Dec 31, 2016

Listmania: The 25 Best Movies of 2016 (Top 10)

Scene from La La Land
Well, here we are at the end of another year. While it has had its highs and lows, the one thing that was inevitable was that there would be great movies. Over the past 12 months, there's been plenty of great titles from genre films to prestigious awards dramas. The following is a look at the 10 films that stand above the rest as being achievements not only as entertainment, but as art. These films exemplify what is possible for the medium in 2016. Listmania has come once again to an end with the Best of 2016. Hope that your New Year's goes well and that the world treats you right in the months to come. These films will be here for you to make things a little bit better.

1. Manchester By the Sea

On paper, the story may sound like one of the least interesting tales of 2016. A man must take care of his nephew when his brother dies. It may be a bleak tale with some gut punching twists, but it's also one of the most human films released possibly this decade. With Kenneth Lonergan's phenomenally personal script, he manages to create a film full of life, choosing to explore how we use humor as a deflection for depression. With a career best performance by Casey Affleck, this is a story that manages to explore the potential for cinema as a dramatic art form. It may be at times unpleasant, but few films get the grieving process right quite like this. It is only a small part of the post-mortem. There's plenty of genuine absurdity to go along with it.

2. La La Land

To the average viewer, director Damien Chazelle's modern musical will just read as revolutionary and unlike anything that came before. To cinephiles, it will take on a deeper resonance as the closest that the 21st century has come to a Stanley Donen film with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone playing charming stand-ins for some of Classic Hollywood's most endearing song-and-dance couples. This is the type of film that would exist if movie musicals never died as a popular art form. With catchy songs and a powerful story to back it up, this is looking to be the best musical set to celluloid not only for the year, but for the short century. It's only a bummer that there's few counterarguments for this. If one film demands to be seen on the big screen, it's this one. There's only hope that this success story inspires more like it.

3. Kubo and the Two Strings

It has been a great year for animated movies. However, there were few as interesting as LAIKA Studio's latest entry that follows a boy going on a fantastical journey with Monkey and Beetle. It's a story about the magic of storytelling while reveling in some of the greatest achievements in modern stop motion animation. There is not a film this year with more striking visuals or a sense of liveliness - a fact made funnier by how meticulously each second of film was made. Even then, this is a powerful statement about what cinema can be when artists are given a chance to make their vision. LAIKA continues to outdo themselves, and this may be their best yet.

4. The Lobster

In hindsight, this may be one of the oddest success stories of 2016. From the director of such dour and challenging films like Dogtooth and Alps comes another high concept film about finding the love of your life under a judging society. It has pitch black humor that is unafraid to explore the dour consequences of failing to meet society's demands. With an excellent performance by Colin Farrell, this is one of the smartest sci-fi films of 2016 that also doesn't make sense as a success story. Maybe it's because single people came out in droves, or that everyone just wanted a film that was different. Whatever the case may be, director Giorgos Lanthimos excelled in bringing his cold and off-putting style in an English-language format with a great cast to boot. There's no film quite like it.

5. Moonlight

There hasn't been a film as marvelous and secretly ambitious quite like director Barry Jenkins' tale of one man's journey through adulthood. The film centers on a triptych that follows his life through three key periods of his life and how he learned to love and survive in the cruel world. With an artful eye, the film is painstakingly earnest and explores a story not often seen on screen. The only flaw is that it's hard to determine which performance deserves the Oscar attention most, as most characters are played by three different actors. Even then, this has an enviably strong cast that shines throughout and leaves the audience feeling moved by seemingly simple conversations that take on deeper and more personal meaning as the story progresses. Jenkins has created a film whose cinematography is also ambitious, managing to find ways to light the black actors' skin in gorgeous ways. It's a great film that reflects just how many more stories are out there worthy of being told.

6. Jackie

The grieving process is one that's common to everyone. Yet to have your closest loved one be part of one of America's most infamous deaths adds a new level of heartbreak. Director Pablo Larrain isn't so much interested in accuracy, more using former First Lady Jackie Kennedy as a cypher for the complex process of grieving. With another career best performance by Natalie Portman, the prose of Jackie feels like a movie-length poem that is blistering with poignancy and beautiful cinematography. It may not fully explain who the title character was, but it will pose a lot of great questions regarding how we perceive the dead in their legacy. They were giants who walked among us, which is a difficult thing to understand sometimes. Yet this film perfectly does it with style.

7. Moana

If Disney does one thing going forward, I hope it's to chain Lin-Manuel Miranda to a radiator in the basement and never let him go. One of his first major collaborations in his post-Hamilton era was this Disney Princess musical which has some of the year's best music as well as one of the most progressive stories of 2016. Not since the heyday of the 1990's has the studio released a film that is this unabashedly full of exciting action and enjoyable music. It also helps that the whole story of identity and trusting each other is a message that cinema could greatly use right now. It's a message that Moana tells better than Zootopia, if just because it has a soundtrack that will get stuck in your head (consider the coconuts) and make you believe that what cinema really needs right now is Miranda to compose ever movie musical from now on (well, him and La La Land's Justin Hurwitz). 

8. American Honey

Director Andrea Arnold finally returns to cinema with a Midwest-travelling film about magazine salesmen. It's more of a tale of life and exuberance, making dreams possible in the face of economic struggles. It's also a blast to exist within this film's three hour running time, which manages to find the essence of mundane conversations and rowdy parking lot gatherings. It may be a film devoid largely of plot, but it does feature a captivating story in the lead, played by Sasha Lane, who discovers what independence truly means. With a great cast that also features Shia LeBouf and Riley Keough, this is an example of what great indie cinema could look like when it's not stuck on either of America's coastlines. Instead, it's somewhere in the middle singing along to Lady Antebellum in a van. It's all beautiful.

9. Pete's Dragon

No film defined summer surprise quite like director David Lowery's remake of a pretty inessential Disney movie. Even if he's clearly a dragon, this is the quintessential dog movie of 2016, showing the bond between a boy and his pet in the face of a town who wishes to dispose of the dragon. It's a harrowing journey of self-discovery mixed with great effects that bring the dragon to life, finding emotional resonance through cinematic language. This is one of those films that manages to captivate the audience visually by taking them into uncharted territory. It's the perfect cross section of family entertainment and art house. No film comes close to capturing the awe that this film is likely to capture in family members of every age.

10. Weiner

Depending on your political stance, you're probably sick of this guy after this year. Yet it's impossible to deny the comic tragedy that is displayed in this documentary about his failed New York mayoral campaign. He is a man with a big ego and even a bigger magnet for controversy. Even if he has all of the answers to make this country better, he will never be able to display them largely because of his scandals that plague his entire career. This may be a documentary reflecting his downfall, but it is a cautionary tale of politicians, social media, and ego. If you're not careful, you'll keep shooting yourself in the foot like Anthony Weiner did. In fact, you could argue that there's enough fodder just in six months of 2016 for Weiner 2. For now, this is a timeless look at one man's failure that is both entertaining and sad. 

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