Beasts, superheroes and amnesiac fish: Best movies of 2016

Fantastic Beasts – Brandon Addeo

I have to start by (shamefully) admitting that I did not grow up reading the “Harry Potter” series or watching the movie adaptations. I only watched the movie series within the past three years — although, I think this gives me a unique lens to look at “Fantastic Beasts.”

“Fantastic Beasts” takes place in the 1920s and follows the story of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a collector and caretaker of magical creatures who travels to New York City to search for magical creatures.

The film calls back the fun and whimsical nature of the early “Harry Potter” movies, though “Fantastic Beasts” does have some serious, darker undertones. Scamander’s sidekick-by-chance, a No-Maj, an American term for Muggle, named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), adds a great deal of humor to the film.

I highly recommend seeing “Fantastic Beasts,” whether you’re a die-hard “Harry Potter” fan or not.

Shin Godzilla – Sean Ray

Sixty-one years after the original movie, and the “Godzilla” franchise is still finding ways to totally reinvent itself in fresh and interesting ways. Amazingly, it does this by going back to the original masterpiece. Once more the giant atomic-fire-breathing lizard is treated as terrifying, with a new design that looks like something out of a nightmare.

Director Hideaki Anno’s unique vision elevates the giant monster genre into something of beauty, mixing political satire with epic scenes of grand spectacle. And for a guy mostly known for his animation work, Anno sure has an eye for how to work a camera. Several shots look like beautiful paintings, full of subtle imagery and symbolism.

It’s very rare that a movie feels absolutely perfect for me. Being a critic, I can usually nitpick even the smallest thing from an otherwise great movie. “Shin Godzilla” is one of the few films that can stump me. Even the usually boring human scenes manage to be entertaining, using fast-paced editing to ensure nothing drags out too long.

I could go on forever about how great “Shin Godzilla” turned out. The music is legendary, the special effects are breathtaking and for the 31st entry in the series, it easily jumped up as one of my top three of the franchise.

Finding Dory – Zachary Landau

I feel an almost moral obligation to include this in a “Best of” list if only because the original is such an integral part of my childhood. While the animation was occasionally bizarre (particularly with characters looking almost like plastic at times) and the plot is a bit contrived, I have to give the movie props for making people burst into veritable tears within minutes. Funny and emotional, “Finding Dory” is worth a watch if only for its nostalgic value.

Bad Moms – Nicolas Jozefczyk

“Bad Moms” is a fantastic movie highlighting the struggles of three completely different mothers all learning how to parent their children. Starring Mila Kunis, Kathryn Hahn and Kristen Bell, this film uses comedy to feature the trials and tribulations of being a mother. Kunis’ character, Amy, is a married mother who struggles with juggling her home life, work and involvement in the PTSA. Through a series of horrible events like having hot coffee spilled on her, to being fired from her job, she comes home to find her husband cheating on her with a woman over the internet. This leaves Amy, a now jobless, divorced mother to figure out her life. Throughout this motion picture, Amy becomes friends with Hahn’s character, Carla, and Bell’s character, Kiki. The three women go through motherhood struggles together and learn that being a “bad” mom is okay sometimes. The main demographic for this movie is mothers, but it is funny enough for any teenager or adult to appreciate.

Courtesy of Disney

Courtesy of Disney

Moana – Madison Pastrick

Disney has finally mastered the perfect genre with its newest movie “Moana,” emphasizing values of bravery, family and individualism. The movie follows a young Polynesian girl whose greatest desire is to sail beyond the reef of her small island, Motunui, even though her father, the chief, forbids such exploration. However, when the island begins to die due to an ancient curse, Moana, voiced by Auli’i Cravalho, decides to set sail on a mission to save her people.

Throughout this journey, Moana displays characteristics unique to the average Disney heroin, refusing the term ‘princess,’ and instead discovering her purpose as a leader and voyager for her people.

Complementing this empowering storyline is the cheerful soundtrack, courtesy of Lin-Manuel Miranda, allowing this to be the most satisfying movie of the year, and perhaps Disney history.

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Deadpool – Grant Stoner

“Where’s Francis?” a foul-mouthed, red-suited mercenary asks, as he mercilessly pummels a henchman. With no answer, he sighs, looking at the camera before delivering a sarcastic remark. At long last, Marvel Comics’ “Merc with a Mouth” Deadpool, comes to the big screen through 20th Century Fox, bringing with him gratuitous amounts of violence, humor and more 4th-wall breaks than ever before. After contracting multiple forms of cancer, Wade Wilson admits himself into a secret government program, which promises to cure his ailments. Yet, when he is tortured and subjected to varying forms of experiments, Wade becomes the disfigured, immortal and outrageously hilarious Deadpool.

Directed by Tim Miller, “Deadpool” is the culmination of fan service, determination and comic book accuracy. Ryan Reynolds’ sense of humor is the perfect complement to the colorful cast of characters, as well as the intense sequences of action. This movie will make an excellent gift for any fan of either the character or comic books in general.

Arrival – Nicole Prieto

“Arrival,” based off the short story by acclaimed writer Ted Chiang, easily ranks as one of the best science fiction movies of the last decade. Linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is in a race against time as she tries to learn the language of an advanced species that has come to Earth for unknown reasons. The conflict in “Arrival” is not resolved through warfare or with bigger guns, but through genuine attempts at understanding one another’s differences — whether those of other humans or of beings beyond our understanding.

In this last respect, the film differs from its short-story counterpart. As with many science fiction greats, this speculative work is a reflection of our own times, and it clearly warns against the dangers of xenophobia and isolationism. The depiction of the heptapod species as immense beings shrouded in an opaque mist perhaps reflects this. Unlike the more sympathetic impressions left by aliens such as the mammalian humanoids of 2008’s “Avatar,” the heptapods are not designed to be immediately relatable. The audience, along with Louise, must learn to understand them as peaceful beings with a unique perception of space and time. “Arrival” succeeds as a thoughtful adaptation of Chiang’s story, pulling off a remarkable twist that ties the narrative together by the film’s end.

Doctor Strange – Josiah Martin

“Doctor Strange” was a welcome and fresh addition to Marvel’s movie universe, offering a fresh and different take on the traditional superhero backstory movies. As usual, Marvel delivered a film that had heart, with Dr. Stephen Strange, a cold arrogant character who somehow manages to gain your sympathy. This is undoubtedly due to the casting of Benedict Cumberbatch, who, despite an oft-criticized American accent, nailed the role perfectly. As with most recent Marvel pictures, the film also has its share of humor, with Dr. Strange often noting the ludicrousness of his own situation. Thanks to this films personality, its mind bending plot involving time travel, teleportation and astral forms of being don’t become boring or confusing. “Doctor Strange” certainly met the bar of quality Marvel has set in their recent years, and excels past its Marvel Universe counterparts in many aspects. The film has a more spiritual and intriguing driving force than the “Iron Man” or “Captain America” films. While those films are also entertaining in their own right, “Doctor Strange’s” themes of supernatural forces of good and evil give the film an overwhelming sense that something bigger is at stake than the main conflict of the film. For these reasons, “Doctor Strange” was my favorite film of 2016.

Green Room – Craig Taylor

One of the most disturbing, gut-wrenching movies of the “escape” subgenre, “Green Room” is an engrossing crime thriller/horror hybrid.

A no-name punk rock band straggling along their cross-country tour, desperate for money, is forced to play a last-resort show at a skinhead biker bar. On their way out, they witness a murder, and are locked inside a green room until the skinheads determine their fate. The group is forced to concoct an escape plan to outwit the owner of the bar, played by Patrick Stewart, before he can eliminate them.

The band members make some smart (and pretty stupid) decisions as their situation gets increasingly desperate. Their missteps are promptly punished by some genuinely disgusting gore, and the solid acting supplied by Stewart and the rest of the cast adds to the movie’s unsettling tone.

Rather than a dumb, popcorn movie, “Green Room” engages the audience on a level most blockbusters fail to. It pulls the audience into its sick story, kneads their feelings and expectations, and slams them back to reality.

Hail, Caesar! – Leonardo Sanchez

Months before Oscar speculation started, the new comedy from the Coen brothers debuted. Away from the awards season, “Hail, Caesar!” made its way to cinemas without worrying about golden statuettes. However, the movie is most certainly one of the best of 2016. With a star-studded cast headed by Josh Brolin, the comedy, set in the Hollywood of the ’50s, is a funny and smart satire not only of the movie industry, but also of religion and ideology.

Making fun of serious issues is not easy. The Coen brothers, however, brilliantly play with many controversial themes throughout the movie in a way that only talented filmmakers would be able to do. There are powerful criticisms of our society in the film, thanks to the script’s sharp humor, and for reasons such as that, “Hail, Caesar!” is not only one of the best movies of the year, but also one of the funniest and most enjoyable comedies released in recent times.

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