Meaghan McDonough ’18 and John Allegretti ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writers
Already seven months into 2016 and so many great films have hit theatres. Spring gave us last year’s Sundance hits while summer has been showing off its usual slew of blockbusters and comedies. Even so, the odd-ball indie, horror, and animated features have shaken things up, even with four month’s left until the year’s close. Of course, come Oscar season, many of these movies will be forgotten. But the writers at Emertainment Monthly are not ones for forgetting, and are proud to present our top 10 films for the first half of 2016.
* Mutual films listed on both writer’s top 10 lists.
10. Love & Friendship
Meaghan: Taken from the pages of Jane Austen’s “Lady Susan,” writer and director Whit Stillman’s Love & Friendship is the Regency-Era rom-com we’ve all been waiting for. Starring Kate Beckinsale, it tells the story of Lady Susan Vernon, a down-on-her-luck widow who uses manipulation to keep her standing in society. With an hour and a half run time, Love & Friendship manages to tightly fit a lot of humor into a very small package. The dialogue is quick and makes you think, but if you have the patience for it, it’s as funny as any Jane Austen novel is designed to be, and then some. The men are fools, the women are brilliant, and yet no one comes out unscathed. Beckinsale’s character is a lovable anti-heroine of the Austenian world. The costumes are stunning, the jokes are well placed, and best of all, the movie is remarkably feminist without smashing you over the head with it. It’s a short and sweet skip through an Austen novel, and it’s one hell of an adaptation.
9. Chongqing Hot Pot (火锅英雄)
John: There are some films that fly just too low under the radar. Chongqing Hot Pot is one of those films for 2016. At the height of its release the film only played in 46 theaters, and unrightfully so. This is a film that more people should be talking about because it brings so much to the heist genre. The movie follows a group of friends who open an underground hot pot restaurant in the city of Chongqing. With most of their money gone and the Hong Kong mob coming after the rest, it seems like their lifelong dream may be cut short. But when they accidentally tunnel into the vault of a nearby bank, a plan is hatched to steal the money with one of the bank employees who turns out to be a former classmate of theirs. At its heart Chongqing Hot Pot is about friendship and learning to do the right thing in a bad situation. With beautiful neon-lit sets and a third act twist that re-defines the whole film, Chongqing Hot Pot is one of the best heist movies to come along in recent years.
8. The Purge: Election Year
Meaghan: How on earth The Purge got not just one, but two sequels, no one can say for sure. But for all the shortcomings of the first two films, The Purge: Election Year is a shocking success. This film finally outright states what the first two hinted at but never got around to saying: the Purge is really all about power and privilege, not about violence at all. It gives horrifyingly plausible explanations for the state of the world and the government that led to the Purge being implemented, and it shows audiences how it’s systemically ingrained. It’s not about hate groups, or person-to-person violence. It’s about the 1 percent wanting to stay the 1 percent, and how they turn the 99 percent against each other in order to do it. It’s timely and all too real, and it’s a very rewarding watch. The best part of it, though, is that it flips the white savior trope on its head and gives the audience plenty of badass people of color to root for. Frank Grillo reprises his role as Leo Barnes and absolutely owns the screen, supported by a diverse and interesting cast of characters who work alongside him to protect anti-Purge Senator Charlie Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell). What’s frightening and thrilling about this movie is not the usual jump scares or gore. Rather, it’s terrifying for how dangerously close the reality of The Purge is to our own.
7. Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising
John: The original Neighbors was a fun little outing from Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne, but Sorority Rising skates comedic circles around the original. Neighbors 2 is the best type of sequel because it has something to say. Did you know that sororities can’t throw their own parties? The characters of Neighbors 2 don’t know either, and when they find out a war is triggered between Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne and the next door sorority led by Chloë Grace Moretz. The sequel also brings back fraternity leader Zac Efron from the last film in the best way possible. Not only is Neighbors 2 a seriously funny movie, but it’s also one of the rare films that trumps in original in every way.
6. Finding Dory
Meaghan: Nearly a decade after Finding Nemo, writer and director Andrew Stanton revisits the film’s beloved sidekick character in a film all her own, aptly titled Finding Dory. It gives backstory to Dory, the forgetful blue tang audiences adored in the first film while also giving her phenomenal character development. Though the plot and major themes are similar to that of Finding Nemo, Finding Dory goes deeper. Dory becomes a beautifully complex character in a film that’s brimming with funny, frightening, heartwarming, and heartbreaking moments. In a year that’s been filled with animated talking animals, Finding Dory rises above the rest by offering a story that audience members of all ages can glean something from. It’s a poignant portrait of a character living with disability and proving that you can learn something from anyone. Finding Dory will make you laugh and cry all while warming your racing heart.
5. Green Room
John: Director Jeremy Saulnier came back onto the indie scene a few years ago with Blue Ruin, a film part revenge thriller and part black comedy. Green Room is his follow up, and it may be the most punk film ever made. After a rock band of wimpy teens lose their gig, they get set up playing for a Neo-Nazi group in the Pacific Northwest. But after witnessing a murder backstage the band find themselves trapped in the Nazi compound. Much like John Goodman in 10 Cloverfield Lane, Patrick Stewart steals the show as the cold and calculating leader of the Neo-Nazi group. With brutal action and great performances from Imogen Poots and the late Anton Yelchin, you owe it to yourself to check out Green Room if you haven’t already.
4. Captain America: Civil War *
Meaghan: The much-anticipated third installment of Marvel’s Captain America film franchise did not disappoint. Despite fan’s voiced concerns over the plot and new character developments, Captain America: Civil War is easily one of Marvel’s best films to date, though probably not for the reasons the company expected. It’s still just as fun and funny as it’s predecessors, but its got a new edge to it found in the heart wrenching scenes between Captain America and Iron Man. Both Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. push their respective characters to a whole new emotional level. The very best moments of the film, though, are when it strays from the main conflict to play with new characters T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and Spider-man (Tom Holland) who come as a welcome addition to the Avengers cast of superheroes. Boseman and Holland’s characters run away with the film at times, breathing a new life into a cinematic universe that, if we’re honest, has been getting kind of stale. Long but not desperately drawn out, Captain America: Civil War marks a new direction for Marvel’s films, and one can only hope they stay on track.
John: Character has always been the driving force behind the Marvel films, and Civil War expertly juggles twelve separate character arcs effortlessly. More of an Avengers movie than Age of Ultron, Civil War is everything you want a superhero film to be. It’s dramatic, funny, and darker than previous Marvel entries. What will make Civil War relevant ten years from now is the building tension between Iron Man and Captain America that scarily is mirroring our real world conflicts. Both characters come to the table with realistic motivations and none of them want to back down and the Russo brothers never underplay either hero’s motivations for the others. Neither character turns out to be right or wrong in the end, and that’s a rarity among superhero films (or cinema itself).
3. 10 Cloverfield Lane
John: 10 Cloverfield Lane is like if James Cameron directed Room. It’s a high-concept, low-budget film that one-ups the original Cloverfield’s story and characters with an amazing script co-written by Whiplash director Damien Chazelle. It even one-ups the horrifying Cloverfield Monster by introducing John Goodman. Every time Goodman is on screen he chews scenery like nothing you’ve ever seen. The majority of this film is Dan Trachtenberg proving he can make a great movie with limited resources. But when the last act hits, Trachtenberg goes all-out to deliver one of the best ending sequences in recent memory.
2. Sing Street
Meaghan: Set in Dublin in the 1980s, John Carney’s latest film-musical, Sing Street, tells the story of Cosmo, a young man subjugated by private Catholic school after his parents’ poor finances force him to transfer in. Inspired by 80s synth-rock music videos and his crush on aspiring model Raphina, Cosmo starts a band in hopes of winning her heart. Not only is the soundtrack a homage to all the best of the 80s—Duran Duran and The Cure are featured prominently, along with many others—Cosmo’s band ‘Sing Street’ offers several toe-tapping original songs. Even though the sound is a bit of a throwback, the feeling of it is brilliantly fresh. As a film, Sing Street is a ballad to youthful rebellion: to being creative and passionate in a world that wants to see those characteristics snuffed out. With radiant characters, clever cinematography, and wonderfully off-color production design, Sing Street soars as a charming, upbeat musical adventure.
1. Everybody Wants Some!!
John: Richard Linklater has been on a cinematic roll lately, and shows no signs of stopping thanks to Everybody Wants Some!!. Advertised as the spiritual successor to Dazed and Confused, the movie follows a college freshman during his first few days on campus. Everybody Wants Some!! has a surprising number of moments any college student will relate to (especially the ending). What’s even more surprising is that it’s so easy to like the film’s testosterone-fueled characters. This kind of thing is very hard to do in cinema, and the actors and Linklater deserve serious credit. Like the John Hughes comedies of the 80s and Linklater’s own Dazed and Confused, Everybody Wants Some!! will surely become a rite of passage for every high school graduate.
Meaghan: In Everybody Wants Some!!, screenwriter and director Richard Linklater returns to the form in which he works best: bringing a decade of teen masculinity to the big screen. While the 1993 cult classic, Dazed and Confused, handed audiences high school in the 1970s, Linklater’s newest film throws them into college in the 1980s. Glee-alum Blake Jenner stars as Jake: a laid-back and quietly cool college freshman who moves into a house with his baseball team. It’s fun, it’s fast-paced, and it’s got a killer soundtrack. The characters are clever, quirky, and, at times, revelatory. It’s a feel-good film that’s packed with all the cringe-worthy relatability Linklater fans have come to hope for from his films. With lots of humor and just a few romantic touches, coming out of this movie without a grin plastered across your face is downright impossible. It’s the very definition of a feel-good film, and it shows off Linklater at his finest.
Do you agree with our writers? Comment below with your best films of 2016.