Of all my years of fervent movie watching, 2016 is by far my most proud. Thanks to my new home WhySoBlu.com and my weekly Encapsulated Movie Reviews column I’ve seen more films this year then ever before and it’s been very satisfying. As such my list of Top Ten films is a thoughtful, researched and wondrous hodgepodge of docs, genre flicks and interesting indies that some may not have heard of. And even though there’s not a big budget action yarn (Deadpool came very, very close!), either of the two fine films released by the great Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories still rules!) or a gaggle of year-end Oscar bait (La La Land was four out of five stars for me!) ever-present, rest assured I’ve tried to see them all. (I even checked out five unseen films recommended by my fellow site writers via their “so far” lists – I listened to EVERYONE!) In a year that had many fantastic flicks just under full marks for me, below is a bevy of strictly five-star stuff. Films that went that extra mile to make their cinematic wares truly warranted of movie mention and I’m proud to say I adore. But the love doesn’t stop there as I’ve also included an interview with the director of one of the films below – Ryan Schwartz helmer of the #8 selection – as an extra year-end bonus for all you WhySoBlu.com readers as a thank you for your continued support of the site. Love ‘em or hate ‘em (and you know my humble opinion!) here are my loud and proud…
Top Ten Films of 2016!
Not unlike last year’s top pick An Honest Liar, my number one spot has once again been nabbed by a delectable documentary and what a ruckus ride it is. Taking inspiration from in your face genre masters like Michael Moore and Nick Broomfield who lived by ‘get the interview or die trying’ standards, Tickled stars off as a harmless puff piece about competitive endurance tickling and then takes an unforeseen sharp turn into a story far more scathing and sinister then thought possible. Plus witty journalist David Farrier is the perfect host to wade through the seemingly safe, but ultimately shark infested subject waters, bringing equal amounts honesty and tenacity in his desire to uncover the truth. Heads and tails above all other films this year, Tickled is a doc that deserves its due.
Hailing his triumphant return to five-star film form, Canadian Director Atom Egoyan shows once again why he’s the master of movies that take their time. Pairing himself with a suspenseful script (via screenwriter Benjamin August) and a killer cast (the likes of Martin Landau and Jürgen Prochnow!), Egoyan weaves a wonderful tale of sadness, tragedy and revenge that’s easily one of the best of his very long and illustrious career. (Though for me The Adjuster beats them all!) But it’s the layered Oscar caliber turn by leading man Christopher Plummer as an aging gent with dementia out to find the Nazi captain who killed his family that’s the true icing on Egoyan’s captivating cinematic cake here. Remember when movies were magnificent – thanks to Atom they still are.
3. Band of Robbers
Steeped in indie ingenuity, Band of Robbers proves to naysaying moviegoers once again that originality in film is alive and well. Starting with the well-known works of Mark Twain and then infusing them with their own witty and subversive style, Aaron and Adam Nee’s flick is a terrific blend of funny bits (Adam Nee’s Tom Sawyer kills the comedy in every scene!), savvy storytelling (what if treasure was not a mere myth?) and unforgettable characters (Stephen Lang’s Injun Joe steals the movie!) that makes for one unique film experience. Less a robbery and more inspired homage, the band of brothers Nee and their fine flick play all the right notes.
A film decades in the making, this long awaited pairing of real-life father and son Donald and Kiefer Sutherland as turbulent on-screen kin proves to be a western that was well worth the wait. Putting all their character – and perhaps personal – backstories on raw and real display for all to see, the Sutherlands give powerhouse performances that add extra layers to the already ripe ancestral authenticity. Not to mention that the rest of the film stays on equal perfection par under the competent directing of 24 helmer John Cassar – from the character casting (Michael Wincott’s thoughtful gunman for hire is some of his best work!) to the age-appropriate romance (Demi Moore and Kiefer ooze killer chemistry!) all work in tandem to make Forsaken a family affair that’s fabulous.
5. A Man Called Ove
There were a few curmudgeon leading character films this year (Casey Affleck brought apathetic to a new level in Manchester by the Sea), but none as bitter, biting and beautiful as the Swedish import A Man Called Ove. Taking the typical angry man movie conventions and giving them a firm genre shake up, filmmaker Hannes Holm adds everything from whimsical romance to caustic comedy to make sure his fury fest is five-star stuff. Plus his mean muse Rolf Lassgard is the perfect frustrated foil, an angry ogre whose heart isn’t so easily softened by the sentimental. (Thus making the few sappy moments utterly effective!) Sweet but sour, rough but real, A Man Called Ove bucks all cinematic topes without apologies – its stubborn lead is smiling.
6. De Palma
Taking both the best visual moments of Brian De Palma’s fantastic films (think Carrie, The Untouchables and Carlito’s Way – WOW!) and matching them with straight stories that would make any cinefile salivate right from the director himself, the doc De Palma is a film lover’s dream come true. As told unabashedly to equally admiring filmmakers Jake Paltrow and Noah Baumbach, De Palma lays barren both his personal (he reveals a ton of self-inspired scathing story lines taken from his own life!) and professional (the tales of Cliff Robertson on the set of Obsession are riveting!) life in one of the most comprehensive career interviews ever and the result is long lingering. Far more than just a mere glorified feature length DVD extra, De Palma is a silver screen love letter to the man and his movies.
7. The Automatic Hate
With so many effective dramas this year, it’s not hard to see why The Automatic Hate may be a forgotten flick. It came out early in the year, only got released in a small number of theaters and deals with taboo subjects that may make some a tad squeamish. But for those who dared to seek out its seemingly dark but utterly passionate wonders, The Automatic Hate is the epitome of a hidden gem. Dealing with family dysfunction in both traditional (Ricky Jay and Richard Schiff play feuding brothers with plenty of bad blood!) and askew ways (there’s some inappropriate chemistry between kissing cousins Joseph Cross and Adelaide Clemens that’s actually romantic!), filmmaker Justin Lerner creates an affecting little indie that never stops pushing any and all boundaries. The adoration here is far from automatic – it’s earned.
8. Summer of 8
While there was plenty of cool colorful coming of age tales in 2016 (see Edge of Seventeen, Sing Street and London Town!), the teen tale that truly spoke to me was Ryan Schwartz’s underrated indie Summer of 8. A tale of a group of close high school friends spending their final day on a sandy beach before heading off to college, the film has an across the board relatable quality that’s undeniable. There’s the candid chatter (and the gals are just as saucy as the gents!), the friends we all know and love (Matt Shively’s Oscar is the classic comedian of the group using humor to deflect!) and even love gone long unrequited (the heartbreaking connection between Michael Grant’s Aiden and Bailey Noble’s Serena provides the film with its best moments!) that elevates the work from being merely a fun flick to almost being a cathartic cinematic experience. (Laugh, cry, love – repeat!) Containing fabulous film moments we wish would go on forever, Summer of 8 hits all the right hot spots.
9. Intruders (aka Shut In)
I touted the layered lethal lady wares of star Beth Riesgraf via the #4 spot on my Top Five Actress list at former home Starpulse.com last year (I cheated and stepped up the timeline – sue me!), but with her film actually hitting theaters in 2016, I’m revisiting the sadistic satisfaction of Intruders, formerly titled Shut In. (The Naomi Watts flick that stole the title this year didn’t earn it in the slightest – SHAME!) A tasty tale of an agoraphobic gal who finds herself face-to-face with a gang of home invaders and turns the tables in some strange ways, Intruders never fails to surprise. Not to mention that as the not-what-she-seems deadly dame Anna, Riesgraf brings both brutal bravado and emotional impact to a role that could have been a one-note wonder. Of course it helps that her co-stars (an almost unrecognizable and highly creepy Martin Starr and the hapless and helpless Rory Culkin!) set the stage for memorable movie mayhem, but it’s the both the bold work of Riesgraf and her harrowing house of horrors that make Shut In…I mean Intruders…a first-rate film any fan would enjoy being trapped by.
10. The Good Neighbor (aka The Waiting)
One of the best horror outings that went well under the radar, The Good Neighbor is the creepiest and most unsettling flick of 2016 you didn’t see. Featuring some of the best use of suspenseful found footage surveillance style camera work (two high school kids decide to spy on their unsuspecting neighbor!), a thick layer of story unpredictability (when they mess with the guy sparks begin to fly!) and one of the most menacing yet moving performances by aging icon James Caan (who plays the nefarious neighbor with equal parts anger and anguish!), there’s plenty of fear factor for fans. And with my early review quotes all over the poster, trailers and various marketing materials all from my former home Starpulse.com, I’m not afraid to put my opinion and movie reputation on the line (I’m not Shawn Edwards or Pete Hammond who praise everything and anything!) – The Good Neighbor is damn good grim work I’m proud to have my words of praise on.
The fun of 2016 ain’t over yet my friends! With Summer of 8 being at #8 on my list it felt fitting to get a little extra insight for film fans (it was shot in…ten days!!!), so here’s the man behind the movie writer/director….
Where did the story for Summer of 8 come from – any personal experience?
Ryan Schwartz: Most of it – all of it very personal. I grew up loving high school films and I did grow up in Santa Monica and that beach lifestyle of just kind of hanging and soaking up the day was very personal for me. I thought about, I don’t want to say cooler friends, but people that I just looked up to in high school and put them in the characters – although I guess I’m in each one of them too. And my journey was pretty interesting because I’m about to be forty-two and it’s kind of an unusual age for someone to make their first film, but it hasn’t been from a lack of effort. It’s just hard to get a film made.
What is it about that moment between high school and college that makes it such an emotional time?
RS: Some people hated high school, but that was just not me and my friends. We kind of loved it, so for us part of that moment was that idea that we just knew it wasn’t going to be the same. It wasn’t like we were dreading college, but I think we intuitively knew that we had something great that was a little too good to be true. That responsibilities would kick in and that idea of a summer of nothing to do but hang out – we knew that was the last one. And then all the fears of what the future holds. Also it’s just so fun because guys aren’t as filtered as they learn to be, so conversations you have are pretty raw and I laugh because it’s probably not the best thing for girls to hear, but they’re having their own conversations too.
Even the scenes of chatter between ladies feels genuine – what are some of the challenges writing for women as a male screenwriter?
RS: I was lucky enough to have a good group of girlfriends. But really I thought about my sister a lot – she’s about four years younger than me. I also thought about the girls I knew growing up. But one of the things that was tricky with the film was with eight characters I wanted to give everyone as close to equal real estate as possible. And my first draft didn’t quite have that. I’ll be honest with you – it was much more leaning towards the guys. But I got some good advice.
I love the quirk of Matt Shively’s humor as a defense mechanism real feeling character – based on anyone you knew?
RS: For sure and it’s funny you picked up on that character because it was probably the one I knew the best. He was very much based on a very good friend of mine named Paul who was one of the funniest guys I’ve ever met. He used his humor really strategically, but he was also a really confident guy – he just didn’t give a sh@t! And I was worried about the character of Oscar, but I’ve had not just young people but I’ve met old people, grandparents who love Oscar and I think it’s just a testament to Matt because they saw underneath that mouth was just a really sweet heart. I’m happy that came across.
My favorite scene in the film is the loving encounter between Michael Grant’s Aiden and Bailey Noble’s Serena – can you talk about shooting that scene, both your intentions and actual practical challenges on set?
RS: Three months before I started shooting the movie I basically outlined the entire film on the note section of my iPhone and the scene that was clearest to me was that scene. So I wrote that Aiden would be making love to the woman he’s loved forever, on ecstasy and then realize ‘oh god, I don’t want this to end’ and then ‘oh my god, Oscar said this isn’t going to end’ and this gratitude that comes with that is just so overwhelming. And I always told Michael and Bailey going into that scene that of course we tend to worry about the woman in a love scene, but I was worried about Michael because that scene was going to be so hard to get. I mean this poor guy, he’s the youngest in our cast, he’s on top of a gorgeous woman and the dialogue is so ridiculous. But I’m so proud of that scene because it was very close to my vision for it and I would even say that it came out better. I’m so proud of him and she’s breathtakingly stunning.
And the execution?
RS: It was done on the last night that we shot and obviously we brought the whole crew in to light, but then it was actually shot on the rooftop of my dad’s garage with me, my DP, my first AC and the two actors. The boom guy he was so sweet – he sat on the rooftop corner of the garage and I thought he was going to fall off and he extended the pole twenty feet so he was nowhere to be seen. But it was so beautiful and intimate and the shot on Bailey when Michael is on top of her and it’s a close-up, when we finished shooting I looked at my DP and he was truly mesmerized. I mean he’s a pretty accomplished guy and he said, ‘That is the most beautiful shot I have ever shot.’ I mean it’s only three hours of shooting and it’s only a couple of minutes in the movie, but it’s very neat that you picked up on that scene because a lot of good fortune went into it.
What’s next for you?
RS: Well, the film did its job for a first film. We were so grateful to get a small theatrical release, which most movies never get. And then you pray for the phone started ringing and very quickly I got an agent and a manager and a lawyer, which I never had before. So now I am working on something, I’m writing and that movie is also going to be very personal.
Can’t wait! In any case Summer of 8 has officially nabbed the #8 spot on my Top Ten Films of 2016 so congratulations – speech?
RS: #8 on Jason’s top ten list – perfect! A film about eight close friends, their favorite beach is Station 8 and an 8 turned sideways equals infinity, which is a constant theme in the film…will these relationships endure? We couldn’t be more proud to be included on this list and it’s so incredibly fitting for Summer of 8 to land at #8. Without your support, little films like ours too often disappear. Thank you for seeing the magic created by our incredible cast and crew.
A special thanks to the talented Ryan Schwartz for taking time out to chat and give my end of the year list an extra something special for our readers. Fans can check out his film Summer of 8 – available now on iTunes at apple.co/2bYNHk8 – online at www.facebook.com/Summerof8Movie/ now. And congratulations to Summer of 8 and all the films on this list for making 2016 a great year of movie watching – till next year…