Monday, January 2, 2017

Best Films of 2016

2016 may have left me sour for a good chunk of it but when it came time to watching movies, my spirits were often uplifted by the amazing treasure trove of talent and ambition. The indies bequeathed a slew of new visions and returning voices. Los Angeles played a key element in many works, from the fictional worlds of showbiz dreamers and private investigators to the real world of a sports star turned pariah. Animation shined and pushed the boundaries of technology, storytelling, and taste. And finally, some superhero films got to be funny again and/or explore new avenues of entertainment. Similar to 2015, my movie-going experience was minimal compared to years past (spoiler: I only saw 59 films). But like what I wrote last year, I was still able to find twenty films that stayed with me for days, played with my emotions so elegantly and made me want to watch them again and again.

These are the films I have deemed the best of 2016. Though I put them in list format, I was equally entertained and moved by all of these films.

Now comes the usual disclaimer that everyone forgets to remember: This list is of my own opinion, not the general public nor the Internet consensus. If I didn't see the film at all or in its entirety, it isn't counted or considered to be included.


1. The Witch

The very first film I saw in theaters and qualified for consideration took on all challengers the following ten months and was able to remain as the champion of 2016. Robert Eggers was the only filmmaker to rock me straight to the core with their movie. I felt tighter than a duck's ass due to the unrelenting tension brought on by the direction, acting, cinematography, editing and most especially the musical score. A bonafide horror classic.

2. Zootopia

Pixar may have earned the most money at the box office but their easy sequel was utterly crushed by the sheer brilliance coming from Walt Disney Animation Studios. The very best of the two releases last year, this magnificent animated film had kids and adults alike marveling at the exceptional world-building and told a genuinely shocking tale of racial intolerance.

3. Sausage Party

Many hate him but Seth Rogen has produced some of the funniest and inventive comedies in recent years. This one, an animated parody of the Disney/Pixar aesthetic of hiding messages behind cute animation and a harsh and humorous look at theology via the relationship between grocery items and humans, is an astonishing achievement.

4. The Nice Guys

Once again able to write a buddy crime flick and set it during Christmas, writer-director Shane Black made one of the funniest and most violent pictures involving Chinatown inspired machinations this side of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

5. Sing Street

The feel-good movie of the year. John Carney again showed how great he is at making musical dramas with this slightly autobiographic tale of a boy rounding up a rock band and shooting music videos in order to woo a girl and escape the troubles of 80s Ireland.

6. Green Room

Jeremy Saulnier took us on another journey through hellish reality with this disturbing thriller involving a young punk band and an army of skinheads led by Patrick Stewart. He also wisely educates you to never leave your cell phone charger unattended and to always knock on the door first.

7. Shin Godzilla

Past films featuring the Big G have often featured political and societal jabs but never to the point where they are blatantly displayed within the confines of the frame. Hideaki Anno did an amazing job giving us a realistic take on what would happen if Godzilla came ashore while also chastising the real-life responses to the 2011 earthquake and Fukushima nuclear disaster.

8. O.J.: Made In America

Who knew eight hours can fly by so fast. Ezra Edelman and the fine folks at ESPN poured through tons and tons of visual material in order to fully chronicle the life of football legend turned actor turned murder suspect O.J. Simpson and how both the power of race and celebrity impacted one of the biggest court cases in American history.

9. Moonlight

Some of the best films in life are the ones that just linger in your brain everywhere you go. Writer-director Barry Jenkins best exemplified this with his artfully constructed look at three major moments in the life of a sexually challenged black male.

10. Manchester By The Sea

Kenneth Lonergan sprung up from the ashes in order to turn in one of the most powerfully quiet family dramas. A brilliant cast hammers home how personal trauma and the subtle displays of discord within a small town can hinder the healing process of everyone involved.


11. Deadpool

Ryan Reynolds was finally able to become a true blue movie star. Newcomer Tim Miller did a very fine job with this uproarious and twisted take on the superhero movie and the nation responded in kindest by making it the highest grossing R-rated film of all time.

12. La La Land

The heavy favorite for the Best Picture Oscar, Damien Chazelle did a masterful job directing this follow-up musical feature to the stunning Whiplash and making us fall in love with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone again.

13. Weiner

As the saying goes, truth is stranger than fiction. In a year full of political scandals, this documentary gave us a true inside look at one three years ago, allowing us to watch as Anthony Weiner tries to keep his family life and future political career afloat during another series of wrongdoing.

14. Captain America: Civil War

Further showing that they're the big dog when it comes to superhero movies, Marvel and the Russo Brothers were able to blend a Seven inspired thriller with the dream scenario of good guys vs. good guys into one glorious blockbuster.

15. Midnight Special

Writer-director Jeff Nichols had a stellar run last year with two acclaimed releases. This was my favorite of the two, which retained his adoration for low-key characters and heightened tension but featured them within a sci-fi tale about apocalyptic cults, shadowy governments, and parents trying to save their super-powered kid.

16. Kubo and the Two Strings

Laika did absolute wonders in the animation department with their latest feature film, truly showing how far and innovate they can go with stop-motion. It might have charted higher if not for the questionable casting of Caucasian actors.

17. The Mermaid

It's very nice when the highest grossing film of all time in China was created from a filmmaker within their borders. Comedy genius Stephen Chow went all out with this hilarious and sometimes violently brutal satire of Chinese commercialism and environmentalism.

18. Rogue One

It may have some notable shortcomings and reignited the debate over CGI characters but it was refreshing to actually have a Star Wars film that underlines the war aspect. Its third act was one of the most exciting times to have in the movie theater.

19. Batman: Return Of The Caped Crusaders

A throwback to the classic 60s television show while also throwing some shade on the gruff and grim take of the popular costumed character, this special theatrical release from Warner Bros. Animation brought a lot of laughs and a nice respite from the idiocy currently inhabiting the DC Comics office.

20. Moana

Weaseling itself under the wire is the second feature from Walt Disney Animation Studios. Not completely up to par in scope and flair with Frozen but it does feature a very refreshing spin on the conventions of the Disney Princess and the story model of "The Chosen One". Plus, how can you go wrong with that great soundtrack and the amazing Mad Max: Fury Road homage?

Next Up: The Worst Performances of 2016

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