The Top Ten Movies of 2016: A Year of Purpose

By Daniel Reif

Since the moment I expressed my disappointment with film in 2016, via its winning year in horror, our huge world outside the medium has only sunk to uglier depths. You can note it: iconic deaths and dangerous political tides are sure to highlight future examinations of this year.

To some grace, the award season was a refreshing mouthwash for the smelly hangover of awful blockbusters after awful blockbusters, disillusioning Sundance favorites, overhyped biopics, and low-bar animation. I want to scream all of 2016’s projected bullshit from the rooftops, but my nihilism would only be an echo.

Instead, I sing the saviors. In a year which silenced the voices of millions, many filmmakers fired back with incredible works recognizing such voices. In a year full of tabloid deaths, the process of grief found thematic bedding in half of the films in my Top Ten!

Movies had purpose this year. Including a helping of noteworthy favorites, here are the best of those movies.

 

10. PATERSON

Adam Driver and Goldshifteh Farahani. Bleecker Street. 2016

Adam Driver and Goldshifteh Farahani. Bleecker Street. 2016

Intentionally or unintentionally, Paterson is a filmmaker’s love letter to his own movies. Jim Jarmusch’s distinct career is beloved by how his movies play like matter-of-fact poems. In a simple view about a simple week of a simply quiet bus driver and poet (Adam Driver), the “New York school” of poetry touches into the embracing colors of our own day-to-day simplicities.

 

9. LO and BEHOLD, REVERIES of the CONNECTED WORLD

Magnolia Pictures. 2016

Magnolia Pictures. 2016

One of humankind’s greatest inventions (the Internet) is finally given the academic, romantic, cinematic portrait it deserves by one of humankind’s most revered, living filmmakers (Werner Herzog).

 

8. OTHER PEOPLE

Jesse Plemons and Molly Shannon. Vertical Entertainment. 2016

Jesse Plemons and Molly Shannon. Vertical Entertainment. 2016

Chris Kelly’s debut shouldn’t work. His Sacramento-set, semi-autobiographical look at a gay writer (Jesse Plemons) from New York who must return to his less-liberal hometown upon his mother’s (Molly Shannon) diagnosis of cancer, is a well-worn personal indie. However, the year’s most affective film about grief will sway every possible expectation you have in this dilemma. Kelly’s writing is bold, funny, and beautiful. Molly Shannon conquers the screen with a heart not often found in any movie.

 

7. NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

Amy Adams. Focus Features. 2016

Amy Adams. Focus Features. 2016

Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhal star in Tom Ford’s infectious and stylistic 2-for-1 trip in storytelling. The year’s best plot will blow you away with a gripping crime tragedy paralleled with an equally gripping, high-society romance tragedy.

 

6. THE WITCH

Anya Taylor-Joy. A24/Universal. 2016

Anya Taylor-Joy. A24/Universal. 2016

In a year rich with little, horror and debuts found great spotlight. Writer/director, Robert Eggers, earns top honors for both! His authentic period, paranoia masterpiece is an absolute must-see for the horror nut, indie nut, or anyone nutty enough to dance in its particular dread.

 

5. MOONLIGHT

Ashton Sanders. A24. 2016

Ashton Sanders. A24. 2016

A well deserved, leading contender for award-season honors, Barry Jenkins directs an awe-inspiring triptych about one South Florida boy/teen/man’s heartbreaking search for acceptance. The first act’s, Mahershala Ali, is 2016’s stand-out supporting actor in a phenomenal cast. Riveting cinematography and score provide a sweeping, unforgiving ride through boyhood. “Amazing”, if ever to use the bloated word.

 

4. THE LOBSTER

Lea Seydoux. Film4 Productions.

Lea Seydoux. Film4 Productions.

Yorgos Lanthimos (Greek filmmaker) increased his impressive star power with The Lobster. His first English-language feature is a fascinating anti-romantic dark comedy about a future hotel’s controversial purpose in a world occupied by emotionally-hollow human beings. Colin Ferrell and Rachel Weisz head a remarkable cast of tragicomic lost souls.

 

3. CERTAIN WOMEN

Kristen Stewart and Lily Gladstone. IFC Films. 2016

Kristen Stewart and Lily Gladstone. IFC Films. 2016

Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, and Lily Gladstone (opposite Kristen Stewart) star in Kelly Reichardt’s melancholic collection of three stories about women in Montana. Small, quiet, and poignantly human, the film’s themes of loneliness, lust, and the struggle of choice, underscore a transfixing piece of minimalism.

 

2. 13th

Netflix. 2016

Netflix. 2016

The historic thread has always been claimed: the modern mass incarceration and unpunished police brutality of Blacks and Latinos, is the equivalent of contemporary slavery. In 13th, Ava Duvernay presents the definitive essay to prove that claim. Her master work is the most important American documentary since Citizen Four.

 

1. ELLE

Isabelle Huppert and Arthur Mazet. Sony Pictures Classics. 2016

Isabelle Huppert and Arthur Mazet. Sony Pictures Classics. 2016

“Evocative” is not enough of a sell for the freshly bitter, shared opus from director, Paul Verhoeven and star, Isabelle Huppert. Art is at its most empowered in a film which boldly refuses to polish the brutal subject of sexual assault. “Michele” is no rape victim. Playing 2016’s most complex and enamoring character, Isabelle Huppert crafts a performance dynamically flawed, vulnerable, calculating, mean, sexy, funny, powerfully wise, and poetic. Verhoeven is no less perfect in telling her story.

 

5 Sacrifices:

AQUARIUS
Sonia Braga is a powerhouse in this progressive, Brazilian drama about a semi-retired, Sao Paolo music journalist’s daunting fight against cunning, condo-based renovation.

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
Not the best, but surely the defining, film about grief this year. With the exception of some out-of-place parts, Kenneth Lonergan explores the idea of “life goes on” to exceptional resonance. Casey Affleck will leave big footprints on 2017’s red carpets in his deft realization of Lonergan’s study of one blue collar New Englander’s astonishing quest to make sense, if there is any to make, of human tragedy.

INDIGNATION
The work of landmark American novelist, Phillip Roth, finally became movie material in 2016; twice. The first release from writer/director, James Schamus, finds Logan Lerman in a seething atmospheric, preparatory drama about young ideology in mid-century America.

HELL OR HIGH WATER
David McKenzie writes/directs this skillful neo-western with the blood of brothers and the force of wisdom.

FENCES
Steven McKinley Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, and Mykkelti Williamson round out the outstanding ensemble behind the first film adapted from an August Wilson play, and headed by two profound performances from Viola Davis and star/director/August Wilson expert, Denzel Washington.

 

7 More Favorites:

SILENCE

KICKS

THE NICE GUYS

BARRY

NEON DEMON

THE CONJURING 2

LA LA LAND

 


January 3, 2017

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