Oscar time has finally arrived! This coming weekend, expect the academy to reveal their choices for what they consider to be among the best of 2016 for film. I have finished watching most of the films for 2016 and nearly all of the Oscar contenders. Instead of a prediction list (I’ll give you a hint; La La Land will sweep up and Casey Affleck/Emma Stone will win the big honors) I want to give my insight into what was the best of 2016. Making this list was difficult,, but these ten movies have stood out as prominent front-runners. Take a look at 10-6 today and tune in tomorrow for the remainder of the list. We will start out with the best animated movie of 2016.
10. Kubo and the Two Strings
Laika has been putting forth quality animated efforts for nearly a decade. Such films like Coraline, Paranorman, and Boxtrolls. Kubo is what I believe not only to be their strongest film, but a near classic for animated movies. Kubo succeeds in telling a story that I’ve never seen in an animated movie. The execution is near flawless and while movies like Zootopia and Finding Dory were good endeavors, neither of them packs the emotional punch that Kubo does. The animation is stupendous, it’s a drama in the guise of an animated movie, and it’s one hell of a film.
9. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stoppin
Similar with Laika, The Lonely Island have seen some success in cult classics (Hot Rod) as they have with their albums, so why not merge the two? Popstar is an onslaught of hilarity that uses mockumentary style and the signature Lonely Island brand of bizarre humor together to provide for a gut-busting experience. While their brand of humor will not appeal to all (as it didn’t perform well financially) I would contend that there’s something here for everyone. If I wasn’t audibly laughing, there was consistently a smile on my face and twice when I cried laughing. It may fall to some cliches but the film expertly addresses and exposes them. It’s a damn funny movie and a quotable one at that.
8. The Witch
Directorial debut from Roger Eggers gives us a haunting film that is my only horror movie on the top ten list, but it isn’t necessarily a horror movie. If you go into The Witch expecting scares aplenty you will be severely disappointed. This is a classic fair-tale gone awry and based on disturbing folk lore. When people look to see horror movies they aim to get scared, but this film really is horrific in the content we are shown. The language (early 1600s English) may be difficult for some to comprehend, but it doesn’t take away from the film. It’s brilliantly crafted and has an ominous aura surrounding it from beginning to end.
7. The Nice Guys
Shane Black knocks it out of the park with this 70s Buddy-Cop-Comedy/Drama. Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe, and newcomer, Angourie Rice, all pull of magnificent performances that help elevate an already inventive and unique script. This movie doesn’t have the laughs that Popstar does, but it doesn’t need to. The charm is every present as our leads interact and none of them fall to cliches and the most mature of them is Angourie Rice who plays Ryan Goslings daughter. The movie succeeds on offering great comedic moments, good action moments, a solid story, and is just likable in nearly every aspect that it applies itself toward. It’s very re-watchable and absolutely worth your time.
6. Nocturnal Animals
The second film from Tom Ford (A Single Man was his first from 2009), if we have to wait 7 or so years for a movie from Ford I will totally endure that wait. Nocturnal Animals has some of the strongest substance of any of the films on this list. Some of the finest performances given by Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal and two outstanding performances from Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. There should be some forewarning going into this movie, the subject matter is strong. One scene in particular was one of the most disturbing scenes I’ve witnessed in a film in a long time. Beyond that, there’s professional storytelling taking place in this wonderfully layered a thematic film.
5. Hell of High Water
Part Western, part Crime/Drama, Hell or High Water isn’t your run-of-the-mill movie about cops and robbers. It’s also not a movie to spoon feed the viewers as some of the biggest revelations of this film come in the most civilized moments. The story and writer here is impeccable and delivered by excellent performances all around from Chris Pine, Ben Foster, and Jeff Bridges. This is what a good modern Western looks and feel like, it’s brimming with emotion and character and there’s much more than just money at stake.
Moonlight (along with 2 on the list) are the most organic films of the last year. Director, Barry Jenkins, shot the film in a very near and personal depth of field making for an even more in-your-face personal story. This is where Moonlight makes most of it’s success, but engrossing us in a story about a young man struggling with his sexuality and how it effects his identity. It’s told through three very distinct and vital time frames of his life. It’s a gorgeous film and one of the most original things I’d seen in 2016. Though Damien Chazelle (La La Land) is a strong contender for best director, I would opt that Barry Jenkins gets the win for his brilliant work on Moonlight.
Denis Villeneuve has struck another meaningful curve and continues to prove why he’s my current favorite director in the business. Arrival boasts some masterful cinematography, a fantastic performance from Amy Adams, and an endearing and emotional story. These elements are enhanced by an ominous and mesmerizing score by Johan Johannson. The message of the movie resonated long in my mind after the credits finished rolling and continued to after my second showing. It’s a meaningful film that doesn’t deal with aliens coming to destroy us but rather the paranoia of the world and how we properly communicate with something that doesn’t speak any language. It’s a terrific sci-fi and one of my personal favorite of the year. This movie is further proof of why Blade Runner 2049 is my most anticipated of 2017.
2. Manchester By The Sea
Casey Affleck deserves best actor, it’s an injustice if anyone else wins. His performance in Manchester By The Sea is so astounding and real. This is coupled with some great direction and story that tell us a real story as well as a tragic one. Few movies can implicitly capture emotion so well, it’s the best portrayal of depression that I’ve ever seen. Everyone that Affleck interacts with has a purpose behind his motivation and words. A particular scene between Affleck and Michelle Williams will be studied in acting classes. Writer/Director, Kenneth Lonergan, make excellent use of the New England setting of the film and gives us some of the sharpest dialogue and character actions I’ve witnessed in awhile.
1. La La Land
La La Land is the best film of 2016. Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) defies even the highest of expectations. For someone whom doesn’t have the biggest attraction in musicals, I loved every minute of this film. La La Land really is a drama is the disguise of a musical and that’s what makes it work. We get just as many quirky and uplifting moments as we do morose and upsetting ones. Credit must be given to Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, both doing an exemplary job of performing. This movie has the perfect description of jazz and what it means to follow your dreams, succeed, and fail in an unforgiving land such as Hollywood/LA. While La La Land doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it gives us one that performs better than the older models. The story has been done and caters to the academy, there’s no doubt to this fact. However, with a stupendous score, meaningful performances, masterful direction, writing, and the best climax I’ve seen to a film in recent memory, La La Land goes above and beyond and elicits the biggest emotional response from me. It’s a wonderful film that has lasting replay value and is something I will still be humming and ruminating over for quite some time. La La Land is a 10/10.