Sunday, September 30, 2018

The 25 Best Movies of 2016

A few weeks ago, I gave you my worst movies of 2016. I meant to give the flip side within a few days, but you know, life. Finally, on the eve of 2018's 31 Days of Horror, I finally managed to come up with...

The 25 Best Movies of 2016

25. Split
When I first saw the trailer for this M. Night Shyamalan movie, I was very skeptical. I mean, it looked interesting, but this particular director has a way of making movies that are really interesting for two acts until taking unbearably bad turns in the third. This one didn't do that. It engaged me in the best, most tense ways all the way to the very last scene. That scene floored me. I'm so ready to see Glass.

24. Don't Breathe
Director Fede Álvarez deftly juggles all the plot elements, enabling them to enhance the film without overwhelming it. His hand has crafted a wonderful piece of horror that takes an already horrific situation to even more horrific extremes. In that sense, it's not a film that utilizes monsters or the occult to terrorize, it's takes regular human beings, and uses them to get under our skin. (Full Review)

23. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Chronologically sitting between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope in the franchise timeline, we get the first Star Wars flick not intensely focused on the Skywalker family. The step away turned out to be a breath of fresh air as the film built very nicely throughout and makes a bold narrative choice to give us one of the most heartfelt entries in the series.

22. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
Following in the footsteps of Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Popstar tells the story of exactly that. Andy Samberg plays the titular star, a former boy band member who made it big as a solo artist, but who's last album flopped. It's raunchy from the word go and self-aware, to boot. The result is a pop-culture spoofing laugh riot.

21. Raw
I didn't know what I was getting into when I started watching this movie about cannibalism. I was expecting a shallow, gross-out affair. There are definitely some nasty things happening, but this is far from shallow and gore is a minor tool in this movie's arsenal. It leads us to a finale that give us an unsettling a-ha moment.

20. The Jungle Book
There are some changes made to the original story, particularly the ending, but it all works to keep us fully invested in Mowgli's journey. Director Jon Favreau once again proves he really knows how to tell a good adventure story. He does so with the help of some amazing visual effects and some outstanding voice-work from his top-notch cast. (Quick & Dirty Review)

19. Jackie
This is an intense character examination of Jackie Onassis in the aftermath of the assassination of her husband, Pres. John F. Kennedy. Much of that intensity is emitted from the person of Natalie Portman giving arguably her career-best performance. She draws you in and makes you empathize with her.

18. The Eyes of My Mother
It goes about its business by being an intensely creepy film. It's about a young woman who wants the most human of things, someone to reciprocate her affections. However, she goes about it in the most inhumane ways. We know how we should feel about it, but aren't sure we do. The ending, then, gives us a sense of relief, not because it's a bad movie, but because we no longer have to fight to keep ourselves from siding with the villain. (Full Review)

17. Moana
Sometimes a movie is great in spite of it being formulaic. Moana rather closely follows the template of this century's Disney princess movies. However, it does it in such a delightful way, it's pretty tough not to love. Having a protagonist that's as cute as a button and tough as nails, doesn't hurt. And of course, there's The Rock being The Rock, but impossibly more animated than usual.

16. Captain America: Civil War
In almost all of the previous MCU pictures, our heroes are tasked with keeping some all-powerful whatchamacallit out of the hands of the bad guys who only want to rule everything and destroy everything they cannot rule. It's pretty standard popcorn fare that's served Marvel well. This time around we're asked to choose a side between two factions with compelling arguments for why they are right and that it's their way, not the other side's, that will help them do what we thought we came to see them do: save the world. (Full Review)

15. White Girl
Leah never seems to learn anything and the final scene undermines everything she does before that. Still, the situations are very tense. More than that, Saylor delivers a compelling performance. She goes for broke, and it pays off because she makes the movie eminently watchable. (Quick & Dirty Review)

14. Layla M.
Feeling persecuted and demonized is bound to make some of those who do want to lash out at their tormentors. Layla is one such person. It's a character study on a young Muslim woman becoming radicalized. But it's also a study of how we view Muslim's in general. Neither side of it is pretty. That's what makes it tough to watch. Layla makes it compelling.

13. 10 Cloverfield Lane
I've long been a fan of the visual and visceral treats offered up by slasher flicks. Something about the ridiculousness of over the top kill scenes keeps me coming back for more. That said, even I can admit the best horror is not that which grosses us out, but that which disturb us while cranking up the narrative tension. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a film that manages to be both disturbing and tense. (Full Review)

12. Hell or High Water
None of the cast would be able to give us the amazing performances they do without the fantastic writing that combines with the direction of David Mackenzie to give us a dusty, gritty landscape filled with earthy people just trying to figure out how to make it through the next day. It's a brutal piece of economic angst that grabs the scruff of your neck and drags you around. Somehow, we're thankful for that. (Quick & Dirty Review)

11. Kubo and the Two Strings
The stop-motion animation is wonderfully done giving the film an exquisite look. The voice work by the cast is excellent with Charlize Theron doing a particularly great job. Brenda Vaccaro and Matthew McConaughey are also really good. More important than any of that, the story is told exceedingly well and really tugs at your heartstrings. It also makes use of some Studio Ghibli influences and incorporates them seamlessly into its own universe. The product is a beautiful film. (Quick & Dirty Review)

10. American Honey
This is a raw look at one of the dark underbellies of American society. It never feels exploitative, though. In fact, it uses the circumstances of the main characters to draw a contrast between the haves and have nots, and demonstrate how the two sides view and use each other. Because of the main trio of characters and the rather grimy places this film took me, I was pulled into it, felt involved in their lives, and didn't even mind the runtime that stretched past 160 minutes. (Quick & Dirty Review)

9. My Life as a Zucchini
This film takes some heavy topics and handles them with great care and maturity. However, this is no downer, and maintains the right amount of whimsy and youthful exuberance. In lieu of whiz-bang computer graphics, this is a stop-motion film, which bears mentioning because of how much love was obviously put into the making of this film. You can feel it in every frame and the screenplay never lets it down. It gives us humor, heart, and poignancy. (Quick & Dirty Review)

8. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
The writing provides a perfect foundation for the seamless transition from our protagonist's interactions with one foster parent to those with another. The film is consistently funny, cute, sweet, and all sorts of heartwarming. Still, it maintains enough edge to never feel cloying. This is how feel-good movies should be done. (Quick & Dirty Review)

7. Fences
This is a film built almost entirely on one thing: actors acting. Denzel makes some very nice choices as the director, as noted. His best choice is not intruding on the work of his cast. He never makes the movie about anything other than the raw emotion of the words they are speaking. This cast brings plenty of it. The meaty roles provide a fine foundation, as written. They take those words and breathe three full dimensions into them. In the end, we don’t feel like we’ve watched characters in a movie, but people dealing with life. (Full Review)

6. The Nice Guys
Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe make a dynamite on-screen duo. Their chemistry is off the charts, their comic timing superb. They make this a lively affair filled with humor. We also get a sparkling supporting turn from Kim Basinger. The script provides lots of twists and turns that try to throw us off its scent. You may still sniff it out, but its a blast just letting it go through all the histrionics. Shane Black double-dips as director and writer and delivers one of the best films to emerge from his pen. (Quick & Dirty Review)

5. Train to Busan
For all the emotional beats this movie hits upon, it still butters its bread with high octane zombie attacks. They play a large part in keeping us unable to tear our eyes away from the screen. The film sneaks in a lot of its themes because you're distracted from the fact that you're becoming emotionally involved. By the time you figure that out, you've had a great time trying to make it to Busan. (Full Review)

4. The Handmaiden
As is typical of a film directed by Park Chan-wook, we can't help but notice the look of the film. There are too many gorgeous shots to count, even when the content of those shots is violently or sexually graphic. What keeps us engaged, however, is the maze of twists and turns the story takes. Chan-wook handles each curve expertly as not to throw us too violently for a loop. The weight of all that's going on never feels as if it's too much for the film. It's a magnificent piece of story-telling. (Quick & Dirty Review)

3. Deadpool
Our hero immediately ropes us in by speaking directly to us and never lets go of us. It provides an entry point into the film that we aren’t used to using on a repeated basis. Lots of other movies have used fourth wall breaks. This one uses it to greater effect than any film I’ve ever seen. It bounces effortlessly between telling us a story and conversing with us. It also foregoes the normal superhero fighting for an ultraviolent style that works well with the overall tone. It’s unapologetically self-aware, crass, and quite possibly the best superhero flick since The Dark Knight. (Full Review)

2. Arrival
One of the tools at the director's disposal is flashbacks. Villenueve makes extensive use of them to hold our interest. The question on our minds as the film repeatedly returns to them is "How does this figure into what's going on with the aliens?" We know that it does. We just can't quite make the connection until the movie tells us. At that point, the implications of all that is going on envelopes and astounds us. Therefore, the numerous flashbacks might at first seem like an intrusion, but the payoff for them is immense. That payoff makes this one of the finest cinematic reveals I've ever witnessed. (Full Review)

Before we get to my top movie of 2016, here's a look at some honorable mentions (in no particular order).

The Edge of Seventeen

Hidden Figures




The Birth of a Nation

Sing Street

Some Freaks

The Girl With All the Gifts

And now, drum roll, please...

Is what we're watching a love story, or a tragedy? Could it be both? The purposely ambiguous ending offers possibilities, but no solid answers. It's also fitting because Chiron himself is searching for answers. When the film ends neither of us are sure he's found them. If you're looking for a tidy ending, this isn't the movie for you. If you're looking for a film that serves as the starting point for a fascinating conversation, you're in the right place. (Full Review)

Hey, there were some awards given out for this year, too. Check out...


  1. I couldn't stomach Raw but happy to see appreciation for Moonlight which is up there with my favorite Best Picture winners of recent times. Sometimes the BP winners are simplistic in order for everyone to understand them, but that was refreshingly not the case as Moonlight had subtlety.
    Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Arrival, Fences, Hell or High Water and American Honey are high up for me too for 2016. Great choices. I haven't seen Layla M. which sounds like an important one in terms of its topic! Maybe I'll check out Don't Breathe for Halloween. No love for I, Daniel Blake or The Neon Demon?

    1. Couldn't "stomach" Raw, lol, but I understand. Glad to see the love for Moonlight. I really think Layla M. is an underseen film. I'd love to get your perspective on it. The Neon Demon rubbed me the wrong way, but there's enough there that I'm open to another viewing. Haven't seen I, Daniel Blake.

  2. That is a list of great fucking films man. Here's my list of the best of 2016 so far as I still haven't seen Moonlight as I'm hoping to before the end of the year and in anticipation of It Happened on Beale Street.

    1. Thanks! Please see Moonlight. Pleeeeaaaasssse!

  3. Awesome picks! I loved Jackie, Civil War, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Moonlight Fences, and Arrival. It was a pretty awesome year for movies. I'd also add Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them but that's only 'cause I'm a Harry Potter nerd. :P

    1. It was an awesome year, but I have to admit, I didn't care much for Fantastic Beasts.

  4. Arrival was like someone wanted to make a movie literally for me. I have loved science fiction my whole life, have an MA in linguistics and lecture about eight times/year on the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, which is literally the foundation of this film.

    I loved Hidden Figures, Moonlight, Hell or High Water, and The Girl with All the Gifts. I loved Kubo and the Two Strings and Train to Busan. I enjoyed The Nice Guys, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and Hush far more than I thought I would. But seriously, Arrival was a piece of my damn soul.

  5. Aw thanks for reminding me of all these great films! Haven't seen a few, and others I enjoyed but not at "best of the year" level, but I was extra glad to see your love for: The Handmaiden, Moonlight, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Sing Street, and Girl With All The Gifts (this one in particular is criminally underseen).