One of the hardest parts of watching and loving movies is the inevitable task of whittling them down into some sort of “best-of” list.
In an ideal world, films wouldn’t be judged by numbers or percentages, but by what they stir up, inspire, or accomplish. By the way they make us laugh, make us cry, make us think, keep us on the edge of our seats, or open our imaginations. By how well they execute a Sigourney Weaver cameo, or whether or not Michael Bay is involved.
Films are more than numbers on scales and placements on lists. Unfortunately that’s just the way we are forced to go about explaining why or how we connected with a film or not. Films are not always meant to be mathematically analyzed; they are meant to be felt.
2016 gave us so many great films. There could be plenty more said about why each of these moves below were so great but there’s only so much room on the interwebs. The best films are, at their core, about what it means to be human – with all the good, the bad, and the ugly. The best ones do it with wonderful stories to wrap our heads around, characters to care about, and epic sights to feast our eyes upon.
These are the ones that did it best this year.
THE BEST FILMS OF 2016:
35) Midnight Special
33) Hello, My Name is Doris
31) The Lobster
29) The Birth of a Nation
28) A Monster Calls
26) Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
25) Pete’s Dragon
24) Deepwater Horizon
22) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
21) The Edge of Seventeen
20 — ARRIVAL
A Sci-Fi movie with heart and smarts. Amy Adams is stunning (as always) in this story about a linguist who attempts to make contact when a mysterious spacecraft arrives on earth. A perfect mystery to shove some popcorn in your face to.
My Rating: 7/10 Extra-Terrestrials
19 — The jungle Book
Disney sure does know how to do these whole reboot things right. I am usually the first to complain about the amount of sequels, reboots and remakes being made in Hollywood today – but if they have to be done, no one does them better than Disney. The Jungle Book is the perfect tribute to a classic animated film that also dazzles and entertains on its own. A great cast bring our favorite characters back to life, and there’s probably never been such impressive CGI work ever put to film (and Bill Murray plays a bear in it, so, come on).
My Rating: 4/5 CGI Tigers
18 — hunt for the wilderpeople
“Wilderpeople” is not a real word. It’s a play off of “wildebeest,” which are referenced many times in the movie. It’s confusing, but don’t worry about it. Just see the movie. It’s funny, heartfelt, and full of New Zealand slang words. Really, it’s funny. Watch it.
My Rating: 7 Wilderpoints/10
17 — jackie
The day JFK was shot changed our nation. His presidency had only just begun, and his wife Jackie knew that since he hadn’t died in the name of a particular cause, he’d most likely be forgotten in the annals of history. Jackie tells the compelling true story of how a grief-stricken Jackie Kennedy took it into her own hands in the days following her husband’s death to make sure his legacy lived on.
My Rating: 35/44 First Ladies
16 — gleason
Are you ready to cry? Oh, you say your a “man” and you don’t cry at the movies? Firstly, I don’t believe you – everyone cried during Toy Story 3. Secondly, don’t repress your emotions, dude. You’re a human being, and crying every now and then is a natural function of a healthy body. Thirdly, even if you still say you don’t cry during movies, bring your handkerchief. Gleason chronicles the heartbreaking true story of NFL star Steve Gleason, who is diagnosed with a life-debilitating disease as he’s about to become a father. The best documentary of the year.
My Rating: 8/10 Tissues
15 — don’t think twice
The perfect commentary on the struggle between pursuing art and using art to pursue fame, Don’t Think Twice will resonate with anyone who has felt stuck while pursuing a dream, or has friends. So basically everyone pretty much. It’s original, clever, witty, bittersweet and laugh-out-loud funny.
My Rating: Don’t Think Once-and-a-Half/Twice
14 — moana
Why is it that the biggest company in the entertainment business is the only studio daring to tell big-budget original stories these days? Disney is keeping original stories in movie theaters, and for that alone they are to be respected. On top of that, though, Moana is just sheer delight. It’s got some of the most beautiful sequences ever animated, a new kick-butt heroine, and the best soundtrack Disney’s put out in years (yes, better than that overrated flick you may have seen called Frozen).
My Rating: 5/6 Songs that Get Stuck in Your Head
13 — the light between oceans
Perhaps the most criminally overlooked film of the year, The Light Between Oceans is heartbreaking, beautiful, and a laugh-out-loud riot! (sorry, just seeing if you’re paying attention. There’s not much to laugh at in this movie). Michael Fassbender. Beautiful sunrises. British accents. Moral dilemmas. What more could you want?
My Rating: 6/The 7 Seas
12 — hell or high water
A modern-day Western, Hell or High Water packs a wallop. It’s gritty, it’s dramatic, and it’s action-packed as two brothers decide to rob banks to save their Texas ranch. Jeff Bridges is hot on their trail, and it all culminates in a… wait, you didn’t think I’d tell you how it ends, right? Go see it for yourself. It’s probably at Redbox – which is a pretty good deal, as long as you return it the next day. Watch out for those late fees. That’s how they get you. Just make sure it’s back by 9PM the day after you rent it. You’re welcome.
My Rating: 8.5 Y’alls
11 — sully
Are there any characters Tom Hanks can’t play? The man is a national treasure, and his performance as Captain “Sully” is basically the entirety of this film. It’s a subtle film, but powerful in its simplicity. Sully examines how traumatic it can be to live through a horrifying situation – even when, by some miracle, everything turns out fine and you’re considered a “hero.”
My Rating: 8.5 Flocks of Birds
10 — 10 cloverfield lane
A thrilling mystery set underground, 10 Cloverfield Lane is like a trippy, compelling Twilight Zone episode come to life. When a young woman wakes up in John Goodman’s underground bunker, he tells her he’s saved her from a world above where everyone is dead and the air is contaminated. But can he be trusted?
My Rating: 8/10 Cloverfield Lane
9 — SWISS ARMY MAN
I couldn’t even describe this one if I wanted to. Swiss Army Man is a film that must be experienced to understand, and one that will stay with you. You’ll probably have to allow some time to process the film’s complex, bizarre story as well. If you’re into movies featuring dead bodies that occasionally speak, human jet skis and musical montages set to the Jurassic Park theme song, this film is for you.
My Rating: 89% chance of survival
8 — Finding dory
For most studios, sequels are cheap cash grabs. And let’s not kid ourselves – Pixar makes movies to make money – but Finding Dory is a heartfelt, hilarious tale that stands tall among Pixar’s already stellar canon. Where Finding Nemo gave us a story of a father searching for his son, Finding Dory gives us the story of a daughter searching for her parents – and, in the process, finding herself. Cheesy, but accurate. Finding Dory is the best animated film of the year.
My Rating: Septopus/Octopus
7 — hacksaw ridge
Mel Gibson inspires different feelings in many people – but he knows how to make a good movie, okay. Hacksaw Ridge tells the inspiring, pulse-pounding true story of a World War II soldier who chose not to carry a weapon into battle for religious reasons, and went on to save countless lives during the Battle of Okinawa at Hacksaw Ridge. It’s an intense war picture with a life-affirming story about following your convictions.
My Rating: 2/3 Mel Gibson comebacks
6 — Lion
I’m pretty sure you didn’t see this movie. Which is a shame. Lion is an emotional drama about a young man separated from his life and family in India at five years old. Years later, through the power of Google Maps, he attempts to find his way back home to the family he lost. It’s better than whatever other movie you were planning to watch tonight.
My Rating: 40.134562/45.393711107 GPS Coordinates
5 — eddie the eagle
If “fun” could describe any movie in 2016, it’d be Eddie the Eagle – about the underdog ski jumper who charmed the world at the 1988 Winter Olympics. Throwing back to the best of 90’s Disney sports comedies like Cool Runnings and The Mighty Ducks, Eddie the Eagle surpasses them all in pure joy. You will have a smile on your face the whole way through (and probably the whole day after, too).
My Rating: Silver Medal
4 — Sing street
A delightful musical comedy, Sing Street is set in 1980’s Ireland as a group of schoolmates form a band. It’s a simple concept – but it’s executed in a masterful blend of humor, glee and pathos. It’s a wonderfully original film. When people ask why Hollywood keeps pumping out crap, remember that it’s because this amazing film made about 1/6 of what Boo! A Madea Halloween did at the box office. 1/6th, guys… Boo! A Madea Halloween…
My Rating: at least 6x better than Boo! A Madea Halloween
3 — manchester by the sea
Casey Affleck finally comes out of the shadow of his big brother and gives what might be the best single performance of 2016 in Manchester by the Sea. A haunting film about family, loss, grief, parenting and responsibility, this is one of the most heartbreaking experiences I’ve ever had at the movies (in a good way).
My Rating: 1.5/2 Afflecks
2 — captain fantastic
Ben (Viggo Mortenson) might be the most unorthodox parent you’ve ever seen. He raises his six children in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, giving them a personalized education. But when tragedy strikes, the family is forced to leave their sanctuary and face the real world – challenging all of Ben’s ideas and beliefs about what it means to be a parent. This is the kind of thought-provoking, unexpected film that reminds me why I love movies in the first place.
My Rating: 8/9 Awkward Funeral Services
1 — la la land
Was there ever any doubt what would be #1?
La La Land is without a doubt the best, most original, delightful, joyful, purely sensational film of the year. It’s an old-fashioned musical set in the modern day, and a beautiful tribute to the city of Los Angeles. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are our generation’s Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, and their chemistry is off the charts. It’s not a perfect film – though, what is, right? It’s objective, duh – but La La Land is a moving, majestic masterpiece. It’s a touching reflection on relationships and artistic pursuits – and the failures, successes, and purposes of both. It deserves all the awards it will undoubtedly pile up, and above all it’s so much fun. I would also just like to add that Emma Stone is adorable.
My Rating: 99/100 Oscar Nominations
Still need to see: Paterson, 20th Century Women, The Founder, Patriots Day, Live by Night, Hidden Figures
BECAUSE EVERYONE WANTS AN AWARD:
Who did it the best this year?
BEST ACTOR: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
BEST ACTRESS: Emma Stone, La La Land
BEST DIRECTOR: Damien Chazelle, La La Land
BEST SCREENPLAY: Captain Fantastic, Matt Ross
BEST MUSICAL SCORES:
La La Land
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Linus Sandgren, La La Land
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS OF THE YEAR:
DESTINED TO WIN THE MOST AWARDS: La La Land
So those are my big fat opinions about 2016 at the movies! You don’t have to love my list; you don’t have to agree. So let me know what your favorite movies were this year! But first, if you excuse me, I think I’ll grab my popcorn bucket and head back to the theater. Time to start all over again!
© Matt Tory, 2017.
All movie posters shown are used for non-commercial analysis and commentary purposes related to the films mentioned herein.