Nick Casaletto’s Top Ten Films of 2016.
2016 was a year full of great films. So many, in fact, that I found it genuinely hard to narrow it down to only ten. However, some fared better than others in my opinion. Some affected me emotionally, personally and on an entertainment value. These may not be the “best” films of 2016; they are merely my personal favorites. I took into account reachability, emotional resonance, and flat out great filmmaking. I haven’t had a chance to see some films I wanted to (Silence, 20th Century Woman, Patterson), but I did see more movies in the theaters this year than I have since I started doing this as a profession.
Before I get into my official list, I have a few honorable mentions that just barely didn’t make the cut.
- Doctor Strange
- Hacksaw Ridge
- Deepwater Horizon
- The Nice Guys
- A Monster Calls
- Sing Street
- Star Trek Beyond
- Pete’s Dragon
Those were all films I genuinely enjoyed, even loved. These top ten films below, just hit me in just the right spots to leave a lasting impression on me for the year in cinema of 2016. So without further ado, here are my official top ten films of 2016, in order from least to greatest.
#10 Blue Jay (Netflix)
Blue Jay is a small, intimate movie about two long lost lovers, having a night of reconnection. The premise is small, but the execution is done with sheer brilliance. The performances and chemistry between Mark Duplass and Sarah Paulson are second to none, delivering so much humanity and emotion without all the bells and whistles of a modern day drama. When a film can make you forget you are watching two actors, and feel as if you are peeking through the hole and witnessing someone’s life, a movie has succeeded beyond expectations. In its short 80-minute runtime, Blue Jay is a breeze of a watch; that showcases some of the best acting of the year.
#9 Swiss Army Man (A24)
To some, this is simply the “farting corpse movie.” If you feel this way, I understand and won’t argue with you on it. Admittedly, it took me a few viewings to truly appreciate the messages and complexity of Swiss Army Man. After you get passed the jarring opening minutes and accept the tone of what this movie is going for, it is, for lack of a better term, a spiritual journey. Paul Dano is a lonely, depressed man at the end of his rope (literally), until he comes into contact with a (maybe) live corpse that gives him the will to live again. Beyond all the farting, boner, and crude humor, there is a poignant character study of what it means to be human. The score is also one of the best I’ve heard all year and elevates scenes throughout the film for a one of a kind and remarkable experience.
#8 Captain America: Civil War (Marvel Studios)
Surprise! Yes, those of you who know me knew this was going to appear on my list somewhere. I adored this film, not just because it has the best action sequence in any superhero film to date, but because of the emotional weight and stakes this story brings to the MCU. This has some of the best acting in a Marvel movie to date, with a dramatic and nuanced turn from Robert Downey Jr. as the once narcissistic Tony Stark. The airport scene, the introduction of Spider-man and Black Panther aside, the climactic showdown at the end of Captian America: Civil War is nothing short of brilliant. There is so much history between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark at this point that when they are throwing down at the end, the stakes are at an all-time high and as an audience member and fan, the payoff is perfection.
#7 Arrival (Paramount Pictures)
What a trip Arrival is, the latest from critically acclaimed director Denis Villeneuve.After seeing this in a packed theater at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, I knew this would go down as one of the best sci-fi films of the decade. Amy Adams deliver’s the performance of her career, as linguistics expert Louise Banks. Her character arc is what drives Arrival forward and what separates it from a typical B-level alien invasion blockbuster. I can’t get into much of the plot without heading into SPOILER territory, but it’s not what you expect and in the best way possible. Arrival is one of the few films that benefits on rewatch-ability and can change your point of view with said viewings.
#6 Fences (Paramount Pictures)
Fences is based on the Pulitzer award-winning play of the same name. This is without a doubt a play to screen adaptation, and in no way is that a bad thing. What seems to be a basic story about an African American family living in the 1950’s, slowly unravels itself to be one of the best character-based dramas of the year. Denzel Washington (who also directs) is at his all-time best in the lead role. He is a protagonist who you increasingly start to loathe as the film continues, as he struggles to provide for his wife (played superbly by Viola Davis) and two sons. The complex and layered characters are what make this movie a treat for cinephiles and those who love to see actors, well, act. The performances are never over-the-top, they are subtle and naturally progressive until the film’s dramatic final shot.
#5 Hell or High Water (CBS Films)
Have you heard of Hell or High Water? If not, do yourself a favor and go to your favorite streaming service, VOD, or local Best Buy and buy this sleeper hit. I knew nothing but the IMDB plot for this feature and boy, going into this indie gem blind was an incredibly satisfying theater going experience. Chris Pine and Ben Foster give miraculously real and nuanced performances of two outlaw brothers, who rob banks with the best of intentions. Throw in an Academy Award-winning tour de force by Jeff Bridges, and you have one of the most intense and surprising films of the year.
#4 Manchester by the Sea (Amazon)
Manchester by the Sea is not an easy film to watch by any means. It’s a long, emotionally draining drama that is as raw as they get. What could be easily mistaken for a “true story,” Manchester by the Sea follows a man who has suffered an extreme amount of loss in a multitude of ways. Casey Affleck gives the performance of his career as a lonely janitor from Massachusettes, who is given the responsibility of custody of his 16-year-old nephew after the passing of his brother. Again, it’s hard to talk into great detail about this movie without getting into spoiler territory, but that “scene” in the middle of the film, yeah, I am still crying from that.
#3 Moonlight (A24)
Moonlight is a beautiful film. Barry Jenkins’s softmore effort stands the test of time, being both a complex character study as well as a testament to what it means to be who you are. Set in three different stages of life, Moonlight Chronicles a young African-American boy who struggles with his identity and fitting in. We go from adolescence to teenage years, to this boy becoming a man. No matter who you are, you can relate to one of the many messages this superb piece of filmmaking has to offer.
#2 Nocturnal Animals (Focus Features)
Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals isn’t for everyone; that’s made clear with the breathtaking opening credits alone. Amy Adams, having a terrific year, gives a very different performance than we’ve seen her in thus far. She plays a lonely art gallery owner, who is having some marital problems with her husband (Armie Hammer). Her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal) sends her a manuscript that is violent, terrifying and dedicated to her. The intense thriller jumps between three different timelines, the past, present, and what Adams is reading via the manuscript. Nocturnal Animals almost requires multiple viewings, and I can’t wait to revisit it for a 3rd and 4th time. Also, Michael Shannon and Jake Gyllenhaal give two of the most diverse and wonderful performances of the year; that may unfortunately be overlooked by The Academy (surprise)
#1 La La Land (Lionsgate)
I love this film, with every fiber in my body. La La Land is the reason why we go to the movies, to see dreams come true, to get swept up in the magic of storytelling and characters. Damien Chazelle has outdone himself with 2014s electric Whiplash and delivers a musical romance that will live on as a “classic.” From the opening number to the closing and heartwrenching finale, La La Land will have you smiling and crying across the city of stars. I rarely say a film lives up to the hype, but I am continuously blown away by every aspect of this beautiful story, directing, and of course, two all-star performances from Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. If you haven’t seen La La Land yet, then what the hell are you doing here? I should add in that I typically am not a fan of musicals, so to be so swept away by a film in this genre that is all but dead, was the most pleasant surprise of 2016.
So there you have it folks, my favorite films of 2016. What are some of your favorites? Leave a comment below, and I will see you all in 2017, for hopefully another terrific year at the movies.