A Second Twenty-One (because I can)
A Monster Calls (d: J.A. Bayona)
Beautiful and inspiring, Bayona’s adaptation of Patrick Ness’ (who wrote the screenplay) best-selling novel might be a tearjerker, but it’s one where the emotional waterworks are pulled from the viewer with honesty and grace, the fairy tale fantasy elements helping augment a story of a child battling through grief the only way he knows how.
Arrival (d: Denis Villeneuve)
Villeneuve and screenwriter Eric Heisserer team up to craft 2016’s most invigorating pure sci-fi spectacle, relying upon the smarts and tenacity of its main character, linguist Dr. Louis Banks, to convey all that is going on and why it is happening with precious few words. Amy Adams gives one of the best performances of her lauded career.
The Edge of Seventeen (d: Kelly Fremon Craig)
Craig’s rambunctious, unconventional debut is a rollicking coming-of-age teen comedy that uses clichés of the genre to its delectable advantage as it explodes across the screen with fiery truth, hysterical insights and genuine emotions. Hailee Steinfeld proves her Oscar nomination for True Grit was hardly a fluke, delivering a performance of depth, ingenuity and resilience that’s downright extraordinary.
Fences (d: Denzel Washington)
Arguably the year’s best acted film, Washington’s version of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play might not be able to completely transcend its theatrical roots, but that doesn’t make the overall emotional wallop it manages to impart any less substantial.
The Fits (d: Anna Rose Holmer)
There was little else like Holmer’s stunning debut released to theatres in 2016, the talented filmmaker making an instant name for herself with this intimate, profound and deeply original look at adolescent relationships, peer pressure and the lengths some go to in order to fit in.
Green Room (d: Jeremy Saulnier)
A punk rock nightmare of violence and fury, Saulnier’s Blue Ruin follow-up is a nasty piece of pulp fiction that’s like watching John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 while hopped up on amphetamines. Patrick Stewart’s skinhead villain is one of the most unnervingly chilling depictions of pure evil I’ve ever seen.
I, Daniel Blake (d: Ken Loach)
You’d think, at 80, Loach might be mellowing as he gets on in years. Nope, and the world is all the more thankful that happens to be the case, I, Daniel Blake another unforgettable triumph he can add to his beyond impressive directorial resume.
Indignation (d: James Schamus)
Longtime Ang Lee collaborator Schamus made his directorial debut with this thoughtful and intelligent adaptation of the Phillip Roth novel, centering it all around a performance from actor Logan Lerman that’s both one of the year’s absolute best and also one of its most tragically overlooked.
Jackie (Pablo Larraín)
Stunning mediation on grief, celebrity, journalism and motherhood that casts an invigorating hypnotic spell that grows in resonance and power as the film progresses, Oscar-winner Natalie Portman giving the performance of her career as Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy.
Knight of Cups (d: Terrence Malick)
Malick’s latest rumination of life, the universe and everything is a transcendental affair that’s as spiritual as it is essential. A miraculous achievement filled with astonishing visuals and even more profound emotional revelations, this is the type of motion picture so-called “faith based” enterprises pray they could be.
Kubo and the Two Strings (d: Travis Knight)
Stunningly animated, Laika’s fourth motion picture is arguably the studio’s best, the soaring aria to the power of the human spirit deals with a number of exceedingly adult issues but in ways that are accessible to viewers all of all ages. More, the film never panders, offering up dazzling visuals and thoughtful insights in equal measure.
La La Land (d: Damien Chazelle)
Chazelle’s blissfully lyrical musical is a Technicolor marvel that sends the viewer out of the theatre with a smile on their face, a skip in their step and joy filling their heart. A priceless throwback to the cinematic glory days of Demy and Minnelli, the film also speaks volumes in regards to everyday dreams and aspirations relevant to this very moment in time. A glorious gem.
The Love Witch (d: Anna Biller)
Biller’s feminist black comedy horror-romance hybrid is a film showcasing more layers than a wedding cake, the acid mixed into the frosting every bit as divine as the lush cinematography, stunning production design and marvelous costumes. (Additional Link: Interview with Anna Biller)
Loving (d: Jeff Nichols)
Nichols tackles the landmark Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court case and does the story of Richard and Mildred Loving justice by refusing to indulge in showy melodrama or angry histrionics, instead choosing to focus on the simple, unforced bonds of love and marriage that existed between the couple at the center of this cultural maelstrom. (Additional Link: Interview with Erin Benach)
Manchester by the Sea (d: Kenneth Lonergan)
Lonergan’s mournful drama is as powerful as they come, moving with eloquent precision as it examines in exquisite, oftentimes painful detail how two grieving souls deal with the loss of someone close to them. Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams and newcomer Lucas Hedges deliver exceptional performances.
Nina Forever (d: Ben Blaine, Chris Blaine)
The Blaine brothers unleash one of the more insidiously original love stories of recent memory, this ghoulish ménage à trios a consistently shocking surprise that’s as abhorrent as it is adorable, everything building to a intensely intimate conclusion that left me shaken and shell-shocked yet also gloriously entertained.
Queen of Katwe (d: Mira Nair)
Nair’s splendid biopic of teenage Ugandan chess champion Phiona Mutesi, magnificently portrayed by newcomer Madina Nalwanga, eschews typical sports films clichés to tell a story of resilience, faith, education and family that brought tears to my eyes and joy to my heart, bringing me to my feet to cheer when all was ultimately said and done.
Paterson (d: Jim Jarmusch)
A love letter to the working class while also a heartfelt piece of a perceptive poetry to the power of art and the glory of creativity, Jarmusch’s latest is a quiet stunner that drips in mesmerizing insight, star Adam Driver never better delivering what only can be described as one of the best performances of 2016.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (d: Gareth Edwards)
Set immediately before the events of 1977’s Star Wars, this side story taking place inside the intergalactic confines of George Lucas’ massive science fiction universe is a down-and-dirty, WWII-style slugfest that’s got far more on its mind than its simple story of espionage and heroism would initially lead one to believe. The Force was definitely with it.
Things to Come (d: Mia Hansen-Løve)
Isabelle Huppert had a spellbinding 2016. But as good as she was in Louder than Bombs, as fearless as she is in Elle, I preferred her delicately lithe, emotionally multifaceted work here, this performance an absolutely mind-blowing achievement that held me rapturously enthralled for the entire length of this fabulous melodrama’s running time.
The Witch (d: Robert Eggers)
A gothic puritanical nightmare, Egger’s examination of life on the 17th century American frontier is a haunting, unsettling freak-out where the evil hiding in the woods might not be anywhere near as loathsome as the one lurking in the heart of the religiously dogmatic refusing to acknowledge the malicious bigger picture knocking at their door. (Additional Link: Interview with Robert Eggers)
Rounding Out a Top 60 (i.e. 29 more)
20th Century Women, A Bigger Splash, A Hologram for the King, American Honey, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, Captain Fantastic, Christine, The Dressmaker, Everybody Wants Some!!, Finding Dory, Hail, Caesar!, The Handmaiden, Julieta, The Jungle Book, Little Men, The Lobster, Long Way North, Louder than Bombs, Midnight Special, The Nice Guys, Nocturnal Animals, One More Time, The Ones Below, Rules Don’t Apply, Sing Street, Southside with You, Swiss Army Man, The Wailing, Zootopia
Worthy of a Look
The 9th Life of Louis Drax, 11 Minutes, The Accountant, Beyond the Gates, The BFG, The Blackcoat’s Daughter, Blair Witch, Blood Father, Born to be Blue, Carnage Park, Complete Unknown, Deepwater Horizon, Demolition, Doctor Strange, Don’t Breathe, Don’t Think Twice, Eddie the Eagle, Emelie, Evolution, Eye in the Sky, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Florence Foster Jenkins, Ghostbusters, Hacksaw Ridge, Hello, My Name is Doris, High-Rise, In a Valley of Violence, Intervention, Ip Man 3, Kill Zone 2, Kung Fu Panda 3, The Land, The Last King, Lights Out, Miles Ahead, Miss SloaneMoana, Morris from America, My Golden Days, The Neon Demon, Ouija: Origin of Evil, The Pack, Road Games, The Shallows, Shelley, Sing, Star Trek Beyond, Storks, Sully, Toni Erdmann, X-Men: Apocalypse
– Portions of this feature reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle