This year has been sort of a dull year for the cinema but there was still much to love about film in 2016. With the Oscars on tonight, I give you my top ten of 2016, as the Academy and I agree way more than we have in the past. Before we get into the list, here are some honorable mentions.
As I said before, 2016 was a dull year but there were some movies that did not make the cut that I believe are worthy of your time. Two blockbusters stuck out for me this year with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Captain America: Civil War. Both are satisfying popcorn flicks while adding some more quality to their respective series. Sing Street may have a terrible ending but for most of its running time it is a lovely musical comedy with a great original soundtrack that will have you stuck in the 80s pop rock scene. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping was the funniest film of the year which makes it disappointing that the film has struggled to find a wide audience. If you love slap stick comedy, Popstar is about as good as it gets. The Jungle Book was one of the year’s biggest surprises with some revolutionary special effects and just barely did not make the list (maybe with a better 3rd act the film would have made it). The last honorable mention is Mike Nichols’s Loving which will be slow for some, but is a welcome independent spin on the historical drama genre (oppose to the decent Hidden Figures).
The Top Ten of 2016
10. The Witch/Don’t Breathe
I am cheating to make a list with 11 films but I want to honor two great horror films. One (The Witch) is low on the scares but has a creepy and affective story as the other (Don’t Breathe) is a great suspense thriller with some great jump scares. Along with The Conjuring 2, 2016 was a great year for horror films.
Science Fiction films are experiencing a renaissance as of late. Arrival can go alongside Ex Machina, Moon, District 9, Inception, Looper, Gravity, Under the Skin and many others as being a shining example of the genre. Look for this film to grow a bigger audience as time goes on.
8. Everybody Wants Some
A spiritual follow up to Dazed and Confused, Linklater is the king of making movies with relatively no plot. This movie literally just follows around an incoming freshman baseball player on his first weekend at college. Just like the Sunset series and Boyhood, Everybody Wants Some works because of its strong ensemble (especially Glen Powell) and the way it captures life without the need to add a Hollywood premise to it. Sometimes people, places, and things are interesting enough.
I actually just got done watching Fences today as I write this and there is a reason for that. I honestly just wasn’t interested in seeing a two hour acting showcase with Washington trying to act his way to an Oscar. Obviously with it appearing on this list, Washington and company surprised me with a great rendition of a Pulitzer Prize winning play. The acting carries the film as Fences is one of the best play to screen adaptions I have seen in a long time.
6. The Lobster
This strange black comedy sort of came out of no where this year. The Lobster is a satire of societies obsession with marriage and plays sort of like an Animal Farm type of story. Once you can kind of make out what it is trying to say, you can see that this is one of the most refreshing takes on modern love and mans search to find the right partner.
5. Kubo and the Two Strings
Laika studio hadn’t really followed up the masterful Caroline with anything exceptional until this year with the best adventure film of the year. Kubo and Two Strings is also the best animated film of the year with some great performances and Laika’s signature animation being used in just the right ways.
4. Hell or High Water
This is a great extension of the The No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood type of new modern western. Taylor Sheridan writes a great script that rivals his brilliant Sicario as he is helped with great performances from Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, and Ben Foster. Hell or High Water is the type of film that needs to be discovered by the masses.
Also on a side note, how about that closing scene……
3. Manchester by the Sea
If you thought Manchester would be a bit of a downer, man are you in for a surprise. This film follows a man who loses his older and more stable brother, who had decided to leave him his only son in the case of his death. That is the most basic description of the film as Manchester gets even sadder as our character’s histories are revealed. There is a deep level of depression, regret, and self loathing all throughout the film but it is the black comedy and the fleeting connections that makes Manchester by the Sea a slightly hopeful affair. This isn’t a Hollywood picture with a nice Hollywood ending, this feels like real people dealing with real regret and sadness hoping to just feel okay some of the time.
2. La La Land
Nostalgia can sometimes reign supreme and that is the very case with the wonderful La La Land. The film hits the nostalgia high notes with some great callbacks and a soundtrack that seems like it could have come from a musical of old. But just like The Artist, nostalgia can’t be your only trick as La La Land compliments its old classic feel with a great story that is beautifully simple with just the right amount of fantasy and realism. Damien Chazelle showed in Whiplash that he can direct a film and even though La La Land is not quite as good as that film, this shows (again) a film maker that has passion for music and what it can convey on screen. The best compliment I can give La La Land is that after the film was over, I was exhausted. I had felt like I had been through it all with these characters and just like every great musical, La La Land’s music was playing in my head as I left, to remind me how great the journey was.
It has been a crazy 2016. Just when things seem pretty grim and the future looks like more turmoil, a small and quiet film about life comes out. Moonlight is a film that looks at a human and his struggle to find himself. Countless films have done this before but Moonlight is a very personal journey. This doesn’t feel like cinema with its many clichés, it feels like we are seeing a boy, a child, and a man grow, struggle, and ultimately find some relief. I saw myself and other people in Moonlight which is extraordinary because it takes place in environments and cultures I am very unfamiliar with. This is due partially to the unbelievable acting from the main cast as Naomie Harris and Mahershala Ali shine and all three actors portraying Chiron are excellent (especially Ashton Sanders). Like I said earlier, the film deals with many things I am unfamiliar with, but Jenkins makes this film much more than just a story of an African American child growing up. Deciding who you are and the struggle to be accepted or accepting yourself is relatable for every sex, race, and age. Moonlight is the best film of 2016 and I hope the Academy can go out of their comfort zone tonight and reward this beautiful film.
If I had a vote for Oscars tonight, below is who I would of nominated and who I would have voted (bold) to win:
Hell or High Water
Kubo and the Two Strings
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
David Machenzie, Hell or High Water
Denis Villeneuve, Arrival
Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Colin Farrell, The Lobster
John Goodman, 10 Colverfield Lane
Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Denzel Washington, Fences
Amy Adams, Arrival
Kate Beckinsale, Love & Friendship
Ruth Negga, Loving
Hailee Steinfield, The Edge of Seventeen
Emma Stone, La La Land
Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
Ben Foster, Hell or High Water
Stephen Lang, Don’t Breathe
Glenn Powell, Everybody Wants Some
Best Supporting Actress
Viola Davis, Fences
Naomi Harris, Moonlight
Kelly Thornton, Sing Street
Rachel Weisz, The Lobster
Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea