Thank you to the dearly departed Kurt Vonnegut for the “So it goes” part. It seemed appropriate to use for a list of the best movies of 2016.
Last year, I didn’t seem to have my usual ability to escape, empathize, and/or absorb the 20 or 30 2016 movies I did watch. I blame that on 2016, yet I’m not nearly as angry about it as I would have guessed. I’m just sad. Probably tired, as well.
So it goes.
2016 was a bad year. Very few will disagree with that. For me personally, the world beyond film made it fairly difficult to concentrate on the dozens of movies that were released for the 2016 calendar year. It didn’t help either that overall, 2016 was not a particularly good year for the medium.
Dozens, and dozens, and then dozens of TV shows came across the landscape this year. In the golden age of scripted television, going to the movies doesn’t seem as crucial as it once did. This is in spite of the fact that the movies that were successful this year were still pretty successful. Movies are on a downward spiral right now, particularly the stuff that’s coming out of Hollywood, but the money is still coming in. If we are witnessing the death of film, it’s going to be a very slow death.
But I doubt film will ever actually die. Aspects of the overall industry of film may die, but the medium itself probably isn’t going anywhere. Things will change. The massive studio names will remain ages behind the times, and their products will reflect that to the bitter end. Even so, I think film will endure.
2016 wasn’t a creative wasteland for movies by any means. Last year, more than ever, it was a matter of quality over quantity. If you didn’t feel as though 2016 brought us a ton of amazing, engaging, devastating movies, you’re not alone. I’m right there with you. I would just ask that you consider the quality of the movies that you did enjoy. The intensity and power of those films. The quality of the best movies of 2016 makes them as good as anything this art form can produce. There were just less examples of that quality this year, at least as far as I’m concerned.
Putting it another way: After this list of the 10 best movies of 2016, I didn’t have much in the way of runner-ups.
So it goes.
Movies with the kind of hype Deadpool had behind it tend to fail. If no one else, then it at least bombs with the people who dreamed the hardest for its success. Not so with Ryan Reynolds’ second first turn with Marvel’s most popular anti-hero.
Not only did Reynolds bring fantastic, endless humor to his role as Deadpool, but the film itself was pretty darn good, as well. A lot of this movie’s charm comes from the supporting cast. It also proves that even in this cynical age, you can still tell a fun origin story to people who no longer have the patience for such things.
9. 10 Cloverfield Lane
10 Cloverfield Lane is a relentlessly tense, occasionally hilarious continuation of what the initial Cloverfield film started a few years earlier. It also gives you one of the best performances of Goodman’s career. I have zero faith in the Academy putting Goodman on the shortlist for an Oscar nomination for this. They’re suckers. They should. He should have won something 20 years ago for Barton Fink.
8. Everybody Wants Some
I’ve said it before, including in a series of essays for Drunk Monkeys. I will happily say it again: Richard Linklater is one of the best filmmakers of the 20th century.
Is there anything truly significant in this story of Texas college teens in 1980? Not really. Face value doesn’t do a lot of favors for Everybody Wants Some. However, if you’re a fan of Linklater’s, you’ve already seen it. If you’re not, or if you just don’t know a lot about the director of movies like Boyhood, Dazed and Confused, and Bernie, trust me when I tell you to see this.
Linklater has flawlessly captured bygone times and places in the past. He gives us ordinary characters and realistic circumstances in many of his films. It is almost always mesmerizing, with a purity in its depiction of small people and small stories that is almost breathtaking. That sounds like a lot to attach to this movie, but I do so happily.
7. The Nice Guys
For me, no other film in the summer of 2016 was as sublimely enjoyable as The Nice Guys. I wouldn’t say Shane Black’s latest comedy-noir is an original invention. It is essentially a buddy cop movie with Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe, and Angourie Rice, set against an auto industry scandal involving the porn industry in 1970s Los Angeles.
The joyful, sincere spirit that permeates every second of this film is combined with the way the story is told. When you make the argument that talented filmmakers can find new ways to express old ideas, this is one of the movies you are going to want to hold up.
6. Kubo and the Two Strings
2016 was a pretty decent year for animation. The cynic in me wants to focus on the fact that the wondrous Kubo and the Two Strings barely made back its 60-million dollar budget. I won’t. If you missed seeing the best animated film of 2016 on the big screen, and you had the chance/means to see it, I can only say that you missed out.
The warmth, humor, and dazzling action sequences of this film will get you no matter what. However, if you want to truly appreciate the visual splendor of this film, while also being captivated by the story of a young boy who wants his eye back, see it on the largest screen possible.
5. Green Room
The best horror movie of 2016? As much as I loved The Witch, and although I have not been able to see The Fits yet, I’m inclined to say yes. Green Room is more than one of the best “Well, that escalated” movies of all time. It is a testament to the masterful art of building. Across its ferocious, smart running time of ninety-five minutes, everything in this movie is building towards its climax.
The brutality is severe for the punk band playing a gig for a Nazi clubhouse in the middle of the woods. It is never violence for the sake of violence. Green Room is vicious, but it’s not an exploitation film. This movie is a master class in suspenseful storytelling. It is further supported by career-defining performances from the likes of Alia Shawkat, Imogen Poots, and the great Patrick Stewart. At the center of this unbelievable film, whose roots can perhaps be traced to the early films of Wes Craven, you have Anton Yelchin. It is difficult to watch this, and not mourn the loss of a truly gifted actor throughout. Green Room shines as a movie, despite the force of the lenses that we wear, in the wake of Yelchin’s tragic death.
4. Hell or High Water
Again: In many cases, the originality is not in the basic structure of the story. It exists in how the story is told. Keeping this in mind, Hell or High Water is one of the best westerns of the past quarter century.
Scottish filmmaker David Mackenzie meets our expectations for a tone and pace to match the bleak, long skies under which these characters dream and die. His direction is backed by a peerless script from Taylor Sheridan. All of these elements are flawlessly embraced and expressed by a perfect cast, including Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, and Ben Foster. Don’t care for westerns? Trust me. This is worth going against your assumptions.
3. La La Land
Yet another familiar genre that finds renewed attention from astonishing talents: The musical. If nothing else, 2016 films and filmmakers proved again and again that old, even abandoned genres could still be used as the basis for compelling stories and characters. That is something close to encouraging.
Damien Chazelle’s direction for La La Land celebrates past musicals, while tirelessly moving into the territory of something entirely new within this genre. To be sure, this is a startling next step from the man who gave us Whiplash. The performances from Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone offer significant support to Chazelle directing a film that often moves like a profoundly pleasant dream. It feels like that, but La La Land doesn’t put you into a stupor. You won’t experience buyer’s remorse with letting this movie pull you in.
2. Midnight Special
This selection may qualify as controversial. I guess it depends on your perspective. While this might seem like the spot where you would have found, oh, let’s say Manchester by the Sea (apparently, I am the only person in the world who didn’t like it), I found Midnight Special to be one of my favorite movies of the year. It is extremely close to being my favorite movie of the year. In the end, noticeable lulls in the energy of Midnight Special is one of the main things that kept it from the top of the list. Those lulls are few and far between.
For the most part, Midnight Special is one of the best science fiction films I have ever seen. Jeff Nichols is one of the best writers-directors working today. Midnight Special proves that again, while offering strong performances from Jaeden Lieberher, Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, and Sam Shepard. Midnight Special may also be the most hopeful movie of 2016. At least, in terms of what I felt by the film’s end.
We have waited eight years for Barry Jenkins (Medicine for Melancholy) to give us another film. It was worth the long wait. Moonlight is above and beyond all other releases, the best movie of the year. If this film fails to sweep the Oscars next year, well, we’ll definitely have something trivial to bitch about. However, nothing about Moonlight is trivial. It is the most spectacular, essential type of film, even as it tells a very intimate, often painful story.
Set in the cruelly neglected Liberty City neighborhood, which can be found in Miami, Moonlight introduces us to an extraordinary character. At three different stages of his life, we see Chiron, beautifully portrayed in three different ways by three very good actors. We experience the haunting consequences of fear and hesitation in a way that forces us to take these thoughts to a deeply personal place within ourselves. This is a movie that juggles the actors bringing themselves to the role, the enormous suggestion of potential that is felt through Tarell Alvin McCraney’s unpublished play, and so much.
No other film released this year will punish and reward your own internal arguments about your lives more than this one will. It may even be the best film of the 2010s. We have a ways to go. In its own way, Moonlight makes it feel good to remember that.