Daniel Jacob Kulick’s Top Ten Films of 2016

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Editor’s Note: “When I founded CineMalin: Film Commentary four years ago, I consciously avoided preparing lists of ‘the best’ films of any year for a few reasons. Even the most critically engaged and intellectual film criticism on the internet devolves at the end of every year into list-writing; and under my own editorial supervision after years of freelance writing, I felt no such need to cast those judgments. To this day, we have not published a yearly list from any of our contributors, and I am quite proud of this.

That same pride now extends to the publication of our first list from Daniel Jacob Kulick, who has been tracing the most important social issue films of our time since last year. Kulick, the co-founder of the video review channel WeJustGotBetter and a featured critic on Streamy Award-nominated The Rotten Tomatoes Show, has stepped into the listicle fray with the expert eye of a consumer equally influenced by narrative innovations in independent film as by the remarkable technological achievements in last year’s studio releases. His choices, presented here in no specific order (as far as we know), demonstrate an unjaded and unironic approach that we felt was absent in the vast majority of critics’ analyses throughout the year. With that in mind, we happily present Daniel Jacob Kulick’s Top Ten Films of 2016.”
Sean L. Malin

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Captain America: Civil War
Disney/Marvel has once again developed formulaic sequences and a plot that you cannot help but enjoy as our favorite superhero team rips itself apart for our viewing pleasure. Aside from the well-written jokes and eye-candy fight scenes, what made this film so much more enjoyable than its predecessors is its villain. As played by Daniel Bruhl, Zemo is one of the few bad guys ever featured in a superhero franchise whose motivation is not to take over a city or world, but simply to cause friction amongst its protectors.

Directed by: Joe Russo, Anthony Russo
Written by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Based on the Marvel comics by: Joe Simon, Jack Kirby
Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Paul Bettany, Tom Holland
Produced by: Kevin Feige
Music by: Henry Jackman
Cinematography by: Trent Opaloch
Editing by: Jeffrey Ford, Matthew Schmidt

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
The second consecutive Disney/Lucasfilm masterpiece to feature a strong female lead (after Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens) does a great job of showcasing the events immediately leading up to Episode IV (A New Hope). Stunning vistas and new leaps forward in computer-generated imagery allow fans of the originals to see another side of major players in the episodic trilogy that started it all. What particularly entranced me here were the imperfections within members of the Rebel Alliance, and the revelation that the Rebels were not all-pure, all-benevolent seekers of justice.

Directed by: Gareth Edwards
Written by: Tony Gilroy, Chris Weitz, John Knoll, Gary Whitta
Based on the characters created by: George Lucas
Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, Wen Jiang, Mads Mikkelsen
Produced by: Simon Emanuel, Kathleen Kennedy
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cinematography by: Greig Fraser
Editing by: John Gilroy, Colin Goudie, Jabez Olssen

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Loving
On the nonfiction side of cinema, Austin-based writer/director Jeff Nichols brings us to the trials of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple who fought to secure a legal marriage license in the state of Virginia. A more intimate slice of a greater civil rights movement, the Lovings won a landmark Supreme Court case which banned laws forbidding miscegenation in the United States. Amidst the harassment of their neighbors and disapproving law enforcement, Joel Edgerton (Richard) and Ruth Negga (Mildred) paint the passion of this historic couple on a canvas of frightening consequences and untenable living situations. Even as the Lovings fight and make hard choices about their associations, the measure of love exchanged between this husband and wife becomes undeniably justified.

Directed and Written by: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton, Nick Kroll, Michael Shannon, Bill Camp, Martin Csokas, Jon Bass, Will Dalton
Produced by: Nancy Buirski, Ged Doherty, Colin Firth, Sarah Green
Music by: David Wingo
Cinematography by: Adam Stone
Editing by: Julie Monroe
Official Selection of the 2016 Cannes Film Festival

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Hacksaw Ridge
Desmond T. Doss was the first conscientious objector to earn the Medal of Honor. Through the performance of Andrew Garfield, Desmond is brought to life as a man deeply indebted to his faith and his love for his wife, but who nonetheless enlists to serve the U.S. Army in the Second World War as his country turns to the campaign for the Pacific. The detail and gore, viciousness and uncertainty of battle are brought to bear in this film as it presents the most unrelenting depiction of war – Mel Gibson’s specialty as a film director – in 2016.

Directed by: Mel Gibson
Written by: Robert Schenkkan, Andrew Knight
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Hugo Weaving, Teresa Palmer, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Rachel Griffiths
Produced by: Paul Currie, Bruce Davey, William D. Johnson, Bill Mechanic, Brian Oliver, David Permut
Music by: Rupert Gregson-Williams
Cinematography by: Simon Duggan
Editing by: John Gilbert
Official Selection of the 73rd Venice Film Festival

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Arrival
Invasions by extraterrestrial organisms are almost always the plots of action movies with ridiculous special-effects work. Yet while Arrival still entrances the viewer with marvelous computerized tricks, visual work, and a killer soundtrack to accompany the screenplay by Eric Heisserer, the film does not feature scenes of warfare so much as a curious investigation. As Louise Banks (played by Amy Adams) walks us through the development of a language of communication with visitors to Earth, editor Joe Walker interlaces scenes of her life separate from these events to tell another story of her loss and acceptance. For those viewers steeped in philosophy, Banks’s actions invite questions of her ethics that many will think on and remember long after this beautiful drama has ended.

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Written by: Eric Heisserer
Based on the story “Story of Your Life” by: Ted Chiang
Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tzi Ma
Produced by: Dan Levine, Shawn Levy, David Linde, Aaron Ryder
Music by: Jóhann Jóhannsson
Cinematography by: Bradford Young
Editing by: Joe Walker
Official Selection of the 73rd Venice Film Festival

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Hell or High Water
Two brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) go on a bank-heist rampage through Texas, catching the ire of Texas Ranger Marcus (Jeff Bridges) and the bank set to foreclose on their family home. Playing fast and loose with each other, this brief glimpse into the lives of desperate vigilantes puts the viewer in the precarious position of rooting for the lawbreakers AND the law, ultimately tapping into the unrequited hate for banks left behind in our society from the housing market crash of 2008.

Directed by: David Mackenzie
Written by: Taylor Sheridan
Starring: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges, Gil Birmingham, Katy Mixon, Dale Dickey, Kevin Rankin, Marin Ireland
Produced by: Peter Berg, Carla Hacken, Sidney Kimmel, Julie Yorn
Music by: Nick Cave, Warren Ellis
Cinematography by: Giles Nuttgens
Editing by: Jake Roberts
Official Selection of the 2016 Cannes Film Festival

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Manchester by the Sea
Captured within this movie of (much-admired but) constantly discomforting dialogue is a brilliant screenplay of what happens when charismatic Patrick Chandler, played by Lucas Hedges, is forced into contact with an immovable man: his uncle Lee, played by Casey Affleck. What makes this already-legendary Sundance movie so fascinating to watch is the seemingly lost Lee coping with the death of his brother and the ensuing legal obligations he is faced with. All the while, Patrick seems to welcome his new circumstances and does his best to accept them and move on. Among my very favorite films of 2016, writer/director Kenneth Lonergan’s unique take on the aftereffects of death in a family and the unexpected decision making of our protagonist touch a nerve for those of us who have known such a loss.

Directed and Written by: Kenneth Lonergan
Starring: Casey Affleck, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams, Gretchen Mol, Matthew Broderick
Produced by: Lauren Beck, Matt Damon, Chris Moore, Kimberly Steward, Kevin J. Walsh
Music by: Lesley Barber
Cinematography by: Jody Lee Lipes
Editing by: Jennifer Lame
Official Selection of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival

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The Infiltrator
Bryan Cranston hits us with yet another stellar performance, this time undertaking the guise of undercover U.S. Customs agent Robert Mazur as he delves deep into the criminal underworld of Pablo Escobar. Similar to your typical familiar casino heist plot – think Ocean’s Eleven by way of Narcos – you are left with powerful feelings of relief and awe for all the characters involved as the master plan falls into place.

Directed by: Brad Furman
Written by: Ellen Brown Furman
Based on the book The Infiltrator by: Robert Mazur
Starring: Bryan Cranston, John Leguizamo, Amy Ryan, Jason Isaacs, Diane Kruger, Said Taghmaoui, Benjamin Bratt
Produced by: Paul Brennan, Brad Furman, Miriam Segal, Don Sikorski
Music by: Chris Hajian
Cinematography by: Joshua Reis
Editing by: Luis Carballar, Jeff McEvoy, David Rosenbloom

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Sully
As miraculous as the “miracle on the Hudson” of 2009 was, Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart remind us that the incredible feats of Captain Chesley Sullenberger and co-pilot Jeff Skiles were neither easy, nor unpunished. As Sully deals with the post-traumatic stress of his successful water landing, Clint Eastwood reminds us of the gruesome interrogations pursued by the airline industry and aviation insurers to pin the costs of the crash on Sully, Skiles, or both. The climax of this Todd Komarnicki’s screenplay happens not in a cockpit, but in the private deliberations of the national investigation that sought to prove human error caused the crash, regardless of the sentient ingenuity that saved the lives of all 155 passengers of the doomed plane.

Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Written by: Todd Komarnicki
Based on the book by: Chesley Sullenberger, Jeffrey Zaslow
Starring: Tom Hanks, Aaron Eckhart, Anna Gunn, Jamey Sheridan, Laura Linney, Mike Malloy
Produced by: Clint Eastwood, Frank Marshall, Tim Moore
Music by: Christian Jacob, Tierney Sutton Band
Cinematography by: Tom Stern
Editing by: Blu Murray
Official Selection of the 43rd Annual Telluride Film Festival

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Deadpool
One of my favorite films of the year was this comedy-romance featuring Ryan Reynolds as our lead. Forget the X-Men Origins: Wolverine debacle that was Deadpool, this adaptation does right by fans of the comic and movie goers looking for a hilarious bit of action. Despite numerous pitfalls in pre-production, the delivery of this movie was a shocker to the box-office and a welcome new take on the superhero genre with an R-rated feature.

Directed by: Tim Miller
Written by: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Characters written by: Rob Liefeld, Fabian Nicieza
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Ed Skrein, Morena Baccarin, T.J. Miller, Stefan Kapicic, Gina Carano, Brianna Hildebrand, Leslie Uggams
Produced by: Simon Kinberg, Ryan Reynolds, Laura Shuler Donner
Music by: Tom Holkenborg
Cinematography by: Ken Seng
Editing by: Julian Clarke

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