15 Best Films of 2016 : A List by Ashley Menzel

best films of 2016

15 Best Films of 2016: A List by Ashley Menzel

2016 was a great year for film with some truly memorable cinematic moments. These are the list of the best 15 films in my opinion. They are not listed in any specific order. Let me know your thoughts below in the comments!


Not doing much at the Box Office, Snowden was a disappointment for me. I wish the film had done so much better because I enjoyed it. Director Oliver Stone does such amazing work on this film that presents the story of a controversial person with such art and finesse. The story gives you not only the story about the release of the information but artfully presents the events leading up to that story, which gives Edward Snowden a face and a human element. So often, in the news, we are presented with Edward Snowden labeled as a traitor or a criminal, but in this film, we get to see his thoughts, reasoning, and the events leading up to his decision to release information and his eventual escape from the United States. The film itself is so beautifully done with attention paid to every detail of the film. It is a true piece of art, coupled with a compelling story, forcing us to question what we know as treason, espionage or even patriotism. Snowden is a must-see film for every American, whether or not you believe Edward Snowden to be a hero or a traitor, the film will surely make you question your beliefs.

A Monster Calls

A beautifully crafted and visually stunning film coupled with a heartbreaking and emotional journey make A Monster Calls easily one of the best films of the year. Newcomer Lewis MacDougall is an incredible young talent who carries a lot of the film on his own. The film is a coming of age story but is done with such love and care that it easily surpasses films of the same theme. A Monster Calls is an excellent film and should be on your must-see list for 2016.


Another drastically different coming of age film, Moonlight gives us a view of a young man named Chiron through three different stages in his life. Three different actors play the role of Chiron, and each gives an incredible and truly memorable performance.Every aspect of this film is done with care and precision. The lighting, the cinematography, and even the music are done so well to create this beautiful masterpiece. Moonlight is a heart-wrenching, eye-opening film that is sure to captivate any audience.


I see a few films more than once, usually because someone else wants to see it, but I wanted to see Arrival for a second time in theaters because I loved it so much. It is such a unique take on the film. Arrival is not the film that I expected but has won its way to my top favorite sci-fi films ever. It is a different take with a twist that is sure to turn your perspectives totally upside down. An incredible film that reminds humanity of what is really important.

La La Land

Films like La La Land that have so much buzz surrounding them rarely live up to the expectations I have. La La Land is different. It is an instant classic that will be loved for years and years to come. It will stand the test of time with a classic love story for the ages and beautiful music to match. La La Land is the full package; visually stunning, emotional, nostalgic and beautiful. An amazing creation by Damien Chazelle and an all-time favorite of mine. It is easily the best musical in the last ten years.


I honestly loved Operator when I saw it back in March at SXSW. It was my favorite of the fest and knocked it out of the park. It packs a punch of emotional reality that leaves the audience stunned. Mae Whitman and Martin Starr have such incredibly chemistry and give powerhouse performances in Operator. 

War on Everyone

A film I didn’t expect to like War on Everyone was a huge surprise and a ton of fun. They toy with a lot of subjects that are bold, such as police brutality, race, and creed. They do it in a way that to some would be offensive, but I think it was done in a way that was never intended to be offensive, just more of a comment on the current climate of the United States. I mean the film starts out with them chasing down a mime with their car and asking “I always wondered what would happen if I hit a mime if he’d make noise;” after which they hit the mime with their car and say they get their answer. The script is well written and witty, with the perfect balance of crude humor and intelligent humor. It is a blast to watch and has some lines that I can see becoming quotable and memorable. This film I believe has a cult-like potential in the same vein as films like Snatch. I had a lot of fun watching the film and enjoyed the humor a lot. This is a great film that if you get the chance to see it, I recommend it.

Birth of a Nation

With all the controversy surrounding Nate Parker, The Birth of a Nation may have suffered in the process. This is a shame because Parker has a great eye for film and cinematography. There are shots in this film that leave the audience awe-struck. He is well on his way to being a master of cinema and storytelling. I can’t wait to see what film he decides to tackle next. There are scenes in which the imagery is so powerful and moving with just the simplest shots. Scenes in a cotton field or just the landscape coupled with mesmerizing and captivating music are the perfect combination. The Birth of a Nation has so much depth to it. There have been quite a few films that take on the subject of slavery in the past few years, but this one feels unique and stands out from the rest. An all round stroke of genius, The Birth of a Nation is inspiring, visually stunning and packed with powerhouse performances. It is a true masterpiece.

Manchester by the Sea

Manchester by the Sea is probably one of the most talked about films to come out of Sundance this year. The film is about loss and devastation and the struggles to move on and face the world, even as new challenges and loss happen. Manchester by the Sea could have easily become an overly artsy film with too much imagery and emotional music, but it doesn’t.The music in the film could’ve been very distracting and come off as overly artsy, but instead is used very skillfully to add a level of reflection and peace to the film. Combined with moments of silence, it creates a beautiful atmosphere for a truly poignant film. Accented with genuine, sarcastic and realistic humor that hits every note. Even at a poignant point in the film where Patrick is upset about his father being kept in a freezer when he drops frozen chicken, and Lee responds with, “if you’re going to freak out every time you see a frozen chicken, I think we need to go to the hospital.” Spot on and perfectly delivered, it took a powerful moment and made it even more human. Manchester by the Sea is a triumph in filmmaking and a sure Oscar contender. Casey Affleck will blow you away in this film.

Swiss Army Man

Swiss Army Man, while being one of the strangest films I’ve ever seen, is so incredibly well-done that I have to love it. The film is emotionally raw and cuts down to the core tenants of what it means to be human and what emotions are and what they feel like. I learned more from the relationship between a man and a corpse than I learned in 12 years of schooling constantly surrounded by others. While the premise is silly, the emotional resonance certainly is not. Hank projects his emotions onto Manny turning him into a physical representation of his emotional baggage. The film makes you question Hank’s sanity but also slowly forces you to think how we’d behave and even more so, to begin to understand and empathize with Hank. Hank’s character is very emotionally raw and open in this film, which makes the audience question if cross-dressing and playing dress up with a corpse is really that far from the reality of what they may resort to for human interaction, and for that, I applaud “the Daniels.” Swiss Army Man is certainly not for everyone, but it is a real gem.

Doctor Strange

It almost pains me in a way to put a superhero film on the top of 2016 list, but Doctor Strange deserved it. It is one of best and most unique of the Marvel films. With such an incredibly talented cast, the film was sure to be a hit. Benedict Cumberbatch is incredible as Doctor Strange. The visuals are mind-blowingly amazing, and they keep you on the edge of your seat throughout the film. It was a true treat to see the film in the theater and is probably best experienced that way. For these reasons, I can firmly place Doctor Strange in my top 15 films of 2016.

Nocturnal Animals

Nocturnal Animals is an incredibly tense film. The atmosphere that is created in this film is phenomenal. The tension from the beginning of the film is continued throughout and has the audience on the edge of their seats. Jake’s performance in this is top-notch and Oscar worthy. He is raw and emotional. The intensity of his performance gives you chills. Amy Adams gives a very different performance. She is silent but very emotional in this role. Much of her power comes just simply from facial expressions. She is brilliant. Visually the film is superb with contrasting colors and scenery. An all around fascinating film from the opening scene to the end.

Sing Street

Sing Street is the third in a series of films by John Carney about kids in Ireland who are trying to start a band and their experiences growing up in 1980s Ireland. The film is another coming of age story but is intensified by these great 80s and original songs written for the film. They are fun, upbeat and nostalgic making Sing Street a really memorable film. It is unfortunate that it came out so long ago because I think it was forgotten come awards season. I hope to see it on the list of nominated films for the original song. It certainly deserves it.

Opening Night

I really loved Opening Night because it was weird and different and a ton of fun. The film is packed with self-aware humor, dancing, singing and a whole lot of cheesy fun. The music and dancing in the film were impeccable. Doing a musical within a musical and comedy is incredibly challenging and was so artfully done with this film. The use of one hit wonder songs, and that everyone knows and loves, thrown randomly into a conversation with someone is just comic gold. It helped to capture the corny nature of musical theater, without cheapening it. Overall, Opening Night was a complete joy to watch. I could have stayed in the theater and just started it from the beginning again.


Demolition is a must-see film for anyone who has gone through the cycle of loss and grief. It is extremely cathartic for the audience as well. As someone who has lost quite a few people very close to me, tragically, I identified closely with the range of emotions and even disconnect that Davis felt. It gave me true validation in that grief and loss are both dealt in extremely different ways, and that is fine. Things sometimes need to be torn apart so that we can rebuild again. We must experience loss to grow and become more. Demolition reminds us that both destruction and growth are necessary in life and that through those, we can find ourselves.

*Honorable Mentions: Colossal, Eddie the Eagle, Beyond the Gates


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