This year has been quite a doozy in the film world with an equal portion of fresh and rotten films. But, let’s look on the bright side and look at the best movies of the year. Before I do, I’ll briefly mention that these are my top ten and, of course, my opinion. Also, I haven’t seen quite a big chunk of movies in 2016 yet. So if your movie didn’t make it on this list, don’t take it personally. I probably just haven’t seen it yet. This list is not in any particular order. Okay, let’s do this…
Nearly perfect with everything you’d want in a cerebral science fiction film, Arrival should be the new sci-fi standard. Denis Villeneuve’s direction never fails to impress, and he continues to provide excellent vision in Arrival. The writing compliments Villeneuve’s talent, but it also overshadows it. Screenwriter Eric Heisserer is one to watch after providing excellent scripts for both Lights Out and Arrival. The gorgeous cinematography encapsulates both the scope of the situation and the intimacy between the aliens and Amy Adam’s character. And Adams takes on a lead role with great aplomb, providing a solid, nuanced, and emotional performance. The overall craftsmanship, originality, and intelligence in Arrival is rare in a big Hollywood picture. See my full review here.
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Between Arrival and Hacksaw Ridge, I’d have to flip a coin to decide on the better film. Arrival provides a trippy and cerebral experience while Ridge offers a gritty, emotional war epic. The best element of Ridge is its portrayal of Desmond Doss. His character drove the story, and Mel Gibson did a fantastic job avoiding both melodrama and lifeless pessimism often found in war movies. Ridge is a war movie with a great deal of hope injected in the core, and that’s what makes it so inspiring. See my full review here.
Hell or High Water
I knew Sicario was special for two reasons last year. First, Denis Villeneuve directed it, and second, the methodical writing. So when I saw the same screenwriter, Taylor Sheridan, wrote Hell or High Water, I knew I had to put it on my list to watch. It did not disappoint. The Neo-Western provides great characters, solid action, and a compelling plot to keep your interest. The characters are real people with back-stories written all over their dialogue, but Sheridan doesn’t spoon feed and keeps the audience guessing. As the story progresses, he loops the plot at the right times and ties it all up perfectly by the end. But this isn’t a mindless western. The themes of poverty, wealth and the moral consequences of your actions weave in and out of each scene and by the end, you’re left with a plenty to think about.
I had to throw in an animated movie on this list and Zootopia wins by a mile. The gorgeous animation, the clever writing, and relevant themes put it above the rest. Much like a Pixar film, Zootopia appeals to both adults and kids and doesn’t pick low hanging fruit like The Angry Birds Movie or try too hard to pull at your heart strings like Finding Dory. I will admit sometimes it’s too on-the-nose with its agenda, but that’s to be expected from a movie appealing to kids.
Star Wars films have the double edge sword of popularity. There’s no doubt people will watch them, but the heavy weight that comes with that can be a lot to live up to. The curse of the prequels continues to cast a long shadow. Fortunately, Gareth Edwards not only meets but exceeds expectations with Rogue One, executing a gritty, relevant, and exciting war film wrapped in Star Wars packaging. The writing is not without flaws and some of the supporting characters could be fleshed out more, but overall it’s an exceptional addition to the Star Wars franchise with gorgeous special effects, great acting, and a bold narrative. See my full review here.
This obscure gem is not for the faint of heart or the casual movie-goer. In fact, some might argue it’s only for a small horror niche and no one else. While this movie is a graphic, intense, and often an unsettling portrait of New England settlers, the deep subtext takes it far beyond a shallow horror film. Most of the tension derives from the plot. It’s a slow burn film with an unsettling score. Watching a misunderstood girl be devoured by her parent’s paranoia and religious fanaticism and pushed toward dark forces make it hard to watch, but equally powerful. I think there are plenty of lessons in this, but especially for the devoutly religious and their potential to veer off into paranoid delusions.
10 Cloverfield Lane
I’ll be honest. This one barely made it on the list. In fact, it came down to this one and The Accountant. I chose 10 Cloverfield Lane for two reasons: John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s tremendous acting and Dan Trachtenberg’s excellent directorial debut. The writing is so-so. Goodman is a fantastic villain, but you aren’t given much with his or Winstead’s character, and that’s the ultimate flaw. Their characters aren’t full enough and so it’s difficult to really care what happens to them. A lot of the story hinges on gimmicks and twists, and that’s never a good idea. Trachtenberg’s direction helps make the movie tense and fun to watch, but that only takes things so far. It still makes the list because it is a unique premise that’s worth watching.
Normally, I never want a filmmaker to adjust or alter their original vision especially if it’s good as is, but there’s a small part of me that wishes Jeremy Saulnier would release a light version of Green Room that removes some of the gut-wrenching gore and violence. I think his vision and direction is outstanding with fantastic writing and I want more people to experience it. Unfortunately, even I had a hard time stomaching some of the intense and graphic violence, and I doubt many who don’t like horror would touch this movie with a seven and a half foot pole. And that’s a shame because this movie is otherwise fantastic and next to The Witch, the scariest movie of the year. While I understand the gore is somewhat necessary to instill dread and fear of the Neo-Nazi antagonists, I think that can still come across through the characters reactions and Patrick Stewart’s bone-chilling acting. Overall, the unique story, great direction, and solid performances from Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, and Patrick Stewart earn Green Room a place on the list. Read my full review here.
Midnight Special is another 2016 gem that went mostly under the radar. Directed by Jeff Nichols and starring Michael Shannon, Midnight Special is a science fiction about an extraordinary child that Michael Shannon’s character kidnaps in an attempt to take him away from a cult. The premise isn’t altogether unique, but the execution is. Nichols experiments with visual storytelling to the extreme, never telling the audience a thing through dialogue or exposition. You’re merely taken along for the ride. The story pays off all the way up until the end when things get bizarre and too much is revealed, altering the tone. That aside, it doesn’t ruin the overall story, and Shannon’s performance alone is enough to make it a top film.
Overall, Mel Gibson is what makes this movie great. His acting is some of his best in a long time and proves he still has leading man potential despite age or being out of the game for a while. The story isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t provide much of a deeper subtext to glean from, but the flawed characters, gritty tone, and intense action scenes are enough to make it well worth your time.
What were your favorite movies of the year? Sound off in the comments below!