Welcome back to my first-ever Rankings Series: Movies of the Decade! To start, my apologies for not getting this list out to you sooner, especially those of you who may have been expecting it at the end of last month; November was a very busy time for moviegoing and critique, as I got to see more foreign films and awards season hits like The Irishman and Marriage Story before they hit Netflix (likewise with The Report and Amazon Prime Video). As such, I had to put off this list for a little while, which means you’re getting not one or two, but three of these lists this month! Now, without any further ado, let’s dive right in, shall we? These are my Top 10 Movies of 2016! (Disclaimer: this list appears in its original form, with no added or subtracted films, nor any alteration in placement; all Top 10 lists from 2015 onward will appear this way, regardless of how well or poorly some of the films on them have aged, or any changes made since their original incarnations.)
10. Hell or High Water
I wasn’t too hot on this movie when I initially saw it, but on subsequent viewings, I gained a new perspective on it that shifted my perception of what it was a bit, and soon enough, the stripped-down, man vs lawman, cat and mouse nature of it became one of its strongest assets. All the performances in this movie are great, especially those of its two leading brothers in Ben Foster and Chris Pine (who’s as good as he’s ever been here), and the film itself is thrilling, tight, contained storytelling at its best, with a brilliant script from Taylor Sheridan and deft directional control from helmer David Mackenzie.
Zootopia may have taken home the Oscar gold for animation that year, and it more than deserved the win, but for me, there was just something so wonderfully special about Moana that put it in my Top 10 list over that film. Maybe it was the fantastic music, the rich characters, the cultural setting we hadn’t really seen the mouse house show off before, the gorgeous animation, all of those, or a combination of any number, but whatever the case, Moana is one of Disney animation’s strongest princess projects to date, boasting all of those elements and more. Not every single thing about the movie works (the “shiny” song still feels kind of off-kilter when paired with the rest of the music), but so much that does works on such a high level that ultimately, that’s what you walk away remembering, and the climactic sequence in particular remains one of the most empowering walk-towards-danger moments for young girls everywhere.
8. Captain America: Civil War
The Winter Soldier put the Russo brothers on the map in a way they’d never been before, and given the gravity of this story within the context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was a huge risk to ask them to shake the foundations of the franchise yet again. Luckily, they were more than up to the task, and Civil War remains one of the absolute best films in the entire MCU canon. We understand both sides of the central argument, and whether you’re on Team Cap or Team Iron Man, it’s really hard not to want to switch sides at one point or another in this movie. This is the film (to a certain degree) that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice should have been (they even came out the same year!), and the airport fight remains one of the best action sequences in superhero movie history. The introductions of Spider-Man and Black Panther to this universe feel smooth and organic, and the latter in particular was really the best part of the movie, even with the heartbreaking climax that sees Tony and Steve face off in an emotionally-charged final fight with some iconic imagery and brilliant writing. This movie really does put the beat-down on every character in it, and it remains one of the most contemplative, nuanced, and introspective entries in the whole of this series thus far.
7. Patriots Day
It’s a little bit strange that I’m not really hearing anyone talk about this movie anymore, as it was a huge critical hit when it was released (though not with the Academy, as it released a bit late for many of their members to see it); while I understand some elements of it have aged rather poorly, though, this remains a taught thriller that marks one of the high points of the Peter Berg/Mark Wahlberg collaborative partnership that brought us the likes of Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon before it. Each and every moment of this tale about catching those responsible for the Boston marathon bombing is rife with tension, every performance is operating at the top level, and the film’s depiction of everyone coming together in the face of tragedy despite other differences they might have is one of its greatest highlights. It’s a real shame they couldn’t keep up this kind of quality for Mile 22.
When someone says they hate “Christian movies,” what they really mean is they hate movies about Christianity that are made by poor storytellers. In the case of Silence, however, Martin Scorsese’s 30 year passion project is one of the most deeply affecting and powerful treatises on faith and what it means to keep or lose it ever put to screen. From the film’s opening moments, we can tell that this will be a very different film from the usual Scorsese fare, and in my humble estimation, it remains one of the director’s absolute best, as well as the best faith-centric film I’ve personally ever seen. The performances of Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver are excellent, Liam Neeson’s turn as their former mentor is about as pitch-perfect a performance as you could get out of him, and the way the film handles the notions of idolization, faith, forgiveness, grace, human brokenness, and true persecution are among the most fascinating topics that Scorsese has ever managed to handle in film. This movie begets analysis after analysis, so much so that I even wrote a paper on it in college, and to this day, it is one of my favorite papers I’ve ever written. It’s rather unfortunate that this film was passed up by the Academy the following year for any nominations except cinematography, and that it tanked at the box office, because it truly is something wholly unique and it raises some magnificent questions about faith, being Christian, and what those really look like in the face of this film’s setting.
The film that would go on to steal the Best Picture win right from under La La Land’s nose in the most shocking moment in Oscars history, Moonlight was a film I saw twice in a row in theaters when it was first released. The saga of a young black man discovering who he is within the prism of his sexuality and what he wants as he grows up uncertain about his future is one of the most honest and subtly moving stories A24 has ever produced, and one of the most fitting films to ever actually win the Best Picture prize. This is the film that introduced me to Barry Jenkins, and I will be forever grateful that it did. The score by Nicholas Britell remains one of my favorite film scores of all time, the cinematography is brilliant, the color palette is magnificent, and the performances are all pretty much perfect, especially that of now two-time Best Supporting Actor winner Mahershala Ali, who won the first of those awards for his role as Juan in this movie. Sometimes the Academy actually does get it right, and they had us in the first half, not gonna lie, but awarding this film Best Picture was and always will be the right call. If I were able to or comfortable with re-ordering this list, Moonlight would probably have moved up a little higher.
4. The Witch
A24 came out of the gate huge with this horror flick by debuting director Robert Eggers (whose new 2019 film, The Lighthouse, is also getting heaps of critical praise), and at the time I went to see it, I hadn’t been a huge fan of horror up to that point. I had seen some that I liked, yes, but none that gripped me so hard as this one did, terrified me the way that this one did, inspired awe at what I was seeing the way that this one did. The Witch is, simply put, a masterclass in performance, writing, and direction that remains one of my all-time favorite horror films, and marked an astounding turn for lead actress Anya Taylor-Joy, who would shoot right up to superstar status after this film released. This truly is a puritan nightmare fantasy, and the fact that it was based on actual journal entries recovered from the era speaks volumes as to how committed a director Eggers is with his films. I still remember getting chills the first time I heard the whispers of black Phillip towards the end of the film, and while it may not work for everyone, this movie still contains one of my favorite horror endings of all time.
Deadpool should not have worked as well as it did, and looking back on it, it’s hard to see why that would be, as now one wonders why wouldn’t it have worked as well as it did, given the people most closely involved. Ryan Reynolds worked for nearly a decade to bring this character to the big screen in his true form, and after what they did to the merc with a mouth in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, this new version felt like a breath of fresh air after being smothered by smoke. The film is funny, it’s profane, it’s violent and gory, it’s gleefully aware of itself and its place within the greater X-Men film canon, it’s fantastically fun, and it is everything you could ever want a feature-length Deadpool adaptation to be. Every performance works, every action sequence is as exciting as it is creative and gory, and almost every joke still lands like gangbusters every time I watch it, despite some lessened impact due to its now lack of novelty (the fact that we were hearing this dialogue for the first time did account for a lot in 2016). This was a near-perfect adaptation of one of the most difficult comic book characters to get people to buy into, and if its box office haul was any indication, people were ready to see R-rated superhero fare on the big screen, as long as it was done with the same care and craft this movie boasted. Oh, and its marketing campaign remains the best I’ve ever seen.
2. La La Land
For some reason, movies about the value of movies and what makes them special always seem to get a lot of unjustified flack once they’ve been out for a little while, but it cannot be understated just how huge a movie this was when it was released, and the staggering amount of hype that came rushing in just after the film’s opening weekend. Those of us who had seen Whiplash two years prior knew that Damien Chazelle had something special up his sleeve, but who would have seen this coming? La La Land almost single-handedly resurrected the movie musical with an ode to the classic era of Hollywood musicals that people used to love so much, a perfect lead actress performance by Emma Stone (for which she won her Oscar), a near-perfect lead actor performance by Ryan Gosling (though I still contend his better performance that year was in the severely underrated The Nice Guys), brilliant technical craft, masterful pacing and story flow, a story about not giving up on the pursuit of your dreams (no matter what it might cost in the long run), and a whopper of an ending that ranks among the most bittersweet in film history. Whatever people have to say about it now, this was one of the biggest movies of 2016 when it released, and there was just something about its sincere love of its subject matter that was infectious and wonderful to feel around Christmas time. No, it’s not exactly a perfect movie, and some elements could have had a stronger pull, but there was no stand-alone, original movie in 2016 that people seemed to unequivocally love more than this, and I was one of those people who loved this film, immediately buying the soundtrack afterwards and listening to it on repeat for weeks.
And yet, as much as I loved La La Land, and still contend it as the movie of 2016, my personal favorite was yet another genre masterpiece from director Denis Villeneuve that cemented him not only as one of the best directors working today, but one of the most singularly visionary directors to ever grace the craft. Arrival is the only film of 2016 that truly surprised me, and that is hard to say given how wonderful the rest of the movies on this list truly are. This is the kind of smart sci-fi film I simply adore watching, with breathtaking cinematography and masterful design work that’s as instantly iconic as it is un-replicable. This is one of Amy Adams’ best performances to date, and I will never forgive the Academy for passing her up to give the nomination to Meryl Streep in Florence Foster Jenkins, a film which no one remembers or talks about anymore, certainly not to the degree that they talk about Arrival. What at first seemed like a thriller in the making soon revealed itself to be far more reflective and nuanced a film than anyone had thought it would be, and the central twist within its narrative means that no one can watch this movie the same way twice, the emotionality of it hitting even harder when viewed a second time. While I don’t have it yet, my very first tattoo comes from this movie, and the meaning of it is as flexible and non-linear as the language of the alien creatures within this film. This would mark the first of two years in a row that Villeneuve would top my Best of the Year list, and if his production of Dune is anything like this and his next film, he might just top it again in 2020.
And those are my Top 10 Movies of 2016! What did you think of this list? Any you disagree with? Would you switch anything around? Let me know in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!
- The Friendly Film Fan
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Film critic in my free time. Film enthusiast in my down time.