The Top 50 Films of 2016

10.) Everybody Wants Some!! – On the surface this spiritual sequel looks to be a jocular, indecent movie about boys unwilling and unready to become men, and then it takes a turn into a more mature landscape as it contemplates purpose and reason. Richard Linklater – who in my opinion is right up there with the likes of Billy Wilder and Joseph Mankiewicz in terms of cinema’s all-time great conversationalists – revisits his Dazed and Confused territory while also enriching it with more hilarity and heart. Saying that Everybody Wants Some!! is better than that cult classic might sound like blasphemy to some, but I’d shout it from the mountaintops.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

9.) Kubo and the Two Strings – As beautifully labored as this latest stop motion masterwork from Laika studios is, what floored me most about the film was its heart, the passion behind its folklore storytelling, and the soul searching eye that propels this journey forward. Kubo and the Two Strings is a tremendous feature because it offers up hope through catharsis, and it delivers proof to the scientific fact that the interconnected human web lives on in the hearts and through the memories of those we touch. This adventure goes where most animated films are too childish to ever explore, which is totally and entirely inward.

Where to watch: Netflix

8.) Nocturnal Animals – As I stated in my review of the film, Nocturnal Animals is one of the greatest and most visceral visualizations of the experience that comes from being absorbed by a good book. In the same way that outside stimuli are capable of affecting a dream, a book or a film or a song can temporarily transport us somewhere other than the present whilst changing the way we engage in the moment. In the case of Tom Ford’s latest picture, it’s an absolutely brutal world to reckon with, a stark and blood-pumping imaginary tale that brilliantly juxtaposes itself against a cold and lifeless reality. Nocturnal Animals is not an easy film to stomach or to swallow, which explains why I still feel it floating around inside my gut. Simply put…the movie sticks with you.

Where to watch: Available to rent

7.) Silence – The latest from Martin Scorcese – a passion project that’s been in the works for decades – deserves all of the contemplation that it inspires. I don’t think I saw another film in 2016 that was willing to be about as many things as this one, and the miracle this faith testing film refines only further illustrates all of the little pieces it absolutely nails to be about something bigger, broader, more vulnerable, and so distinctly human. Silence isn’t a film that requires hefty plot twists to engage the viewer; it’s so demanding, so distinct, and so patient that we reflect on its motives long after the credits roll. Only great films are capable of such a feat.

Where to watch: Available to rent

6.) American Honey – For roughly 2 hours and 45 minutes, American Honey bucks the trends of conventional American cinema, bordering along the lines of cinéma vérité. Some might find it to be unlovable and unknowable, but as it trails a traveling minivan full of impoverished youth, American Honey documents the less than appealing side of the great suburban conquest to become better, acknowledging the solitude that so often comes from seeking identity amidst chaos. American Honey is a wild mare, riding in the wind, unbridled and recklessly free. Its picture-perfect ending is as influenced by The Lord of the Flies as it is by the vitality of young people in dire need of taking a deep breath to harness their own overflowing energy, and it speaks to a generation of vagrants. This is the sort of film that you can blindly dance along to with ears shut and eyes closed. However, it’s even more powerful when you just shut up and submit to its movements, or better yet, dissolve into them completely. Andrea Arnold’s picture portrays the island of misfit toys in the most purely cinematic way possible.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

5.) Hell or High Water – In a dead, arid West Texas, two brothers look to achieve what has to be considered an innate human condition: to establish and leave behind a legacy. Whether it’s pristine or tarnished doesn’t matter. But because they are downtrodden, disadvantaged men who can’t catch a break, living in a segment of the country left behind to fester, their hands are forced to rob bank after bank. Hell or High Water essentially is a lighter version of Cain and Abel – brilliantly performed by Chris Pine and Ben Foster – set against the backdrop of financial oppression faced by rural America. It’s a harsh, darkly funny twist on the Neo-Western, and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan once again delivers a masterclass in dialogue. When Foster’s character reaches for another drink early in the day, his brother giving a judgmental side-eye, he walks away saying, “who the hell gets drunk off of beer?” That right there is my favorite line of the year.

Where to watch: Available to rent

4.) 20th Century Women – When it comes to writing our own life journeys, we often forget the influence of the co-authors we sometimes willingly and other times begrudgingly allow to take us in different directions. In a confused 1979 Santa Barbara – drifting from free-spirited bohemian attitudes to an anarchist punk music scene – 20th Century Women introduces us to individuals by way of their neighbors. At first these clearly defined, entirely believable people are described by another character in the film, and only later on do they each take complete control of their narrative. This is a fascinating film about makeshift family, personal isolation, the disconnect that exists even between those we keep the closest, and how a story is infinitely richer when the lived moments are experienced together.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

3.) Arrival – When Amy Adams  – one of the great actresses of her generation – was approached by director Denis Villeneuve to star in this adaptation of Tim Chiang’s brilliant short story Story of Your Life, she was instantly hooked by the master filmmaker’s description of the picture. “There will be aliens, and there will be all this world stuff, but at the end it’s a Mother telling a story to her daughter.” How could a parent turn that down? Arrival adventures past the limits of humanity to encompass life itself, all while depicting the great political divide tearing apart our nation and the relations we’ve built with our neighbors. The root cause of the problem? A lack of communication, of understanding, and an ability to empathize with those who look different but are knowingly the same. Arrival is one of the most moving films I’ve ever seen because its universal message of love can be understood by all, and I can only hope that time will allow us to use its influence as a stepping-stone towards progress.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

2.) Moonlight – Rarely, if ever, does the best film of the year end up winning the Academy Award for Best Motion Picture. In that regard, Moonlight is a minor miracle and a glowing dash of hope for the appreciation of true cinema. So why doesn’t this triptych tale of a homosexual minority and open-eyed man feeling his way through life not sit at the top of my list? Well, you’ll just have to scroll down to find out. But just know that Moonlight rightfully deserved every single one of its golden statuettes and when judged by history, will have earned its designation as the most important film in recent memory. Only the best movies afford us the opportunity to empathize with those dissimilar from ourselves or to see a version of our soul up on-screen. With Moonlight, Director Barry Jenkins does both with great control and rhyme and reason, and in the process shaped an intimate monument of modern cinema. When film historians look back on the year 2016 in film, Moonlight will be at the top of the totem. It’s place there is more than just worthy; it’s vital.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

1.) La La Land – If you’ve spoken to me in person or followed me on social media over the past year, you likely know one thing for certain: I unapologetically adore La La Land. But I doubt you really know my reasoning. So here’s my why.

I met her on a Thursday. October 13th, to be exact. Opening night of the 2016 Chicago International Film Festival. She’s a smart, funny, kind woman. Every bit as stubborn as she is stunning. It now pains me to revisit La La Land  a joyous testament to the magic of musicals, cinema’s place in history, and to the dreamers among us – because its sweeping story so accurately recreates our ill-fated evening together. We simply met at the wrong time. And although we’ve spoken yet haven’t crossed paths since that night, every time I watch this film or listen to its soundtrack she comes rushing back to mind. I hope that she reads this, and that we meet again, someday, ideally at the right time. But if not, we’ll always have our own little La La Land. I’ve never fallen for a film faster or harder than I did for this masterpiece. I suspect she had something – if not everything – to do with that.

Where to watch: Available to rent

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