by Philip Price
We’ve reached the halfway point of the year. While this mostly means the best is yet to come in terms of movies it also means the summer movie season is in full swing. With the expected barrage of super heroes and sequels it has been nice to see smaller, more original films like “Hail, Caesar!,” “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” and “The Nice Guys” get a brief moment to shine, but despite the fact I enjoyed each of those films and am happy they exist each possessed a quality that left me feeling like it was missing something (though upon re-watch “Hail, Caesar!” is incredibly enjoyable and I expect the same to be true for “The Nice Guys”). And so, while my favorite films of the year so far might be a few you missed while in their theatrical run at least one of them is now available on DVD & Blu-Ray and I suspect two of them will be headed that way soon. They are films you don't have to necessarily see on the big screen, but I would of course suggest you do given I came out of the theater after watching each of these films with a sense that I needed to tell everyone I knew about them that very moment and I have no doubt some of that had to do with the uninterrupted epic-ness of experiencing each on the big screen. In what I feel like is the only time a group of baseball players from 1981, a young boy with supernatural powers, a faux pop star, a couple of kids from Dublin and a Jane Austen character will be brought together I now give you my favorite films of the year so far...
5. “Love & Friendship”
This came out of left field. I'm not a big Jane Austen fan. I mean, I don't necessarily mind her, but I haven't read enough to consider myself a fan and so I'm more of a passive observer by default. Walking into director Whit Stillman's adaptation of a short novella the author wrote in 1794, but wasn't published until 1871 I had no idea what I was getting. All I had to go on was the buzzy premiere it had at Sundance earlier this year and the fact Kate Beckinsale might have the chance to change up her ‘Underworld’ legacy. From the opening moments in which Stillman introduces each of his many players in a rather modern and quirky fashion I knew I was in for something different than I'd expected. This turn of the expectations only continued as we are introduced to our lead character in Beckinsale's Lady Susan. Unlike any character you've seen in an Austen story or in this time period at all-Lady Susan Vernon is the one to vocalize what everyone else is thinking, but what no one dares to say out loud as how things look is much more important in 19th century England than the way things actually are. In doing this, “Love & Friendship” has an immediate charm to it and a layer of comedy that was unexpected but wholly welcome. It doesn't hurt the film is only 90-minutes either as it whips by at a fun and flippant pace that gets its story and its commentary across in effective fashion. Also, look out for Tom Bennett - if that guy gets the right roles he's going to be huge.
4. “Everybody Wants Some!!”
I think I've finally come to the realization that I really, really love Richard Linklater movies. After first being introduced to the filmmaker without knowing I was being introduced to him in 2003's “School of Rock,” I slowly became more of a fan as I discovered that not only did he and Jack Black create the insanely re-watchable and universally loved film, but that he had his own strange franchise of sorts with “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset,” that he was diverse enough to try something like “A Scanner Darkly’ before capping off his ‘Before’ franchise with the trilogy completing “Before Midnight” and then re-teaming with Black for the highly underrated “Bernie,” in which he uses skills he no doubt honed on his 2006 documentary, “Fast Food Nation,” to blend the documentary and feature into some kind of hybrid true story tale that was both unique and containing just the right amount of kitsch while still being of a respectable quality. All the while creating something of another experimental masterpiece that culminated with 2014's “Boyhood.” So, where would the director go next? Well, that his career kicker, “Dazed & Confused,” has not been mentioned yet is not without purpose as this tale of high school students on their last day of school in 1976 feeds directly into “Everybody Wants Some!!,” as Linklater's latest chronicles the first weekend of a college freshman at his new school in 1981. Though this latest effort didn't immediately strike me as a great film I couldn't stop thinking about how much fun it was. Even now, almost two months later, I can't wait to share the experience of watching the film with certain people and in that joy comes what has to be one of the best films I've seen this year.
3. “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping”
Save for maybe “Batman V Superman” or ‘Civil War’ I haven't walked into a movie this year with bigger expectations than I did when walking into The Lonely Island's “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.” Needless to say, it was The Lonely Island who disappointed the least. It just so happened I was at the perfect age of 19 when Andy Samberg and his crew debuted their particular brand of viral comedy on “Saturday Night Live” in 2006 and I've been a fan ever since. Whether it be their collaborations with Justin Timberlake or their ability to make a song sound insanely credible while being equally ridiculous there is always something to be entertained by, to laugh at, and to marvel at. The Lonely Island may put on a goofy and juvenile persona, but they are commentating and highlighting on timely societal issues and structure. After three albums and a slew of directing jobs for Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone The Lonely Island have come together to bring us what feels like, in many ways, what they were always meant to create. With ‘Popstar,’ the trio have created a Timberlake/Bieber/Macklemore hybrid called Conner4Real who is the star of his own popumentary that goes south when it becomes clear that his second solo album is a failure. With new original songs like "I'm So Humble," "Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song)" and "Mona Lisa," combined with some of the most observational and consistent humor I've seen in a comedy lately ‘Popstar’ is as re-watchable (noticing a theme?) as it gets and more fun than you might imagine if you think this isn't your cup of tea. Given the film disappeared from theaters less than a month after release it's clear this wasn't many peoples cup of tea, but I can only hope that once this thing arrives on DVD and Blu-Ray it will garner a following much like its spiritual cousin “This is Spinal Tap” did back in the ‘80s.
2. “Midnight Special”
Though the re-watchability factor is a major one when it comes to what typically makes up my favorite films I am unsure as to whether my pick for my number two of the year will necessarily fall into this category. “Midnight Special” is a precisely paced and methodical piece of work from auteur Jeff Nichols who only continues to impress with each new film. While this may not necessarily be the type of film one pops in to enjoy multiple times it is so immediately striking upon first viewing that it is impossible to ignore. There is something beautiful about Nichols’ attempt at a sci-fi film that reminds him of his own childhood and these feelings of innocence and of attachment, of love and loving obligation are all expressed in subtle and nuanced ways that leave the viewer feeling almost spiritual. I may be of a slight bias considering Nichols is from my hometown of Little Rock, Ark., but I think you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who goes to the movies quite frequently that disagrees with the fact “Midnight Special” is an impressive achievement. Every aesthetic choice helps to inform the interpreted meaning behind the narrative. With the score from David Wingo and the cinematography by Adam Stone (both who have worked numerous times before with Nichols) the emphasis on the Spielberg/Carpenter tone as well as the juxtaposition between the mundane world of the southern region of the U.S. and the magic of Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher) make the film not only one of great beauty, but a full immersive experience that will be difficult to escape even weeks after seeing the film.
1. “Sing Street”
Having only given out one perfect score this year it wasn't hard to determine what my favorite film of 2016 is so far. Director John Carney's (“Once,” “Begin Again”) latest music-infused narrative about a boy growing up in Dublin during the 1980s who escapes his strained family life by starting a band to impress the mysterious girl he likes is pure magic. “Sing Street” not only appeals to the re-watchability factor I tend to find necessary, but it also connects with the soul inside me that always yearned to be a musician and songwriter. Part of me knows I love this film for the personal connection I've created with it. My mother grew up in England (which I know isn't Ireland, but close enough), I heard about Top of the Pops my entire childhood, I ate Mars bars until my heart's content, and as my mother was a teenager of the early ‘80s I felt like in many ways I was taking a trip through what it might have been like to be her at a younger age than even I am now. There is also the factor of once being in a band with my own brothers and being willing to create our own music and put it out there for the world to listen to, enjoy and criticize. The relationship between the two brothers at the core of the film is key to the heart of “Sing Street” and it spoke volumes to many a personal experiences I've had in my own life. I'm not saying I connected with this film more than others will be able to because I've had these experiences, but for these reasons specifically I feel a deeper relationship to this film than with anything else I've seen this year.
What has been your favorite film of 2016 thus far?