It seems no one told 2016 film is supposed to be an escape from our daily worries, concerns and troubles, not the cause of them. Problems on the big screen were blown to blockbuster proportions more often than not this year, as studios stretched budgets and ideas to their breaking points. But through all of the (unnecessary) darkness, cringe-worthiness, and downright uselessness, Hollywood came through when we needed it to most, delivering some fine films that remind us just how bright the silver screen, and all of its stars can shine. Here are the top 10 films of 2016.
*All reviews written by Zac McEachern, with introduction by Sam Podgurny
10. 10 Cloverfield Lane (Dan Trachtenburg)
I thoroughly enjoyed the surprise 2008 found footage film Cloverfield, for it’s clever and (at the time) fresh take on the monster movie genre. I never thought this film could be turned into a quasi-franchise, but 10 Cloverfield Lane proved me wrong — it drops the shaky-cam and lowers the scale to prove this unlikely series has some tricks up its sleeve. A close-quarters psychological thriller, with a sci-fi flare, and scary good performance by John Goodman is a no brainer in my books. Smart and carefully uncanny, 10 Cloverfield Lane is heart-palpitatingly good fun.
For more, check out The Watch-men Podcast’s 10 Cloverfield Lane review!
9. American Honey (Andrea Arnold)
While it was movie I didn’t immediately love, over the next couple days after viewing, American Honey began to seep through my pores and electrify my heart. This film is both a love letter to the American Midwest and to being idiotically youthful. It follows a group of 20-somethings selling magazines on the road, just trying to survive, and make a living. It features an undeniably whacky-fantastic Shia LaBoeuf and a pitch-perfect Sasha Lane (who was randomly discovered on a beach during spring break). From its cinematography to the acting, American Honey is beautifully and wholeheartedly all about the details.
8. 13th (Ava DuVerney)
This Netflix-produced doc from the filmmaker behind Selma manages to dig into African-American rights issues in a scarily visceral way. It covers everything from slavery to society today, but focuses on the corruption of the American prison system. It manages to paint a frightening realization that slavery is still well and alive over 150 years after it was abolished. In a time where African-American’s are unjustly murdered by police and riots pave the streets of the U.S.A. in uproar, this film couldn’t be more important. Racism is thriving, everyone. Watch it. Educate yourself. Prepare to be simultaneously truly shocked and totally unsurprised.
7. The Conjuring 2 (James Wan)
As I walked (still shaking) out of The Conjuring, I knew it was hands down the best horror film I’d ever seen… and then this came around. This piece of haunted house cinema struck every single one of my nerve endings and I couldn’t help but slouch as far down into my theatre seat as possible while watching. Implementing the same old school horror techniques used in the previous film, James Wan delivers another fresh feeling horror story that manages to outdo the previous film in every single way — these days, that’s a feat in and of itself. But the worst part? Just like the last, it’s a true fucking story.
6. Finding Dory (Andrew Stanton)
Right from the film’s first couple seconds, you can tell Finding Dory is going to be a soul crusher. Man, is it ever. It’s also unsurprisingly gorgeously animated and, frankly, hilarious. Oh, and baby Dory? The cutest thing I’ve seen in a movie this year. One of the most important things I’ve learned about Pixar films as I’ve gotten older, is that they’re astonishingly real — showcasing humanity in a way most films featuring real people can’t. This isn’t only a well-worth-watching sequel, it’s also a film about loss, love, and family in disguise as an animated kid’s flick. As usual, bravo, Pixar. Bravo.
5. The Jungle Book (Jon Favreau)
The Jungle Book is a glowing addition to Disney’s animated to live action remakes that tickles your nuts with nostalgia. Oh, and it’s also one of the biggest cinematic triumphs of the year. Getting the guy responsible for Iron Man behind the camera couldn’t have been a better choice, as Jon Favreau delivers an expansive, lived-in world for brilliantly animated characters to breathe in. Maybe this is higher on this list than most people would expect, but hearing Christopher Walken’s rendition of “I Wanna Be Like You” as a massive King Louie of the orangutans brought me right back to being five years old, sitting in front of a giant box of a TV, VHS tape rolling, smiling like a gleeful idiot.
For more, check out The Watch-men Podcast’s The Jungle Book review!
4. Captain America: Civil War (Anthony & Joe Russo)
What makes this Captain America three-quel possibly the greatest superhero movie of all time is its ability to achieve balance. It’s a film that comes oh-so-close to gushing over the edges with characters and stories that have accumulated over 12 films, and for that it really shouldn’t work. But instead, it flourishes. It succeeds as the Avengers sequel Age of Ultron so badly tried to be, thanks in part to the same directors responsible for the savvy predecessor Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The introduction of a smart-mouth, scene-stealing Spider-Man and an airport superhero showdown (GIANTMAN!) are only a few of the highlights. Don’t forget the Tony Stark/Steve Rogers emotional third-act battle that leaves Batman v. Superman whimpering in the cinematic corner. Rock on, Marvel.
For more, check out The Watch-men Podcast’s Captain America: Civil War review
3. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)
An enlightening character piece that transcends culture and sexuality, Moonlight is a future American classic. Following protagonist Chiron from childhood into adulthood, writer-director Barry Jenkins manages to depict how one deals with being gay in society and, specifically, in the African-American community. It seems like a closed group could only relate, but what makes Moonlight a truly remarkable film is its ability to allow insight into the all-encompassing human condition. Brilliant supporting roles are filled by Naomie Harris and Mahershala Ali, capped off by glowing cinematography and a true, intrinsic direction. Barry Jenkins, you’re a visionary for this one.
2. Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan)
Manchester By the Sea is a story about love in a time of grief, and how that grief consumes us — be it through silence, detachment, or (believe-it-or-not) humour. The film manages to be both heart-ripping and hilarious. Kenneth Lonergan strikes a perfect balance in his script and direction, moulding something authentic, poignant, and real. It’s capped off by a cast that includes a wonderful Michelle Williams, terrific newcomer Lucas Hedges, and a holy-fuck-that’s-acting performance by Casey Affleck. The film is an impeccable, enthralling piece of work. Let it consume you. Open your heart and allow Manchester by the Sea to twist it in every which direction it decides. It’s catharsis was one I never wanted to end.
1. La La Land (Damien Chazelle)
La La Land is a modern-set-but-retro-infused musical love story that will urge you to break out in song and dance in old-school cinematic fashion. Killer chemistry between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone skyrockets this beautifully shot, gloriously directed, wittingly written, and exceptionally composed film from writer-director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), into motion picture paradise. It’s a classically stylized musical overflowing with love and passion for jazz and the golden age of Hollywood (a la Singin’ in the Rain). It’s not just the best film, or even the best musical, of the year, it’s one of the best films ever made. An instant classic that’ll make you feel joyous to be alive, La La Land will have you tapping your toes well after the credits roll. The city of stars never shone so bright.