LA love letter ‘La La’ lands atop year’s movie list
No other film in 2016 energized me and made me feel alive the way the musical
”La La Land” did. It pulses with the spirit of old Hollywood — and is a love letter to the romanticized version of Los Angeles created by the movies — while telling a very modern love story with cinematic staging and cinematography, allowing it to feel both classic and current.
Written and directed by Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”), it’s a salute to dreams and those who chase them.
Ryan Gosling — Who knew he could be a song-anddance man? — and Emma Stone give funny, charming and affecting performances, grounding the heightened reality in which a musical must operate with characters that feel honest and real. We don’t all aspire to open a jazz club or have visions of movie stardom, but we all know what it is to dream. “La La Land” tells us it’s OK to pursue those dreams, no matter how farfetched they might seem. Sometimes, we just need that extra push from someone who believes in us a little more than we do ourselves.
Watching “La La Land” is a revitalizing experience, and just thinking about it gets me excited about movies in general, easily making it the best film I saw in 2016. ----Here are the rest of the best I saw this year.
2. “Manchester by the Sea”
Events depicted in “Manchester by the Sea” are tragic beyond words, yet the brutal honesty with which writer-director Kenneth Lonergan tells the story of Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck, never better) — forced to become the legal guardian of his nephew (Lucas Hedges) following his brother’s (Kyle Chandler) death — allows the film to find different shades, different tones, even humor among the grief. While it never moves away from its heavy subject matter, Lonergan’s approach keeps it from becoming oppressively depressing. With a happy ending an impossibility, the movie ultimately is a testament to the human will simply to carry on in the face of unbearable adversity.
3. “Hacksaw Ridge”
Mel Gibson’s return to the director’s chair is as powerful as anything he’s ever done. Surprisingly, given his resume, he uses the story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor, to make a loud nonviolent, anti-war statement. A World War II battlefield becomes a nightmare of smoke and flames, blood and viscera as Doss, unarmed, drags one wounded man after another to safety, a beacon of hope in a world that, in 2016 especially, seemed to grow uglier by the day.
Natalie Portman outdoes herself in another film about grief, this one focusing on Jacqueline Kennedy following the 1963 assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy. Director Pablo Larrain ups the ante by eschewing conventional biopic stor ytelling, opting instead for a jumbled chronology that reflects the former first lady’s confusion and uncertainty over her husband’s legacy, her future and her very identity moving forward. It’s a penetrating look behind the veil of one of the 20th century’s greatest icons.
5. “Star Trek Beyond”
There are times when saying a movie feels like an extended episode of a TV series is an insult, but in the case of “Star Trek Beyond,” it’s the highest compliment. Directed by Justin Lin, the third film in the rebooted series is the first to feel like classic “Trek,” emphasizing exploration, friendship, family, hope and optimism, while maintaining the actionoriented approach of the two J.J. Abrams movies. It’s full of great moments for all of the beloved Enterprise crew and gives us the alien woman Jayla (Sofia Boutella), one of the best movie characters of the year.
Disney’s animators have outdone themselves once again in the story of the title character (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho) — not a princess but the daughter of the village chief. The artistry is stunning, and the story is one of Disney’s strongest, led by a heroine with real agency and a terrific voice cast also featuring Dwayne Johnson as the demigod Maui. In a banner year for animation that included “Finding Dory” and “Kubo and the Two Strings,” “Moana” stands the highest.
With so many Avengers, X-Men and the hordes of super-powered characters Warner Bros. threw into “Batman v Superman” and “Suicide Squad,” there is a sense of superhero fatigue starting to set in for many movie-goers. Deadpool, the foul-mouthed, fourth-wallbreaking antihero portrayed by Ryan Reynolds, is the perfect antidote.
8. “Sing Street”
The latest in writer-director John Carney’s series of feel-good, music-themed movies — following “Once” and “Begin Again” — might be his best yet, focusing on Conor, a teen (Ferdia WalshPeelo) in 1985 Ireland who forms a band in an effort to woo an older girl (Lucy Boynton). The movie’s heart, though, comes from Conor’s relationship with
his wise but directionless older brother (Jack Reynor, delivering some of the year’s most quotable dialogue).
9. “Hell or High Water”
The plot of this modern Western is straightforward — Toby (Chris Pine) and his brother (Ben Foster) embark on a series of bank robberies in a scheme to save the family ranch, with a Texas Ranger on the verge of retirement (Jeff Bridges) hot on their trail — but it’s all in the execution. Reminiscent of the Coen brothers’ more serious work, screenwriter Tyler Sheridan’s dialogue brings even the most minor characters to vivid life; in Bridges’ hands, it achieves a gruff, poetic brilliance.
Aliens come to Earth in “Arrival,” as sci-fi a premise as it gets, but it’s really a movie about communication. Amy Adams gives a thoughtful, restrained performance as a linguist recruited by the military to decipher the language of the visiting extraterrestrials, while director Denis Villeneuve cleverly uses the language of film to hide the third-act revelation in plain sight throughout the entire movie. ----Best Director: Damien Chazelle, “La La Land” Best Actor: Ryan Gosling, “La La Land” Best Actress: Natalie Portman, “Jackie” Best Supporting Actor: Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water” Best Supporting Actress: Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea” Best Original Screenplay: Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea” Best Adapted Screenplay: Eric Heisserer, “Arrival” Best Cinematography: Linus Sandgren, “La La Land” Best Editing: Sebastian Sepulveda, “Jackie” Best Superhero Movie: “Deadpool” Funniest Movie: “Hail, Caesar!” Best Comedic Performance: Dwayne Johnson, “Central Intelligence” Best Trailer: “The Secret Life of Pets” (teaser) ----Online: www.stardem.com/MakiAtTheMovies
Greg Maki is the Deputy Editor for The Star Democrat and his weekly Maki at the Movies’ reviews can be found in the Weekend Section of each Friday’s Star Democrat.
Emma Stone, left, and Ryan Gosling appear in a scene from “La La Land.”