2016 needs to end for so many reasons. Frankly, I’m not convinced 2017 will actually be better, but at least there is always the hope great new movies will distract us from the authoritarian government that is quickly swooping into power. Keep hope alive, right?
As we enter the annual the “best of” season many have commented on “what a great year for movies” 2016 was. This writer thinks that hot take may exaggerating the overall mediocrity of the past 12 months. There were far less masterpieces — if you’re going to use that term — this year than almost any other year this decade (2010 and 2013 are the peak years so far). And honestly, in many ways 2016 feels slightly forgettable (certainly on the studio side).
In fact, I’m honestly only super passionate about the top five of my personal top 10 list. And beyond that there is a long list of movies that were good or very good, but didn’t seem worthy of a top 10 mention for one reason or another. Films such as “Arrival,” “Nocturnal Animals,” “The Nice Guys,” “Kiki,” ”Southside with You,” “The Handmaiden,” “Weiner,” “Aquarius,” “A Bigger Splash,” “Swiss Army Man,” “20th Century Women” and, yes, “Manchester by the Sea.” That’s not to say they aren’t quality films, but they simply didn’t resonate as much as the others did.
Moreover, a quick note about the list overall. Many critics chose their films by the calendar year they are released in their relative city or nation. My list is based on the year I first screened the movie. That means there are two selections that debuted at film festivals, but have not been released publicly as of yet.
Keeping that in mind here are my top 10, er, 11 films thanks to a rare tie.
10. “Sing Street” (tie)
No joke, having missed it at Sundance and all the local LA screenings I saw John Carney’s ‘80s musical on a transatlantic flight (yes, a plane) and I loved it. The songs somehow managed the fine line of stylistic homages without being cheesy and the cast (especially fantastic newcomer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) made you care for the characters even when you knew where the story was going the entire time. It also features one of the more underrated performances of the year by an almost unrecognizable Jack Reynor. Carney’s marvel is the sort of movie that will pop on HBO in five years and you just won’t be able to turn away.
10. “Rogue One:A Star Wars Story” (tie)
There is something quite similar between Gareth Edwards’ prequel and another film that appears further down the list. The beginning is fantastic, the middle is “eh” and the ending is almost revelatory. I’m not sure how much of Edwards vision was minimized during the reshoots that involved Tony Gilroy lending a hand, but, frankly, I don’t care. The final product is still a gorgeously made and moving drama that is more relevant to today’s world than anyone involved ever thought it could be. And when that final word of dialogue was spoken? Gutted.
9. “It’s Not The Time Of My Life”
There is a 99% chance you haven’t heard of Szabolcs Hajdu’s compelling drama, but the Grand Jury Prize winner at Karlovy Vary had more to eloquently say about the state of the EU, class and family dynamics than the more celebrated Cannes players “Sieranevada” or “Graduation.” The picture centers on an upper middle class family in Budapest who have their more troubled relatives show up at the door unexpectedly. The events occurs over one day and mostly in one apartment, but Hajdu is able to pull grounded performances from an impressive cast and film it in a way that feels uniquely cinematic. The film does not have a U.S. distributor at this time (or one publicly), but it should.
8. “La La Land”
Frankly, if this list were conceived six weeks from now Damien Chazelle’s movie musical might not make the cut. The more you think about it “La La Land”’s script is increasingly problematic and flimsier than it should be (the pre-“break up” dinner scene is simply bad screenwriting). But, those musical numbers! That score, that cinematography and did we mention those songs? Emma Stone has never been better and Chazelle’s vision pulls off some wondrous moments from “Another Day of Sun” (sure to be a part of the opening ceremony if LA lands the Summer Olympics in 2024) to “Someone In The Crowd” (wait, it’s structurally the same song as “Another Day,” who cares!). And those final 20 minutes are truly inspired filmmaking that makes you forgive its frustrating transgressions (again, as long as you don’t think about it too much).
7. “The Red Turtle”
To this day I will not understand why this film was not part of the main competition at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. Michaël Dudok de Wit and Studio Ghibli’s near masterpiece is a stunning example of telling a universal story with clarity and unique artistic vision. It’s simply beautiful.