I’ll make this annual preamble short: This is a 2016 Best Movies list in early 2017 because Midwestern critics don’t get to see the year’s most acclaimed films until early the next year. That’s okay, because nothing shocking has ever happened because the opinions of people outside of major population centers were underrepresented, has it, Nate Silver?
The torrent of memes haranguing 2016 was mass therapy. If you, like me, were one of the countless who considered the year the temporal equivalent of a shart, here’s a neat thing: you only have to keep what you want. If bad things made you stronger or better, take them with you. Leave the other shit. Combine what you keep with the love and hope I know you felt, however fleetingly and sparingly. It’s like “leave the gun, take the cannoli,” only without the nostalgic glorification of organized crime. Every year can be useful, even 2016. Here’s what I’m taking.
The Worst 5 Movies of 2016
5.) Jason Bourne – Power Walking With Matt Damon, as I like to call this, is a yawntastic retread of the worst parts of every previous Bourne movie. But no Jeremy Renner, so it’s not higher on this list.
4.) Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Harry Potter’s Uninspired Footnotes, as I like to call this, is filled with more implicit racism than magic. It’s as if prequels to super-mega-franchises with scripts penned by the original creator are bad. Yousa think so? Meessa think so.
3.) Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – I like to call this Batman v Superman: Dan of Justice. It started as a typo, but then I thought about how I’d have rather watched a movie about a guy named Dan looking for any kind of justice than this grimdark fartfest that prominently featured a jar of pee.
2.) The Girl on the Train –Gaslighting Be Cray-Cray, as I like to call this, leverages a horrifying and too-common practice for a nonsensical thriller. And the “mystery” has all the intrigue of seeing whether a stain comes out in a Tide commercial.
1.) Passengers – If you’re okay with Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence ending up together after what he does to her, you need to look deeply into what that says about how you value women. But I’m a Nice Guy…in Space, as I like to call this, is also as boring as it is inherently gross.
Before I dive into the top 10, a few notes. I wasn’t able to see Jackie, Manchester by the Sea, Handmaiden, Fences, Toni Erdmann, Elle, or Silence. I hate me for that too. Also, O.J.: Made in America is going to blow my mind as soon as I find the 467 minutes needed to watch it. This year’s honorable mentions include The Lobster, Hidden Figures, Sausage Party, Weiner, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Swiss Army Man, Under the Shadow and Arrival. Those last two hurt a butt-ton to cut.
The Top 10 Films of 2016
10.) Captain America: Civil War –If we get to put one movie in the time capsule to define this genre’s time of cultural domination, this may well be the film to include. It is a triumph of gaudy spectacle with emotion that is earned by sheer virtue of familiarity with well-cast actors in iconic roles. Oh, and Iron Man hits on Spider-man’s Aunt May. Ballgame.
9.) The Nice Guys – I’m not saying I’m a sucker for writer/director Shane Black, but I’d give him one of my kids. I’d have to conceive a child just to give it to him, but I’d do it if he promised to make more whip-smart, film noir, pulpy, action comedies like this. Bonus points for Black finally making all the years Russell Crowe has spent (allegedly) being an asshole in real-life worth it in informing this role.
8.) Hunt for the Wilderpeople – Taika Waititi has quickly gone from “promising writer/director” to “I’ll watch anything he does, even pet urine removal infomercials.” Wilderpeople could have been a cloying coming-of-age crapfest, but Waititi has mastered soft sincerity and impeccable comic timing. Now he’s doing the next Thor movie. That means this is the first time anyone whose name doesn’t rhyme with Priss Smellsworse is truly excited about a Thor movie.
7.) Hell or High Water – A dry, dusty bit of muted tragedy, this Midwestern neo-Western will be remembered as “one of the last times Jeff Bridges tried.” Chris Pine and Ben Foster are goddamn brilliant as brothers who exemplify the unbridled anger felt by millions of average Americans in the wake of the financial crises of the Bush era. Vital, heartbreaking and probably too low on this list.
6.) Hail, Caesar! – “Lesser” Coen Brothers movies always wind up being major hits with me. Everything that everyone projected onto La La Land in order to love it is actually present in this farce. Treating cinema as religion, featuring a classic dance number and a dialogue exchange between Voldemort and young Han Solo that was the funniest scene of the year, I’m willing to die on this hill.
5.) I Am the Pretty Thing Who Lives in the House – Sure to be on no other top 10 lists, writer/director Oz Perkins’s quiet, graceful ghost story stunned my ass. It’s not for everyone, but Ruth Wilson is sweetly creepy-weird and the cinematography makes it feel like an arthouse horror flick, which is a rare beasty. Expect something great and powerful from Perkins. His first name is Oz. I’m sorry.
4.) Pete’s Dragon – Writer/director David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints was a lyrical Southern gut punch to the love box. Pete’s Dragon, like Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are, is a magical childhood simulator. Somehow embodying the limitless exuberance and impossible fear that comes when a kid realizes they’re “growing up,” this is what quality all-ages filmmaking looks like. Note the distinct lack of pigs singing Lady Gaga.
3.) 13th – This should be shown to every student, to every politician, to every parent, to every… You know what, let’s just download it into the cortex of every American. Writer/director Ava DuVernay’s jaw-dropping documentary examines the evil that taints one of our constitutional amendments. If the election taught us anything, it’s that every one of us could use further education about the roots of racial intolerance, the ongoing harms of systemic oppression and the unholy problem of our prison population. It’s as must see as a documentary can be.
2.) Certain Women – Writer/director Kelly Reichardt always slightly missed me. Until she hit me like a sledgehammer dropped from a skyscraper. I haven’t stopped thinking about Certain Women. The nuanced, vital commentary provided in this slice-of-life cinematic short story collection is unparalleled. The conflicts range from mundane to profound, but all resonate with a singular purpose. In a disgraceful year that saw women direct less top box office hits than any year since the 1980s, I am thankful for Reichardt’s voice.
1.) Moonlight – I tried so hard to justify not putting this at the top of my list like every other critic has. But it’d be a lie. Moonlight was easily and effortlessly the best film I saw this year. It made me remember why seeing movies and talking about them can be a legitimately life-changing and country-changing experience. We are going to need a hell of a lot of reflection and empathy to survive the cultural slap in the face on its way. In a year blasted for having none, I will most remember Moonlight for its bounty of hope and love.