People keep saying that 2016 was the worst. That may be true in some cases, but the world of film told a different story. This was the year of quiet triumphs and breathtaking beauty; of gruesome fun and shocking twists. 2016 was so packed with great films that I couldn’t possibly keep up and way too many slipped past me. These include: Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, Jackie, American Honey, Don’t Think Twice, Loving, The Handmaiden, Silence… it hurts to see what I missed side-by-side. However, the things I did see are phenomenal. This is a list of my favorite films of the year. Behold:
10. The Witch (Dir. Robert Eggers)
Robert Eggers’ The Witch is all about the details. This tale of possession, faith and satanic goats is rich in texture, reveling in its period setting. I felt like a fly on the wall, peering into this family’s life without permission. It feels all too real, making it all too scary. What makes this my favorite horror film of the year is the fact that it highlights the perverse joy that comes from embracing the darkness. Seemingly possessed by evil spirits, young Caleb, covered in blood, madness in his eyes, has a huge smile plastered across his face. He is experiencing the pure bliss of letting go. Anya Taylor-Joy, fantastic as the eldest child, Thomasin, yearns to let go too. Her family is smothering her and she is miserable until she surrenders herself to the coven. The joy of madness, of letting go and learning to love yourself, is what this film is actually about. And it’s the reason the ending is as dark as it is cathartic.
9. 10 Cloverfield Lane (Dir. Dan Trachtenberg)
If 10 Cloverfield Lane had come out in the fall instead of March, John Goodman would be receiving a ton of awards buzz for what is my favorite performance of the year. Goodman is the type of actor who elevates everything he touches with his warmth and charisma. These are the same qualities that make this performance so sinister. As Howard, Goodman is still warm and charismatic, but his outward warmth is just a mask worn to hide his true intentions. Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) sees right through him and begins to search for the truth, but when something horrible occurs above ground, Howard’s plan begins to unravel. Michelle and fellow captive, Emmett, team up to escape and the resulting film (set almost entirely in an underground bunker) is an exhilarating ride. In the end though it all comes down to Goodman’s terrifying and powerful performance.
8. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (Dir. Akiva Schaffer & Jorma Taccone)
In 2016, nothing helped me laugh through the darkness like Popstar did. A mockumentary about the music industry from the team behind “Dick in a Box” and “Lazy Sunday” was bound to happen sooner or later – I just didn’t expect for it to be one of my favorite movies of the year. As a huge fan of The Lonely Island, I should have seen this coming. Popstar perfectly skewers the music industry, pop stardom, paparazzi, wealth, and more with a silly energy that never slows down. The jokes are quick and sharp, and the songs are delightful and catchy. Also, adding some authenticity to the documentary structure, there is a never ending list of celebrities playing themselves in interviews and joining as guests in songs. They are all great and all hilarious. It’s a shame that the films from this team keep getting ignored, because the whole world deserves to laugh this hard.
7. Swiss Army Man (Dir. Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert)
Love yourself despite your flaws: this is the lesson we should all learn from Swiss Army Man, the debut feature from the Dans (Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert). Paul Dano (Hank) discovers Daniel Radcliffe’s (Manny) washed up corpse just as he attempts to kill himself. He rushes to check on this body and ends up riding it like a fart-propelled jet ski. This all happens before we see the main titles and it perfectly sets the tone. What follows is a story of a man at odds with himself and the corpse that helps heal his wounds. Hank teaches Manny about the world and discovers what was beautiful about his own life in the process. With poor performances this film would surely fall apart, but everyone involved kills it. Paul Dano always turns in terrific work, but it’s Daniel Radcliffe who blew me away this time. Radcliffe keeps making interesting choices when it comes to the roles he takes and this is no exception as it very well may be his best performance yet. To explain too much would ruin the experience. Just let the farts wash over you.
6. Green Room (Dir. Jeremy Saulnier)
The films of Jeremy Saulnier are brutally raw and Green Room one-ups his previous feature, Blue Ruin, in just about every way. There is a scary timeliness to this movie, which revolves around a punk band who is trapped backstage at a club run by skinheads, that acts as a metaphor for our current state of affairs. After witnessing an act of horror, the band must fight to make it out alive. What follows is a tense exercise in mayhem as blood splatters, tensions rise, and bodies drop. Saulnier doesn’t hold back with the gore, but it never crosses the line to become tasteless. This is gruesome art that will make you gasp on multiple occasions.
5. The Lobster (Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)
Find love in 45 days or be turned into the animal of your choice – this is the basic conceit of The Lobster, the latest from Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos. We follow David (Colin Farrell) as he checks in to The Hotel, the place single people must go to pair up. Initially compliant with the strict, strange rules of The Hotel, David realizes his own happiness is more important than the torture he must go through, so he joins the singles who live in the woods. The rules of the world pile on top of each other until a cruelty bubbles to the surface. This film is intrinsically odd, mixing deadpan humor with an unsettling sense of dread. At its core, The Lobster is a parody of coupling, poking fun at what it takes to form relationships and how to make them last. But it’s also a tense thriller, with shocking twists and turns.
4. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Dir. Taika Waititi)
I am so thankful for Taika Waititi. His films are so full of joy and warmth and jokes that throw me into giggle fits. He understands the childlike sense of wonder and uncertainty about growing up. It’s hard to grow and change, but it’s especially hard for Ricky, a foster child who continues to bounce from home to home. Julian Dennison plays Ricky as stubborn, yet passionate. He doesn’t feel comfortable anywhere he goes because he is searching for a true connection. It takes running away into the New Zealand bush to find himself and grow up. His foster uncle (Sam Neill) goes to search for him, but with the two of them missing and lost in the bush, the foster agents fear the worst and start a national manhunt. This is a coming of age film of the finest variety. It’s absolutely hilarious and never loses its heart. Waititi is tackling a huge film next, Thor: Ragnarok, and with his touch I think it will end up being one of Marvel’s greatest. He is just what Thor needs.
3. Kubo and the Two Strings (Dir. Travis Knight)
What Laika accomplishes with stop-motion animation always amazes me and Kubo is no different. The animation is peerless and the sets are huge and inventive. Seriously, go watch this behind the scenes video and tell me you are not blown away. Besides the gorgeous animation, Kubo is a force to be reckoned with. When the people he loves are threatened by a vengeful spirit, Kubo must locate his father’s magical suit of armor. Coming along are Beetle, a samurai/beetle hybrid, and Monkey, a monkey. On this journey they awaken ancient spirits, angry gods and monsters, providing plenty of show-stopping action sequences. The film also tackles some pretty mature themes, such as death and the importance of memory, handling them delicately and with great finesse, ensuring that audiences of all ages can enjoy this incredible adventure.
2. La La Land (Dir. Damien Chazelle)
What does it cost to reach your dreams? One wants to be an actress, the other wants to own a successful jazz club, but what will it cost them to get there? Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are a firecracker pair with chemistry that leaps off the screen. Every time they share the screen is a treat, but Emma Stone is the real standout here. Her expressive face and high energy bolsters much of the comedy, while making her emotions clear in the more dramatic bits. She is fantastic and a ton of fun in this role. La La Land is a bright and lush musical that recalls the technicolor classics of days gone by. It is in debt to these films, but also carves its own path. The music is wonderful throughout and I’m still whistling “City of Stars”. The show stopping sequence, in a movie full of them, comes at the end as we witness an alternate reality through montage that is absolutely heartbreaking. It’s the perfect end to a movie about chasing dreams and living them.
1. Arrival (Dir. Denis Villeneuve)
I never thought a movie about linguistics would be my favorite film of the year, yet here we are. In Arrival, communication is key and not only with the aliens. This is a movie about how we communicate with our peers, our leaders, the world, and the otherworldly; it’s about taking the measured approached instead of acting on impulse; it’s about patience. Not only is it about how the characters communicate with each other, but it’s about how the filmmakers have chosen to communicate with the audience. Through the filmmaking language of editing, we are given information that we have to work to decipher. We have to translate just as Louise (Amy Adams) does. Once translated, this film turns into something entirely different. Multiple viewings reveal new meanings. The twist that comes near the end doesn’t feel cheap either. In fact, it turns the rest of the film on its head and gives huge importance to previous sequences that could have just be tossed off as character-building. Amy Adams continues to be a radiant onscreen presence – her performance is unparalleled. Denis Villeneuve has been working to mash up genre flicks with art house trappings his entire career, and this is his best yet, which makes me incredibly excited for his next film, Blade Runner 2049.
And in list form:
10. The Witch
9. 10 Cloverfield Lane
8. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
7. Swiss Army Man
6. Green Room
5. The Lobster
4. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
3. Kubo and the Two Strings
2. La La Land