Happy New Year! Depending on where you are, 2016 is either drawing to a close or has already crawled back into the hellhole from whence it came. All in all, 2016 was a rough year for the world, but as I look back, I think it was actually a pretty good year for movies. So at least we can take comfort in that!
I had a really hard time narrowing down and organizing my list of favorites. I didn’t see everything I wanted to (I’m sure La La Land would have earned a slot here, but sadly didn’t see it in time), but all in all I saw 314 movies this year, 60 of which were new releases. Early on, there were a couple of movies I knew would end up in this blog post, and they stayed with me all year long, jumping around quite a bit as I edited my list.
Once it came down to it, I decided that instead of boiling it all down to a top 10, I’d give myself a bit of leeway and am instead presenting my top 15 films of 2016. I just felt that some of them were too important, or spoke to me so deeply, that I couldn’t leave them. I also didn’t want to jumble them into a group of honorable mentions, because they’re just too good for that.
So, without further ado, let’s kiss 2016 goodbye with a look back at my top 15 films of the year!
15. Midnight Special
Midnight Special was a film I saw pretty early in the year. It came out in February, and while I missed it in the theater I quickly checked it out once it came to home video. It’s not a perfect film, but Jeff Nichols’ direction, a fantastic score, and a handful of stellar performances from people like Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Adam Driver and Jaeden Lieberher make it absolutely worth seeing. In a year that wasn’t very kind to superhero movies, Midnight Special walks away as a wonderful, intriguing, gripping, and heartfelt look at someone with powers and the various ways people react to him.
14. For the Love of Spock
I’ve always been more drawn to Star Wars than Star Trek, but really, really loved For the Love of Spock, a documentary about the iconic Vulcan science officer of the USS Enterprise and the man who played him – Leonard Nimoy – which was directed by Nimoy’s son Adam. Part love letter to Nimoy, part retrospective about how Spock became such a pop culture icon, For the Love of Spock is a wonderful film that I highly recommend checking out.
Green Room was a film I knew nothing about before I saw it, which is how I recommend checking it out. This visceral, shocking, and brutal thriller, is chock full of surprises and had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish. It’s also the first of two films on this list to star Anton Yelchin, who was one of my favorite upcoming actors before his tragic death earlier this year. In a film full of great performances, his really stands out. I’m going to miss that guy a ton.
Morris from America is another film that took me completely by surprise. It’s a smart, heartfelt and remarkably honest coming-of-age film that I really really liked. Craig Robinson gives a subtle but perhaps career-best performance, while people like Markees Christmas and Carla Juri end up playing two of my favorite characters of the year.
I always look forward to films directed by the Coen Brothers, and Hail, Caesar! did not disappoint. When I saw this in the theater in February I knew immediately it would land a spot on my favorite films of the year list. In traditional Coen fashion, it’s hilarious, incredibly well written, and jam-packed with great performances from some greats (George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Josh Brolin, Ralph Fiennes), some contemporary movie stars (Scarlet Johansson, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill) and newcomers I can’t wait to see more of (like our new Han Solo, Alden Ehrenreich!). A love letter to Hollywood and the crazy characters that inhabit it, Hail, Caesar! is an absolute must-see.
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice was perhaps one of the most anticipated films of my entire life. Batman and Superman are my two favorite characters in fiction, I’m a huge Man of Steel fan, and I’ve been anxiously awaiting a Justice League film since childhood. BVS never reaches the levels of greatness I hoped it would, but it’s still a great superhero film and one I hope more people will come to appreciate with time. I recommend checking out the Ultimate Cut if you either haven’t seen it already or weren’t impressed with the theatrical release, as I believe the extended version is the better movie. I’m ultimately disappointed that this didn’t rank higher on my list, but it’s still my favorite comic book film of the year and delivered some of my favorite cinematic moments of 2016.
Sing Street is a movie I absolutely loved, and one that actually ranked a bit higher on my list at certain points in the year. It’s also another one I knew nothing about before seeing it. Perhaps I should stay away from movie trailers in 2017? As someone who decided in high school that he wanted to be an artist, I found a lot to relate to in Sing Street. The music is catchy and fantastic, the story is both heartbreaking and hopeful, and the performances, from various young and inexperienced actors, are all top-notch. Sing Street is the kind of film that I think will be life-changing for some people, and I know it’s one I’ll think fondly of for quite some time.
8. Star Trek Beyond
Star Trek Beyond is my favorite of the newly-rebooted Trek films, and was my favorite movie I saw this summer. Full of adventure, heart, and the kinds of character moments and ideological ideas that made the original Star Trek series so special in the first place, it’s a return-to-form for the franchise. I’ve rewatched it a few times since it came out on home video, and each time I find myself with a big stupid grin on my face. Such an awesome movie.
Disney Animation has been on quite the winning streak over the last few years, and really knocked it out of the park in 2016. I have yet to see Moana, but absolutely loved Zootopia. It’s not only supremely clever and remarkably funny, but is one of the most important animated films Disney has ever made, thanks to how it stands as an allegory of the social issues plaguing our world today. I’ve revisited the incredibly realized world of Zootopia several times over the year, and find more to love with each viewing.
I’m a sucker for good sci-fi and tense thrillers, so it’s no surprise that 10 Cloverfield Lane hit all the right notes for me. Its tangential connections to its predecessor mean that it holds up remarkably well as a standalone movie. Gripping from start to finish, full of shocking twists and turns, and held together by a phenomenally scary performance from John Goodman, 10 Cloverfield Lane truly earns its spot on this list and was actually my favorite sci-fi film of the year until November.
Kubo and the Two Strings was, hands down, the best animated film of the year. Laika’s stop-motion technique is absolutely breathtaking, and I found myself asking, “How did they pull this off?” several times throughout its runtime. A wonderful story with great characters, Kubo is a movie that has to be seen to be believed.
I don’t think any film made me laugh more this year than The Nice Guys. The latest Shane Black comedy was one of my most anticipated films of the year, exceeded all of my high expectations, and Ryan Gosling and Russel Crowe delivered two of my absolute favorite performances of the year. It’s a shame that it didn’t make much money, because I would love to see sequels and more adventures featuring these two lovable idiot detectives.
Denis Villeneuve is one of my favorite up-and-coming directors, and this is his best film to date. Arrival embodies everything I love about great science fiction. It’s not only about aliens landing on Earth, but is about actual science (in this case linguistics, which I found to be a fascinating way to approach this story) and the effect that such an event has on mankind. It’s deeply moving, thrilling from start to finish, and had my wife and I discussing its tough questions for hours after leaving the theater. It also has the most unique score of the year, thanks to the always interesting Jóhann Jóhannsson.
2. Rogue One – A Star Wars Story
I’ve now seen Rogue One twice, and can say without a doubt that it’s my favorite Star Wars movie. If you had asked me to make a list of everything I wanted in a Star Wars film, Rogue One would check every single box. I love that it’s a gritty, action-packed war film that explores characters who are largely unconnected to the Skywalker saga. I love that it redeems a character like Darth Vader and reminds us of how truly menacing he is. I love its characters, from the wise-cracking and awesomely designed K-2SO to Jyn Erso, a downtrodden, broken outcast who finds hope and uses it to strike back against a fascist regime. The entire third act is impeccably paced, the various planets and locations feel authentic and “lived in,” and the story was both heartbreaking and incredibly inspiring. It’s the kind of prequel that only makes its predecessors better, adding new layers to the Star Wars universe while feeling absolutely necessary to the saga as a whole. When I first saw it, I thought it might end up being my favorite film of the year, but that coveted spot belongs to none other than…
1. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is my favorite film of 2016. Another movie that I knew very little about before sitting down to watch it, its charm, wit, heart, characters, writing, direction, performances, and story caught me completely off guard and had me hooked from start to finish. Sam Neill delivers the best performance of his career, while newcomer Julian Dennison holds his own and gives a wonderfully layered, authentic, and human performance. I really, truly loved this film, and wish there were more movies like it.
- The Legend of Tarzan – I think this is the most underrated film of the year. Sure, it has some problems, but I love its swashbuckling, classic adventure feel and think that it was actually a lot smarter than it had any right to be. Hopefully more people come to appreciate it over time.
- The Jungle Book – I wasn’t at all looking forward to a live action recreation of The Jungle Book, but Jon Favreau proved me wrong and delivered a smart and thoroughly enjoyable retelling of a familiar story.
- Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising – Considering how terrible comedy sequels usually turn out, Neighbors 2 really surprised me. I’m a big Neighbors fan, and love the feminist message of its sequel. It’s also another shining example of the comedic greatness of Zac Efron, an actor I never thought I’d come to love. But here we are.
- Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping – Popstar is one of the greatest comedies of the It’s an adept satire of contemporary pop music and celebrity culture, and has some pretty great, catchy music of its own. It also didn’t make very much money, so I hope more people discover it over time.
- Finding Dory – Finding Dory floated around my top 15 for quite some time, but just missed out on making the list. It has its fair share of problems, but I love how it approaches the subject of mental illness, and think it’s saying some pretty important things. It doesn’t rank among Pixar’s greatest films, but was far better than I ever thought a Finding Nemo sequel could be.
- Lemonade – Beyonce’s “visual album” arrived on HBO earlier this year, and really blew me away. An intensely honest journey through Beyonce’s struggle with Jay Z’s infidelity, Lemonade is a powerful story and makes me respect Beyonce even more as an artist.
- The Magnificent Seven – This remake of the seminal Western classic was a pretty fun ride. I just don’t know how you could not love seeing Denzel Washington lead an awesome band of misfit cowboys. Antoine Fuqua does a great job with the pacing and action sequences, and I found myself really liking a lot of the performances. If you’re looking for a cool, fun movie to spend two hours on, this could be the kickass Western for you.
So, there we have it! My top films 15 of 2016. You can find a full ranking of all 60 films I saw this year here, and keep an eye out for my upcoming list of most anticipated 2017 films! Thanks for reading, I’ll see you at the movies!