It is important to note that while I aim to be up-to-date with movies made in the last year, it is equally important to watch older films I have yet to see to broaden my horizons. Oftentimes, many of these older films are ones that I had either figured wouldn’t appeal to me or were likely overhyped. However, every once and a while, one of these films I expected to have a poor reception towards ends up being one of the most memorable films I had seen all year. With Oscar season just around the corner, I’d like to acknowledge 10 movies, old and new, that blew me away this past year.
I honestly thought Tootsie would offend me. Quite the opposite. Tootsie is one of those rare movies that captures you almost immediately with its charm and doesn’t let go until its conclusion. Dustin Hoffman’s performance as Michael Dorsey, who assumes the persona of Dorothy Michaels to get work on a soap opera, was magnificent and hilarious. I mostly watched this movie to see Jessica Lange’s Oscar winning performance, and she was a perfect beacon of innocence in a very lively film. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how every facet of this movie was superbly made towards its satirizing of ambition and fame.
I had no idea what this movie was about when I saw it during my Oscar movie prep last year. I figured it was going to be a pretentious art film. Not even close. In fact, there is no amount of words that can even begin to express the level of power, perseverance, strength, and love that this movie expressed to its audience. This is one of the most profound movies I have ever seen in my life. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, change that immediately. I still believe Room should have walked away with the Oscar for Best Picture.
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
I knew I was either going to love this movie or hate it when I first saw it. I am a huge fan of Cloverfield, and given my hatred of sequels, I was worried I would be disappointed. Nope. So far in 2016, 10 Cloverfield Lane has my vote as the best movie I’ve seen all year. The film is a perfect combination of thriller and horror. The standout of the film is the extraordinary performance from John Goodman. He gave the role such frightening intensity, but also incorporated tremendous ambiguity into the role to forever keep the motivations and mindset of his character a mystery.
16 Candles (1984)
I was bored one night, had nothing to watch, and was scrolling Netflix when this title popped up on my screen. I had NO IDEA 16 Candles was the film that revolutionized the 1980s coming-of-age films. As I was watching this movie, I realized how incredibly perfect the film was in capturing the confusion of being a teenager and especially the motif wanting to be noticed by someone you discretely care about. While the film is hilarious and has so many memorable one-liners and moments, what makes this movie truly special is its subtext. The film suggests that while teenage angst is likely to occur, there is always hope and the possibility for something great. The film is about finding oneself and discovering one’s inner confidence and strength. It’s a beautiful message that 16 Candles delivers with such sincerity.
Ex Machina (2015)
Anyone who knows anything about me would know that I do not like the science-fiction genre. It takes a lot to get me to even contemplate watching something within this genre. The ONLY reason why I decided to watch Ex Machina was because I was told it was different. I begrudgingly agreed to give it a chance. After Room, this was one of my favorite films of 2015. The fact that the film was not a big-studio product made a HUGE difference in how the film’s narrative was affected. Since the film was independently made, it allowed writer/director Alex Garland to implement his vision of the story without big-name producers putting their grimey fingers all over it. As a result, Ex Machina is an extraordinary merging of the drama and science-fiction genres, with unconventional characters that aren’t crafted for the audience to directly like or dislike. The narrative is completely devoid of clichés and doesn’t shy away from taking some risks in its storytelling. Most astonishing was the performance from Alicia Vikander, whose performance as the AI persona, Ava, was captivating for its intense subtlety. Ex Machina is not a mere science-fiction film. It is so much more than that.
The Hustler (1961)
A few months back, having never seen any of his films before, I decided to have a Paul Newman day (Click HERE to read my overall review of his films from that marathon). The Hustler was one of six films I saw during that day. Knowing very little about the art of playing pool, I was unsure whether this film would keep my attention. Instead, The Hustler was an incredible experience of a film. I was captivated by its theme of ambition and how it can blind someone to their reality, as evidenced with what occurs to Newman’s Fast Eddie Felson, who is obsessed with winning. This was an extraordinary film experience.
The Color of Money (1986)
The Color of Money is the unofficial sequel to The Hustler, which was half the reason why I was dreading this movie during my ‘Paul Newman Day’ marathon. Then, after I fell in love with The Hustler, I thought to myself that there was no way this movie could even match its predecessor. Wrong. The Color of Money takes place 25 years after the events of The Hustler, furthering the storyline of Paul Newman’s Fast Eddie Felson. The film, technically, is a stand-alone film and one doesn’t necessarily need to watch The Hustler to view this movie. That in itself allowed for The Color of Money to be its own film, which was a very smart move on the part of director Martin Scorsese. What makes this movie stellar is how it recycles the theme of ambition from The Hustler, but re-frames it. Newman’s Fast Eddie Felson is now a learned character, having understood his flaws from 25 years earlier. Equally impactful with the film is the story of Fast Eddie Felson’s comeback as he decides to go back to competitive pool playing after 25 years of self-retirement. This movie is one of my favorite discoveries in the last year.
I do not care what the critics and quite a few opinionated reviewers thought of this film. Spectre was a SPECACULAR Bond film, and that is not something I say lightly. Due to the mixed reviews about this film, I was bracing for a disaster of a Bond film. Instead, I got one of the most fulfilling Bond experiences I have ever had from the franchise. I’m quite convinced I saw a different movie than everyone else because I think it is one of the best Bond films ever made. It was a perfection continuation of an overarching storyline from Skyfall, Daniel Craig was in top form as James Bond, Christoph Waltz was diabolical perfection, not to mention the film was an amazing adrenaline rush of a narrative. Spectre also should be praised for its extraordinary opening sequence, especially its near 10 minute long-shot that went from the streets of Mexico as citizens celebrated the Day of the Dead to James Bond narrowing surviving a rooftop explosion. Added to my praise of this film is the perfect Bond song from Sam Smith, “Writing’s on the Wall,” which is perhaps one of the best Bond songs ever written (after Adele’s “Skyfall,” of course!). Don’t like the song? Tell that to the Oscar Sam Smith won for it!
Amores Perros (2000)
Being a big fan of writer/director Alejandro González Iñárritu, I decided to watch his first major film, Amores Perros, which Mexico submitted and was nominated for in the Best Foreign Film category at the Oscars in 2000. The film begins with a devastating car crash and subsequently tells three separate narratives of individuals who were directly impacted by this accident. The film isn’t easy to watch, with many scenes that are guaranteed to make even the toughest of persons cry. However, it is such a powerful film that shows a gritty portrayal of humanity and individuals trying to find inner peace in a world that is harsh and cruel.
Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
I didn’t know what to expect when I stumbled onto this title and decided to give it a watch. Based off the Tennessee Williams play, Suddenly, Last Summer is a stunning narrative about mental illness and homosexuality. The film centers on Catherine Holly (Elizabeth Taylor) who is seemingly unstable as she babbles about an incident that claimed the life of her cousin while they were on vacation. Her aunt, the wealthy Mrs. Violet Venable (Katherine Hepburn) is seeking to have her lobotomized in an effort to stop her from speaking further of the incident. The film was controversial when released in theaters in 1959 for its in-your-face representation of the mentally ill and also the discrete insinuations about homosexuality that are blatantly obvious to contemporary audiences. Suddenly, Last Summer is one of Tennessee Williams more underrated plays, but is equally impactful as A Streetcar Named Desire or Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.