Yes, I know. Nearly everyone has already completed, posted, and fought over their year-end lists. And I’m sure many people would like to forget 2016 as soon as possible.
But, because society loves lists, and I don’t feel like writing a real post, I’ve decided to share my favorite films of 2016 – and there were some great ones!
While it’s not reflected by the few reviews I actually managed to get up on the site, I saw a somewhat excessive number of films this year – more than 50 releases from 2016 alone. And, I still have a ton to get to on my list, with Moonlight and Hacksaw Ridge coming to mind.
Before we get into the list, though, I want to make clear that these were the films I found most entertaining and/or those that had the greatest impact on me. I’m not suggesting I think these are all on the same level as “great films,” whatever that means, nor do I like them all for the same reason. I’ll also be the first to admit that there were some widely acclaimed films this year that I thought were good, but not great (Arrival), as well as those that received acclaim but didn’t really land, in my opinion (Nocturnal Animals, Anomalisa).
Since most things these days are top tens, I decided to compile my elite eleven (in order of release date).
*Note: Some of these may have already gone through awards season or were released at a festival in 2015, but for the most part I’m going with those that received a wide U.S. release in 2016 according to IMDb.
I didn’t exactly ease myself into 2016 with this one. An incredibly powerful film, Room spotlights the struggle and escape of a woman (Brie Larson) and her son (Jacob Tremblay) from being held captive in suburban America. Adapted from the Emma Donoghue novel of the same name, Room creates an all-too-real living nightmare that can often be difficult to watch.
While not for the faint of heart, Room makes my list for delivering some of the year’s best performances – Larson won a much-deserved Oscar for Lead Actress and Tremblay offers up a great performance for any actor, let alone a kid.
And that’s not to say it’s only on here to be the token animated film, because realistically Zootopia was one of the best films I’ve seen this year – period. It’s fun and adventurous, funny, and surprisingly real, addressing relevant social issues like prejudice and profiling while encouraging viewers to take responsibility for change. (You may roll your eyes at that line and think, “yeah, I’m sure that’s what that ‘kids’ movie was talking about,” but you should see for yourself.)
10 Cloverfield Lane
Now generally speaking, I’ve never been one to actively seek out scary movies. But even with that being the case, there’s no way I was the only audience member who was simultaneously tense, squirming in my chair, and suffering from shallow breathing throughout the entire film. While veteran horror fans may try to convince me they were unfazed by 10 Cloverfield Lane, I don’t buy it. The film is a full-on assault.
It’s an assault on the idea of humanity. It’s an assault on your psyche. It’s an assault on your ears. And I loved it. You can check out my full review here.
Captain America: Civil War
What sets Captain America: Civil War apart in the superhero genre is its willingness to get its hands dirty on a more human level. The film really digs into painful character memories and creates all new friction, testing the bonds of friendship, romantic relationships, and so much more.
The reason this is technically a Captain America film and not another Avengers? I’d say mostly because Cap is central to the biggest tests. Cap and Tony. Cap and Bucky. Cap and Carter. You get the idea, and can check out my full review here.
I can say with complete certainty that this was, hands down, the most original film I saw all year. If you’re not familiar, the basic idea is that single people are obligated to find a romantic partner within 45 days of staying at this ‘Hotel’ or else they’re transformed into an animal. In the protagonist’s case (Colin Farrell), this animal is a lobster.
It’s a dark comedy in every sense of the phrase, while also being an oddly revelatory story about love and the nature of relationships. The no-nonsense style and delivery of otherwise absurd lines is also key to creating the perfect flair for this dystopian dramedy.
I do feel the need to warn you, however, that there are a number of scenes I’ll qualify as disturbing. In nearly any other context, they’d be strictly cringe inducing. But, somehow, in this film, you may catch yourself laughing at something truly terrible. Or maybe that was just me. I like to think that’s what director Yorgos Lanthimos intended.
The Nice Guys
I truly wonder if Ryan Gosling realizes just how funny he is. I know, I know, he was born to play the dreamy lead, but this guy should be making more comedies because The Nice Guys was one of 2016’s best surprises. Offering a 1970s L.A. spin on the buddy copy/private investigator archetype, Gosling teams up with celebrated tough guy Russell Crowe to investigate a missing girl and the mysterious death of a porn star.
It’s funny, without being debaucherous (which it could have very easily fallen into), and offers an unexpectedly ‘soft’ center. Unfortunately, unlike many on this list, it would seem to me that The Nice Guys was criminally underappreciated in 2016 (it only grossed $36 million domestically on an estimated $50 million budget, and I know that there were only about seven other people in the theater with me when I saw it). You should rent it from home.
Hell or High Water
Sometimes a film just gets you. For me, this was one of those times.
Hell or High Water is a good ole West Texas shootout, as brothers Chris Pine and Ben Foster rob the local banks to pay down the mortgage on their family’s land. A modern-day Robin Hood of sorts, Hell or High Water delves into the heart of the gray area between right and wrong. Yes, it’s wrong to steal (and can often lead to worse). But wasn’t it also wrong for the bank to take advantage of you in the first place? Like any good western, it floats the question as to when it’s okay – if ever – to take the law into your own hands to find justice.
Both the brothers and the law enforcement team tracking them (Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham) have an incredible rapport, ensuring there’s never a dull moment or misfire.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Make no mistake: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them sets up far more than a showcase of the universe’s wildlife, and successfully casts a spell on the audience at every turn. I’ll be the first to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the humor, with Dan Fogler stealing just about any scene he’s in with his comedic timing and delivery. The creatures, unsurprisingly, are also brimming with personality. I’d be utterly flabbergasted if after its show(and valuables)-stealing performance, you won’t also be dying for a Niffler of your own. Or possibly a Bowtruckle.
I confess that I’m fairly easily wooed by just about anything in the Harry Potter universe, but you can read my full thoughts here.
Manchester by the Sea
Controversy around its lead not withstanding, Manchester by the Sea was one of the most complete and overpowering films of the year. I laughed, I cried, I was left breathless, and there wasn’t a single moment where I was bereft of some kind of emotion. How anyone could cope with the life laid out for Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) I can’t begin to imagine.
Manchester by the Sea isn’t fancy, it’s not set anywhere exotic (Massachusetts), and chances are you have experienced or know someone who’s experienced at least one of the challenges the film explores. And that’s what makes it real and the performances all the more incredible.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
I can’t claim to be a Star Wars devotee, but I don’t see how anyone could take much issue with Rogue One. Setting up the original Star Wars (A New Hope), Rogue One tells the story of how the Rebel Alliance worked to steal the plans for the Death Star.
Gareth Edwards hit his mark, delivering a film that is as much a war story as it is a space odyssey. The characters are expertly constructed, each flawed in their own way but capable of realistically growing into what the story needs them to be. And I was impressed with how well Rogue One held my interest and remained entertaining despite the fact that the outcome is all but known going into it.
Felicity Jones joins the late Carrie Fisher and revelatory Daisy Ridley as a strong female lead in the series (sorry, Natalie Portman, but I love you in just about everything else!), and the rest of the cast brings unique angles to a universe that is finally becoming more diverse. It’s a great addition to the Star Wars canon.
La La Land
Comedic. Romantic. Fantastic. La La Land is uniquely un-2016: it’s not flashy, but is still unquestionably dazzling.
It’s a fitting homage to a bygone era of film, displaying the combination of acting, singing, dancing, and charm that was once expected of every feature. Its nostalgic feel even almost made me forget its modern-day setting on numerous occasions.
I will concede that you can’t expect to enjoy this going into it if you hate musicals, but I mean, c’mon.
Otherwise, it’s a hell of a ride. The chemistry between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone is beyond reproach at this point. And the songs are incredibly bouncy and catchy (I’ve had “Someone In The Crowd” stuck in my head for over two weeks now). It’s a must-see – twice if you’re me.
Honorable Mentions (by release date):
Feel free to let me know if you saw any great films this year that you think I might have missed, and here’s to setting our sights on what’s coming in 2017 like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Beauty and the Beast, Wonder Woman, The Circle, and many others.
*Side note: that ended up being more work than a regular post. I guess the joke is on me.