The Top 15 Movies I Reviewed in 2016

List by Derrick Carter

2016 has been a crazy year both on film and in real life. I’ve reviewed just under 200 movies in the course of the last twelve months and for the most part, have fared pretty well in catching cool new flicks as well as crossing many revered classics off my cinephile “shame list.” As a result, my focus in 2016 wasn’t necessarily on catching every new film that graced the big screen and I instead went off whatever the hell I felt like watching/reviewing. Though I didn’t get as many reviews up during 2016 as I have in previous years (for a myriad of reasons), I do feel that For the Love of Celluloid sort of matured over the past twelve months and deeply appreciate the support of anyone who bothers to read my little movie blog.

Apologies if I briefly bore you with a technicality, but my year-end lists will now focus on first time watches in the course of the year and not specifically releases from the year. Without further ado, here are my fifteen favorite first time watches from 2016…

Honorable Mentions: If I hadn’t previously seen RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, THE SHINING, and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE before 2016, then they all would have easily made this list. ANTHROPOID, 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE, ZOOTOPIA, SAUSAGE PARTY, THE NICE GUYS, THE HANDMAIDEN and TRAIN TO BUSAN were all stand-out movies in this rather mixed bag cinematic year. SPIRITED AWAY, UNITED 93, and THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY also barely scraped by in missing this list. So, what did make the list?…

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15. LADY SNOWBLOOD: Before getting into how much I love this movie, this film deserves some context. A local cinema pub runs monthly Kung Fu Movie Nights here and a buddy of mine occasionally drags me to them. I’m not a big martial arts aficionado and most of the movies I’ve seen at this pub have been entertaining and undeniably stupid. However, LADY SNOWBLOOD blew me out of the water. This was more than just a martial arts flick being shown in a cinema pub, but rather a beautiful, bloody revenge tale that carefully unwound its plot and sold its bad-ass heroine as someone to root for as she sliced and diced her way to vengeance. Featuring geysers of blood, gorgeous visuals, and a calculated delivery of fun, LADY SNOWBLOOD may likely go down as my favorite martial arts flick of all-time!

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14. THE INVITATION: Easily the best horror film that I saw this year, THE INVITATION is brilliant in planting the viewer on the edge of their seat for 100 minutes. The premise is simple. A man goes to a suspiciously casual dinner party held by his ex-wife. Through the course of seemingly mundane actions and a possibly paranoid protagonist, we are taken on a tense ride of two terrifying possibilities. This film does a fantastic job of keeping the viewer flip-flopping on their stance and trying to figure out the dark mystery behind the plot, which fully unleashes itself in a truly frightening third act. Don’t watch the trailer. Don’t read any long plot synopsis. If you want to be scared and appreciate a classy Hitchcockian sense of unease, then definitely go into this film as blind as possible!

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13. DREDD: When DREDD came out in 2012, I quickly wrote it off as a RAID rip-off in spite of the comic book source material. Having finally watched the film four years later, I realize just how wrong I was. Though it may resemble THE RAID on the surface, DREDD could not be any more different. This ultraviolent, highly entertaining and fully loaded sci-fi action extravaganza had me laughing and cheering from start to finish. The film doesn’t present its action in a gritty, heavily edited, shaky-cam style as attention to detail and beautiful lenses have been used to portray the gory chaos. I really hope that DREDD 2 eventually becomes a reality, because this needs to be a franchise!

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12. DOCTOR STRANGE: The Marvel Cinematic Universe has now been running for nine years and fourteen films. Though none of its installments have failed to entertain me (some far more than others), I wouldn’t call any of them perfect entertainment…until now. Telling the most inventive origin story thus far in the Marvel universe and simultaneously functioning as a mystical adventure, DOCTOR STRANGE is easily the best MCU movie yet! The acting is stellar, making the main character’s transformation from selfish jerk to courageous hero all the better as a result. The effects are mindblowing (not to sound cliché) and deliver some of the most memorable sequences to hit the big screen in quite some time. It’s like a magical acid trip had a baby with a superhero movie and I loved every second of it!

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11. THE BREAKFAST CLUB: Yes, I know. I hadn’t seen this movie before and was only pressured into watching it by a co-worker who kept bugging me about it. After finally caving in, I discovered why this John Hughes classic has so many fans and is widely considered to be one of the best films to come out of the 80’s. Revolving around five fleshed-out characters and skewing teenage clique stereotypes (that still exist to this day), THE BREAKFAST CLUB is equally funny as it is insightful. The film is a perfect balance of comedy and drama, resulting in an emotionally involving and beautiful story about how people are alike in spite of their differences. Maybe, in a world that’s so divided by differences and labels, we should all just kick back, watch this movie and remember that we can get along. I’ll never forget about this movie. Get it? That’s a reference to the song that plays during the end credits. Whatever, let’s move on…

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10. THE PEOPLE V. O.J. SIMPSON: AMERICAN CRIME STORY: Yes, I know this is technically a miniseries, but you know what? This is my list and I don’t care. THE PEOPLE V. O.J. SIMPSON is better than damn near every true-crime film I’ve seen in my lifetime. Featuring a bevy of great acting talent and more than guaranteed to push a few buttons on every viewer, this 10-part miniseries stays true to the facts and relives the “trial of the century” in painstaking detail. I was addicted to this show when it aired earlier this year and have since binge-watched it as a complete cinematic experience. When paired with ESPN’s excellent five-part documentary O.J.: MADE IN AMERICA, there isn’t much left to be examined about the O.J. Simpson case. If you are the least bit intrigued by true crime, then PEOPLE V. O.J. SIMPSON is a must-see!

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9. DEADPOOL: Though this year had more than its fair share of disappointing superhero flicks, 2016 still managed to deliver two spectacular comic book movies. I loved DOCTOR STRANGE, but DEADPOOL might just be one of my favorite superhero movies of all-time (next to the DARK KNIGHT trilogy). This rowdy X-MEN spinoff did everything in its power to be entertaining as hell and milked the R rating for everything it was worth. Because of DEADPOOL’s massive success as an R-rated money-maker, I truly hope that more studios will realize older audiences will pay to see great R-rated movies on the big screen too. Not everything needs to be accessible to younger viewers and every demographic, DEADPOOL was refreshingly bonkers and the most fun I’ve had in a movie theater since MAD MAX: FURY ROAD!

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8. ON THE WATERFRONT: Another title that I crossed off my shame list this year, ON THE WATERFRONT never seemed that appealing to me. Sure, I had seen Marlon Brando’s contender speech out of context and heard the basic premise, but none of it sounded particularly special. This movie isn’t about a corrupt union and poorly-treated dock workers though, instead it’s a story about broken souls and a long walk to redemption. Marlon Brando’s performance is breathtaking as he disappears into the role of a tough guy with a soft heart. This film progresses naturally and doesn’t cheat out on its dangerous stakes, resulting in some very tense moments. The final minutes are unbelievably emotional as a simple dockside walk becomes a test of willpower and ultimately sums up the entire film. ON THE WATERFRONT is an emotional, brilliantly acted, and spectacularly written piece of art that deeply moved me!

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7. ANIMAL HOUSE: Here’s another movie I crossed off my shame list during 2016. I had never seen ANIMAL HOUSE before, though I was well aware of its reputation. No hyperbole, this film changed the face of movie comedies and opened the door for crass humor to hit the big screen in gross-out fashion. This movie has plenty of hilarious scenes and quotes, but taken within the film’s context, they become ten times funnier. The dark sense of humor in areas had me cackling while the many sex jokes easily contributed to the likes of AMERICAN PIE and SUPERBAD further down the line. Also, John Belushi was a comedic tour-de-force to be reckoned with. With jokes about sex, death, horses, chainsaws, beer, racial differences, impressions of zits, and much more, ANIMAL HOUSE truly is one of the greatest and wildest comedies of all-time!

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6. TRAINING DAY: Though it was released fifteen years ago, TRAINING DAY still seems frighteningly relevant in today’s world. Showcasing a dark underbelly of corrupt cops and street gangs, this film takes place in the space of 24 hours and sunk its hooks into me from start to finish. Ethan Hawke is a naïve protagonist (that’s kind of the point of the story) and we are forced to follow in his footsteps as he stands alongside one of my new favorite cinematic villains. Denzel Washington’s character is a beast and delivers one of the greatest movie monologues (for my money) of all-time in Detective Alonzo Harris’s street-side closing speech. Grim, gritty, and suspenseful the whole way through, TRAINING DAY is one of my new favorite movies!

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5. ARRIVAL: A beautifully crafted and mature piece of science fiction, ARRIVAL’s true brilliance didn’t fully hit me until the closing credits began to roll. This film takes the alien invaders trope and spins in a mature, realistic direction. Though this has already been done in films like CLOSE ENCOUNTERS and CONTACT, I guarantee that it hasn’t been executed in the complex and thought-provoking manner that ARRIVAL delivers. Seemingly innocuous scenes take on whole new meanings when you realize the story’s true nature. The ending also guarantees that you won’t be able to watch this film in the same way upon a second viewing, much like Christopher Nolan’s THE PRESTIGE becomes a completely different movie once you’ve been wowed the first time around. ARRIVAL is a science fiction masterpiece and continues director Denis Villeneuve’s winning streak.

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4. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD: Despite stemming from a book that’s required in many classrooms and existing for decades as a beloved classic that’s cherished by countless film fans, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD somehow never made its way across my eyeballs before 2016. However, I now count it among the most emotional dramas that I’ve ever seen. This film tackles hard-hitting issues through the innocent eyes of a child in a coming-of-age tale crossed with a courtroom drama. Gregory Peck’s performance as Atticus Finch is outstanding and the rest of the cast put in stellar work as well. This profoundly powerful film deeply moved me and left me on the verge of tears with its beautiful conclusion. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is a masterpiece!

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3. THE REVENANT: The film that finally won Leo an Academy Award, THE REVENANT is an amazing cinematic feat that was created by both madness and brilliance. Did Leo look like he just puked when biting into a buffalo liver? That’s because he did. Do these cast members look like they’re freezing their asses off? That’s because they are. Does it seem like these are real locations? That’s because the director shot in natural light and proceeded to put his cast and crew through a hellish outdoor shooting experience. Production accomplishments aside, THE REVENANT remains a riveting tale of revenge and survival in harsher than harsh circumstances. This film is a gritty, unforgiving, and awe-inspiring piece of cinematic art that has blown me away twice at this point and will continue to do so many times in the future. Also, this movie may have given me a fear of bears too.

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2. THE LOBSTER: The best love story I’ve seen all year belongs to a twisted dystopian dark comedy about a guy who’s forced to choose between finding a romantic partner or being turned into an animal. Sound weird? Oh boy, it is! Besides being strange all the way around, THE LOBSTER is also a wonderfully unique flick that’s equal parts charming and disturbing. This cinematic world felt like Terry Gilliam made a movie with David Lynch. The feelings this film gave me are almost impossible to properly describe as there really hasn’t been anything like it before. It’s a romance like no other and if you have a penchant for weird arthouse cinema, then I highly suggest that you watch THE LOBSTER at your earliest convenience…preferably with a significant other who’s also into awesome cinematic oddities.

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1. HIGH-RISE: So if you thought THE LOBSTER was an odd choice for this list, then brace yourself because I can see people flat-out hating my number-one pick. HIGH-RISE is one of the few movies to be adapted from the work of British science fiction author J.G. Ballard. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because David Cronenberg adapted his work into twisted romantic thriller CRASH. That’s the level we’re at here, folks. HIGH-RISE is a grim, darkly hilarious and disturbing tale about a high society that devolves into a bloody class war in the space of a forty-floor apartment building…and I absolutely friggin’ adored this film! I’ve watched it four times within the space of the year and plan on revisiting it many more times in the future. The stylish visuals, colorful characters, twisted story arcs, oddball humor mixed with darkly disturbing content, a suffocating atmosphere, and shocking social commentary blew me out of the water. I love this movie so much that I actually listened to the DVD commentary. It’s the first film to make me do that in years! Though it’s definitely not for everyone (see THE LOBSTER’s divisiveness and crank it up to 11), HIGH-RISE is my favorite movie of 2016 and makes me hope for more big screen adaptations of Ballard’s work.

2016 was a pretty insane year in a lot of different ways. Many movies disappointed me in the theater, but I still saw plenty of good and great films. I also crossed many titles of my cinephile “shame list,” though I still have many more to eventually get through. Here’s hoping for an even better 2017!

ON THE WATERFRONT (1954)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 48 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

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Directed by: Elia Kazan

Written by: Budd Schulberg

Starring: Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden, Rod Steiger, Pat Henning, John F. Hamilton, Ben Wagner, James Westerfield & Fred Gwynne

I’ve heard about ON THE WATERFRONT for years, but never had the urge to watch it. The plot sounded dull and every out-of-context scene I saw (mainly the famous “contender” speech) made Marlon Brando’s performance look a bit melodramatic. Having finally taken the plunge into the WATERFRONT, I will fully admit that all of my preconceived notions about this movie were 100% wrong and it’s an undeniable classic that’s completely deserving of its acclaim. ON THE WATERFRONT isn’t simply about a corrupt labor union and the dreary lives of longshoremen. Instead, this film is a deeply emotional story of sacrifice and redemption that happens to feature a corrupt union and longshoremen.

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After giving up on his dreams, former boxer Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) has been wasting his days away as a dockworker. Terry’s latest assignment, from corrupt union boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb), is to lure his best friend Joey Doyle (Ben Wagner) to a meeting with Friendly’s goons. This results in Joey being killed and Terry finding himself racked with guilt over his involvement. When Joey’s sister Edie (Eva Marie Saint) begins sticking her nose into the questionable waterfront business, Terry falls head over heels for her and begins to consider revealing the ugly truth of Joey’s death to the Crime Commission. Local priest Father Barry (Karl Malden) urges Terry to do the right thing, but this is harder than it seems, because Terry’s older brother (Rod Steiger) is a close associate of Friendly’s. Testifying would certainly place Terry’s life in danger and tensions begin to rise as he finds his conscience catching up with him.

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ON THE WATERFRONT tells its touching story in a magnificent fashion. We get the setting and are then introduced to the seemingly unsympathetic Terry. As the plot moves forward and his relationship with Edie deepens, we slowly see Terry’s “tough guy” layers peel away and reveal his true character hidden underneath. One date with Edie reveals a lot about Terry and adds a lot of humor by showing the reluctantly romantic side to this seemingly brutish thug. Terry may have no problem with roughing someone up, but he also takes care of Joey’s pigeon coop as a hobby. As a result, WATERFRONT follows one man’s journey from sinner to savior and it happens to take place in the unlikely setting of a New Jersey dockyard.

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Even though he was an unlikable diva behind the scenes, one cannot deny Marlon Brando’s fantastic acting abilities and they’re on full display in the role of Terry. He won an Oscar for this performance and it was well deserved. Serving as Terry’s love interest, Eva Marie Saint made her debut as Edie and was also awarded with an Oscar for her efforts. Saint is a compelling beauty to Brando’s beast. Impressively, the character of Edie never once seems like an annoying damsel-in-distress. Saint’s scenes with Brando turn obvious exposition into compelling and humorous conversations that progressively become more emotional and serious as the story moves forward.

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Rod Steiger sits on the sidelines until one very crucial scene arrives, complete with suspense and heartbreaking honesty. My favorite character is Father Barry. Karl Malden’s priest isn’t above drinking, smoking and decking someone in the face. He’s an unwavering, kind-hearted source of light in a very dark place. A scene in which Father Barry delivers an inspiring sermon on the hopeless setting of the waterfront docks stands out as one of most powerful moments in the entire film. The corrupt, murderous Johnny Friendly is played to perfection by Lee J. Cobb. Cobb’s ironically named Friendly is one of the most uncharismatic baddies I’ve seen in a black-and-white film. He’s downright despicable and makes you hate his guts from the very beginning.

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ON THE WATERFRONT mixes suspense, tragedy, romance, and heartbreaking drama into one singular masterpiece. The conclusion is among the most powerful and satisfying I’ve seen on film. I felt like cheering and crying at the same time. Something seemingly mundane (when taken out of context) transforms into an emotional tour-de-force that encapsulates everything this story is about: sacrifice, love, courage, and redemption. ON THE WATERFRONT is an inspirational masterpiece and deserves to be seen by as many film fans as possible!

Grade: A+

THE GODFATHER (1972)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 55 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

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Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola

Written by: Mario Puzo & Francis Ford Coppola

(based on the novel THE GODFATHER by Mario Puzo)

Starring: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Richard S. Castellano, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, John Cazale & Abe Vigoda

Cinephile or not, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard of Francis Ford Coppola’s THE GODFATHER. This mob epic is currently #2 on IMDB’s top 250, was a sensation at the Academy Awards, and is considered by many to be among the best films ever made. While I wouldn’t necessarily go that far (for a couple of reasons that will become apparent later in the review), GODFATHER is a phenomenal piece of crime cinema that should be seen by anyone who loves film. GODFATHER is essentially a Shakespearean tragedy that happens to take place in 1940’s New York with gangsters.

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Don Vito is the head of the powerful Corleone crime family. Vito has five children. There’s hot-headed Sonny (the eldest son), naïve Fredo (the middle son), Tom (an adopted family lawyer), Connie (Vito’s only daughter) and innocent war hero Michael (the youngest son). When Vito declines to make a deal to work with a violent heroin dealer, an attempt on his life is made and five other major crime families stand opposed to the Corleones. Sonny is put in charge and Michael comes home to aid his weak father. What follows is a web of violent inner politics of a deeply dysfunctional gangster family. Michael slowly, but surely, transforms from the good son into the very monster who swore he wouldn’t become.

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First things first, I want to talk about the technical aspects of GODFATHER. This is an extremely well made film. To say it’s atmospheric would be an understatement. While watching this movie, you feel like you’ve been transported back to 1940’s crime-ridden New York. There’s a gloomy, grim atmosphere hovering over every block and building, but also a sense of class to it all. The film, though not necessarily blood-soaked from beginning to end, has many shocking scenes of violence that are all masterfully executed and never go over-the-top. Assassinations of various characters still hold a lot of tension and still come off as harrowing to this day. A moment near the end that involves a Christening intercut with various bouts of violence is one of the finest sequences in film history. The film may not be perfect all the way through (more on that in a moment), but the final third of the movie is perfection brought to the screen.

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While I know that many consider GODFATHER to be an undisputed masterpiece, I find the film to feel a tad overlong in areas. The first time I watched the movie (back when I was in junior high) I figured that it was just my MTV-addled senses that were used to non-stop action at a fast pace. However, having watched the film for multiple viewings at this point, I strongly feel that the middle hour (with Michael hiding away in Italy) is out-of-place when compared to the rest of the film. To me, it’s a big tonal shift and easily could have been shortened, especially given that the pay-off to the whole Italy story-arc doesn’t feel worth the time dedicated to it. That being said, the script is still a complex web of corruption, family relationships, and violence. It’s compelling from frame one, but does drag its feet in a few scenes…mainly during Michael’s stay in Italy.

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For a movie about gangsters, GODFATHER presents an ever so slightly glamorized view of our main characters. However, I’d attribute this to GODFATHER feeling very much like a complex Shakespearean tragedy. If you’re presented with a cast of despicable people and the story being told is an interesting one, then you’re likely going to have to sympathize or feel for at least one of the aforementioned despicable villains in the cast. Though he’s become a far more outlandish version of the actor that he once was, Al Pacino’s performance holds up as the best part of this film. It’s sad to watch the innocent war hero be corrupted into the monster he becomes by the time the end credits roll. Meanwhile, Marlon Brando plays Don Vito. With a raspy voice and paper-thin moustache, Brando actually inserted cotton balls into his cheeks to aid his performance. What resulted is the most iconic gangster in cinematic history. Even if you’ve never seen this film, you’ve seen Vito referenced in one TV show or movie. The other big stand-outs for me are James Caan as the easily enraged eldest sibling and Robert Duvall as the family’s adopted son/lawyer.

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THE GODFATHER may be a little too long for its own good and drag its feet during the middle hour (the piece with Michael in Italy feels out-of-place given everything else that happens in this film), but it holds up as an iconic and hugely influential crime epic. I disagree with it being called the best gangster movie of all time (for me, that’s probably GOODFELLAS), but it’s definitely in the top-tier of mafia movies. With fantastic performances, a complex story and a feeling of class hovering over the entire film, THE GODFATHER is a film that you simply can’t refuse.

Grade: A

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