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It’s no secret that I love movies.

There is just something magical about this visual medium that draws you into new worlds, the lives of these people we aspire to be or want to learn about. We want to experience things that we wouldn’t in normal every day life and just escape our every day lives for awhile. I’ve consumed movie after movie over the years and my taste has become a bit more refined (read: cynical) when it comes to the films I watch. Being a filmmaker myself, I tend to break down things like plot and editing structure, effects, creative attempts (and successes), choreography, character believably… I’m constantly comparing it to what I would do, or how I would adapt or change the material to make it better. I’ve spent years consuming every interview, behind the scenes, books, classes, breakdowns, essays, articles, I’ve talked with filmmakers, writers, listened to thousands of podcasts and seen a countless amount of movies in my lifetime all in pursuit of my goal of being a filmmaker. Film is something that is constantly on my mind and a set of skills I seek to refine and improve every single day.

It’s probably safe to say that I love film as an art form, through and through, even the ugly stuff that no one talks about. It is also a good chance that I’ll end up dabbling in the movie industry my entire life and it also means that I have a particular taste that has developed through both my consumption and analysis of the industry…

So when a movie really pulls me in and I don’t sit there wondering why they chose that plot beat, how they cut the movie weird, or how bad the CG was. Instead if I am in awe of how they managed to pull off that incredible effect, what was happening in the story, or what was going to happen next to the characters I was rooting for, or even how stunningly beautiful the cinematography was; that means that I consider that a good film.

This list is comprised of ten of the few dozen films I managed to watch this year, despite being incredibly busy and wishing that I could have watched more. These are the films that sucked me in and made me realize what I loved about film. Believe me, these days, that’s a difficult thing to pull off.

#10: Suicide Squad

Whoa whoa, I know what you’re going to say, this one was going to end up on my list either way, right? You know as well as I do that I am a major DC comics fan, and I really love movies. So this is the golden combo. It was an obvious choice, right?

Well. Honestly, I’ve never been that much of a fan of the Suicide Squad (in the comics). I think the concept is kind of cool, but the insistence of the company on pushing the team down our throats over and over is kind of frustrating, as a long time reader of all things DC I’ve seen more half hearted attempts at making this team cool than the amount of times I’ve seen Batman complain about his parents being dead. Plus the obvious inclusion of Harley Quinn to provide some sort of eye candy to the reader is also kind of frustrating. (But don’t get me started on how Harley has been treated lately. That’s a topic for another day.)

Somehow, though, the title keeps selling and people eat it up. It’s a popular title with them, so it was an obvious choice to convert that into a movie. It was just kind of rushed through production, which is a shame, because you can see a lot of great pieces there that could have made the film great.

So why did this end up on my list anyway? It was a movie that took several risks. They tried something different and ALMOST succeeded. From their unique take on Joker, to throwing an attempt at commentary as to why the world needs Justice League, giving it a unique ascetic and even playing around with the soundtrack.

This is a lot more than what you can say for the majority of big budget blockbuster films that are coming out these days.

Consider that you do not have the ability to remember one Marvel movie soundtrack, but you immediately associate the Bohemian Rhapsody to Suicide Squad. DC attempted something TWICE in one year that most studios wouldn’t even dare. Despite the fact that they got a lot of hate over it, I admire the attempt and consider this one of the great attempts at creative freedom within the superhero genre before the fans ruined everything.

#9: Doctor Strange

This one ended up my list despite being one of those films that felt like a cookie cutter version of Doctor Strange. (I mean, come on, it was Iron Man with magic…) The film was exactly what I expected, then threw in something a bit more elaborate when it came to adapting Kirby’s original (very 60’s) art. The visual effects were seamless and stunning, the final fight was actually pretty fantastic, including the big encounter with the major baddie, and literally every encounter with some sort of magic was filled with an original idea or really attempted to pay tribute to what originally made the character so great. In that, I really respect Marvel and how they treat their content.

I honestly only wished that they had taken a bit more of a risk with the film. They had a lot of potential to go super weird and out there with it, but they chose the safe route, which is basically what I’d expect from a Marvel movie these days. If it ain’t broke; don’t fix it. It really just comes down to this; it’s not how I would have done it, but that’s okay.

#8: 31

I love Rob Zombie movies. Hate if you want, but I love how seriously he takes his horror. There is so much ironic self awareness in movies these days that it’s nice to see a filmmaker work within a genre he has mastered and actually take it seriously. Even with a concept as silly as the one in 31 was. This featured several great actors having fun in their roles, and even some strange bizarro-type moments in it that will get you to either cringe or shake your head as to how disturbing it is. (Hispanic midget Hitler was a nice touch.) Sure he had to censor some of it, but the spirit of the movie comes through and I really enjoyed this flick.

#7: Hush

Upon review, I noticed that this was a great year for horror. It was difficult to not JUST put horror movies on this list. I watched Hush because I liked the concept and I’d heard that it was a filmmakers challenge to himself to write a script that didn’t feature much (if any) dialogue. So after watching this film, I realized that I was immediately sucked into the world and I was completely on the edge of my seat the entire time. Overall, this was a great horror film that featured a surprisingly low body count. If you haven’t seen this and are a fan of horror, go watch it immediately.

#6: The Jungle Book

This one surprised me, actually. After seeing Maleficent and realizing that Disney was going to be pumping out one of these live action remakes of their classic animated films over the next decade, I was starting to get a bit jaded. However, after watching Jon Favreau’s Jungle Book I remembered why he was at one point considered one of the top directors in his field. He basically created the cinematic Iron Man from the ground up, just winging it during production, and it STILL was a solid film. Anyway, I used to love the story of Jungle Book and I’ve likely read the novel a hundred times. Every aspect of this, from the special effects, to the perfectly cast characters, throwbacks to the Disney songs and some flourishes, like making Christopher Walkens King Louie GIGANTIC made this a unique, but also very faithful adaption of the Jungle Book story I love so much.

 

#5: Deadpool

This was one of 2016’s superhero movie triumphs. In this really meta-self aware movie mentality the industry is suffering from right now, this movie (ironically) served to riff on that, as well as provide something that is really difficult to find in many of these superhero movies that have come out over the last several years: a protagonist that is funny and sympathetic. In a world of rich playboys, impossible technology, giant organizations, and world ending plot lines, it was really refreshing to see a story about a guy, trying to get revenge on another guy, and win back his girl.

The entire film is littered with references and hilarious dialogue, a simple plot, but written brilliantly to bring out the most of both Ryan Reynolds performance and to really showcase the character and potential for greatness when you just let people who care about a character or franchise take the reigns and just let them run with it.

#5: Star Wars: Rogue One

I wasn’t expecting much going into this one. After hearing that they were going to do a spin off between actual episodes of the franchise I was hesitant. In fact, I’m kind of going through Star Wars burnout right now, between the constant bombardment of clips, images, and products from the franchise, that on top of the previous movie bringing it to the forefront of pop culture topics once again, I really wasn’t excited to go see this film…

But when I watched it the other day, especially in the aftermath of Carrie Fischers death, the movie made me realize why I loved Star Wars to begin with. I really wanted another film set during the time period of the original trilogy, because that is what I love about the series. That SPECIFIC time period. Stormtroopers, Vader, the Emperor, the weird 80’s ascetic mixed with World War II imagery. It’s all fantastic and it was an exciting moment to revisit that period in Star Wars lore once again. In fact, I want to see another.

Rogue One had some great characters, awesome cinematography that you’d expect from anything but Star Wars (honestly), and a fantastic plot line that really helped to start to flesh out the Star Wars universe BEYOND lighsabers and Skywalkers. I honestly loved this film more than Episode 7 and would love to see more films set during this time period. I hear the next one is a Han Solo spin off, so we’ll see what happens with that.

#3: Yoga Hosers

A lot of people hate Kevin Smith. I’m not really sure why, though admittedly I’ve gone on record by saying that I think he’s great, but I don’t think I could work with him. Mostly because we’d likely clash heads when it came to the direction of where we wanted to take a film. HOWEVER his last two movies, Tusk and Yoga Hosers were unique and hilarious flicks that really made it difficult to see Kevin Smith as someone who cared about what people think. He’s literally making the movies he wants to see; tell me that doesn’t make you a little jealous. I’ll literally support everything he does from now on, as long as he keeps up this honest, pure, unfiltered art he is producing going. I’m crazy excited for Moose Jaws.

 

#2: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

WHAT NATHAN, BvS ISN’T YOUR FAVORITE MOVIE OF THE YEAR?! Nope. But it’s close. First let me preface this by saying: watch the ultimate edition. It sucks that studios can manipulate us into thinking that they’re doing us a favor by releasing pieces of a film in the theaters and then selling us the whole film later on to appease us, but that’s neither here nor there.

Batman v. Superman is number two on this list mainly for the feeling the movie gave me when it started. When, during the opening scene, you see Bruce Wayne frantically attempting to get to the Wayne Building, only to watch it get destroyed in front of him, all during the EXACT time span that the final fight happened in Man of Steel… I literally teared up I was so excited to finally see such a great, cinematic, depiction of the DC universe on the big screen in the hands of such an ambitious director. Sure, he takes himself too seriously. But I’m tired of having to hear how stupid superheroes are every single movie. I’m tired of the jokes and the stupid humor, I want to see an opera, I want to see gods and monsters fighting and the politics of how something as massive as superheroes will effect our world.

This movie also had something major going for it that Suicide Squad didn’t: FANTASTIC cinematography. In fact, when I was watching Suicide Squad I immediately noticed the aesthetic difference and it threw me off a bit. Thinking over my experience (and subsequent experiences) with this film, I realized that this was a fantastic moment in time that we might lose in the future, due to the controversy surrounding it.

It took risks. It had a vision of what it wanted to be and was that thing. It cast villains in strange ways, and spun the familiar lore of the stories in order to bring something MASSIVE to the big screen. Something unrivaled by all other superhero movies up until that point. This movie wasn’t about a beam of energy destroying a city, it was about superheroes conflicting with each other and the consequences of that. It was a marvel of cinema, the ultimate collection of storytelling, cinematography, effects, talented actors, and stunning choreography. Ultimately, this movie was exactly what it needed to be and did a fantastic job of establishing the tone of this brand new DC Universe.

#1: Don’t Breathe

This is my top movie of 2016. Why? It takes a lot of horror tropes and actively avoids them. With an original antagonist and a plot that has an incredible amount of twists and turns for being a film that just takes place in a single building, this entire film had me leaving the theater in shock. I couldn’t believe how incredible this movie was, how well acted, and how solid it turned out to be. I don’t want to spoil too much if you haven’t seen it, but believe me, it is well worth the watch.


Same as last year’s ‘Yearly Round Up’ there were MANY movies that didn’t make this list that likely would have if I had taken the time time watch them.
In fact, having looked over the list of movies I hadn’t seen as opposed to those I had seen, my inner movie nerd-slash-indie movie creator side cringed a little. In fact, I spent more time watching the big blockbuster films of the year, than I did actually focusing on what I’d heard to be the big triumphs in film for 2016, or at least movies that I’d likely have enjoyed enough to add onto my top ten list. This is something I need to address in 2017 and I’ve made a note of it to more actively seek to watch movies that might not be as big or popular as some of the major.

This is also part of my 2017 effort to kind of step out of the mainstream media culture in an attempt to get a more rounded look at movies and art in general in order to grow as a person.

I’ve noticed that I need to learn to take more risks when it comes to things like movies or books, instead of just focusing on what I KNOW I’ll like or what I KNOW will be (at least moderately) good.

While I enjoy the big blockbuster titles, my focus needs to shift more towards supporting these lesser broadcasted movies because in this mid-tier section is where a lot of great, fresh, and innovative ideas in film are being created there amongst the crap.

 

Anyways, here are the movies I REALLY wanted to see, but DIDN’T: Rise of the Legend, The Bodyguard, The Purge: Election Year, 10 Cloverfield Lane, A Monster Calls, The Nice Guys, Moonlight, Hell or High Water, The Forest, Lights Out, Nerve, Swiss Army Man, Spaghettiman, War Dogs, The BFG, The Girl on the Train, The Accountant, The Greasy Strangler, Godzilla Resurgence, The Girl With All The Gifts, Pet, Before I Wake, Snowden, The Magnificent Seven, King Jack, The Girl on the Train, A Girl Like Grace, Railroad Tigers, Hail Ceaser, Midnight Special, The Shallows, The VVitch, La La Land, Nocturnal Animals, Neon Demon, and Green Room.

What are some of your favorite movies from this year? Let me know in the comments below!

“Nathan Seals is an independent filmmaker, artist, and author who has created various comic books, films, role-playing systems, and card and board games throughout the years. He’s either insane, or a genius. Either way he’s having fun.”

What does it mean to be creative in an industry so focused on the money? I have been thinking very deeply about this sort of thing over the last year. I’ve been pouring over business books and finance books in an attempt to more fully understand both sides of the coin. Things like Hollywood 101 and Creativity, Inc. I am attempting to uncover what my morals and ethics when it comes to my business and personal life, what makes me tick and what can I offer to the entertainment industry that will promote change and ultimately leave a legacy behind that will inspire the next generation of creators. More in a short term sense, what do I believe in creatively? What can I establish within my company in order to promote both growth and prosperity within it, myself, and those who will potentially be working for me?

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What it really amounts to is establishing a brand that promotes the ideals that you feel within your soul without compromising the overall need for your company to grow and prosper in a monetary sense. I understand that, but it is something where you have to create an honest trust with the consumer base you’re working with while taking calculated risks in order to achieve that fine balance between unique and creative and something that will turn a profit.

I think that the early phases of Marvel Studios is a fine example of this. Lately I’ve been growing more warey of this method with the obvious placements of other plotlines into films that should really just be seen as solo films. Then you have films like Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man which ended up perfect films that still made a ton of money. Risks made by established indie directors that ended up being exactly what people never knew that they always wanted.

Inevitably it comes down to whether or not you want to forge your own path and create a sort of indie culture within your art or to work with the studios in order to work with potentially higher budgets and get your films out into the world for all to see. Both require a massive amount of work and both will potentially become incredibly expensive in the long run.

The major reason this topic rose up in my mind was after I watched an interview with George Lucas where he speaks about the downside to Star Wars. I don’t entirely agree with much of what George talks about, I think he still resides in the old mentality, but this is some great insight into the current movie industry, which I think has lost sight of the original idea behind the medium.

The thing that struck me was; ‘You’re not using the tools to tell the story, you’re using the tools to tell the story.’

I think that Star Wars was an indie risk and it spawned a massive franchise, but it started to kill the creativity within the industry. Meanwhile when Marvel came along, it created the concept of the cinematic universe which is now quickly being abused and used to create uncreative blockbuster films that don’t take risks, because they don’t want to kill a franchise they’ve invested so much time and money into. It’s all about the money now, but money is a tool. A TOOL used to create a story. Instead, big studios and creative types are using money as a means to sell a half baked story.

These days anything can look incredible, sweeping, epic. Everyone is doing it. In every movie you see the ‘jumping into the air and landing onto the creature shot’ because it’s something new. It’s not good. It doesn’t strike the audience as endearing or become an important part of their lives.

Because it’s not creative. It doesn’t inspire. It doesn’t make you think.

It’s not art.

It’s simply an attempt to cash in on the investment someone has put into a film in order to make a ton of money. Simple as that.

Now, let’s get back to the two options here. Earlier I talked about there being two options to being a successful creative in any industry. Here I’m going to go into a bit more detail, with a heavy focus on what I most care about creatively; film.

Forging Your Own Path: 

A great example of what I am trying to convey is Quentin Tarantino. Yea, I know, everyone wants to ride the Tarantino train, but just stick with me for a little bit. Tarantino has made it a habit to just push himself into the movie industry and has just made whatever films he’s wanted to. He doesn’t work with current trends, he doesn’t jump on the cinematic universe bandwagon, he doesn’t even submit to the opening weekend box office mentality. He’s releasing the film before the opening weekend, creating a sort of ‘event cinema’ sort of atmosphere.

When you watch his films, you know what you’re going to get, you feel like you’re in some sort of club with him and you know that you’re going to have to watch the movie at least ten or fifteen times before you fully understand it. It’s complex, the stories are interesting and the violence is fun and over the top without being overwhelmingly CGI. He’s established himself in the indie scene and now studios will just give him money to create whatever he wants to, because they know that he’ll make them money. There’s a fine balance there and Tarantino seems to know exactly where he wants to be and plays within those boundaries he’s set for himself in order to make himself a very loved and cinematic director.

Other examples of this style or Robert Rodriguez, Kevin Smith, Wes Anderson, Alfred Hitchcock, and George Lucas.

Working with the Studio: 

I think that Guillermo Del Toro is a fine example of someone who will work with a studio to achieve a great deal of incredible works. Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Pacific Rim to name a few. For every one of his creative films you have your Blade or your Hobbit. He knows how to work within the boundaries of the studios so he can create both big blockbuster films, while pushing out his portfolio to establish trust with the studio in order to be able to make something like Pacific Rim or Crimson Peak. Del Toro is a fine example of a director that works within the limitations of a studio and one that makes sure that he establishes himself in a unique and creative way to promote that sense of creative continuity within his films similar to Tarantino and even Tim Burton.

A downside to working with the studio is actually an example ripped straight from the video game industry. Del Toro was working with Kojima to create a revitalized horror franchise game that everyone was incredibly excited about; Silent Hills. They worked with an acclaimed horror writer and even had Norman Reedus (Walking Dead) on board to star in a main role in the game. Then, after the studio ‘Konami’ decided that they wanted to focus on mobile and pachinko games, they shut down the nearly finished game and effective drove their best asset away and potentially lost a massive source of income because they blatantly thought that the money was in something that they really had little experience in. Now that Kojima’s contract with the company is up, he’s moved on, taking creatives with him in order to forge his own company and start creating new franchises and properties that he can have full say over and ultimately give his fans what they want to play… Kojima has effectively converted to forging his own way.

This has been a similar trend to many people in the video game industry lately, they just want to make games that they love and that the fans who have rallied around them for years want to watch, play, or enjoy the things that these creatives produce.

Other examples of this style are Steven Spielberg, David Fincher, James Gunn, and Stanley Kubrick. 

Final Summation: 

The problem with any creative medium these days is that people are afraid to take risks on something because they don’t want it to be compared to a mega-franchise or to be accidentally too similar to another idea and get sued.

This is reflected in a problem with seeing things like the entertainment industry as a slot machine, putting money in and expecting to come out even or better, instead of seeing it as an investment in creativity that will inspire the next generation. A huge portion of this is due to the entirely broken copyright laws we have due to corporations wanting to hold properties for for longer than their creators are alive and them not being transferred over to the public domain to be used to create more art. All art is just a remix of something that already exists. The other side is that they don’t see it as a tool to tell a story, they see it as a tool to make more money.

Basically it appears to me that in order to be a successful creative in the industry today, you need to learn to either compromise and work with the big studios, or to just forge your own way and take risks. Either way; you damn well better be telling a good story. Otherwise there is no point.

With today’s technology and tools, you can make a film with an incredibly low budget and still be incredibly successful. There is no excuse. People like Kevin Smith, Sam Raimi, and Rodriguez have forged a path for this generation to take indie film by the collar and have a beautiful creative child show up in the world. Yes, there are a lot of crappy films out there. It’s a time exactly as described by George Lucas. Everyone wants a piece of the pie because it’s a new thing.

When everyone moves on to the next big thing, I’ll still be here working my butt off to birth that next big feature I’ve been dreaming of creating because when I die, I don’t want my characters and stories to transfer over to whatever corporation, I’d rather see them move on to the people to use or to be inspired by to create their own remixed work of art. That’s how art and culture WORKS.

So what are our grandchildren going to be left with? Lawsuits? Or a new wave of art that inspires the next generation?

Nathan Seals is an independent filmmaker, artist, and author who has created various comic books, films, role-playing systems, and card and board games throughout the years. He’s either insane, or a genius. Either way he’s having fun.

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