I never thought putting together a top ten list for films would be this difficult. For 2016 I had a tough time finalizing and it didn’t help that due to time constraints I missed the chance to catch some of the films considered critic favorites. My top contenders stayed pretty consistent but as I got down to the #10 spot decisions became harder. Nonetheless, through hours of deliberation and reflection the list is complete. 2016 has come and gone, check out what films made the cut.
#10 – #4
2016 had a lot of surprises, there were quite a few films that simply weren’t on my radar leading into the year but after a viewing they left me wanting more. Below are the bottom seven of my top ten. I won’t go into too much detail about these but will at least offer a brief summary for the ones that really stood out for me.
#10 Zootopia ⭐️⭐️⭐️½
#9 The Invitation ⭐️⭐️⭐️
#8 10 Cloverfield Lane ⭐️⭐️⭐️½
#7 Green Room ⭐️⭐️⭐️
#6 Sing Street ⭐️⭐️⭐️½
#5 Hell or High Water ⭐️⭐️⭐️½
#4 Captain America: Civil War ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Of these I actually had only seen previews for Captain America: Civil War and Zootopia both of which immediately caught my interest. I have to confess, typically I don’t find myself excited over upcoming animated films but Zootopia was an exception. Its trailer was full of good laughs so I couldn’t resist and it definitely did not disappoint. Captain America Civil War was everything I was expecting and more, thus its spot at #4. With well choreographed action, witty humor and packed full of charismatic heroes it is quite possibly the best super hero film to date. I have no doubt that the Marvel film universe [Well…at least the Avengers] is safe in the hands of Anthony and Joe Russo, the same brothers who brought us Winters Soldier. How the industry slept on these two I am not sure but I cannot wait for more. They have an incredible eye for action and know how to keep the audience engaged.
Green Room, Hell or High Water and The Invitation were happy surprises. They were films I had heard essentially nothing about and learned of their existence either running across their names while reading a review for another film or a brief mention while listening to a random podcast. I went into them not really knowing what to expect and they all delivered. Of these three I think I was most surprised with Hell or High Water which in retrospect really shouldn’t have been a surprise considering it was written by Taylor Sheridan, the same name that brought us Sicario, another film I much enjoyed. I watched this on a day I was just bored with nothing to do. I caught the film alone and watched it in an essentially empty theater, only myself and maybe 3-4 other patrons. It was one of those random viewings where you just show up to the theater hoping your timing is right and decide to catch the first film that catches your attention. Fortunately Hell or High Water left me quite satisfied with my purchase. The story is so well written and keeps your interest. It has the feel of a western although I am not sure if this is the genre it would fall under. The style and pace reminded me very much of the Coen brothers films, more specifically Fargo and True Grit. Just good stories told well. The acting was phenomenal with some seasoned Hollywood talent. Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine and Ben Foster all show off some serious acting chops. It’s unfortunate the film hadn’t received more attention because with the proper marketing this film could have pulled in much higher figures, ones that truly reflect its appeal. We run into films like this now and then, those sleepers that people will be talking about down the line wondering why they didn’t catch it at the theater.
The other two films, Sing Street and 10 Cloverfield Lane were just as good. 10 Cloverfield Lane I had been hearing things about for the past year and had a general idea what the film was about. Even with this knowledge it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting but enjoyable nonetheless. Sing Street was kind of pushed on me by a close friend. I have recently been in this 80’s music phase and he told me I would get a kick out of the film and I sure did. Sing Street is just good old-fashioned fun. The kind of film that leaves you with a smile and sense of pleasant nostalgia. The characters have depth and in general they are believable most especially the relationship between the main protagonist Conor played by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and his older brother Brendan played brilliantly by Jack Reynor. Through their discussions and interactions you can see their strong brotherly bond which is truly what this film is about. It even offers a closing dedication “For all brothers everywhere.” After the film I couldn’t help but reflect back on my own childhood and the strong ties my brothers and I developed growing up. Because of this it’s also a very emotional film, at least for anyone who can relate. If you loved the 80’s and have a brother with whom you are close, don’t miss this one.
So those were my bottom seven. All excellent films that I would highly recommend, be sure to catch them when you can. Now on to my top 3 picks for 2016. Drum roll please.
#3 The Witch – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
I’m usually short on time throughout the week and will often catch a movie on my laptop while lying down in bed late at night. So when I asked a good friend of mine, who had seen The Witch before me, if it would be safe to watch this movie alone in the middle of the night he answered, “Oh yeah.” Boy was he wrong. The tension that builds throughout the running of time of The Witch is very subtle but effective. From the very onset there is something ominous afoot. You can sense it but it is such a slow burn that you put your guard down and that’s how it gets you. After a disturbing first 10 minutes you watch as the family slowly unravels all surrounding a terrible event in their lives.
The protagonist is played by Anya Taylor-Joy as Thomasin, the older sibling of four. It quickly becomes apparent that there is a mistrust stemming from the mother Katherine played, well I should add, by Kate Dickie. And in some ways there is good reason for this suspicion. Much of the films mystery surrounds Thomasin with questions lingering of her role in the strange occurrences around the homestead. The father William, Game of Throne’s Ralph Ineson, has principles rooted deeply in religion and his strong conviction and belief can actually be viewed as his downfall. Also his voice is incredibly eerie and quite distinct. When he speaks it’s as if the words are emanating from somewhere ghostly. The other family members are Thomasin’s younger brother Caleb [Harvey Scrimshaw] and the twins Mercy and Jonas [Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson] and all do a phenomenal job in their roles. Mercy in particular came off quite creepy in my opinion, although I am not sure if this was intentional. There is a brief scene with her talking to the family’s goat Black Phillip which spooked me a bit. You can also see a comical 5 minutes and 11 second clip of her taunting Thomasin and Caleb.
The dialogue and setting for The Witch were handled extremely well. It’s quite easy to lose yourself in the period watching the family go about their menial tasks. I found myself a few times reflecting on how the boredom and repetition during that period could easily cause people’s minds to wander. Add to that how deeply Christianity was embedded into the culture of that era and you have a perfect cocktail for anxiety and suspicion for the unknown or unexplainable. And there is much mystery and dread to be experienced in The Witch. And for the sake of avoiding spoilers I will leave it at that.
#2 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️½
I have two words for you: Darth Vader. Do I even need to say more? OK fine. This movie was absolute entertainment. The first 15 minutes did have me worried as the pacing is slow but after my third viewing I can see that this is justifiable for character building and context. Once you get past it though the fun starts and doesn’t end until the final credits are rolling…literally. Another confession, prior to Rogue One I liked the Star Wars franchise but I never went as far as to call myself a fan. I have seen The Force Awakens and while it a decent film it didn’t draw me into the Star Wars universe. Rogue One completely changed that. I’m all in. Brand me a believer. I can say for certain this was the first movie that I screamed out loud in the theater in sheer exhilaration and passion.There’s plenty of action and suspense and most importantly there is character depth. There are real stakes felt in Rogue One and I found myself truly caring about the fate of each character. The casting was excellent especially for the lead protagonists Jyn Erso [Felicity Jones] and Cassian Andor [Diego Luna]. Two names I won’t soon be forgetting. There’s a great supporting cast of characters ranging from a moody robot K-2SO perfectly voiced by Alan Tudyk to a new sort of hero introduced for the first time to the Star Wars universe: Churret Imwe played by Donnie Yen is a blind disciple/fighter who although not a Jedi can “feel” the force and even in ways utilize it. As always Donnie Yen is charismatic in his role and some have argued steals much of the spotlight. I could go on and on about this film but I will sum it up by saying this is not a film to be missed.
#1 Arrival – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
And we “arrive” at my #1 pick: Arrival. My appreciation for Arrival differs in how I feel about Rogue One. Both are no doubt excellent films and honestly either could have taken the #1 spot. Where Arrival takes the edge however is in overall tone. This is a movie for dreamers and it is just this sort of film that I truly enjoy and find I can watch over and over again. The director Denise Villeneuve is slowly becoming one of my favorites and I am looking forward to his future work.
Arrival hits every one of your senses. Visually it is a masterpiece, every scene left my eyes immersed in beauty and jaw open in awe. There are such rich colors and textures filmed at angles that capture each moment beautifully. I stared at this film in the same way one would stare at a sunset or a beautiful painting. There is emotion captured through imagery that leaves you at times heartbroken and at other times full of hope. This is not easy to accomplish and not many films truly execute imagery to stoke emotion well, especially when told through the medium of science fiction. Max Richter’s score “On the Nature of Daylight” will. bring. you. to. tears. Its heavy. Heavy on the heart, heavy on the soul, heavy on fragments of your existence you never realized you were carrying. The piece is very melancholy but much like the film it lingers with you far after the music has faded.
The story of Arrival is quite profound and yes again heavy with emotion and self-reflection. The plot outline is simple: Alien invasion, first contact, global panic, noble resolution. However Villeneuve expands on these simple ideas and instead of giving us the same story we’ve heard many times before, he creates a unique vision and its conclusion will truly be something you’ve never seen or expect. The story in conjunction with the visual and audio experience come together to form an amazing artistic endeavor that truly captures what I believe the writer and director want the audience feel. On top of this there is some fine acting with a few heavy hitters. Amy Adams pretty much makes the whole film as Louise Banks, an expert in linguistics brought in to translate an alien language. Aliens whose sudden arrival around the globe has the whole world on the edge of panic and anxious to understand their purpose and intentions. She is joined by Jeremy Renner as Ian Donnelly, a theoretical physicist brought in due to his expertise in his field and Forest Whitaker rounds them out as Colonel Weber a firm but understanding government representative who has put the team together. Although Adams hogs most of the camera time both Renner and Whitaker add their marks to the film and play their parts convincingly.
I will admit that this is the kind of movie that may be a hit or miss for some. I have talked with friends who found the movie either confusing, boring [as it is a slow burn] or just not fulfilling. It’s slow-paced and its reliance on the viewer to think deeply about pain and existence as well as to ponder deep scientific concepts may leave some exhausted and uninspired. For me though it was an experience worth having multiple times.
There you have it. As I mentioned before I missed out on what some would consider exceptional films: Moonlight, La La Land, Birth of A Nation. It’s very likely that any one of these would have an impact on my top ten. When I do get the opportunity to catch them I may make some edits but for now I am pleased with the list I put together.
Below is a recap along with some honorable mentions, both are great films that I absolutely recommend. It took a lot of restraint not to include them in my top ten.
- Arrival ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
- Rogue One: A Star Wars Story ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️½
- The Witch ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
- Captain American: Civil War ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
- Hell or High Water ⭐️⭐️⭐️½
- Sing Street ⭐️⭐️⭐️½
- Green Room ⭐️⭐️⭐️
- 10 Cloverfield Lane ⭐️⭐️⭐️½
- The Invitation ⭐️⭐️⭐️
- Zootopia ⭐️⭐️⭐️½
- Don’t Breathe ⭐️⭐️⭐️½
- Train To Busan⭐️⭐️⭐️
Thanks for reading, feel free to comment below on your own top picks for 2016. Also check out my Letterboxd page for other films lists and reviews.
On to 2017!