This list is coming in a little later than your typical end of year lists for a couple of reasons, first and foremost: I’m a renegade. A real rebel. I’ll put a Top 10 of 2016 out mid-2020 ’cause I have no regard for the laws of compilation lists, MAN.
Second, there are still a lot of films that I have yet to see that would no doubt make my list. So before we even begin, let’s start with the Top 10 Films of 2016 that I’m not able to include in this list.
Top 10 Films of 2016 I Still Haven’t Seen (In no particular order)
Manchester by the Sea
I’ve heard nothing but praise for Kenneth Lonergan’s latest film, one that is often described as devastating and cathartic with a career-best performance by Casey Affleck.
La La Land
As a fan of joy (The emotion, not the movie), a musical starring two of Hollywood’s most charming lead actors is an obvious pick. Add in that it is the follow-up to director Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, and let’s say I’m fully prepared to love this film.
This is a film I’m actively avoiding information regarding as I’ve heard that it’s best going in with no expectations. Although the information I’ve managed to glean through inescapable Pop Culture osmosis is exciting, and sounds like an emotional, human experience that I am totally looking forward to.
Another film that popped on to my radar only recently, but has my interest. Pablo Larraín directs this dreamy, portrait of Jackie Onassis in the days following the assassination of her husband and President of the United States, John F. Kennedy.
Potentially, the film I’m looking forward to seeing the most is this documentary about the 1966 shootings on the University of Texas Austin campus. It intermingles interviews with people present at the shooting with recreations through animation in smart and powerful ways.
The Neon Demon
Nicolas Winding Refn’s psychological-horror about the fashion industry and the desire for fame seemed to have been dismissed by many initially upon its release. However, in the time since, its layers as a modern fable have begged reconsideration.
A German-Austrian comedy written and directed by Maren Ade about a woman and her relationship with her bizarre father has been almost unanimously hailed as funny, cringe-inducing, and heartwarming. In addition to the glowing reviews it is also garnering a lot of recognition right now, including buzz surrounding a potential Academy Award nomination.
Martin Scorsese directs this religious epic with a stand-out cast starring Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver as two Priests in search of their mentor in 17th Century Japan.
A documentary film from Kirsten Johnson. Herself a documentarian and cinematographer, this film compiles the footage of her life through the lens of her work on other documentaries. Told only through unused footage, the film explores how the art we create reflects who we are as artists, even when we’re not necessarily the subject matter.
Sometimes you just want to watch the world burn. More specifically, sometimes you want to see that world burning at the hands of a giant radioactive lizard. Shin Godzilla, or Godzilla Resurgence in some translations, is Toho’s latest reboot of the franchise, aiming to set the loveable killer kaiju in a modern setting and modern political climate.
So now that I’ve thrown any credibility I may have had as a film enthusiast in the garbage, let’s get down to the Top 10 List proper.
Top 10 Films of 2016
#10 – Midnight Special
Jeff Nichol’s ode to Amblin-era films is a fantastic sci-fi fable grounded in very human emotion. Even when a main character evokes otherworldly abilities, those abilities shine through an otherwise sweaty, dirt-dusted world. That’s not to say that world is not beautiful, because it often is. It just feels real.
As mentioned above, the world is captured in a beautiful way, the opening scene stuns and sticks with you. If anything, its strength may be to the films detriment, even as other worlds are revealed the new and unusual settings never reach the heights of quiet, dangerous, night on an open road with the headlights turned off.
The cast put in great performances, as usual. The pairing of Nichols and Michael Shannon proves over and over again to be a strong one, each adding to each others talents in complimentary ways.
Although the film is not without criticism in pace and plot, there were never any moments that pulled me out of the film’s journey. From beginning to end I was invested in what is very much the simple story of a family trying to protect their child from the harsh realities of the world, and whether or not those decisions are the right one.
#9 – Weiner
This documentary about former Congressman and Politician Anthony Weiner is at once entertaining, perplexing, and tragic. It’s hard to review this film without delving too far in to politics, despite the film not being an overly political film. Despite viewer’s thoughts on whether or not they agree with the politics Weiner represents, the film explores a much more personal, if not obvious, story.
Filmed during what was supposed to be Weiner’s “comeback tour” as he recovers from a sexting scandal and runs for Mayor of New York in 2013, this documentary instead follows what becomes as a second sexting scandal breaches. The question that runs throughout is, of course, “Why let them film it all?”. A question asked directly to the camera at one point during the film’s run. It’s an answer that threads through the film, and as a result, through the subject of the documentary itself. Ego? Pride? Maybe a dash of good intentions.
Ultimately, it’s a fascinating dissection of what makes a strong politician, and how often those same qualities are often also their downfall.
#8 – 10 Cloverfield Lane
The directorial debut of Dan Trachtenberg, 10 Cloverfield Lane is “Popcorn flick” at its finest. Tense and incredibly fun, this almost single-location film is the kind of summer fair we deserve.
The film is light on the accoutrements typically associated with a summer blockbuster, and that is to its benefit. Instead, Trachtenberg decides to focus on the quiet threats that build to a boil. Rather than explosions, he opts for close-ups, ominous monologues, and intense but restrained performances from the casts trio of main performers.
Of course, the explosions do come, but when they do, they feel earned, and leave that much more of an impact. Easily one of my most watchable films of the year that does drama, suspense, and humor in extremely clever ways.
#7 – Everybody Wants Some!!
Richard Linklater’s latest is often cited as a spiritual sequel to 1993’s Dazed and Confused, and although its hang-out nature is reminiscent of Linklater’s early ensemble, Everybody Wants Some!! stands just as strongly on its own.
Following the exploits of a band of college baseball players before they begin school, the movie in less capable hands could have played like a bawdy bro-tastic raunch-comedy. Instead, Linklater uses the filter of bravado and braggadocio of youth to look at what these characters are running from or running towards. Not to say that this is done in a dry way at all, just that it’s done in a very clever way. A way that on its surface does, in fact, work as a bro-tastic party-fest, but upon further consideration does raise deeper questions as his films always do, about expectations, growing up, and even fate.
The film is bolstered by the charisma of its main cast. Each actor makes their character feel real as they navigate the world of the 80’s college party scene, switching form and changing colors as they try to fit in from place to place during a time when their identity is in flux.
It is not without its flaws, a character or two that border on cartoonish and a lack of female perspective that when viewed through modern eyes can be fairly judged as problematic. But for the story the film aims to tell, it succeeds in capturing the feelings of looking to find your place in the world and trying to have a good time doing it.
#6 – Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is destined for cult-dom. Despite landing at the box-office with a whimper, the latest feature from the trio behind The Lonely Island may be their funniest effort yet.
Taking full advantage of their spectrum of talents, perfectly played punchlines, clever concepts, and infectious satirical pop hits that put modern Top 40 numbers to shame. It’s a film that is fully confident in what it is and does it well. All in a brisk run-time of just under 90 minutes, it plays like a catchy ditty that you play on repeat.
#5 -The Witch
Upon leaving my screening of Robert Egger’s The Witch, I had a feeling very similar to the beginning of 2015 after having just seen Alex Garland’s film Ex Machina. Despite coming out very early in the year, I knew I had seen something that was going to be hard to top for the rest of the year.
In fact, the similarities continue. A first time directorial effort, heavy on atmosphere, dealing with genres that are familiar, but in unfamiliar ways. They offer quiet spectacle, and powerful performances with heavy hitting emotional beats.
As the year went on, few films reached the bar set by this unnerving film that focused on the cost of faith and tradition, the seductive qualities of power, and the elbow grease that goes in to properly maintaining an honest-to-god’s witch’s broomstick.
#4 – Arrival
Every year, critics lament the loss of the mid-range emotional drama, however a film like Arrival may prove that those films haven’t disappeared from mainstream theaters entirely, they have just shifted shape.
It is a film that examines honest emotional fundamentals through the frame of the sci-fi genre. Asking through threat of alien invasion what our purpose is in the Universe, and how we are able to fulfill those purposes in the everyday decisions we make.
Lofty stuff. And it does it all deftly, offering language as the multi-tool used by our protagonist, Louise, played brilliantly by Amy Adams. Throughout its entirety, language is the weapon looming over the globe hanging by a thread, and it is also the rope by which we may pull ourselves up out of any problem.
This all goes without even mentioning the stunning cinematography done by Selma cinematographer Bradford Young, and direction by Prisoners and Sicario helmer, Denis Villeneuve. There’s a lot to say about this film, and a more thorough review can be read here written by Write Drunk’s very own Clint Westbrook.
#3 – Green Room
A bittersweet entry in to list of Top 10 films, Green Room marks one of the final performances by Anton Yelchin. It is an exemplar of just some of what the young talent was capable of. Yelchin plays a member of a punk band, constrained to the Green Room of a Neo-Nazi run bar where they are being held captive.
The film is grizzly and visceral in nature, presenting the gore in almost matter-of-fact displays. It’s a world that is shocking, but lived in, and a world that necessitates wit in equal measure to its violence to survive. Even simple conversations hold the promise of everything coming unhinged at any second, perfectly portrayed by Patrick Stewart’s collected but menacing antagonist, Darcy. The entire film buzzes with rebellious energy up to the final scene.
#2 – The Handmaiden
Park Chan-Wook’s latest is hard to pin down. An erotic-thriller con-film period piece about class and gender in Japan-occupied Korea. It’s melodrama and comedy, it’s romance and twisted revenge, and it’s beautifully juggled with style and a steady-hand.
For fear of giving too much away, all I can say is that the world is lush and gorgeously captured, even when it can be murky and haunted, and the characters require consideration and reconsideration as scenes play out and are revisited, never feeling repetitive but instead revealing dimension and layers previously unseen.
#1 – Sing Street
Finally, my number one film of the year: Sing Street.
Sometimes the film of the year shakes you to your core, makes you re-examine yourself and the world around you. Sometimes the film just makes you fucking smile. This film is the latter. And that’s not to diminish its impact. The importance of a feel-good movie is at times priceless. Especially in tumultuous times, for which some would say the year 2016 was full of.
Sing Street follows a young boy growing up during the 80’s in Ireland as he forms a band to impress a girl. It’s a film that shares a lot in common with many films on my list. It’s a film that ultimately is uplifting, entertaining. Its music is on par with the earworms of Popstar with more heart. It looks at the search for identity similar to Everybody Wants Some!! using the musical shift of the mid-80’s as its backdrop. It shares a shred of rebellion with Green Room, although entirely different in nature, trading in box cutters for walkmen and blown-out jet black hair.
It’s a film that is sweet, and at times polished, but doesn’t feel false. It is a film that leaves you with its irresistible positivity, long after the credits roll.
Bonus 5 Honorable Mentions, many of which are streaming now on various platforms:
Captain America: Civil War
Doesn’t really need pushing, but as a huge Marvel nerd, this movie was a dream come-true and years in the making.
Train to Busan
Like the creatures they portray, just when you think it’s dead, the zombie genre pulls you back in. An incredibly effective South Korean zombie movie, that may tread tropes that any fan is familiar with, but does them well and in new ways.
Fantastic Direct-to-Netflix horror movie with great performances by its two main leads, follows a deaf woman as she fends off a home intruder set on hunting her down in her own house. Well-executed and at times sharply clever.
Definitely makes the Top 10 list if not for the fact that technically it came out last year. An absurd look at romance and the pressures society puts on us and we put on ourselves to find love. Outstanding performances by Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz.
OJ: Made in America
Again, another top tier film, this time a documentary that gets disqualified by technicality. OJ: Made in America is a five-part mini-series that deep dives in to the rise and fall of sport’s star and all-around celebrity, OJ Simpson. It does a fantastic job of laying out the state of the United States during his career and gives scary parallel to many of the current events facing us today. At nearly 8 hours, this doc is certainly nothing to scoff at, but it is an experience well worth taking.