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John Wick can come back any time he damn well pleases. That was the message delivered by the 2014 action hit that not only saw the eponymous assassin returning to his death-dealing ways, it was a return of sorts for the film's star, Keanu Reeves. Keanu is back, John Wick is back, and the film that follows, John Wick: Chapter 2, is a perfect, action-packed, bullet-riddled, blood-soaked sequel. The follow-up does precisely what a sequel should do. It's bigger than its predecessor, and more elaborate than the efficient, streamlined actioner it follows. It isn't necessarily better. That would truly be an impossible task, but John Wick: Chapter 2 delivers on all this new franchise promises, an action extravaganza that keeps us amped for more.
Nicolas Cage is a unique talent in the acting world. His performances often give us something to talk about regardless of the quality of the film surrounding that performance, and it creates an air of excitement that follows the actor wherever he's seen. This is exactly why, for the past four years, the Alamo Drafthouse has programmed a day of movies in Cage's honor. Entitled CAGED (or "C4GED" for this year's program) the day, usually coordinated by Tough Guy Cinema programmer Greg MacLennan and in honor of Cage's 53rd birthday, treats movie-going fans to five, surprise titles all headlined by a memorable Nicolas Cage performance. Every year MacLennan has invited Cage to attend, and it was for seemingly this final year of CAGED that we were all witness to the biggest surprise of them all. Nicolas Cage actually showed up.
More often than not a good soundtrack in a movie can be just as captivating as the visuals in which it accompanies. We live within the world of that film as we experience watching it, but a good soundtrack – composed score or curated list of songs – can allow us to reengage with the film on a purely auditory level sometimes even offering up an entirely new perspective. It's why this list is always such a joy to put together at the end of any year (review my previous soundtrack picks for the Best of 2014 and Best of 2013). Listed below are my Top 10 Soundtracks/Scores of 2016, and, as always, it's a fun list to put together. These are the scores and song lists I will surely be listening to in the coming months, the soundtracks that are every bit as memorable as the films themselves. (You can also find my Top 10 Films of 2016 here.) Enjoy!
It was another stellar year at the cinema, and don't let anyone try to convince you otherwise. While some are crying shouts that the cinema is dead the art form is doing all it can to prove otherwise, and it's easy to see how the industry is doing. Below are my Top 10 Films of 2016, but it could just have easily have been 10 completely different movies on this list. The impressive list of honorable mentions (found at the end) should give some credence to that. These are the 10 films, though, that moved me most of all, the films with which I most engaged, the films I believe the cinema community will be talking about for many years, beyond 2016.
Assassin's Creed is the best film adaptation of a video game we've ever seen. Granted, that's not exactly a huge wall to scale. The world of video games adapted to the big screen has had more valleys than peaks, and problematic films like Silent Hill and Resident Evil are considered the best this brand of movie making has to offer. Cult status has been kind to movies like Super Mario Bros. and Mortal Kombat in recent years, but even those fall into the category of fun rather than good. Leave it to a filmmaker like Justin Kurzel (of Snowtown and Macbeth) to show how it's done. With breathtaking visuals, commendable performances, and an unconventional story Assassin's Creed handily Parkours its way up through the ranks to come out
The new regime behind the Star Wars franchise came with a promise to the die-hard fans of the world. We would be offered one, new entry into the series every year until the brand became old and tired or until the stars overhead burned out, whichever came first. That meant every other film would take a side step away from the main saga and branch out into the ever-expanding universe surrounding it. This meant something as trivial as the first paragraph of A New Hope's opening crawl could be fleshed out into a feature film, which is what they've done with Rogue One, the first of many Star Wars stories to come. What looks like fodder to fill out the Star Wars release slate on paper, though, ends up delivering the freshness this beloved franchise desperately needed and all the excitement those die-hard fans have come to expect.
"It's conflict and it's compromise, and it's very, very exciting." That's how Sebastian, the character played by Ryan Gosling in La La Land, describes jazz, his obvious infatuation with the genre of music seeping into the actor's delivery. It's a description that could just as easily be used for the concepts of life and love and the way writer/director Damien Chazelle handles them in his film. La La Land is never as aggressive as Chazelle's first film, Whiplash, nor does it reach the sincere depths of that film. The intensity works its way into the film in different ways, though, the musical structure leading the viewer through Chazelle's story of failure and success in Los Angeles with joyous results. For so many different reasons La La Land is every bit the success that Whiplash was, chief among these the undeniable impact the film, and music, has on you.
We were bound to hit a lull in the excitement that comes from Marvel movies, especially the origin story part of the deal. That natural – and vital – aspect to the expansion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been played out up, down, and all over the place to the point we find ourselves craving something, anything outside the norm. Thank God for Doctor Strange, that atypical, origin story for which we've been waiting. Sure, it delivers on the excitement and humorous fun we've all come to expect, but under the direction of Scott Derrickson, the Marvel superhero who deals in mysticism and the strange, otherworldly creatures knocking on the door to our plane of existence comes alive with unexpected and surprisingly fresh results.
There's something inevitably comedic about a film called The Accountant, especially if that movie is about a cool-blooded CPA with equal penchants of crunching numbers and cracking skulls. My father was a CPA, and I can assure you the thought of him as a ruthless killer in the vein of John Wick is in itself almost laughable. That's the idea behind this film, The Accountant, though, and the fact that it stars Ben Affleck as the eponymous character certainly goes a long way in helping boost its sincerity. Aid also comes from the commitment from his surrounding cast as well as the film's ability to notch up the intensity and excitement with an endless stream of cliché-ridden-but-entirely-enjoyable action sequences. If you can get past the cheesiness and forgive it for its by-the-numbers suspense, The Accountant is a thriller worthy of your time.
A Monster Calls seems to have one goal in mind and one goal alone. That is, to deprive audiences of the contents of their tear ducts and make them a sobbing mess. Some might call it manipulative, but that's not really anything new for director J.A. Bayona, who has previously swept audiences up with the emotionally draining The Orphanage and The Impossible. With A Monster Calls, though, the emotion is genuine, and the director, working off a screenplay from Patrick Ness adapting his own novel, twines magnificent fantasy with authentic drama to make a heart-wrenching, cinematic experience. It helps that the cast, led by Lewis MacDougall and the voice of Liam Neeson, is so spot on and committed to the subject at hand. A Monster Calls is a wonderful film that shouldn't be passed up by any audience member of any age.
The Mo Brothers from Indonesia always deliver. Whether it's a disturbing slasher movie like Macabre or an intense thriller such as Killers, the directing team comprised of Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto have become a force for genre filmmaking. Their latest film, Headshot, is no exception. A balls-to-the-wall actioner with plenty of insane choreography and even crazier effects on the execution, the film proves once again that, when it comes to daring works of cinema that keeps your nerves firmly in grip and your thirst for excitement quenched, this is a filmmaking team worthy of your attention. It helps that the presence of star Iko Uwais reminds you of The Raid, as well, as the action found within is every bit as intense and
Split is filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan's most terrifying film to date. Granted this opinion is coming from someone who finds The Sixth Sense, while a phenomenal film with a wonderfully choreographed twist, not all that scary, and, though Signs and The Village deliver the thrills, there's nothing on par with Split in terms of how relentless in intensity and so very chilling it is. Shyamalan used to be considered a master of these types of genre films. Although his work has been less than stellar in recent years, the director's filmmaking and storytelling prowess seem to be back in line. Split is his return, and, with a wonderfully creepy turn by James McAvoy in the lead role, Shyamalan's latest ends up being his absolute best horror film to date. And, holy shit, what an ending, but we'll get to that momentarily.