The Top 50 Films of 2016

30.) The BFG – Is there anything Steven Spielberg can’t do? Sure, I might not love his entire body of work – which normally means the relationship is quite healthy – but just think back on his craft for a minute. Jaws, Schindler’s List, Indiana Jones, Minority Report. No other filmmaker in history has as diverse a resume as he. And with The BFG, Spielberg takes what felt fledgling and forgettable in The Adventures of Tintin and has told a grandiose story that is, quite inexplicably, an uplifting depiction of our capitalistic culture. In The BFG, we meet a giant who’s the runt of the litter (played by a sage Mark Rylance) who refuses to prey on those smaller than him (in this case, the supremely cast Ruby Barnhill). Instead, they coexist, go on adventures, enjoy a joke at the expense of a fart from the Queen’s posh posterior. What seems childish and routine is actually quite magical, and representative of a culture where those on the top and the bottom of the socioeconomic food chain can live together as one.

Where to watch: Netflix

29.) Lion – I’ll be the first person to tell you that Garth Davis’ movie has some gargantuan issues. Most obviously, the film’s second chapter lacks real insight and character development, settling for cursory melodrama. However, in a journey this emotional, it almost works to the movie’s benefit as it delivers a respite from an overwhelming avalanche of emotions. The beginning sucks you in through newcomer Sunny Pawar’s dynamo introduction to cinema. The middle lets its foot off the heartstrings and allows Dev Patel to control the scenery. And then the true-to-life ending wrings us completely dry of our tears. Lion is a fiercely affecting film that reminds you of the relative space we call home and the subjective importance of self-worth. In this movie, the two collide, and the outpouring of emotion is earned.

Where to watch: Netflix

28.) Don’t Think Twice – There’s a scene in Don’t Think Twice – a hilariously heartfelt and poignant picture – where a group of friends gather together to watch a new Saturday evening episode of Weekend Live. As comedians working in the underground clubs of NY, they all want to make it onto the show, but they also question whether or not this SNL stand-in is a prestigious place or a cultural phenomenon. That’s what the film gets right. It challenges the reasoning behind our pursuits, and does so through a brilliant cast that can obviously bring the laughs but also imbue a surprising sincerity. In particular, Gillian Jacobs gives one of the best performances I saw this year. She’s an amalgamation of meticulous perfection, skilled improvisation, and a talent who’s unsure of what the next step might be. Sometimes, like the title spells out, it’s best to just dive in headfirst.

Where to watch: Netflix

27.) I, Daniel Blake – The filmography of Kenneth Loach can be easy to overlook. His pictures are generally very subdued, socialist evocations of the commoner, speaking up for the individuals who tend to fall through the cracks. I, Daniel Blake is no exception. Not all that much happens in the film as we follow the titular man, fighting against an oppressive bureaucratic system that impedes and even handicaps people already residing in the shadowed corners of disadvantage. Loach is known as a populist director, and his latest depiction is as heartbreaking as it is happily content. It’s a privilege to attend this pauper’s funeral of a film.

Where to watch: Available to rent

26.) Certain Women – Kelly Reichardt’s latest has an almost intentionally anemic palette that it chooses to work with, traversing the cold Montana landscapes with three separate, sparingly intersecting storylines. This is a film about women, made for women, starring women. And I think it says just as much about relative masculinity as it does flexible femininity. We see the weak assertiveness of men, their complacently lazy lust, and their expendability altogether. Featuring truly masterful work from its leading ladies (Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart, and a heartbreaking Lily Gladstone), Certain Women is as close to a Michelin Star rated diner meal as you’re ever likely to find.

Where to watch: Available to rent

25.) The Nice Guys – Sex, drugs, disco swinging hips with rock & roll punch. The Nice Guys wraps all of these elements up into a loose crime-scene yarn and intentionally lets the roll shake-out on its own, often knotting and getting stuck before the line goes straight. And for every second I knew that I was watching another great film from Shane Black as it utilized his trademark perverse, physical, oddball humor. Just enough internal drama. A plot that leads us along with intentional red herrings and colorful characters. Ryan Gosling and Russel Crowe do a bang-up job as the muscle and the manipulator, but the break-out role goes to the resourceful young Angourie Rice. The Nice Guys captures all of the heightened aspects of its time period, and I have no doubt that 5 years from now this film will not have aged a single bit. Intelligent humor rarely goes out of fashion.

Where to watch: Available to rent

24.) I Am Not Your Negro – Part film class, part historical study, and part penned poetry, this autobiographical approach covering the late James Baldwin is an effectively told cautionary tale about the manipulated structure of race relations. Baldwin was a brilliant man and a confident persona, speaking truths with such conviction that only contrarians could consistently disagree. I Am Not Your Negro, as well as the vital source material from Baldwin’s writing, is a crucial indictment and recounting of America’s troubled history. This film tells it bluntly, and you feel each and every blow just as much as you contemplate them.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

23.) Mountains May Depart – Think about some of the best movies you’ve ever seen, or even just the ones you find most enjoyable. I’m not a betting man, but I’d gamble that you can vividly remember the beginning and the end. Great films mirror the open in the close from a different light and perspective, and that’s exactly what director Jia Zhankge captures in this picture as it’s shaped and altered by an explosively capitalist movement in China. Mountains May Depart provides insight and exudes a commanding control, all elevated by Tao Zhao’s incredible performance that spans nearly three decades. What might feel like a minor film stays with you indefinitely. Zhankge has made a deeply felt odyssey about the cause and effect of choice on the deep corners of our memory.

Where to watch: Netflix

22.) My Life as a Zucchini – Barely clocking it in at an hour total, My Life as a Zucchini somehow uses the brevity to its own advantage; we’re never bored or letdown, and for the most part, consistently seeking more. This colorful and intentionally exaggerated stop-motion gem tackles identity crisis, bullying, new love, and the all important place we call home. It’s a great film because it never panders to its audience, and it’s unforgettable because its adolescent style paired with an outright adult narrative will register with anyone who’s ever experienced what it means to be lost or to be loved. What looks simple is technically flawless.

Where to watch: Netflix

21.) Toni Erdmann – You have to believe that director Maren Ade’s main goal with the triumphant tragicomedy Toni Erdmann was to make the audience completely and utterly uncomfortable. She succeeds with flying colors, and the tactic is one that forces her two main characters – a Dad desperate to revitalize the relationship with his stressed and workaholic daughter – to completely reveal themselves to each other. At over 2 and a half hours, Toni Erdmann takes its time before quite literally exposing itself, and the final scenes are so delightfully awkward and tender and intimate.

Where to watch: Available to rent

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