Top 10 Films of 2016
JERROD KINGERY’S TOP TEN FILMS OF 2016
10. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
As the first “stand alone” Star Wars film, “Rogue One” overcame heavy reshoots and the series’ terrible track record with prequels to turn a better film than the warm, fuzzy nostalgia hug/retread “The Force Awakens” turned out to be. It’s far from perfect, and Disney’s stewardship of the franchise is still under construction, but the future (past? It is a long time ago…) looks bright.
9. Captain America: Civil War
Everything that a near-decade of world-building superhero movies should be, weirdly placed in a Captain America movie as opposed to the would-be team up cornerstone Avengers movies. Every interaction feels earned, it introduces an instantly-compelling character in Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther without having to labor through an origin story, and features hands-down the best superhero brawl ever committed to film (or digital, I guess). Only a slight pulling of punches at the end disappoints, but the rest is gold.
Clearly a passion project for star Ryan Reynolds, and a fresh take on the ubiquitous superhero genre—in this case, an outrageously profane one—that rightly masturbated its way to huge box office success. The only bad thing about “Deadpool” is worrying about how Fox will probably fuck up the sure-thing sequel.
Somewhat slight, but quietly shocking, “Christine” finds local news (disclaimer: my actual career) and a tragically damaged reporter (Rebecca Hall) on the precipice of falling dangerously, forever and ever, down the “if it bleeds, it leads” rabbit hole that still leaves a bad taste in the mouths of viewers to this day.
6. O.J.: Made in America
Lots of people will rightly hate 2016 for a lot of very valid reasons, but for some reason it also became the year of fantastic O.J. Simpson-centric entertainment. First there was the brilliant FX drama “American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson” followed by Ezra Edelman’s equally-brilliant “O.J.: Made in America” 5-part documentary. Covering everything from race to fame to domestic violence to dirtbag hangers-on and how they all intersect, it’s a riveting experience, even if you lived through the whole circus.
Despite a climax that delivers a groaning plot point in the middle of a genuinely awesome temporal mind fuck, “Arrival” still delivers a quiet and profound adult take on brainy sci-fi that only descends from the depths of space once a decade or so.
Natalie Portman practically has her name engraved on her second Oscar playing history’s most famous and elegant First Lady in the confusing, hellish moments after the assassination of JFK and during a standoffish, legacy-protecting interview with a journalist in the weeks afterward.
Best described as a series of vignettes strung together as a film featuring 3 actors portraying the same character—a closeted gay black man growing up in the bad part of Miami—that’s equally uplifting and heartbreaking. Mahershala Ali is outstanding as the kind, quiet mentor to the boy in the first third, such a strong performance that the rest of the film never quite measures up to, but the end result remains a powerful piece of work.
2. La La Land
Few films are as immediately effortless and effervescent as “La La Land” is right out of the gate. As a follow up to “Whiplash,” writer-director Damien Chazelle has crafted a love letter to Hollywood—both the musicals of old and the dream of “making it big” that still permeates the souls of everyone with an inkling of creative spirit. If you’ve ever wanted to create anything, “La La Land” will make you want to get off your ass and get to work.
1. Manchester by the Sea
Somehow both devastatingly sad and quietly uplifting, “Manchester by the Sea” features a career-best performance from Casey Affleck as a broken man uninterested in putting his life back together after an unspeakable tragedy—even after the death of his older brother delivers responsibility straight into his hands. Buoyed by fantastic performances by Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges, Affleck and writer-director Kenneth Lonergan paint a portrait of a good man trying and failing to deal with unimaginable grief and slowly moving on with life—albeit at a glacial pace befitting a harsh New England winter that leaves the ground so frozen, you can’t even bury a body.
1. Yoga Hosers
2. Independence Day: Resurgence
4. The Huntsman: Winter’s War
CODY VILLAFANA’S TOP TEN FILMS OF 2016
Every year I have a routine: cram as many films I missed over the previous months into the last couple weeks of the year and then re-watch my entire top 10 to get the order just right. For the first time in I don’t know how long, I didn’t have a chance to do that. This top 10 is EXTREMELY “in the moment” and is likely to change over the course of the next few weeks (especially as we have not yet seen films like Martin Scorsese’s “Silence”) But hey, deadlines are deadlines so here we go!
10. Finding Dory
Hear me out. In the past several years, Pixar has been putting out films that were either high concept and challenging or dead on arrival. There is something to be said for a straight forward, feel-good, and hilarious animated film. “Finding Dory” was Pixar’s best film since “Toy Story 3” and perhaps its, flat out, funniest film ever. The voice cast additions were fantastic and while it may not be the most exciting pick, I saw “Finding Dory” more than any other film this year.
9. The Nice Guys
Even though this is lower than another of his films this year, “The Nice Guys” is true peak-Gosling. He steals the show, showing both dramatic, but more importantly, some really great black comedy chops. Shane Black’s script is fast, smart and incredibly biting and the film event benefits from a great kid performance. A super fun film that probably wouldn’t make my list on any other year, but alas, 2016 has been the pits.
Perhaps one of the more creative films of the year, “Tower” is a documentary about the sniper in the tower of the University of Texas at Austin in the 1960s. Told through animation, Tower uses voiceovers from actual survivors, an incredibly visceral sound design, and a few surprises to become one of the more affecting films of 2016.
7. La La Land
Let me get this out of the way: La La Land is overrated. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t super charming and very good. It’s at it’s best when Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are building up their relationship and falling in love, but it manages to maintain its realism as they go through their tougher times. It isn’t a straight musical like it appears to be, but the songs are solid, and Gosling’s piano playing stands out as true signs of the love letter to a bygone era.
By far the darkest film on this list, “Christine” tells the story of reporter Christine Chubbuck, who..let’s say made her mark in television history back in the 1970s. First and foremost, “Christine” features a stunning performance from an unhinged Rebecca Hall, who gives by far the best female acting performance of the year. Look out for Tracy Letts, however, as a scene stealer who is being grossly underrated in Oscar talks. “Christine” is unflinching in its portrayal of Chubbuck as a pathetic person, which is gutsy considering this is based on a real living person. It’s dark, moody, stirring and very, very good.
5. The Founder
As a rags to riches tale of the rise of one of the biggest global food corporations in the world, it’s easy to see how “The Founder” could be construed as uninteresting. Mix in a totally game Michael Keaton, a strong script and some not-so-well known drama and you have the recipe for a pretty damn good movie. It moves briskly and Keaton’s character goes through a very greedy transition that is fun to watch unfold. More Michael Keaton please.
Warning: This movie. Will. Destroy you. This documentary chronicles former NFL player Steve Gleason as he is diagnosed with ALS while his wife is pregnant with their first child. Unsure of when he will lose the ability to communicate (and trying to treat the disease itself), Gleason sets out to make videos for his son to teach him everything he can before he loses the ability to speak. “Gleason” is the most human film of the year, and unbelievably touching, sad, and yet uplifting. Some scenes are very hard to watch, while Gleason’s amazing sense of humor in his worst moments make the heaviness easier to digest. This is an absolute must watch.
I was unexpected for how affecting and great “Moonlight” would be. We’ve been seeing a lot of coming of age tales, and even ones that chronicle a single character over a long period of time lately, but never one quite like “Moonlight.” It explores sexuality, familial relationships, and personality evolution in a smart, exciting way. Mahershala Ali is phenomenal and should be a shoo in for the Oscar.
2. Manchester by the Sea
A film long in the making, Kenneth Lonergan’s “Manchester by the Sea” is a rich exploration of grief, resilience, and evolving family dynamics. It’s a pretty understated movie that keeps things pretty low key until revealing one of the most gut wrenching sequences of any movie this year. Casey Affleck is really great, using stares into the distance to express pain and Lucas Hedges channels a young Matt Damon to stand toe to toe. Supported by a great script, “Manchester by the Sea” is worth the journey.
1. Hell or High Water
On the surface, the plot of “Hell or High Water” is extremely basic. A pair of brothers, one more crazy than the other, begin to rob banks and are hunted by a pair of old dusty cops. But “Hell or High Water” just goes to show how much a fantastic script and perfect execution can go in filmmaking. It features perhaps the best acting ensemble of the year, with Jeff Bridges standing out, chewing scenery in the way only he can. It’s part buddy cop movie, part bank robbery, and part family struggle. It’s taut, but has room to breathe. It’s dramatic, yet funny. And it’s the all around strongest film of 2016.
KIKO MARTINEZ’S TOP TEN FILMS OF 2016
After watching 227 films this year, here is my list of the best that cinema had to offer:
10. Kubo and the Two Strings
It was a solid year for animated films, from Disney gems Moana and Zootopia to the Japanese fantasy The Red Turtle. Stop-motion animation studio Laika, however, delivered the most unique storytelling and beautifully rendered images. Featuring a young Japanese boy facing his family’s dark past, Laika’s strikingly imaginative fourth project has undoubtedly produced another major player in the increasingly competitive animation industry.
Anchored by the best female performance of the year, the true-life story on the troubled life and shocking death of 1970s TV reporter Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall) is an unflinching character study that explores one woman’s gradual mental breakdown, which leads to her committing suicide during a live news broadcast. Uncomfortably bleak, director Campos scrapes away at the agonizing details of Chubbuck anguish stemming from her stunted personal and professional life to reveal a tortured soul.
8. The Witch
Although mainstream horror movie fans might not warm to its methodical pacing, the unnerving atmosphere director/writer Eggers creates can be compared to genre classics like Rosemary’s Baby. Set in New England during the 1630s, a banished colonial family is consumed by evil forces inhabiting the woods around them. It might sound like a supernatural narrative told before, but Eggers injects provocative religious themes many believers will find offensive and disturbing.
7. The Lobster
Strange and absurd in all the best ways, Colin Farrell stars in this delightfully unconventional dark comedy where single people are forced to stay at a hotel and given 45 days to find a partner or face some peculiar consequences. Greek director/co-writer Lanthimos designs a distinctive dystopian world and questions the idea of typical relationships and how couples connect at a surface level. The screenplay is wickedly funny, tragic and endearing.
Based on the unproduced play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, the absorbing drama by director/writer Jenkins examines—in three separate chapters—the life of a gay African American character as a child, teenager, and adult and reveals a different type of coming-of-age story that takes a compelling approach to cultural and sexual identity. Jenkins emphasizes its sincerity and avoids the stereotypical traps a narrative about a family broken by addiction usually falls into.
5. La La Land
Taking his love for jazz music, director/writer Chazelle breathes new life into the old Hollywood musical genre much like 2011’s The Artist did for silent cinema. At the center of this charmer are an aspiring actress (Emma Stone) and a frustrated jazz pianist (Ryan Gosling), both of whom would like to find more success in their respective creative fields. Driven by an exhilarating score and a handful of magical moments, La La Land is an adorable, choreographed-to-a-fault work of art.
4. Hell or High Water
On paper, director Mackenzie’s West Texas heist thriller about a pair brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) robbing banks to save their family home with an almost-retired Texas Ranger (Jeff Bridges) nipping at their boot heels feels like a tired template. But with a smart and refined script by Taylor Sheridan that is both tense and sarcastic, and a cast of fully fleshed out characters that demand investment, the contemporary Western is an exceedingly enjoyable surprise.
There is no need to know anything about NFL football to appreciate the inspirational life of former New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason. Directed by Tweel, the documentary follows Steve, after being diagnosed with ALS, a debilitating neurological disorder, recording a video journal for his unborn son. Along with a heartbreaking look at an elite and beloved athlete weakening before his family’s eyes, Gleason also offers a profound examination on faith, forgiveness, marriage, and parenthood.
The incredibly moving drama tells the story of Saroo, a five-year old Indian boy who is separated from his family and—20 years later—uses Google Earth to find his way back home. Director Davis taps into a Saroo’s childhood memories to create a delicate link to his new life and give him reason to hope. Far from melodramatic, Lion is the kind of film that will break you emotionally if you’ve ever lost a parent or a child.
1. Manchester By the Sea
Director/writer Lonergan’s expressive and impactful drama, which stars Oscar nominee Casey Affleck as a man who is named the legal guardian of his teenage nephew when the boy’s father dies, is a complex and thoughtful depiction of the grieving process. The range of emotion Affleck is able to convey in such a nuanced way is unbelievable. You can’t get much more human than Lonergan’s script, which brims with sorrow, humor and heart.
Honorable Mentions: 20th Century Women; American Honey; Captain Fantastic; I, Daniel Blake; Indignation; Jackie; Moana; The Red Turtle; Sing Street; Zootopia
CINESNOB.NET’S CONSENSUS TOP TEN FILMS OF 2016
- Manchester by the Sea
- La La Land
- Hell or High Water
- The Founder