I had high expectations for the 2016 movie slate. For the most part, I was hardly let down thanks to the main films I was excited about delivering in a major way. As usual there were some welcome surprises that also emerged — many of which made it to my 16 Best films list of 2016. Why 16? I did 15 for 2015 so I figured I might as well stay consistent. At this rate, I figure I’m good for at least another nine years before I have to go more traditional.
One trend quickly emerged for me while compiling my list. Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker were very busy and made smart film choices this year. For the most part, my list was pretty easy to compile. I was set right up until the Top 3. I’ve seen each of them repeatedly and my favorite seemed to vary depending on which one I saw most recently. Here’s a tiny hint: it’s still in theaters.
With no further delay, let’s take a look at my 16 Best picks. Feel free to share your own picks after you go through my list.
- Hardcore Henry – a wildly original POV action spectacle that was a better video game movie than most films based on video games.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows – As much as I loathed the first film of this new gen TMNT, I completely enjoyed this one. Who knew actually embracing all the nuttiness of the Turtles’ universe would result in a fun and fan-pleasing effort?
- Don’t Breathe – If this thriller ended about three false finishes earlier, it would have been on the main list. This was a case of too much of a good thing spoiled some of the fun.
16. 10 Cloverfield Lane – Good films that come out early in the year always get shafted when it comes to these year-end lists. Even still, it was hard to forget John Goodman’s scintillating performance in this surprisingly great Cloverfield spin-off.
15. The Accountant – Ben Affleck makes his first appearance on the list with this creative action drama featuring an autistic main character. There was a welcome smartness to a film that could have just been yet another social outcast helps the defenseless and instead took some risky, yet satisfying moves.
14. The Magnificent Seven – Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington just come together and make magic whenever they collaborate. This was a fun, action-packed ensemble that showed Hollywood it is possible to have a diverse cast that connects with audiences.
13. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. This was the first of two spin-offs I wasn’t too sure of, but was quickly won over when it started. This Harry Potter prequel had some really imaginative twists, breathtaking effects, charming creatures and stellar performances. This wasn’t the Harry Potter experience with new characters, but a terrific universe expanding entry that lives up to its name.
12. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (Ultimate Edition). I still contend that whoever edited the theatrical version of this film should be kept far away from DC films going forward. While this beefed-up edition didn’t fix every problem with BvS — the Doomsday fight veers way too far into video game territory — the additional 30 minutes provides some badly needed backstory to the characters, specifically Superman and Lois Lane.
The new cut actually provides legit context for why these two titans are clashing. Ben Affleck makes a strong case for best big screen Batman ever while Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman kicks major tail.
11. The Jungle Book. I haven’t been clamoring for many of Walt Disney’s classic animated films to get the live action treatment, but this Jon Favreau -directed effort truly is king. With some dazzling effects and an all-star voice cast, this was everything fans of the animated movie could want and more.
10. Nerve – I appreciate films that do something different. Nerve felt appropriately timely with its social media focus and clever Truth or Dare concept. Dave Franco and Emma Roberts proved a lot of fun as a put together pair testing their mettle for acclaim and cold cash.
9. Kubo and the Two Strings – Laika’s latest stop-motion outing is a real triumph. The tale of a young boy on a quest to stop an evil warlord is immensely charming and a testament to Laika’s film making technique.
8. Nocturnal Animals – This is one of those films that won’t be for everyone. If you’re game to go along with Tom Ford on this twisted drama, it’s incredibly rewarding. Amy Adams is an art gallery owner simultaneously drawn and haunted by the book written by her ex-husband. With stunning imagery, unpredictable twists and powerful performances by Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Adams, this is a crazy drama with an awesome payoff.
7. Moonlight – A beautifully told and vividly shot coming of age story, Moonlight is one of the realest and rawest movie experiences in years. With a creative storytelling experience and astonishing performances, Moonlight is a thoughtful and thought-provoking film that speaks to the modern identity crisis.
6. Deadpool – This is the result of what could happen if 20th Century Fox put people in charge of X-Men films that actually love the characters and what makes them so beloved.
Ryan Reynolds made the most of his all too rare mulligan to do The Merc With a Mouth the way he should be done — full of swagger, a warped sense of humor and insanely over the top action. Too bad absolutely none of that Deadpool magic managed to carry over to X-Men: Apocalypse.
5. Arrival – Oh look, another film where Amy Adams delivered a terrific performance. Arrival works because it’s not trying to be just another alien invasion film. It’s smarter and succeeds by focusing more on the characters and less on the spectacle of another species coming to Earth. Denis Villeneuve directs an amazing drama with a creative and beautiful ending.
4. Hell or High Water – Much as I liked The Magnificent Seven, this modern spin made for an even more compelling Western. Two brothers (Ben Foster and a never better Chris Pine) try to get over on the same system that was the real crooks while an ornery cop (an excellent Jeff Bridges) tries to bring them in. This was a great ride with a timely premise, confident direction and a terrific script.
3. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – Starting from here, things got really tough. I didn’t necessarily think we needed Star Wars spin-offs every year and the reports of all the behind the scenes strife didn’t make me too confident about this Star Wars prequel. But much like Ant-Man last year, the off-camera drama didn’t matter to the final effort.
Rogue One was a darker, non-traditional Star Wars movie in nearly every aspect. We finally got a taste of what the Galactic War was all about and the incredible toll it took on the fragile Rebel Alliance. It was already one of the better installments in the series, but that final sequence might be the best of the entire franchise.
2. Captain America: Civil War – I didn’t care about the rest of the year so long as Civil War delivered. This was the most ambitious project yet for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and was essentially Avengers 3 with the addition of Black Panther and Spider-Man.
Despite my lofty expectations, Civil War managed to exceed them with a superhero showdown that continues to make me smile whenever I watch it. I was really back and forth with this and my top film of the year. Maybe the only thing that kept it from the main spot was it made the wait for Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War all the more unbearable.
And now for my favorite film of 2016
1. La La Land – I’ve seen this film three times already and every time I love it a little more. From the fantastic performances of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, Damien Chazelle’s incredible direction and that catchy score, La La Land is a legit masterpiece. It’s part musical, part inspirational drama, part romance with a little something for everyone. And its timeless message of doggedly pursuing your dreams is something that never gets old.