It’s that time of year again. After a crazy and brutal 2016, we are finally at the end, and as we look back at this divisive, somewhat horrible year, we can still salvage something from it. Below is our list of the best films of 2016, which we have decided to cap off after December 25, allowing for one last blockbuster (Assassin’s Creed) and a few critics darlings (La La Land) to be considered.
As with any “Best of” list, this is taken from all of the films we’ve seen in 2016. The list is also subjective to the critic, as I can guarantee that I enjoyed films that others didn’t, and vice-versa. If you don’t like our choices, feel free to comment on what we got wrong, what got left out, and maybe even your favorite movies of 2016.
Barry Jenkins’ film, which follows an African-American character from boyhood to manhood growing up in Florida, is compelling and emotionally powerful. Amazing performances from the leads, and award-worthy showings from Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris as two very different guiding forces in the boy’s life separate this from all of the other films on this list. Moonlight won the best film award from the Phoenix Critics Circle, among other critics’ groups, and it is worthy of the praise.
9. Neon Demon
Neon Demon was a very divisive film from Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive), but taken as a whole, the film takes a very dark turn in the third act and changes the perception of not only the first two acts, but of Hollywood and celebrity itself. Some great imagery and solid performances turn what could have easily been a throw away, almost 1980’s excess porn-like film into something that begs to be watched. I am still haunted by it, and that is why it sits on this list.
8. Kubo and the Two Strings
The only animated film on the list — and there were two others that were worthy — Kubo set itself apart by taking chances. It’s gorgeous to look at and has a story that is timeless, involving a powerful boy with a destiny, and the forces surrounding him — both good and bad — that want to use his power for very different reasons. Kubo is a film packed with emotion and the wizards at Laika have delivered their best film yet.
7. La La Land
Another critics darling (it won best picture from the Phoenix Film Critics Society), and it’s warranted. La La Land is a throwback film to a different time in Hollywood, where green screens and explosion are replaced by wonderfully choreographed song and dance numbers by two very good actors (Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling), and the story itself has some echoes — both good and bad — of the price that has to be paid for fame and to reach your dreams. They just don’t make films like this anymore, and I’m glad that Damien Chapelle (Whiplash) did in 2016.
6. Nocturnal Animals
This is another film that has stayed with me ever since I watched it. Fashion designer Tom Ford has created a form of visual art that feels so much like a classic DePalma film that at times, I lost myself in what was happening in the story. Jake Gyllenhaal shines here in double duty, and Amy Adams delivers a solid performance. This is a film to seek out and watch, if not for the disturbing opening credits scene, then the gut punching ending. High art indeed.
Natalie Portman absolutely becomes Jackie Kennedy in a tale of the days before, during, and after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. A jarring score and some incredible direction elevates Jackie from what should have been a boring, sappy biopic into a Hitchcock-like piece of art that draws out a different kind of emotion — and its not just sadness. Of all the films on this list, this is one that I both want to watch again, and never want to watch again. The former because of the performances and production, that latter because it is so brutal toward the human spirit. See this movie.
4. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
This could have easily been number one if not for a weak, distracting score. The story is solid and is arguably the best Star Wars film to date, but the music is all over the place and never really resonates. The iconic scenes and characters from the Star Wars canon, and the amount of Star Wars history at work here make this a fantastic film that transcends the weak score for a place at No. 4 on our list.
3. Hell or High Water
Writer Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) delivers another powerful story, this one about two brothers (Ben Foster and Chris Pine) who rob banks in West Texas, and the two lawmen (Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham) who pursue them. There is some amazing social commentary here, and the whole production feels like a classic John Ford western. I cannot say enough good things about this film, and if you haven’t see it, change that right now. You can thank me later.
Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Prisoners) proves that he is no longer a director on the rise — he has arrived. Beautifully shot and acted, and for a story about aliens making first contact with humans, the story is more about language and how we all interact with each other. Amy Adams carries the film, and Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker serve as support as Villeneuve takes the audience on a journey through time and space, and the human experience, without ever really leaving Montana. An amazing film from start to finish.
1. Sing Street
I just cannot say enough about this film. John Carney’s semi-autobiographical film about a young boy (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) who tries to woo a girl (Lucy Boynton) by starting a band in 1980’s Dublin is the most heartfelt film of 2016. It’s funny, uplifting, and sometimes sad, but at its core, it’s also about the relationship between brothers — both blood and friendship, and how love can truly make the world go ’round. Sing Street conjured up so much emotion in me that after my screening of the film, I downloaded the soundtrack as I walked to my car, and when I got home, I bought a guitar and taught myself how to play. This film actually changed my life, and that is why it firmly sits at number one as the best film of 2016.
There you have it. These are the 10 best films of 2016. Did your favorite make the list? Did we miss one or two? Feel free to leave a comment below, and stay tuned for our Best Games of 2016 list. The year 2016 has been a tough one in so many ways, and a great many people are glad that it is finally over. We here at TheHDRoom wish you and yours and happy and safe New Year, and let’s all hope that next year will be better than the last.