Breaking down first half of 2016

Eye in the Sky

Photos by Bleecker Street Media (above), Warner Bros. (second photo) and Universal Pictures (last photo) Three of Roger Thomas’ favorites during the first half of 2016: “Eye in the Sky” with Helen Mirren (above), “The Nice Guys” with Ryan Gosling, right, and Russell Crowe (second photo) and “The Purge: Election Year” (last photo).

BY ROGER THOMAS
Film Critic

Many of this year’s films have been entertaining and thought-provoking, others were not. So once again, here are the titles that most impressed me. Will any of them but a part of my best list at the end of the year? Only time will tell. Here are the films that inspired, thrilled, chilled, moved and entertained me during the first half of 2016.
Heavy hitters seeking “Oscars” will ultimately trump many of these titles. Hollywood is famous for often saving the best until the year is winding down. However, these 10 all had something that made them unique or else the story was just too strong to not acknowledge. Here’s four more that almost made the list: “Eddie the Eagle,” “Genius,” “Our Kind of Traitor” and “The Shallows.” Seek out these and the 10 other films, but follow the warnings; some of them are harsh.

10. “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot”  Not a perfect film but one that offers a fine performance from Tina Fey and an interesting look at the Middle East. Though not anywhere near as powerful as the top film on this list, both deal with issues of conflict and the involvement of the United States. “Whiskey Tango” does have one thing in its favor: it is based on a true story.

Love & Friendship

(Photos courtesy of Roadside Attractions) Kate Beckensale, right, leads a cast that proves period pieces like “Love & Friendship” are anything but stuffy.

9. “Love and Friendship”  With a rating of 99 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, this film does not need my endorsement. However, I find this “costume comedy” to be completely splendid featuring great dialogue packed with humor. Add to that fun performances and great production values and it is one of the finest films of this genre in recent memory. However, the plot does not quite have the gravitas of similar films.

The Purge Election Year

The Purge: Election Year

8. “The Purge: Election Year”  This is another film that comes with a warning. This, like the two previous “Purge” films, is a very violent movie. I do not particularly enjoy the violence, but I am enthralled with the ideas of this film series. The first was good. The second a little less than its predecessor. However the third is by far the very best. The humor is sharper and the issues are more clarified than ever. If violence does not offend you, see this whole series.

 
7. “Deadpool”  A very crude film in the superhero genre. Beware of the “R” rating if you offend easily. The action sequences are some of the best of the year. The humor is also strong and clever, especially when the title character breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the audience. This is not for everyone’s taste, but there are many who are ready for a sequel. I will be there for it.
6. “Sing Street”  I cannot remember how long it has been since I thought, “I would like to own the soundtrack to this film.” “Sing Street” had my toes tapping and my spirit lifted whenever this misfit band of British high schoolers played their music. A gifted cast, a fun story filled with humor and sadness, and once again, great original music.

The Nice Guys

Russell Crowe, left, and Ryan Gosling in “The Nice Guys”

5. “The Nice Guys”  This is the second best comedy of the year. Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling are a comic duo that need to be together often. I hope for a sequel soon. The story is simple. Two men pursuing the same thing begin as enemies, then allies and finally friends. I laughed out loud often. The setting of 1977 also brought back memories. One word of caution however: this film is R rated for several reasons. If you offend easily, this one may not be for you.

 

Finding Dory

(Photo by Pixar) Family is a key point of the film “Finding Dory” as the lovable but forgetful fish tries to reunite with her parents.

4. “Finding Dory”  No, it is not as good as the original. But few animated features or live-action films ever come close to the inspired magic of “Finding Nemo.” “Dory” is beautifully crafted. The humor is strong and the emotional moments brought tears to my eyes many times. Hank the Septa-pus is really fun. The film, like the original, celebrates family. Yes, the climax seemed a bit over the top, but I guarantee, every time you watch this film, you will see something new.

Elvis and Nixon

(Photo courtesy of Amazon Pictures) It was truly a unique experience when Elvis (Michael Shannon, left) met Richard Nixon (Kevin Spacey) in “Elvis & Nixon.”

3. “Elvis and Nixon”  One of the best comedies ever told that is based on true events. “Elvis and Nixon” is a lot of things but most of all, it is fun. Kevin Spacey does a phenomenal job as Nixon and even though I never quite adjusted to Michael Shannon as Elvis, I still think it is one of the best three films this year. By the way, if you are a closet Nixon fan, which I am not, he comes off pretty well in this film.

The Man Who Knew Infinity
2. “The Man Who Knew Infinity”  I knew almost nothing about this film when I entered the theater. I knew it starred Dev Patel, who had done strong work in “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” I knew nothing else, not even that the main character has a brilliant mind for math. This film moved me emotionally more than any other film thus far this year. Unfortunately, the film has made almost no money, but I hope many more people will discover it on DVD. If you liked “A Beautiful Mind” or “The Theory of Everything,” you will love this true story of a brilliant man who changed the way science views the universe.
1. “Eye in the Sky”  The best film of the year so far. I wrote that when I first saw it and my opinion has not wavered. A thriller that also provokes thought. It is sad that this is one of Alan Rickman’s last films, but at least he went out with a great accomplishment. A solid cast, a well-told story and a film that passes through my mind often, especially when I am watching the nightly news. As I have often said, “The best films are the ones that not just entertain us, but also inspire us and challenge us to think and feel. “Eye in the Sky” does that completely.

  Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.

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