I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Preston Barta // Editor
Looking back on 2016, you could easily label it as a bad year for movies. Plenty of titles harbored the potential of climbing the cinematic ladder to greatness, but many struggled to break through and find their audience. Thankfully, there was also an overwhelming amount of quality filmmaking if you looked in the right places, especially during the fall movie season. For me, the year was strong enough to make a few Top 10 lists.
As with previous Top 10 lists, it’s purely based on how much I personally thought about each film and how it held up upon multiple viewings.
10. HOW TO LET GO OF THE WORLD AND LOVE ALL THINGS CLIMATE CAN’T CHANGE
Josh Fox (GASLAND) held the regional premiere of his riveting climate change documentary at Denton’s Thin Line Film Festival back in February. Since then, no other documentary has come close to widening my eyes to what’s going on the world that surrounds me. It’s a well-balanced offering of facts with touching firsthand accounts, humor and striking images to inspire one to bring about change.
With so much negativity crowding the headlines these days, it’s truly a rewarding experience to behold a true story that doesn’t turn into tragedy. Clint Eastwood expertly recounts the story of how Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (an excellent Tom Hanks) successfully landed a disabled airplane in the Hudson River off Manhattan. It’s a testament to Sully’s bravery but also a testament to what people can achieve when you remove politics, egos and prejudices.
There’s a reason why Martin Scorsese is one of the best living directors in the film business: He knows how to transcend geographical boundaries and tap into universal themes in an absorbing manner. His spiritual quest of two Portuguese Jesuits (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver in top form) in search of their mentor (a moving Liam Neeson) is a remarkable meditation of pain, faith and doubt.
7. CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
This third outing in the CAPTAIN AMERICA franchise is every inch a blockbuster in the best sense of the word, but it also delves into the repercussions of being Earth’s mightiest heroes. This is what takes the movie from being your typical superhero movie to the level of a great drama. With its ambition, scope and surprising emotional depth, CIVIL WAR sets both head and heart running.
6. A MONSTER CALLS
Talk about a movie that shatters expectations with its striking visuals, emotional heft and magical tale of grief and loss. Director J.A. Bayona (upcoming JURASSIC WORLD sequel) paints a vivid picture for audiences to escape from reality and get in touch with one’s self on a deeper level.
5. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
The tragic departure of a family member or friend is something that changes the manner in which we deal with others in a permanent way. Even though it is said that grief is an indescribable feeling, filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan (screenwriter of GANGS OF NEW YORK) does an award-worthy job of capturing that sensation through forceful performances (Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges and Michelle Williams) and nuance.
Every awards season is littered with biopics, but Pablo Lorrain’s JACKIE replaces predictable story beats with haunting experimentation. Through its unique combination of Mica Levi’s scary-good musical score, Natalie Portman’s stunning lead performance and Noah Oppenheim’s memorable screenplay, JACKIE is one of the year’s finest achievements.
3. 20th CENTURY WOMEN
As a person who identifies with the complications of being man with a feminine side, 20th CENTURY WOMEN couldn’t hit more home with its inventive story of an adolescent’s upbringing during a moment of cultural change and rebellion. Anchored by the best ensemble of the year (Annette Bening, Lucas Jade Zumann, Greta Gerwig, Elle Fanning and Billy Crudup), Mike Mills (BEGINNERS) continues to be a filmmaker to watch and admire.
2. EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!
Sometimes it’s nice not to put on the thinking-cap while watching a movie and just hang out. While Richard Linklater (BOYHOOD) doesn’t much concern himself with traditional plot progression, he can cut to the core of humanity in a compelling fashion. His spiritual-sequel to DAZED AND CONFUSED is loaded with laughs, smiles and everything to celebrate about l-i-v-i-n.
1. CAPTAIN FANTASTIC
Every parent wants their child to lead a happy and fulfilling life, and CAPTAIN FANTASTIC is an astonishing exploration of this notion. It’s one of those rare films that comes along and burrows in your brain. Not in the mind-marathon-running manner that Christopher Nolan employs, but in a means that causes you reflect and question your own values.
The Next 10:
11. ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY
12. THE HANDMAIDEN
13. DON’T THINK TWICE
14. SING STREET
15. THE LOBSTER
17. NOCTURNAL ANIMALS
18. HELL OR HIGH WATER
20. THE FOUNDER
Worst of the Year:
1. ZOOLANDER 2
3. MAN DOWN
4. DIRTY GRANDPA
5. INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE
1. MIDNIGHT SPECIAL
2. BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE
3. RULES DON’T APPLY
4. SUICIDE SQUAD
5. JASON BOURNE
1. Darth Vader attacking the rebels in ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY
2. Opening of LA LA LAND
3. Winter Soldier flips motorcycle around in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
4. High telepathy in EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!
5. “You’re Welcome,” MOANA
6. Opening credits of DEADPOOL
7. Black Phillip’s “living deliciously” bit in THE WITCH
8. “What’s a fa**ot?” scene in MOONLIGHT
9. Hospital scene in THE FOUNDER
10. Stage breakup in DON’T THINK TWICE