In any given year, we are lucky to get two or three movies that profoundly affect us, change the way we look at the world, or make our hearts swell with happiness or ache with sadness. 2016 can be accused of many things, but it was a year brimming with so many of these sorts of films that I couldn’t even count them on my own two hands.
We were gifted with groundbreaking achievements in cinema from immersive stories, to electrifying performances, to superb direction. Following is a list of my favorites of these films. 2016 will always be remembered by me as an extraordinary time to be a film fanatic.
Top 10 Best Films of 2016
- MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
Kenneth Longeran has created a modern masterpiece, which weaves the past and present of one broken man’s story so seamlessly that you can actually feel your heart breaking when a past unspeakable tragedy is revealed. Casey Affleck delivers the performance of a generation, supported by a cast that is just as astonishing, funny and moving. This film is exquisitely written and so stunning in its subtlety that it takes your breath away. In one particular scene, two brothers are walking to a car and one of them asks the other to call him when he gets home. This is such a simple scene but in the context of the film, it’s monumental and I felt like my entire chest was going to cave in from sadness. It is cinematic moments like this which reaffirm your faith in the medium and remind us why going to the movies is an experience unlike any other.
A small town bunny named Judy sets off to the big city in pursuit of her dream to become a police officer. She is bursting with ambition, determination and optimism, yet when she is relegated to being a meter maid despite graduating at the top of her class, Judy quickly learns that life doesn’t always work out exactly how you plan. But she is committed to proving to the world that she is capable of so much more than the stereotypes thrust upon her by her size, appearance, gender and species. In doing so, she confronts her own prejudices and becomes the best version of herself. Zootopia is one of those rare movies that is so wonderful and clever that you think it could actually change the world if everyone got a chance to see it.
Jim Jarmusch takes us into a week in the life of a bus driver named Paterson, who also happens to live in the city of Paterson, New Jersey. He has no relation to the city name but he is just as quiet and introspective as the city seems to be. Adam Driver delivers a magnetic performance as a man who writes beautiful poetry in the mornings before he takes his bus on his route, and at lunch while looking out on the waterfalls of the Passaic River. While his simple life may seem routine or mundane it is, however, incredibly rich and meaningful. His girlfriend, who thrives creating black and white art at home from curtains to cupcakes, inspires him, while his observations of bus passengers, the strangers he meets on his nightly walks, and the friends he engages with at his local bar, all influence his poetry and make his life fulfilling. When a stranger hands Paterson a notebook and tells him that the blank pages present limitless possibilities, you are overcome with the realization that so too is life.
A powerful and haunting coming of age tale about a lonely boy who is forced to grow up faster than he should, and suppress his true self from a world that has little vested interest in him. His story is told in three parts, from a small boy, to a teenager, to a young man. And although he meets a few people throughout his life that show him compassion, we understand that what he really needs is what we all need: unconditional love. I didn’t quite realize the impact Moonlight had on me until I found it difficult to get out of bed the morning after I saw it. This film seeped into my bones and shook me to my core. Although it ended on a hopeful note for the main character, I still couldn’t shake the journey that got him there.
A thought provoking story wrapped up in an alien invasion plot, this film challenges our perceptions of time, how we communicate, and how the little choices we make can alter our future and ultimately our chance at happiness. It’s everything you want from science fiction: suspense, intelligence, and thoughtful questions about humanity and our place in the world.
- NOCTURNAL ANIMALS
Tom Ford fashions a hypnotic thriller which explores three different and equally riveting stories: the past and the present life of a Los Angeles art gallery owner named Susan, and the novel her ex-husband has written and sent to her for feedback. The novel manuscript tells a devastating story, and as Susan reads it throughout the course of the movie, the awareness of who she has become and the weight of the suffering she has caused her ex in the past become painfully clear. Nocturnal Animals is a gorgeous film with sizzling dialogue, fascinating characters and Hitchcockian twists and turns.
- LA LA LAND
When I was growing up, I watched and recorded every episode of the 1990s version of The Mickey Mouse Club show, and I just loved seeing a very talented 12-year-old Ryan Gosling sing and dance, among the other Mouseketeers. What an absolute pleasure to see this side of him again, but this time on the big screen. La La Land is a soaring romantic film about following your dreams and your heart. It’s filled with classic movie nods, vibrant colors, rousing musical numbers, a dreamy score, and it also celebrates one of the greatest loves I have ever known: Los Angeles. Its bittersweet ending elevates it beyond its genre and leaves us with a film that will no doubt be regarded as a classic in its own right one day.
- TONI ERDMANN
A workaholic is so consumed by her career and blinded by her ambition, that she no longer has any want or need for her family or the simple joys in life. When her father hilariously ambushes her in another country where she is consulting for a big company, he proceeds to slowly chip away at the façade she has built around herself by placing her in awkward positions with colleagues, friends and strangers. This German film is playful, sweet, inventive, witty, ridiculous, and poignant. It’s also totally unpredictable, and its surprises are so warm, touching and funny that it’s a gem well worth seeking out.
- STAR TREK BEYOND
You don’t need to know a thing about Star Trek to get swept up in this wildly entertaining adventure, which reminds us why the characters from the original series are so enduring. In the 2009 JJ Abrams film, the Enterprise’s crew was assembling for the very first time. But this movie places them three years into their five year mission, so the loyalties and friendships between them feel much more significant, and it’s magnificent to watch. Star Trek Beyond is all the very best the franchise has to offer; a political and social allegory full of wry humor, space exploration, new and fascinating aliens, and a constant reminder that there is strength in unity. It also gives each of the main characters a hero moment, just like the amazing film, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. This film easily cracks the list of my top five Star Trek films of all time.
- HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE
Equal parts charming, big hearted, and brilliant, this small New Zealand film follows a juvenile delinquent orphan who is sent to live with yet another foster family, this time on a remote farm. Despite his best efforts, he is completely won over by his irreverent foster aunt and grumpy uncle. When it seems inevitable that he will be sent to another foster family, he fakes his own death and takes off into the New Zealand bush with his lovable dog, Tupac, completely ill equipped to survive. Luckily, his uncle is close behind to save him from himself and the elements. A national manhunt ensues due to a series of misunderstandings and the story evolves into a delightful, comedic and endearing buddy movie.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: HELL OR HIGH WATER, 13th, MIDNIGHT SPECIAL, THE NICE GUYS, HAIL CAESAR, OJ SIMPSON: MADE IN AMERICA, LITTLE MEN, I DANIEL BLAKE, LOVING, KNIGHT OF CUPS, FOR THE LOVE OF SPOCK, 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE, WEINER, THE JUNGLE BOOK, DHEEPAN