As always when I do these “Best” lists, I ask two things of you, the reader. Take the words best or top and replace it with “favorite”. And importantly, number or ranking doesn’t matter, what is included does. 2016 was an interesting year for me, in that I feel a hair underqualified, but still, this is the best films of the ones I saw over the year. During the summer, I found myself purchasing a new home (still trying to sell the other) and all that sort of “real life” stuff preventing some trips to theater for me. Also, sometimes I was just flat out exhausted or just selfishly wanting some time to myself. Who knows. But, I figure, while I’m not Aaron Neuwirth, I probably did see more than the average bear through going to the theater, reviewing Blu-rays or renting. There were a lot of disappointments during this year in terms of highly anticipated blockbusters, but many bright spots as well as some I look forward to checking out next year that I wasn’t able to see (Edge of Seventeen; Scott, I friggin TRIED to get to it and Moonlight; the night I was gonna go was the first night it wasn’t playing). I realize though, that of the “prestige” films I may or may not have missed, high end critics will be talking about them and my picks may be more unique. Aside from my #1, a lot of these could swap around their functional order. Anyway…I’ll just shut my yap and get to the ten films that made my list when I sat down and had to choose.
Jeff Nichols’ first of two offerings in 2016 was quite the low budget science fiction doozy. When we have the technologies available and loads of blockbusters year round, its refreshing and incredibly engaging to run into something with a sense of restraint and a real understanding of less is more. Michael Shannon once again easily showcases his talents as one of the greatest living thespians among us. Midnight Special is every bit a piece by piece puzzle drama that comes together quite nicely throughout its duration and leaves you with so much to talk about once you’ve seen that’s been put together.
This topped my list through the halfway point of the year. And now, I’m not any lower on the film than I was then, things have just changed…if that makes any sense (And I’m sure my fellow film writers will more understand). This little animated tale has a great crime proceeding to work its way through aided by some awesome chemistry and voice talent work by Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman. This film also gets the distinction of being the first movie my daughter saw in a theater. And no, that little bit of emotional attachment doesn’t really add much bias (or need to) on this terrific film.
A patient, engaging invasion (?) film that sort of plays like us seeing the government/scientist aspect of the events we land upon at the end of Close Encounters. And this one goes really deep and unveils quite an astonishing little concept that reveals itself in the most natural way that does feel like smacking you in the face with a plot twist. Denis Villeneuve is truly carving an exciting path with none of his film copying another and this was just the next step. While I never asked for it (and don’t know that I even wanted it), as the original is one of my Top 5 movies ever, his name being a part of Blade Runner 2049 gives me hope and excitement. Arrival, hopefully, will go down as a film we constantly are going back to, like Blade Runner.
Kubo and the Two Strings
Laika was back in 2016, and as per usual, they made a great film. Kubo hit on many of my little samurai/Kurosawa loving sensibilities, but most importantly crafted its own tale with very deep and strong characters. As always, the animation was top notch here and quite remarkable. Nobody is really doing what Laika does, making them have a bit of niche within animation all to themselves. And with that, they have a pedestal set extremely high. At this time, I’d say this up there equal with their best (ParaNorman), having the potential over some time and more views, to dethrone that one for me. But, make no mistake, all 4 of there films include 3 very great movies and one good. That’s a track record that makes most drool.
The Nice Guys
I’m still in love with Shane Black’s latest caper. Its kind of a bummer that this is one of the few of his movies that wasn’t set around Christmas or it would have been in heavy rotation right around now. This is definitely one of the best films nobody saw in 2016, but those that did loved. Funny Ryan Gosling may be one of the few bright spots in this year of 2016. Gosling gives a silly, slapstick performance that is akin to the silent film stars of yesteryear. Put that together with a solid, funny mystery and some awesome chemistry from the cast and you have a recipe for success. I’m always grateful that this is the kind of well that Shane Black returns to every so often. Excited to see the next time he revisits it.
John Carney’s third film about the world of writing music might possibly his best one yet. A mission started with Once, this film goes back to focus on some high school kids crafted punk music in the early/mid 1980s Ireland. This film wears its emotions on its sleeve and harkens back to a time where lyrical writing had some truly impactful, inspiration messages and meaning in a much more ambiguous state. It also featured a strong (Maybe breakout, I’ve not seen him in much) performance by Jack Reynor as the older brother. Never a musician myself, I did relate and get a kick out of watching the band in the film try to produce their own music videos. The film is one of those that recharges ones’ self and leaves you feeling great and wanting to get out and make a difference. I missed 2 free screenings of this one and luckily it came to Netflix pretty fast. YES! Stop reading me right now, flip to your Netflix, add it to your cue, but ACTUALLY watch it.
The Neon Demon
Nope, not a film for everyone. Love or hate it, nothing in between. But it is a film for me. Reminding me of the work of Dario Argento, Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest is a treat of diabolical visual splendor. The lighting, compositions, costuming and set design are right in my wheelhouse and every frame as something I want to just sit and marvel at. Plus, this one is such a devious little piece of horrific erotica, someone without being incredibly exploitative about any of it. In the end, I suppose this would land in the world of horror, but its much more abstract arthouse than anything. If you’re one that enjoys a film that is very visual and allows your brain to think, play around and ponder this one for days after while constantly being haunted and pleasured by remembering the great imagery on display, then The Neon Demon may be for you.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Here’s a problem and I need to find a way to deal with it. I friggin’ love Star Wars. And I’ve got (at least) the next 4 years of having a film to compete for a spot on these lists. The Force Awakens was my #1 last year, and I have watched it a crap load since the Blu-ray came out. I also loved the hell out of Rogue One (Seen it twice already, planning on getting there again soon). Yes, I’ll admit a huge bias on my behalf when it comes to Star Wars, but I don’t want to count it out. I’m also not going to discuss the nit pickers and bitchers that drive me bonkers with their click bait. After a little jumpy and rocky start, Rogue is an incredibly fun and thrilling journey, opening new doors and new stylings for a film series from a long time ago. Disney is doing a great job of both scouting filmmakers and casting to both bring Star Wars to a new generation and appeal to the fans that go the series there in the first place. And now, after this, the most talented director they’ve hired thus far is up to the plate.
Hell Or High Water
Probably one of the biggest surprises of the summer. This chase/heist film is an excellent modern western and really just dives in. Even though Jeff Bridges will probably be the performer that people will prop up when it comes to this one, Chris Pine continues to put in incredible work no matter the genre. I’m hoping this one has some staying power as I see it as one that hopefully young aspiring film students could study and maybe write some papers on in the future. A friend of mine, with some really refined taste, actually text me elated after seeing it, telling me it was the best film he’d seen at least 10 years. Crazy as it is, this was my #1 right up til the one of the last possible minutes when something came and completely stole its thunder. And that’s really speaking to the power of my choice for numero uno.
La La Land
You’re going to see this as the top film (or one of) on many lists at the end of this year. And make no mistake, its is that good. The film is great addition to the musical genre, paving its own way and like John Legend’s character in the film, trying to evolve it into something more accessible to modern audiences. What also helps really strike a chord with many film writers or those out in Los Angeles or maybe even New York watching this, is how the story plays so close to many of those dreamers, doers and the like. In the realm of things, I only spent a very short 4 years of my life living in Los Angeles wanting or trying to do something in the entertainment world and I really felt a deep connection and impact with it on a crazy emotional level. Whether it reminded me of myself or friends, acquaintances or even someone I met in passing, I connected. The film delivered on laughs, character, thought and emotion like I hadn’t experience during a film in a long time. I found myself sitting in my seat as the credits ended and the lights when, then walking to my car incredibly touched and moved by the film While I felt thrills, enjoyment and was elated by many fundamental or normal filmmaking attributes with the rest of the films on my list and more that didn’t make the cut, no of them packed the whallop that this one did. Maybe I was seeing something that you or others won’t see in it or saw the same idea but was on a different end of it. Judging from this being currently an Oscar front runner and many a critic and blogger’s favorite, I’m guessing I’m not alone. La La Land holds conversation for me in that realm of taking just 1 film from this decade or young millennium to desert island.