This was an extremely hard year to pick my favorite movies of the year. Not only were there too many movies I loved, even this late into the new year there are many 2016 movies I still want to see. But, I feel like I’ve seen enough (46, to be exact) to confidently say there were the very best. To me.
13th is one of the most moving movies of the year and also probably the most important. It presents the current race issues of our country as pretty bleak, but the more people who are aware of the issues and where they stem from the closer we can get to figuring it all out. Which is why 13th stands as the only film on this list that should be required viewing for all American citizens.
9. A Bigger Splash
I didn’t know much about this movie going into it. I thought the trailer looked good, I’m always here for Tilda Swinton and there was nothing else interesting showing that weekend. But what I got was much more than just an enjoyable afternoon. This film is beautiful and haunting in a way you don’t realize while you’re watching it, but that stays with you for a long time after viewing it. And look, we all know Tilda Swinton is amazing, but it was still astounding to see her work in this film where she essentially doesn’t talk at all.
8. Green Room
Due to the over saturation of the genre, horror/suspense often gets a bad reputation. But films like Green Room serve to remind us how satisfying scares can be when done correctly. In this case, correctly means with mostly practical effects, some truly evil bad guys and protagonists that don’t begged to be killed through absurd actions.
This was my happiest surprise of the year because I knew literally nothing about Arrival prior to seeing it. I hadn’t even seen a trailer, but if I had to guess simply from the poster, I envisioned an evening of mediocre to good sci-fi fare. Instead, of course, it was great sci-fi in a vein that hardly ever gets explored in the genre anymore. It’s quiet and has meaning and really makes you question your current reality as well as the future.
6. The Lobster
This movie is so strange. It creates a world in which single people are forced to find a soul mate (which is actually as easy as finding someone with one common trait and yet still extremely hard), or they get turned into an animal of their choosing. But the world is so fully thought out and the performances so committed that it all just works. It’s one of the darkest comedies I’ve ever seen, and yet it also tells one of the sweetest love stories.
5. Manchester by the Sea
On paper, a story about an already emotionally damaged man dealing with the death of his brother sounds like a brutal way to spend an afternoon. But what makes Manchester rise above its melodramatic roots is the humor interjected throughout the film. Like life, it’s both tragic and hysterical, sometimes at the same time. Plus, Casey Affleck and the rest of the cast turned in some of the best performances of their careers.
4. 20th Century Women
Six years ago writer/director Mike Mills explored his complex relationship with his father in Beginners (one of my top films of 2010) and this year he gave the same treatment to his mother with 20th Century Women. And I loved this one even more. Light on plot but filled to the brim with colorful characters, 20th Century Women captures a moment in time when the world was rapidly changing, especially for women. Telling not only the story of his mother, but of the other women (and one man) she chose to help raise him, it provides a unique snapshot of a time in a place that is very specific, but also universal.
This is an astounding film. And that is not hyperbole. It is truly stunning in every sense; from the production design to the performances (Natalie Portman’s specifically) to the score to the cinematography. Every frame is pure art. But besides those production aspects, it’s also one of the most interesting from a story perspective. Jackie Kennedy is so iconic and has been portrayed so many other times at various stages of her fascinating life. But, by focusing on just a few days during the most traumatic time of her life, Jackie feels like the first film to really capture her essence beyond a surface level. Jacqueline Kennedy was all about the façade, and by exploring that Jackie showed us the person beyond it.
Taken only on its merits, Moonlight is an astounding film. It’s beautifully shot, expertly written and boast a superb cast. But, when you consider the story it’s telling and the people who are telling it, it instantly catapults the film to classic status. There was a lot of hubbub last year about #OscarsSoWhite and this film stands as a testament to why there was such an outrage. When you limit the kinds of people who get to tell stories you limit the stories you get to see and then we miss movies like Moonlight.
1. La La Land
The combination of stunning production design, career topping performances, genius level music use and a director who knew how to bring all of these elements together makes La La Land not only my best movie of the year, but one of the best movie going experiences I’ve ever had. It’s an homage to the history of movies as much as it is a nod to the movies of today which makes it a no-brainer to top this movie lover’s list.
Honorable Mentions: The Nice Guys, Loving, Rogue One, Zootopia, Moana, Blue Jay, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures.
Worst Movies: Neon Demon, Frank & Lola, Suicide Squad.