Continuing our coverage of the best that cinema had to offer us in 2016, we have saved the best for last – the unveiling of mxdwn’s Top 10 Films of 2016. We hope you have enjoyed reading our analysis of the last twelve years at the movies. This list was compiled and democratically sorted within the entire mxdwn staff. Now without further ado…
10 – LOVING
Read our review.
The courtroom barely plays a role at all in Jeff Nichols’ elegant and superbly calibrated period drama concerning Richard and Mildred Loving, even though their love story played an integral role in changing the Supreme Court’s definition of marriage. It’s in this respect that Loving gently subverts the docudrama genre as the Loving couple themselves weren’t civil rights leaders but simply a mixed-race couple who fell in love and married just as the Civil Rights Movements was gaining full speed. Loving follows the lead of the Lovings as it beautifully, gently and persuasively through the finest techniques of cinema – exquisitely grounded performances, controlled direction, sensitive writing, meticulous design elements – articulately and deftly showcases a lived-in sense of living history. Movies like Loving are rare indeed – they must be cherished when they come along.
9 – THE NICE GUYS
Read our review.
A film with Shane Black’s fingerprints all over it (i.e. witty dialogue, two opposing characters who soon become best friends), The Nice Guys is many things at once. It is an impressive period piece that encapsulates the feel of 1970’s culture, a well done murder mystery and a buddy cop film that doesn’t come across as stale. Headed by two entertaining performances by Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe, as well as a heavily underrated one by newcomer Angourie Rice, The Nice Guys managed to be both mature and fun at the same time. It’s also possibly the most underrated movie of 2016, seeing as how the film underperformed at the box office, which is a damn shame. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who wants either a good action movie, crime film or comedy, as it delivers on all front.
8 – CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
Captain America: Civil War continues Marvel Studios’ unprecedented win streak and just might be their most excellent picture since the first Avengers movie. With a cast of A-list actors reaching 20 members deep, the movie effortlessly balances all of the heroes (and antiheroes) without ever getting confusing or tedious. The wise additions of Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther and Tom Holland’s Spider-Man respectively add enough gravitas and acerbic wit to fully round out this superhero spectacle on steroids.
The superhero genre had its share of ups and downs and everything in between this year, but Captain America: Civil War definitely stood above the crowd. Saying this as someone who actually enjoyed Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (UE edition of course), I believe that Deadpool had the best characterization of a superhero but Civil War was the better experience overall. It managed to connect so many elements and plot points of the MCU together and deliver an ensemble of heroes we have grown to love over the past eight years. Not only that, but the film managed to incorporate new editions to the Marvel franchise with ease and provide some incredible action sequences that will no doubt make many people’s favorite superhero moments on the big screen. That fight scene in the airport alone definitely was absolutely worth the price of admission.
7 – JACKIE
Read our review.
Jackie is that rare type of film that’s not made very often now. An arthouse 1970s-style movie that takes a nonlinear approach to its subject, making the familiar all the more absorbing and even mysterious. Natalie Portman brings to life a Jackie that is both poised and fragile, tough yet vulnerable, all the while dealing with a tragedy in very much the public view. We get a glimpse into the harsh realities of life in the White House during the time, one where the presentation of “everything is fine” is much more important than the actual people. Her force of nature performance is the type that will talked about years later and no doubt studied because it didn’t feel like acting but living on screen.
Jackie was able to catch a spot as one of the best movies of the year because of its unconventionality. Director Pablo Larraín created a biopic that deviates so thoroughly from the standard procedures found in something like Sully, and was so accurately able to portray the anguish, anger and listlessness of grief. Anchored by a standout performance from Natalie Portman, Jackie offers a glimpse into the life of the titular star, deftly illustrating the experiences of an ordinary woman coming to terms with her past, present and future and what they all mean.
6 – ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY
Read our review.
Rogue One gives Star Wars fans everything they could want from a prequel. The narrative is interesting and it fills in the missing information that have plagued Star Wars fans for decades. It is the only Star Wars movie that showcases what feels like a real war and it shows what caused a rebellion in the first place. It shows just how high the stakes really are and it makes the original trilogy even more fun to watch. It really reminds Star Wars fans what they always loved about the beloved franchise in the first place.
Rogue One is truly a fan film, as unlike it’s predecessor (The Force Awakens), it was not afraid to completely embark from the original storyline and create an entirely new cast of characters, who were diverse, determined, and quite comedic. The creativity needed to create this spin-off/prequel is truly impressive, and was fun for audiences of all ages.
5 – MOONLIGHT
Moonlight was heartbreaking, honest and most of all brutally authentic. The films imagery will haunt you for days afterward.
Let alone the best movie of 2016, Moonlight is certainly one of the best movies of the 21st century. Beautifully directed by Barry Jenkins, Moonlight is truly an empathetic experience which allows audiences to deeply connect and one to understand the emotion and life behind a perspective not often seen on screen — a black gay man. Jenkins expertly conveys Chiron’s confusion, hurt, search for identity and longing for connection through three great actors, aided by great performances from Naomie Harris and Mahershala Ali.
4 – HELL OR HIGH WATER
Read our review.
Hell or High Water was my top film of the year. Excellent performances by Chris Pine and Ben Foster boost this modern western. The duo play two desperate brothers trying to break out of poverty, while Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham as the two lawmen chasing them.
Hell or High Water might be one of the few modern takes on the cowboy genre film ever done correctly. It’s a morality play set on intensely shaky ground where the best of the current generation find themselves either faced with accepting permanent life defeat or having to do things beyond the boundaries of legal/ethical moral standing. It’s a Robin Hood tale for the scores of U.S. citizens buried under the weight of the 2008 housing/economic collapse packed with brilliant performances from Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges and Ben Foster.
3 – MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
Read our review.
Manchester by the Sea grips you and doesn’t let go, with lead Casey Affleck in a heartbreaking performance as a father stuck in unspeakable grief.
When I first say Manchester by the Sea, I had no idea I saw the year’s best film. Upon a second viewing, I knew I witnessed director Kenneth Lonergan’s masterpiece. Both devastating and surprisingly and darkly funny, Manchester by the Sea showcases one of 2016’s best ensembles. Casey Affleck’s deeply internal and tortured performance is certain to join the ranks of the greats and his rapport with breakout Lucas Hedges, delivering one the year’s best performances, is a key factor into Manchester by the Sea‘s greatness.
Anchored by an earthmoving performance by Casey Affleck, Kenneth Lonergan’s film is an epic of intimacy and heartbreak. It is one of the most effecting portraits of grief and love committed to film in years. The film is wall to wall with Oscar-worthy performances, gorgeous cinematography, and ingenious editing. It is, for lack of a better word, a masterpiece.
2 – ARRIVAL
Read our review.
Director Denis Villeneueve gives us one of the best major releases and smartest sci-fi movies in recent years. The big reason Arrival stands out is that like all the greatest sci-fi, the film knows that the genre works best when it’s dealing with how humans relate to new technology on a personal, intimate level. It’s about how the advancements affect us, rather than how we fight against it. Thanks to Villeneuve, writer Eric Heisserer, stars Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner and editor Joe Walker, Arrival ends up becoming the most emotionally fulfilling movie of 2016.
-Brett Harrison Davinger
Arrival is a very unique sci-fi film that has more focus on intellect than action sequences. Amy Adams is powerful in her performance and the atmosphere is tense and mysterious. Denis Villeneuve is in top form with his direction.
Arrival is the sort of intelligent, human-based science fiction people simply don’t make enough of. Filled with heady and compelling ideas based in actual science, Denis Villeneuve’s film is unlike any first contact film you’ve ever seen. Its lyrically beautiful, well-acted, and is fueled by a welcome optimism that feels neither naive nor artificial. It’s a proper antidote to the schlocky shoot-em-up space thrillers that populate most science fiction and does what all great speculative fiction does: makes you think and makes you discuss.
1 – LA LA LAND
Read our review.
La La Land is a magical film that captures – in song and dance – the highs and lows of life. And it does so with surprisingly elegant dancing by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.
La La Land is not only for the aspiring actors, musicians, writers, and creatives of the world, it is for the romantics, and most of all, for those of us who love film. There have been a good number of films about Hollywood which have been released in the past few years and most of them seem to have the same tone of disdain and contempt for the city, the people, and the industry. There are few recent movies about Hollywood which revel in the splendor and beauty of Hollywood.
La La Land may not enchant all audiences by the end (given it does not give general audiences the “happy ending” they crave), but the journey is one of the most beautiful that film has seen in a long time. The production design feels like it was taken from the golden age of Hollywood, deeply infused with colorful and theatrical elements that are carried by strong performances by the leads who represent the quintessential Hollywood dream.
Like everyone else, La La Land danced its way into my heart as soon as I left the theater. The last, epic seven-minute scene lifted La La Land out of its almost self-indulgent, inter-textual references and ended with the perfect amount of bittersweet thoughts on love and fate. Although certain moments waver slightly, Justin Hurwitz’s magnificent, whimsical and utterly breathtaking score is able to make up for any sour notes that might have been hit by the limited singing abilities of the two lead stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.
Let’s face it: 2016 was terrible on a number of levels and it shows even in the world of cinema, with numerous films failing to meet expectations or just fading from the public eye after months of hype. And in spite of all this negativity and cynicism I felt towards the end of the year, La La Land managed to put a genuine smile on my face. This was only Damien Chazelle’s third film and just like Whiplash, one of the best films of 2014, he managed to create what was the best film of 2016: a loving throwback to old school Hollywood musicals and their optimistic, can-do attitude. But even more than that, it’s a touching romantic comedy with a message about following one’s dreams even when it looks like they’re just not cut out for them. And at a time when half the country feels downcast about the future, a little optimism is something that we all need to move forward.
And that’s a wrap on 2016. Agree? Disagree? Sound off in the comments.
Previous Best of 2016 coverage: