Narrowing it down to my top 10 films was extremely difficult this year. 2016 has been an incredible year for cinema and I almost made a top 20 list. Instead, I’ll include some honorable mentions at the end.
Here we go…my top 10 films of 2016:
1. Moonlight – written/directed by Barry Jenkins
Moonlight is a rare masterpiece. It’s daring and unconventional in almost every way and although it’s the furthest thing from a suspense film, I found it quite unpredictable. Director Barry Jenkins is just as brave as Chiron, the film’s protagonist (played as a child by Alex Hibbert, as a teen by Ashton Sanders and as an adult by Trevante Rhodes), for writing and directing this coming-of-age story of a young man’s life growing up in the Miami housing projects. The narrative is painful, yet gentle as Chiron struggles through relationships with mentors, peers, his mother (played by the flawless Naimie Harris) and his own sexuality. It’s a powerful, tender story that’s assisted with beautiful cinematography and music.
2. Don’t Think Twice – written/directed/produced/starring Mike Birbiglia
Comedian Mike Birbiglia had his work cut out for him when he decided to write a follow-up to his 2012 directorial debut Sleepwalk With Me. What he delivered with Don’t Think Twice is a dramedy instant classic. Like Judd Apatow’s (who was originally slated to produce this) Funny People and Chris Rock’s Top Five, this film provides an honest and bittersweet look at the comedian’s life. The story follows an improv troupe in New York City headed by Birbiglia’s character and how five of them react when one of them is selected as a new cast member for a Saturday Night Live-style show. All six performances here are brilliant and unique (especially Keegan-Michael Key and Gillian Jacobs’) and Birbiglia’s writing and direction is confidant as hell.
3. Sing Street – written/directed/produced by John Carney
This is the feel good movie of the year. Seriously…I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face for days, let alone get the songs out of my head. It’s one of the best love stories I’ve seen on film and John Carney is on a winning streak with this, Begin Again and Once. Sing Street is full of heart, hope and charm. You’ll want to watch it again and again.
4. The Edge Of Seventeen – written/directed/produced by Kelly Fremon Craig
The Edge Of Seventeen is Sixteen Candles meets Juno meets Superbad – and I mean that as the highest compliment. This original coming-of-age dramedy is funny, witty and sincere – something most teen movies aren’t. James L. Brooks produces Kelly Fremon Craig’s directorial debut, which brings all-start performances from Hailee Steinfeld and Woody Harrelson.
5. Arrival – directed by Denis Villeneuve
This is one of the most beautiful and emotional science fiction films I have ever seen. Amy Adams’ performance is among her best, Denis Villeneuve’s direction is self-assured, Bradford Young’s cinematography is gorgeous and Jóhann Jóhannsson and Max Richter’s score was my favorite of the year. Arrival will take you places you never thought possible.
6. Other People – written/directed by Chris Kelly
Saturday Night Live head writer Chris Kelly brings us his first feature film, which he wrote and directed. It’s a semi-autobiographical story of David (played by Jesse Plemons), a struggling comedy writer, who has just broken up with his boyfriend and moves from New York City back to his hometown of Sacramento to take care of his dying mother (played by the absorbing Molly Shannon). This film is about relationships and how to extract meaning from judgement, loss, pain and vulnerability. Did I mention how amazing Molly Shannon’s performance was?
7. Silence – written/directed/produced by Martin Scorsese
In 1988, master filmmaker Martin Scorsese read the novel Silence by Shūsaku Endō and acquired the rights to make the film shortly afterwards. The initial screenplay was completed in 1991 and it was rewritten over and over for the next fifteen years. It then entered developmental hell, as most studios are reluctant to fund a religious film. A few producers finally stepped up to the financial plate in 2013 and pre-production began in 2014. Filming began in 2015 in Japan and after twenty-eight years of development, Martin Scorsese’s passion project was released on December 23, 2016. This is one of Scorsese’s finest cinematic achievements, which made it heartbreaking to see it flop at the box office and get snubbed by the Academy Awards (minus a well deserved nomination for cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto). Despite being one of my favorite films of the year, it’s a hard film to describe. Critic Matt Zoller Seitz said it best when he said, “Silence is a monumental work and a punishing one. It puts you through hell with no promise of enlightenment, only a set of questions and propositions, sensations and experiences…This is not the sort of film you ‘like’ or ‘don’t like.’ It’s a film that you experience and then live with.” I couldn’t agree more.
8. Captain Fantastic – written/directed by Matt Ross
I wasn’t in any rush to see this film, so I missed it on the big screen. I saw it shortly after it was released on iTunes and I absolutely loved it. Viggo Mortensen’s performance was fantastic (no pun intended), as were the performances by the six actors and actresses who played his children. Ross’ screenplay is funny, moving, original, thought-provoking and unpredictable. Just writing about the film makes me want to revisit it soon.
9. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – directed by Gareth Edwards
Disney is now two for two with The Force Awakens and Rogue One in the can. Director Gareth Edwards did the seemingly impossible: he created a Star Wars film that feels tonally different from the traditional films, but couldn’t feel more Star Wars-ish at the same time. Set just before the original 1977 Star Wars film, A New Hope, this is the first anthology film in the series. The ending is risky, but highly necessary and was executed with perfection. And dare I say Rogue One features Darth Vader’s best scene to date?
10. Manchester By The Sea – written/directed by Kenneth Lonergan
Never before have I witnessed a more accurate and moving portrayal of grief, loss and trauma presented on film. Kenneth Lonergan’s writing and directing here is impeccable. He understands his characters, where they’ve been and where their going. It didn’t take long for me to “figure out” Lee, played by the Oscar-worthy Casey Affleck. This isn’t because his character is uninteresting, it’s because he’s simple. What made the film personal to me is that, although I haven’t experienced the pain Lee has, this is most likely how I would react to such immense loss. I was sucked into the story right away and it had a massive impact on me. Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges’ supporting roles are just as powerful as Affleck’s, Lesley Barber’s score is stunning and Jody Lee Lipes’ cinematography did not get the attention it deserved. As heartbreaking, melancholy and tragic as this film is, there are many moments of beauty, humor and redemption – kind of like real life.
Everybody Wants Some!!
Hell Or High Water
Hunt For The Wilderpeople
La La Land
Morris From America
The Nice Guys
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
10 Cloverfield Lane