Zombies are the middle children of the otherworldly family. Vampires are the oldest brother who gets to have a room in the attic, all tripped out with a disco ball and shag carpet. Werewolves are the youngest, the babies, always getting pinched and told they're cute. With all that attention stolen away from the middle child zombie, no wonder she shuffles off grumbling, "Marsha, Marsha, Marsha."

- Kevin James Breaux

Monday, February 20, 2017


“My Picks for 2016 Award Winning Films”

One of the biggest problems I have with “awards season” is that all the award ceremonies only make there picks from roughly the last two months out of the year.  You rarely see films on the list that were released at the beginning of the year or films that critics seem to love that came out of left field during the year but then are forgotten by the end of the year when “awards season” opens and all the studios release their “award contenders” at the same time (FYI – films produced specifically by studios to win awards, thus accolades).  Instead, I’ve decided to create my own list of Award Contenders that encompass films from all genres that had a domestic US release at any time within the year (and not those films that get an “award qualifying run” that are released in a single theater in New York or LA before going wide in the following year).

I’ve looked at all the films that I’ve seen that received a domestic release in 2016 from all genres and decided to create my own award nominations and winners.  The rules are simple.  The film must have had a domestic release in 2016 and I have to have seen it.  There are no films on my list that I haven’t seen so the following films are not included (since I haven’t seen them but may have gotten on the list if I had) – The Handmaiden, Elle, Miles Ahead, The Eagle Huntress, The Mermaid, Midnight Special, A Hologram for the King, 20th Century Women, Hell or High Water, Loving, Captain Fantastic, Kubo & the Two Strings, Finding Dory, Sully, Weiner, Florence Foster Jenkins, The Lobster, Silence, Moonlight, Lion, The Founder, Hidden Figures, Jackie, Nocturnal Animals, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and Life, Animated.  Those are all the films I wished I had seen but I can only see so many great films a year.

So, let’s get started with the award ceremony I will call – THE REAL CONTENDERS!

*Birth of a Nation
*Operation Chromite
*The Shallows
*Star Trek Beyond
*Train to Busan
*A Monster Calls

There was a lot of great films with some spectacular make up this year and usually I would go with the most elaborate appliances (Star Trek Beyond, Train to Busan) and this is where a period film would usually shine (Operation Chromite, Birth of a Nation) but I’m always looking for something new that enhances the film and the characters in the film and this is where Birth of a Nation and The Shallows shine the most as you see through make up how the characters change throughout the film and as much as I love the film A Monster Calls, I have to hand it to The Shallows not only for showing us Blake Lively’s deterioration throughout the film through make up that never seemed to come off in the water. THE SHALLOWS wins the 2016 REAL CONTENDER AWARD!

*Birth of a Nation
*Star Trek Beyond
*Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them
*Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

In this category, we come up with three films where costumes were familiar (Star Trek, Fantastic Beasts, and Rogue One) and two films that are period films (Fences, Birth of a Nation) and normally I would love to give this award to a fantasy or sci-fi film that crafts something new and exciting because let’s face it, costumes can make or break a genre a film as it helps put you into the world being created.  But this time I have to hand to the film Fences which took the world of the phenomenal play and used costumes to really create the time period and put you into the world of that time period.  Each character had such a unique and personal costume that not only spoke about their character, their status in society, but their relationships to each of the other characters in the film.  FENCES wins the 2016 REAL CONTENDER AWARD!

*Captain America: Civil War
*Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them
*A Monster Calls
*The Shallows

This is one of the toughest categories to look at as all the films used their visual FX to put audiences into the world of the film.  A shark has never been as real as the one in The Shallows and without the Monster in A Monster Calls much of the story wouldn’t have had much of an impact.  There hasn’t been an alien creature & spaceship nearly as inventive as the ones seen in Arrival and Captain America: Civil War has one of the best super-hero battles ever put on the screen but it is Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them that had a multitude of CGI characters that really made an emotional impact and enhanced the story and experience of the film from beginning to end.  FANTASTIC BEASTS & WHERE TO FIND THEM wins the 2016 REAL CONTENDER AWARD!

*Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them
*The Witch

Another tough category as the production design in each of these films played a unique role and was a character.  Arrival and Fantastic Beasts had the most elaborate production design that helped create the world of the films and Fences and The Witch had to use limited settings to craft their worlds yet also tell a complete and compelling story.  It is High-Rise that truly had a magnificent production design where the world was the main character itself as it crumbled under the pressure of all the characters within the film.   Without the contributions of the production design team High-Rise wouldn’t have been nearly as powerful a film as it was.  HIGH-RISE wins the 2016 REAL CONTENDER AWARD!

*Green Room
*Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them
*A Monster Calls
*Eye In the Sky
*Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

The art of editing is one of the most important elements to a film as it is the biggest contribution to the overall way in which a film ultimately tells its story.  It helps build character, create mood & tone, and helps with pacing, among other things.  In the past, Star Wars films have been nominated numerous times in this category and won (and the magic of editing is not lost on this latest film); the same can be said of the Harry Potter spin-off film Fantastic Beasts.  A Monster Calls manages to seamlessly blend the fantastic with that of the real but it is with Green Room and Eye In the Sky where the editing creates constant suspense that keeps you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end.  This is the backbone of the politically changed thriller Eye in the Sky which without the art of the editing team could not have been as effective a film.  EYE IN THE SKY wins the 2016 REAL CONTENDER AWARD!

*Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
*Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them
*Birth of a Nation
*The Witch

I absolutely loved the sound design for The Witch as it helps create the mood and atmosphere of the film as the world of the characters deteriorate under the influence of a witch and Rogue One and Fantastic Beasts had some amazing sound as well (to be expected from such high-profile franchise films).  Birth of a Nation excelled more than I would have expected given the independent status of the production but it is Arrival that really put me into a world that was a domestic drama that also had elements of sci-fi (that never over took the character elements).  It was subtle yet striking at the same time which is not an easy thing to balance.  ARRIVAL wins the 2016 REAL CONTENDER AWARD!

*James Newton Howard, Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them
*Johann Johannsson, Arrival
*Mark Korven, The Witch
*Fernando Velazquez, A Monster Calls
*Michael Giacchino, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

It was great to hear someone bring something fresh to the Star Wars franchise with Giacchino’s score and Velazquez and Korven’s scores bring great presence to their respective films but the real contest was between Howard’s amazing Fantastic Beasts and Johannsson’s phenomenal Arrival scores which were some of the best scores I heard all year.  It is Howard who melds different styles of music to bring a more period aspect to the Harry Potter franchise that you never even knew could be there.  Without his score you would probably forget you were even watching a period film, so FANTASTIC BEASTS & WHERE TO FIND THEM wins the 2016 REAL CONTENDER AWARD!

*Haris Zambarloukos, Eye In the Sky
*Eliot Davis, Birth of a Nation
*Jarin Blaschke, The Witch
*Bradford Young, Arrival
*Oscar Faura, A Monster Calls

Eye in the Sky and Birth of a Nation were front runners for me for a very long time as they displayed some amazing cinematography to craft their stories.  With genre films such as A Monster Calls and The Witch, the cinematography becomes a character to draw you into the story but it is with Yong’s superb work on Arrival that truly shines not only in the sequences inside the alien spacecraft and on the ground but also the flashbacks which are a character in the film itself.  ARRIVAL wins the 2016 REAL CONTENDER AWARD!

*Arrival, Screenplay by Eric Heisserer
*A Monster Calls, Screenplay by Patrick Ness
*Fences, Screenplay by August Wilson

This was a tough category as all three films were fantastic but it is with Fences that I thought had the toughest job translating from source material to film since it was much of a single location and the dialogue played a key element in dramatizing the story for an audience.  The written word is never as powerful as it is in this film; therefore, FENCES wins the 2016 REAL CONTENDER AWARD!

*The Witch, Screenplay by Robert Eggers
*Equity, Screenplay by Amy Fox
*Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them, Screenplay by J.K. Rowling
*Birth of a Nation, Screenplay by Nate Parker
*Elvis & Nixon, Screenplay by Joey Sagal & Hanala Sagal & Cary Elwis

The hard truth of the fact is that Elvis & Nixon, Birth of a Nation, and Fantastic Beasts would not have been nearly as powerful of films without the contributions of the amazing casts.  These films work because of the ensemble and not necessarily because of the scripts.  In regards to The Witch, less is more as the story is key to the film but not necessarily as powerful as many of the film’s other chief elements.  It is with Equity where the script just bleeds brilliance and smart and edgy like an Aaron Sorkin film and because the cast is mostly made up of unknowns and character actors it makes the script that much more powerful.  EQUITY wins the 2016 REAL CONTENDER AWARD!

*The Wailing (South Korea)
*A Map Against the World (South Korea)
*Train to Busan (South Korea)
*Age of Shadows (South Korea)
*Tunnel (South Korea)

Okay, so this category is a little biased as all the films come from South Korea but I did see films from other countries, just these films were the best.  This is a wild variety as well from the period thriller Age of Shadows to the drama Tunnel and A Map Against the World to the horrors of The Wailing and Train to Busan but it is A Map Against the World that truly shines among all others.  A Map Against the World was an epic film about a person who never knew he’d become so epic.  A drama that’s an emotional journey for the main character as well as the audience.  A MAP AGAINST THE WORLD wins the 2016 REAL CONTENDER AWARD!

*John Goodman, 10 Cloverfield Lane
*Ralph Fiennes, A Bigger Splash
*Barkhad Abdi, Eye in the Sky
*James Purefoy, Equity
*Luke Evans, High-Rise

Although all the actors in this category gave great performances the real contest was between Fiennes, Goodman, and Abdi which gave great performances.  People will remember these performances more than the films themselves.  It was Abdi’s performance in Eye in the Sky that stayed with me all year long as one of the best I’d seen throughout the year.  Most of the film’s success hinges on him which is why BARKHAD ABDI wins the 2016 REAL CONTENDER AWARD!

*Viola Davis, Fences
*Alysia Reiner, Equity
*Margot Robbie, Suicide Squad
*Samantha Morton, Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them
*Eva Green, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

 I loved the performances of all the women on this list but the real competition was between Davis and Morton who gave cringe worthy performances in each of their respective films.  You have no idea how hard it was to choose between these two women and these two performances but Davis edges out Morton for the degree to which she put her heart and soul into the film (you can see the spit come her mouth and the snot from her nose).  VIOLA DAVIS wins the 2016 REAL CONTENDER AWARD!

*Nate Parker, Birth of a Nation
*Michael Shannon, Elvis & Nixon
*Eddie Redmayne, Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them
*Denzel Washington, Fences
*Seung-Won Cha, A Map Against the World

This is another tough category as Washington gave a great dramatic performance and Shannon gave an equally compelling comedic performance.  Parker went all the way with his performance (maybe even a little too far) but it really boils down to Redmayne and Cha who give each of their characters so much pathos that they shine over everyone else.  Cha comes out on top due to the tragic nature of his character’s real life story and the fact that he has to balance comedy with drama with adventure all within the same film and he does it seamlessly.  SEUNG-WON CHA wins 2016 REAL CONTENDER AWARD!

*Tilda Swinton, A Bigger Splash

*Amy Adams, Arrival
*Amy Gunn, Equity
*Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch
*Blake Lively, The Shallows

Taylor-Joy came out of nowhere with her performance in The Witch and I look forward to seeing her in more films (like her standout performance in this year’s Split) and Lively gives the best performance of her career in a film where the camera is on her the entire time; both actors have so much to offer in future roles.  Gunn was also someone I wasn’t familiar with before seeing her in Equity but now I will look out for her in other films.  Adams is one of my favorite actresses right now and I’ll watch her in anything because she always gives 150% to every role but it is Swinton in her almost completely mute role that stands out among the rest.  Swinton holds her own even when she can’t speak as much of her performance is through facial expressions and body language, therefore TILDA SWINTON wins the 2016 REAL CONTENDER AWARD!

*Nate Parker, Birth of a Nation
*Meera Menon, Equity
*Fences, Denzel Washington
*Denis Villeneuve, Arrival
*Woo-Suk Kang, A Map Against the World

This represents some of the best films of 2016 (excluding all those films I have yet to see) and there isn’t a bad film among them which is why it is so hard to choose the best among them.  Birth of a Nation was amazing but not a film I’ll particularly watch over and over again.  Equity is that film that’s extremely smart and intelligent that you must be in the mood for (but when you are it is fantastic).  The same can be said for Fences which is amazing because of the performances and not necessarily for all the other elements in the film which is why the true contest is between Arrival and A Map Against the World.  Because of the sheer scope of the film and the fact that the Kang had to balance so many different tones and genres within the same film, WOO-SUK KANG wins the 2016 REAL CONTENDER AWARD!

*A Bigger Splash
*Birth of a Nation

Since A Map Against the World already won Best Foreign Language Film it should be as no surprise that Arrival would come on top in this category.  This presents a sci-fi epic that remembers to always be character based and grounded.  These are the elements that will make audiences return to the film time and time again.  ARRIVAL wins the 2016 REAL CONTENDER AWARD!

Well, I hope you enjoyed my list.  I’m sorry that I couldn’t get to all of the great films of 2016 (as I don’t get any free screeners) but I encourage everyone to make their own lists and present them to the world.  Your opinion is just as valid as anyone else’s and you’ll have fun putting together your own lists of favorites.  Until next year, enjoy great films wherever you can find them.

FYI – there was no Animation category because the only 2016 animated film I saw was Batman: The Killing Joke.

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