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The Top Twenty Movies of 2016 — Part Three!

My list of my Top Twenty Movies of 2016 continues!  Click here for numbers twenty through sixteen and click here for numbers fifteen through eleven.

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10. Sing Street Writer/director John Carney, who wrote and directed the marvelous film Once (which was then made into a Broadway show) returns with another fantastically entertaining music-centered film.  Set in Dublin in 1985, the film tells the story of a lonely boy, Conor, whose getting-divorced parents have moved him into a free Catholic school.  To impress a girl, Raphina, who he meets, Conor tells her that he’s in a band, and asks her to appear in one of their music videos.  When she agrees, Conor must now actually form the band he claimed already existed!  What follows is a lovely coming-of-age story as Conor tries to figure out just who he is and what he wants to be, all the while struggling with a group of newfound musician friends to create music that is actually good.  The romance is sweet, and I adored the film’s focus on the relationship between Conor and his older brother, Brendan.  La La Land has gotten all the attention this year, and I really enjoyed that film, but Sing Street is, I think, the superior musical film.  The music is great, and all of the kids are wonderful and instantly lovable.  It’s hard not to fall in love with these kids and this small-scale story about growing up and creating art.  I certainly did.

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9. Star Trek Beyond This rebooted Star Trek movie series (begun by J.J. Abrams who directed the first two films) hasn’t ever quite gelled into feeling like true Star Trek for me, but damn if Star Trek Beyond doesn’t come close.  Star Trek Beyond is not a perfect movie, but it is nevertheless a very entertaining new Star Trek adventure that is fun and exciting, with a strong focus on character and a firm grip on Gene Roddenberry’s optimistic vision of the future.  New Trek director Justin Lin, working from a script by Simon Pegg (who, of course, also plays Scotty in the film) and Doug Jung succeeded in crafting a terrific new Star Trek stand-alone adventure.  Set several years into the Enterprise’s five-year mission, Beyond was made to feel like a big-screen version of a classic Star Trek episode.  I love that approach, and there is a lot about Star Trek Beyond to enjoy.  It’s fun to get a brand-new story, set on a never-before-seen planet and with lots of never-before-seen aliens.  There’s a wonderful focus on the Enterprise crew, with every member of the ensemble getting fun stuff to do.  In particular, after two movies that emphasized the Kirk-Spock … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Manchester By The Sea

Casey and Ben Affleck both earned my approbation forever with 2007’s Gone Baby Gone, a magnificent and heartbreaking piece of work.  That film was Ben Affleck’s directorial debut and Casey played the lead role.  If you haven’t seen it, go see it right now.  I’ve been waiting ever since for either Affleck brother to be able to top their incredible work in that film.  (Both have come close once or twice over the years, Ben with Argo and Casey with The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.)  A decade later, Casey Affleck might have finally done it with his extraordinary work in the wrenching and deeply moving Manchester By the Sea.

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In Kenneth Lonergan’s film, Casey Affleck plays Lee Chandler.  When we first meet Lee in the film, he is working as a janitor on the South Shore (Quincy, MA), living a lonely life consisting of brief, mostly-terse interactions with his building’s tenants and picking bar fights.  Then a call summons Lee back to his home on the North Shore, as his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has died of a heart attack.

I’d thought the early death of Lee’s brother would be the central tragedy of the film, but no, that’s not really what the film is about at all.  Although the film takes its time in telling us why Lee is known around town as “that” Lee Chandler, we do eventually learn the heartbreaking details of what has turned Lee into such an empty shell of a person.  It is this that is the defining event of the film, and the reason for telling this story.

Casey Affleck is simply remarkable in the role.  He commands the audience’s attention in every moment that he is on-screen (which is almost the entirety of the film’s 137-minute run-time).  As always, Mr. Affleck eschews movie-star histrionics, instead bringing Lee to life through a series of tiny, quiet moments and his gentle, almost mumbling line-delivery.  With every small action or inaction, with his posture and the look in his eyes, Mr. Affleck fully inhabits this deeply broken man.  My favorite moment in the entire film is the quiet scene in which we see Lee stuffing his clothes in a bag and then, almost reverently, carefully wrapping the three objects (I won’t tell you what they are) he picks up off the top of his chest of drawers.  That’s the whole movie right there.

I knew going in that this would be a somber movie and I was fearful that a two-and-a-half movie about grief, however well-crafted, would be a chore.  But the genius of Kenneth Lonergan’s film is how alive it is.  After two-and-a-half hours, when the credits rolled, … [continued]