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Best films of 2016

December 30, 2016

22016 marked an exciting year in cinematic history. Many filmmakers pushed the limits of movie making and showed audiences (and critics) that film is still a powerful and profound form of art. I proudly present to you the best executed, thought-provoking and groundbreaking films of the year.

Disclaimer: at the time of publication I had yet to see “Tickled,” “Silence,” “Toni Erdmann,” “Weiner,” and “Elle.”

16 & 15. Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange
“Civil War” successfully balanced a massive story with numerous characters along with perfectly executed action sequences. “Doctor Strange’s” breathtaking visuals and outstanding acting escaped the trappings of the typical Marvel origin story, while also adding a layer of spirituality into the Marvel universe. Marvel Studios proved that you can deliver entertaining popcorn movies that also contains substance and depth.

14. American Honey
It’s kind of ironic that an English filmmaker managed to create a film that captured the essence and voice of impoverished American youth. Writer and director Andrea Arnold’s “American Honey” is bold, captivating and uncomfortable. Shia LaBeouf and newcomer Sasha Lane both give intimate and committed performances, in one of the most interesting and sad portrayals of kids just trying to survive in American society.

13. The Lobster
The premise of “The Lobster” is one of the most bizarre in film history. People are placed in a house and forced to find a partner to marry and if they don’t find a mate in the allotted time they are turned into an animal of their choosing. Director Yorgos Lanthimos’ dystopian film paints a vivid picture of the importance society places on finding a soulmate through offbeat humor and absurdity. Both Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz give outstanding performances; Farrell gives his most tender and honest performance to date. “The Lobster” is unlike any other film released this year, making it the most unique and absurd film of 2016.

12. 10 Cloverfield Lane
With its self-contained set and tense pacing,”10 Cloverfield Lane,” traps the audience in a state of claustrophobia that is heightened by an Oscar-worthy performance by John Goodman. Breaking the shackles of the found footage styling of its predecessor, “10 Cloverfield Lane” is both unexpected and suspenseful as well as one of the best genre pictures of 2016.

11. Jackie
Pablo Larrain directs a truly unconventional and engrossing portrayal of Jackie Kennedy that thrives solely on Natalie Portman transcending and intoxicating performance. Portman’s embodiment of the former FLOTUS is organic and effortless; every subtle-nuance perfectly executed by Miss Portman. Breaking away from the standard bio-pic archetype, “Jackie,” offers us a unique look into Miss Kennedy’s struggles with grieving for her slain husband and also her bidding farewell to her role as the first lady.

10. The Invitation
“The Invitation” is a tenacious and slow burning horror thriller, masterly crafted by Indie filmmaker Karyn Kusama. The film oozes with tension and a palatable amount of suspense. “The Invitation” creates this constant atmosphere of dread with its impressive sound design, tight editing and a truly disturbing and unforgettable ending. This is one invitation you can’t refuse.

9. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
This coming of age story about a young man forming a relationship with his uncle is one of the most heartwarming and hysterical films of the year. The bond between Sam Neill and newcomer Julian Dennison gradually develops over the course of the film, making their connection feel authentic and pure. Dennison displays some serious acting abilities that is crucial to the film’s success. This New Zealand export, from writer and director Taika Waititi (“What We Do In The Shadows,”) is one of the funniest and off-beat films of the year, as well as a calling card for an exciting new voice in film.

8. The Handmaiden
Chan-wook Park is known for making violent and disturbing films; “Oldboy,” “Thirst” and “Lady Vengeance” solidified the director’s career. Here, the director offers us a film that is unlike any of his previous works; “The Handmaiden” is an elegant, romantic and intoxicating film that flows exquisitely, even with its long running time. This lesbian/queer-erotic-thriller is Park’s love letter to Alfred Hitchcock, filled with unexpected twists and red herrings.

7. Captain Fantastic
Viggo Mortensen’s portrayal of a father trying to raise his six kids in the Pacific Northwest wilderness, is one of the most arresting and stirring performances of the year. “Captain Fantastic” tackles the subject matters of suicide, mental illness, dysfunctional family relations and the corruption of society by injecting humor and warmth, and manages to be inspiring and sweet (Unlike “Manchester by the Sea”). Director Matt Ross gets charming and astounding performances from his young actors/actresses, which is a huge accomplishment for any director. Offering a clever and perceptive script, “Captain Fantastic” is one of best (and most overlooked) films of the year.

6. Zootopia
“Zootopia” boasts beautiful animation and a clever and humorous script that also appeals to adults, with topical and serious subject matter. It tackles racism and sexism without being preachy. The film also offers a beautiful message of inclusion and advises the viewer to follow their dreams. Bursting with vibrant animation and well constructed characters, “Zootopia” is the best Disney film in years.

5. Hell or High Water
“Hell or High Water;” doesn’t break new ground story wise, but what it does prove that with the proper direction and pacing structure, a familiar story doesn’t need a whole lot of tweaking. Director David Mackenzie exceptionally guides his creative team in executing the film’s technical merits while also bringing out stellar performances from his whole cast; Jeff Bridges shines by giving an Oscar-worthy performance in one of best and most exciting modern day westerns ever.

4. The Witch
Not since “The Exorcist,” has a religious based horror film made me feel so irksome. This ill-fated fairy tale from director Robert Eggers pays close attention to detail and truly captures the time period of “The Witch,” the costumes, old-time english accents and set design all add up to an immersive experience. Eggers navigates around horror cliches with a smart script, impeccable cinematography and an unsettling musical score, making for a truly demoralizing and bleak experience. “The Witch” is the best genre film since 2014’s “The Babadook,” and the most harrowingly dire horror film in years. Hail Black Phillip.

3. Arrival
Communication is the central theme of “Arrival,” and how imperative it is resolving conflict amongst rivals. It is beautiful that a film like “Arrival,” is released during a time when our country and many of its people are incapable of communicating with one another. Stunningly photographed and imbued with sensible CGI, this cerebral science-fiction film is grounded by its smooth pacing and subtle yet commanding acting by the always fabulous Amy Adams.

2. Manchester by the Sea
Kenneth Lonergan’s film of a man confronting his past and forging his way into the present is both beautiful and heartbreaking. The film’s accurate portrayal of death and grief, along with Casey Affleck’s confident and complex performance elevates the film from the standard drama. Set along New England’s scenic north shore, “Manchester by the Sea” is a heart-wrenching drama that demonstrates how sometimes grief is battle that even the toughest spirits can’t overcome.

1. Moonlight
This ethereal masterpiece, from director Barry Jenkins, is an intimate character study that exposes the struggles a man faces with coming to terms with his sexuality and contextualizing masculinity within black culture. “Moonlight” manages to be devastating, yet uplifting; the film’s transition from heartbreak to salvation is a momentous triumph. Beautifully scripted, photographed and acted, it is a remarkable achievement in filmmaking and the best picture of 2016

Honorable mentions: “Evolution,” “Green Room,” “The Eyes of My Mother,” “OJ: Made in America,” “Life, Itself,” “Moana,” “Kubo and the Two Strings,” “Deadpool,” “Sing Street,” “The Wailing,” “Train to Busan,” “Edge of Seventeen,” “Nocturnal Animals,” and “Sausage Party.”

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