Hell or High Water

Here are the year’s best films in storytelling and performances:

10.  Sing Street 

Director John Carney, who gave us the 2007 romantic music trifecta of guitar, piano and vocals in the Irish movie “Once,” returns to Dublin for a stellar encore performance involving a teenage boy dealing with the pressures of school while starting up a rock band to get closer to a girl. Carney knows how to bring music and romance together better than anyone else and we find a heartfelt story that feels both charming and real at the same time.  An above average cast and a 1980s soundtrack launch this movie into instant classic status and into the Top 10 list for 2016.

 9.  Captain Fantastic

The vastly talented Viggo Mortensen (“Lord of the Rings”) stars as the earthy patriarch of the Cash family, living off-the-grid while raising his well-read children deep in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. A stirring drama on human interaction and one family’s attempt to cope with loss, individual beliefs, and real life. Every parent, at some point, wonders if they’re raising their child the best possible way. “Captain Fantastic” offers us one unmistakable, yet riveting, parenting route. 

8.  Hidden Figures

An extremely talented ensemble tells the true NASA story of three brilliant African-American women who played major roles in our nation’s space program during the 1960s.  The trio fight prejudice in the male-dominated workplace through their skillful persistence and smarts.  Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Kevin Costner marvelously solve spacecraft launch and recovery math equations to earn the trust of viewers and astronaut John Glenn.  A feel-good history lesson that needs to be seen to believed. Houston, no problems here--these women have it all under control!

7.  Florence Foster Jenkins

In her best performance in years, Meryl Streep stars as a legendary New York heiress and socialite obsessed with her dream of becoming a great singer.  An electrifying story of love, perseverance and imagination abounds in this true story. “Florence Foster Jenkins” dominates with splendid performances by Streep, Hugh Grant and Simon Helberg.  An extraordinary romantic comedy for your eyes and ears, Grant plays the husband and manager to Streep’s character.  His greatest challenge, a 1944 public performance by his beloved Florence in Carnegie Hall, weighs as heavily on his heart and mind as it does moviegoers.

6.  Hacksaw Ridge

Mel Gibson (“Braveheart”) passionately presents the true story of Medal of Honor recipient Corporal Desmond Doss, who enlists in the U.S. Army during the Second World War. The most intense, shocking big-screen battle since “Saving Private Ryan”, this faith-based film compromises neither true events nor one’s religious spirit in telling its powerful story.  “Hacksaw Ridge” squarely highlights how one’s inner strength and personal courage challenged and changed others’ minds—later earning their admiration and this nation’s highest military honor. “Hacksaw Ridge” received a 10-minute standing ovation.  A well-deserved 10-minute honor for a man who saved many lives—without taking one.

5.  Sully

Director Clint Eastwood masterfully retells the harrowing conclusion to the 2009 U.S. Airways flight that miraculously makes a water landing in Manhattan’s Hudson River. We see a vulnerable flight deck crew’s opinions and memories get tested against a faceless, but more powerful, adversary: cockpit voice & data recorders, computer animations and air traffic control tapes. “Sully” is a powerhouse film that aviation enthusiasts found deeply satisfying for getting the human factors in flying correct.  Eastwood’s clever technique used to tell this incredible story—in a variety of ways and perspectives—is sensational and the film’s best feature.

4.  Deadpool

This film marks the “X-Men” franchise’s riskiest ride ever, using explicit adult themes and sexual tones to deliver a bold, edgy, and youthful action hero story. “Homeland’s” eye-catching Mrs. Brody (Morena Baccarin) plays Ryan Reynolds’ convincing love interest and bed warmer. Viewers looking for a safe, science fiction adventure were caught off-guard by the rogue ways of “Deadpool.” Its cunning dialogue and violent delivery cast this film firmly into the deep end of the adult pool. By no means did “Deadpool” only take the superhero routine less traveled. It forged its own path with a simplistic but humorous jaunt, casting likeable street stars with hip, sassy tongues.

3.  Lion

This year’s most heartwarming and touching movie experience, “Lion” is a fact-based movie that recounts the true story of a boy who gets lost at a train station in his home country of India at the age of 5. The movie packs a powerful punch as the exceptionally talented and charismatic Dev Patel (2008’s “Slumdog Millionaire”) delivered another on-screen gem, this time as Saroo after he’s been adopted by an Australian family.  But it’s the younger version of Saroo, portrayed by movie newcomer Sunny Pawar, that completely outshined everyone else in this tense, nail-biter. Its Top 3 final ranking in 2016 is cemented with a poignant final act. “Lion” is a movie not to be missed!  

2.  La La Land

Working together on their third movie, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone share an on-screen chemistry that only comes around once every 10 years!  The Oscar frontrunner for Best Picture, “La La Land” is 2016’s most romantic love story.  Gosling and Stone shine as a formidable twosome that squares off using singing jujitsu and snickering one-liners in the City of Stars. Equal parts endearing, funny and quirky, Stone seals up her Oscar gold with this compelling and career performance. A charming musical dramedy that rises to instant Classic status.  The movie’s cinematography and soundtrack are the year’s best.

1.  Hell or High Water

Jeff Bridges will take the Academy Award for the Best Actor in a Supporting Role after his epic screen work as a long-in-the-tooth Texas Ranger who seeks swift justice for a pair of bank bandits. This film may be promoted as two brothers robbing banks, however, it’s more about two give-and-take relationships. These dueling bonds consist of one representing the law with Bridges’ and his Texas Ranger sidekick, the other a brotherhood of outlaws raised in an abusive household. Wielding a razor-sharp script, the film backs up to their getaway car with deeply satisfied moviegoers in close chase. With remarkable cinematography brandishing vast lands and small town life, “Hell or High Water” has confidently ordered all other 2016 films to get down on the floor and not move. 


Patrick King is a resident of Tucson and writer for the REEL BRIEF movie blog at www.reelbrief.com.  You may email him at reelbriefmoviereviews@mail.com.

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