The 16 Best Films of 2016

Cause of the whole “16” thing. And also cause I couldn’t make it to twenty, because here’s the list of films I need to see to make it to 20:

  • The Witch
  • Green Room
  • The Light Between Oceans
  • Queen of Katwe
  • The Birth of a Nation
  • American Pastoral
  • Hacksaw Ridge
  • Loving
  • Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
  • Manchester By the Sea
  • Nocturnal Animals
  • Silence
  • The Founder
  • Fences

I’m one away, but I am sure more than one of the films on this list would make it to my top 20, including Silence and Hacksaw Ridge. Anyways, here’s my list minus those films.

Honorable Mention: The Nice Guys dir. Shane Black

The Nice Guys is the latest film from Shane Black, writer of Lethal Weapon and director of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It stars Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe.

The Nice Guys is one of the better original comedies of the year, and when I say better I mean like the top 2 or 3. The story, the characters, everything about this film works, and it’s just a great, charming little film. A lot of critics said the same thing, but ultimately The Nice Guys wasn’t a commercial success.

At times, the plot does get confusing. How did we go from solving the murder of a pin-up model to the Detroit car industry again? But other than that, each character works, as Ryan Gosling is revealed to be this caring father, who loses his wife and has to raise his daughter on his own. Russell Crowe is great for the first time in a long time as a guy who protects people, and who just happens to solve crimes while doing that.

The confusing plot is ultimately what brings it down, but its characters and charm are what put it in the top 20.

#16: Hail, Caesar dir. Coen Brothers

It has been theorized that Coen Brothers movies come in pairs – one comedic, one dramatic per pair. That means that Hail, Caesar is the companion piece to Inside Llewyn Davis, which is a superior film. But I can believe that about Hail, Caesar. That’s for a number of reasons, including that both are about fame and making it in an industry it’s very hard to compete in. While LLewyn Davis shows the world of music in the 1960’s, and what it means to have appeal, Caesar shows the Hollywood studio system, where everyone’s made it and it’s all about staying relevant. For George Clooney in this film, it’s about remaining a good actor late into his career.

Hail, Caesar is also another depiction of the Red Scare, this time in Hollywood, as opposed to in news as Clooney himself showed in Good Night and Good Luck. Clooney’s a bit obsessed with Joe McCarthy and Communism.

There’s a bit of unnecessary clutter in this film, which is why it’s fallen down the lists of the top critics and doesn’t appear in some others. That clutter includes Scarlett Johansson and Judah Hill’s characters, and cleaning up and tightening the film would only serve to help it.

#15Kubo and the Two Strings dir. Travis Knight

Kubo is one of the best animated films of the year, and comes from the studio Laika, known for creating gems of animated movies repeatedly, always making a creative story, always making a creative way of making that story.

Kubo, if you do as your told and pay attention, is made entirely to look like origami. The credits scene proves that it’s not possible for it to be entirely origami, but it all looks like it, and for that to be true is amazing. There’s such effort put forth into this film to make this possible, there was no way Laika was muffing the punt.

Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey are excellent as Kubo’s parents, but the fact that they are two white actors playing two Asian characters is not excellent.

The story of Kubo is one of family. That there are conflicting sides to a family, but when it really boils down to it, as Kubo does at the end, family is family, regardless of action, and that means family takes care of family. Even when we disagree, even when we fight, when family is family we are better for it.

#14: Jackie dir. Pablo Larrain

Jackie is entirely a movie serving as a vessel for Natalie Portman’s acting. That makes it a phenomenon, as it’s been a while since Portman had a vessel that she could do her best work through. The performance from Portman alone is worth the two hours this film takes up, and that’s good, considering I don’t think there was a moment she was absent from the screen.

Jackie is a look at legacy, and what happens when you leave this world behind, and what you leave behind. Jackie Kennedy was a strong woman, who fought through her husband’s affairs, through his becoming President, through his assassination. She wanted simply what was best for her family, including for her husband to be remembered.

Jackie, for me, also serves as a reminder. A reminder that Kennedy set up a lot of pins, but there was no guarantee he would be the one to knock them down. The space program, Civil Rights, Vietnam. All these things are named, but would Kennedy have gotten around to them? The one thing he did in office involved the Cold War and Cuba: the Bay of Pigs. And that wasn’t handled well. The Cuba Missile Crisis was the second most important event of the Kennedy White House (after his assassination) and again that wasn’t the best event in American history.

#13: 13th dir. Ava DuVernay

13th is a stirring documentary from Ava DuVernay about how the 13th Amendment, through the use of two simple words, created the justice system we have today. An inherently racist, broken system, that must be amended. That we have to be careful what we put in our amendments, that the Constitution remains a corrupted, racist document.

It’s also a look at the prison system, also in need of reform. Because people aren’t learning in prison anymore, people aren’t becoming better citizens because we lock them away. That’s what punishment is supposed to be, it’s supposed to be a learning opportunity, that if you make the most of your punishment you’ll never have to do it again. And that’s just not possible with the current justice system in America.

It’s another reminder after a tough year that we have to fight the good fight because there’s people in this country willing to fight the bad one. They may not recognize the fact they’re fighting for the wrong side, but that’s why we have to fight for the right one, for the one that cares about people that aren’t ourselves.

#12: Hunt for the Wilderpeople dir. Taika Waititi

I would be lying if I said that Hunt for the Wilderpeople wasn’t a strange film. It is, but that’s what’s to be expected of director Taika Waititi, who made the incredible mockumentary What We Do in The Shadows in 2014.

Wilderpeople is an absurd look into the Kiwi bush, through the eyes of a child and his grumpy guardian, played excellently and with thorough commitment by Sam Neill, who’s been wandering the forest for years now, but just in search of dinosaurs. At least that’s what he looks like in this film, like Dr. Grant got lost in the forest.

Hector, played by Neill, and his wife are both great parts of this film, though special shoutout goes to Rima Te Wiata, who plays Aunt Bella extremely well. Her character becomes one thoroughly charming, kind, and just in general what foster parents are supposed to be, even while she slaughters a boar in the mud. And that scene is even something special, showing what the film is capable of.

#11: Don’t Think Twice dir. Mike Birbiglia

As a former improv comedian, I understand the importance of quick thinking and living in the moment, as well as the benefits of positive thinking, decision making, and commitment. And I think that in part, Don’t Think Twice is for the collective us, the comedians, who understand the importance of improv and what it hopes to achieve. But the film is also for those who aren’t improv veterans but have experience chasing their dreams, and the costs that go along with that. This is far from the only film to show the cost of dream chasing this year.

It also shows that sometimes showing off does pay off, which is a lesson too common in life, and one that should not be that common. If you’re willing to become an individual and forgot the teamwork that got you that far, you can reach above that team. Even if it means losing friendships and your previous life, if you consider that higher goal desirable, people are willing to do whatever it takes to reach it.

Birbiglia has said that his character is the least skilled improv artist, and that’s true, because the work of every actor in this film is skilled and well-timed.

#10: 10 Cloverfield Lane dir. Dan Trachtenberg

10 Cloverfield Lane can be considered two films, I think. One is a very powerful character study for which John Goodman deserves an Oscar nomination, and not only nomination but an Oscar. His portrayal of a true monster who comes off as odd at first, odd but sweet, but develops into a darker and darker figure is truly horrifying. Scarier than any horror movie in recent years, including good originals like The Babadook.

The other has to do with the ending, and in the interest of avoiding spoilers all I will say is that the ending has to do with part of it’s title: Cloverfield.

The whole movie, you are trying to figure out why Goodman and the other characters are locked away in the bunker. Is what John Goodman says true or is he making it up as an excuse? What’s the truth behind this bunker, behind this large, scary man? He tries to come off as a good guy, but it’s clear that he’s not. That he’s hiding something, and whatever it is is dangerous.

10 Cloverfield Lane came out without much fanfare, arrived in February, and left much too early for Oscar season, but if it had come in October, it would be one of the movies most talked about this Oscars race, I predict.

#9: Hidden Figures dir. Theodore Melfi

Hidden Figures is an examination of a story behind part of history we all know: the Space Race and America’s reaching the moon before the Russians, despite the Russians significant head start on getting into space and getting a man orbiting the planet first.

Specifically, the story is an examination of three African-American women who had a hand in helping America reach orbit and then the moon. And they do that despite the struggle of race in the era they live in. It’s a story not often told enough, and assumedly there are many, probably the majority of the films viewers, including myself, that had no idea of this story until watching it. That is a signifier of an important film, because it clarifies an important part of history, not only for space travel and NASA but for race in this country.

It also reflects well on John Glenn, who died this year. He’s one of the least difficult characters in the film, and he comes off as a very kind man, who makes it a point to talk with everyone, to interact with everyone, well before that was the norm. You become glad that Glenn reached space, and the fact that he trusts another person, regardless of race and gender, in a time when that was a difficult thing to do, to explain, reflects well on his character.

#8: Sing Street dir. John Carney

Sing Street, it says at the end of the film, is dedicated to brothers everywhere. And while the film features actual love songs, actual love, and actual songs, it is meant, I believe, to be a love song to brotherhood, to having a brother who cares deeply for you and only wants the best for you.

For this reason, the relationship between the brothers, Conor and Brendan, is the best in the film. In fact, Brendan is the best character in the film, as he continues to expect and wish for his brother’s excellence. Brendan is deeply caring, and is the ideal brother.

The music in the movie is great, and the final scene, Conor’s fantasy, is remarkably similar to Back to the Future‘s prom scene, though I believe that to be intentional, in which case, well done. Sing Street is also a love song to young love, and to following your dreams, regardless of the price and what you lose along the way (see, I told you). Conor (aka Cosmo) is an actually really good songwriter, and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the character’s fate was to become a great frontman.

#7: Midnight Special dir. Jeff Nichols

Jeff Nichols and Michael Shannon have done excellent work together in the past, including Shotgun Stories and MudMidnight Special is superior to all of Nichols’s and Shannon’s previous works, and it starts the work relationship of Nichols and Joel Edgerton, who worked with Nichols on 2016’s Loving.

Midnight Special is about a boy, a very special boy, one who has powers beyond the mind of humans. But he’s not a superhero, though he’s taking lessons from comic books. He’s just a kid, and his parents, played excellently by Shannon and Kristin Dunst, want to protect him from the harm this world would have in store for him if it knew of his full capabilities.

This is also a film that starts in the middle of the action, one of my favorite things in cinema, and explains itself on the journey. That means that not a lot of the film is exposition, but rather action and dialogue that doesn’t go out of its way to explain the world, but you figure out enough anyway.

The end scene, where another world is shown, is beautiful CGI, especially for a film with Midnight Special‘s budget of 18 million, a very small budget for a film that relies as heavily upon computers as this one does.

#6: Everybody Wants Some!! dir. Richard Linklater

Everybody Wants Some!! is one of the most fun films of the year and one of Richard Linklater’s finest films, just below the Before trilogy, the film is vastly superior to both Boyhood and EWS!!‘s spiritual predecessor Dazed and Confused.

For Pete’s sake, the guys in this one are rhyming along with rap songs and hitting baseballs with axes. If you’re a baseball loving male who loved college, this film is for you. Even if you’re not, it’s still one of the best films of the year. In part, that’s due to the writing by Linklater, known for his philosophical dialogue, and the characters, all of whom are well portrayed by the actors selected for this film.

The film is about baseball and college, but with Linklater’s prowess, it becomes about much more than that as well. It’s really really good, and it’s not a conventional sports film, as it takes brief breaks to focus on the sport itself, but I’d still list Everybody Wants Some!! as a sports film. As such, it’s the best one since Moneyball.

In terms of re-watchability, Everybody Wants Some!! is close to the top of the list for 2016 films.

#5: Hell Or High Water dir. David MacKenzie

I think this is the second love song to brothers on this list, but I also believe that this is a much different love song than the first (Sing Street). This one is full of wrong doing, and sin, and misery, and unhappiness. But it’s still a love song nonetheless.

Cause the elder brother, Tanner (Ben Foster), would do anything for his little brother, Toby (Chris Pine). There’s a part of the film where the two are having a conversation, and when asked why he committed the actions the two brothers have committed through the film, Tanner replies “because you asked me to.”

While that’s also a symptom of Tanner’s recklessness and desire to do bad, it also shows the devotion that the two brothers have to each other. Tanner puts something very valuable on the line at the end for his brother, and it’s an act of selflessness when it’s least expected because of that brotherly bond.

But also, this film has an excellent Jeff Bridges performance the likes of which we’ve not seen for a long time, perhaps not even since The Big Lebowski.

#4: La La Land dir. Damien Chazelle

La La Land is the best movie musical to come out since the golden age of Hollywood ended in the 1960s. Bold statement, I know. That means that the film is necessarily better than Les MiserablesChicagoMoulin RougeCabaretGreaseRocky Horror and many others. But I’m willing to defend that statement, mainly because it’s true.

The performances by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. The direction from Damien Chazelle and the cinematography Linus Sandgren. The chemistry between the two main leads is irresistible. The music numbers, the dancing, it all sets this film apart from the rest of the crowd.

I’ll go this far: there’s far more emotion in the finale than in Anne Hathaway’s “I Dreamed a Dream”. I’m going bold on this one, but I believe all these statements to be true. La La Land comes closer to being perfect as a musical than any since Sound of Music.

One last bold statement: La La Land is as in touch with their subject art (jazz) as Don’t Think Twice is with theirs (improv comedy).

#3: Moonlight dir. Barry Jenkins

Proving that this was one of the strongest years in film in the decade is the fact that there are three better films than La La Land and I said all those bold statements about that one so you can imagine where I’m going with these three.

Moonlight is the narrative 2016 desperately needed, not about white people at all, I don’t think there’s even any white characters in the whole film. And that’s what the year needed, was a de-emphasis on white people and louder voices for the marginalized and the minorities, and that’s what Moonlight provides.

Moonlight, is, ultimately, a story about a black man who’s comfortable with his masculinity despite what would be considered obstacles in normative society, like bullying in his past, his addicted mother, and the fact that Chiron, our main character, is gay. The story goes through his life in three stages, when he is little and meets his male role model Juan (Mahershala Ali), a dealer, when he’s a teenager and being bullied, and as an adult, now very much like Juan.

#2: The Lobster dir. Yorgos Lanthimos

And then we have the Lobster. Though it can be considered a film of an earlier year than 2016, I believe that this is the year it falls into because of its US release and because 2016 was just so absurd and so was The Lobster. So a fitting pair.

The Lobster is about society and it’s requirement for coupling up, and the treatment of single people, especially past (and before) a certain age, as non-humans. This film just goes about saying those things by using animals to describe that “other” treatment of single people. See, in this universe, if you don’t become coupled up after 45 days, or become an animal of your own choosing.

In David’s case, a lobster. In his brother’s, and in many others, a dog. In mine, a komodo dragon. Cause if I’m going down I’m going down venomous. The film follows David as he desperately tries to find a mate so that he can avoid this transformation. We also find out that there is life outside of mainstream life, but that’s a bit too extreme as well.

Both Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz are great in this film, and Lea Seydoux is extremely frightening.

#1: Arrival dir. Denis Villeneuve

Science-Fiction often explores what happens when aliens come to Earth and are less than friendly. Arrival, by far, at least for me, this year’s best film, explores the other side of that, and what happens when all that science-fiction has led to assumptions the human race makes about aliens.

The Heptapods, the aliens in this movie, are some of the coolest looking aliens I’ve ever seen, and appear to be an entirely peaceful race. That’s when 11 of their ships land just above Earth, they don’t make any sudden movements or suddenly strike (at least not right away).

With performances by Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, the film is a perfectly executed exercise from director Denis Villeneuve, before taking on the challenge of a Blade Runner sequel. Every Villeneuve film is based around a color, and as you can see in the poster, Arrival‘s is white. And I think that works well for this film, considering the peace and serenity that occurs throughout it. Or does it? It does. But does it?

The film is also a dive into communication and, considering what’s happening not only with the United States but with countries in Europe as well, I think it’s time we started treating each other like heptapods and started trying to find new ways of communication.


For the record, my favorite film of 2016 was Judd Apatow’s Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.

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