2016 was a hell of year for this big blue marble we’re all riding on with lots of positives but also plenty of negatives that drove me to the theater for an escape. While there were plenty of shit-bombs this last year, there was no shortage of great movies to make up for them. The list below is my personal top ten of 2016 and should in no way be taken as the definitive list of fantastic cinema from 2016. Some of these movies will have a review that can be read in full but most will not. Here’s to being more productive in 2017!
10. ‘10 Cloverfield Lane’
I promise this was a total accident lining up ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ at the number ten spot. Dan Trachtenberg’s directorial debut, which just so happens to be an installment in the now expanding ‘Cloverfield’ universe is fantastic. I could not have been more pleasantly surprised by this small, deliberate thriller that no one knew was even coming out even three months before its release. With fantastic performances from John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead and a confident grasp on the movie he was making, Trachtenberg has now placed himself on my list of directors that I’m excited about. His ability to handle both the claustrophobic and spectacle aspects of this movie give me confidence in his abilities moving forward. Anyone who is a fan of thrillers or genre movies in general should definitely give this a watch.
Read my full review here.
9. ‘The Neon Demon’
Nicholas Winding Refn can be a polarizing filmmaker with some saying that he is all style over substance and some shouting from the rooftops all the artistic merits in his movies. As a qualifier, I can say I land firmly in the middle on this debate as I love some of his work and see no value in others. Thankfully ‘The Neon Demon’ is the psychosexual almost-horror flick I didn’t know I needed in 2016. ‘TND’ follows an aspiring model in LA who gets in a little over her head with some predatory peers and is shot in the same neon fluorescent manner that Refn is known for, taking you to an alternate LA where this story makes sense. With surprising performances from Elle Fanning, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee and small turns from Christina Hendricks and a delightfully creepy Keanu Reeves, I can’t wait to revisit this flick to digest it further.
8. ‘Swiss Army Man’
You probably heard about ‘Swiss Army Man’ as the “Farting Corpse Movie Starring Harry Potter” which isn’t entirely wrong, but tells very little of the story here. Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe bring this charmingly absurd tale of friendship and growth to life by turning absurd situations into heartwarming explorations of interpersonal relationships and what makes them genuine. The directors of this movie are previously best known for directing the music video for ‘Turn Down For What?’ which may give you an idea of their sensibilities but don’t be alarmed, their unique voice works brilliantly here and I urge everyone to not let this premise scare them off.
7. ‘Manchester By The Sea’
Kenneth Lonergan has earned his keep as a screenwriter and playwright over the years and uses all of this experience to bring an emotionally brutal and realistic depiction of tragedy plaguing one family in ‘Manchester By The Sea’. With what could be called career-best performances from Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams aided by the welcome additions of Kyle Chandler and newcomer Lucas Hedges, the brilliant acting on display is more than enough to keep you invested and pull you through this emotional journey that will leave you red-eyed. Everything from the sound design to the extras to the camera movements works together to create an authentic depiction of the Chandler family and their experiences. For those of you who don’t mind holding on to tissues while you watch a movie, I can’t recommend this higher. Plus, it will help you prepare for your Oscar pool as there is no way Affleck isn’t at least nominated.
No one I know has claimed that Disney animation has fallen off but just in case you feel this way, watch ‘Zootopia’. It’s easy to dismiss a movie about a bunny cop who tries to earn her place in a police department filled with traditionally predatory animals as silly but with enough laughs and adventure to keep children interested and an overall message that is alarmingly relevant for all of us in the current climate, I can’t say enough how charmed and surprised I was by the depth of this movie. Disney doesn’t save all of their best for the Pixar joints thankfully and I can’t wait to see more animation of this caliber in the years to come.
5. ‘Hell Or High Water’
The western is dead! Long live the western! David McKenzie’s small, thoughtful entry into the western genre ‘Hell or High Water’ is filled with tension and action and driven by Jeff Bridges and Ben Foster aided by Chris Pine who takes a refreshing break from the blockbuster spectacle that’s paid his mortgage the last few years. This is a story about hardship, family and the lengths we will go to help them. For fans of small movies, great acting or just a little injection of western flavor into the modern day, I can’t recommend this more.
4. ‘Nocturnal Animals’
Tom Ford delivered a chilling thriller that was surprisingly suspenseful with a sex appeal and visual beauty you would expect from a fashion designer of his caliber. With another criminally under-appreciated Jake Gyllenhaal performance and just one of Amy Adams’ brilliant outings of this last year, Ford’s use of an unusual narrative structure and varied visual flavor made one of my absolute favorites of the year that continues to pull me in weeks after seeing it. This movie is somehow not universally loved which makes me think half of the Rotten Tomatoes reviews were from folks who didn’t actually pop their screeners into the DVD player. Please see this as soon as you can and let this story pull you in as it did me.
Read my full review here.
3. ‘La La Land’
‘La La Land’ is a movie that isn’t made in the modern day. An unapologetic musical with sprawling dance numbers driven by original musical pieces sprinkled throughout an exaggerated Los Angeles as a love letter to classic films and the town that made them. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling once again use their proven chemistry to bring the love story here to life and do more than an adequate job performing the musical bits which never land flat. If you think you aren’t a musical fan, I can confidently say that ‘La La Land’ will change that. There is no pretension to be found here, only genuine love for film and classic tropes. See this as soon as you can since I’ve only seen it once. Which is not enough.
Read my full review here.
Denis Villeneuve is amazing at two things. First, having a name that Americans can’t pronounce and second, directing movies that I love. His last four directorial outings have all worked magnificently for me delivering varied stories that are all contemplative and filled with acting deserving of all the superlatives available. Denis puts a unique spin on the sci-fi genre here taking the invasion story you’ve seen before away from familiar spectacle and into the more emotional arena. This could be called a story about a mother and a daughter among many other things and Amy Adams couldn’t be better. 2016 is her year! Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker are great as well and the artistic success of ‘Arrival’ has me even more excited for the new ‘Blade Runner’ flick. I didn’t know that was possible.
Here it is! My number one favorite movie of two thousand sixteen! ‘Moonlight’ is more than just successful movie, it’s an important movie. Barry Jenkins approaches this story like a play, which is no surprise given his background, and follows a young black man at three points in his life as he struggles with his identity and how his environment rejects it. This is a story of someone who we never see on screen, whether it be television or film and I can’t stress the importance of this movie enough. Thankfully this isn’t a case of a socially important message-driven film not delivering on the narrative front as Jenkins crushes this. With Oscar-worthy performances from Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris beside the three actors who play the lead character Chiron (Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes) you have a film that deserves to be seen and will receive plenty of love come Oscar time. At least I hope so.
That’s it! My ten favorite movies of 2016. There are some big flicks that have been critically lauded that didn’t make my list, likely because I haven’t seen them. Some of these are movies I chose to pass on, some are movies I didn’t get a chance to see and some are limited releases that have yet to hit the Midwest unfortunately. I hope that this new year can keep up with everything that 2016 gave us, in terms of cinema that is. Here’s to a new year everyone! Cheers.