Top Movies 2016
It took a long time, its almost 2018 really–or at least that’s what it feels like. But this is my list: 2016’s best movies. On Oscar nomination day too. But don’t worry there is an Oscar preview post coming too. The caveat here is that some movies I just haven’t seen yet, its not movie binging season for me yet. I spent so much time grinding out TV and albums over the last few months that I didn’t get to see all the movies I’d like. so in that spirit here are the likely list worthy movies that will make the Oscar preview but didn’t make this list:
- Hell or High Water
- 20th Century Women
Everything else has been seen and considered. Trust me.
Morris From America
This movie was really fun and skillfully shot. And on top of that the performances from Craig Robinson and Markees Christmas are pretty great.
I mean, it is what it is. The modern kids movie is really only getting better, and this is the best version of that we got this year–Sorry Finding Dory.
Marvel is a behemoth and thus has been the focus of many people’s ire. But if Doctor Strange is anything it is a very good version of what it tries to be. Nothing ground breaking or revolutionary but it relies on it’s talented cast and excellent visuals to make one of the best blockbusters of the year.
It’s a new Star Wars movie. But this time it’s not just a reboot of A New Hope and also Felicity Jones can do no wrong. Except Inferno… Inferno was trash.
15. Hidden Figures
It’s a formula, but it’s a formula that works. I don’t know how long it’s going to take before people realize that all these movies are just sports movies with racism instead of basketball. Hidden Figures really isn’t any more than a competent vehicle for its exemplary cast and heartwarming story. The writing and directing may be little more than average but on the backs of Octavia Spencer, Taraji Henson, Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Aleksander Krupa, and a surprisingly impressive performance from Janelle Monae, this film ends up being anything but average
14. The Lobster
Calling this a comedy is one of the greatest cons of 2016. I don’t think I laughed or got close to it once. It’s dry and sarcastic that’s for sure. But it’s also bleak and violent and brilliant. Yorgos Lanthimos is a prolific Greek director whose work I’ve never been all that moved to explore, but I heard so many good things from so many smart people about The Lobster that I really had no choice. Not to mention Colin Farrell has always been my favorite actor, so it was a perfect storm. The movie, sold as a dark comedy, was a pretty rude awakening when I found out that it was actually a post-apocalyptic world that was a pretty heavy metaphor for love. After the initial shock though, it is really an impressive movie. Especially for me, someone who shares Lanthimos’ pessimistic view on love, the story I would the story pretty creative. Colin Farrell is as brilliant as ever: he manages to flex his chops while playing an emotionless man whose only motivation is to not be turned into a lobster. This is the first movie I’ve seen in a theater in a very long time where I saw people leaving. So take that into account if you’re looking to watch this. As cinema it is an impressive achievement. As entertainment it’s a lot closer to modern dance than it is to a Disney movie.
13. Hail, Ceasar!
Four reasons: (1) It’s the Coen Brothers. (2) The Coen Brothers can do no wrong. (3) It’s the Coen Brothers and George Clooney and Josh Brolin. (4) And they made a movie about the red scare that surrounded the film industry at its height. It’s a much lighter look at the era than last year’s Trumbo but in many ways equally as interesting. It’s a movie of stars where everyone gets their time to shine–especially Channing Tatum who gives one of my favorite performances he’s ever managed. The red scare stuff is a little heavy handed at times, even for the satirical tone of the film, but the directing and writing is brilliant as usual and while at times the movie does crawl up its own ass, it’s easy to forget that when the scenes are cutting between parallel storylines with Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Finnes, Tilda Swinton, Jonah Hill, and Alden Ehrenreich. It’s not the best Coen Brothers movie, but even the lesser Coen Brothers movies are a wonder to behold.
Who would have guessed that an R rated comic book movie would have been a critical and financial monster? Me. Actually, I definitely could’ve told Fox that a few years ago. But as they say, better late than never, and your second (or third) super hero is always your best one. I’m glad Ryan Reynolds found a home in a good series. Mostly because he seemed to be getting way more blame for the horrendous Green Lantern movie than he probably deserved. I mean the poor guy didn’t even know what fucking clothes he was wearing until he saw the movie with the rest of us, and by then it was too late. We don’t have to talk about the first iteration of this character from Fox, but to some degree, it is only because of how truly massive that failure was that we got this movie. So… silver linings. Deadpool at the end of the day is just pure fun. There isn’t much directorial vision–it could have basically been shot by a tripod – and the acting from Ryan Reynolds and Morena Baccarin is pretty average. But what Deadpool lacks in cinematic chops, it more than makes up for its willingness to give no fucks at all. A movie that gives its audience all it wants, is never going to be a failure especially if you can deliver 100% of what your fan base wanted since they’ve been almost literally shouting it at you for seven years.
11. The Nice Guys
Probably the most underappreciated movie on this list, The Nice Guys is the newest film from Shane Black, the storied action movie writer and director. You’re never going to hear me say Black can do no wrong–Last Action Hero is kind of a mess no matter how much I might want to deny that–but I have always loved his movies. Shane Black knows how to take stars and put them in roles that are both unexpected but entirely perfect for them with such ease that it seems strange that no one else thought of it before. Why has no one cast Ryan Gosling as the hapless irresponsible pretty boy? Or Russell Crowe as the straight man? This movie just kind of works, despite its hectic plot and pretty uninteresting mystery. Crowe and Gosling are hilarious together and it’s a brilliant homage to the buddy cop movies where Black made his name in the 80s.
10. 10 Cloverfield Lane
If this was a Best Trailer of the Year list, 10 Cloverfield Lane would be #1 by a few football field lengths. Since seeing 10 Cloverfield Lane, I have all but stopped watching trailers for movies I’m going to see already. I know the trailer business and the trailer release grows in importance year after year but I just don’t see the point in watching the trailer for Spiderman: Homecoming when at best all it will do is ruin some jokes and at worst spoil the film entirely. 10 Cloverfield’s trailer was engaging and made me want to see the movie—even after not enjoying the first Cloverfield–but going in I still had very little idea of what to anticipate. Which proved to be in the film’s benefit. The whole time I wondered how evil John Goodman really was. The film represented a perfectly executed balance between mystery and suspense, which is surprising considering that the production team is almost entirely new blood. The three freshmen writers and directors did know enough to take their story to Damien Chazelle, arguably the best working screenwriter today. Team that up with Mary Elizabeth Winstead, perpetual homerun hitter John Goodman, and John Gallagher Jr. and you have a near perfect recipe for success. It seems as though the Cloverfield pseudo-series will continue, for which I am certainly excited. And while I hate to mess with a working formula I do hope we see some of the characters from 10 Cloverfield Lane return instead of making an entire story switch again.
9. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
It should come as no surprise that a Harry Potter film that is unfettered by source material was going to be an artistic success. It is a thankless task to turn some multiple hundred pages into two and some odd hours of film. But the universe of Harry Potter has always been suited to film and I think for the first time in 15 years we finally got to see it’s true potential.. It doesn’t hurt that they cast all English actors and told them to play New Yorkers. I don’t know what’s in the water over there but they seem to turn out talent at the same rate that we do forgettable Disney pop stars. We are now familiar with Eddie Redmayne, who brings his hit or miss stylings to the character Newt Scalamender—luckily for everyone involved this is much more hit than miss—but the real star of this show is Katherine Waterston. Though Katherine has had a long and varied career, I somehow have never actually seen her. If this is the cast to carry the next four movies, I have no complaints. I am disappointed that Colin Farrell only lasted one movie though, both because he’s one of my favorite actors, but also because he was just such a charismatic villain and the best Harry Potter movies have strong villains.
How much can one say about Fences at this point? Denzel Washington and Viola Davis bring their critically acclaimed run of the play from Broadway to the big screen — essentially intact to my understanding. The 2010 production was an undeniable success, winning both Washington and Davis Tony awards. The film isn’t much different in that Washington and Davis deliver incredible performance and, at the end of the day, it is an August Wilson play. I have never really been a fan for August Wilson’s characters, especially his often larger than life male leads that by the end of the play–or in this case film–leave me wanting more. But it’s a small complaint overall. The performances are astounding and Washington has more than proven in the past that he is a talented director. Even if this production is filmed sparely to better emulate the stage version of Fences. I think Washington handles it with much skill.
7. Hunt for the Widerpeople
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is the newest film by Taika Waititi, one of the most brilliant comedy directors now working. His 2014 movie, What We Do In The Shadows, can still make me laugh. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is not really like anything I’ve seen before. It has the humor of much of the work that Waititi is known for like What We Do In The Shadows and The Inbetweeners but it also has a lot of heart despite itself and some pretty magnificent nature cinematography that could even rival Peter Jackson’s. The story of a recently adopted boy and his adoptive father escaping into the wilderness of Australia could have easily been any one of a dozen movies but to make it a coming-of-age comedy is a stroke of brilliance. And to cast the relatively unknown Julian Dennison as the lead was just as brilliant. I rarely find child actors tolerable much less impressive, ut Dennison has a knack for dry wit beyond his years.
6. Captain America: Civil War
I’m aware it’s become something of a badge of honor among all film critics to call every Marvel movie “average.” And probably more often than not they are totally justified in that characterization. But I don’t think even the hottest of hot take machines–think Skip Bayless if he hated movies as much as he seems to hate sports–could possibly say this film was anything other than fantastic. I was doubtful going into this movie for a lot of reasons. While I love Community, it is not a show that I would have assumed provided experience that translated well into making blockbuster films, so when the Russo brothers were announced as directors, I was wary. On top of that, the original Mark Millar run is kind of a mess all things considered so they weren’t really working with the cream of the crop as far as Marvel IP was concerned. Both of those fears proved to be meritless. It turns out that working in the NBC production treadmill actually equips you pretty well to working in the Disney production treadmill – something which I probably should have realized. And then the Russo brothers all but scrapped Millar’s story entirely. There are a select few details that carry over from the comic to the movie like superhero registration and that when it all came down to it, it was Tony vs. Steve; other than that Captain America: Civil War has a wholly more interesting story than the comic. All of what Marvel usually does best combined with a compelling narrative and an interesting villain there is a reason that many consider this the best MCU movie yet.
5. Green Room
This was one of the more depressing movie watching experiences I’ve had. The only thing that comes close to it is the first time I saw The Dark Knight and in leaving the theater, remembered there would never again be a Heath Ledger film. Anton Yelchin gives one of my favorite performances of the year and, not long after its release, dies in a tragic accident. It’s always sad to lose a talent like Yelchin but especially so early into his career. Setting that aside, this is one of the best action, thriller, suspense films I’ve seen in a really long time. Green Room is the newest film by slasher director turned indie sensation, Jeremy Saulnier. The story of a band of starving artists living off shit gigs who then get held hostage by a group of neo-nazis turns dark fast. Dark and impressively violent. The film isn’t a slasher film, or a shoot-em-up. What it is is extremely tense drama punctuated with moments of absolute brutality. And like the film itself, the brutality is up close and personal. If you don’t think you can sit through a seen where a man is essentially gutted in excruciating detail, then Green Room is not the film for you. But if you get through those challenging scenes there is much to admire in this film. Not only Yelchin’s acting but the performances of the entire cast are riveting. From television alumni Alia Shawkat and Joe Cole to veteran Patrick Stewart, there is little to deride about the movie.
4. Manchester By The Sea
There were two Malloy brothers in the Ocean’s series. One of them is collecting middlingly average CBS drama checks and Entourage residuals. The other is a few inches away from collecting his first statue. I’m not saying that Casey Affleck came out on top, but I had to double check that Hawaii Five-O was even still on TV before I wrote this blurb. Manchester by the Sea is typical best actor fodder. Like The Revenant, The Theory of Everything, Dallas Buyers Club, and Lincoln in prior years, this movie is about a complicated and troubled man struggling with the hardships that life repeatedly and unrelentingly throws at him. Not to say that formula is bad. Some of the best movies are formulaic. Romantic comedies, psychological thrillers, noir — there are plenty of ways to take something commonplace and make it extraordinary. Manchester by the Sea succeeds in spades. The highlight was the all-star cast; not only Casey Affleck but Kyle Chandler and especially Michelle Williams, who delivers one of the most emotionally devastating scenes in a movie I’ve seen in quite some years. And in the silliest bureaucratic Oscar moment she will lose her best support actress award to lead actress Viola Davis. The suffering of a regular man is a story that will work until the end of time, as long as it’s executed with the care and class executed in Manchester by the Sea. Admittedly such execution is rare, as it’s hard to find a leading man as good as Affleck and a director and writer as fine as Kenneth Lonergan.
Dennis Villeneuve has proved himself over the last few years to be one of the best working directors. His movies often get overlooked because they are accessible. It’s weird to say that someone is knocked because they make movies that are fun for everyone to watch but I don’t think that anyone that pays attention to the current climate of prestige filmmaking would disagree. Just look at the last five best picture winners: Spotlight, Birdman, 12 Years a Slave, Argo, and The Artist. All great movies, but hardly competitions for blockbusters at the box office. Sicario was a bleak and character-driven look at the Mexican cartel and our country’s troubling role in the drug trade. And this year, Arrival was an amazing story of time and the questions around morality in relation power that every superhero movie ever has posed and he wrapped it all in a standard alien invasion movie. For a movie about language it is ironic that Villeneuve does his best work in the silences; it’s amazing the tension that he can build up in a stark Montana field. I also don’t think enough has been made this year of Amy Adams’ performance. As Dr. Louise Banks, she plays the unlikely hero and the romantic lead with equal ability and also works so well in the silences that Villeneuve expertly uses. The scene where Dr. Banks is taken to the aliens’ ship is enchanting and breathtaking. The twist is expertly executed on top of that. And while a movie that is all twist and no film is rarely worth much, that isn’t the case with Arrival. Whether or not you put the pieces together before the “aha moment,” it won’t have a negative effect on how much you enjoy Arrival.
My opinions on Moonlight change almost daily, but the one thing that is consistent is that this is pure and elegant human drama. The phone call scene in the third act is maybe my favorite scene in movies this decade. This is a movie I’m sure you’ve heard so much about, Moonlight has been the talk of the town since October. I’ll spoil the end of your February for you—this is the 89th Academy Awards best picture winner. Though nothing in this world is guaranteed besides taxes and Fast and Furious sequels, this is as close to guaranteed as you can get. Rookie (or basically rookie) director and writer Barry Jenkins brings us this story of coming-of-age in poverty and drug-plagued black America. Moonlight is a film that explores topics rarely the focus of films and often even too uncomfortable for conversation such as male love, both sexual and platonic, homophobia in the black community, and forming meaningful relationships growing up in poverty. Jenkins does an excellent job in Moonlight of telling the story of his main character and not feeling the need to conform to a narrative. The film wholly rejects the standard conflict-resolution structure to its benefit. Instead it tells the story of Chiron as he moves through the three very intentionally named phases of his life: Little, Chiron, and Black. A much smarter man than me could communicate the care and precision that went into every part of this film but the truth of it is that the end product is simply overwhelming. I’ve seen it twice now and both times it had the same powerful emotional effect on me. The final scene of the film is melancholy beauty at its finest. Black—who I believe at this point Jenkins would like the audience to believe is once again Chiron—is touched and loved for the first time in many years, maybe in his entire life. The actors are amazing, as they would have to be with such a sparse script. The veteran cast of André Holland, Naomie Harris, and Mahershala Ali leave a profound impact on the film despite little screen time. In seeing this movie a second time, I was still surprised at how little screen time. But it is Chiron in all three iterations of his life that really steals this show. Played respectively by Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes, Chiron, a laconic character throughout his life, is simultaneously larger than life on the screen and able to disappear into the shadows when the films calls on him to do so. I particularly enjoyed the portrayal of teen Chiron by Ashton Sanders, who some might recognize from The Retrieval though more than likely this is the first you’ve seen of him. We can hope that Moonlight will clean up at the Oscars because we—and not just people that look like me and not just gay people—all need more stories — movies, TV, and books– like this.
1. La La Land
I am 100% the vast majority of people will not agree with my thoughts on this movie. Perhaps even Damien Chazelle himself would disagree. But that’s never swayed me.
My complete thoughts on the masterclass that is La La Land.