It's once again time for the most coveted award of the movie awards season -- The Milos.
The following are my pics for best performances and best movies of 2016. These are not my predictions for Oscars, but my own personal picks. I don't get a chance to see everything before the Oscars, and I consider only movies that I have seen. I have seen all of the movies nominated for Best Picture.
Here are my picks:
Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea. Affleck is tremendous as a man tortured by his past, and facing a future now filled with the responsibility of caring for his nephew. The acting is understated, with emotions told more through subtle gestures and expressions than dramatic outbursts. This performance stays with you long after the lights come up.
Other remarkable performances:
Joel Egerton, Loving. Egerton gives a remarkable understated performance as a white construction worker who falls in love and marries a black woman Egerton's performance is reminiscent of Heath Ledger's performance in Brokeback Mountain.
Ryan Gosling, La La Land (his piano playing is a revelation)
Denzel Washington, Fences Washington is sensational in a role that won him a Tony.
Vigo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
Emma Stone, La La Land. Emma Stone dances, sings, and reveals a world of complex emotions without saying a word. Her performance of Audition (The Fools Who Dream) is mesmerizing.
Other remarkable performances:
Natalie Portman - Jackie. Wonderful performance that looks behind the curtain on how Jackie dealt with the JFK assassination.
Ruth Negga, Loving
Amy Adams, Arrival (I didn't care for the movie, but Adams performance is a redeeming feature).
Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins (Another movie that I thought missed the mark, Meryl Streep was fantastic).
Naomi Harris, Moonlight. Naomi Harris performance as a crack-addicted mother is stunning. She wants to love her son, but her addiction controls her life.
Viola Davis, Fences Davis is such a marvelous actress, and she is outstanding in this role.
Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea. This, too, is an incredible performance.
Olivia Spencer, Hidden Figures
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water. In an often overlooked movie, Bridges delivers a perfect performance as a Texas Ranger at the end of his career, tracking down one last set of bank robbers before he retires.
Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Trevant Rhodes, Moonlight
OJ: Made in America Eight-part series visits all that was revealed about OJ, the legal system, and America in the "trial of the century."
Runner Up: 13th. An eye-opening documentary about race, mandatory sentencing, and the prison industrial complex. America jails more of its citizens than any other country on earth. In the 1990s, the number of American's in prison more than doubled, driven by race, fear and for-profit prisons.
NOTE: I have not yet seen I Am Your Negro.
Best Animated Movie:
Kubo and the Two Strings. Far more than just an animated film. This is epic story-telling.
Also considered: Zootopia. It's a very good animated movie, but doesn't have the magical feel of Kubo
Audition (The Fools Who Dream), La La Land This is one of those rare songs that plays an important part in the movie, revealing the emotional underpinnings of Emma Stone's character. The last song of this magnitude in a movie was Jennifer Hudson Oscar-winning performance of "And I'm Telling You" in Dreamgirls.
Much better song than incipid "City of Stars," also from La La Land and the likely Oscar winner.
1. La La Land. For those who thought the movie musical was dead, here is the answer: a resounding NO. From the opening musical number on an LA freeway, this movie captures the audience, and you know it will be different. But just singing and dancing in modern LA isn't enough for a great movie. Rather this movie is about dreams, broken and otherwise, and love, and finding oneself even if it isn't quiet the dream come true we expect. The performances by Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling and John Legend are simply marvelous, as is the music.
2. Hell or High Water. This movie seems to have been overlooked by many. Maybe it was the "B-movie" title. Maybe it was the fact it was released early in the year rather than in the last two months when most award-quality films are released. But until I saw La La Land, this was the best movie I had seen all year. Jeff Bridges is remarkable as a Texas Ranger on the cusp of retiring. But he's determined to catch a pair of unusual bank robbers before he hangs up his badge. Like Nebraska a couple of years ago, the cinematography makes the stark landscape of west Texas another character.
3. Manchester by the Sea. Casey Affleck is a man living in isolation when the death of his brother draws him back to all that he left behind, including the soul-destroying tragedy that he shares with his ex-wife, played by Michelle Williams. The performances by Affleck, Williams and Lucas Hedges as the teenage nephew are all award-winning quality.
4. Deadpool. Not many movies change a genre, and certainly not one that has been as dominant as the superhero genre. But Deadpool, the first R-rated Marvel movie, does just that. The parade of summer superhero money-making machine movies from Marvel have grown tiresome. But along comes Deadpool. It's funny, original, and like nothing you've seen before. No doubt that by the time we get to Deadpool 8, it will all seem tiresome. But for now, it was the most fun movie of the year.
5. Loving. Until 1968, it was illegal in Virginia and the states of the Old Confederacy for a white man to marry a black woman (or visa versa). But in 1968, the Supreme Court issued its decision in the appropriately named case of Loving v. Virginia changing the nation's laws forever (at least we hope). This movie tells the story of the couple behind that landmark case. But importantly, its focus is on the Lovings and their desire to be a family. Surprisingly, there are minimal courtroom scenes, and only periodic references to their case making its way through the system. Joel Egerton and Ruth Negga bring the Lovings to life with reserved performances that capture the couple that wanted nothing more than to be able to live as a family in their home state
6. Moonlight. Powerful movie about an abused gay black man captured through three different segments of his life. Great performances abound, particularly Naomi Harris as the crack adicted mother.
7. Jackie. This movie pulls back the curtain of privacy around Jackie Kennedy, and reveals her private moments during those four days of November in 1963. Natelie Portman is spot-on perfect as Jackie Kennedy. The movie is drawn from the iconic Life Magazine interview when she first publicly referred to the Kennedy's time in the White House as Camelot.
8. Kubo and the Two Strings. Not many animated movies do much more than entertain you for a couple of hours. Kubo and the Two Strings is something more. It is animation as art and storytelling as a fine craft.
9. Hacksaw Ridge. Inspiring story of the first conscientious objector to win the Medal of Honor. Predictable in many ways, but well done, and certainly better than the equally amazing story in Unbreakable from a couple of years ago.
10. Lion. Well done but somewhat predictable story of an Indian youth who through happenstance finds himself separated from his family, then adopted by a family in Tazmania. Based closely on true story. As an adult, he uses the new technology of Google Earth to track down his birth family. Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman are stellar, as always.
11. Hidden Figures. This is probably the most popular movie nominated this year. It is enjoyable, though predictable. But it is civil rights light. It boils the civil rights movement down to the inconvenience of a colored restroom. Enjoy it for what it is. But if you want to know what life was like for these women in the south, where a black person could be hung for not saying "sir" to a white person or failing to step off the sideway to let a white person pass, read "The Warmth of Other Suns."
12. Jungle Book. Technology makes this telling of Rujard Kipling's classic tale possible as never before. It pays homage to the original Disney animated film, but this is a far superior telling.
13. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back: This is my guilty pleasure for the year. I liked the first Reacher movie, but it didn't really stand out. This one is what a true action crime movie should be. Tom Cruise grabs your attention from the opening scene, and the movie never lets go. The plot hangs together without any holes. If you haven't seen this, by all means find a copy for a Friday night on your home screen.
14. Eye in the Sky. An underrated thought-provoking movie about the impact of technology and long-distance drone killing on those who much pull the trigger from the safety of a room thousands of miles away. Helen Mirrem, as always, is outstanding.
15. Captain Fantastic. Vigo Mortensen delivers a captivating performance as a newly-widowed father trying to raise his family in the woods without exposure to the modern world, much to the displeasure of other family members. The all-too-convenient happy ending that is inconsistent with the lead character brings the movie down on my list.
16. Dr. Strange. Benedict Cumberbatch is perfect as Marvel's Dr. Strange in this mind-bending, gravity-shifting movie. Best Marvel movie since the original Captain America - except for Deadpool.
17. Girl on the Train. Movie adaption of the best-selling mystery/thriller was true to the book in not only its characters and storyline, but also the tone of the movie.
18. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. Tina Fey finds herself assigned as a reporter in Afghanistan. While the trailer bills it as a light comedy, it has a much deeper resonance about the insanity of the American involvement in Afghanistan.
19. Hail Ceasar. If nothing else, this movie is worth seeing for George Clooney as the befuddled movie star Baird Whitlock. But the cast is sensational (Tilda Swenson, Josh Brolin, Channing Tatum, Scarlett Johansen, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Frances McDormand)
20. Arrival. This is one of those really well-done, well-acted movies that hints at some deep meaning. But I really didn't get it.
Worst Movie of the Year: Independence Day: Resurgence. Just awful