We have arrived at top 10, my favorite films from 2016. After seeing 176 of them in all from last year, these are the ones that have stuck with me and will stick with me the most, the ones that I either already have or will certainly buy and add to my collection so I can revisit them numerous times.
Despite how much I love the film, I am not nearly as surprised that Silence was ignored by the Academy as others are. That isn't to say it didn't deserve recognition, holy shit it did in numerous categories, but it's a challenging, long, painful story to witness unfold and I tend to lean towards believing the average Oscar voter shying away from such movies. I have read too many of those anonymous award voter stories where the person admits to not even watching films like Silence to be an optimist and believe this Scorsese epic got a fair shake. It's a beautiful, horrifying, incredibly made picture though, and down the road it will get the recognition it deserves.
Based on the short story titled "Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang, the Denis Villeneuve directed Arrival is a stunning film lead by a lead performance from Amy Adams that is, remarkably, not nominated for an Oscar. Without her Arrival just doesn't work the way it does, a science fiction story with deep, emotional themes and messages spilling out over the edges, a movie with a focus on language and communication that makes you think and earn the profound payoff rather than spoon feed it to audiences.
I knew the performance would be there. I walked into Jackie expecting something special from Natalie Portman in the lead role as Jackie Kennedy, but what I didn't know and was pleasantly surprised to find out was just how fantastic the entire film would be. Filmed beautiful and yet painfully through a claustrophobic lens by director Pablo Larraín and cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine and scored with a haunting brilliance by composer Mica Levi, Jackie is 90 plus minutes of searing images and a pitch perfect example of not just acting, but flat out embodying a character.
7. Green Room
Way back in April of last year, I learned that a theater near me would be screening Green Room on its release day and I got to thinking: how can I leave work early to see it as soon as possible? A little lie to leave early and next thing I know I am sitting in a cinema ready to enjoy Jeremy Saulnier's follow up effort after the amazing Blue Ruin. I had high expectations but I still had no idea that I would be witnessing such a brutal, gloriously realized genre film that would end up in my top 10 of the year. A cold, sharp as a blade thriller that packs a huge punch, Green Room also feels more appropriate months after its release than it did that day. I mean after all, it includes a live performance of the song "Nazi Punks Fuck Off" by the Dead Kennedys.
6. The Neon Demon
You either love the work of Nicolas Winding Refn or you don't. Considering Drive is one of my favorite films ever made and I feel alone on an island fighting the good fight for his film Only God Forgives, it should come as no surprise that I fall on the "love" side of the coin, and The Neon Demon is another stylish, sexy winner from the Danish filmmaker. A take down of the modeling industry and the way it pulls young women in offering a glamorous lifestyle only to churn them up and spit them out soon after, The Neon Demon isn't for everyone and many will be turned off by its violence and just how strange things get as it goes, but lord this film is for me.
5. Manchester by the Sea
It's not enough to simply say that Manchester by the Sea is an emotional movie, it needs to be said that the reason it is extraordinary is how it earns that emotional response so naturally and honestly without even the slightest hint of manipulation. It's a devastating piece of cinema because it feels so real, with an incredible Oscar worthy performance from Casey Affleck and outstanding supporting work from everyone including Michelle Williams and newcomer Lucas Hedges. Out on Blu-ray and DVD tomorrow and premiering on Amazon Prime soon, make sure to check out Manchester by the Sea so you can understand why it is getting the awards attention and recognition it deserves.
4. The Witch
Speaking of awards attention and recognition that is deserved, The Witch received none from the Academy but I am not the least bit surprised. I mean, it's a low budget horror film that was released last February, which isn't exactly the type of thing that will keep buzz going for a year until the Oscars. Even I am totally shocked that such a movie released at that time of the year would land as my number 4 of the year, but The Witch never left me all year long. Hell, I even revisited it twice at home and my appreciation only grew. It is EXACTLY what I am looking for from the genre, with director Robert Eggers knowing how to build tension and terror that absolutely cuts through you without turning it into a gore fest merely for shock factor. Great ensemble performances from the whole family but it's the lead work from Anya Taylor-Joy that floored me, and it has been refreshing to see her in other solid films since as well.
A masterpiece that not nearly enough people have seen based on box office numbers, Moonlight is a beautiful, heartbreaking, inspiring journey, a three-act story about a boy who becomes a man but is unable to find himself completely as he struggles with his homosexuality living in a world that won't accept it. Director Barry Jenkins has said that he didn't truly know the extent of what he had created until they were finished filming and were in the editing room, and I believe it because nothing about Moonlight feels like predetermined Oscar bait hoping to be admired. It dawns on you how astonishing and nuanced and gorgeous the whole experience is as you are watching and the sum of all the parts put together equals a perfect whole. Also, give Mahershala Ali the Oscar for Supporting Actor, a performance that makes up a small amount of screen time but much like his impact on Chiron, everything after his character last fills the screen doesn't meld quite as harmoniously without what he delivered during that first, powerful act.
2. O.J.: Made in America
Initially when I said this, it felt like hyperbole, but it has been like 8 months since I watched O.J.: Made in America and nothing has changed, so I feel quite confident in saying it again: this is the greatest documentary I have ever seen. Nothing has ever been so deeply comprehensive, informative and fascinating as the long look at not only the life of O.J. Simpson but also the world that surrounded him and set him up to easily get away with murder. Directed by Ezra Edelman, this originally aired as a 5 night television special from ESPN studios, but once it became quite clear that they had something so masterful on their hands they decided to air it in theaters in order to qualify for the Oscars. While I may not advise taking this on as one 7.5 hour film, as I watched it over two nights because let's face it, finding that much time with a family and a full time job is damn near impossible, I do advise you watch this beauty in whatever time frame you feel comfortable. This is going to win the Oscar for Best Documentary and it should. It's incredible.
1. La La Land
There was never any doubt that La La Land would end up at the top of my list after my first viewing. Then I went back with my wife and daughter and saw it two more times after that. It's just magical theater and the one movie from the year that hit me with that "it" factor when something romantic clicks in my mind and I fall in love with everything about what I had just seen. The music, the style, the direction, the screenplay, the moves, the production design, the performances. Just the pure, perfectly realized vision of director Damien Chazelle who created a modern musical that is both nostalgic and yet completely new, starting with an opening scene that is one for the ages, a long take song and dance sequence that occurs on a jam packed Los Angeles freeway that is so expertly choreographed and executed that after three viewings I am still in awe. The chemistry between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone is superb, both beautiful people who fit into this story sublimely. I cannot get enough of La La Land.