This was a great year for film! That statement deserves an exclamation mark because 2016, despite its many flaws, gave us some exemplary movies. Films that left me sobbing into my sleeve, dancing to my dinner reservation, thrilled and angsty and gob-smacked all at the same time. In an era of peak TV, the best of the 2016 slate of releases (not accounting, of course, for the many, many exceptions because no film year is devoid of piss-poor garbage) could stand toe to toe with most episodes of prestige TV and come out the winner. So here’s my list, in no particular order because we don’t roll like that. I had to make some hard choices to confine it to ten. Don’t forget to check out the fun stuff at the end.
Hell or High Water–No one was more surprised than me by how much I loved this Western noir for our times. Most perfect ending to a film possibly since Breaking the Waves, the flick I think has the most perfect ending of all time.
Zootopia–Fun and zany and cute and imaginative from frame one to the end. All kids films should be like this, with an amazing female protagonist and a strong, not spoon-fed message.
A Bigger Splash–Tilda Swinton as a rock star who lost her voice in Italy, with a spirited Ralph Fiennes along to stir up trouble. Mystery, music, and sun-drenched mayhem ensure. Blissful.
Captain America: Civil War–Slow and steady wins the race. Marvel built up to this epic battle between their two most beloved characters, neither of which is entirely right or wrong, and it blew my mind. (And broke my heart. Tony, Cap, can’t we all just get along?) This is the real 50 Shades of Grey, LOL. With a supporting cast an Oscar-bait indie would envy. They took the time to do it right, and there’s no stopping them now.
Moonlight–These are the kinds of stories we talk about when we say we need more diverse voices, in front of and behind the camera, in film. Poetic, political, sensual, and devastating.
Arrival–It’s like this movie was made for me. I don’t have enough words, but here are a few: the enigmatic nature of language, love, and how we connect as people, as partners, as nations, as a species. An intergalactic love song made by one of Quebec’s most visionary filmmakers.
Sing Street–Adorable coming of age flick with a ridiculously fun soundtrack and more ’80s references than a new romantic has cans of hairspray.
La La Land–Hearts, flowers, glitter, fireworks, unicorns, confetti… swoon! See it, FFS!
20th Century Women–Three women from three different generations help one of them raise a teenage boy to be a man. If you are a woman, you will adore this brilliantly observed and balls-out film. If you’re a man… well, you will definitely learn something.
Manchester by the Sea–In which Kenneth Lonnergan, with the sparest dialogue and the most meticulously structured plot, tears out your heart.
Best scene in an otherwise mediocre movie: “Would that it were so simple”, Hail Caesar!
Best scene in a fantastic movie: “Menstruation dinner”, 20th Century Women
Face-meltingly hot: The Handmaiden. Also best use of subtitles for its Japanese/Korean color scheme.
Not really sure if I liked it, but huge points for originality: The Lobster
Overrated even before the controversy: The Birth of a Nation
Ballsiest ending: Rogue One
Proof that actors are irreplaceable: the CGI resurrection of two major characters in Rogue One. Memo to Kathleen Kennedy–don’t even think about doing this to General Organa in Episode XI.
Still trying to figure it out, but happy to be befuddled: Nocturnal Animals
The future of low-key sci-fi is bright: Midnight Special
Wish it had done well enough to earn itself a sequel: The Nice Guys
Biggest heartbreak that wasn’t, alas, much of a surprise: studio execs’ misogynist interpretation of Ghostbusters’ box office.
Wake me up when it’s over: Certain Women
John Hughes award: The Edge of Seventeen
Best ugly cry: The Light Between Oceans
More white savior BS: Live by Night
I thought comic book movies were supposed to be fun: Batman V. Superman, Suicide Squad.
Franchises that need to be put to bed: Star Trek, Jason Bourne, Jack Reacher… okay, maybe all of them not by Marvel or Lucasfilm.
Pretentious BS masquerading as feminism: Neon Demon
Come for the stars and spectacle, leave because of the rapey subtext: Passengers
Mediocre movie I loved: Miss Sloane.
Has everything working for it but just fell short of perfection: Jackie
Just give this woman an Oscar already: Viola Davis, Fences
I liked this a lot more than everyone else: The Legend of Tarzan
Because seeing movies on film, in the cinema, with a crowd is still the most fun thing ever: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
Film critics are falling all over each other for that I loathed with every fiber of my being: Patterson (how does Adam Driver get these parts, seriously?)
Film audiences went crazy for that had me scratching my head: Deadpool
Films I haven’t seen yet that I want to: Moana, The Founder, A Monster Calls, Hidden Figures.
Hit me up in the comments with your picks and pans!