Don’t even try to tell me that 2016 was a bad year for film. I found myself falling in love with new films week after week from the beginning of the year until its final days. Be it the year’s biggest blockbusters, the indie-est of horror flicks, or those found in between, the output from filmmakers in 2016 was absolutely remarkable.
I ended up condensing this down from a lengthy list of 35, and it wasn’t easy. Actually, ranking these films could’ve been an even harder task, but I sadly didn’t get to see every film I wanted to in 2016 — the most unfortunate among them being Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, and Jackie, which I’m sure would have all been strong contenders. And before I get to the actual list, below you will find a number of standouts that just barely missed the cut for the top 10.
- Captain America: Civil War – Dir. Anthony Russo, Joe Russo (streaming on Netflix)
- The Witch – Dir. Robert Eggers (streaming on Amazon Prime)
- Zootopia – Dir. Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush (streaming on Netflix)
- Hacksaw Ridge – Dir. Mel Gibson
- 10 Cloverfield Lane – Dir. Dan Trachtenberg
Like I said before, there were plenty of films I loved this year. Here are the best of the best:
#10 Film: Hell or High Water – Dir. David Mackenzie
David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water is a gritty, modern-day take on the western film that follows two bank-robbing brothers in West Texas (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) being hunted by an aging Texas Ranger (Jeff Bridges) and his similarly “too old for this shit” partner (Gil Birmingham). What ensues is an intense, taut thriller that is as simplistic as it is engaging, highlighting superb acting ability from its main cast, whose characters you can’t help but care about.
#9 Film: The Invitation – Dir. Karyn Kusama (streaming on Netflix)
The Invitation is an expertly-crafted psychological thriller that presents a story you’ll initially think you have a full grasp on. You know exactly where this is going…or so you’ll think. As The Invitation starts down its dark path, you’ll begin feeling less and less sure about your predictions. The film directly follows Will (Logan Marshall-Green), who begins to believe his ex-wife and her new husband have sinister plans behind a reunion/dinner party they’re throwing. But with Will’s constant visions and obvious affected mental state, it’s hard to really trust his intuition. There’s a definite slow-build nature to The Invitation‘s events, but the finale is entirely nerve-wracking and well worth the wait. The last shot, especially, is one I don’t think I’ll forget anytime soon.
#8 Film: The Edge of Seventeen – Dir. Kelly Fremon
Maybe you feel as though you’ve seen every possible take on the coming-of-age story imaginable. But then again, you probably haven’t seen The Edge of Seventeen. Hailee Steinfeld stars as Nadine, a socially awkward teenager whose simple, comfortable life begins spiraling out of (her) control at the most inopportune time in this incredibly relatable high school comedy. Kelly Fremon’s script is perhaps the year’s funniest, being delectably hilarious and impressively imaginative for a film whose themes and plot explore familiar, but poignant-as-ever territory.
#7 Film: Hush – Dir. Mike Flanagan (streaming on Netflix)
I previously wrote my thoughts on this inventive home-invasion flick, and I stand by everything I said then. Hush is awesome. In only 81 minutes, writer-director Mike Flanagan crafts a fun, intense thriller about a deaf woman who comes under attack by a sadistic invader in her remote home. The main character’s disability is utilized extremely well, allowing for a wholly unique and extremely fun take on a tired genre.
#6 Film: The Nice Guys – Dir. Shane Black
The Nice Guys is so god damn cool and fun and hilarious, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why it didn’t do better at the box office. I just don’t get it. There should be a number of sequels in the pipeline already, but none of you went to see it. I desperately want the continuing adventures of March (Ryan Gosling) and Healy (Russel Crowe), who’re without a doubt the least convincing (but also best) duo of private investigators to ever team up on film. Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) perfects his buddy-cop formula with an exceptionally witty script and intriguing mystery centerpiece, while Gosling and Crowe bring their all in one of the year’s most exciting and refreshing films.
#5 Film: Don’t Breathe – Dir. Fede Alvarez
2016 was a great year for fans of the horror genre. It started out incredibly strong with The Witch, and continued on with Hush, The Invitation, 10 Cloverfield Lane and even more great flicks, but it was Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe that outmatched them all as the single best horror film of 2016. Similar to Hush, Don’t Breathe presents its own distinct take on home-invasion in one of the most intense films I’ve seen in years. Instead of centering on the victim like usual, Don’t Breathe instead follows the perpetrators, a group of delinquents who decide to rob the home of a blind war veteran. And while this sounds like a fairly simple and easy job, it’s of course anything but. Alvarez expertly crafts an unrelentingly tense film through unique set-pieces and smart twists in my favorite horror film of the year.
Check out my full-length review for more on why I love this film so much.
#4 Film: The Handmaiden – Dir. Chan-wook Park
Esteemed South Korean director Chan-wook Park trades in unconventional revenge cinema, and his latest masterpiece, The Handmaiden, is no exception. Over three distinct parts, The Handmaiden presents its viewers with a story containing countless acts of deception, perversion, and intrigue. The story starts out simple enough, but quickly devolves into a seemingly never-ending number of compelling twists and turns that only furthers the film’s mysteries. And where many films stumble in answering all the questions they present to the viewer, The Handmaiden makes itself 100% clear by the end. It’s a wild ride that I can’t wait to see again, as there’s no doubt many clues hidden throughout that will be interesting to see with the knowledge of where the film ends up.
#3 Film: Arrival – Dir. Denis Villeneuve
The year’s best sci-fi film has an age-old set-up where an extra-terrestrial life-form invades our planet, but Arrival is unlike any “alien invasion” film you’ve ever seen. While most of Arrival‘s peers are most invested in huge action set-pieces and big budget effects, visionary filmmaker Denis Villeneuve focuses on a more grounded take of the genre, allowing for a much more human story. The alien lifeforms here aren’t immediately hostile, and instead initially wish to communicate with human life. This is where our main character, Louise (Amy Adams), comes in. Louise is a world-class linguist who does her best under immense tension to figure out the visitor’s language and understand their purpose for visiting Earth. Amy Adams is brilliant in her role, and along with the breathtaking cinematography and compelling drama that unfolds, Arrival is a must-see film.
I previously had much more to say about Arrival in my initial review.
#2 Film: Swiss Army Man – Dir. Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
Swiss Army Man is easily the most divisive film on this list and therefore one I wouldn’t suggest to most people due to its obvious strangeness and disinterest in fully explaining itself. But it’s also a film I found to be completely unique, utterly charming, and ultimately beautiful. On its surface, it’s a silly comedy centered around a lost man attempting to find his way back to civilization, all the while accompanied by a farting corpse. And yeah, it’s just as absolutely ridiculous as it sounds, but Swiss Army Man is so much more than that. While I enjoyed the film on a base level with its general odd nature and plentiful fart jokes (flatulence has never before been so hilarious), Swiss Army Man is actually most successful through multiple viewings and serious contemplation of its major themes.
#1 Film: La La Land – Dir. Damien Chazelle
I honestly cannot throw enough praise toward Damien Chazelle’s absolutely magical send-up to classical Hollywood musicals, La La Land. It’s a film that’s nearly perfect in every way. With an engaging story, lovable characters, superb acting, wonderful music, impressive dance choreography, and stunning cinematography, La La Land truly has it all. It’s the dazzlingly uplifting film we were in desperate need of, and one that everyone deserves to see. For a more in-depth impression of La La Land, check out my full review.
— Michael Lane, Blog Editor