Top 10 Films of 2016

Films come out in all different types of genres and with different goals of what they want the audience to experience. In that sense, sometimes coming up with 10 of your favorite movies from a year can be easy, but ranking them is a little more tricky.

With that in mind, while some movie may be ahead of another, it doesn’t mean that there’s an astronomical difference. All the movies listed on my top 10 list are there in how I well I received them, but the order isn’t extremely important.

Before getting into my the list itself, though, here are some honorable mentions:

Honorable Mentions

  • Kubo and the Two Strings
  • Fences
  • Sully
  • Moana
  • Lion

And with that, the actual list.

10. Hacksaw Ridge

“Hacksaw Ridge,” a movie that tells the story of a conscientious objector during World War II. The character, Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) refuses to use a firearm, regardless of the situation. “Ridge” is a powerful war drama that offers a look into a man’s conviction. Even under immense pressure, Doss never uses a firearm and Garfield sells this aspect very well.

What’s built in the first half pays off in the second. Doss’ hard-lined refusal to use a firearm, but ever present desire to serve his country in any way he can, is put to the test in immense ways. The wartime sequences of the film are especially intense, showing both the horrors of war and Doss’ continued resolve.

9. Jackie

Natalie Portman may very well win an Oscar for her phenomenal performance in “Jackie.” Portman is wonderful as Jacqueline Kennedy, capturing the well-known accent perfectly. More importantly, though, Portman was able to convincingly portray Kennedy’s grief, trauma and resolve in ensuring her husband’s legacy.

Helping to bring this movie together was the work of Director Pablo Larrain and cinematographer Stephane Fontaine, who were able to create lasting imagery and a haunting atmosphere that sticks with an audience.

8. Elle

Likely the most twisted, complex and at times disturbing pieces of cinema from 2016 was “Elle,” which featured a brilliant performance by Isabelle Huppert. Directed by Paul Verhoeven, the picture is a character study of a woman who’s attacked and raped at her home, with much of the feature showing the aftermath.

The film is very well crafted and is superbly unpredictable, both in terms of its story and the actions by its characters. On top of being a look into the life of this woman who has her own share of flaws and secrets, the flick also has some dark humor and satire that work to the movie’s overall advantage.

7. The Nice Guys

Director Shane Black took audiences on a fun ride back to the 70s in “The Nice Guys,” a movie featuring crime, gunfights and a whole lot of humor. The film uses a fairly familiar trope, the buddy cop/mismatched pair that has to work together, but it’s executed so well here thanks to a great script and solid acting from both Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling.

Along with Angourie Rice, the cast and crew of this picture created a comedy where you care about the characters and want to see what happens next.

6. Arrival

“Arrival” is everything you want from a true science-fiction movie. Instead of focusing on a military conflict, this picture is all about the scientific process, and how sometimes it takes restraint and patience to get any progress made.

The movie’s humongous space ships hovering over the various locations is enough to get an audience hooked, but what holds one’s attention is watching the lead characters piece together clues, make discoveries and advance the dialogue between the aliens as tensions rise around the world.

On top of those aspects, the film also has a backstory with its main character, played fantastically by Amy Adams, that’s quite emotional. Overall, the movie is a real thinker and worth checking out to decipher.

5. Zootopia

There were many great animated features this year, but “Zootopia” really stood out. The film featured gorgeous animation, solid voice acting from Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman who really fit their characters and some very funny dialogue.

Additionally, the film featured lovable characters with fantastic chemistry who had to navigate a mystery story that can keep a person interested in what will happen next. Plus, the filmmakers spent their time incorporating some good, well placed social commentary.

4. Hell or High Water

Like “The Nice Guys,” “Hell or High Water” was a picture that was somewhat overlooked at the box office in 2016, but deserved to be watched. The picture features great performances from Jeff Bridges and Ben Foster as well as the best acting Chris Pine has given in his whole career.

The movie also has fantastic cinematography that captures the setting, dialogue that can range from the heavily emotional to extremely funny and some social commentary on the state of small town America. Especially well done here is the presentation of two relationships, law enforcement partners and brothers. Watching the dynamic between the pairs is really compelling.

3. Manchester by the Sea

“Manchester by the Sea” features arguably the best performance of 2016 in Casey Affleck’s portrayal of a man dealing with depression and grief. The lead character is a person carrying incredible emotional weight and Affleck portrays it so convincingly, with every bit of his delivery dripping with sadness, even when he’s holding it together to remain composed.

The movie also features great work from actor Lucas Hedges and some wonderful camerawork. While the movie has a great deal of sadness, its script is so well written that there are moments here and there with humor that feels real and genuine.

2. La La Land

“La La Land” is a picture that works across the board. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are fantastic, bringing passion and energy to their roles to fit the musical while still having enough subtlety at times to make their characters feel real and relatable. Additionally, the two share phenomenal on screen chemistry.

Everything around them is great, too, nearly every shot is perfect, the editing, especially during the musical sequences is seamless and the songs are powerful and moving.

1. Moonlight

As much as I adored the delightful “La La Land,” “Moonlight just slightly edged it out. One of the best coming of age stories I’ve seen, “Moonlight” is a film that explores the childhood, teenage years and adulthood of a person trying discover who he is, what his sexuality is and what his future holds. The picture feels real, raw and all of the emotions portrayed just flow off the screen.

Over the course of the flick, the main character, Chiron, is played by three different actors, Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes. Incredibly, all of the actors get the part right and the film’s advancement of the character comes across as a natural progression thanks to their work. The film also features a supporting cast with Oscar caliber performances from Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris.

Credit also has to go to Barry Jenkins, who wrote and directed the feature as well as cinematographer James Laxton and colorist Alex Bickel, who brought a visually appealing setting to surround Chiron’s life. The use of color and lighting were especially important to the film’s success, making different emotionally compelling scenes even more charged.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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