The Best of 2016 in Film

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Since the Lewisville Texan Journal started syndicating Reel Entropy‘s movie reviews in August, what we’ve published has been mostly negative, particularly about some of the year’s more anticipated movies like “Doctor Strange” and “Rogue One.” It’s quickly gotten to the point that readers have questioned whether or not I like movies at all, and that’s what we wanted to address.

While we only end up publishing the biggest movies in the Journal for space reasons, and in the current Hollywood environment the bigger a movie is the less chance it stands of being any good, 2016 was actually a wonderful year for movies. To balance out all the negativity, we put together something about what made it so great — both large scale trends and the very best movies individually.

Low-budget beauties

As has become the norm, summer was dominated by big-budget blockbusters. Only two weekends this year didn’t include a sequel of some kind. The unusual thing is, this year, despite budgets soaring to insane heights, a lot of these movies looked awful.

But underneath those troubled special-effects driven flicks, 2016 boasts a long list of films that were drop-dead gorgeous. Thoughtful composition that serves an interesting story trumps cartoon robots every time, and movies like “The Lobster” and “The Neon Demon,” which cost a combined $11.5 million, were two of the most arresting — and upsetting — films of the year.

The real gem, though — and the movie you’re most likely to have heard of — is “Nerve.” A dazzling love story with bright colors, dark themes and a soundtrack that won’t quit, it’s a real shame more people didn’t see this movie.

A horrifying environment

2016 also had some exciting development for horror movies.

For almost 10 years now, Blumhouse, the production company that arose from the sensational success of  “Paranormal Activity,” has ruled the genre with an iron fist. For years, they sponsored tame, forgettable jump movies, some successful like “Insidious” or “The Conjuring,” most decidedly less so. It had essentially become James Wan’s personal production studio after he directed these two successes, but that’s about to change.

This year, the studio funded the stellar “Lights Out,” a feature-length version of director David F. Sandberg’s award-winning 2013 short, then followed it up with a second “Ouija” movie, despite the first one bombing two years ago. But then something happened — “Ouija: Origin of Evil” was really, really good.

The second “Ouija” movie was directed — brilliantly — by Mike Flanagan, whose feature debut was 2014’s excellent “Occulus.” Blumhouse picked it up based on Flanagan’s earlier short of the same name. Sound familiar?

Where the production company had been churning out Wan’s boring but admittedly profitable style of films, it’s now cultivating talent and then applying it to its franchise properties. Just as Flanagan was assigned the “Ouija” sequel, Sandberg will be directing May’s “Annabelle II.” Blumhouse is also responsible for Jordan Peele’s upcoming directorial debut, “Get Out.”

3) ‘La La Land’

An early favorite to sweep the Oscars, “La La Land,” the electrifying musical about two lovers trying to make it big in Los Angeles, is by far the happiest movie of the year.

Subtlety dictates the other spots on this list, but “La La Land” is anything but subtle. Everything about this movie is larger than life, from the performances and the romance and the song and dance routines, to the technical aspects like the saturated colors, the dramatic lighting cues, the at times eternal shot lengths and the immense cinemascope frame.

Though it feels like a movie that was always destined for success, it was an ambitious project. It’s a musical that nobody can sing along to yet. The massive frame demands equally massive attention to detail, and the choreography speaks for itself.

It’s still expanding, making its way to Grapevine Mills Mall over Christmas weekend, and it should stick around for a while as the Oscar buzz ramps up.

Don’t wait. Go see this movie.

2) ‘Arrival’

“Arrival” is an atmospheric masterpiece. It’s proof that any story can be filmed in any style. The story is about a linguist learning to communicate with an alien race that has landed on Earth with unknown intentions, but it feels like watching dread itself roll across the screen.

Everything about this movie is disorienting and spectacular. Time and space are never as they appear onscreen. This is also probably the most creatively designed movie of the year, with aliens that genuinely feel like they were designed specifically for this movie.

A November release, this one is also still in theaters, but it may not be there much longer. Denis Villeneuve is going to be considered one of the all-time great directors someday very soon, take the opportunity to see his work as it’s being released.

1) ‘The Witch’

“The Witch,” the story of a New England family cast out of their settlement and forced to live next to a haunted wood, is the pinnacle of the year’s positive trends, making it not only the best, but also the most emblematic movie of 2016.

“The Neon Demon” was a stunner made on a shoestring budget of $7 million. “The Witch” had less than half of that at $3 million, and looks even better. “Lights Out” was a thrilling debut for a new horror director. “The Witch” is also writer/director Robert Eggers’ first film, and will haunt your thoughts in the wee hours of the morning. Many 2016 films like “Hail, Caesar!” and “10 Cloverfield Lane” had strong religious themes. “The Witch” also takes this to the extreme, to the point that a lot of the movie doesn’t make sense without the biblical and historical background.

More than being the trendiest film of the year, it’s already demonstrated that its legacy will last. The movie’s sinister last lines of dialogue and fiendish goat, Black Phillip, have become cultural touchstones. The film’s intense religious focus has had churches all over the country buzzing.

It’s a dense, profoundly detailed work of art that is affecting on first viewing, but gets better every time you watch. Eggers’ next project is a turn-of-the-century update on the highly influential silent film “Nosferatu,” and I couldn’t be more excited.

For Leopold Knopp’s usual year-end special and much more, visit reelentropy.com.