At the end of every year, I continue to keep making this list. Sometimes it’s a really easy year to make because most of the films were garbage, but some years – this being one of them – you feel like you’re gifted with a wealth of options. 2016 was a truly great year for original and ambitious filmmaking.
Sure we were still inundated with the usual amount of sequels and tentpole franchises, but this year felt like a filmmaker’s year. People took chances this year and they really paid off (for the most part – I’ll probably make a list of the biggest disappointments of the year as well.) From straightforward dramas told from a unique perspective to sci-fi to musicals, genres were really pushed to their limits this year and that is so exciting when thinking about the future of film.
I could continue to be all gushy about film and cinema or I could just get on with my list – I’ll choose the latter. This was a hard list to assemble because I had to leave some films out which I know I’ll get flack for. One of the best parts about these lists are the amount of discussion that comes from them, so please feel free to let me know your thoughts about these movies or maybe something that I missed!
HONORABLE MENTIONS (Alphabetical Order)
10 Cloverfield Lane- A tense, brilliantly made thriller with one of the best performances of John Goodman’s amazing career.
Deadpool- Comic book movies are becoming so bland and repetitive nowadays. So when this unique and hilarious film started breaking records, people noticed. Hilarious screenplay, smart direction, and Ryan Reynolds nails it.
Don’t Breathe- One of the most original horror films I have ever seen. A truly terrifying premise that is executed to perfection! The use of sound (or lack thereof) is stunning.
Fences- This film just barely missed the list. It’s all about the performances here (perfection.) The best film ensemble of the year. Where it goes slightly wrong, however, is simply not opening the play up for a new medium. You feel like you’re just watching the play- which isn’t a bad thing. It just makes it all about performance. The film as a whole? Lacking. But still an acting sight to behold! (*cough* Viola Davis *cough*)
The Jungle Book- Jon Favreau’s adaptation of the Disney classic is a stunning. It’s an exciting adventure with some of the most astonishing visual effects of the year.
Lion- This movie will absolutely tear at your heart strings, so bring the tissues. Lion’s smart direction makes what could have been a very bland and forgettable story, a movie you can’t help but cheer for.
#10 – The Lobster
Yorgos Lanthimos’ comedy about a society where people are sent to a hotel and must fall in love within 45 days or they’ll be turned into an animal sounds bizarre- and believe me, it is – but it also turns out to be one of the funniest and most original movies of the year. The writer/director is so sure of the tone he wants to strike with his story and his actors, the result is a confident and mesmerizing movie that will spark conversations for years to come. Original moviemaking at its finest!
#9 – Elle
Elle is a messed up movie. It’s opens with a middle aged woman being raped in her own home. Sounds charming, right? If it wasn’t for a Paul Verhoeven’s sure-handed direction and Isabelle Huppert giving one of the performances of the year, this film could’ve gone horrible wrong. Instead, we’re given one of the most intriguing and sexy thrillers I’ve seen in a long time.
#8 – The Witch
It’s almost cheating for me to have The Witch on my 2016 list since it premiered at Sundance almost two years ago, at the beginning of 2015. Since it didn’t hit theaters, however, until early 2016 – it’s going on this list and it deserves to be here. This movie is haunting to say the least. I love when a director can take an old genre like horror and give us something completely new and surprising and beautiful. The thing I love most about this film is: yes, it’s a horror film, but that doesn’t limit it from being one of the most beautifully shot and acted pieces of filmmaking released this year.
#7 – Hell or High Water
Taylor Sheridan does it again! After bursting into the scene last year with his screenplay for Sicario, he gives us another masterpiece of a script that is as thrilling as it is profound. Hell or High Water is a modern-day western movie, but it’s not the action or pace that makes this movie stand out. It’s the amount of profound conversation and thoughts on life that it’s able to convey throughout while still being a heist movie. Brilliant performances mixed with an A+ script made this the movie of the summer for me.
#6 – Zootopia
Who knew that in such a racially-charged year like 2016, Disney would make the most profound film on the subject?! 2016 was a blockbuster year for prime animation at all studios. However, Zootopia isn’t just a normal animated movie. Zootopia may be the most powerful and important piece of filmmaking that our society needs at this moment.
#5 – Arrival
Arrival caught me off guard. I think it caught most people off guard. You go in expecting a standard sci-fi movie and you leave with a cerebral piece that’s more about the human experience than it is about aliens. But we should’ve known better when modern-day master filmmaker Denis Villeneuve is at the helm. Amy Adams gives another heartbreaking performance and the film is a feast for the eyes and ears.
#4 – Moonlight
If you haven’t seen Moonlight yet – what is wrong with you?! Barry Jenkins’ film came out of nowhere to be the darling of the fall festival circuit and win basically every Critics award there is. In an era when minorities and smaller groups are finding it so hard to see proper representation of themselves in screen, along comes a movie about a young black gay man in Miami that isn’t just good – it’s devastatingly good. What’s most remarkable about this film and this story is the way it’s told. Jenkins’ chooses three specific times in this man’s life to watch so that by the time he is grown up and appears as a man with a hard demeanor- you feel nothing but sorrow and empathy for him and all that he has been through. It’s heartbreaking, but it’s so magical to watch.
#3 – Jackie
Natalie Portman. Natalie Portman. NATALIE PORTMAN. Shall I say it again?! Our generation’s Meryl Streep gives us a masterful performance as the former First Lady. But that’s not the only reason I have this so high on my list. I have never seen a biopic that is so uniquely told, from such a specific viewpoint, and yet you completely understand the woman at the end of this film. They could’ve chosen to make a film about Jackie growing up, becoming First Lady, etc. (standard biopic material.) However, by focusing on this one horrible week of her life and how she manipulated the story so that her legacy would be secured exactly as she wanted it- fucking genius. And on top of that, having Chilean filmmaker Pablo Lorraine helm this film gave it so much more weight and made it a unique theatrical experience. Brilliance all around.
#2 -Manchester by the Sea
I’ll start this segment by saying, I think Manchester by the Sea is a PERFECT film. I think it is the best made film of the year. From a brilliant Arther Miller-ian script, pitch perfect performances, exact direction, and subtle but masterful craft execution, I don’t think you get a more perfect film this year. I was enthralled by the silence of this movie. Lonergan takes you with his characters to the very lowest of lows and adds layer upon layer upon layer – and yet , (this is the hard part) never lets his voice as a writer or director judge what these people are going through. It’s not an easy film to sit through- gut-wrenching to say the least. But the honesty and the power of this film are something that will stay with you long after leaving the theater.
#1 – La La Land
I won’t lie, I struggled with if I wanted to put this at number 1. First of all, it’s what everybody is doing right now and I try to be different. Secondly, like I previously stated, I don’t think it is the best made film of the year. There are some obvious script issues, but that aside. Ultimately, it is my favorite and here’s why…
Was there any more magical moment this year than Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling waltzing through the stars? La La Land is a movie that hasn’t left me since the first time I saw it in the theater. I can’t remember the last time I smiled so much or had such a joyful time in a cinema. I love musicals. From classics to our more modern ones, there’s just something so magical about combing music with film that will always make my heart soar. La La Land succeeds so well at bringing back that old charm that you used to get with musicals of the 40’s and 50’s.
Damien Chazelle’s previous film “Whiplash” was at the Number 1 spot on my Top 10 list in 2014, so he now has a perfect score with me and will be a director I’m excited to follow for years to come!
La La Land is a special film that absolutely deserves all the recognition it has received and is about to receive this awards season. I hope it is a sign to studios that original and creative films like this deserve to be given a chance- take a risk every once and a while. Sometimes they pay off- in very large ways.
That’s it! Happy New Year guys! Happy Awards Season and let’s hope 2017 is an even bigger year for film!