The year is wrapping up, which means the inevitable is happening—I’m spending my days reflecting on the best entertainment of the year. My “best of” compilation below is not a list of my favorite 2016 films, but of my favorite films I watched in 2016, meaning some have earlier release dates. Check my list (in order of when I saw them) and descriptions of each movie below. For reference, you can enjoy my full 2016 viewing list here.
What were the best films you watched in 2016?
Though my initial impression of Room was not totally stellar (though I still really liked it), the more distance I had from the film, the more impressed with it I became. Brie Larson’s Oscar-winning performance as a young captive trying to raise a son and escape her confines is a must-see. The tension built in the climactic scenes is just as captivating as you find in the best thriller films. Despite having seen Room in early January, it’s a film I continue to think of regularly.
Manchester by the Sea (2016)
If you’ve had any kind of significant conversation with me in 2016, I probably mentioned this film (and now apologize for being annoying). I’m proud to say I attended the second screening of this film in the world at the Sundance Film Festival and have loved it since then. Manchester by the Sea features beautiful performances from Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, and Michelle Williams dealing with grief and forgiveness. It’s a cathartic, tragic, and funny film that is sure to continue winning awards into the new year.
The Lobster (2015)
The Lobster was the last screening I attended at Sundance this year, and it’s another film that has stuck with me through 2016. Word on the Sundance rumor mill was that The Lobster is a movie you know you’ll either love or hate within the first 10 minutes, and I think that’s pretty true. This darkly comic, dystopian little weirdo of a film features Colin Farrell in the lead role in a society where single people are sent to a hotel for 45 days in which to find a soulmate. If your allotted days expire, you’re turned into the animal of your choosing and released into the wild. I find The Lobster to be equal parts hilarious and disturbing, but maybe that’s not your thing.
The Witch (2015)
The Witch is another love-it-or-hate-it type that I also happened to love in 2016. When my roommate and I saw the film with a crowd of about 20 on a Sunday afternoon, it was clear that most other audience members hated what we saw as a creepy/cool film. Who knew a blank-faced goat would be one of the best movie villains of 2016?
Swiss Army Man (2016)
After hearing the resounding WTFs about this film at Sundance, I really had no idea what to expect from Swiss Army Man. When the most common plot description is that Daniel Radcliffe plays a farting corpse, it’s hard to know if you’ll like a film. Turns out, I loved it! Minus the final 10-15 minutes, but those are thoughts for a longer discussion. Swiss Army Man is visually stunning and weird as hell, but also a movie you aren’t likely to forget.
Green Room (2016)
I didn’t know about Green Room upon watching it except that there were neo-Nazis involved and most reviews were pretty stellar. Anyhoo, I was so very pleased to see this little weirdo that adds to the growing list of great indie horror/thriller films in recent years. Watching one of Anton Yelchin’s final performances is bittersweet, but it’s great to see a group of very unlikeable characters become the people you root hardest for. Also, Patrick Stewart’s “I’m a gross American” accent is not to be missed.
Like Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight is a film we’ll all continue to hear more about as awards season rounds out in early 2017, and deservedly so. While some say Moonlight is the absolute best film of the year, my preferences lie elsewhere, but I still see it as a profoundly moving and beautiful film. The section (since the story is told in three parts) I visit most often in my mind is the first in the film, when we see Chiron as a young boy with a mom who is just beginning to dig herself into the drugged darkness that later consumes her life. I think the main reason this sections stands out most to me is the presence of Blue, played brilliantly by Mahershala Ali. That the most stable person in young Chiron’s life is a drug dealer is heartbreaking, but I found myself wishing again and again that Blue was still there to help Chiron later on. I left the theatre feeling a bit muddled after this one, but it’s a film I’ve mentally returned to often.
The Edge of Seventeen (2016)
There are few things I love more than a good coming-of-age story, and The Edge of Seventeen is an instant-classic in this genre. Hailee Steinfeld shines as Nadine, a girl who (like many teenagers) feels everything vividly. Nadine is smart and kind, but also kind of dumb and ridiculous and dramatic, but all in a way that makes you feel for her because we’ve all been there. Oddly enough, this is the film on this list that probably made me most consistently emotional, likely because it tells the story that sometimes feels truest to life.
Other People (2016)
Due to an unfortunate coincidence, I missed out on attending the world premiere of Other People at Sundance in January and wasn’t able to fit it into my other viewing times during the festival. But after hearing many people say it was their favorite film during our time in Utah, I made sure to watch it as soon as I could. Other People is the rare movie that can make you laugh and cry with equal intensity, and neither emotion feels out of place in this film about a gay comedian who moves home to be with his mother in her final year of life. Jesse Plemons and Molly Shannon give outstanding performances in the lead roles (seriously, Golden Globes, where are their nominations?). Though the basic plot of the film might seem cliche or expected, this is one of the most honest and realistic films I’ve seen in a long time. It allows you to both laugh hard and cry hard without either emotion feeling cheap or incorrect.
La La Land (2016)
As soon as teaser trailers were released for this film, I was dying to see it. The combined force of Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, and Damian Chazelle was enough to get me excited about it, so the fact that it’s topped so many “best of the year” lists only made me more anxious to get myself to this film as soon as I could. Thankfully, I spent a joyous Christmas afternoon in the theatre for this one, and I wasn’t remotely disappointed. The film is beautiful visually and thematically, and Stone and Gosling give outstanding performances and performers trying to make it in Hollywood. If you aren’t charmed by this movie, you might not even be human.
When you combine August Wilson’s best work with performances by Denzel Washington (who also directed) and Viola Davis, there isn’t much to do but start handing over awards. Of course these two give stellar performances—they did win Tonys for it, after all—and, even though I’ve read Fences twice before and plan to teach it this semester, I’m still astounded by the emotional force of Wilson’s writing. Washington maintains the simplicity of a stage production in the film, which I appreciated, and the combined effect of the ensemble is what makes the film a real knockout. I would be shocked if Davis doesn’t win every award she’s eligible for this season.
Honorable Mentions: Goat (2016), Rain Man (1988), The Light Between Oceans (2016), Fruitvale Station (2013), 13th (2016), Hamilton’s America (2016), Moana (2016), Deadpool (2016)