With a handful of bad movies 2016 had to offer, this year had some of the best movies I’ve seen in recent memory. From the bizarre to the unique to the poignant to the surprising to the most fun I’ve had in the movie theater, those are the terms that define 2016 when it comes to film. Without wasting any time, let’s get started with my top fifteen movies of 2016. There were so many phenomenal films.
Honorable Mentions: The BFG, The Conjuring 2, Deadpool, Doctor Strange, Everybody Wants Some!!, Finding Dory, Florence Foster Jenkins, Kubo and the Two Strings, The Jungle Book, The Lobster, Midnight Special, Remember, Sully, The Witch
15. The Nice Guys – Shane Black goes back into his roots of Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and Lethal Weapon to write and direct a buddy-comedy that taking place in the 1970s with ‘80s-style action and irony. I cannot picture a better dynamic duo than Jackson Healy and Holland March, played to perfection by Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling. They work off each other so brilliantly as two detectives investigating the murder of a famous porn star. Who needs toilet humor when you got references to The Waltons or having Gosling do a famous Abbott-and-Costello-esque silent scream when he discovers a dead body? With a good mystery, thrilling action set pieces, a witty script, and a gifted cast, it’s a shame The Nice Guys didn’t earn the money it deserved. I would love to see a sequel featuring these two detectives.
14. Swiss Army Man – When it premiered at this past year’s Sundance Film Festival, a lot of people walked out within the first ten minutes. One of the biggest challenges while seeing Swiss Army Man is get used to the toilet humor. Because there is a whole lot of it! Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheibert – otherwise known as The Daniels – go into a deeper territory with the toilet humor. The corpse’s farts are symbolic for having a connection with one another. Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe star as the oddest pair of characters in years. Not only that, their performances are some of the most ambitious in recent memory. Thanks to its refreshing use of practical effects, the stunts resemble those of Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton. The chemistry is one of the reasons why the movie works. It’s funny. It’s heartfelt. It’s an original piece of work! I have been waiting to a movie like Swiss Army Man for years!
13. Don’t Breathe – Whether you call it a horror film or a straight-up thriller, you cannot lie that Don’t Breathe is a genuinely chilling piece of entertainment. Fresh from directing the 2013 remake of Evil Dead, Fede Alvarez uses a variety of film techniques to build up tension. From the long, quiet tracking shots to perhaps the best example of night-vision filmmaking, this movie pins you to your seat. Jane Levy is a revelation as one of the three protagonists who breaks into people’s house around Detroit to earn enough money for California. Known for starring in Avatar, it’s refreshing to see Stephen Lang to play a horror movie villain. His Blind Man may not see anything, but can hear that something is up to no good. The city of Detroit also serves as an important role not only in this film, but the horror genre in general. It Follows serves as another great example. Don’t Breathe is nothing compared to your typical home-invasion flick.
12. Captain America: Civil War – It’s official! The Marvel Cinematic Universe has finished one of the best trilogies in history! Spider-Man might have been brought in at the last minute, but he deserved to be in this movie! With Winter Soldier, Anthony and Joe Russo bring politics into the MCU. The titular “Civil War” showcases what is funny and thrilling. Funny, exciting, and just as devastating as The Winter Soldier, I had a blast with Captain America: Civil War. Seeing characters like Spider-Man and Black Panther makes me look forward to their solo films.
11. Zootopia – This movie surprised the hell out of me! With a concept that might sound like your average animated film from Disney, it actually has a great message for kids and adults alike about prejudice. While they are different, Nick the Fox (Jason Bateman) and Judy the Rabbit (Ginnifer Goodwin) begin to overcome their negative feelings toward one another and work together as a team. While poking fun at pop culture, Zootopia is the entire package: funny, thoughtful, suspenseful, gorgeously-animated, and rife with emotion. Thumbs up for this movie referencing The Godfather.
10. Loving – After directing the overlooked sci-fi gem Midnight Special, Jeff Nichols goes back to an important time in history. A movie following the 1967 court ruling of Loving v. Virginia would have ended up being your typical sap-fest. What Nichols brings to the table, however, is a subtle and heartwarming tale of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple, fighting for their lives in a rough time in history. Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga have tender chemistry while keeping their dialogue short and sweet. The scene where a photographer for LIFE magazine (Michael Shannon, in his fifth film with Jeff Nichols) is hired to capture the life of the married couple is one of the best movie moments of the year.
9. Hacksaw Ridge – Mel Gibson returns to the director’s chair after Apocalypto to create a graphic but courageous portrayal of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield, in the performance of his career), who never picked up a gun in his life but nevertheless served in the Battle of Okinawa to save 75 people. It features the horrors of war with the old-fashioned drama featuring beautiful 1940s sets and a sweet love story between Doss and his sweetheart Dorothy (Teresa Palmer, in the performance of her career). Once Doss talks about his religion, we immediately know why he never picked up a gun. Featuring a great cast (Hugo Weaving, Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington) and the most realistic war scenes since Saving Private Ryan, Hacksaw Ridge is a marvelous World War II-epic.
8. Eye in the Sky – Wow! Talk about being pinned to your seat from the get-go! Eye in the Sky is one of those movies that went under everybody’s radar. It brings the morality into the subject of modern warfare. Through Gavin Hood’s sharp direction and Guy Hibbert’s miraculous screenplay, what makes this movie all the more suspenseful is it primarily takes place in a surveillance room in London or Las Vegas, or in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. Originally written as a male character, Dame Helen Mirren brings enough sheer confidence and energy into her role of Col. Katherine Powell. With a gifted cast including Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) and Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips), this movie is also worth seeing for Alan Rickman’s final performance as Frank Benson, who has been contributed in the war for a number of years. The final moments of the movie showcase how the brilliance of one of the best actors who ever lived. Rest in peace, Alan Rickman. You will be missed.
7. Hunt for the Wilderpeople – This quirky comedy from New Zealand is one of the funniest films of the year. Julian Dennison and Sam Neill make an odd dynamic duo as they run off together into the “bush” learning how to survive as well as encountering a wild boar or two (which makes for one of the best running gags of the year). Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Thor: Ragnarok; writer of Moana) creates an offbeat comedy about caring for those around you. Juxtaposing the humor with New Zealand’s beauty, I have never laughed so hard yet felt moved by a movie such as Hunt for the Wilderpeople. It features the best Lord of the Rings reference since The Martian.
6. Sing Street – 2016 had a lot of fantastic movies about chasing your dreams. Sing Street is another movie showcasing the talents of director John Carney. His 2007 feat Once is a masterpiece that defies the traditional musical genre. It follows a pair of musicians in Ireland who form a friendship through their passion of music. He goes across the Atlantic Ocean to film Begin Again, following the same structure of Once, but in New York City. While it was great, it doesn’t quite hold up its beauty as Carney’s predecessor.
Carney goes back to his native Ireland to create Sing Street. This movie, which takes place in 1985, following a boy’s dream of making a band to impress a girl, is guaranteed to put a smile across anyone’s face. Featuring wonderful characters you wished you hung around with every day, gorgeous cinematography, and toe-tapping music numbers, it throws every mainstream musical out of the water. I bought the soundtrack after seeing Sing Street in theaters. And it kicks ass!
5. Hell or High Water – Another movie where morality comes into play quite brilliantly. Ben Foster and Chris Pine have never been better playing two criminals who come off more as the heroes of the story rather than the villains. They plan a series of bank heists to save their family ranch in Texas. Jeff Bridges plays the Texas Ranger on the verge of retirement whose last assignment to go out after them. You can really feel the Texas heat, kudos to David Mackenzie’s direction and Giles Nuttgens’ cinematography. The tension of the bank robberies pins you to your seat. Taylor Sheridan’s screenplay is perhaps the best of the year, featuring a lot of razor-sharp wit, especially when Bridges’ Marcus pokes fun of his deputy’s Indian heritage. If you have to pause Hell or High Water at any time during its 102-minute running time (on the DVD/Blu-Ray, the running time says it’s 122 minutes long, which is entirely false), you are looking at a work of art.
4. Arrival – Denis Villeneuve strikes back to bring back the lost art of science-fiction. A form where it makes you think and wanting to see it again and again. While Arrival can be compared to Closer Encounters of the Third Kind and Signs, this movie is more than just your typical alien-invasion flick. It asks questions such as: Who and what are these beings? Why are they here? Do they pose as a threat to humanity or not? That’s the part of this film’s brilliance; is that it transports the audience into a world of mystery and the need to communicate. I hope Amy Adams earns an Oscar nomination for her performance as Louise, a linguistics professor who won’t stop at anything to find answers from these beings. Arrival is what Interstellar should have been.
3. Moonlight – I have never seen anything so devastatingly powerful all year. Moonlight is writer/director Barry Jenkins’ second film which talks about neglect and self-discovery. Separated into three acts, we follow Chiron as a kid, as a teenager, and as an adult trying to find his purpose in life in Miami during the “War on Drugs” era. Every character is portrayed naturally to the point where the audience connects with them. Seeing this movie twice, the rough portrayal of Miami moved me to tears more on the second viewing. I cannot think of a better ending than in Moonlight.
2. Manchester by the Sea – Kenneth Lonergan has created an affectionate, raw, and funny film centering on one man’s grief. Premiering at countless film festivals, Manchester by the Sea earned unanimous praise. Casey Affleck’s Lee Chandler is a stubborn and selfish person who goes through a lot after the death of his brother (Kyle Chandler, in flashbacks) and tries to make it up for it by connecting with his nephew like he did years ago. While it is a depressing film, it also has a deadpan sense of humor. I’ve seen it twice in theaters, and I loved it more the second time. Manchester by the Sea feels as authentic as the culture. It makes me so proud to be from a part of New England.
1. La La Land – This was extremely difficult for me to determine which film as the best of 2016. Both this film and Manchester by the Sea are fantastic on their own right, but La La Land reminds us why movies like this don’t exist anymore. Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, writer of 10 Cloverfield Lane) has created another masterpiece! Seeing this film yesterday at a packed movie theater is the best cinematic experience of my entire life.
From the opening musical number taken place during a traffic jam in Los Angeles, I was immediately hooked. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are electrifying as the star-crossed lovers who are trying to make ends meet by achieving something really special. They provide enough wit, charisma, and rhythm in this miraculous world of vibrancy, expectations, love, and disappointment. Every single shot is truly a work of art, especially the spectacular dancing sequence at the Griffith Observatory makes you feel like you are watching a dream coming to life. From the originality, its toe-tapping, beautifully-choreographed music numbers, and use of tracking shots, La La Land pays tribute to the Golden Age of Hollywood and features the best portrayal of Los Angeles I’ve ever seen. I absolutely loved it!
I hope you enjoyed my picks for the best films of 2016. I’m beyond curious to see what your favorite films of the year are. Here’s to a good 2017!