Monday, February 13, 2017

The Top 13 Movies of 2016

Well, you knew this list was coming, especially since I did the worst of list a few days ago. And who am I to be overly negative on this blog? Here are the best movies I saw in 2016. I'm sure I missed a couple, and there may be choices you don't agree with, but hey, them's the breaks, right? This is a better list than the Oscars. Yeah, I fucking went there. Read 'em and weep!

In all seriousness, this was a super great year for movies. I had a hard time narrowing this list down. I hope you enjoy it.

13. A Monster Calls

A unique and atmospheric film about grief through the eyes of a child. This would have been an almost claustrophobically sad movie if not for the vivid, imaginative and colorful scenes from the monster voiced by Liam Neeson telling the kid a series of parable-like stories relating to his real life. This is a layered and somber film that explores human emotions in a nuanced manner – that's what I liked about this and why it's on this list.

12. Jackie

Striking, unflinching period piece on Jackie Kennedy in the aftermath of JFK's assassination. Natalie Portman acts her ass off, and the story about power at that level and how humans emotionally deal with it is dizzying, especially in this polarizing time. Great soundtrack and visuals add a huge atmosphere and weight to everything that happens here. This was a hypnotic, entrancing and gripping piece.

11. Captain Fantastic

Kick ass family drama/comedy about an unorthodox family led by Viggo Mortensen living out in nature and then they have to come back to civilization for a personal tragedy. This had a lot of fun scenes, some great drama and a lot to say about parenting, nature versus nurture and the ways family affects children. Lots of good acting in this and an overall fun, propulsive pace that made it a joy to behold.

10. Imperium

Really important film in our current political climate, for how it talks about white supremacy and terror groups and how one is radicalized. Daniel Radcliffe does a great job in this, but the real meat of it is the complex morals of the film – the way it portrays some of these young neo-Nazis as lost, disenfranchised, angry kids in need of a group to join is a lot more insight than most films approaching these subjects ever get. I found this exciting and provocative and timely.

9. Don't Think Twice

This is a really fun, enjoyable film, with great character dialogues that are funny and heartwarming. But it's also a thoughtful work about art and ambition, and what pursuing those things can do to friendships. This movie asks some hard questions about things and isn't afraid to tackle a story that so easily could've been cliché with levity and realism. Director Mike Birbiglia did a great job here and it lends credence to the idea that comedians are the modern philosophers.

8. The Witch

This is how you do a fucking horror movie. This has to be one of the most evil movies I've ever seen, with its story of a complete perversion of the Puritanical religious values. But it's also an empowering feminist tale of a young girl finding her way in that wretched, oppressive time. This has a lot of great visuals, tension thick enough to cut with a knife and building suspense. One of the best horror films of recent years.

7. Arrival

Denis Villenueve is my favorite modern director, and this movie is just more of why – his feel for gripping, epic, slow-burning stories of a multitude of genres is unmatched. This one is a great alien flick with twists abound and a good sense for epic cinematography and scenery. A visual pleasure and also a striking, individual story.

6. The Killing Joke

I've loved Batman since I was a kid, especially the old 90s Animated Series, so this was a treat – pairing Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill with the old creators of that series for an adaptation of one of the most audacious Batman comics ever made. This is a bizarre, provocative and polarizing story, but it's told with a visual artistry that makes it endlessly captivating. I liked the stuff they added that wasn't in the comics, too, adding shading and depth to these characters.

5. Moonlight

A lyrical, poetic film about a young gay black guy growing up in Florida. It's got a lot to say about masculinity and homosexuality, and how our culture views those things – especially through the lens of a black guy. This was just a feast on all senses. The scenery and cinematography were gorgeous and the story was raw and simple but layered at the same time. It's snappy, smart and powerful filmmaking – addictive and entrancing stuff.

4. Hell Or High Water

I haven't had this much fun at the cinema in ages. This is a neo-Western crime flick that just seems to go down the list of what makes a good film and check them all off with ease. Great characters, fun dialogue, a fast pace, great action and a lot of cool, gritty violence. It's a pure joy. I can't get enough.

3. Nocturnal Animals

I didn't see anything else this weird, unique or opaque all year. This is a strikingly individual film unique not in what it says but what it doesn't say, playing with your expectations of action in film by having most everything that happens be a fantasy, a flashback or something else. Yet, through that, it creates a layered, complex and dark story of lost love and missed chances. I was totally enthralled by this movie.

2. Swiss Army Man

This is maybe one of the weirdest movies I've ever seen, but it's also one of the best of the year. A deeply funny and strange film that becomes touching through really clever writing. This is full of a lot of juvenile (but funny) fart and dick jokes, and Daniel Radcliffe hams it up as a talking corpse leading Paul Dano through the woods. But through those things, it tells a wonderful sort of coming-of-age tale. It's a bizarre way to go about that, but you can't argue with results, right?

1. The Family Fang

I thought long and hard about this one, but frankly, nothing else I saw this year captivated me like The Family Fang did. This is a soulful and personal movie that weaves a tale of what havoc parents can wreak on their children and also asks some open-ended, thought provoking questions about art and its purity and what it can be used for. Layered performances from director-star Jason Bateman and Nicole Kidman and a funny, down-to-Earth script make this an accessible film with a lot more under the surface. It's a great flick and I hope people see it. The best I saw this year.


Here are some other movies I really liked but thought it would be a bit too long to put in the main list. So I am putting them here.

Manchester By the Sea
A tragic drama, but with enough humor and levity that it doesn't become grotesque. Casey Affleck really delivers here.

Edge of Seventeen
A fun, funny and insightful teenage dramedy with a great performance by lead girl Hailee Steinfield. Pretty much all of this was compulsively watchable and entertaining.

Green Room
Savage, punk-rock horror/action from up-and-comer director Jeremy Saulnier. This is a nonstop blitzkrieg ride of violence and fuck-you's to Naziism. Great music, too.

Doctor Strange
Marvel Studios' best film in a couple of years now. Visually fun and action packed with a surprisingly emotive performance from Benedict Cumberbatch.

The Nice Guys
A fun detective comedy with great performances from Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling – and the '70s aesthetic does a lot to give this its own flavor. Very enjoyable.

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