Top 10 Movies of 2016

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With 2016 officially over, it’s time to look back on the movies of the year (at least for me it is). With all the complaints for 2016, one of them was that it just wasn’t a great year for movies. And while it’s true, there certainly weren’t a whole lot of noteworthy movies (I struggled to find 10 for the list), there were still a few diamonds in the ruff. So here’s my favorite movies of many people’s least favorite year.

1.  Manchester by the Sea

Yeah, my top two are sad movies. So what? Sad movies are the ones that feel the most real. And no other movie had quite the impact on me than Manchester by the Sea. It’s a movie about grief and how people do or do not deal with it. And anyone who has ever gone through grief can see how well Manchester depicts it. Manchester was also the only movie that surprised me. In two ways. The first was the plot, which the trailers have done a remarkable job in keeping a secret (something that can’t be said for the critics, so don’t read any reviews for the movie. Unless it’s mine). The second was the humor, which was funnier than a lot of comedies I’ve seen. By now Casey Affleck’s name is written in stone as the performance of the year, and that’s a title he earned. But don’t overlook Michelle Williams, who shines so brightly in her few scenes that she almost steals the show, especially with her quiet one-on-one conversation with Affleck in possibly the most heartbreaking scene I’ve ever seen. Don’t let this discourage you from seeing Manchester. It’s funny, sad, perfectly written and performed, and most importantly, human. It really is the best movie of the year.

2.  Moonlight

Last year I said my top four picks could be interchangeable for number one. This year wasn’t as strong, and only my top two I could see in my top position. But man was it hard to pick between the two. Calling Moonlight number two isn’t quite fair, it’s more of a number 1B, just a wee notch below 1A (above). Moonlight is not only great for the reasons I can think of (performances, direction, writing, screenplay,  the sheer emotional weight), but for reasons I don’t know yet. When I first saw it, I didn’t think much of it. It wasn’t until the days and weeks afterwards that it began to grow inside me. Chiron feels less like a character written for the screen but as a person I once knew. People like Chiron exist out there, and even though I’ve never meet anyone like him, watching Moonlight made me feel like I did. It also filled me with empathy and understand, a feeling that is unspeakably significant, not only for a movie but for a social cause.

3.  La La Land

Best movie of the year? At one time I thought so, but now not so much. There’s a few flaws that hold it back. The singing songs and scenes are a bit underwhelming, the dancing isn’t quite on par with the Kelly/Astaire classics this so aspires to be, the plot is kind of generic and predictable. But there’s enough charm and energy throughout La La Land to compensate. The instrumental songs are absolutely lovely and should make every eye that sees this water up. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling (who had a great year between this and The Nice Guys) are as charming as ever. The colors make it feel like a candy store that came alive. And if it may not be as good as the musicals is aspires to be, that final dance sequence is as close as any movie has come since then. That’s certainly worth something.

4.  Love & Friendship

Why oh why did this have to be released so early in the year? Doesn’t Amazon know everyone forgets movies released in May? Don’t more people know that this movie shouldn’t be dismissed? Do you know how hard it is to make Jane Austen interesting to watch, let alone funny? Will someone other than me adknowledge Whit Stillman has made his best movie yet? Will Hollywood realize Kate Beckinsale is so much better than the Underworld movies they keep sticking her in? Is there an answer to any of these questions? I don’t know, but if more people would watch Love & Friendship more people would be asking them.

5.  Jackie

Yes, I know what I said about Sully and how biopics should be made. But Jackie is an exception too, since it also doesn’t play to the normal routine of the biopic either. The scope is smaller, it’s shot like a documentary, there’s an almost gothic feel to the whole thing, and it feels much more intimate than you’d expect from a movie about someone as famous as Jackie Kennedy. I still feel Natalie Portman should be given an Oscar for her spot-on portrayal of the grieving First Lady, even if the Academy and other award circuits may disagree.

6.  Paterson

Nothing happens again in Jim Jarmusch’s new movie. And once again that’s a great thing. Other than Jarmusch himself, only Richard Linklater can get away with making a movie about nothing. And even he isn’t able to pull of “boring” and “repetitive” in a movie the way Jarmusch can. Paterson is a week in the life of a bus driver named Paterson. He has his routine, and everyday he more-or-less does the same thing. Instead of becoming tedious, it actually grows on you and develops a rhythm. After a while it’s not hard to see a part of yourself in Paterson.

7.  Indignation

A bit of an overlooked film this year, which I can understand. I don’t know what the marketing team thought when they were given this one, because even after seeing it back in September I had a hard time explaining it to people. It’s adapted from the Philip Roth novel of the same name, possibly the greatest author alive who is infamous for being hard to adapt. So far Indignation is the only good one. The best way I can describe it is as a coming-of-age movie about a Jewish kid (Logan Lerman) going to a strict conservative college away from home in Ohio. Months later I still have a hard time putting in words why I liked it, but I know it deserves its spot here. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t feel structured like a movie. It feels like the image you have in your head when you read a novel (credit to James Schamus, who also directed). Maybe it’s because of Tracy Letts, who only only real scene is a 15 minute argument with Lerman that alone should earn him and Schamus Oscar nominations (but won’t). Or maybe it’s for that final literal minute of the movie that brings it full circle and packs a punch I did not see coming. In either of those cases, I left the theater with an odd feeling in my stomach thinking about it. That feeling hasn’t gone away, and I’m still thinking about it. Maybe that’s why I liked it.

8.  Sully

Man did I like this movie more than I expected. Usually biopic, ripped-from-the-headlines movies are supposed to be generic and cloying. Turns out Clint Eastwood’s no-nonsense filmmaking is a perfect remedy for this. Much like Eastwood himself, Sully is lean and has no fat on it. In only 88 minutes it tells us about the miracle on the Hudson as straightforward as it can. He lands the plane, testifies, then goes back to his normal life. The end. It works so effectively that it should be used as a model for future biopics. Knowing that Sully lands the plane isn’t what makes us hold our breath. The fact Eastwood shoots the scene in real-time and without a score, and as a result makes you feel like you’re in the plane, makes you hold your breath. The man is 86 and still making better movies than most people a fourth or a third of his age.

9.  Hail, Caesar!

A Coen Brothers movie came out this year. How is this not a bigger deal? People should be given a day off from work to go see their movies, like election day. Even their lesser ones are still unique and worth watching. Case and point: Hail, Caesar!. It’s not on the same level as, let’s say, Fargo or No Country, it’s just a simple comedy. But it’s so much better than other so called “mindless silly comedies”.  Only the Coen’s could think of a scene as ingenious and funny as the meeting of religious figures and their argument of the portrayal of God in a movie. Or a Jonah Hill’s character, who is literally a “professional person” who works for the studio. Or just Ray Fiennes and Alden Ehrenreich repeating “the twere so simple” back and forth to each other. How did audiences not think this was funny? It’s brilliant.

10.  Arrival

Denis Villeneuve is on a bit of a hot streak right now. Coming hot off the heels of Prisoners, Enemy, and Sicario, he keeps his streak of solid movies with one-word titles going. Amy Adams is the big calling card for this movie, but she’s hardly the reason for seeing it (although she is really good, as usual). The whole cast is as good as you’d expect, the tension and unease is consistent (with the help of Bradford Young’s gloomy yet beautiful cinematography). And Jóhann Jóhannsson continues to scare me with just a single note of his immaculate scores. If he and Villeneuve work together for the rest of their careers it wouldn’t be a bad thing. Yet for all its technical aspects, Arrival uses much more of its brain than it needs to, especially for as mainstream of a movie as it is. The fact it doesn’t pander to its audience with stupidity is enough for it to earn it a place on my list.

 

And honorable mentions to The Witch and The Nice Guys, who narrowly missed the cut.

 

Note: While I may not have written a review for every movie I listed, I assure you I did in fact see them. However, like every year, there were several movies I did not get to see, so for the record, here were some of the ones I missed and as a result, do not know where they would have ranked:

 

Silence

Fences

Hell or High Water

Hacksaw Ridge

Lion

Loving

Captain Fantastic

20th Century Women

Elle

Toni Erdmann

The Handmaiden

Hidden Figures

Nocturnal Animals

The Edge of Seventeen

Moanna

Zootopia

Deadpool

Captain America: Civil War

Doctor Strange

Florence Foster Jenkins

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