This is the only list for which I had 16 picks. It’s a good thing when your positive list can expand beyond a traditional 10. With film festival picks, some of these are repeats from last year but I’m glad they got distribution and I’m happy to remind people to see them. I’d like to give honorable mention to Criminal for being a solid high concept movie. We need more of those and they don’t all have to be the best ever. And The Edge of Seventeen which I loved but just slightly edged out. These are the best films of 2016.
16. Captain America: Civil War – When it comes to big summer entertainment, Marvel delivered. Somehow they balanced all the characters to give each one a satisfying role, and still managed to tie up Captain America threads from The Winter Soldier.
15. Too Late – After playing at LAFF and Fantastic Fest in 2015, Too Late opened exclusively in 35mm this March. I applaud director Dennis Hauck for insisting on traditional film exhibition. The film unfolds in a series of 20 minute long takes of hard boiled detective banter. Standout performances by John Hawkes, Vail Bloom, Crystal Reed, Natalie Zea and more are worth seeing even if you have to discover one of the year’s best films on video now.
14. Hardcore Henry – An entire first person POV movie could have been an obnoxious gimmick but Ilya Naishuller made it work. He’s inventing a new cinematic language throughout the movie and he’s subtle to grow it naturally. If you jump in at the end it may be too much. For a culture that claims it craves originality I’m disappointed more people didn’t discover Hardcore Henry, let alone consider it one of the best films of the year.
13. Silence – Scorsese takes a heavy historical incident and makes it a compelling dramatic adventure. It is a journey through a foreign land but instead of a treasure hunt it’s a quest for faith. My full review.
12. Manchester By The Sea – I saw this at Sundance after all the hype and it lived up to it. One of the best films of Sundance and the year, Manchester By the Sea is a poignant drama about grief and redemption, that puts you through the ringer but gives you enough relief to keep going. That is Kenneth Lonergan’s gift. Lucas Hedges is a major discovery too.
11. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping – Like Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox story, every time a brilliant, poignant musical spoof comes out, it does poorly and the music goes ignored by the Oscars. Popstar isn’t quite as universal as Walk Hard (I mean, that’s the best movie of the decade, the quintessential American hero’s journey and chronology of American music). But for a focus on modern pop, Popstar is hilarious. The Mona Lisa song made me cry laughing.
10. The Brothers Grimsby – No one is more surprised than me that I loved this movie. Well, maybe Scott is, but this politically incorrect raunchy comedy had me at Daniel Radcliffe and kept going through the elephant. Mark Strong sells the best tea bagging in the business and I personally appreciate Sacha Baron Cohen calling Scott Adkins the Ukrainian Ben Affleck.
9. Touched with Fire – After premiering at SXSW 2015, this drama opened in February. It is a stark, compassionate portrayal of bipolar disorder and the best performance of Katie Holmes’ career. It captures the highs and lows but the real drama is what happens when one patient wants the treatment and the other doesn’t? Also a landmark for Luke Kirby and writer/director Paul Dailio.
8. Green Room – After Jeremy Saulnier’s breakthrough revenge tale Blue Ruin, he delivered the goods again in this confined thriller. Just as uncomfortably violent, Green Room is a fight for their lives between a punk rock band and the neo-Nazi criminals who own a club. Scary and thrilling, let’s hope this doesn’t become a documentary.
7. Miss Sloane – Grown ups arguing articulately is the source of great drama, so it shouldn’t be so rare. Miss Sloane is one of the best films of the year. My full review.
6. Doctor Strange – I knew nothing of Doctor Strange comics but this movie made me a fan. I suppose I should’ve known there was a superhero with metaphysical philosophy and surreal powers that would totally appeal to me. Now I know. My full review.
5. Indignation – My favorite movie of Sundance 2016, this is a period piece about an articulate private schoolboy (Logan Lerman) who faces off against formal authority in the ’50s. Its intense and electric scenes are gut wrenching.
3. Arrival – Communication is a longer process than most of us have time for. It even takes too long to explain the components of communication. Arrival did it in two hours which hopefully will reach enough people to take us back to beginning so we can develop the fundamentals before we all start arguing about different opposing things. My full review.
2. Seoul Searching – My favorite movie of Sundance 2015 finally came out this year. It is an ’80s comedy with an all Korean cast inspired by John Hughes. Not only for diversity, but to have a teen comedy that respects teenagers is very special.
1. Zootopia – This family film is brilliant on multiple levels. Many have praised its depiction of racism in a palatable way to educate children. I also admire the sophistication of the animal world. A fox and rabbit are small in the elephant world but giants in the rodent world, and the film blends it all together seamlessly. This is a word Franchise Fred will be happy to revisit again and again.