A late compiled list, but completed as a statement that I truly do love these films from 2016. I no longer have the attitude though like I did in past years that “these films are essential, you’re missing something if you haven’t seen all ten!” That used to be me. I have a second and third job now, I have a family now. I love these ten, but I think for a lot of people I say just surf my list and whatever entices your interest check it out. Even if it’s just one or two films from the list. Five hopefully. Again, I’m kidding. If this inspires you to see one film off this list that you wouldn’t have seen without reading about it, then my efforts were worthwhile. Be sure to click on the hyperlinks when available to read the original reviews.
BEST OF 2016
1. La La Land – One of the thirty greatest films ever made, and I have no bones in making that kind of tall declaration. You can say you had a good time with “West Side Story,” “My Fair Lady” and “Chicago” without feeling you ever had to see them a second time. “La La Land” is the greatest commercial musical of the last 63 years (since 1953’s “The Band Wagon”), made with dazzling numbers, verbal wit that’s terse and not overwritten, charisma by Ryan Gosling and preciousness by Emma Stone, a dreamy ending that out-Kaufmans Charlie Kaufman, a rekindling reminder of the butterflies in the stomach of first real love. Damien Chazelle has crafted it all with such love and ingenuity that you just don’t fall for it. For me, the movie lives inside me every day since I’ve seen it.
2. Sully – Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven” is his career best, but I say this is the next essential one up in line. I see “Sully” as a political movie. You just can’t perform a heroic miracle in this day and age without some government faction trying to defame and take away a person’s heroism. Tom Hanks is nothing less than a perfect actor playing a real-life graceful and remarkable human being. Some people might say “Sully” isn’t sensational enough, but I think there are times when people live in hushed silence and doubt following a harrowing event. Hanks finds nobility within the character even in confusion, and in a quiet way, he is amazing.
3. Manchester by the Sea – Has there ever been a film about a man who ruins his life in the way that Casey Affleck does in this film? It’s so horrible I don’t know how you could ever forgive yourself. Until the film stretches on, then you think, why doesn’t this guy just forgive himself already? Lucas Hedges is like many east coast teenagers I have known, and yet his smart and socially aware type never makes it into the movies. He is knocking on the door to adulthood where he will certainly succeed. He only needs a couple more years for somebody to help him out, give him that push. The stunning part is that Affleck does not think he is that guy. Then there is Michelle Williams’ final appearance in the film, which makes us re-think everything we just saw, and reconsider the angle of where guilt should lie.
4. Arrival – A big budget sci-fi mindbender with occasional welcome dollops of dreamy cinematography? Yes, please! Some more, Hollywood! Denis Villenueve has made some offbeat films, but with this he has solidified himself as a true visionary. Give him this, he turns Earth itself into an eerie, mystifying but beautiful place. I emotionally connected strongly to “Arrival” when it transformed into a socio-political parable, as well as found myself avid to the incomparable Amy Adams as the linguistics scientist who decodes the language of outer space aliens.
5. The Lobster – One of the strangest films ever made seeming to take place in an alternative world like our own but just off. Living single is outlawed, so you have only forty-five days to choose a permanent mate. Colin Farrell has problems finding an appropriate mate that’s worth living with. John C. Reilly, playing a guy with a lisp, (hilariously!) has almost no chance of finding that perfect someone! Somehow, with the case of everybody, the human spirit is just squashed here. The Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos (“Dogtooth”) has made a film so original with its bizarre content and cracked tone that it elevates above even the more gutsy art house entries.
6. Hell or High Water – A sunbaked “Fargo,” a crime drama set in the backwaters of Texas. Jeff Bridges sums up the meaning of great acting as the bellicose Texas Ranger who can predict it all because he’s seen it all, and his philosophical musings are both heady but yokel comical. Yet I never thought I’d see such complex layers from Chris Pine and Ben Foster as the criminal brothers who raid banks in ramshackle towns for a few thousand at a time until they reach their objective quota. It’s a terrifically shot movie, too.
7. Hail, Caesar! – A Coen Bros. comedy that I gave three and a half stars to, not four like it deserves, when I first wrote about it. The Coens have a way the last several years of making me underestimate their achievements in first viewing. I didn’t think “A Serious Man” meant so much to me until I saw it an impactful second time. I didn’t think “Inside Llewyn Davis” had focused themes until I saw it an impactful second time. And I didn’t realize “Hail, Caesar!” would give me such a compulsive desire to watch and re-watch it like I have, giggling every time and marveling at the 1950’s Hollywood sound stage shenanigans like I have either. It’s become my cozy love chair, eating cookies and drinking Ovaltine movie.
8. Hidden Figures – I could be the only well-versed critic on the planet that chooses this crowd-pleaser over, slightly over, the critically beloved “Moonlight” which is arguably more artful in its honesty. But yes, I’ll pick this one slightly ahead because of its fascinating history of black women at NASA using brains to climb up the professional ladder and making themselves the envy of all. Yes, I cheered. Yes, I learned. Yes, I’m aware that a little bit of it was manipulative for dramatic effect yet that doesn’t lessen my appreciation for it.
9. Moonlight – The middle chapter of three chapters impressed me best where Chiron cannot withstand the punishment from bullies in high school. This is a character study of how a homosexual black man’s life can go wrong from instantaneous moments, and yet there is implied hope it can be steered right. You cannot underestimate Mahershala Ali as the drug dealer who befriends Chiron from the start, who is empowering, and ironically, a good big brother figure. I think in part three the 12-minute diner scene could have easily been cut down to 6 to 8 minutes, but there’s no denying there is kindnesses learned from those final scenes.
10. Nocturnal Animals – What a strange, out-there art film and yet it really did touch a nerve. Amy Adams as a super-rich gallery owner with a hollow inner life and pointless marriage receives a manuscript from her ex-husband that lights a spark in her once again. The movie within the movie, representing that novel, is an extremely dark one, and so we are bewildered as to why it touches her. A mistake for her to get reinvested with her estranged ex-husband? Let’s just say she gets her just dessert in the final passage. This is Tom Ford’s second film following “A Single Man,” and who knows what subject he wants to tackle next, but he’s perfectly capable of creating a David Lynch-like vibe if it pleases him to do it again.
Best Actress: Amy Adams playing a brilliant scientist with brilliance, compassion and quick wit in “Arrival.” But I want to say this was a highly unusual year where there were nearly a half dozen performances by actresses that were among the best I’ve ever seen. I must mention Emma Stone in “La La Land,” Taraji P. Henson in “Hidden Figures,” Natalie Portman in “Jackie,” Susan Sarandon in “The Meddler” and Marion Cotillard for the first hour in “Allied” before she was directed wrong in the last third. And although I rank my picks over the Academy Awards, their nominated choices were estimable as well.
Best Actor: We’ve seen Tom Hanks in forty movies, but his acting was never more invisible than he was in “Sully,” and graceful and instinctive it was at every moment. I consider his non-nominated performance to be one of the worst Oscar snubs in history. Runners-up: Casey Affleck in “Manchester by the Sea” and Ryan Gosling in “La La Land.”
Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis in “Fences.”
Best Supporting Actor: Jeff Bridges in “Hell or High Water.”
Best Ensemble Cast: “Hidden Figures.”
Best Art Direction: “La La Land”
Best Music Score: “La La Land” by Justin Hurwitz
Best Sound Design: “Arrival.”
Best Visual Effects: “Arrival.”
Best Children’s Film: “Zootopia” and “Moana.”
Best B-Movie: “Nerve.”
Most Overlooked Movie: See Tom Hanks in his second great performance of the year in “A Hologram for the King.”
Most Overrated: “Elle” (France).
Biggest Disappointment: “Knight of Cups.” There are touches of genius by Terrence Malick that I can’t stop being haunted by. But I had to slave through boredom whenever Brian Dennehy or Wes Bentley shows up, or one of the lesser actresses show up. Natalie Portman, however, needed to be in the film longer than she is.
Funniest Awful Movie and Camp Classic: “Mother’s Day.”
Worst Films of the Year
1. Alice Through the Looking Glass – Historians decades from now can look back and point to this as the nadir of CGI overload. I almost puked my eyes out by the time it was over.
2. Nina – On soul singer Nina Simone portrayed by Zoe Saldana, maybe the worst biopic ever.
3. Dirty Grandpa – Yes, it will taint Robert DeNiro’s legacy by a pinch.
4. The Boss – A boring Melissa McCarthy comedy? How could it? Melissa McCarthy is not boring, as long as she has a competently written script, which this was not.
5. The Accountant – I can’t believe more people were not pissed off at this Ben Affleck movie. I’m counting this as the most ludicrous big studio thriller since 1995’s “Assassins” or maybe 1983’s “The Osterman Weekend.”