not for everyone — the opening number set during a traffic jam on a Los Angeles freeway is the perfect test to determine one’s interest in what’s to come — but those who embrace it will leave the cinema on a high. “La La Land” is a joy to behold.

Five Duds

“Alice Through the Looking Glass”: The exhausting, utterly uninvolving “Looking Glass” is somehow even worse than Tim Burton’s execrable “Alice in Wonderland.” By the time the film mercifully ends, it’s difficult to even recall how it began, why we’re watching, and what made Lewis Carroll’s original tale so delightfully memorable.

“The Huntsman: Winter’s War”: There is a moment in “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” in which Chris Hemsworth’s burly, winking huntsman runs up a rock wall, does a wrestling-style backflip, grabs the horns of a CGI goblin, and breaks its digital neck. By the end of the prequel-sequel to 2012’s “Snow White and the Huntsman,” you’ll feel like that poor goblin — manhandled, exhausted, and unfulfilled. I’m still not sure how Jessica Chastain and Emily Blunt ended up in this mess.

“Independence Day Resurgence”: Will Smith dodged a major bullet by turning down the chance to star in the sequel to 1996 blockbuster “Independence Day.” Sadly, Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman did not. A dull mix of ho-hum effects and over-the-top acting, “Resurgence” is one of the weaker summer sequels ever made. (Let’s note, however, that Buffalo native William Fichtner gives a fine supporting performance, as usual.)

“Storks”: Here is a reminder that not all children’s films are created equally. The throw-everything-at-the-wall approach of “Storks” is utterly schizophrenic. Everything is random, and the resulting story of baby-delivering storks feels like a series of unconnected moments uncomfortably forced together. It’s a complete misfire that may entertain very young children, but will cause an awful headache for everyone else.

“Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice”: Perhaps it is disingenuous to include Zack Snyder’s ultra-dark, ultra-violent superhero face-off on a list of the year’s worst films. Admittedly, there were far worse blockbusters in 2016. But it’s hard to think of another that felt like such a wasted opportunity. Grim, ugly, and featuring one of the silliest plot points in cinema history (“Save … Martha”), “Dawn of Justice” wastes strong work from Ben Affleck and Jeremy Irons, not to mention a glorious introduction to Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. What a shame.

From Kathleen Rizzo Young

Three small films really stuck with me this year—all linked by happiness.   Japan’s “Our Little Sister” and “The Eagle Huntress,” shot in Mongolia, present portraits of two beautiful, strong and (best of all) happy young girls in exotic parts of the world.  Loved the time spent with these young women and I was sorry when both films were over.  For sheer bliss, John Carney (“Once”) has a gift for capturing love and music on film and his “Sing Street” about a young man who forms a band to impress a girl leaves its audience smiling and humming its 80’s-style original soundtrack.

From Robbie-Ann McPherson:

Best

"The Finest Hours"

"Hell or High Water"

"The Beatles: 8 Days a Week - The Touring Years"

"Rogue One: A Star Wars Story"

"The Nice Guys"

Worst

"The Bronze"

"The Hateful Eight"

"How to Be Single"

"The Boss"

"Batman vs. Superman"

From Mark Sommer

Here are five films I particularly enjoyed in 2016:

"Mustang": This Turkish powerfully portrayed cultures in collision in telling the story of five sisters under the thumb of patriarchy in a rural Turkish village. The film presents a loving portrait of sisters who won't be contained by the oppressive forces around them.

"Café Society": Woody Allen's "Café Society" is both a poignant love story and  laugh riot, with terrific performances from Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart. One of Allen's very best of recent years.

"Indignation" Logan Lerman and Sarah Gadon provide weighty performances in a pitch-perfect recreation of the sexually-repressed 1950s that's set in an Ohio college against the backdrop of the Korean War. It's a strong adaptation of Philip Roth's bittersweet story of loss and yearning.

"Snowden": Oliver Stone is drawn to issues of American Empire, and he's up to the task in presenting the intelligence officer-turned-whistleblower who risked everything to expose illegal national secrets. Joseph Gordon-Levitt expertly inhabits Edward Snowden as a somber and introverted official who keeps his nose to he grindstone until he no longer can.

"The Girl on the Train": Emily Blunt does an excellent job playing a deeply troubled woman in this psychological thriller, which ties up a lot of knots by the time it pulls into the station.

 

 

 

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