Top Ten Movies of 2016
A Look Back at the Year's Best Films
Director: Barry Jenkins
Starring: Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Janelle Monáe
Every frame of Barry Jenkins’ enthralling drama is vibrant and alive, much like how it has left audiences feeling. Following the three acts of protagonist Chiron’s life from boyhood to adolescence to manhood — portrayed by Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes — “Moonlight” could be accurately described as a coming-of-age tale, a story about learning to reconcile different identities or a movie about poverty and drug abuse. However, none of these categorizations touch on why the movie has resonated so strongly with audiences: “Moonlight” is a compassionate portrayal of humanity and the different way humans can treat one another, and it is magnificent.
Director: Kelly Fremon Craig
Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson, Kyra Sedgwick
Before she even turned 14, Hailee Steinfeld was first nominated for an Academy Award in the Coen brothers’ western remake, “True Grit.” Now she is no longer just a supporting actress, giving the best performance of her career in “The Edge of Seventeen.” She does not steal the screen handily, however, as Woody Harrelson’s dark humor and deadpan expressions give her a fair contest in every scene he is present. The outstanding performances are bolstered by sincere, hilarious writing, providing an emotional study on the struggles of adolescence, growing up and finding out who you are.
Director: Mel Gibson
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Vince Vaughn
Lauded by Rolling Stone as the best war film since “Saving Private Ryan,” “Hacksaw Ridge” is a lesson in how war films should be done. A biographical film about pacifist combat medic and Medal of Honor recipient Desmond Doss, the movie swings between the reality of war with gory, visceral violence and heartfelt moments of faith and conviction with ease and nuance. Under careful direction from Mel Gibson, Andrew Garfield churns out an emotive performance that is as inspirational as it is heartbreaking in a film that is gripping, harrowing and completely unforgettable.
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler
Casey Affleck was best known for being the younger brother of critically acclaimed actor and director, Ben Affleck, but has made a name for himself after his powerful performance in “Manchester by the Sea.” Affleck delivers a stellar performance as an uncle who finds himself the sole guardian of his teenaged nephew after the sudden death of the boy’s father. In a drama about family, insecurity and loss, writer-director Kenneth Lonergan avoids affectations or cloying melodrama and provides well-written characters and a realistic, moving story.
Director: Denzel Washington
Starring: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Jovan Adepo
Based off August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Fences” reunites Viola Davis and Denzel Washington on screen after both won Tony Awards for their work in the 2010 Broadway revival. Although the transfer from stage to screen was admittedly imperfect, the enthralling drama of racial and generational divide in American life and the complexity of family and forgiveness are more than enough to grip viewers. Combined with monumental performances by its actors, the towering assets of “Fences” make the flaws seem insignificant.
Director: Shane Black
Starring: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling
Shane Black is a director who cannot get a break. His first film, “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” was a critical but not financial success. Similarly, “The Nice Guys” was supposed to be the snappy, well-written buddy cop film of the summer, but never got the attention it needed from audiences, despite the praise for Crowe and Gosling’s performances. Even though the film would easily be entertaining with just its dynamite action and slapstick humor, “The Nice Guys” also features eloquent and rich dialogue, subverting typical expectations for action comedies.
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
Denis Villeneuve’s films, like “Prisoners” and “Sicario,” are known for their dark and gritty premises without relying on cliched lines and recycled plot devices. Villeneuve continues to deliver as one of Hollywood’s hottest new directors. His latest release, “Arrival,” is a psychological science fiction film set in a not entirely alien future, where science finds its limitations while humanity seeks answers about its place in the universe. Simultaneously thought-provoking and poignant, “Arrival” challenges viewers to ponder existential questions about love, life and loss while providing satisfying, sophisticated possible answers.
Director: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend
From the opening credits’ assurance that the movie was filmed in CinemaScope, “La La Land” promises the nostalgia and schmaltz of classic musicals and films from Hollywood’s Golden Age — and delivers with aplomb and style. The film’s heartbreakingly beautiful scoring and captivating musical numbers combined with its breathtaking cinematography and witty writing ensures the movie’s depth and substance beyond the overwhelming charisma and chemistry of its two leads. A touching perspective on dreams and what it costs to obtain them, “La La Land” will have viewers leaving the theater with teary eyes and warmed hearts.
Director: David Mackenzie
Starring: Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges
Since the 1990s, there has not been a single Western film that has been both financially and critically successful. David Mackenzie rises to the challenge, tweaking the Western genre to present audiences with a heist film set in contemporary times that refuses to adhere to any traditional rules. “Hell or High Water” shuns tropes typical to Westerns, delivering a complex and melancholy screenplay, full-bodied characters and strong acting by stars Chris Pine, Ben Foster and Jeff Bridges.
Directors: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush
Starring: Jason Bateman, Ginnifer Goodwin
A brilliant and dazzling parable about choosing tolerance over prejudice, “Zootopia” is more than just a cute animated family feature. With a fast-paced and well-orchestrated plot, endearing characters and smart writing, the film is a meaningful and thought-provoking piece for adult and kid movie-goers alike. Especially poignant given the recent political atmosphere, “Zootopia” hammers home a message of trust while maintaining a humorous, easygoing tone, proving once again that children’s films do not have to be childish.