2016 was a horrible year for countless reasons, but one of the few positives was going to the movies. Rotten Tomatoes reports a record number of Certified Fresh movies released in 2016, and Disney’s $7 billion global take at the box office set a new industry record.
So needless to say, there were a lot of great titles in the running for my 10 best this year.
It was hard, but here they are — the films that confirmed why I love going to the movies so much (plus a couple that I felt needed to be mentioned).
This haunting look at Jacqueline Kennedy in the aftermath of the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy, is a beautifully constructed retelling of the end of Camelot and the realization that the First Lady is far from the timid person she was portrayed as by the press. Natalie Portman delivers one of the best performances of her career, playing Jackie with a precision that lifts the movie to another level.
9. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”
The first standalone “Star Wars” movie was hyped to have a more mature “Dirty Dozen”-like feel and it was just that. “Rogue One” has an originality that gives you a sense of finality when you get to the end. There’s still a lot of reminders that you are inside the confines of the “Star Wars” universe, whether it be characters that show up or locations where scenes take place, but the high stakes of the movie brings an excitement that can be lost at times when watching the main franchise films”
Told over three chapters in the life of a young man living in Miami, Barry Jenkins’ beautifully touching portrait of the complexities of life is a movie you have to experience if you are a film lover. The direction, acting, camera work, and score are all at a high level, while the storytelling is some of the most powerful you’ll see all year.
7. “Manchester by the Sea”
Not to be left out, the latest movie by director Kenneth Lonergan is no slouch in the storytelling department either. An intimate telling of a man (Casey Affleck) forced to take on his demons after the death of his brother makes him the guardian of his 16-year-old nephew, the movie addresses heartache and the difficulty of self-forgiveness. Affleck’s quiet, brooding performance is a career best.
The best science-fiction stories are those that use the real world as their foundation, and “Arrival” does this so beautifully that by the end of the movie you’re completely overcome by what it reveals to you. Starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner as two scientists who are brought on to decipher why alien spacecrafts have suddenly landed on Earth, the science and thrills are certainly there, but it’s Adams’ character’s journey that really is what you take away from it.
5. “Hell or High Water”
It’s the best-written movie I saw this year. Taylor Sheridan’s screenplay is a treasure that provides its director David Mackenzie and actors Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, and Ben Foster the tools they need to pull of an almost impossible task: make a bank heist movie feel like something you’ve never seen before.
Martin Scorsese has spent close to 30 years trying to make this movie about two Jesuit priests who attempt to propagate Christianity in 17th century Japan, and it was worth the wait. “Silence” is a movie that is unlike anything Scorsese has ever made. With an intimacy similar to the foreign films he looks up to so much, the movie is powered by the performance of Andrew Garfield, who continues to show his diverse acting abilities.
3. “American Honey”
After traveling around America’s heartland, English director Andrea Arnold was inspired to make this highly improvised story about a group of outcast teens who travel the mid-West selling magazines during the day and partying at night. Newcomer Sasha Lane plays the newest addition to the team, who falls for one of the guys (Shia LaBeouf). The movie completely sucks you in with its handheld camera work and raw performances.
2. “La La Land”
It’s by far the movie that I smiled the most at while watching this year. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have incredible chemistry as two struggling artists who fall in love and then are torn apart by their individual ambitions. Told as a musical, director Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash”) delivers a beautiful tapestry of a Los Angeles that’s only in our dreams.
1. “O.J.: Made in America”
Though there is debate on whether this seven-and-a-half hour documentary is a movie or a TV show, from the numerous times I’ve experienced it this year (the first time in one sitting), I’ve only seen it as a movie. Director Ezra Edelman uses one of America’s greatest fallen pop culture icons to examine race, politics, domestic violence, class, and the justice system in a way few filmmakers have. Though it is broken up into five parts, it never feels serialized, instead one powerful story. In fact, the only way to tell this story correctly was how Edelman and ESPN did it.