With the 2016 calendar year for movies at a close, and the Oscars just around the corner, it is time to release my top ten movies of this passed year.
While 2016 gets a lot of criticism for being a year of sequels and reboots, there were some gems to be found. Ranging anywhere from musicals, to horror films, we were graced with some truly superb films, with the biggest story being the strong resurgence of the independent film.
10. Green Room
One of the summer horror movies to be released, “Green Room” is a gruesome treat to watch. The main reason it sneaks into my top ten is its absolute realism. While the stereotypical horror flick makes the audience question the irrational actions of the characters, Jeremy Saulnier’s hard rock thriller makes complete sense. Each action and reaction has both consequences, and a certain rational to it. Match that with some brilliant cinematography, and acting by both the late Anton Yelchin (Star Trek series) and Patrick Stewart (X-Men series), and you’re given one crazy but sensible ride.
This film for me was not the most exciting film of 2016, but I cannot deny its superiority. From a strictly film perspective, this Jackie Kennedy biopic does no wrong. The concise original screenplay is able to provide a spotlight to Natalie Portman, as she is able to give her best performance since “Black Swan”.
When combining the screenplay and acting with the directing, sound mixing, and costume design, “Jackie” stands out to me as one of the most complete films of this past year. Its particular subject matter seems to be this film’s only downside, in how it does not really resonate with the average audience, but that does not hold it back from keking a place among the elite.
8. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
This is one of those films that only happens when all the stars are in alignment. Taika Waititi’s (“What We Do in the Shadows”) unique directing style and love for New Zealand are not what fuel this film, but without them it would not be anywhere near what it is. The balance in Wilderpeople is what puts it over the top for me. Waititi was able to do something special in creating an extremely seamless story that could find balance between drama and comedy, and switch them on and off intermittently and make it work. This is definitely a movie that many have not seen, but should see for its unorthodox theme of family.
7. La La Land
Damien Chazelle’s (“Whiplash”) cinematic exposé on the Los Angles lifestyle is a technical masterpiece that will make most critics’ top ten list. Right from the opening sequence we see Chazelle’s nostalgic love for the old cinema, while projecting a more contemporary directing style. I, in particular, lost myself in the long tracking shots and well-choreographed musical dance numbers. This film very well may have resurrected the musical once and for all, with its critical acclaim, and massive reception at the box office. I will say it could have been better, as the story did drag throughout, but all in all this is a film that is well on its way to becoming an American classic.
Silence to me is one of the most snubbed films in the last few years. From its limited theatrical release, to the minimal Oscar nominations it received. Martin Scorsese’s passion project is one of the most poetic, reflective, and original takes on Christianity in cinematic history. Scorsese was able to combine phenomenal acting across the board (main and supporting actors alike) with beautiful cinematography, and writing. The depth at which this film goes into the Christian faith is wonderful, because it doesn’t just highlight the positives, but also the negatives and struggles within. Where some might be turned off because of the subject matter, I believe this film’s message is universal, as it can apply to simply sticking to one’s morals regardless the situation they find themselves in.
5. A Monster Calls
I have never liked a movie that I did not relate to so much. “A Monster Calls” follows a boy navigating adolescence while at the same time trying to cope with his mother being diagnosed with cancer. The dialogue and imagery made this film for me, as it walked the line of fantasy and reality. Utilizing an extremely effective artistic technique we are given a tribute to traditional storytelling in a way that fuels the story tenfold. The characters’ interactions are on point, bringing forth yet another dynamic that holds a beautiful, and relatable vulnerability that will leave you in tears. Definitely revolutionary in style, “A Monster Calls” leaves nothing more to be desired.
4. Sing Street
Joining La La Land on the list as the only other musical, John Carney’s (“Once”) modern musical, “Sing Street”, is one of those films that unfortunately will go unwatched by most. This one made my list as a personal choice, being my favorite film of the year (not necessarily the best).
I am a sucker for musicals, but what I am even more vulnerable to is an emotional narrative with themes such as self-identity, brotherhood, and genuine friendship (or love, as some of you call it). The moving story, however, is not this film’s only strong suit. The soundtrack, inspired by bands like Duran Duran and the Jam, is not only catchy, but provides its own device to the story as a whole. The film states at the end that it is “a film for brothers,” but I think it’s a film for everyone.
3. Manchester by the Sea
I have not seen a film like this ever before. The writer/director Kenneth Lonergan (“Gangs of New York”) will win an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay hands down. What makes “Manchester” different from all other films is how the story itself is told. In most films there is a clear narrative, while here there is a pure ambiguity to the story. Is this film about loss? Is it about family ties? Or is it simply about life?
It is almost as if Manchester is a snapshot of a bigger film, and I think that was intentional. There is something optimistic to be said about a story that extends before it begins, and after it ends. Not only is the story near perfect, it also has a front-runner for Best Actor in Casey Affleck (“Gone Baby Gone”).
2. Hell or High Water
There are a lot of aspects to “Hell or High Water” that impress me. For starters the actor turned writer/director, Taylor Sheridan (“Sons of Anarchy”), is on a hot streak with both this, and “Sicario” under his belt for original screenplays. The acting is also on point, having heavyweights in Ben Foster (“The Messenger”), Chris Pine (“Star Trek”), and Jeff Bridges (“The Big Lebowski”) who was nominated for his role, in this film, as Texas Ranger Hamilton.
“High Water” has a great equilibrium in being a social commentary that also just so happens to be a high stakes crime thriller. The script is by far this film’s strongest point, utilizing thoughtful dialogue, as well as creating flawed characters, which in turn makes them seem more human. This will go down as an American classic in my book, if not just for it’s social relevance, but also its characters.
A film like this only graces us with its presence every once and a while. Barry Jenkins (“Medicine for Melancholy”) took his time developing Moonlight (about eight years), and it paid off immensely. Based on true accounts of both Jenkins’ and the original writer’s (Tarell Alvin McCraney) life growing up in drug ridden Miami, “Moonlight” is a testament to the goodness of humanity, however deeply buried it might be. What I like about this film, aside from its brilliant direction, a moving score, and superior acting (especially by Mahershala Ali) is its premise. The movie as a whole is about a young, black, gay kid growing up in Miami, but at its core it is about much more. It is about the moments in life that define us. Whether it’s a brief encounter with someone, or a friendship built over time, it is in that moment of what we choose to do that defines the rest of our life. Moonlight not only is the best film of the year, but it is also the best film of the past five years, if not more.
Honorable Mentions: “American Honey”, “Swiss Army Man”, “Moana”, and “The Lobster”.
— Luke Guertler, Staff Movie Critic