The 16 Best Films of 2016 with 16 Honorable Mentions
16 Best Films of 2016: Despite seeing over 40 films that I hated, I can easily say that I loved well over 40 films this year. While I am still toying with the idea of making a favorites list, this is my official list of the sixteen best films released in 2016. I would like to note that each year I strive to see more films than the previous year. This year, I saw 75 more films than I did in 2015, which brings my total to about 350 films watched in 2016.
Before I jump into the best films of the year, I want to take a brief moment to mention sixteen films that I enjoyed but sadly didn’t make the cut. These are a combination of films that I thought were either great or simply fun. Some might be one or the other while others might be a bit of both. I realize that some of these picks might be a little strange to some but to me, these were films I deeply enjoyed and several of them are incredibly underrated.
16 Honorable Mentions
16. Yoga Hosers – Voltage Pictures
I don’t care what anyone says, Yoga Hosers is extremely underrated and is a total blast. It doesn’t deserve the harsh reviews that it has received. It is a strange and weird little film, but it is about two ass-kicking female teenagers that fight little Nazi sausages. It is so out there, but that is why I love it so much. You can just tell when watching it that everyone had fun making the film. It isn’t something to be taken seriously, or that should be judged as a cinematic achievement. I think sometimes critics just forget to have fun. Yoga Hosers is a different type of film that showcases fun female characters kicking ass. Guy Lapointe is seriously one of my favorite Johnny Depp performances as well. He is simply ridiculous but the character is so funny.
15. Deadpool – 20th Century Fox
People have been dying to see an R-rated Deadpool film for years, and this film delivers. The raw and raunchy action superhero comedy feels like the original Kick-Ass but has a much more likable lead. Ryan Reynolds owns this role, but his supporting cast members only add to the fun. It is self-aware and just a damn good time at the movies.
14. Moana – Walt Disney
The visuals, voice work, and music by Lin-Manuel Miranda are what makes Moana another great entry into the Disney animation library.
13. Hidden Figures – 20th Century Fox
Hidden Figures combines science and history which are two of the best genres in film. I think that while the story is a bit by the numbers, the performances here make this film worthwhile. Kevin Costner gives his best performance in easily a decade, and Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe are all excellent in their roles. Just like a lot of the other films on this list, if it wasn’t for such a strong year of great films, I think Hidden Figures could have been a serious award contender. It is a must-see film especially for history buffs and those who love based on true event stories.
12. Christine – Borderline Films
Saw this at Sundance and thought that this was would get a big Oscar push. The film stars Rebecca Hall in the lead role as Christine Chubbuck, a 1970s TV reporter that struggled with depression while trying to make a name for herself. I thought this film was fascinating to watch especially when you consider it is based on actual events. I think Hall gets lost in this performance and I guess because there were so many great films in 2016 that this little indie darling got lost in the mix.
11. Sully – Warner Brothers
Clint Eastwood’s Sully is a nice change of pace from the standard Eastwood film. Tom Hanks plays Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger and gives another great performance. If it weren’t for such fierce competition this year, I would honestly say that Hanks could have won, but I honestly believe that Denzel Washington and Casey Affleck have that category on lockdown. Regardless, the film is probably Eastwood’s strongest in about a decade and is a quick watch. It is incredibly engrossing while informing the public of how a man who saved hundreds of lives was being questioned for saving the day.
10. 10 Cloverfield Lane – Paramount
10 Cloverfield Lane was one of my favorite bigger budget films mainly because I loved the suspense and the actors. John Goodman, John Gallagher Jr., and Mary Elizabeth Winstead work so well together in this suspenseful sequel to Cloverfield. I couldn’t believe how invested I was with this story and loved how they created a film that took place in a house for the vast majority of it. It was such a simple film, yet the script co-written by Damien Chazelle was such a unique take on a monster movie.
9. First Girl I Loved – Independent Release
This film felt very honest. It was also incredibly personal to me. I was once engaged to a girl that turned out to be a lesbian and this film tackled that subject matter in such a realistic way. I think the two lead actresses are incredible together and this is a film that I truly believe can help a lot of teenagers with their personal struggle to come out to their parents and friends. I remember seeing this film at Sundance and hearing girls in the audience during the Q&A because it felt so exact to their story. It was an incredible experience that added to a beautiful film about discovering who you are and dealing with others who aren’t as accepting.
8. A Monster Calls – Focus Features
A Monster Calls might be a film that I will revisit again and feel like I should have added it to my best of rather than honorable mentions. It is visually stunning and emotional story about a boy using his imagination to deal with the loss of his dying mother. It was one of my favorites at TIFF but sadly with so many great films this year, didn’t make it onto my best of 2016 list.
7. Doctor Strange – Marvel Studios
I don’t usually rave about comic book movies, but Doctor Strange was a great change of pace from the standard comic book film. I think the cast lead by the incredibly talented Benedict Cumberbatch is the strongest cast of almost all Marvel films to date. While all the Marvel films are incredible to look at, I think Scott Derrickson pushed boundaries with this film. The opening scene and the final scene are some of the best action sequences ever captured on film. I seriously couldn’t believe my eyes and I can’t even understand how Derrickson captured these moments on film.
6. Don’t Think Twice – Film Arcade
I love films that take place in the comedy world, and this is a brutally honest portrait of what it is like working in improv. It is a love letter to the improv comedy scene, but it is also all about the jealousy and goals of the members of the group. The incredible cast works so, well together, but Gillian Jacobs steals the show with a raw emotional performance.
5. Hell or High Water – CBS Films
With the Finest Hours and Hell or High Water, 2016 was a great year for Chris Pine. The man has finally shown that he can take on serious material and act his heart out. I think this modern day Western is well made and acted. It is a slow burn so it may not be for everyone but I will admit that a lot of film lovers (like myself) will appreciate everything about this film from the acting to the score.
4. Mr. Right – Circle of Confusion
I don’t know why people complain so much about Max Landis because I think the man is a great writer that takes a lot of chances and writes unique stories. I thought American Ultra was incredibly underrated and the same can be said about Mr. Right. Sam Rockwell and Anna Kendrick are great in this quirky little action comedy from director Paco Cabezas. The strange combination of Rockwell’s silly antics mixed with Kendrick’s cuteness works so well with the material at hand. It is such a fun film that takes chances and isn’t your typical action romantic comedy.
3. The Nice Guys – Warner Brothers
Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe are the perfect misfit duo in this action comedy from director Shane Black. This was one of those films that only critics saw and bombed pretty hard at the box office. I think it is a shame because I haven’t seen an action comedy this good in years. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of Lethal Weapon only with an excellent young actress named Angourie Rice stealing scenes from the film’s leads.
2. American Pastoral – Lionsgate
Based on the critically acclaimed novel from Philip Roth, American Pastoral is an underrated gem that I loved. Ewan McGregor’s directorial debut is beautifully shot and expertly paced throughout. The story and the performances are all top-notch, and I loved this dark look at this perfect American family whose life quickly turns into a nightmare.
1. Jackie – Fox Searchlight
Pablo Larraín’s Jackie Kennedy biopic is fascinating because it focuses on such a brief period in Jackie’s life after the assassination of her husband, John. Larrain’s use of stock footage with new footage is expertly weaved throughout. Every performance in the film is worthy of an award with Natalie Portman winning the award for Best Actress at the Golden Globes and Oscars.
The 16 Best Films of 2016
16. Nocturnal Animals – Focus Features
Who doesn’t love a good story about revenge? Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals is a revenge tale, unlike anything that you have seen before. The film is so beautiful to look at while the story is incredibly suspenseful and intriguing. Ford has managed to assemble an all-star cast that includes Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Isla Fisher, just to name a few. The film is a story within a story and is complicated yet simplistic at the same time.
Just like Ford’s previous film A Single Man, Nocturnal Animals isn’t for everyone. It is geared toward a more sophisticated audience and is extremely. The film pokes fun at social classes as well as art as a whole. If you enjoy complicated films that feature a great cast but isn’t afraid to have a mix of likable and unlikable characters, then you will more than likely love this film. It took me two viewings before I was able to fully appreciate it but upon that second viewing, I couldn’t help but give this film, the final slot on my best of 2016 list. I cannot wait to revisit this film a few more times on video. It is very similar to Arrival, where I believe there is more to take in upon every additional viewing.
15. Fences – Paramount
There is no denying that seeing Fences live on stage is an unforgettable experience that cannot be topped in film form. However with Denzel Washington and Viola Davis reprising their roles as Troy and Rose Maxson on the big screen certainly does make the August Wilson story have a whole new life on film. While the film itself feels like a play, Washington makes the simple nature of the story work to his benefit.
Instead of worrying about putting these characters in different settings, Washington focuses on the dialogue and raw emotion that oozes out of all the actors in the film. We already know that Viola Davis and Denzel Washington are amazing actors that can tackle almost any role but their performances in Fences are some of the best of their career. The scene where Davis pours her heart out to Washington while snot drips down her face is one of the most powerful moments captured on film this year. There are several scenes like this one throughout the film easily making Fences, one of the strongest character based films of the year.
14. Kubo and the Two Strings – Focus Features
After being extremely disappointed with Laika’s last film, The Boxtrolls from 2014, I tried not to get too excited about Kubo and the Two Strings out of the fear of being disappointed. I love stop-motion animation, and outside the one hiccup, I loved Laika’s Coraline and ParaNorman. Kubo and the Two Strings is right up there with those two films and could quite possibly be their best film to date.
While there is no surprise that the animation is simply stunning, the story here inspires adults and children a like to use their imagination. Kubo tells a multi-layered tale that starts out as this great adventure but manages to tackle dark subject matters such as the loss of a parent along the way. There are a lot of memorable characters and some of most memorable animation sequences of the year. Kubo is a film for those of all ages. I think even those who aren’t fans of animated films can still appreciate the beautiful story with such a well-rounded characters.
13. Operator – The Orchard
Mae Whitman and Martin Starr are dynamite married couple in Operator. This film is all about love, career, and technology. Operator can be best described as Ruby Sparks meets Her but with its unique story. I was lucky enough to see the film at SXSW and instantly labeled it as the best film to come out of SXSW. It is such a shame that, so few saw this film because I believe it is a real underrated gem.
I understand that first-time feature filmmaker Logan Kibens was extremely happy to make this film, but after seeing how good the film was, I was hoping that more people would get to see it. Operator’s concept is brilliant, and the pairing of Whitman and Starr is near perfect. The story which focuses on a programmer that becomes obsessed with his voice program is poignant and beautiful. Whitman and Starr deliver emotional and strong performances which are easily some of the best I have seen all year.
12. Pete’s Dragon – Walt Disney
I love films that take me back to my childhood, and Pete’s Dragon did just that. This visually stunning film directed by David Lowery is the definition of Disney magic. I watched over 300 films in 2016, and no other film made me feel like a kid again. Oakes Fegley and Oona Laurence are two of the best child actors working today, and they outshine their adult counterparts. Robert Redford’s narration adds to the experience as it inspires viewers of all ages to use their imagination.
Pete’s Dragon was a rare family film that sucked me in emotionally. I was engrossed with the story and felt an emotional connection to the characters. While it is rare that I cry in films, Pete’s Dragon made me feel something, and I would be lying if I didn’t admit to shedding a few tears near the end. Pete’s Dragon isn’t the most original film of the year, but it embraces what it is and works extremely well. 2016 has been a great year for animation, so it was nice to see a great family film released that is delightful for people of all ages.
11. The Birth of a Nation – Fox Searchlight
The Birth of a Nation was the hottest ticket at Sundance this year and while, just like Manchester by The Sea, I was shut out of attending the premiere, I did get to see the film at the festival. If you remember, almost everyone was raving about this film after Sundance and the film was going to be a massive Oscar push for Fox Searchlight before the controversy that resulted in the film being overlooked and ignored.
Personal opinions aside, I am still a big fan of this film and still believe after seeing it for a second time at TIFF that is still one of the best films of 2016 which is why it is on my list. As a first time filmmaker, Nate Parker creates a very disturbing piece of cinema. The film focuses on Nat Turner, played by Parker, and it is an emotional and violent tale about slavery in the south. I found some of the visuals in this film to be just haunting and the overall look of the film to be stunning. It is hard to watch this film at certain points because of how raw the images showed on-screen on. Critics have mentioned that film’s final act is a bit jarring, but I felt that worked well considering the film’s rather slow build-up, you can see this man slowly becoming more and more disturbed by the world around him. After a certain incident occurs, you know the shit is going to hit the fan.
The Birth of a Nation sadly lost a lot of steam due to the controversy that has very little to do with the film as a whole. There are three films this year with controversial directors or actors in them, and this was the only one that tanked and got so much hate as a result. It’s a real disappointment that the film itself is being ignored by many now.
10. Miss Sloane – EuropaCorp
Miss Sloane stands out because it was a complete and total surprise. Jessica Chastain owns the title role, and her character is determined and incredibly smart. Loaded with twists and turns, Miss Sloane isn’t the type of film for those who can’t appreciate a slower pace, but it is a smart film for those with interest in the world politics and how cold that world is. There are a lot of great films this year with strong female characters, but Miss Sloane features three stand-out female roles all that are incredibly different from one another.
While I am glad that Chastain is getting some attention for the film, I am stunned that so many others are overlooking this film. Maybe it’s due to poor marketing but I think Miss Sloane is one of the most underrated and overlooked films of the year. If you like smart films, I highly recommend seeking this one out.
9. 20th Century Women – A24
Director Mike Mills is such an amazing director and writer. His previous film Beginners was a comedic and heartwarming tale about a son learning that his father was secretly gay. It was an interesting film because it was about two family members dealing with their daily lives while learning and accepting one another. 20th Century Women takes place in the late 70s and focuses on a single mother trying to raise her son while she attempts to understand the world that is changing around her.
20th Century Women is such a great character study with incredible performances by everyone involved. Mills creates a story that was inspired by his mother and feels incredibly grounded in reality. We very rarely get to see a coming of age story about a young man being raised under the influence of three very different women. While there is no denying that Annette Bening is fantastic in this role, I think it is Greta Gerwig, who delivers such a layered and raw emotional performance. In so many previous roles, Gerwig played an extension of herself, so it was great seeing her take on this project that showcased her talent. I think it’s a shame that, so few are talking about her performance because it is Oscar Caliber. Just like a lot of the other films on this list, 20th Century Women manages to be a character driven drama that manages to incorporate comedy here and there to lighten the mood. It’s such a well-made feature that will speak to anyone that has an appreciation for great storytelling with likable and relatable characters.
8. Manchester by the Sea – Amazon
I missed the World Premiere screening of Manchester by the Sea at Sundance because the premiere was oversold. Despite having a ticket, I showed up to the screening less than 15 minutes before showtime and was turned away along with about 150 others that day. I did, however, attend one of the press screenings and I have to admit, I was bummed that I didn’t get into the World Premiere after seeing how great the film was.
Ever since Manchester by The Sea premiered at Sundance, it has maintained it’s award season buzz throughout the entire year. While the story is a heavy drama about a flawed man with a dark past, the film does live up to the hype. The entire cast is fantastic with Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams delivering career defining performances. Unlike most Hollywood films based in Boston, Kenneth Lonergan gets these actors to have authentic Boston accents. The film can be very heavy in spots, but Lonergan manages to add humor somehow to certain scenes helping to lighten the mood with such ease. This is a great character driven story about flawed human beings that seem like real people instead of actors.
7. Sing Street – Weinstein Company
John Carney’s Sing Street was one of my favorite films to come out of Sundance. The film is a feel-good coming-of-age musical with some stellar performances from unknown actors. John Carney proves once again that he is a great storyteller who creates interesting characters that have a passion for music. His previous films, Once and Begin Again, were both great and Sing Street is the perfect ending to Carney’s musical trilogy.
While there are so many films and television shows that take place in the 80s, so few of them feel authentic to the era. Sing Street is a rare cinematic experience that feels as though you are watching a film that was made in the 1980s. It doesn’t feel like actors playing dress up which says a lot about the direction since you know this film didn’t have a huge budget. The soundtrack is also easily one of the best Soundtracks of the year. While I love the music in La La Land, I think Sing Street’s soundtrack is fun and catchy. I love the original tunes that feel as though they were inspired by so many incredible bands from the early 80s.
6. Zootopia – Disney
While I expected Zootopia to be funny, I never expected to walk out of this film and label it as the best family film of the year. While the film is entertaining and funny, I still laugh at the Sloth DMV scene every single time I see it, the most important element of Zootopia is the story. For a major studio like Disney to release an animated family film that takes on racism, police brutality, and government corruption, I have to call it as I see it.
Zootopia is a brave film that will get kids asking big questions about the world. I think this is an incredibly ballsy film but also one that ignites conversation. It is rare for me to praise family labels, but 2016 broke that mold entirely. While there were two other great family films on this list, Zootopia is the best and deserves the Oscar. I said that when I first saw it back in February and upon revisiting it recently, my opinion stands.
5. Moonlight – A24
Getting to see Moonlight at the Toronto International Film Festival felt like winning the lottery. While Jackie was a very in-demand film at the fest, Moonlight was the little engine that could. Moonlight sold out every screening at TIFF including all press screenings including the multiple ones that were added after they saw the demand for the film. Moonlight is an incredible film for so many reasons. It is an honest look at into the life of a little boy named Chiron who grew up in a less than desirable area of Miami. The film takes place during three important stages in his life and how these particular moments shaped him as an adult. The film is brilliantly written and directed by Barry Jenkins.
As we watch Chiron grow, there is no denying that all three actors were playing him feel as though they are him. That is the magic os Moonlight, it is like a meaningful Boyhood where instead of filming pop culture moments, this film tackles things like discovering your sexual identity and dealing with bullying. This isn’t a water downed version life but rather a realistic glimpse into the life of a little boy who had real struggles to overcome. While the three actors who played Chiron are the stars of the film, the supporting cast including Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monae, and Naomie Harris all add so much to this little boy’s journey. Moonlight is just as great as you have been hearing and is an incredibly eye-opening look at a black man trying to find his place in society.
4. Swiss Army Man – A24
Swiss Army Man on the surface can easily be written off as a ridiculous acid trip with lots of farting. However, if you look past the surface, you will see one of the unique and intriguing films of 2016. When I walked out of the film at Sundance, I gave the film a seven because I wasn’t quite sure what to make out of it. However, even with Birth of a Nation and Manchester by the Sea playing at the same festival, I thought about Swiss Army Man, more than any other film I saw at Sundance earlier this year. The film leaves a lasting impression on you, and if you watch it carefully, it is such a creative take on isolation, being socially accepted and just social norms as a whole.
The film might be jarring, abstract, and weird but the Daniels embrace their vision and run with it. While there are a few other actors who show up near the end, Swiss Army Man is ultimately a two person film that relies on the relationship between the two people. Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe are the perfect pairing and bounce off one another with such ease. The Daniels made a visually stunning film with incredible performance and a cooky yet engaging soundtrack that works as it’s own character to the film. While it might not be for everyone. Swiss Army Man is one of the few films that hasn’t left my mind since January and that says something.
3. Arrival – Paramount
Smart science fiction is a rare breed. We get maybe one great science fiction film every couple of years, and Arrival is easily one of the best in about a decade. While I am normally not a huge fan of Dennis Villeneuve as a director, he crafts such a visually stunning and thought-provoking film with Arrival. Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner work so well their magic and create real characters that audiences can get behind.
While all of it works so well, I think the unsung hero of Arrival is writer Eric Heisserer who is responsible for taking Ted Chiang’s short story and pushing Hollywood to make it into a feature-length film. The writing on this film is incredible with so many underlying messages that you can keep picking up on with repeat viewings. It is so rare that you see an alien invasion film that actually has brains and makes a statement about our society as it stands. This is a science fiction masterpiece for those who would rather have substance rather than action in their sci-fi.
2. The Founder – Weinstein Company
The story of Ray Kroc is an interesting one, but Michael Keaton’s portrayal makes this film a must-see. Keaton becomes Ray Kroc, a man with many layers but his determination is what made him a legend. I love my friends over at the Weinstein Company, but they dropped the ball with this one. The Founder is my second favorite film of the year because it is consistently enjoyable from start to finish. While Keaton’s performance is nothing short of Award Worthy, the supporting cast including Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, and B.J. Novak bring their A-game and deliver some incredible performances. This might not be the feel-good film of the year, but it is a real eye-opener to how a ruthless salesman became the founder of one of the biggest franchises in the world. I cannot believe how so many others have overlooked this gem. It is easily one of the most engrossing and engaging films that I saw all year.
1. La La Land – Lionsgate
Rarely, do I call a film to be flawless but upon seeing La La Land twice now, I am inclined to believe that the film is flawless. This film is not only a love letter to the musical era but a fairytale about two passionate struggling artists in Hollywood. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are a match made in cinematic heaven because they just perfectly embody their characters. Stone is a dreamer but lacks confidence. Gosling is ambitious yet easily persuaded. It feels like an authentic representation of two people with big dreams but with different views on being able to achieve them. It looks at love while trying to achieve your dreams and how much of a struggle it is to achieve both.
Damien Chazelle’s story combined with his excellent direction only adds to the film in every way. The visuals from the closing montage to the dance sequence inside the Griffith Observatory are perfection. If you are a dreamer or consider yourself to be creative in any way, La La Land will blow you away. It will make you laugh, cry, and think. It shows the true colors of the Hollywood while managing to play homage to it at the same time. La La Land is like a fine wine that only continues to get better with age. I foresee myself seeing this over and over again and can easily say that not only is La La Land the best film of 2016 but it is now one of my favorite films of all time.