in Top Ten

How to describe this last year in movies… It was good? It’s always good, it’s never hard coming up with 10 movies that I liked a lot. This year I even had one sort-of movie in O.J.: Made in America in contention, given that it weirdly straddles the line between miniseries and documentary. I guess I’d just like to say that I didn’t like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and that the title Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice remains a bad title. Why would you call a movie Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice? Because you’re making a bad movie.

Honorable Mentions
Don’t Think Twice
Hail, Caesar!
The Lobster
Midnight Special
O.J.: Made in America

10. Arrival

We get a neat space movie every year, but how often are they going to be real, hard sci-fi films like Arrival? The movie has an emotional core, but is most simply the story of smart people problem solving, which is great. The practical difficulties of figuring out how to communicate with an alien species have rarely been depicted at the cinema (I can think of only a few examples, like Close Encounters and Contact) and they provide wonderful food for thought. Also, I’m glad Amy Adams got to have a solid end to the year after suffering through Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

9. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

I have high hopes for Thor: Ragnarok, partly because I liked both Thor movies, and partly because I don’t think Taika Waititi would waste his own time. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is the story of a little boy and an old man on the run from the law in the wilderness of New Zealand, but it’s a comedy. The way the film continues to escalate its stakes is impressive, leading to an insanely over-the-top finale that feels earned. But mostly I liked it because it made me laugh.

8. Hell or High Water

Don’t mess with Texas, you guys. That documentary Tower reminded me that people in the Lonestar State don’t screw around, and small town Texas flavor is part of what made Hell or High Water so great. New Captain Kirk and the wizard from Warcraft taking on Sheriff True Grit and Hank’s partner from Breaking Bad might not sound like the smartest thriller in years, but that’s because I’m purposefully phrasing this stupidly. One of many very, very pretty movies to come out of 2016.

7. Everybody Wants Some!!

This is a movie about baseball bros trying to have a good time over the last weekend of summer. As The Nice Guys is to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, so is Everybody Wants Some!! to Dazed and Confused; meaning this is a writer-director returning to something he’s good at, giving it a different setting, and making it work as something new. A very pleasant surprise after the trailer made this movie look kinda dumb.

6. Captain America: Civil War

I cannot stress enough that the comic version of the Civil War storyline is dumb. Some of the best stuff Captain America: Civil War did was turn Tony Stark’s actions in Iron Man 3 and Age of Ultron into very reasonable cause for him butting heads with Steve Rogers, the man who is Captain of America. Furthermore, this was a great debut for both Black Panther and Spider-Man, and also it’s weird that Spider-Man: Homecoming is just a few months away but Black Panther hasn’t started shooting yet. Yay, Marvel!

5. La La Land

Movies celebrate two senses, sight and sound, and few did that better in 2016 than La La Land. As excited as everyone is about the all the singing and dancing, what I remember being most striking are the visuals: the use of color and silhouetting and beautiful people that made this such a treat for the eyes. And it’s not like I didn’t like the music, I mean, I’m even a fan of the John Legend song that I think I was supposed to hate? I don’t know, the writing of the movie wasn’t perfect, which kept it a little lower on my list than I thought it would be, but like The Artist before it, this is a modern-day throwback that totally deserves the ridiculous praise it’s been receiving. And hopefully unlike The Artist, people might actually remember this one in a few years.

4. Manchester by the Sea

Manchester by the Sea is a portrait of unbelievable grief and tragedy told simply and straightforwardly by characters who can never actually simply or straightforwardly talk about what they’re feeling. Scenes of levity – awkward dates or odd days at work – are presented with the same style as scenes of tremendous sadness, driving home the idea that despite this drama, life goes on. No matter what happens, the clock keeps ticking. A single night, a single mistake, could change everything forever, and there’s nothing any of us can do about it. “Life’s a bitch, then you die.” Manchester by the Sea is a powerful movie deserving of your time, if you’re strong enough to carry it.

3. Moonlight

There were plenty of reminders this last year that it’s hard to be different. Your body, personality, interests, economic status, family situation, race, gender, sexuality, and every other aspect of your identity can be used against you by others without empathy or understanding. It’s a sad reality, and one each of us needs to find the strength to overcome, as is the case of Chiron, the focus of Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight. This is a movie frequently called out for its tenderness, and deservedly so, it’s a sensitive, moving film.

2. Sing Street

There were two great, nostalgic musicals in 2016, but I don’t share either of those movies’ loves. Unlike La La Land, I think Hollywood, especially old Hollywood, is gross, and as far as the Eighties, which are Sing Street‘s setting, if you go back and look at something like my Eighties Week lists, it should be pretty clear I’m not that invested in that decade, especially its music. I do like John Carney movies, though (I even thought Begin Again was OK) and I’m glad I decided to give this one a chance, because it really struck me as quite a joyful little movie. Drive it like you stole it!

1. The Nice Guys

Boy am I sad this movie did so bad at the box office. The Nice Guys is maybe my favorite Shane Black movie, and I mean of all the movies he has written, not just directed. I’d maybe include the movies he’s acted in too. It’s a very funny detective story somewhat in the vein of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, but with a stylish late-Seventies setting and characters that get along even worse. This is the movie I keep recommending to people who didn’t see any movies last year, so if that’s you: see this. It’s nice.