Film Critic: Few Movies Broke the Commercial Hollywood Mold in 2016

Jan 7, 2017

According to the Motion Picture Association of America, an average number of 600 movies are released each year in the United States. Although arts and entertainment editor of the Shepherd Express and film contributor Dave Luhrssen does not see every single film released, choosing the top films that came to Milwaukee is a challenging and necessary task as a critic.

However, the films of 2016 fell short according to Luhrssen. Instead of the typical "Top Ten" films of the year, he composed a list of only six (plus some honorable mentions).

"This year just generally never took off for me," he says. Luhrssen admits that part of the problem for any Milwaukee-based film critic in doing a year end round up is the lack of films released in time before January.

Regarding the films he did see, Luhrssen says a work is notable if the movie stays with him outside of the cinema. "Am I thinking about these movies for some reason? Was there something about the subject matter or the form the movie took that was not just different from the norm, but actually compelled me in someway to engage more deeply with the subject of the film?"

The following films made Luhrssen's best of 2016 list:

1. La La Land - "It's a bittersweet, happy movie with good music and a fetching cast," says Luhrssen. "It can be criticized as falling short technically from the expertise of a Gene Kelly/Debbie Reynolds movie, for example. True. But I think this film captured the spirit of the best of those earlier movies, even if it didn't quite reach that level."

2. Hell or High Water - "One brother is an ex-con, a criminal. The other is a nicer guy, so there's an interesting contrast between the two brothers and the law man who wants to break one last case before retirement. It's kind of a crime movie, but the setting is so dusty, Texas panhandle - it really looks like a western to me."

3. Moonlight - "Moonlight is a wonderful movie in so many ways, both in terms of form and in content," says Luhrssen. "There were so many things about this movie to like including the acting and direction of it. But it depicts a very human character who doesn't fit into the exact boxes that our society wants people to be within. So I think this movie is truly ground-breaking in many respects."

4. The Witch - "It has to do with the first European settlements in New England...So it's got this kind of isolation and Salem witch trial-vibe going on," Luhrssen explains. "It's a very spooky look at the possibility of evil erupting in the lives of people."

5. Francis Foster Jenkins - "A very worthwhile movie," notes Luhrssen. "Based on the true story about a socialite, wealthy New Yorker in the 30s and 40s who imagined herself as a tremendous opera singer and just didn't have the talent to do it. There's an element of sadness in this movie that's very moving...it is funny and a delightful movie that people should look for."

6. The Man Who Knew Infinity - "It's kind of an old-fashioned traditional Hollywood way of doing a biographical picture, I must admit. But I really loved the casting and the theme of this movie...It told a fascinating story which we haven't heard enough of and did it very well."

Luhrssen's honorable mentions include The Meddler, The Hollars, Chronic, If There’s a Hell Below; music biographies including Elvis & Nixon, Miles Ahead and I Saw the Light; and the science-fiction film Arrival.