Top Ten Films of 2016

It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over

If you thought 2016 was a weak year for cinema then you simply haven’t seen enough movies this year. 2016 had pretty much all the bases covered. We had tent-pole blockbusters like Deadpool, Captain America: Civil War, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Strong animation like Finding Dory, The Jungle BookKubo and the Two Strings, and Moana. Laugh out loud comedies like Sausage Party, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, and The Nice Guys. Comedies with a little more on their minds like The Edge of Seventeen, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and Everybody Wants Some!! Gems that surprised everyone such as 10 Cloverfield Lane, Bleed For This, and Sing Street. Films with strong female performances at the center of them, and wildly varied, like The Neon Demon, Jackie, Miss Sloane, and American Honey. Powerful and relevant documentaries like Weiner, 13th, and Zero Days. 2016 was the also the year of Michael Shannon, having appeared in ten (yes ten) 2016 releases. Shannon has solidified himself as the ultimate working actor. Best of his films this year were his two collaborations with Jeff Nichols Midnight Special and Loving, as well as Elvis & Nixon, Frank & Lola, and one more film that may appear down below. Finally, the closest films to cracking the Top Ten were Swiss Army Man and Scorsese’s 25-year passion project Silence. It was tough leaving these two off the list but choices must be made. Hope you enjoy my list and be sure to leave a comment below with your favorite films of the year.

*NOTE: Films I’ve yet to see – Toni Erdmann, Paterson and 20th Century Women

10. Zootopia – dir. Byron Howard and Rich Moore


What better way to tackle racial tensions in America than by using anthropomorphic animals living together in a utopian city? By using the animalistic allegory of predators and prey to satirize our worst internal fears, the folks at Walt Disney Animation Studios have found a clever way to deliver a meaningful message to audiences of all ages.  Zootopia boasts some of the finest animation of the year while having one of the most topical stories. This is animation with brains and heart.

2016 Superlative: Funniest DMV scene

9. The Witch – dir. Robert Eggers

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Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?” one of the characters is asked later in the film. Which is appropriate because everything about The Witch is delicious. From the archaic language of 17th century New England, to the production design, to the disjointing score – the choices made in front of and behind the camera contribute to this film’s haunting qualities. Horror directors take note, this is how it’s done. You can read my full review here.

2016 Superlative: Best acting by an animal

8. Nocturnal Animals – dir. Tom Ford


No other movie this year had me replaying scenes and analyzing frames in my head more than Nocturnal Animals. Tom Ford’s second feature (yes that Tom Ford) is colorful, stylish, sexy, and ambitious. Utilizing a frame narrative, Nocturnal Animals examines a couple’s union and ultimate disillusionment from the perspective of a revenge thriller book written by a husband (Jake Gyllenhaal) and dedicated to his ex-wife (Amy Adams). Oh and Michael Shannon once again gives one of my favorite supporting performances of the year. Here’s to hoping we don’t have to wait too long for Mr. Ford’s follow up.

2016 Superlative: Best toilet scene

7. Green Room – dir. Jeremy Saulnier


Portland, punk-rock, and Nazis. These are the main ingredients to Jeremy Saulnier’s brilliant siege film Green Room. A band in way over their heads is forced to survive the night in a club filled with murderous skinheads. A standout to me earlier this year, Green Room is brutal and unpredictable; a combination of qualities that makes for fascinating viewing. Don’t watch on a full stomach.

2016 Superlative: Gnarliest use of a dog

6. Hell or High Water – dir. David Mackenzie

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Following up last year’s excellent Sicario, screenwriter Taylor Sheridan continues his examination of the modern-day frontier with Hell or High Water. A cat-and-mouse tale of two brothers who go on a bank-robbing spree across West Texas, this film is smart and engaging – filled with performances that cannot be missed. Read my full review here.

2016 Superlative: Best use of cowboy hats

5. The Lobster – dir. Yorgos Lanthimos

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In a world where being single is illegal, lonely men and women live in a hotel together and are given 45 days to find a partner or else they get turned into an animal of their choice. Still not intrigued? Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz have charming chemistry on-screen, and the supporting characters are hopeless and hilarious, chief among them being an evil woman that Farrell meets early on. The Lobster is founded on the best cinematic principles, namely, own your concept and trust your audience to go along for the ride. If you appreciate absurdist/deadpan humor this movie is a revelation, guaranteed to be unlike anything you’ll see this year.

2016 Superlative: Best use of sign language

4. Arrival – dir. Denis Villeneuve


As far as leading ladies go, Amy Adams has had arguably the best 2016. Between this film and Nocturnal Animals, Adams couldn’t have selected two projects more different from each other yet both of them highlight her unique strengths as an actress. Arrival was easily this year’s best sci-fi movie and achieved this distinction without throwing a single alien punch. More cerebral than most films about intelligent visitors, Arrival begins with an image of Amy Adams and travels across concepts of space and time before eventually coming back full circle to close her story. There’s something about her doe-eyes that evoke a quality of tenderness and empathy. Her expressions are visibly subtle yet her emotions speak loudly. Not to mention that Villeneuve once again directs the hell out of this movie. Technically and visually perfect.

2016 Superlative: Most interesting fake anecdote

3. La La Land – dir. Damien Chazelle


Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone reunite for their third feature together (Crazy, Stupid, Love, Gangster Squad) and the results are nothing short of spectacular. Following up his 2014 critical darling Whiplash, Damien Chazelle has finally been given the freedom to make his dream project a reality. Developing the idea for La La Land almost a decade ago with his college roommate Justin Hurwitz (who also composed the music for the film), Chazelle has been long incubating his vision for a modern-day musical set against the backdrop of Los Angeles and the dreamers that inhabit the city. The songs are splendid, the sets are colorful, the camera is wild, and you can tell the actors are enjoying every minute of it. I know this is ultimately Emma Stone’s film but I have to ask: Is there anything The Gos can’t do?

2016 Superlative: Best use of a car horn

2. Moonlight – dir. Barry Jenkins


And then there were two, and what a two they are. First up is Moonlight, which tells the story of Chiron – a poor black youth struggling to reconcile growing up on the streets of Liberty City, Miami with his questioning sexuality. What can be said about this movie that hasn’t been already? The cinematography is beautiful and Mahershala Ali knocks it out of the park in his best role yet as “Juan,” a drug-dealer who becomes a father-figure to young Chiron. By exploring a life so specific and marginalized, director Barry Jenkins reaffirms the power of cinema to connect us all. Profound, sincere, and deeply melancholic, Moonlight represents filmmaking at it’s most sensitive and understanding.

2016 Superlative: Best use of a school chair

1. Manchester By the Sea – dir. Kenneth Lonergan


2016 was by many measures a year to forget. Which is perhaps why my favorite film of the year was also one of the most tragic. In Manchester By the Sea, Casey Affleck plays a Boston handyman whose brother’s recent passing forces him to reluctantly go back home and care for his teenage nephew. Complications arise as ghosts from his past resurface and his emotional limits are tested. Affleck makes it look too easy and his ex-wife played by the mesmerizing Michelle Williams steals every scene she’s in (including a devastatingly painful reunion in an alleyway). Lonergan is one of our great humanists indeed, probing the human condition with equal parts comedy and equal parts tragedy.

2016 Superlative: Saddest grocery shopping trip

What are your thoughts on this list? What films did I miss? Leave a comment below and see you in 2017!


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