These were my 10 favorite movies of 2016:
1. “The Witch” – This horror film set in Colonial America delivers a striking sense of time and place (so much so that you might want to put the subtitles on to grasp the language), with life-threatening poverty as an omnipresent invisible character. On top of that, it invokes another layer of foreboding horror: The religion-fomented fears are so real to this family – including Anya Taylor-Joy in a breakout turn as teenager Thomasin — that they become real to us. Against this backdrop, the idea of “living deliciously” as a witch becomes a viable — although still creepy as hell — escape hatch. (Full-length review)
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The third entry of a four-part saga, “Allegiant” — now available on DVD – moves the “Divergent” series into heady (and sometimes head-scratching) science fiction territory. Young future readers of classic sci-fi such as Arthur C. Clarke’s works might dip their toe into those waters after watching this film based on the young-adult novel by Veronica Roth.
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These were my 10 favorite movies of 2015:
1. “Spotlight” — This chronicle of the Boston Globe’s 2001-02 probe of rape allegations in the Catholic Church is a thank-you letter to the dying art of investigative journalism. An all-star cast of actors including Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Liev Schreiber does a marvelous job of capturing the small details of how reporters live and behave – particularly Ruffalo, whether he’s boiling hot dogs for dinner of scrounging through his bag for a pen. Meanwhile, the case itself works as a meat-and-potatoes procedural potboiler. (Full review.)
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“Insurgent” further clarifies the political structure of the “Divergent” universe, features award-worthy set pieces in a run-down Chicago two centuries in the future and – like the original film – ultimately succeeds because Shailene Woodley is easy to root for as reluctant hero Tris Prior.
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These were my 10 favorite movies of 2014:
1. “Dumb and Dumber To” – Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels effortlessly slip back into Lloyd and Harry’s born-of-stupidity mistreatment of animals and their fellow man, but this isn’t merely a reunion tour. The sequel has lots of great new hits, like Harry getting into Arizona State and being mistaken for an eccentric genius and Lloyd being attracted to Harry’s daughter. (It’s not like he’s going to go out with someone his own age — “Gross!”) (Full review.)
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“Divergent” plays with traditional dystopian sci-fi tropes and totalitarian government riffs in rather unsurprising ways, but it holds a viewer’s attention thanks to the immensely watchable Shailene Woodley and a beautifully grim post-apocalyptic Chicago cityscape. Avoiding the clichéd helicopter shot over water, the film opens with a shot of a dried-up Lake Michigan – a wonderful example of modern computer effects and a great scene-setter.
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