Each year I see more than 150 movies, and I’m pretty easy to please. But there’s always a few movies that stand out from the pack as ones I’d see over and over and recommend to anyone’s collection – and a few that I’d rather forget forever.
Following are my 10 favorite movies this year, the ones that made me laugh the hardest, feel the most thrilled and occasionally made me cry.
1. LA LA LAND
I’ve seen this four times already, and it gets better every time. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone team up for the best musical since “Singin’ in the Rain,” and it scores extra points because it is the original vision of writer-director Damien Chazelle rather than an adaptation of a Broadway classic. It follows a couple of showbiz dreamers through a year of highs and lows that are especially relatable to anyone who knows someone playing the Hollywood game.
As a straight white male, this movie blindsided me by drawing me in fully to the romantic travails of a black gay man. Writer-director Barry Jenkins crafted a mesmerizing portrayal of loneliness and longing that is universal, following the story of a Miami man from boyhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world. Moral warning: one scene implies manual stiumlation between two teen boys, but nothing is actually seen. The film is sympathetic to gays, but it's really a movie that's universally about loneliness.
3. EDGE OF SEVENTEEN
This thoroughly winning comedy struck some poignant points as well. Fantastic young actress Hailee Steinfeld giving Emma Stone and Viola Davis (of “Fences”) a run for best female performance of the year in this story of a 17-year-old girl struggling with dating and coping with the loss of her father. So good that legendary filmmaker James L. Brooks (“Terms of Endearment,” “As Good As It Gets”, “Broadcast News”) came out of retirement to produce it.
4. THE NICE GUYS
Writer-director Shane Black (“Lethal Weapon,” “Iron Man 3”) struck action-comedy gold again with this 1970s-set private eye flick that was largely overlooked in the summer blockbuster shuffle. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe teamed up to solve what appears to be the murder of a porn star but winds up being something altogether different. A pure joy.
Ryan Reynolds had one of the biggest comebacks ever by taking on the daring and edgy role of a decidedly R-rated superhero in this audacious mix of gutsy comedy and souped-up violence that was a gasp-inducing thrill ride from start to finish. This is definitely R-rated comedy and violence, and has an extended sequence of premarital sex, but most adults should handle it.
6. 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE/DON'T BREATHE
Both these movies were edgy, claustrophobic, edge-of-your-seat thrillers with a non-stop series of nasty surprises. Sci-fi thrillers often don’t get awards, but John Goodman in “Cloverfield” gives the performance of a lifetime as a man who holds a woman hostage in an underground shelter while she wonders whether an apocalypse has occurred outside. “Breathe,” meanwhile, delivered Hitchcock-worthy suspense with moments of pure terror and a star-making turn by Jane Levy as a woman struggling to escape a house filled with traps while attempting to rob a blind veteran.
Oliver Stone’s biopic of Edward Snowden moves beyond a mere recap of the controversial NSA analyst to create a timely call to arms about just how recklessly abusive world governments have become of average citizens’ privacy. Sadly getting overlooked by awards.
Clint Eastwood directs and Tom Hanks stars in an utterly brilliant rendition of the story of pilot “Sully” Sullenberger’s miracle landing of a packed jetliner on New York’s Hudson River. Todd Komarnicki’s inventive, time-jumping script might be the year’s best.
9. WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT
Tina Fey delivered perhaps the year’s biggest surprise, a masterful dramedy following the true story of female journalist Kim Barker, dodging both bombs and her inner demons while embedded inside the Iraq War. Patriotic without being jingoistic, this might be the best movie to emerge from our Middle Eastern misadventures.
10. FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS
Meryl Streep works wonders as the title character, a rich post-WWII socialite who became a sensation for being an utterly terrible singer who nonetheless managed to buy her way into Carnegie Hall performances. But it’s Hugh Grant as her husband and Simon Helberg as a vocal teacher who will be duking it out for the honor of Best Supporting Actor this year in the year’s most intelligent comedy.