2016 was a fairly good year for film. There might not have been an excess of memorable releases but the ones that did stand out really stood out. Before we get to the crème de la crème of the year here are a few honorable mentions and a few films that missed the mark completely.
Deadpool, for what it is in all its over the top raunchy glory, is a hilarious and immensely entertaining superhero flick. Emily Blunt’s striking performance in The Girl On The Train took what would have been a typical thriller to the next level. The Accountant never got much recognition but the Ben Affleck-Anna Kendrick thriller wasn’t nearly as bad as critics made it out to be. Don’t Breathe shined in the horror genre with a unique plot that provided just the right amount of scares without feeling weary. And the romanticized World War II thriller Allied might be somewhat fanciful but it did it’s job in entertaining audiences.
As for the misses, the worst is Fences. It so desperately wants to say something monumentally profound but instead it wastes away its already overly long two hour plus run time with seemingly pointless dialogue that is either too hard to decipher or truly just empty. Then there’s Money Monster which had so much star power and talent working on it but in the end was a complete mess and a great disappointment. There are also the tentpoles and franchises released over the summer (Alice Through The Looking Glass, Central Intelligence, Neighbors 2 and Mechanic: Resurrection ) that aren’t even worth discussing. But now, without further ado, the countdown of the best films of 2016:
16. Jason Bourne
In all honesty this probably doesn’t warrant a spot on this list but contrary to popular opinion I thought that the fifth installment in the Bourne franchise held it’s own. Yes, it dims in contrast with the first three stellar films in the series but after the disaster that was The Bourne Legacy, it is wonderful to have Jason back. Matt Damon is a bit older but he still owns the role as he did 10 years ago. It’s not master filmmaking or award material but for fans of this classic CIA assassin it’s a welcome treat and speaking from a very bias standpoint as a dedicated fan of the Bourne films, I felt it only right to include the latest one here. Read the full review here
15. 10 Cloverfield Lane
Possibly the best thrill of the year, the sequel to 2008’s Cloverfield, used master filmmaking and terrific acting to create nonstop suspense and an edge-of -your-seat film. It doesn’t give any definite answers till the end so it keeps you on your toes, guessing the whole time, and throws one curve ball after the other. It’s scary without being in your face and will beg for a re-watch. Read the full review here
Arrival is the greatest film about aliens that isn’t even about aliens. Though it is disguised in a brilliant and gripping story of the arrival of extra terrestrials on earth, the film is truly about a mother’s love and through this it explores deep topics of love, loss, life and fate. It’s strangely moving with a beautiful ending that is unsettling enough to stick with you for days. And Amy Adams is wonderful.
13. Hell or High Water
Reminiscent of old westerns, Hell or High Water with its superb script is both an exciting adventure thriller and a brilliant character study. It’s witty at times but also deep and just like Arrival its weightier themes that concern two brothers and their financial troubles are hidden under it’s immediate bank robbery heist plot.
12. The Infiltrator
It didn’t seem that this Bryan Cranston crime film got as much hype as it deserved but with a great story backed by an excellent performance from Cranston, The Infiltrator is one of the most under-appreciated films of the year. Based on the true story of undercover agent Robert Mazur’s money laundering scheme, it’s a thrilling mob film in itself but the true events it’s based on make it even more remarkable.
11. Queen of Katwe
In a day and age where tentpole action flicks dominate it’s always a wonderfully welcome breath of fresh air when a real-life, human, film is released. Queen of Katwe is the true story of chess champion Phiona Mutesi and her journey from an African slum to the World Chess Olympiad. With touching performances from both Lupita Nyong’o and Madina Nalwanga and tight direction from Mira Nair, it is one of the best underdogs of the year.
The true story of the “Miracle on the Hudson” and the real-life heroes involved, Sully is as inspiring as it is exciting. Actor-director team of the great masters Tom Hanks and Clint Eastwood make magic with a tight and seamless film which proves once again that we only have to look to our fellow human beings for the greatest stories.
9. Cafe Society
Opening to mixed reviews, it might not be in the same league as Woody Allen’s classics but he still hits a home run with a nostalgic and melancholy film of a 1930’s Hollywood romance. It’s stylish and glitzy aesthetically and tells a sweet story of what seems to be true love. And if nothing else, it proves once again Kristen Stewart’s great talent.
8. Manchester By The Sea
Revolving around heavy dialogue and relying on its actors, Manchester is a bleak and heavy film that covers weighty topics. Casey Affleck delivers possibly the best performance of his career that is sure to skyrocket him into long-awaited stardom and Lucas Hedges is also great. It’s beautifully written and manages to put life into great perspective.
7. Hacksaw Ridge
Hacksaw is the true story of conscientious objector Desmond Doss who served in the U.S. army during WWII without a single weapon. Just like Sully and Queen of Katwe it’s a little known story that begs to be told and stands out for both its amazing story and great filmmaking. For whoever still holds grievances against Mel Gibson, it should be clear that he has, without a doubt, redeemed himself.
6. Hunt For The Wilderpeople
This quirky New Zealand film is one of the funniest of the year yet it also has a tender, emotional side. It’s different from anything released this year though it draws parallels to the likes of Captain Fantastic and Sing Street in that it has an unconventional voice and style that is distinctly its own.
Natalie Portman is a star. She emulates Jackie beautifully, the first lady appearing seamlessly out of her. The film is hard to watch at times as it contains several graphic depictions of JFK’s assassination but it triumphs in that it explores how the tragedy effects the first lady in every aspect of her life including financially, emotionally, and her children. It’s masterfully made and an achievement in craft, story and performance.
4. La La Land
The most praised and applauded critic’s film of the year, it’s been the talk of the town for the past few months now and it succeeds in completely living up to the hype surrounding it. Who knew a musical with such clear roots in old school Broadway could triumph in this day and age where Marvel superheroes rule the big screen? It’s a completely immersive film with a visually stunning design and though the music is it’s one weak spot the story of love and dreams makes up for anything lacking. With La La Land, Damien Chazelle creates a perfect film in that it grabs and completely takes you away.
Keeping with the theme this year of real life stories, Lion is another remarkable narrative of a boy born in India who loses his family, gains a new family in Australia then returns to find his birth mother 20 years later. While Saroo was lucky enough to find a family, it sheds light on the millions of children lost every year and is one of the most profoundly moving films of the year.
2. Sing Street
Though it takes place in 1980’s Ireland, Sing Street has a magical power to thoroughly resonate with audiences of all walks of life. It’s a delightful story of youth, young love and a band with a killer soundtrack of original songs that drives it home. It’s sweet and radiates a feeling of innocence and immense creativity. Also, filled with a very talented young cast, it is sure to launch careers. Bravo, John Carney, you’ve created a masterpiece. Read the full review here
1. Captain Fantastic
Captain Fantastic has so much going for it. It’s a complex and layered story with a seamless script and dynamic characters, a brilliant cast and a brilliant director with a unique idea and talent enough to execute it. It’s the anti-blockbuster and a gleaming symbol of hope that good filmmaking isn’t dead just quite yet. Every aspect of Captain Fantastic is vibrant in every sense of the word, it’s as deep and moving as it is light and a truly magnificent piece of cinema. Read the full review here