LA love let­ter ‘La La’ lands atop year’s movie list

Times-Record - - News - By GREG MAKI Maki at the Movies

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.

4. “Jackie”

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.

6. “Moana”

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.

7. “Dead­pool”

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.

10. ”Ar­rival”

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.

LION­S­GATE/DALE ROBINETTE

Emma Stone, left, and Ryan Gosling ap­pear in a scene from “La La Land.”

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