10 Best Movies of 2016 (so far)

Welcome to the bH Scale: a blog dedicated to movies, TV, video games, and whatever else you may have an intense, geeky love for. My name is Ben, the creator of this site. I knew film would become a key part of my life from a very early age. I found myself, in the middle of a packed theater, howling back to the wolves in the animated feature Balto. Movies allow me to escape to other worlds, and even learn more about myself. With this blog, I hope to spread awareness of unique, underrated films and encourage discussion of the many types of film, the art form I most admire. Anyway, I present you with my first post:

It is just over halfway through the year 2016, and a ton of noteworthy films have been released so far. Sequels like Finding Dory, Captain America, and Batman v Superman, have taken the box office by storm, while others – Zoolander 2, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, and Alice Through the Looking Glass – have failed to take off. This year, especially this summer, I have been much more excited about fresh, original ideas and, thankfully, there has been plenty of those. To celebrate 6 months gone in 2016, I have decided to count down my 10 favorite movies so far with only one true sequel (the other being a sequel only in name).

10. Swiss Army Man (Dir.  Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert)

Swiss Army Man

Walking into this film, I had no idea what I was getting myself into; though, having seen the trailer, I knew some of what included a fantasy featuring a farting corpse. I was expecting a whimsical comedy, and, initially, this is what the film presents as well. I’ll admit the whole thing starts awkwardly and it definitely takes some time to get comfortable in its own skin (just as Daniel Radcliffe’s character, Manny, does as the film progresses). Manny is the heart of the film and as he gains more consciousness, the film grows with him. Beginning with shots of the pair trudging through the woods accompanied by a symphony of farts, Swiss Army Man transitions into a heartbreaking story about a damaged soul searching for some sort of affection — any kind, really. Paul Dano has quickly become one of our most reliably great actors, and Daniel Radcliffe, playing an extremely flatulent corpse, puts in his best performance to date.

9. The Witch (Dir. Robert Eggers)

The Witch

It is rare to see a film set in seventeenth century New England, especially one as authentic as The Witch. The world is bleak and dreary, the costumes are drab, and the accents are thick — almost to the point of indecipherability. Attention to detail at this level is greatly appreciated, especially when your central story revolves around witchcraft and a demonic goat. On paper this all sounds deeply silly, but almost nothing here is played for laughs. This is a serious film that is seriously terrifying. The performances here are all great, but the young twins steal the show, providing some moments of levity. However, the proceedings are still drenched in dread all thanks to the sinister cinematography and hair-raising score. This is the kind of horror film whose imagery will stick with you for days — months even — after you’ve watched. It may spark an irrational fear of goats.

8. The Nice Guys (Dir. Shane Black)

The Nice Guys

I refuse to believe that there is a human on this earth that can resist the charm of Ryan Gosling. He is simply irresistible — any film in which he features is instantly elevated just because of him. I’ve always found Gosling to be at his best in films that test his comedic abilities and The Nice Guys throws him head first into the slapstick gauntlet. I have since forgotten how many times his character, Holland March, falls throughout the course of the film, but believe me when I say that it is a staggeringly high number and it only gets funnier each and every time. The Nice Guys could be two hours of Gosling falling over and still, I would sit there, giggling uncontrollably, for those two hours. Russell Crowe is the other lead and, while I typically cannot stand him, I found his in this film to be a much needed one as he drives the plot forward with stern brutality. The actual story here is a good one, utilizing the buddy cop formula (which director, Shane Black, has perfected), that is full of twists and turns. It’s a throwback to another era when this type of film ruled the box office and feels like a much needed breath of fresh air in this year of sequels and superheroes.

7. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (Dir. Akiva Schaffer & Jorma Taccone)

Popstar

The Lonely Island: for me, those words are a seal of quality, a sign of the riotous laughter to be found within whatever project it is that they have cooked up. I’ve been a fan since “Lazy Sunday,” a song that we dissected during the poetry unit in English class senior year of high school. I respect what these guys have done for comedy over the many years they were on Saturday Night Live, and adore the underrated Hot Rod. Upon learning their next feature was going to be a musical mockumentary, I was ecstatic. It felt like they were making this for me, and maybe they did, because I feel like one of the only people who saw this movie. Its small box-office take is disappointing, especially because this is the absolute funniest movie released this year so far. Andy Samberg is a true star, playing Conner4Real with extreme confidence. He surrounds himself with a hilarious cast of characters played memorably by fellow Lonely Islanders, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, Bill Hader, Tim Meadows, Maya Rudolph, Justin Timberlake (in a small, but hilarious role), and a never-ending list of celebrities playing themselves. The songs are hilarious and work as actual songs — you will be humming them later — the visual gags are plentiful, and it never overstays its welcome. It’s clear that this was a labor of love, and I can’t wait to see what this team does next.

6. Everybody Wants Some!! (Dir. Richard Linklater)

Everybody Wants Some

Most of the films written by Richard Linklater are low on plot. Often, characters do nothing more than simply exist and interact with each other. There is no lingering threat, no discernible goal, and nothing that really needs to be resolved by the time the credits roll… and there is something genuinely special about that. The reason Linklater’s films work so well is because each and every one of his characters feel like living, breathing people. Everybody Wants Some!! follows Jake (played by Blake Jenner) as he moves to college as a pitcher for the school’s baseball team. He lives in the baseball house with the rest of the team, and, after he moves in, we quickly meet most of the main cast. Then, for two hours, we watch these characters interact and witness how their distinct personalities compliment or clash. It is glorious. They meet girls, go to parties, and search for their identities. They eventually get around to playing baseball, but we only ever see the team practice. There isn’t even an actual game to heighten the stakes or anything. It really is just about these few characters getting to know each other as a new school year begins. And, with a script this strong, that’s all it needs to be.

5. Captain America: Civil War (Dir. Anthony & Joe Russo)

Civil War

Marvel has built an unstoppable empire. For the most part, each solo film has focused on the title character, allowing for small cameos from other heroes here and there. It wasn’t totally necessary to have seen every MCU film to know what was going on in the standalone films. This all changes with Civil War. Every Avenger makes an appearance (except for Hulk and Thor) and two HUGE new characters are introduced quite effortlessly: Black Panther and your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man (in the most accurate portrayal to grace film screens yet). This story is the result of the insane amount of destruction done by the Avengers over the course of 13 films. A rift is created down the middle of the Avengers team when the world decides that they need to be put in check and only take action when the United Nations deems it necessary. The team is given a choice, sign the “Sokovia Accords” or don’t… those who abstain must retire or risk becoming criminals. Captain America leads the team who opposes, Iron Man the other, and this fight between heroes really feels earned because Marvel took their time. After 13 films we know these characters extremely well and it feels right to see them struggle with morality in a big way. The story is emotional, the action is well paced, and it still manages to be funny amidst all the drama. Marvel has succeeded because they knew a story this big needed to be earned and would only benefit from years of build up. Other franchises should have been taking notes years ago.

4. Green Room (Dir. Jeremy Saulnier)

Green Room 2

I have been a fan of director Jeremy Saulnier since his intense debut feature, Blue Ruin. That film felt unflinching and real in its depiction of revenge, and the same can be said about Green Room. In terms of setting, Saulnier has decided to go smaller for his second feature. While Blue Ruin was a road film, Green Room is a single location. The building is what looks like an old warehouse that has been transformed into a music venue run, and frequented, by skinheads. A punk band agrees to a show there out of desperation and, after witnessing something horrific, becomes trapped. Fearing for their lives, they must fight to make it out alive. Starring the late (and consistently amazing) Anton Yelchin and a terrifying Patrick Stewart, Green Room is hardcore and never lets up until the credits roll. This is a movie packed with stomach churning action sequences and nail biting moments that will have you feeling squeamish, blossoming into a sort of punk rock horror film. Green Room went big by going small, and made Saulnier a definite director to watch.

3. Midnight Special (Dir. Jeff Nichols)

Midnight Special

Prior to screening Midnight Special, I had only seen one of director Jeff Nichols’ films: Mud. Mud is a very good and very entertaining film; I believe it played a large part in what is known as the “McConaissance.” However, I wouldn’t put it down as a classic by any means. I have heard great things about his other films — Take Shelter in particular — but have never gotten around to seeing them. Having said that, Midnight Special has made me a fan for life. There is something special about the classic Amblin films: a sense of wonder, an innocence imbued within the grand adventures, the unknown being greeted with hopefulness. Midnight Special is definitely inspired by these films (Close Encounters, E.T.), and it uses these influences to build something that feels fresh and not entirely in debt to the past. It mixes the pilgrimage of Close Encounters with the child’s perspective of E.T. and then adds a splash of No Country for Old Men for good measure. Nichols uses nostalgia to take us some place new and along the way captures amazing performances from the young Jaeden Lieberher, Michael Shannon, and Kirsten Dunst — who is in the midst of, between this and the most recent season of Fargo, a sort of renaissance herself. An Amblin inspired adventure hasn’t been done this well since the great, but flawed, Super 8, because it seems so hard to stick the landing on these types of films. Midnight Special sticks the landing with such grace that it almost seems impossible.

2. 10 Cloverfield Lane (Dir. Dan Trachtenberg)

10 Cloverfield

John Goodman is a national treasure. Unfortunately for him, his talents are wasted time and time again. He has a long and impressive list of credits, but often it seems as though people only want to play him as comic relief (which he is reliably amazing at, so I don’t blame anyone) and the only filmmakers that really, truly understand his craft are the Coen Brothers. Well, let’s hand it to first time feature director, Dan Trachtenberg, for forever tainting the man most see as the lovable James P. Sullivan.  As Howard, John Goodman is lovable and terrifying, hilarious and forceful, mild mannered and packed with dynamite force. He is the source of nightmares and it’s his greatest performance to date. Howard, having built a lavish underground bunker, takes in Emmett (for unknown reasons) and Michelle (after a horrible car wreck), in an attempt to save them from a chemical attack above ground. As Michelle, Mary Elizabeth Winstead also gives one hell of a performance as a woman desperate to escape by any means necessary. She doesn’t buy into what Howard has to say and, through expert detective work, discovers the sick truth. I have always loved a contained thriller; it never ceases to impress when one location is used for the majority of a film and I don’t become bored with it. The script is terrific and inventive, and while some had issues with the bombastic final act, I thought it got to that point naturally while serving the film well. This is a high intensity thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat until the final shot, which is equal parts heroic and dread inducing. I can’t wait for what comes next in the Cloverfield world or from Dan Trachtenberg.

1. The Lobster (Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)

The Lobster 2

What would happen if you lived in a society in which people must couple off or face extreme consequences? What would happen if, in this society, your significant other were to leave you? Would you face the consequences and try to follow the rules, or would you fight back? This is the central dilemma of The Lobster, the debut English-language feature from Greek writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos. Single people are sent to “The Hotel,” where they must find a partner in forty-five days or be transformed into the animal of his/her choosing. Colin Farrell plays David, a recent arrival to The Hotel. He struggles with the strict rules of the establishment, initially complies, but realizes his own happiness is more important than following the rules. I won’t get into the minute details here — the less known about this film beforehand the better — but this is a must-see vision that is rare to come by. The world is so fully realized that it seems plausible, but the way Lanthimos frames his camera and moves his actors within the frame keeps it all feeling off in a way I can’t fully explain. This is a dark, heartbreaking film, but the way it is all put together — from the performances to the score — makes it seem like an alternate reality’s most popular comedy of all time. Gruesome, horrible things occur that elicit chuckles or outright belly laughs. Lanthimos has a talent for making the most cringeworthy moments hilarious. No other film this year has made me feel so strange; I still think about The Lobster and can’t figure out what kind of movie it is. All I know is it’s unique, shocking, hilarious, and thought-provoking. I can’t recommend a film as highly as The Lobster: 2016’s best film so far.

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