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The 9th Annual Munchie Awards; or 2016 in review

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Because it's Oscar time and they're sure to get it wrong, as per usual, it’s once again time to look back at the previous year in film through the lens of...ME!!!!! That's right, it's the 9th Annual Munchie Awards! I hope to shine a spotlight on some of the 2016's cinematic gems while pointedly ignoring some of the bafflingly praised films of the year (I'm looking at you, Hacksaw Ridge).

As per tradition, I like to save the best for first. Here are my 15 favorite films of the year. A little different this year, I simply didn't see enough documentaries this year for them to have their own category, so those are getting folded into the main category...with major consequences, you'll see (spoiler alert).

15. The Fits
14. Manchester by the Sea
13. Jackie
12. Edge of Seventeen
11. Hell or High Water
10. 10 Cloverfield Lane
9. Fences
8. Moonlight
7. Hidden Figures
6. 20th Century Women
5. Everybody Wants Some!!
4. Zootopia
3. Kubo and the Two Strings
2. La La Land

Perhaps I'm realizing why I tend not to lump in documentaries with feature films. Documentaries hit me in a unique way and, at their best, tend to be affecting for me beyond what feature films can do. Which, I suppose, makes it no surprise that I thought the crowning achievement of 2016 was the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, O.J.: Made in America. This is a film that provides so much insightful context to the "trial of the century," that I was simply taken aback about how much learned about a trial I thought I knew everything about. This film weaves throughout issues of America's horrible history of racism, sexism and domestic violence with such deftness and ease, while maintaining the tension and drama, we all experienced, of one of the most surreal criminal trials of all time. This is a film (since we're calling it "a film," that will go in the pantheon of documentary filmmaking, alongside the works of Errol Morris and its spiritual relation, in ambition, scope, length and subject matter, Spike Lee's Hurricane Katrina multi-part documentary masterpiece When the Levees Broke.

Honorable mention to "Sing Street" which is probably the feel-good movie of the year and such a lovely, fun time. It was #15 until yesterday, when I sat down and watched The Fits, which just blew me away, especially in the climax. Also, I think a lot of people saw Zootopia, but another lesser seen animated achievement this year was Kubo and the Two Strings which is the kind of family film I adore - it's complex, quite a bit dark, untidy and a ton of fun.

Best Actor:

Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea
Joel Edgerton in Loving
Ryan Gosling in La La Land
Chris Pine in Hell or High Water
Peter Simonischek in Toni Erdmann
Denzel Washington in Fences

This was always a 2-man race, to be honest. While I was pleasantly surprised by the wonderful turn by Chris Pine, who I think is becoming a bonafide star, and while such a turn could have impacted me, since I tend to grade on a curve, this was always between Casey and Denzel. And when I really think about it, there's no contest. Denzel Washington gives a performance of such command, intensity, and power, it's impossible to ignore. It's not the best performance of his career, which says everything about Denzel's career and nothing about his performance in Fences, but it's easily the most memorable turn this year, for me. The role is one of complexity - strong, wrong, powerful and weak - and Denzel knows it like the back of his hand. But that's a strength not a weakness. While I think Casey's doing the strongest work he'll ever do, he's going up against a true heavyweight and he can't win. Well, he'll probably win an Oscar, but that gutter award pales in comparison to the prestige of Denzel's Munchie (I believe his first).

Best Actress

Annette Bening in 20th Century Women
Viola Davis in Fences
Krisha Fairchild in Krisha
Natalie Portman in Jackie
Emma Stone in La La Land
Meryl Streep in Florence Foster Jenkins

Oh my god, what an embarrassment of riches this category features this year. Honestly, Emma Stone, despite her likelihood of winning an Oscar tomorrow, is the weakest link here and could easily be replaced with Ruth Negga from Loving, Taraji Henson in Hidden Figures, Hailee Steinfeld in Edge of Seventeen, or newcomer Royalty Hightower in The Fits. And the name you don't know is from the wonderfully cringeworthy independent family drama Krisha, starring Krisha Fairchild as a tragic screw-up trying to make amends for past wrongs. She's not even a professional actress, but what a performance! But the winner is the woman whose studio is trying to pretend is a "supporting" actress - Ms. Viola Davis. Viola is in almost as much of this film as Denzel (and indeed, Viola has a Tony for Lead actress for this very role). It's become a cliché by now to say that Viola goes toe-to-toe and head-to-head with Denzel in this film, but watching these two wrestle with their love and passion is some of the most compelling stuff of the year. She'll get her much deserved and long overdue Oscar tomorrow, but for the wrong category.

Best Supporting Actor

Mahershala Ali in Moonlight
Tom Bennett in Love and Friendship
Jeff Bridges in Hell or High Water
Ben Foster in Hell or High Water
John Goodman in 10 Cloverfield Lane
Woody Harrelson in Edge of Seventeen

Oh man was I close to giving this to Tom Bennett from Love and Friendship who simply hijacks every single scene he's in, in Love and Friendship. When Monty Python had that sketch "The Upper-Class Twit of the Year," they were surely thinking of people like Tom Bennett's imbecilic Sir James. He was a breath of fresh, hysterical air. But this year, the Munchie goes to perhaps the greatest living American actor with no Oscar nominations, John Goodman. In 10 Cloverfield Lane, he plays an abuser of such menace and duplicity, it scared me. I can't think of the last time an actor's performance really scared me- think Hannibal Lecter or Norman Bates. This is a film I saw about a full calendar year ago and it still affects me.

Best Supporting Actress

Naomie Harris in Moonlight
Kate McKinnon in Ghostbusters
Janelle Monae in Hidden Figures
Octavia Spencer in Hidden Figures
Anna Taylor-Joy in The Witch
Michelle Williams in Manchester by the Sea

This category was the one I struggled with more than anything this year. It was full of second-guessing. Anna Taylor-Joy is in an awful lot of The Witch, but I remember her as being a supporting player in an ensemble piece so she ended up here. Michelle Williams is barely present, but her 2 or 3 scenes are so powerful she couldn't be excluded. Naomie Harris's performance would not be here if I hadn't see Moonlight a 2nd time. Perhaps it's a little too big for the big screen. And of course Kate McKinnon's hilarious turn in Ghostbusters is what made me finally realize what a comedic genius she is. She's actually probably better than anyone in any Ghostbusters film. But the best of the bunch is one I had no qualms about nominating - Octavia Spencer. On the surface, she's playing a character she could play in her sleep - the strong Black woman whose simply got no time for your bullshit racism - but she plays Dorothy Vaughan with a keen eye for...I guess we call it code-switching now. She is balancing a tenuous life in many different worlds and her frustration is palpable. Her emotional payoffs, especially involving the Kirsten Dunst character (not nominated...that accent...), are among the movie's truest.

Best Director

Damien Chazelle for La La Land
Ezra Edelman for O.J.: Made in America
Barry Jenkins for Moonlight
Travis Knight for Kubo and the Two Strings
Pablo Larraine for Jackie
Mike Mills for 20th Century Women

I just re-read my awards from a couple years ago and I see that I was pretty high on some upstart named Damien Chazelle. He lost out to this year's near-nominee Richard Linklater but it seemed like he had a shot at this award in the future. Welllll, I feel like such a cliché but his time is now. La La Land is made with such confidence, acumen and vision, it's hard not to fall under its spell (or, well, I found it hard, anyway). Its ambition is impressive, it's complexity is astonishing and it's one of the most fulfilling films in recent decades, in a thoroughly unfulfilling year in the world.

And that's the "show." As always, there are a number of films I wish I could have seen, but couldn't, including Elle (which likely would have a Best Actress contender), Southside With You, Indignation, Tower, Cameraperson, and The Salesman. And, I guess, Captain Fantastic, which looks awful but has an Oscar nomination. I'll try harder next year. And please feel free to comment, as always!

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