There may be a month left of cinema still upon us yet, but before we get serious let’s have a look back at the best movies of 2016 so far. We have looked far and wide, traveled to the multiplex to the art-house and back again and here is mxdwn’s current picks for the ten best films so to have arrived on screens this year. Included are some of 2016’s biggest spectacles as well as most modest and personal gems. We will be updating this page every so often to reflect the best and brightest films of the year. Be sure to check back in to see where we stand. And without further ado, and presented in alphabetical order, here are the current cinematic treasures of 2016.
Arrival is a rich, captivating sci-fi movie that expertly combines suspense, ideology and emotion. Director Denis Villeneuve has created a movie that will make engaged viewers both think and feel, which is all a director needs to do in order for his or her film to succeed. Although Arrival may not be a hit to audiences in the same way, it will be still enjoyable regardless of what they take out of it.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
After the overkill that was Avengers: Age of Ultron, it’s nice to focus more on the characters on their unique relationships. While the first hour of Marvel’s latest spectacular is a bit slow, the last hour and half – greatly helped by faces both new and old – is gripping and action-packed with much need one-liners. The twist at the end was unexpected and worked extraordinarily well.
Paul Verhoeven’s Elle is a movie that will linger for some time. The first scene of the film is of Isabelle Huppert’s character being sexually assaulted on her kitchen floor. From the shocking opening frame, Huppert’s character tries to figure out who did this to her and why. Yet, she’s unnervingly calm about the entire situation, refusing to call the police for her specific reasons. She laughs at the thought of getting a gun but buys an industrial can of pepper spray and a hatchet just in case; she isn’t hellbent on revenge but deep down she wants to be ready. It’s a stunning and twisted work of art, so depraved and so Verhoevenian.
Released in February, The Coen Brothers’ latest is one of the best movies of the year. A classic, unpretentious farce with the spirit of and adoration towards old Hollywood, Hail, Caesar! features excellent performance in an ensemble led by Josh Brolin, terrific craftsmanship in the sets and costumes and magnificent visuals unsurpassed in Coen lore. And it’s simply fun, good-time escapist entertainment, which is rarer than we might think.
HELL OR HIGH WATER
It’s a relatively simple story of law officers chasing after bank robbers told from both sides of the equation, but this modern day Western is done so well that it reminds you how great a “no frills” action movie can be. No ginormous action set pieces, no extensive CGI, not even some moral equivalency argument – it’s a traditional law and order tale bolstered by compelling characters and performances. We expect excellence from Jeff Bridges, and Ben Foster is almost always solid (Inferno aside), but who would have known that Chris Pine could pull it off? And who would have thought that Sons of Anarchy‘s Taylor Sheridan (who wrote this as well as last year’s Sicario) would be emerging as one of today’s top screenwriters?
With strokes both bold and uncompromising, director Pablo Larraín’s masterful staging of former First Lady Jackie Kennedy in the direct aftermath of her husband’s assassination is a sturdy, surprising and refreshingly singular piece of work. At once an authentic study in grief, an intimate, unsentimental character study of one of the world’s most significant figures and a powerful examination of legacy, ego and pride, Jackie wears as many masks as its subject does designer clothes. Thanks to Larraín’s tough but sensitive direction, spurred by a smart and compact screenplay, a beautifully haunting score, stately crafts and a never-better performance from Natalie Portman, Jackie is one of the best cinematic achievements of the year. The effect is transfixing, illuminating, unmissable.
LA LA LAND
Damien Chazelle’s joyful and exuberant modern musical is a full-blown charmer. Energetic and lifted on a spirit of pure glee (and refreshing little of meta-smarmy jukebox mania of Glee), La La Land beautifully lifts the era of old MGM-style musicals and transports those willing to a kind of cinema euphoria. Exceptionally well crafted and beautifully anchored by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, La La Land is a treasure.
Boasting arguably the most outlandish premise this year, The Lobster is also one of the best and most interesting films of 2016. Starring Colin Farrell, once again showing that he’s better as schmuck than heartthrob, The Lobster successfully argues that fascism is fascism, regardless of where on the spectrum it falls, and that sometimes you just have to be a coward.
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
Manchester by the Sea wields a raw, emotional power that few films could dream of conjuring. The film embodies an honesty that rarely survives the journey from the page to the screen. Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan has created a stirring vision of sorrow and love that is an instant classic. It simply needs to be seen.
A tremendous piece of work. Told with expert precision, economy and an uncommon thoughtfulness of the human condition, Moonlight will surely go down as one of the year’s finest achievements. One that features searing, passionate and beautifully connected acting from an extraordinary group of actors, many of whom appearing on screen for the very first time. One that quietly but persuasively asserts director Barry Jenkins as filmmaker with his eyes, ears and heart on the pulse of today’s woes, desires and hopes. And finally, one that may, if audiences are willing to succumb to its gentle but poetic grace, allow us all to understand one another just a little bit better.
Agree? Disagree? Sound off in the comments.
UPDATED 12/16/16 – La La Land added.
UPDATED 12/16/16 – Midnight Special removed.
UPDATED 12/3/16 – Jackie and Manchester by the Sea added.
UPDATED 12/3/16 – A Bigger Splash and Deadpool removed.