You don’t go to movies almost every week for a year NOT to write up a list like this. With hours before the Oscars begin, here are my 30 favorite films of 2016.
30. Don’t Breathe
Stephen Lang, Jane Levy and Dylan Minnette
What I love about Don’t Breathe is how much it values suspense more than shock (although it will shock you in some ways). From the minute three young thieves break into a blind war veteran’s home, to the end of the film, you do exactly as the title of the film suggests.
29. Pete’s Dragon
Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford and Karl Urban
I’ll go ahead and say it, when comparing Bryce Dallas Howard films…
Pete’s Dragon > Jurassic World
Many of us know the trippy live-action/animated film from the 70’s, but this one has more heart and makes you want to believe in a kid’s pet dragon. Robert Redford’s narration is a warm touch as well.
28. Doctor Strange
Benedict Cumberbatch, Mads Mikkelson and Tilda Swinton
Just because I have several films ranked ahead of it doesn’t mean I didn’t thoroughly enjoy Doctor Strange. It was a very different Marvel film, with influences from both The Matrix and Inception. The supporting cast was as impressive as any among standalone Marvel films (Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Stuhlbarg) and Mikkelson played a villain as memorable as any the MCU has produced.
27. Kubo and the Two Strings
Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey and Rooney Mara
The action and animation were incredible. The adventure and the story were even better. Rooney Mara’s voice still haunts my dreams though.
26. Everybody Wants Some
Blake Jenner, Glen Powell and Zoey Deutch
Like most of Richard Linklater’s films, Everybody Wants Some doesn’t really have much of a story but it’s fun and stays consistent with the theme of “living in the moment”. Good comedies are hard to come by these days, and what makes this movie, about college baseball players in Texas, good is how natural the humor is.
25. Nocturnal Animals
Jake Gyllenhaal, Amy Adams and Michael Shannon
Tom Ford’s literal story-within-a-story is actually way better than whatever is going on in the depressing reality of the film’s universe. Michael Shannon certainly earned his nomination for Best Supporting Actor, which is a testament to the excellent year he had on the big screen. Count Jake Gyllenhaal as someone who is well overdue for a Best Actor win as well.
24. 10 Cloverfield Lane
Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman and John Gallagher
The Cloverfield sequel was one of the best kept secrets by J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions and thankfully NOTHING like the original. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is an up-and-coming star, John Goodman is scarier than any monster the franchise has nightmare’d up, and John Gallagher (Mr. Indie film) provides the charm and relief a film this intense desperately needs. So when do we get the 3rd?
23. The Accountant
Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick and Jon Bernthal
I didn’t expect this to be Ben Affleck’s best movie this past year (not sorry, BvS), but I’m very glad it was. In terms of one-man-wrecking-crew films, Affleck’s Christian Wolf can definitely give John Wick a run for his money. I also appreciated every reference to Chicago’s west suburbs that get a shoutout throughout the movie.
22. The Nice Guys
Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling and Matt Bomer
I’m not sure if I ever stopped laughing when Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling were on screen together. Shane Black gave us everything we liked about Lethal Weapon, set it in the 70’s, and did it better (in my opinion).
Jason Bateman, Ginnifer Goodwin and Idris Elba
On top of great humor, awesome animation, and a very necessary social message…the references to The Godfather, Chinatown, Breaking Bad, LA Confidential and Speed were too good to ignore.
Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker
When I left the theater after seeing Arrival, I thought it was one of the best films I had seen in 2016. It did a better job explaining the parallels of time than Interstellar and took a unique approach to the idea of communicating with aliens. It may not have left the impression that the films I ranked after it did, but it belongs among the nominated Oscar pictures.
19. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Eddie Redmayne, Colin Farrell and Dan Fogler
Don’t hurt me but, I had more fun watching Fantastic Beasts than any of the previous Harry Potter films. It helped knowing a few thing and some of the lingo, but I was captivated by Redmayne’s weirdness, Fogler’s “aw shucks” awkwardness, and every magical thing that came out of that suitcase.
Ruth Negga, Joel Edgerton and Nick Kroll
This movie couldn’t have come at a better time and the story is beautifully told. Something I have noticed with Jeff Nichols’ films (and there is another one on the list, a few sports down) is their value of silence. There are few things more powerful than letting a moment overcome an audience without sound, script or music to dictate it.
17. The Jungle Book
Bill Murray, Idris Elba and Ben Kingsly
Some of the best CGI work you’ll ever see in a movie. And with a cast full of stars, like the one Jon Favreau assembled, everyone seemed to buy-in for their voice work. Bill Murray, Christopher Walken, even Gus from Breaking Bad (Giancarlo Esposito), all made the experience as intense and fun as it was.
Auli’i Cravalho, Dwyane Johnson and Jermaine Clement
As someone who loves going to see animated movies in the theater, 2016 was a great year for them. However, the film that moved and impressed me the most was Moana. Amazing music, incredible animation, and a story that keeps you invested all the way through. If someone told you it was “the new Frozen”, it was better than that.
15. Edge of Seventeen
Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson and Blake Jenner
The ‘Young Adult’ genre has been miraculously on point as of late. One of my favorite films a year ago was Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, and while Edge of Seventeen wasn’t quite as good, it still had an honest perspective and the kind of dialogue that most comedies in recent years wish they had. What Edge of Seventeen does beat Earl and the Dying Girl in a surprisingly cooler student-teacher combo in Hailee Steinfeld and Woody Harrelson. The start of the film establishes this very quickly.
14. Midnight Special
Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton and Adam Driver
This is the 3rd Michael Shannon flick to make this list and it’s definitely my favorite of the three. Midnight Special was released before Stranger Things and I think the mysterious sci-fi storytelling of the former made me appreciate the latter even more. The father-son angle and the dilemma of “how far would you go to keep your child safe” made the film especially gripping.
Denzel Washington, Viola Davis and Stephen Henderson
The performances that Denzel Washington and Viola Davis give are too great to deny acclaim for this film. They carry a movie, whose story becomes more and more tedious and difficult to find hope in.
12. Don’t Think Twice
Gillian Jacobs, Keegan-Michael Key and Mike Birbiglia
It’s a film about an improv troupe and how a group is effected when one of its members is selected to join a ‘Saturday Night Live’ type show. The interaction between the members and the improv scenes are so well-written, that they feel real and spontaneous.
11. When a Monster Calls
Lewis MacDougall, Liam Neeson and Felicity Jones
Prepare for one of the hardest cries of your life when you see this movie. Tear ducts weren’t prepared for how this film develops, as if Inside Out was live-action…with a monstrous giant tree-being that talks like Liam Neeson.
10. Captain America: Civil War
Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr. and Sebastian Stan
After many of us were disappointed by how Batman v. Superman turned out, Marvel came to the rescue to show geeks how it’s done again. The Russo brothers did such a good job presenting the sides of both Captain America and Iron Man that you didn’t really want to pick a side. And for a film full of so many heroes, including the the introduction of the new Spider-Man, it exceeded all expectations. Can’t wait for what’s next.
9. Hidden Figures
Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae
If you didn’t know the story already, you sure were interested to learn more about the women who helped send John Glenn and many others into space. Great performances by all involved and it was just as relevant as anything released this past year.
Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin and T.J. Miller
The fact that people considered Deadpool potentially Oscar-worthy should say enough about how good it turned out. It was one of the biggest surprises at the box office and probably the best comedy of the year as well.
Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman and Rooney Mara
It’s a story that seems too incredible to be real…but it is. Nicole Kidman’s performance also hit very close to home for me personally, and they payoff at the end is as good as any film from the last year.
6. Sing Street
Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Jack Reynor and Aiden Gillen
For the first half of 2016, Sing Street was my favorite movie. The original music is as good as any from John Carney’s catalog of soundtracks. The analysis of UK 80’s music is fascinating. And I became a big Jack Reynor fan after.
5. Hell or High Water
Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges
For anyone that was looking for an instant-classic in the modern-western genre, here you go.
Trevante Rhodes, Mahershala Ali and Janelle Monae
When it comes to Moonlight, I won’t forget where I was and when I saw it. I didn’t want to watch ANY election coverage so I went to the Clark Cinema past Wrigleyville. And it turned out to be the perfect film to see that evening. In any other year, especially with its subject matter and storytelling, this film would probably win Best Picture at the Oscars.
3. Rogue One
Felicity Jones, Diego Luna and Alan Tudyk
After taking a few months to look back and reflect on Rogue One, it’s still my all-time favorite Star Wars story and makes me hopeful for what’s to come in the franchise, with the new generation of innovators and storytellers in film.
2. La La Land
Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling and John Legend
The music, the choreography, the story, the performances…It’s almost a perfect film and it should be my favorite of 2016 but…
1. Manchester by the Sea
Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams and Kyle Chandler
Manchester by the Sea did more than than any film could to my emotions. It was so devastating, but the writing and interaction between Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges gave it the best balance possible.