This is my Favorite Movies of 2016 list (along with a second opinion from Liz and Eric Sweeney). As all lists are, this list is highly subjective and probably has a few dumb movies on it. What can I say? It’s a sickness. Even then, there are still quite a few movies that I haven’t gotten around to seeing yet, so no internet yelling about your favorite film being excluded if it appears on the haven’t seen yet list at the bottom*. If it didn’t make that list, then have at it with the internet yelling. Also, all this year’s favorite movies are in movie montage mashup form if that’s your preferred manner of taking in best of lists.
There were way too many articles written about how 2016 was not a banner year for movies, so no need to cover that, but there were still some good ones if you sifted through the
Suicide Squads garbage. Starting with:
1. La La Land – There were more socially relevant movies this year that I would encourage people to see, but in terms of pure cinematic enjoyment, La La Land is my favorite movie of the year. It’s vibrant, it’s intoxicating, it’s ambitious, and most of all, it’s fantastic. It’s what you hoped it was when you saw the trailer, a movie that justifies going to the movies. Emma Stone has been great in the past, but I think this marks her as a bonafide movie star. And I guess at this point it’s also fair to say Damien Chazelle is no fluke. Go see La La Land and good luck not humming City of Stars for the rest of the week. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Tell us a story
2. Hunt for the Wilderpeople – Hunt for the Wilderpeople utilizes the dry Kiwi wit that the Flight of the Conchords cultivated so well, and mashes it into a heartwarming tale of misfits on the run. I smiled for most of this movie. It’s a movie made with love. You genuinely grow to care about the characters (Sam Neill is reliably great and Julian Dennison is a breakout star), the soundtrack is catchy and much like La La Land, seeing this in a packed theater was a joy. Not much else to say. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Ricky in the Wild
3. Sing Street – Spiritual companion to his earlier faux musical masterpiece ‘Once‘, Irish director John Carney returns with another faux musical masterpiece of sorts in Sing Street, a movie that plays like a mashup of the best bits of ‘Once’ and ‘The Commitments’. This poppy 80s homage is full of feel good moments where the sentiment is actually earned, not crammed down your throat by an Illuminati focus group trying to win Will Smith an Oscar (I miss you old Will Smith. Sure, I want you to win an Oscar someday, but I also want you to make movies where you actually appear to be enjoying yourself). Like #1 and #2 on this list, Sing Street also has a stellar soundtrack. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Playing the Prom
4. Rogue One – Rogue One is the sort of bleak Star Wars movie you thought Disney would never make. It’s not particularly family friendly, the ubiquitously dour tone won’t sell many action figures and it actually feels a bit too socially relevant for summer blockbuster fare (the rebellion morphs from the original trilogy’s unquestioned heroes to a more nuanced depiction of ruthless, desperate, gray area insurgents and extremists). Despite all that, a thrilling final hour rescues an uneven first hour to make a solid initial entry into the Star Wars standalone films. This is the movie that Suicide Squad desperately wanted to be, but instead of enjoyable characters like K-2So and Chirrut Imwe, we got a team of blandos, a stereotype parading itself as a giant crocodile and an utterly forgettable Joker. (Trailer)
Best Scene: The Assault on Scarif
5. Hell or High Water – There’s something at first glance that makes this movie look like it should have gone straight to video. Like one of those Bruce Willis movies you’ve never heard of that you stumble upon on Netflix in the New Release section. You know the type. Bruce Willis probably has a weird wig on, and maybe Adrien Brody is in it, too, and it’s probably about a heist, or cops, or corrupt cops pulling a heist. Either way, Hell or High Water isn’t that. It just has the initial appearance of sludgy C-minus material thrown together for actors in the twilight of their careers. But in reality, you get a slow burn, bare bones No Country For Old Men homage set in the dry flats of West Texas. And it’s propped up by the best script of the year. There’s not a single line that seems out of place in this movie. It doesn’t hurt that all the performances are great, too. (Trailer)
Best Scene: I’ll Give You Peace, Old Man
Watch This If You Like: No Country For Old Men, Texas, Great Dialogue
6. The Nice Guys – Shane Black continues his streak of great scripts with this punchy 70s action comedy steeped in the tradition of Lethal Weapon, LA Confidential and Kiss, Kiss, Bang Bang. If it weren’t for Hell or High Water, I’d say this would be the best script of the year. Who knew Ryan Gosling had such great comic timing? Who knew Shane Black could write such witty banter? Who knew Russell Crowe could be so surly? Oh wait. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Take Your Daughter to Work aka The Party
7. Green Room – A tense, brutal, skins vs punks showdown set in the backwoods of Oregon that wears its love for John Carpenter on its sleeve. This is not a movie for the squeamish or Star Trek fans who want to preserve a wholesome image of Patrick Stewart. It was sad to lose Anton Yelchin this year, but his talents were on full display in this movie. He was great, and he will be missed. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Couch Ninja
8. Arrival – The ending of this movie just wrecks you. How sad, but in a wonderful way. Arrival is thinking man’s sci-fi, pulled from a short story by Ted Chiang once deemed unfilmmable because of its convoluted and dense content. Director Denis Villeneuve, who was tasked with unravelling that complex narrative, did so with a level of quality that has to mark him as one of the best directors working today. Villeneuve has me excited for next year’s BladeRunner 2049, a movie I probably wouldn’t care about otherwise. (Trailer)
Best Scene: A Mother’s Love
Watch This If You Like: Contact, Hard sci-fi, Amy Adams, The feels
9. Moonlight – A somber meditation on identity, adaptability and the moments in life that haunt us. This is such a deeply personal film that it almost feels like an intrusion to watch it. But it’s wonderfully subtle, never holding your hand or forcing anything on you. I don’t think I can remember a movie outside of Terrence Malick‘s catalog that felt simultaneously so natural and yet so surreal at the same time. At the very least, Maherssala Ali and Naomie Harris deserve award recognition for their performances. (Trailer)
Best Scene: The Reunion
Watch This If You Like: Great Storytelling, Terrence Malick
10. Train to Busan – Zombies on a train! By all rights, this should be schlocky nonsense, but it’s actually quite good. It borrows elements from World War Z, 28 Days Weeks Later and Snakes on a Plane, all while cobbling together a product that’s superior to all the movies it pilfered from. I look forward to Hollywood completely blowing the unnecessary English remake of this superb Korean thriller. Mark your calendars, skip it and see the original. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Journey to the front of the train
11. The Handmaiden – Chan-Wook Park returns to form with this visually sumptuous gothic drama about a handmaiden’s scandalous relationship with a Japanese heiress. In this entry, Park trades his traditional stamp of gratuitous violence in favor of a string of graphic sex scenes that are bound to unnerve more prudish sensibilities. But where other lesser filmmakers would use blasts of violence and sex for pure shock value, Park’s excesses always drip with the mark of a true artist, crafting these as moments of inevitable catharsis and awakening for his characters. Don’t be fooled by the violence/sex/gut churning moments. Chan-Wook Park is a master level director. (Trailer)
Best Scene: She’s Always Been Rotten
12. Manchester By the Sea – A naturalistic endeavor from filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan that examines the damage grief can do after great tragedy. Credit to Lonergan for writing a script that has a lot of legitimately funny moments, considering how heavy the subject matter is in this film. Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams are great. They will probably win awards. They probably deserve to. (Trailer)
Best Scene: (Tie for most devastating) ‘Police Station Visit’ and ‘Chance Encounter on the Street’
Watch This if You Like: Boston Accents, Being Emotionally Devastated
13. Kubo and The Two Strings – I haven’t seen any of Laika’s other films, but my first experience with the studio was certainly a positive one. Kubo is a stop motion animated film that has often been called the ‘Zelda’ movie, because it’s probably the closest anyone is ever going to get to a Zelda movie. Either way, it’s the best animated movie I saw this year (although I still haven’t seen Moana or Your Name). The animation is stunningly gorgeous. (Trailer)
Best Scene: The Night Calls Out To You
14. 10 Cloverfield Lane – 10 Cloverfield Lane is a surprisingly good high concept bottle episode of a movie. I know people had issue with the ending, which I understand, but I can’t say it bothered me all that much. John Goodman is just too good in this movie for a questionable ending to sully the entire experience. I would encourage any Hitchcock fan to give this a shot. Previous Cloverfield 1 viewing not required. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Any scene where John Goodman loses it
Watch This If You Like: Hitchcock, Tense Thrillers, John Goodman Dancing
15. The Shallows – The Shallows is the best shark movie in quite some time. I know that isn’t saying much, but there were some genuinely terrifying moments in this film. I should also mention that I am irrationally terrified of sharks though, so my judgement probably can’t be trusted with this one. But one of the main characters in this movie is a seagull. And his name is Steven Seagull. So, you should probably just go ahead and see this movie. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Buoy showdown
16. Doctor Strange – Captain America: Civil War is probably a better movie, but Doctor Strange feels more refreshing, even if it really doesn’t step outside of Marvel’s box office friendly formula all that much. The cast is solid, the cg is impressive and at the end of the day, I had a stronger desire to rewatch this over Civil War. Such a glowing recommendation, I know. But if you really need a reason to see this movie, it’s the Hannibal vs Sherlock showdown we never thought we’d get. (Trailer)
Best Scene: A manipulation of time and space
Watch This If You Like: Ant-Man, Wi-fi password jokes aka Dad jokes, Capes, Goatees
17. The Dark Horse – I’m a sucker for inspirational sports movies (chess is a sport, right?) and this certainly filled the quota for me. Veteran actor Cliff Curtis finally gets a chance to play a character from his native land, an opportunity he doesn’t often seem to get, and he’s spectacular. Never in a million years will he get nominated for this role, but he gives an award caliber performance as Gensis Potini, a real life chess champion who struggled with mental illness, but found some stability teaching chess to underprivileged Maori kids. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Championship in Auckland
18. Midnight Special – This is really a tale of three acts. The first act is phenomenal. Sparse exposition gives way to a genuinely interesting setup about a father, his son and their stoic bodyguard. The second act is a bit of a slog and the third is a patchwork homage to better movies. However, the first act and Michael Shannon’s acting are enough to make this a movie worth checking out. I still think Shannon and director Jeff Nichols previous collaboration, Take Shelter, is a better movie, but they continue to do solid work together. (Trailer)
Best Scene: A Father’s Love
19. Zootopia – There are some serious issues confronted in this movie. I mean, this is basically a kids movie about racism. So bravo to Disney for that. Along with it being relevant, it’s a gorgeous, funny, well written movie. The voice cast featuring Jason Bateman and Ginnifer Goodwin is top notch, too. I don’t think I’d have Zootopia this high if it weren’t so sharp, but it is, so I’m just going to roll with it. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Predator Press Conference
Watch This If You Like: Disney movies with worthwhile messages
20. My Love, Don’t Cross That River – My one documentary on the list is a slice of life film about an old Korean couple that have been married for seventy six years. It’s often adorable, but also heartbreaking, as it deals with growing old and watching the ravages of age chip away at the strong, vibrant people we once knew. I really like the purity of this film though. This is one of the few documentaries where you can tell the subjects aren’t mugging for the camera. This is just who they are, and it’s kinda wonderful. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Sing for Me
Watch This If You Like: Slice of life documentaries, The feels, Adorable couples
21. Captain Fantastic – Would this movie work without Viggo’s soulful performance? I honestly don’t know. But because it has Viggo, it’s on this list. It also raises a lot of interesting questions about parenting in the 21st Century. Are we raising technologically dependent kids who lack any sort of practical, real world skills? Is pulling your kids off the grid a light form of neglect? Does commune living produce hyper intelligent (or at the very least, well read), but socially inept individuals? These and more questions answered in Captain Fantastic. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Sweet Child of Mine
Watch This If You Like: Beards, Noam Chomsky, Viggo
22. Fences – This is just two hours of Denzel Washington and Viola Davis acting their asses off. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It does feel confined by its roots as a play, but when your leads are this good, I suppose it doesn’t matter that you don’t venture too far outside of the small Pittsburgh home where most of Fences takes place. I haven’t seen August Wilson’s play performed on stage before (outside of that infamous James Earl Jones scene), but I’d certainly like to now. (Trailer)
Best Scene: How Come You Never Liked Me?
Watch This If You Like: Acting showcases, Death of a Salesman
23. Kill Zone 2 – Kill Zone 2 has a pretty preposterous plot about an undercover cop who is a bone marrow match for a prison guard’s dying daughter, but it doesn’t matter. I don’t think anyone tuned into a movie called Kill Zone 2 for the story. It is however, a pretty thrilling martial arts movie and Tony Jaa’s best starring role since his Ong Bak 1 days. If you like martial arts movies, give this a shot. It’s a pleasant surprise. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Prison Brawl
Watch This If You Like: The Raid, Ong Bak, Flash Point, Infernal Affairs
24. The Wailing – This is a long and imperfect film, but boy does it have some moments that haunt you. Like not American horror movie jump scares haunt you. Like properly festering eeriness. The kind that really creep you out and make you lose sleep, even if you don’t completely understand what you saw. I don’t know if Hong-jin Na has directed a perfect movie yet (although Chaser is pretty close), but he sure knows how to produce some thrilling, memorable moments. Now he just needs to make movies more often than every six years and I’ll be happy. (Trailer)
Best Scene: Don’t Go Back to Your House
25. Captain America: Civil War – Captain America: Civil War might have been the best of the summer blockbusters, but that isn’t saying much. I didn’t think it was a great movie, but it is enjoyable, and when placed against the recent DC trash fires, it is a shining example of how to handle multiple characters/storylines. But let’s be honest, the real reason to watch this movie is the airport brawl (and the quick appearance of the Bluth stair car). (Trailer)
Best Scene: Airport Throw Down
Watch This If You Like: Marvel movies, Passable entertainment with some occasionally thrilling sequences
Honorable Mention: The Witch, The Jungle Book, The Little Prince, The Neon Demon, Blood Father, Finding Dory, Kung Fu Panda 3, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, The Wave, Ip Man 3, The Boy and the Beast, The Lobster, Deadpool, Triple 9, Keanu, Don’t Breathe, Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World, The Soundtrack in Swiss Army Man, Hush, Eddie the Eagle, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, Star Trek Beyond
*Still Have Not Seen: The Age of Shadows, Silence, A Monster Calls, Don’t Think Twice, Lights Out, Tickled, Embrace of the Serpent, Hardcore Henry, Hail, Caesar!, Love & Friendship, Paterson, Mean Dreams, Passengers, Trespass Against Us, The Eagle Huntress, Moana, Edge of Seventeen, Split, American Honey, Nocturnal Animals, Hacksaw Ridge, Deepwater Horizon
Best Performances: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges in Manchester by the Sea, Sam Neill and Julian Dennison in The Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Amy Adams in Arrival, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in La La Land, Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in Fences, Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling and Angourie Rice in The Nice Guys, Everyone in Moonlight, Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine and Ben Foster in Hell or High Water, John Goodman in 10 Cloverfield Lane, Patrick Stewart and Anton Yelchin in Green Room, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton and Jack Reynor in Sing Street, Donnie Yen and Alan Tudyk in Rogue One, Michael Shannon in Midnight Special, Royalty Hightower in The Fits, Mel Gibson in Blood Father, Anya Taylor-Joy in The Witch, Viggo in Captain Fantastic, Cliff Curtis in The Dark Horse, Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz in The Lobster, Kate Siegel in Hush
Most Disappointing Movie: It has to be Independence Day: Resurgence. Superman vs Batman might have been a worse movie, but at least it had a few inspired moments that made it more buoyant than the stale cement boots sequel that was Independence Day 2. Jeff Goldblum was great in ID4: part 2, but the rest of the movie was just so overpoweringly terrible and stale that Goldblum’s sweet chaos theory musings were all but drowned out. Even an appearance from old crazy bearded Bill Pullman couldn’t keep this afloat. It also didn’t release on July 4. Unforgivable.
If Tremors Had Come Out This Year, Where Would It Have Been Ranked: That’s an excellent question. It would be #1, of course. Sixteen years running.
Movies I’m Most Looking Forward to in 2017: Star Wars: Episode VIII, Baby Driver, Okja, Ready Player One, Logan, Guardians 2, Dunkirk, Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing Missouri, The Girl With All the Gifts, John Wick 2, Blade Runner 2049, The Dark Tower, Fast 8, XXX: Return of Xander Cage, Your Name, The Red Turtle, Spiderman: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, War for the Planet of the Apes, Mute, Beauty and The Beast, Alien: Covenant, Kong: Skull Island, Lego Batman, It, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, A Monster Calls, Trainspotting 2, War on Everyone, Molly’s Game, The Great Wall
Second Opinion (Liz’s Top Five):
1. Train to Busan – Korean dramas always know how to tug at those heart strings when watching each character’s story unfold. A career driven, distant father learning to care for his young daughter. A bull-headed husband who turns into a doting servant at the command of his sharp-tempered pregnant wife. A young baseball player trying to find the right words to say to his best friend/girl of his dreams. Now take all of those people, board them on a train with ridiculously convincing crazed zombies (Seriously. The best zombies.), put in a blender and out pours the best action movie of the year.
2. Hunt for the Wilderpeople – I can’t help but want to watch Sam Neill rescue helpless children in life or death situations, whether it be on an island with clever prehistoric animals or an island with wild animals and equally wildly ego-driven Kiwis. Is that weird? Except Ricky is no Lex or Tim. Ricky is the kind of kid who kicks and spits on stuff. Ricky marches to the beat of his own drum and Sam Neill is more or less along for the ride. It is pretty hard not to root for this unconventional duo at the end. Bonuses: The very lovable Auntie Bella and the scene between Ricky and his social worker Paula, who delivers the ultimate Terminator 2 zinger.
3. Captain Fantastic – This movie lands in the top three because it struck too many chords with how modern society is shaping itself to be, particularly regarding the education and upbringing of adolescents. It draws a very strong argument from both sides—whether children should follow social norms with a traditional education, brimming with broad SAT based knowledge, but relatively devoid of practical skills, or have a hands-on, skill-based, self reliant education where independence and developed opinions are championed, but social interaction falls to the wayside. The movie also touches lightly on mental illness and how traditional and non-traditional medicine can be used to treat sufferers, with varying results. In the end, the movie grapples with the two respective styles of parenting, examining which is most beneficial to the children, all while searching for possible compromises between the polarizing approaches. Which is right, which is wrong, those questions still rattle around in my head.
4. La La Land – I love both Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling equally, so of course I am willing to watch them team up once again. At first, I feared this movie would end up being terribly depressing after watching the director’s previous movie, Whiplash, and feeling nothing good. The first trailer for La La Land gave me that same feeling of dread. But the second trailer revealed a more promising, optimistic tone. In the end, La La Land gave us the musical we’ve been wanting since ‘Chicago’, relying less on musical talent and more on the actors’ ability to carry the story along and take the viewer right along with them. When I first walked out of the movie I was a little disappointed, but after some thought I deeply appreciated the ending as a true LA story.
5. Ghostbusters – I know a lot of critics knocked this movie, but it rounds out my top five because I seriously had a good time watching it. I even clapped at the end. It was way more entertaining than any other “blockbuster” that was released this year and I found it refreshing to watch a movie that, YES, had multiple female leads. The shining star however was Kate McKinnon, doing what she does best—making popcorn projectile spit out of my mouth into the person’s hair sitting in the row ahead of me, all thanks to her timing and delivery on every line. I also highly recommend watching her outtakes. I don’t know how the rest of the cast held it together when some of those lines rolled out of her mouth.
Sweeney’s Top 10:
1. Arrival – Denis Villenueve is on a roll. Loved Prisoners and Sicario, and now he proves he can make smart sci-fi as well. Which is good news since he has another one coming out next year – the Blade Runner sequel.
2. Hunt for the Wilderpeople – Just saw this recently and it was worth the wait. I immediately went to watch Taika Watiti’s previous film and loved that as well. Can’t wait to see what he does in the Marvel universe.
3. The Nice Guys – Shane Black’s spiritual successor to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Funny and entertaining.
4. Star Wars: Rogue One – Overall a great entry into the Star Wars films. Just a few choices away from being perfect.
5. Captain America: Civil War – A very entertaining ensemble film that’s more of an Avengers film than it is a Captain America film. And the new Spiderman is better than the previous two, so that’s hopeful as well. Crazy how the Brothers Russo have gone from Arrested Development and Community to directing the biggest blockbuster films ever.
6. 10 Cloverfield Lane – Thrilling film that pretty much takes place in one bunker, with a should-be-nominated-for-an-Oscar-but-probably-won’t-be performance by John Goodman.
7. Green Room – Just got to watch this recently – another suspenseful thriller that takes place in one location, from the director of Blue Ruin. Can’t wait to see what he does next.
8. Hell or High Water – A modern western/heist film with some great acting by Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges. Liked it a lot more than I thought I would.
9. Star Trek Beyond – Another good entry into this franchise – I hope they keep making these.
10. Kubo and the Two Strings – Not for everyone but I liked it nonetheless. Would very much like to see a “Making Of” documentary for it, as the little they showed of the production during the credits was pretty crazy.
Honorable Mention – Finding Dory, The Lobster, Zootopia, Doctor Strange, Deadpool
Want To See – The Handmaiden, La La Land, Manchester by the Sea, Sing Street, Moonlight, The Jungle Book, Moana, Edge of Seventeen, Don’t Breathe, Hacksaw Ridge, Gold, Silence
(This was a weird year for me – usually I see a lot more. I think there were a lot of bad films/remakes/sequels this year that put a sour taste in my mouth. For the first time in probably forever, I went 5+ months without going to a theater – from Civil War in early May, to Girl On The Train in early October. Then there were a ton of films at the end of the year that I wanted to see but never got around to. Hoping 2017 is better (in every aspect, really)).
Most Looking Forward To In 2017
- Star Wars – Episode 8 – Rian Johnson takes the reigns and it should be a better film than Episode 7 because of that. Going to be sad to see Leia for the last time tho.
- Dunkirk – Nolan is the man and I saw the 5-minute preview of it in IMAX. Yeah it’s good.
- Baby Driver – Edgar Wright’s first film in 5 years.
- War for the Planet of the Apes – Loved the last one and this one looks crazy – it’s got Woody Harrelson
- Blade Runner 2049 – wasn’t for this until I saw Villenueve is directing and the trailer looks amazing.
- Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 – should be fun
- Alien: Covenant – loved Prometheus despite the character issues, so looking forward to this follow-up.
- Mute – A return to grounded sci-fi for Duncan Jones
- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – From the director of In Bruges. ‘Nuff said.
- Molly’s Game – Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut with Jessica Chastain in the lead