Oh, “would that it were so simple” to come up with a top list of the movies I’ve seen in 2016. I don’t do lists. But, I must try and I’m starting with an annual Top 20 list.
Note that some entries will feature an Honorable Mention entry. Their selected inclusion is meant to indicate a similar genre. Several other Honorable Mention titles are included following the top 20 list. For each movie, I’ve noted the director and the distributor.
Enjoy The Movie Revue’s first-ever Top 20 of 2016.
“Here’s to the ones who dream, foolish as they may seem.”
20. “Miss Sloane” (J. Madden; Europa Corp)
It is safe to say that the 2016 political cycle was turned on its head, not just in the United States, but worldwide. No other right established in the constitution is more debated than the right to bear arms. While the well-constructed story was threadbare, John Madden’s “Miss Sloane” features Jessica Chastain with a “take no prisoners” attitude as a powerful Washington lobbyist. Whether you are for or against gun control, this insider’s look in the lobbying process was an absolute standout.
19. “Approaching the Unknown” (M. Rosenberg; Paramount/Vertical Entertainment)
Made on a shoestring budget of $1.3 Million, this freshman effort from Mark Rosenberg was sold to Paramount based on the script alone. Conceived in the vein of “2001: A Space Odyssey” and following in the massive footprints of “The Martian”, this psychological thriller in space features a stellar performance out of Mark Strong along with amazing effects work. It received mixed critical reaction on its theatrical release in June, but it is definitely worth at least one viewing.
Honorable Mention: “Operation: Avalanche” (M. Johnson, Lionsgate Premier)
18. “A Man Called Ove” (H. Holm; Music Box Films (American Theatrical Distribution))
Based on Fredrik Backman’s novel of the same name, this Swedish/Persian film features Rolf Lassgård as an ill-tempered, isolated retiree who has finally given up on life just as an unlikely friendship develops. This movie, which is potentially a sleeper in the Best Foreign Picture Oscar race has a lot of heart which is why I’m so enamored with it. Its wit moves as quickly as Ove does and it is something to be cherished for years to come.
Honorable Mention: “I, Daniel Blake” (K. Loach; IFC Films); Phoenix release on 1/20/17
17. “Paterson” (J. Jarmusch; Amazon Studios)
One of many delights that Amazon has delivered this year, comes in the form of poet – bus driver Paterson in Paterson, NJ. He is played with a straight face by Adam Driver and has a very simple routine. His wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) is pure delight as she explores her creative side and tries to instill the same feelings in Paterson. I’ll be upfront in saying that this movie is not for everyone, but I had a lot of fun exploring two intersecting worlds and the beauty that arises from the world around us.
Playing now in Los Angeles and New York City, “Paterson” will screen in Phoenix starting January 20th.
Honorable Mention: “Wiener-Dog” (T. Solondz) – available on Amazon Prime, now & “Don’t Think Twice” (M. Birbiglia)
16. “Fences” (D. Washington; Paramount Pictures)
Based on the Pulitzer and Tony Award – winning 1983 August Wilson play of the same name, Denzel Washington and Viola Davis star in a riveting look at a family trying to survive in 1950’s Pittsburgh. Washginton plays Troy Maxon, a sanitation worker whose life is centered on a failed baseball career due to the politics of the time tries to teach his son respect and responsibility all the while he drinks and fraternizes with his friends. His wife Rose, played with great strength by Viola Davis is the foundation of Troy’s life as it begins to crumble around them. I found this movie to be very intimate in its story telling; the characters coming to life with a voracious fierceness not seen in quite some time. In theaters now, this movie is highly recommended.
Honorable Mention: “Silence” (M. Scorcese)
15. “Loving” (J. Nichols; Focus Features)
Rooted in the Supreme Court civil rights case, Loving v. Virginia, Jeff Nichols’ “Loving” features Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga as Richard and Mildred Loving, the first interracial married couple in the Commonwealth of Virginia in the 1950’s. The story, written by Nichols, focuses on their resolve as a couple while the legal battle for their rights raged on and is so very well told. Ruth Negga truly shines while Edgerton’s quiet performance is one of the better this year.
14. “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” (T. Waititi; The Orchard)
Set in the New Zealand bush, a national manhunt is on for a rebellious kid and his foster uncle after they go missing. Taika Waititi’s screenplay dazzles with wit and humor, graces us with family and teaches about the real struggles of responsibility and being an adult. Sam Neill shines as Hec and Julian Dennison steals our hearts as Ricky. Although it was not entered for consideration in the Best Foreign Picture Oscar race, this one stuck with me. I can’t recommend it enough.
13. “Jackie” (P. Lorrain; Fox Searchlight)
Following JFK’s assassination in Dallas, Pablo Lorrain’s gorgeous “Jackie” focuses on Jackie Onassis Kennedy’s efforts to define his legacy while consoling her children and finding her faith. Natalie Portman’s Oscar-worthy role as Jackie leaps off the screen. The intricately told story stuns with its emotions, its remembrances and her personal struggle to control not only herself, but those around her who may not have had her best interests in mind.
12. “O. J.: Made in America” (E. Edelman; ESPN Films)
Of the admittedly too few documentaries I saw in 2016, this one caught me off guard in its brutally honest portrayal of how we revered Orenthal James Simpson – the every-man whose ego tried to fit the mold that best suited him. Ezra Edelman paints a picture of the struggle and strife of LAPD treatment of minorities while O. J. was able to get all the benefits of society, building his fame and his image, ultimately leading to tragedy. I was in between high school and my first year in college when the infamous highway chase was aired on television and I was a sophomore in college when his verdict was read. All these years later, Edelman effectively weaves a tale of money, power, race, celebrity, media and the criminal justice system. “O. J.: Made in America” is currently streaming on Hulu and on ESPN Go for cable subscribers.
Honorable Mention: “The Eagle Huntress” (O. Bell)
11. “The Nice Guys” (S. Black; Warner Brothers Pictures)
Set in 1970’s Los Angeles, Shane Black’s (“Lethal Weapon”) hilarious film about exploitation and government corruption set just the right mood for modern times. Ryan Gosling stars as a bumbling detective with Russell Crowe as his partner, investigate a missing girl and the mysterious death of a porn star. Angourie Rice steals the show as Gosling’s daughter. This was one of the most hilarious movies of 2016 with the right mix of on screen antics, tight storytelling and brilliant acting. I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel to this.
10. “The Handmaiden” (P. Chan-Wook; Moho Films, Yong Film; d. Magnolia Pictures)
Set in 1930’s Japanese-occupied Korea, a handmaiden is hired for a Japanese heiress living a secluded life with her domineering uncle. The handmaiden has a secret which is turned on its head when unexpected emotions rise to the surface. In short, Park Chan-Wook’s film is an intricately-told, exquisitely executed epic of love, power and domination.
Honorable Mentions: “Train to Busan” (S. Yeon) & “The Eyes of My Mother” (N. Pesce)
9. “Captain Fantastic” (M. Ross; Bleecker Street Media)
Another indie highlight of the summer is Matt Ross’s stunning portrait of a family living off the grid as they must acclimate into modern society. Viggo Mortensen is outstanding in his role of father, friend, companion and teacher. This is one movie where the trailer got everything right, leaving the best bits for the audience.
8. “Anthropoid” (S. Ellis; Bleecker Street Media)
Sean Ellis expertly weaves the true story of Operation: Anthropoid, the mission to assassinate SS General Reinhard Heydrich during WWII with stunning detail and precision. Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan star. The Phoenix Film Critics Circle got this right when they awarded the movie as the Overlooked Film of 2016.
Honorable Mentions: “The Infiltrator” (B. Furman) & “War Dogs” (T. Phillips)
7. “Arrival” (D. Villeneuve; Paramount Pictures)
Last year, Denis Villeneuve gave us the riveting “Sicario” with Emily Blunt. This year, Amy Adams is featured front and center in his graceful science fiction stunner, “Arrival”. Based on the story “The Story of Your Life” by Ted Chaing, this is not just about communication, but also love, emotions, relationships and ultimately, time. Jeremy Renner is brilliant and Forest Whitaker plays the military commander straight down the line. It isn’t for everyone, but for those who give it a chance, you’ll leave the theater with a very special experience. As of this writing, the film has earned over $150 million at the global box office. I’m definitely looking forward to “Blade Runner 2049” in October.
6. “Sing Street” (J. Carney; The Weinstein Company)
John Carney’s coming of age story featuring a boy trying to charm a girl in 1980’s Dublin is as honest, real and hilarious as it’s gotten at the cinemas this year. With amazing music from the time and original songs, “Sing Street” definitely earned its Golden Globe nom for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. You’ll be humming “Drive It Like You Stole It” long after you’ve finished the movie.
Honorable Mention: “Everybody Wants Some!!” (R. Linklater)
5. “The Lobster” (Y. Lanthimos; A24)
This little gem of an acquisition for A24, features Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz in one of the more irreverent comedies of the year. Part “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, part “Brazil”, Yorgos Lanthimos’ story focuses on love, relationships and ultimately trust. It isn’t for everyone, but it has definitely resonated with me. It is well-deserved of its Jury Prize at the 2015 Cannes and definitely falls under one of the more overlooked films of 2016. The recognition for Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou’s screenplay is well-earned.
Honorable Mentions: “High-Rise” (B. Wheatly) & “A Bigger Splash” (L. Guadagnino)
4. “La La Land” (J. Chazelle; Lionsgate/Summit)
One of three love letters to Hollywood, this brilliant follow-up from the director of “Whiplash” features Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as two lovers chasing their dreams. Continuing his jazz-influenced narratives, Chazelle created a tale as uplifting and eye-opening as everyone claims, a fact I support by having seen it twice in theaters. Musicals come once in a blue moon and for anyone who has a dream, keep chasing it.
Honorable Mentions: “Hail, Caesar!” (E. Cohen, J. Cohen) & “Rules Don’t Apply” (W. Beatty)
3. “Moonlight” (B. Jenkins; A24, Plan B Entertainment)
A24’s second gem of an acquisition, this coming of age story about self-discovery and the human condition is as good as it gets. The main character is presented at three stages in his life, young adolescence, mid-teenager and young adult. Each stage, the main character has a different identity to coincide not only with his age, but also his understanding of the world. Berated by his crack-addled mother and teased and beaten up by older kids in school, the shyness and distance from others only grows. Mahershala Ali’s supporting role as Juan is one of many strong points. Barry Jenkin’s narrative hit very close to home and is every bit as beautiful as its title belies.
2. “Hell or High Water” (D. Mackenzie; CBS Films)
It is safe to say that this film came out of nowhere in the mid-summer. Taylor Sheridan’s (“Sicario”) script is intricate and detailed, giving us rich characters in which Ben Foster, Chris Pine, Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham just shine. In David Mackenzie’s capable hands, this modern day western is filmmaking at its finest.
2. (Tie) “In a Valley of Violence” (T. West; Focus World, Blumhouse)
Where David Mackenzie’s “Hell or High Water” riveted audiences this past summer, Ti West’s razor sharp “In a Valley of Violence” failed to find its audience. Steeped in Quentin Tarantino’s style, this unique western features Ethan Hawke who, in order to seek safety in Mexico has to cross through a valley under the tight control of John Travolta. This overlooked western gem is every bit as good as “Hell or High Water” resulting in a tie for second position.
Honorable Mention: “Jane Got a Gun” (G. O’Connor)
1. “Manchester by the Sea” (K. Lonergan; Amazon Studios, Roadside Attractions)
At some point in our lives, we might deal with such a traumatic event that we cannot emotionally recover. But, we must all try to deal in order to survive. Life always finds a way to complicate our survival. Kenneth Lonergan’s slow-burning drama focuses on a man who is so emotionally bereft that he withdraws into himself, living a menial existence. Tragedy strikes and he is forced to not only deal with the situation at hand, but his past emotions as well. Casey Affleck is absolute dynamite as Lee Chandler. Michelle Williams, in a small but dynamically important part is equally as brilliant. Lucas Hedges as young Patrick is a solid newcomer and I’m looking forward to seeing him in future roles. Rounding out a brilliant supporting cast are Gretchen Mol and Kyle Chandler. The reason why this movie struck such a chord with me was because the characters felt real; the story unfolded in a very naturalistic way that made it more relatable than any of the other films in my top 5. There is one key scene in the movie that just emotionally gives you the chills, setting the mood.
2016 Honorable Mentions
“Kubo and the Two Strings”