It is 2017, which means it’s time to look back on the incredibly varying year that was 2016. 2016 in Film was one of the most polarizing in recent memory. Some people will look back and say it was awful. Others, like myself, will look back and remember many incredible films that we will be watching for a long time. Yes, if your film vernacular only extends to the likes of cash-grabbing blockbusters like Jason Bourne and Suicide Squad, then yes, this past year was pretty lackluster. Especially if you, like most people, only go to the movies during the summertime. But while this summer’s big budget films were mediocre at their absolute best, this year was an absolutely paramount year for independent film. Yes, thankfully we were gifted this year with an impeccable cadre of dramatic and independent films that ultimately saved the year. Since I am now a dedicated member of the film criticism community, it is only right that I make an obligatory top ten list of the best films of 2016. This list is completely the subject of my own opinion and isn’t decided by the scores that I gave the films, but rather how much I enjoyed it. I didn’t see every film that was released this year, but I did see quite a few. To avoid any confusion about why certain things were or weren’t included, I have provided a definitive list of every film I saw and the score I gave it at the end of this piece. It should be noted that I will not be making a list of the top ten worst of the year because I didn’t see enough bad movies, but just so you know, the number one choice would definitely be Independence Day: Resurgence. Without question, it’s Independence Day. Now, on to the list.
#10: Hell or High Water
Hell or High Water was one of the films that I reviewed as a part of my 2016 indie series, and quite surprisingly to me, is the film that broke into the public eye beyond just those of us who like to support the independent film market. Hell or High Water follows the story of two brothers who have resorted to robbing local banks in West Texas due to hard times and really proves to the world that you can make a fantastic and exciting movie with a very subdued and simple story. This film is perfect for anyone who is just a fan of movies in general. It has a timeless quality about it that will allow it to be remembered for many years to come. Between Ben Foster, Chris Pine, and Jeff Bridges the acting is all turned up to an eleven and the suspense is delivered with a refreshing and enthralling edge. Definitely see Hell or High Water if you can.
#9: 10 Cloverfield Lane
A film that literally came out of nowhere this year, 10 Cloverfield Lane was the thrilling and wickedly entertaining spiritual successor to 2008’s sci-fi horror film titled simply Cloverfield. Whereas the original’s drama unfolded mainly over the streets of new york, the new one followed three characters who are trapped in a bunker while something mysterious is happening in the world outside. This film has some of the best suspense portrayed onscreen that I have ever seen. The conflict between Mary-Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman was positively electrifying, and the ambiguity of their situation provided for absolutely bone-chilling scenes that take the phrase “On the edge of your seat” to new levels.
#8: Manchester By The Sea
I struggled for a while when deciding whether or not to put this film on my list. Because you see, I can’t ever imagine myself watching it again. For that reason, I considered putting something else here that I may have more fun watching again in the future, but I finally concluded that it would be a disservice to this incomparable film to exclude it from the list. I went into this film knowing absolutely nothing about the plot. Literally, the only thing I knew about this film was that people were saying Casey Affleck was great in it. I even thought the film took place in Manchester, England, instead of in Massachusetts. Since this film took me absolutely aback due to my lack of prior information, I won’t tell you anything about the plot other than the very, very basic idea that the film’s story unfolds in the aftermath of a death in the family. This film is absolutely crushing, but not in the sort of way where a director will repeatedly hit you over the head with imagery designed to make you weep. Instead, this is a very subtle, very raw film featuring an equally subtle and raw performance by Casey Affleck in the lead. I think you’ll be hearing his name come Oscar season.
#7: The Hunt For The Wilderpeople
Another film from my indie series, and one that at the time I declared my favorite. I said it then and I will say it again, The Hunt For The Wilderpeople is an absolute delight to watch. Director Taika Waititi did again with this energetic film about an earnest young boy and a grumpy old man running away from the police in the New Zealand wilderness. This film will put a smile on your face for the duration of its runtime, as the product of an imaginative and hilarious script and two actors that are completely locked into the roles they’re portraying. Waititi delivered a film that truly will be an absolute joy to watch, regardless of your taste in movies.
#6: Sing Street
Yep. If you like music, movies or just simply having fun, Sing Street is the film for you. A triumphant story about a boy, a girl, and a band this movie took the film community by storm with its endearing storyline, majestic soundtrack, and evergreen characters. At no point in this film do you feel bad. That isn’t to say that there aren’t points in which the characters get a little serious, but it is to say that this is a film that will make you feel great about life, movies and friendship everytime you watch it. I’ve seen this film three times now, and each time it gets me happy and excited about what movies can be. If you haven’t seen it yet, put your Netflix subscription to good use and check out Sing Street.
#5: The Edge of Seventeen
After seeing this film, I never would have thought it would have made it as high on my list as it did. I definitely loved the film when I saw it, but I kind of assumed that it would be overshadowed by some more influential films that came out this year. But over the past month or so, I’ve found myself thinking about this film repeatedly, and the more I do, the more I reach the conclusion that this is a fantastic film. The Edge of Seventeen is a film that deserves to be a classic of the coming-of-age genre that most people will simply assume is just a rehash of old ideas. A lot of people have been comparing this film to the John Hughes films of the 80’s yet seem to be unable to quite quantify why that is. I think it’s pretty straightforward. For one of the first times since the 80’s, the characters in this film seem absolutely genuine. This story of a disgruntled teenage girl and her frustrations with the world is one that should stand the test of time simply because of how authentically made it is. Every character feels real and the scenarios are very honest to how life is today. While it is fair to say that I am pretty biased towards this film because of my age, it doesn’t change the fact that this is one of my favorite movies of 2016.
The term “mindblowing” is a stupid one. It’s overused and honestly pretty hyperbolic by nature. That being said, Arrival is mindblowing. The latest film from the visionary auteur Denis Villeneuve, this follows the story of what happens when aliens arrive on earth with a purpose, and how difficult it is to discover what that purpose is when you can’t speak to them. Amy Adams delivers a brilliantly subtle performance as a master linguist who’s called in by the United States Government to uncover just what it is that these visitors want. It’s not often that a film presents something that you haven’t seen before, but Arrival certainly does that. A genius movie that changes the way movies are made and proves that the sci-fi genre doesn’t just have to be occupied by explosions and robots, but can genuinely lead the brain to places you weren’t prepared for.
#3: Kubo and the Two Strings
Stop-Motion animation will forever have a place in my heart. This style of filmmaking truly is an artform-one that takes years to cultivate and nothing but relentless hard work and creative vision to realize onscreen. It is for that reason that Kubo and the Two Strings makes it so high on my list. Well, that and the fact that it’s classical story about a Japanese boy’s journey for enlightenment with the help of his bickering guardians and his magical guitar delighted me like no other. Or the fact that this is truly the most visually stunning film I saw this year (save for the number one spot). I mean genuinely any frame of this film could be framed and displayed in a museum. Or even the fact that this film and all of its majesty surpassed any other stop-motion film ever made. Yes, Kubo and the Two Strings was the best animated film released in a year full to the brim with fantastic animated films. It is one to be treasured.
#2: The Nice Guys
Unlike other films on this list that you’ve never heard of, this is a film that you did hear about but simply chose not to see. You and everyone else in America. The Nice Guys criminally underperformed at the box office, which is a true shame because movies like these deserve to be made more. The Nice Guys is a wildly original film from director Shane Black that is told like a seventies cop comedy. It’s devilishly funny, perfectly paced and miraculously acted. Ryan Gosling gives his best performance of the year in the film and Russell Crowe returns to form in one of his best roles in years. The chemistry between these two as they investigate mysterious circumstances is on full-display as it creates one of the best duos in years. Angourie Rice goes toe-to-toe with these brilliant actors in a standout role as Gosling’s streetwise daughter. This film is an absolute riot from start to finish and deserves your money. Please seek this film out on Redbox or VOD. It’s simply that good.
#1: La La Land
This isn’t just the best film of this year. I would go so far to say that this is the best film in a few years. I’m serious. It’s certainly more impressive than anything I saw last year. I’ve already talked in-depth about how masterful this film is, so I’ll try to keep this brief. Just know this. In a time when people struggle to justify going to the movies often, no film will restore your faith in the industry as a whole than La La Land. This love letter to classic cinema is delivered with such fervent passion it is almost impossible to watch this film and not find yourself absolutely infatuated with each passing frame. If you haven’t seen it, please do you and me a favor and go forth and enjoy. It will change your life. It changed mine.
I do have some honorable mentions: The Jungle Book, Zootopia, Deadpool, Hacksaw Ridge, Captain Fantastic, The Handmaiden and The Little Prince.
If you know me personally or have been following my blog for a while, you know there is one film that I loved this year more than even any of these. Yes, Swiss Army Man is at this point my favorite film of all time. This film opened my eyes to what it means to make movies. This was a film that grabbed me by the heart and barrelled me along a wild and crazy thrill ride. But at the end of the day, I have to be honest and recognize that this film is special to me, but to most people, it will just be another weird indie film for them to not get. While it will always have a huge place in my heart, I recognize that it probably won’t affect other people quite the way it did me. And that’s okay.
Thank you for helping me through 2016 and I hope you will continue to read my website throughout 2017 as well. As promised, here are my definitive scores for all the films I saw this year, either in theatres or by rent.
Captain America Civil War: C
Finding Dory: B
The Jungle Book: A
The Secret Life of Pets: C
Batman V Superman: B-
Suicide Squad: C-
Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them: C+
Independence Day: Resurgence: D-
The Hunt For The Wilderpeople: A+
Captain Fantastic: A-
Everybody Wants Some: B+
The Fits: B-
The Do-Over: D-
The Fundamentals of Caring: B+
The Little Prince: A
Swiss Army Man: A+
Sing Street: A
Midnight Special: B+
Kubo and the Two Strings: A+
Doctor Strange: B-
Hail Caesar!: B+
Morris From America: B
10 Cloverfield Lane: A
Green Room: A
Elvis & Nixon: A-
Train To Busan: B+
X-Men Apocalypse: B-
Alice Through The Looking Glass: D
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising: B
The Neon Demon: C+
The Handmaiden: A
The Nice Guys: A+
Now You See Me 2: B
Star Trek Beyond: A-
Jason Bourne: D
The Light Between Oceans: B+
Hacksaw Ridge: A-
Life, Animated: A
La La Land: A+
The Lobster: A
Manchester By The Sea: A
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: A-
Images are from Hell or High Water, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Manchester By The Sea, The Hunt For The Wilderpeople, Sing Street, The Edge of Seventeen, Arrival, Kubo and the Two Strings, The Nice Guys and La La Land.