7. The Birth of a Nation
Using the same title as the D.W Griffith horrific and racist 1915 classic, The Birth of a Nation, chronicles slave rebellion leader Nat Turner and his journey from illiterate child to preacher to a different kind of leader.
The film is written, produced, and directed by Nate Parker (as his directorial debut), who also stars as Nat Turner. Parker wrote the screenplay and petitioned financiers to invest in the film.
After being told multiple times that a Nat Turner movie would never work and getting a $10 million dollar production budget, the film premiered in competition at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival on January 25, 2016. Fox Searchlight Pictures bought worldwide rights to the film in a $17.5 million deal, the largest deal at the film festival to date. At the end of the festival, it won the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize in the U.S. Dramatic Competition.
Alongside Parker as Nat Turner, the film features Armie Hammer, Aja Naomi King, Jackie Earle Haley, Penelope Ann Miller, and Gabrielle Union all in supporting roles. At Sundance, the film received two standing ovations, one before the premiere for Nate Parker, and one after the movie’s completion.
The Birth of a Nation received mostly enthusiastic reviews, with some comparing it to Best Picture Winner 12 Years a Slave, while others complimented the film’s solid supporting cast, cinematography, and connections to the spiritual and intellectual spirits of Nat Turner’s life.
Justin Chang of Variety put the period piece into a context for today, “The Birth of a Nation’ exists to provoke a serious debate about the necessity and limitations of empathy, the morality of retaliatory violence, and the ongoing black struggle for justice and equality in this country.
It earns that debate and then some.” So we may be seeing The Birth of a Nation coming around again for award season, but the debates it may start will continue after the awards are past out.
8. Sing Street
When I first heard the premise of this movie, I nearly gagged from nostalgia and hokie feelings. The story revolves around a boy who starts a band to impress a girl. However, under the direction of of Irish director John Carney, the man behind Once and Begin Again, the schmaltzy premise gets cast aside by pure joy and fun.
It is executed with such precision and passion that it jumps off the screen whether it is a musical number or not. Carney delivers not only catchy and beautifully choreographed musical numbers but he chronicles broken family life, and how kids cope with their home life crumbling in a variety of ways.
The performances from the cast, including Lucy Boynton, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Jack Reynor, Kelly Thornton, and Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, are all swell, but I will give particular praise for Jack Reynor as the older brother type. It had its premiere at Sundance 2016, and has played at the Dublin Film Festival and South by Southwest, before its theatrical release in the United States in April.
Critics have showered Sing Street with praise, making it one of the best reviewed films of the year so far. It has a 97% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, as critics agree that is is a feel-good musical with tons of heart, without approaching a level of smultz.
Its mix of 80s classic rock hits and original music pop off the screen with vibrance and feeling and the film climaxes with a rousing and heartfelt finale. You won’t even if the tears you are crying are from joy or heartache.
9. Finding Dory
The moment we’ve all been waiting for. Ellen asked for it. Kids everywhere asked for it. And although it was not the most necessary sequel, Finding Dory finally arrived and it delivered.
The sequel to the Pixar classic that continues to be a staple in so many kid’s lives, Finding Nemo, Finding Dory focuses on the amnesiac fish Dory, and explores her journey to be reunited with her parents.Along the way, she is captured and taken to a California public aquarium, from which Marlin and Nemo attempt to rescue her.
Finding Dory was directed and co-written by Andrew Stanton with co-direction by Angus McLane, produced by Lindsey Collins, and co-written by Victoria Strouse and Bob Peterson from a story by Stanton It was produced by Pixar Animation Studios and released by Walt Disney Pictures.
The film features the voices of Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy. Much like the first movie, Finding Dory has had critical and commercial success, equating to positive reviews and $398 million at the box office as of this writing. In my estimation, Finding Dory should pass the $1 billion mark or at least come very close.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 94%, based on 194 reviews, with an average rating of 7.7/10. The site’s critical consensus reads, “Funny, poignant, and thought-provoking, Finding Dory delivers a beautifully animated adventure that adds another entertaining chapter to its predecessor’s classic story.”
On Metacritic, the film has a score of 77 out of 100 based on 48 reviews, indicating “generally favorable reviews”. Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of “A” on an A+ to F scale. Much like most of Pixar’s releases, Finding Dory has served them well.
It will continue to do well financially and come award season, you’ll most likely find it nominated for plenty of category, whether at the general awards shows, or animated based. To sum things up, it made me cry.
10. The Witch
The debut of Robert Eggers places him on a list of filmmakers to watch in the future. His exploration of a Puritan family encountering forces of evil in the woods beyond their New England farm. The Witch first premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and was distributed at A24 and released in theaters in February 2016. At the festival and since its release, The Witch, subtitled A New-England Folktale, has received positive reviews overall. It has also been a financial success as well.
The Witch is a slow-building horror movie, it is not the Paranormal Activity like jump scares we have become accustomed to over the last several years. It is a horror film that is effective because it envelops the viewer into this fully realized world and drives them into the ground with tension and mood. Dread is prevalent in every single scene, and it builds to a jaw-dropping conclusion that is as upsetting as it is terrifying.
A24 has not helped itself here, by marketing the film as a scare-your-pants-off horror with jump scares around every corner. The film is more built on suspense and tone, than jump scares and quickness.
There is an exquisite sense of historical detail conspire to cast a highly atmospheric spell in The Witch, that adds to the family’s steady descent into religious hysteria and madness. Religious groups have been all over the board with The Witch, as the film dives deeply into understanding the fear of God and theological extremes.
The Satanic Temple praised and endorsed the film and had a tour for it. Whatever your religious beliefs, The Witch is a slow burner that is quite scary, but maybe not in the sense many are used to in our modern horror world.
11. 10 Cloverfield Lane
A film I never saw happening, actually happened and completely defied my expectations. The spiritual successor to 2008’s Cloverfield, 10 Cloverfield Lane follows a young woman who is held in an underground bunker with two men who insist that a hostile event has left the surface of the Earth uninhabitable.
The film is presented in a third-person narrative, in contrast to its predecessor’s found footage style. 10 Cloverfield Lane is directed by Dan Trachtenberg(in his directorial debut), written by Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken and Damien Chazelle, and stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman and John Gallagher, Jr.
The film received overall positive reviews, with a 90% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Particularly praised was given to the acting trio of Goodman, Winstead, and Gallaher Jr. 10 Cloverfield Lane is great because, it truly is just a kissing cousin to Cloverfield, it doesn’t try to reproduce the same effect or be a sequel, and despite the sci-fi-intensive finale and winking title, at heart this is a character drama, and director Dan Trachtenberg executes the entire film as such.
The twists and turns of the plot keep the audience guessing what is going on not only inside the house, but outside as well. And if this film is not enough for you, there is more likely than not, a sequel in the works.
12. April and the Extraordinary World
One of three animated titles on this list, April and the Extraordinary World is a French-Belgian-Canadian animated fantasy thriller film co-directed by Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci and co-written by Ekinci and Benjamin Legrand. Marion Cotillard plays the title role of April.
The film follows a teen (Marion Cotillard) along with her talking cat (Philippe Katerine), embark on a quest to find her missing parents in 1941 Paris. The film had its world premiere at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival on 15 June 2015.
StudioCanal released the film in France on 4 November 2015. O’Brother Distribution released it in Belgium on the same day. Gkids released the film in US in 2016, starting with a limited release in New York on 25 March 2016 and then to theaters nationwide on 8 April 2016.
The film received the Best Feature Film prize at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival and was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Cesar Awards.
April and the Extraordinary World (French title: Avril et le Monde truqué), also titled April and the Twisted World, currently holds at 98% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with only one negative review of the film noted on the site, with critics praising the film’s colorful imagination and its spectacular delights for animation fans. If you are a fan of animation, this French language flick will excite all of you desires.
13. The Conjuring 2
When a horror movie gets a sequel, most of the time it pales in comparison or the first film wasn’t even good enough to have a sequel in the first place. The Conjuring 2 bucks those trends. Directed by James Wan and written by Carey Hayes, Chad Hayes, Wan and David Leslie Johnson.
It is the sequel to the 2013 film The Conjuring, and is the second installment in The Conjuring film series. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga reprise their roles as paranormal investigators and authors Ed and Lorraine Warren from the first film. The film follows the Warrens as they travel to England to assist the Hodgson family, who are experiencing poltergeist activity at their Brimsdown, Enfield council house in 1977.
The Conjuring 2 was released in the United States on June 10, 2016. The film received generally positive reviews from critics and has grossed over $242 million worldwide.A spin-off film is currently in development, with Wan and Safran set to produce. Many critics agreed that The Conjuring 2 did not jump off the screen like it’s predecessor did, but still delivered plenty of scares and dread throughout.
The film currently has a 79% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and although we experience some familiarity with characters and story, it is still a spine-tingling scarefest made with a great deal of skill. Overall, especially for a horror sequel or any sequel for that matter, The Conjuring 2 delivers, it was better than many expected it to be and it is one hell of a movie.