The 10 Best Films of 2016

This is one of the first time in years I’ve had such a difficult period deciding which movies had to be cut from my top ten and which deserved to stay on. Of course I didn’t catch every thing I wanted to, as probably Manchester by the Sea and Edge of Seventeen may have been on the list, if I saw them. So while there are some omissions out of my control, this is the ten I ultimately stuck to. This is the ten best movies I saw in 2016, along with a big list of potential place holders I quite loved, just the same.

Movies in 2016 that almost made the list includes the moving science fiction thriller Midnight Special, the touching sequel Finding Dory, the elaborate and beautiful The Handmaiden, the fun Ti West western In a Valley of Violence, the superb and very scary sequel The Conjuring 2, the fun and moving Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the hilarious and raucous antithesis to the superhero movie Deadpool, the sweeping fantasy thriller Doctor Strange, the incredible crime drama Hell or High Water, the very fun Adam Wingard reboot Blair Witch, the moving and fun teen drama Sing Street, the teeth grindingly compelling 10 Cloverfield Lane, and the chaotic survival thriller Green Room. Kudos to everyone behind these top notch movies I plan to revisit again and again in the coming years.

Now on the Top 10…

10. Captain America: Civil War
Directed by Joe Russo, Anthony Russo
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Marvel Studios
Release Date: May 6th
The second “Captain America” sequel had every chance to be a confused and scattered clusterfuck, but The Russo Brothers are able to fit in a ton of potential Avengers from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to help confront a conflict that promises to rip Earth’s Mightiest Heroes apart. With Marvel slowly gaining control back of some of their most iconic characters, we also get to see Marvel’s version of Spider-Man. Spider-Man’s brief appearance is very important to the events that unfold, as he and Tony Stark/Iron Man are two sides of the same coin. “Civil War” takes off from “Winter Soldier” building a more psychological villain with a unique plan for revenge, all the while we get to see some of the universe unfold on screen and grow larger with the integration of Ant-Man. What’s even more gratifying is that Black Panther finally gets his big screen debut, which ends up being dignified, exciting, and compelling. “Civil War” touches on the consequences of being a superhero, and what happens when lives are lost in our attempts to save the world. Once again with Marvel and Disney working together, they prove they can create a well thought out, exciting, and raucously fun clashing of superheroes and titans that culminates in plot twists, revealed secrets, and pure anger.

Watch it with: Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009)

9. Hush
Directed by Mike Flanagan
Blumhouse Productions
Release Date: April 8th
My favorite moment in “Hush” comes in the finale when Maddie, a deaf and mute woman, finds herself being terrorized by a masked madman lurking in the woods. After a big obstacle introduces herself, Maddie realizes she has to think quick, and begins considering various scenarios she can approach the slasher from. What we think is an event unfolding is really Maddie thinking to herself, as her vocal self: her conscious mind, is instructing her on all the ways this battle with the madman can play out. In every event she loses, but she begins considering every angle again and again. Maddie is an author in the film, and she’s not just considering every scenario, she’s thinking like a writer. A writer never thinks on one road, but travels through various roads, until they find the scenario they either love, or have to settle on. Maddie is a woman with the odds stacked against her from the moment “Hush” begins, and she has to settle on the last alternative. Director Mike Flanagan has a great respect for writers, and it shows by the way he writes his heroine. “Hush” a masterful mix of slasher tropes, home invasion tropes, and genuine human drama in what is an absolutely stellar horror film.With three great horror films under his belt, Mike Flanagan has proven he’s a horror heavyweight who has a lot more in store for us in the years to come.

Watch it with: Wait Until Dark (1967)

8. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Directed by Taika Waititi
Piki Films
Release Date: June 24th
After a horrible summer, “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” was the pick me up I needed when reviewing the movie for Fantasia 2016. “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” is a charming, funny, and brilliant road trip comedy about an older man and young boy searching for a purpose in life, who decide to cast off the shackles of civilization once and for all. What begins as a misunderstanding stemming from sudden tragedy, turns in to a massive manhunt, and then in to a spiritual journey, where our two protagonists Ricky and Uncle Hec find themselves confronting certain aspects of their lives. This includes mortality, human cruelty, and the potential for something greater that is always at our feet if we’re willing to look hard enough and fight for it. “Hunt for the Wilderpeple” never sags, always keeping a brisk pace and purely human tale moving forward, with a lot of interesting narrative turns and so much hilarious moments, including Ricky’s catchphrase when Uncle Hec is ambushed by a group of hunters. Everyone from Sam Neill, Rachel House, and Julian Dennison are incredible here, and this is a surefire crowd pleaser that will leave you smiling from ear to ear.

Watch it with: Up (2009)

7. The Nice Guys
Directed by Shane Black
Warner Bros. Pictures
Release Date: May 20th
In the pantheon of cinematic heavyweights, Shane Black deserves to be up there with Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg. He’s an artist who creates genuinely excellent buddy movies that paint two very interesting and complex characters that work beautifully off of one another. He also knows how to paint the male dynamic as something very unique, and also as one that can also be nurtured by women. In this case, “The Nice Guys” doesn’t create a romantic wedge, but a female presence barely in her teens that saves our two heroes more times than they realize. “The Nice Guys” is a neo-noir filled with laughs, great action, and a ton of substance. Russell Crowe is excellent, Matt Bomer is menacing, Kim Basinger is deliciously devious, Angourie Rice is the break out performance of the year, and if you think Ryan Gosling can’t be funny, then prepare to laugh harder than you have in all of 2016. If anything, watch “The Nice Guys” for the shockingly excellent tribute to Abbott and Costello that comes out of left field and is just so goddamn funny. I wish this had been a humongous financial success, since I’d happily see a sequel to “The Nice Guys.” Please, bring these characters back in some form. Pretty please?

Watch it with: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

6. The Neon Demon
Directed by Nicholas Winding Refn
Space Rocket Nation
Release Date: June 24th
The world values beauty above all else. We worship it, we admire it, we talk about it, we excuse it, we write about it, and it rules society. Beauty is used to manipulate the masses, and the public not only consumes it, but will do anything to acquire what’s considered conventional beauty. They’ll spend thousands of dollars to own it, eat it, drink it, and breathe it, and long after the beauty has faded, we’re still hopelessly infatuated with it. “The Neon Demon” is about the destruction of beauty and how the industry consumes young virginal Jessie (Elle Fanning), as she begins to experience sexual frustration, learn the ropes of modeling and soon enough begins to embrace her narcissism and beauty. This makes her about the most imposing and threatening model daring to saunter down a catwalk. Refn’s film is stunning, compelling, disgusting, and garners one of the most stomach churning finales I’ve seen in a while. Nicholas Winding Refn’s “The Neon Demon” is one of the most divisive movies of the year that didn’t feature superheroes. It’s a stunning, and brilliantly realized statement about beauty, purity, and how we’ll do anything to acquire both.

Watch it with: Suspiria (1977)

5. Train to Busan (Bu-san-haeng)
Directed by Yeon Sang-ho
Redpeter Film
Release Date: July 22nd
It’s amazing how quickly this movie snuck out from the corner and has risen to become a gem everyone is discovering. “Train to Busan” is the zombie movie “World War Z” should have been all along. It’s fast paced, it’s gory, the iteration of zombies here are frightening and insanely terrifying, and the characters we follow are complex. In spite of a ton of large sequences involving packs of screeching and running zombies lunging at victims and tearing them to shreds, director Yeon Sang-ho packs in a lot of heart, and genuine human emotion. The characters we watch try to survive in these horrific circumstances are all flawed, they’re occasionally selfish, and they evolve over the course of the film. Much like “Snowpiercer,” director Yeon Sang-ho uses the setting of a train as a metaphor for class warfare and the class structure, in which the poor and disabled are left to fend for themselves, while the rich protect each other and decide who deserves to be safe. Along the way there are a ton of brilliant moments of pure horror and action, from a scene on a descending escalator, a fight on a dark train cart, and the heart wrenching finale. Those who insist you can’t mine new material from the zombie sub-genre really should give this a whirl. I hope people continue discovering this movie and giving it a shot before Hollywood remakes it.

Watch it with: Seoul Station (2016)

4. Everybody Wants Some!!
Directed by Richard Linklater
Paramount Pictures
Release Date: July 12th
I had my doubts about Richard Linklater committing to a spiritual sequel of his iconic nineties teen drama “Dazed and Confused,” but he didn’t let me down. “Everybody Wants Some!!” is very based around men, as director Linklater delves in to the persona and interplay of the male animal, and focuses on a baseball team ending their summer as best as they can by partying, drinking, and trying to get laid. Along the way they learn a lot about one another, and they also get to learn a lot about themselves. “Everybody Wants Some!!” is very much in the spirit of “Dazed and Confused,” focusing first and foremost on drawing rich, likable, and occasionally obnoxious characters, unfolding a simplistic story about life, and also dealing up a hell of a soundtrack. Linklater being Linklater, much like “Dazed and Confused,” the soundtrack is not a cinematic element, so much as a character and entity used to fuel our characters and move them in to very unique and important parts of their lives. Linklater avoids all pitfalls and clichés and offers some fantastic moments including a sing along to “Rapper’s Delight,” a foosball contest, and a wonderful scene in a disco. Am I the only one slowly growing infatuated with Zoey Deutch?

Watch it with: Dazed and Confused (1993)

3. The Witch
Directed by Robert Eggers
A24 Films
Release Date: April 1st
Robert Egger’s masterful horror work combines folklore, urban legends, melodrama, and fairy tales to delve in to the slow unraveling of the familial unit as they succumb to paranoia, grief, and madness. It’s no spoiler to confess there is indeed a witch in the movie, but that more than adds to the movie than detracts. The more we know what’s out in the woods the more we see how hysteria and religious suppression helps bring down a once proud family, all of whom are slowly preyed upon by pure merciless evil. Eggers’ horror film is an unsettling and uncomfortable experience, and one that dabbles in to a villain that peaks in to the psyches of their victims. In one of the most ick worthy moments of the film, young Caleb notices his older sister’s cleavage enticed. Later as he’s wandering in the woods, he’s preyed upon by a buxom woman in a red hood, seemingly out of a fairytale, who not only seduces him, but when his family finds him later on in the nude and unconscious, Eggers goes the extra mile suggesting he was also very viciously raped. “The Witch” dabbles in to a lot of taboos dwelling on horrors we don’t see, and when he delivers the shots of madness and terror, it’s mind blowing, and demented down to its black core. Eggers is a director to look out for, as I think he has more tales of horror up his sleeve.

Watch it with: The Shining (1980)

2. Arrival
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
21 Laps Entertainment
Release Date: September 25th
One of the biggest setbacks in the world, and one of the biggest things that will spell doom for the world is our lack of communication. We’re more connected to one another now more than ever but we still can’t communicate with each other. Denis Villeneuve’s science fiction masterpiece isn’t just about alien visitation, or aliens invading us, but a species where we are, that are trying to convince us to open up the lines of communication and work together for our futures and to save ourselves in the long run. Working with ideas about time paradoxes, time travel, and alternate universes, Denis Villeneuve and writer Eris Heisserer subvert the very ideas of a movie about aliens, working against a fluid storyline to completely flip the script when we least expect it. In a year where the biggest alien spectacle revolved around large aliens fighting the military, Villeneuve’s movie dares to explore the lesser explored ideas about communication, learning to break language barriers, and perhaps work toward a higher state of mind. What’s more, as we learn through Amy Adams character Louisa, sometimes if we want to preserve the greater good, we have to make some massive sacrifices. “Arrival” makes a very important statement and explores how maybe an advanced species won’t be concerned with ruling us so much as teaching us a crucial part of humanity that we’ve lost in the age of technology.

Watch it with: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

1. Kubo and the Two Strings
Directed by: Travis Knight
Written by: Marc Haimes, Chris Butler
Starring: Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Rooney Mara, Ralph Fiennes
LAIKA
Release Date: August 19th
It’s a damn shame “Kubo and the Two Strings” wasn’t a commercial success, since it’s easily the best animated film of 2016 and my favorite movie of the year. Laika has successfully demonstrated that they can tell a marvelous, and epic tale about family, and loss through the art of stop motion animation. While all the other studios plop down computer animated nonsense, “Kubo and the Two Strings” tells a story of good and evil with a traditional animation method that helps enhance the magic and awe behind the tale Laika gives to their audience. While there is a lot to be said about moving forward with your life and letting go of bad memories, it’s also a good idea to always embrace the past and understand what importance it can have in your life. When we meet Kubo, he’s being saved by his mother who rescued him and fled after his grandfather cut his eye out.

Kubo’s mother moves in to a cave by the sea, over looking the land, which acts as a means of constantly reminding her of the past, and how to look for the incoming menace of her twin sisters. Kubo uses the past as a means of telling epic stories and amazing tales of human endurance and strength, along with the help of his amazing origami and the love of the villagers around him. The only way the stories take on their own life is by Kubo spinning his tales, the villagers remembering key details every time. Without memories, our characters can’t remember what brought them to this road, so they ultimately can’t end their tale. Kubo is a heroic and very well meaning young man whose memories guide him through his search for his father Hanzo’s sacred armor. The help of the live version of his monkey charm, and the inept beetle samurai keep Kubo moving forward enough, but also remember to look back for his aunts, both of whom are void of emotions and have no time to show pity for Kubo.

They even don No masks, which garner perpetually frozen gazes bereft of humanity. “Kubo and the Two Strings” through and through is a remarkable tale about grief, and how we can take the bad memories, and the pain and use it wisely, rather than allow it to change us in to bitter shells. It has substance, power, and is a message I’d love for its target audience to soak in.

Watch it with: The Secret of Kells (2009)

Overlooked in 2016:

The Invitation
Directed by Karyn Kusama
Drafthouse Films
Release Date: April 8th
Karyn Kusama’s thriller about the way our quick fix generation has learned to handle grief and mourning is mind blowing and absolute shock to the system. Ms. Kusama consistently keeps audiences guessing about what the hell is going on in “The Invitation” after a Will, his wife, a bunch of old friends are invited to a party hosted by his ex-wife. After noticing some odd events and goings on, Will begins to question his sanity. Is he losing his mind, or do the hosts of his party, including their mysterious friend Pruitt, have sinister plans for them all? Filled with amazing cinematography, and stark commentary, Karyn Kusama’s film deserves as much attention as it can get. The final haunting scene will have leave you trying to catch your breath.

If you have a top ten of 2016, feel free to let me know in the comments!