Tom Peeler's Top 16 Films of 2016!
Ok, that's out of the way! Now that the worst artistic/political/ethical/personal year I've seen in my life is over, let's look at the 16 films worthy of being preserved and shared with future generations! Why 16? Because the year in film got REALLY GOOD right at the tail end, and all of these are must-see future classics in one way or another!
HERE WE GO!
The Undisputed Champ:
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
World building is a really cool part of the filmmaking and film-viewing experience, as some of the best films are ones that communicate a convincing universe that pulls you in with an urge to discover and learn more about the characters and their environment. Manchester by the Sea takes us into what is arguably one of the strongest, most sincerely believable communities I've ever seen portrayed on film. This, combined with its cast of blue-collar regular folks, dealing with the devastating tragedies that interrupt the mundane routines of their small town lives, reveals Manchester by the Sea as one of the most well-written scripts I've seen played out on film in years.
Casey Affleck (his personal griminess aside) delivers a career-defining performance as Lee, a man who all-of-a-sudden finds himself as the reluctant guardian of both his nephew Patrick (Lucas Bridges) and of his family legacy, a task Lee struggles with as he tries to bury his painful past. Lee's bond with Patrick plays out through some foul mouthed banter that is as endearing as it is hilarious, leading them both on a journey through the aforementioned sea-side community and its denizens that culminates in a brutally realistic take on how we overcome grief. There's no movie-magic sugar coating the frankness of this film's finale, which bravely states that fixing one's life is a slow, difficult process, but every step is meaningful, no matter how small.
Directed with well deployed intent and patience, performed with skillful sincerity from Affleck all the way down to an amusing Matthew Broderick cameo, and shot with a loving eye for its characters and its setting, Manchester by the Sea is excellent storytelling, and stands as my favorite film of 2016.
THE CREAM OF THE CROP:
The ballsiest film of the year, without question. A merciless skewering of both ends of the romantic relationship spectrum, calling out the absurdities and the selfish darkness that exists at the heart of both committing fully to another human and going it alone, delivered with deadpan, dark humor that isn't afraid of who it alienates as it looks to define love by its own rules. Fiendishly inventive and filled with one of the year's best ensembles including 2016's Best Supporting Actress Rachel Weisz, The Lobster clamps hard and doesn't let go.
One of the most confident, impressive debut films in recent memory, Robert Eggers period horror film The VVitch unnerves with one of the simplest and most haunting questions one could ask: "What if everything I've ever believed in, from my family to my way of life, was wrong?" 2016's Best Actress Anya-Taylor Joy leads us through an unsettling look into how mistrust can destroy even a tightly bound family when pitted against raw emotion and crises of faith, culminating in a reveal that turns all of the film's tragedy on its head, birthing something darker and even more upsetting. Choose The VVitch and live deliciously with one of the best horror films of the decade.
An intricately designed puzzle of a thriller, a romance for the ages, a deeply alluring erotic passion play, AND a captivating long-con crime picture? The Handmaiden is so many amazing things stacked on top of one another and delivered via gorgeous cinematography, incredible sets, and memorable performances. The director of Oldboy astounds by showing that he can honestly do ANYTHING he sets his mind to, and do it masterfully. An iconic work that will be talked about for ages on Letterboxd and Mr. Skin message board alike.
OJ: MADE IN AMERICA
While Ryan Murphy made waves on FX with the first ever season of TV he produced that actually had a great ending (I'm still not over what he did to Nip/Tuck), ESPN's 30 for 30 took the OJ ball and ran into across 7+ hours and 40+ years of history, chronicling American athletics, race relations, and celebrity culture that paints a startling portrait of how far we've come, and how much progress we still have to make as a young country. Angry, revelatory, disturbing, and eye-opening all at once. Who would've thought you could mine this much depth from the Juice?
LA LA LAND
Damien Chazelle's love letter to old-Hollywood musicals, and the city/culture that birthed such entertainment, is a well meaning joy; so well assembled in spite of everything that shouldn't work, that taking it all in will leave you mesmerized. Above all, what sells it for me is the film's unflinching depiction of what one must sacrifice in pursuit of their dreams, and how some of the deepest connections we make in our lives aren't always the connections that are meant to last. Heartfelt and filled with unshakable ear-worms, La La Land is easily the least offensive Oscar front-runner in years, and that's pretty cool.
10 CLOVERFIELD LANE
John Goodman is an under-appreciated national treasure, and within 10 Cloverfield Lane, the Best Supporting Actor of 2016 is on fire as the terrifying enigma Howard, stalking Mary Elizabeth Winstead's Michelle at every turn in a thriller that leaves you wondering if Goodman's quiet malice is the REAL threat. An intense, claustrophobic game played out through director Dan Trachtenberg's skillful eye, 10 Cloverfield Lane leaves you with an exhilarated sense of what one can accomplish, and with hope for the future of anthologized Hollywood filmmaking.
KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS
Storytelling is human kind's must incredible invention, and no film in 2016 celebrated the power of storytelling and what it can mean to people on an individual or cultural level like Kubo and the Two Strings. Laika' stop-motion animation has never been more awe-inspiring, as fantastical spins are put on ancient Japanese folk-tale tropes and artistic styles, creating an animated adventure that thrills as equally as any live-action blockbuster. Kubo and the Two Strings, the Best Animated Film of 2016, is a story worth being told, and thank god it's told as beautifully as it is!
SWISS ARMY MAN
Growing up and not ending up a shitty person is a tricky endeavor, and for some, the road to adulthood is a metaphorical minefield. When we truly let go of the id that powered our childhood personalities, are we better for it? Swiss Army Man examines the existential journey to being a decent person through the lens of Paul Dano's Hank and 2016's Best Actor Daniel Radcliffe as Manny: the magical farting corpse who stands in as a lover, brother, child, and a loyal friend. Together, these two ponder the quandaries of maturity while directing duo DANIELS lead audiences through a visually delightful, often touching, odyssey of discovery that also includes the best use of the Jurassic Park theme outside of the Jurassic Park movies.
Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Travente Rhodes destroy all expectations as they chronicle the life of Chiron, a young man whose evolving identities are played out against his devastating and life-affirming journey from a lonely child to a conflicted man. Surrounded by adults who wrestle with their own attempts to make sense of their life in a crime-ridden, drug fueled world; director Barry Jenkins takes us through some of the most intimate and embarrassing moments of Chiron's life with incredibly used cinematography and expertly paced editing, before bringing our protagonist to a defining moment that is as emotionally powerful as anything that's ever been filmed. A character study for the ages, Moonlight is wonderfully unique filmmaking.
THE NICE GUYS
Shane Black's witty, booze and porno-filled joyride back to the 70's is an absolute blast. Headlined by the best human buddy-cop dynamic of the year and wrapped within a groovy detective yarn, The Nice Guys is the best movie of the year that won't get a sequel, because barely anyone saw it. People suck.
STAR TREK BEYOND
It took three movies, but the Abrams-birthed crew of the USS Enterprise have finally had a defining big-screen adventure that sets them apart from other Trek generations. The ensemble dominates this fun, action-packed blockbuster and reminds us what real chemistry between actors can bring to a production, while also reminding us how much of a loss 2016 dealt in the death of Anton Yelchin. A wealth of great action set-pieces culminates in the Most Satisfying Scene of 2016, a music-cue callback that guarantees fist pumps from all but the biggest of grouches.
An incredibly lovable crowd-pleaser improved by featuring the Best Original Song of 2016 in "Drive It Like You Stole It." Sing Street is a true delight, part coming-of-age high school drama, part ode to music and its power to unite us, all coming together to tickle your heartstrings and your eardrums.
Great sci-fi films act a well-timed commentaries on the state of world when they were produced, and Arrival stood as an well-reasoned plea for patience, cooperation, and communication in 2016. On the outset of an apparent alien invasion, Amy Adams delivers career-best work as a linguist on the verge of achieving knowledge that could change the world, only to be challenged at every turn by forces both distrustful and fearful of these visitors to our world. Incredible cinematography and a stirring score round out a film that is sure to be a topic of discussion for years to come.
THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN
Once in a generation, we get a high school movie that feels like a legitimately believable, non-pandering portrait of the teenage experience. The 80's gave us Three O'Clock High, the 90's gave us Clueless, the 00's gave us Mean Girls AND Superbad, and now, the 2010's has its classic. The Edge of Seventeen is a funny, sincere tale of friendship, young love, and a surprisingly effective portrait of overcoming depression. Highlighted by Haley Steinfeld, proving herself to be one of the best young talents working today, the always charming Woody Harrelson, and Hayden Szeto in the Breakthrough Performance of 2016, The Edge of Seventeen is a smile-producing wonder.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
The unquestionable winner of the best superhero movie of 2016 (given the, uh, "competition"), Captain America: Civil War is also, surprisingly, the best Avengers movie ever made. Paying off 8 YEARS of character development and world building, Marvel has given us the superhero face-off worthy of arguing which team you're on (Team Cap all the way!). Underneath the spectacle, and the best incarnation of Spider-Man yet put to film, there's also an incredible portrait of the way normal people would be affected by this universe of gods and monsters wrecking havoc on their daily lives. Smart, fun, and exhilarating, Marvel raises the bar for comic-book storytelling, once again, with Captain America: Civil War.