|Moonlight. Image courtesy of A24.|
2016's best films were movies about making a connection - or healing wounded relationships. Some of the year's top films were about finding beauty in the small details or living a life with passion that involves trying new things. A few of my favorite films were overtly political, while others more subversively so.
Two of the films in my top 10 had song and dance in their hearts, while others observed the grieving process, faith, race and sexuality, economic matters and parent-child bonds. Since it's always difficult to narrow down the year's best films to 10 selections, I've included 10 runners up that involve subjects as diverse as the U.S. prison system, a landmark Supreme Court case, fascism, a sci-fi thriller and period pieces.
In fact, there were so many movies that I liked this year that I'd feel remiss not to give a shout-out to the following films that didn't quite make my top 20: Tom Ford's very dark revenge thriller "Nocturnal Animals," Nate Parker's incendiary "The Birth of a Nation," Arnaud Desplechin's relationship dirge "My Golden Days," Pedro Almodovar's return to form "Julieta," James Schamus's excellent Philip Roth adaptation "Indignation," Joachim Trier's powerful family drama "Louder Than Bombs," Lorene Scafaria's lovely "The Meddler," Karyn Kusama's extremely creepy "The Invitation," Jacques Audiard's 2015 Palm d'Or winner "Dheepan," Yorgos Lanthimos's inventive "The Lobster," Noah Baumbach's fascinating documentary "De Palma," Tom Tykwer's adaptation of "A Hologram for the King," Gareth Edwards's fun non-trilogy prequel "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" and Peter Atencio's hilarious "Keanu."
Also, I'm not including Ezra Edelman's highly acclaimed, eight-hour documentary "O.J.: Made In America" because it is technically a TV movie and, naturally, there are a number of films that I either missed (and will catch up with on Netflix in 2017) or have yet to review. These include: Denzel Washington's "Fences" (reviewing on Dec. 31), Asghar Farhadi's "The Salesman," Ben Affleck's "Live By Night," Stephen Gaghan's "Gold," Anna Biller's "The Love Witch," Gan Bi's "Kaili Blues," Mia Hansen-Love's "Things to Come," Ken Loach's "I, Daniel Blake," Pablo Larrain's "Neruda," John Lee Hancock's "The Founder," J.A. Bayona's "A Monster Calls," Theodore Melfi's "Hidden Figures," Kirsten Johnson's "Cameraperson" and Chan-wook Park's "The Handmaiden."
So, without further ado, here's my list of the year's best films, starting with my 10 runners up (numbers 20-11). I'd love to hear from you. Tell me in the comment section which films were your favorites from the past year.
Ten Runners Up
|Sunset Song. Image courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.|
19. Embrace of the Serpent (Ciro Guerra) - This mesmerizing film feels like a long lost Werner Herzog movie. The picture, shot in gorgeous black and white and set at two undisclosed times in the first half of the 20th century, follows the story of a botanist who befriends an Amazonian shaman during the former's search for a mythical plant with healing powers. Hypnotic and entrancing, the film was one of last year's Best Foreign Film nominees at the Oscars. Reviewed here.
18. Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie) - Mackenzie followed his intense prison drama "Starred Up" with this engrossing film, part western crime drama and part economic blight examination, which ended up becoming last summer's sleeper. The film is gritty and timely and featured a performance by Jeff Bridges that serves as a reminder why he's considered a national treasure. Reviewed here.
17. Midnight Special (Jeff Nichols) - Jeff Nichols had a very good year - with two movies in my top 20 - and "Midnight Special" proved that he could deftly combine genre elements with his tales of people living on the fringe in the Midwest. The film is a stylish and spellbinding thriller about a young boy with supernatural powers whose overprotective father (Michael Shannon, always great) is on the lam from the law. The picture was significantly more impressive than any of the summer's mostly lame genre films. Reviewed here.
16. Loving (Jeff Nichols) - And Jeff Nichols again. Released just one week before the presidential election, Nichols's portrayal of Richard and Mildred Loving, the interracial couple at the heart of a landmark Supreme Court case, is a powerful film about two people who changed our nation by daring to love, although the film is more intimate in nature than an overview of the case itself. And Ruth Negga gives a star-making performance as Mildred. Reviewed here.
15. 20th Century Women (Mike Mills) - With this warm, witty and insightful follow-up to "Beginners," Mills has made an even better film about a parent's relationship with her child, although the young man at the center of this funny and good natured, 1970s-set period piece is equally influenced by two other strong women in his orbit. The film is about good, but flawed, people with room to improve and the desire to do so. Reviewed here.
14. Jackie (Pablo Larrain) - Less a hagiography and more a realization of the maxim "when it comes to printing the truth or the legend, print the legend," Larrain's extraordinary film - anchored by a dynamite Natalie Portman performance - about Jackie Kennedy argues persuasively that it's often easier to understand the myth surrounding an individual, rather than the actual person. Reviewed here.
13. Mountains May Depart (Jia ZhangKe) - One of modern Chinese history's finest chroniclers, ZhangKe's ambitious and moving new film takes place during three different time periods - 1999, 2014 and 2025 - and follows the life of a woman, her two suitors and her family from Fenyang to Australia. Thematically, the picture concerns itself with the impact of market-driven prosperity on ZhangKe's homeland but, at its heart, the film explores the changing nature of relationships over a period of years. And it features one of the year's most moving endings.
12. 13th (Ava DuVernay) - By far the year's best documentary, DuVernay's urgent examination of the U.S. prison system and how it underscores the nation's history of racial inequality dropped just a month before one of the most divisive elections - one tainted by racist overtones - in American history. The picture will likely leave you in despair and righteously angry and could act as a wake-up call for those ready to take action against injustice.
11. Sunset Song (Terence Davies) - Old fashioned in style, but intimate and epic, Davies's gorgeous new film told the devastating tale of a young woman's education in the school of hard knocks at the dawn of World War I. Visually dazzling and featuring a powerful lead performance by Agyness Deyn, "Sunset Song" is a somber, deeply moving experience. Reviewed here.
|Image courtesy of A24.|
|Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.|
|Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures.|
|Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures.|
|Image courtesy of Amazon Studios.|
|Image courtesy of Lionsgate.|
|Image courtesy of The Weinstein Company.|
|Image courtesy of Roadside Attractions.|
|Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.|
|Image courtesy of A24.|