Podcast: Play in new window | Download
Before we get to the Too 10 movies of 2016 I wish to mention several films that narrowly missed this list.
Paterson from director Jim Jarmusch and starring Adam Driver
20th Century Women from director Mike Mills and starring Annette Bening
Swiss Army Man from directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert and starring Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano
Christine from director Antonio Campos and starring Rebecca Hall
The Finest Hours from director Craig Gillespie and starring Chris Pine
Divine Access from director Steven Chester Prince and starring Billy Burke
Hail Caesar from The Coen Brothers and starring Josh Brolin
The Lobster from director Yorgos Lanthimos
The Handmaiden from director Chan Wook Park and starring Kim Min-Hee
Sing Street from director John Carney and starring Ferdia Walsh Peelo
Everybody Wants Some from director Richard Linklater and starring Blake Jenner
Nocturnal Animals from director Tom Ford and starring Amy Adams
Deadpool from director Tim Miller and starring Ryan Reynolds
Don’t Think Twice from writer-director and star Mike Birbiglia
And now on to the Top 10 movies of 2016
10. The Nice Guys – Somehow, I am always surprised by director Shane Black, even though I shouldn’t be. Black’s work has been consistently great behind the camera with Iron Man 3 being one of the most underrated superhero movies and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang being a legitimate cult classic. Nevertheless, I find myself shocked when he arrives with another terrific movie. The Nice Guys is arguably his best work yet. This buddy comedy with Russell Crowe as a tough guy-straight man to Ryan Gosling’s broader, goofier private eye is rich with wit and wildly clever plotting.
9. The Witch– One of the biggest surprises of 2016 is director Robert Eggers’ Pilgrim era horror movie The Witch. When it comes to horror movies I tend not to expect much and then get exactly what I expected. The Witch however, blew away my expectations and transcended its genre to be something so much more interesting than a mere horror movie. The film is a brilliant exercise in tension and suspense and it builds to one stunning moment after another until it reaches an ending that is both strange and cathartic. It ends in the only way this very odd and brilliant film could.
8. La La Land – Damian Chazzelle is part of a new generation of directors alongside Robert Eggers, and Denis Villaneuve, directors who’s talents will lead us to the next generation of film as an artform and La La Land is the confirmation of his status as a leader of this next generation. Both a genre film and a brilliant innovation, Chazzelle belongs to a new generation of filmmakers who bridging the divide between art and commerce by transforming genre pictures into indie style works of art.
7. Moonlight– Barry Jenkins is another of the next generation of great filmmakers who’s work will be transforming popular culture for the next decade and beyond. Though Moonlight is small in scale, it is a grand statement on identity, gender and sexuality. But Moonlight isn’t just a message picture or a political statement picture, it has style to go with the substance. Check the scene in the second act where Chiron and Kevin are having a tender moment at the beach. The scene is filled with all sorts of tension but the visual is all smooth and silky and most importantly, soothing with deep blues melting extending beautifully from the white sand beach reflecting a nearby streetlight out to the darkening horizon. The scene is gorgeous and sexy and emotionally powerful and perfectly sums up the whole of this incredible film.
6. Green Room– Ok, maybe there is a theme to this year’s best films, the next generation of great filmmakers. Jeremy Saulnier definitely belongs in that conversation about the future of film culture. Green Room is Saulnier’s first true masterpiece following the near greatness of his Blue Ruin. The story of a punk rock band trapped in a skinhead nightmare, Green Room is raw and visceral, gritty and darkly humorous.
5. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk– Breaking the trend of the next generation of filmmakers dominating my list of the years best is director Ang Lee who taught quite unique lesson about how a filmmaker can innovate the cinematic form. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is supposed to be a war movie with the tropes and cliches of the modern anti-war war movie. In many way it is that movie but Ang Lee makes it so much more by shooting the film at a record breaking frame rate and having his best known cast-members speak directly to the camera as they speak to our title character Billy. There is so much more to it than that but those are two ways in which this film rouses the audience from the usually passive way we consume film.
4. Manchester by the Sea– It’s hard to believe, and more than a bit of a loss for those of us who cherish his work, but Kenneth Lonergan has only directed 3 films in his nearly 18 years in the business; his experience making the remarkable movie Margaret likely having stunted his output. At least when Lonergan does work he makes it count. Manchester by the Sea, a story of loss, grief and the excruciating process of healing, is Lonergan’s third career masterpiece following the aforementioned Margaret and his 2000 directorial debut You Can Count on Me.
3. Hell or High Water– Time will tell whether or not David Mackenzie will join the likes of Damian Chazelle and Denis Villaneuve in that next generation of great filmmakers but Hell or High Water is certainly a strong statement of belonging. This modern western that posits the modern housing crisis in the context of a classic western about outlaws and rangers carries incredible tension and weight from beginning to end. If anything holds me about Mackenzie it’s that he is the rare modern director who isn’t also a writer. Taylor Sheridan wrote the screenplay for Hell or High Water and the two have to split the credit for this brilliant film.
2. The Neon Demon– Nicholas Winding Refn is yet another leader of the new generation of great filmmakers. Perhaps this generation’s Stanley Kubrick, with a dash of Ken Russell, Refn’s piece de resistance is The Neon Demon, a wildly inventive shock fest that divided audiences between those who rapturously praise the film as art and those who consider it trashy and exploitative. Both Kubrick and Russell would be proud.
- Arrival– No film released in 2016 had the kind of emotional impact on me that Arrival did. Arrival acted upon me both intellectually and emotionally. Amy Adams stars as a linguist who is pressed into service by the military to find a way to communicate with aliens that have arrived on Earth but have no stated intentions. Through her work she will develop a way to communicate with the aliens and that communication forever changes the world, and more personally, changes her life in a way that is stunningly powerful. Director Denis Villaneuve has now two unquestioned masterpieces on his resume with Arrival standing next to Enemy as films that I will forever cherish, each having ended their respective year as my favorite movie. Add in Sicario, Incendies and Prisoners, and you have a modern master in the making.