The Top 50 Films of 2016

50.) Hidden Figures – Every year, I’m stunned by the number of true-story biopics released of which I had no previous knowledge. Hidden Figures is one such case. Astronaut John Glenn was the messenger sent into orbit while back at NASA some groundbreaking women were crusading for Civil Rights and equal opportunity/access regardless of creed or color. The movie might be a little too PG for its own good – although it does become a vehicle for kids to be inspired by as well – but I still hope this film makes its way into classrooms nationwide. This is an important part of world history with a fine layer of social activism serving as the pulse, brought to life by three strong actresses.

Where to watch: Available to rent

49.) Life, Animated – I wouldn’t say that Life, Animated is a great documentary as much as I would assure everyone that it serves as a certifiable piece of testimony to the power of cinema. Here, an autistic boy becomes a man through and with the help of the entire Disney catalog. He knows every line of every movie, learning to communicate again by way of such characters as Peter Pan, Mowgli, Sebastian, and the list goes on. Life, Animated has a flawed beauty all its own, and in that regard reflects the image of the soul.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

48.) The Wailing – At 150 minutes long, South Korea’s The Wailing is a hysterical and overtly religious film about the angelic nature of blind belief and the devilish outlook provided by doubt. Part mystery, horror, comedy, and a zombie affair to boot. Movies like this one require great skill to suspend our sense of reality and to temporarily dwell in its conjured realm of the mystical. Sure, it’s a minor entry into the storytelling sphere compared to HBO’s first season of True Detective or Bong Joon-Ho’s incredible Memories of Murderbut this movie still manages to make you think while forcing you to appreciate its artistry. It’s worth the time it demands.

Where to watch: Netflix

47.) Kate Plays Christine / Christine – I admit that putting these two movies together is a bit of cop out, but even independently from one another, they’d have taken up the same spot on this list. Kate Plays Christine is an experimental and pseudo-documentary about the life as an actress trying to become Christine Chubbuck, the first person to commit suicide on a live TV broadcast. In Christine though, we get a more straightforward drama that’s amplified by the searing performance from Rebecca Hall. Lop them both together and you get a profound experience where one side investigates depression and the other totally inhabits it.

Where to watch: Kate Plays Christine is available to rent / Christine is on Netflix

46.) The Love Witch – What a bizarre, colorful, predatory seductress of a film. With its singularly retrofitted landscape, The Love Witch is an overwhelming experience because it’s ridiculously skillful in every aspect and impossible to venerate at the same time. Some movies want to bring you in for a hug and others want to maintain their distance. The Love Witch – a dark romantic comedy enamored by the pitfalls and horrors of romance – firmly resides in the latter and glides by due to the visionary storytelling from Anna Biller and the hypnotizing performance from Samantha Robinson. Try to resist its spell…I dare you. Love and beauty can kill.

Where to watch: Available to rent

45.) Sing Street – Chock-full of nostalgia and 80’s pop-culture insights, Sing Street’s heart beats at the rate of an Irish stepping dance. It might seem cheeky at times, and that ending is about as phony as it gets, but the movie is one totally focused on the concept of identity. Here, and in the rest of John Carney’s naturalistic musicals (I still much prefer Once and Begin Again), music is the drug of choice that alters behavior, dress, haircuts, gate, and even confidence. I imagine that most people will enjoy this endearing film. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to have the year’s ultimate sock hopping song in “Drive it Like You Stole It” either.

Where to watch: Netflix

44.) Other People – Featuring a heartfelt, revealing performance from Molly Shannon that should have been a major player around Oscar season (for what it’s worth, she did win Best Supporting Female at the Independent Spirit Awards), Other People is one of those rare films that’s able to make you laugh through all of the tears. And while a second viewing didn’t quite hold up as well as the first – only the greats ever do – I can’t forget how that initial screening made me feel as I cackled and cried my way through an honest picture with a sold-out crowd. The pain is eased with stowed away memories, the assurance that life goes on, and that things get better.

Where to watch: Netflix

43.) Queen of Katwe – There’s a lot more skill that goes into Mira Nair’s film capturing a Katwe chess prodigy than you’d likely assume. Her direction is assured, the set design retrained, the photography true to the source. This is a die-hard and thoroughly feel good film not because it dares us to sympathize, but because it welcomes us in with open arms. The standard Disney shlock has been elevated by a true filmmaker with the vision and the perception to make a commercial movie with an overwhelming amount of heart and soul. Queen of Katwe is a winning crowd-pleaser.

Where to watch: Netflix

42.) Always Shine – Like The Talented Mr. Ripley with a darker and more conniving psychological twist, Always Shine is an unlovable story as well as an admirably made movie. Its timing and mysterious reveals by director Sophia Takal are dramatic, the complexity of the script dangerously compelling, and the competitive performances from Mackenzie Davis and Caitlin FitzGerald more sophisticated versions of the leads in Single White Female. The abuse of men’s power and the succumbing nature of jealousy’s twisted logic come to a head, and Always Shine blinds us with such a revealing light that we wake in a stir, unsure how we allowed ourselves to either be so obliviously hoodwinked.

Where to watch: Available to rent

41.) The Fits – This first outing from Anna Rose Holmer – and introducing the great young actress Royalty Hightower – feels like it’s a film about worldviews which are either inherently bound by routine, structured with freestyle, or even a mix of the two. I’d argue that its light and reluctant plotting makes it seem infinitely longer than its short length, but there’s also so much thought put in behind the scenes that the picture is enriched by the sheer amount of effort from everyone involved. Ask me if I loved The Fits and I’ll readily say no, but then I’ll likely raise a finger and contemplate my answer every single time. It’s a rich signal of greatness to come.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

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