A Look Back At The Good, The Bad and The Genuinely Moving From 2016’s Year In Cinema.
All year long we kept hearing that 2016 was supposedly a bad year for movies. And maybe that was true — if the only things you saw in theaters over these last 12 months were from the steady stream of remakes, sequels and comic book movies.
From where we’re sitting, though, there was actually an abundance of good and, frankly, great movies.
You just had to look harder in 2016, is all. Fortunately, it’s literally our film review crew’s job to do just that.
So, just as we did last year, we’re taking some time here to share some of our individual favorites from the year, followed by our critics’ combined Top 10 list.
Check our picks out below. Then go out and see these movies! — Kip Mooney
Movies We Liked But Most People Didn’t.
Free State of Jones. This Civil War drama got middling reviews this summer, but I dug the grittiness of this untold true story about a Southern town that established itself as separate from the Confederacy. Matthew McConaughey is his usual great self as the leader of this resistance that counted white and black as equal and understood that racial division was just another way for the rich to keep us fighting while they kept counting their money. — KM
Assassin’s Creed. Video game movies have historically not been very good. For some reason, they don’t seem to translate well across mediums to the big screen. But Assassin’s Creed not only was entertaining, it was also one of the best video game movies ever made. Now, that’s not a high bar to reach, but director Justin Kurzel, and actors Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender, created an insanely action-packed and entertaining film. The characters are a bit weak and the plot makes no sense, but truthfully, most video game plots don’t make much sense. The action sequences are beautiful and such fun. It won’t win any awards or make any top 10 lists, but it’s a solid action film with a kickass cast. — Angela Jones
Gods of Egypt. The problem with the “woke” way of modern film criticism is that if a movie doesn’t match Film Twitter’s ever-moving progressive standards, then it must not be good. To that end, this movie was hated from the get-go for not casting a lot of Egyptian or minority cast members as its titular gods. But those that actually managed to see it were treated to a bonkers and insane take on Egyptian mythology with the gods being seven-foot-tall giants that turn into animal Transformers. Oh, and the god Ra pulls the sun in a giant spaceship while battling a giant monster every day. It’s a singular vision of camp and mythology that will be appreciated in decades to come, much in the way director Alex Proyas’ other works has been. — Javier Fuentes
Movies We Didn’t Like But Others Did.
Louder Than Bombs. I wanted to like this drama about three men — a husband and two sons — grappling with the sudden death of their mother. But its disjointed narrative and constant shifts in perspective kept me at arm’s length. Its lack of resolution may be true to life, but it didn’t work for me at all. — KM
High-Rise. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t get all the hype behind High-Rise. Then again, I wasn’t too keen on director Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England, either. He makes gorgeous films, sure. But it sometimes feels like he makes his films weird for the sake of being weird. High-Rise follows Tom Hiddleston, an occupant of a high-rise tower, as the various floors begin to break down and its people begin to riot. It’s a metaphor for society because the rich live at the top with all the perks, and the lower class lives towards the bottom with flickering electricity and poorer living conditions. I promise, I get the metaphor. But High-Rise mostly felt like one of those high school books that everyone hates — except for the teacher, who loved all the symbolism and thematic elements. Just not a fan. — AJ
La La Land. I know that everyone is super into this movie, but while I enjoyed it well enough, I just don’t see it as the masterpiece everyone claims it is. It lives and dies by its charms. The performances and the music are great, but not memorable in the way musicals like Singin’ in the Rain are. Also, there’s so many script issues in the last half of the movie, and just not enough musical numbers to make it an all-timer. — JF
Best Aspect of a Bad Movie.
Every technical aspect of The Neon Demon. Like 2013’s Only God Forgives, The Neon Demon is flawless on a technical level. The cinematography, the choreography, the music, the sound design, the editing — it’s all perfect. Unfortunately, the acting is atrocious and the story is only paper-thin. Elle Fanning comes to L.A. to break into the modeling world and stumbles upon some nonsense about cannibalism and necrophilia. Keanu Reeves gives what might be the worst performance of his career. This is a perfect background movie for a party, but nothing you should actually pay any attention to. — KM
Emily Blunt in The Girl on the Train. The Girl on the Train was a decent thriller of a book. So, that obviously means it should be made into a movie, right? Well, not if the tone of the film was as all over the place as it was here. It felt like everyone was in a Lifetime drama-of-the-week. Not Emily Blunt, though. She felt real. She portrays Rachel, a recovering (sort of) alcoholic who can’t get over her divorce from her husband and who fantasizes about people she sees from her train ride every day. Rachel gets pulled into a murder investigation and has difficulty remembering, well, almost anything. Blunt’s performances completely saves this movie from being mediocre. Her performance is intense but she understands the subtleties of this addiction. It’s an Oscar-worthy performance that will get overlooked because the movie is very forgettable. — AJ
Junkie XL and Hans Zimmer’s score for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Look, we all know that despite their attempts, the DC movies have been failed in both narrative and thematic cohesion in pretty much every way that the Marvel movies have succeeded. But what this film lacked in logic, it made up for it in its music. If something can be said about the Marvel movies, it’s that they have one of the most generic and unassuming scores of any a franchise. In BvS, though, there are plenty of cues that are instantly memorable, Wonder Woman’s theme and Lex Luthor’s theme chief among them. In a year where I was beyond sad to see my childhood icons so botched, the music eased the pain a bit. — JF
Scenes of the Year.
“Another Day of Sun” from La La Land. Some of the songs in La La Land might be more memorable (“City of Stars”) or emotionally impactful (“Audition”), but nothing quite tops the opening number of Damien Chazelle’s musical. With jaw-dropping choreography and camerawork, as well as clever use of primary colors, it makes a traffic jam seem like a world of possibility and not a major inconvenience. It hooked me right away. — KM
The “Would that it were so simple” scene from Hail, Caesar! In theater, there’s something called the Meisner technique, which is rooted in repetition. The idea is you and another person repeat the same lines over and over and over again to practice different emphasis. Yeah, it sounds a bit boring if you’re an audience member, but in Hail, Caesar!, Ralph Fiennes is trying to teach country boy Alden Ehrenreich to enunciate the phrase, “Would that it were so simple” for a scene. Ehrenreich is having difficulties with the diction and his emphasis on the words, which becomes very frustrating to Fiennes. This scene builds and builds in frustration as Ehrenreich cannot grasp the nuance of the line, and it’s brilliant. It would be easy to think listening to the same line over and over again would get boring, but this was the funniest scene in the film. It’s dialogue at its finest. — AJ
When Godzilla uses his atomic breath in Shin Godzilla. This whole film is a masterpiece in the canon of Godzilla movies. But if there’s one scene that stood with me throughout the year, it was the first time the Final Form Godzilla uses his atomic breath. While in the past it was relegated to a goofy attack to use on his enemies, director Hideaki Anno understood its destructive power. As the monster stomps through downtown Tokyo, the U.S. military deploys stealth bombers to hit the giant lizard. But once the bombs land, Godzilla starts to breathe hot yellow fire, which slowly turns into purple atomic breath. At the screening I attended, the audience clapped like rabid fan boys when this happened. Then they quickly grew quiet once they saw the severity of the destruction. Most of Tokyo was gone and in flames. In the world of the movie, nothing would ever be the same. Good times. — JF
Performance of the Year.
Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes in Moonlight. This tri-fold story about a young black boy growing up in the projects outside of Miami is the most powerful film of the year and each actor completely captures the how to of playing a kid who’s constantly unsure of himself, putting on fronts to impress people, and occassionally flashing moments of pure freedom. Alex Hibbert plays him as fatherless, bullied kid. Ashton Sanders plays him as a timid teen. And local Dallas actor Trevante Rhodes plays him as an adult, who mimics the body language of the gang members he grew up with, while hiding the emotionally vulnerable boy inside. — KM
Amy Adams in Arrival. More than just one of the smartest movies of the year, Arrival also boasts a powerhouse Amy Adams performance that seems almost guaranteed to get her some awards. It’s tough carrying a science fiction film, especially when it’s a smarter science fiction film that doesn’t rely on big setpieces to be memorable. But Adams handles that task masterfully, portraying an almost “every-woman” in this film. She’s smart, driven, insecure and tasked with one of the most important jobs in the world — literally. She also manages to feel both real and raw. It’s a true standout effort for 2016. — AJ
Rebecca Hall in Christine. This underappreciated drama has one of the best performances of the year thanks to Rebecca Hall. Playing the titular Christine, she perfectly portrays the many facets of depression in a way no other performance has in years. The insecurity, the anxiety and the pain in the everyday just pours out of Hall as she imbues a sad humanity into a character that was previously a tragic headline. Casey Affleck may be getting all of the acclaim for Manchester by the Sea, but make no mistake, this is the most devastating performance of the year. — JF
O.J.: Made in America. Ezra Edelman’s eight-hour documentary on O.J. Simpson is one of the greatest achievements of the year. It’s a sprawling documentary that touches on everything that made the trial so fascinating and infuriating, focusing on racial tensions in Los Angeles, our addiction to celebrities and that lingering question: Did the ends justify the means? It’s incredible, but is it a movie? We couldn’t decide. Angela said yes, absolutely, as it did premiere at Sundance, and is likely to be nominated for an Oscar. Javier said no, that it was definitely TV, as almost everyone who saw it watched it on ESPN and it appears to have never even played in a Dallas theater. Kip was completely torn, despite being in awe of it. So we just thought we’d mention it here, even if we ultimately excluded it from our top 10 lists.
Our Combined Favorite Films of 2016.
As we did last year, we each made a top 10, assigning 10 points for our top choice, nine for our second choice, and so on, all the way down. Our individual choices were as idiosyncratic as ever (which led to a lot of ties), but we had a bit more overlap than we did last year, with two films — Sing Street and Arrival — appearing on each of our lists. The former is the joyous celebration of rock ‘n’ roll and young love from the director of Once. The latter is sci-fi film with a brain that might actually be the most important movie of the year.
Read on for the rest of the list. — KM
10 (tie). Jackie and The Lobster (6 points).
9 (tie). Everybody Wants Some, Swiss Army Man and Weiner (7 points).
8. Shin Godzilla (8 points).
6 (tie). La La Land and The Witch (9 points).
3 (tie). Captain America: Civil War, Moonlight and Tickled (10 points).
2. Arrival (20 points).
1. Sing Street (23 points).