The Academy Awards Ceremony is only a few days away, which means it’s time for my annual top ten movies! The first list has my favorite movies that came out this year and the second my favorite movies I saw this year that aren’t from 2016. In the past, I’ve done my favorites for all time, but that gets old—let me know if you like those better, though.
These aren’t my Oscar picks and, instead, represent a blending of my appraisal of each movie’s objective worth and my personal interest in it. There were three movies nominated for Best Picture which I didn’t see, so there are at least three movies that some people thought were the best movies of the year that didn’t even make my list. If you haven’t seen any of these, I strongly recommend you do so.
Top 10 Movies (2016)
10. Captain America: Civil War – A little darker than others—but just as funny and riveting—Civil War is another excellent installment to the MCU.
9. Moana – Though I loved Zootopia, Moana takes the award for the year’s best animated feature. While it may not manage anything novel in terms of message, the pacific islander flick is breathtakingly beautiful and provides excellent additions to the pantheon of Disney music.
8. La La Land – Though its final act/scenes make it hard to pinpoint the intentions of the filmmakers, La La Land is a fun, sweet, and inspiring flick. And while Moonlight is a strong contender for this 8th spot, the Gosling/Stone team-up takes the prize purely for the film’s imagination.
7. Love & Friendship – Love & Friendship, while not as sweet as its other Jane Austen counterparts, is the funniest and most stylish of the lot. Also, its satirical approach to romance in Gregorian society is a welcome surprise.
6. Manchester by the Sea – This movie, both in direction and writing, is everything a dramatic film should seek to be.
5. The Nice Guys – Reminiscent of 70s and 80s flicks while maintaining novelty in ways only Shane Black can, this is one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a while with two perfectly crafted characters.
4. The Witch – While not terribly scary, The Witch is especially stylistic, eerie, and even beautiful.
3. Arrival – Arrival works as a Sci-Fi flick should. It lifts its almost cliche theme to greater heights by merit of its earned and subtle writing.
2. Silence – Silence is a difficult movie to watch, not only on account of its torture scenes but also for the piercing critique of faith that it delivers. There are some semblances of hope, namely the faith of its director, but it is a movie that will stay with you and challenge you for days afterward.
1. Hell or Highwater – Hell or Highwater is a remarkably simple film with grand intent. The movie is set in expansive West Texas—a character of the film in its own right—and near the beginning the idea is presented that the dry, dusty land before us once belonged to the Comanche until the white people took it from them; then it belonged to the white people until the banks took it away from them. This idea of property and justice follows our main characters the entire length of the film as they travel all over the forsaken landscape. Hell or Highwater, through each of its four main characters, provides a human portrait, skinned down until the truth of desperation, loyalty, purpose, pride, and especially justice are all laid bare. It is another installment for Neo-Westerns and deals with the common anti-Wall Street themes in many recent movies, yet it transcends as an intimate glance at the lives of those pushed to the edge. In all, the movie is humorous, thrilling, and elegiac.
A few Honorable Mentions for this year include: The Lobster, Moonlight, Midnight Special, Hail, Caesar!, and Zootopia. Dishonorable Mentions (for movies that I thought would be good and really let me down) are Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Southside With You, and The Girl on the Train—none of those were awful, they just weren’t what they could have been.
Top 10 Movies (Not 2016)
10. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) – While on a technical level it is clearly still early in the history of filmmaking and it also dabbles in plenty of the typical Hollywood sap and patriotism, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington—in its last minutes—demonstrates that Capra’s classic can be original, challenging, and heartfelt.
9. Malcolm X (1992) – Malcolm X works best as a stage for its star and an explanation for its hero. It is not as sweeping as other biopics of its time or as piercing as other Lee efforts, but nonetheless, it is sweeping and it is piercing.
8. Stagecoach (1939) – Stagecoach is a remarkable film with clearly defined characters, an intense yet simple plot, and engaging, practical effects.
7. Big (1988) – This is an incredibly sweet and fun coming of age story that places characters and truths over gags.
6. Superman (1978) – This movie perfectly captures the character and mythos of Superman—a feat that has not been accomplished since. If it weren’t for the last act, this movie would easily stand in the top 3 superhero films to date.
5. Grapes of Wrath (1940) – Though a little more political than its source material, the universal truths depicted and the empathy this film inspires ring louder than ever in this 1940 masterpiece.
4. World’s End (2013) – The movie’s twist halfway through works really well, and the comedy from the acting/directing team is excellent as always—but overall, it is their third best from the trilogy.
3. Ex Machina (2015) – Ex Machina is a slow and eerie think piece (dealing with a range of topics including god-complexes, the meaning of life, information ethics, and feminism) that will leave you pondering the film’s meaning long after it’s over.
2. Amadeus (1984) – Fun though tragic, Amadeus is an unexpectedly acute look into the human psyche.
1. Requiem for a Dream (2000) – Requiem for a Dream holds the psychological depth expected of an Aronofsky work, but unlike other films I’ve seen of his, this one feels empathetic and hopeful. During the Summer chapter of the movie, we truly believe that the characters may have a future, but come Winter, all hope is lost in one of the most effectively sobering scenes in all of cinema. Requiem, while not the most adult movie I’ve seen, is certainly inappropriate for younger audiences—yet, that is not the reason I might hesitate to recommend it. The ending is truly unsettling and saddening, and left me in a state of introspection and loneliness.
Again, some Honorable Mentions are The Magnificent Seven (1960), Romero, Birth of a Nation, El Topo, and Repo! The Genetic Opera—purely for its audacity. The sole Dishonorable Mention is Broadway Melody (1929). I saw some great movies this year, and reviewed a lot more than are on here (you can find some of them through my reviews page). I’m already excited for what 2017 has to bring.