Tomorrow, I'm going to publish a list of 2016 movies that I liked a lot even though they're not really the best of the year. That list was more fun to write. Truth is, I don't love doing top tens, particularly when the goal is pinpointing objective "bests", because those will likely be picked from the same fifteen or so films on everyone else's list and also because I hate leaving out movies that are pretty much just as good, films like Everybody Wants Some!!, Morris from America, The Invitation, Sing Street, etc.
But that's what we're supposed to do. I console myself with the knowledge that I do have some curveballs in here, tomorrow I get to do the "fun" list and also none of this really matters in the grand scheme of things.
Goodbye, 2016. You were not a great year, but you produced a lot of great movies!
10. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
Hahaha, tired of that photo yet?
I tend to automatically distrust sad-sack white people Oscar bait movies, but this one honestly made me rethink that stance. Kenneth Lonergan’s detailed and sincere examination of family and grief looks almost like parody from the outset, yet had me as soon as its surprisingly long running time began and stayed in my mind long after it ended.
9. THE MERMAID
The Mermaid’s botched North American release made it difficult to find. Meanwhile, it soared overseas to become China’s biggest box office success ever.
Anyone who actually sees this won’t be puzzled why so many adore it. Stephen Chow’s latest is both an angry screed against how we treat the environment, and yet another of his a stunningly orchestrated live-action cartoons. Chow’s impressive juggling of tones gets a bigger workout here than ever before. You’ll laugh your ass off at an octopus man cutting off his own tentacles (it's funnier than that sounds), and you’ll probably cry at the surprisingly merciless murders in the last act. The overall story is one you’ve seen before, but this particular telling is worth ten Avatars.
8. KILL ZONE 2
Without a doubt, the best action film of 2016. That alone would probably get it on this list, but Kill Zone 2 rises above its own action bona fides by also sporting an incredible cast and script. You’ll despise the villains and care about the heroes far more than typically achieved in films like this. And, of course, you will also get some of the best-shot and most inventive fight choreography since the last Raid movie.
7. KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS
My favorite superhero movie of the year. Putting aside Kubo’s obvious technical achievement and beauty, the film provides a superhero fable filled all the action, suspense and simple badass moments you could want. That it nails all this via stop motion animation is jaw-dropping. This isn’t just a film for kids.
6. THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE
There’s a reason why we’ve praised this film so much on the site. The Autopsy of Jane Doe is a wonderfully original, captivating and very human horror film (though I almost prefer to think of it as a mystery) that everyone should see. It’s not about shocks and gore, while it certainly has those things. Instead Troll Hunter director André Øvredal treats us to an immediately interesting conundrum in a novel setting, featuring character types unique to the genre.
5. HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE
How is it possible to dislike this movie? From the wonderful comedy beats, to the rebellious “fuck you” plot to the delightfully grumpy Sam Neill performance, this is a perfect entertainment machine. Show it to everyone you know and see if I’m wrong.
4. SWISS ARMY MAN
I saw this late, with all the hype in the world at its back, and still found myself blown away. Daniels’ (still not sure about how to treat this name, grammatically) debut is the kind of thing all mid-indies - lower budget movies with recognizable actors - should aspire toward. Swiss Army Man is endlessly inventive and fun and isn’t afraid to go very very far out on its own limb, while also remaining emotionally engaged throughout. And best of all, it never turns its back on the magic it creates, which keeps it from becoming a twee exercise. It envisions a world where we all proudly rip loud farts in public and really means it.
3. THE NICE GUYS
This seems like the movie Shane Black has been leading up to his whole career. Heck, it seems like a peak showing for pretty much everyone involved. I highly doubt Russell Crowe will ever be better, and I’ll take bumbling, drunken fool Gosling over charming jazz fan Gosling any day of the week. The Nice Guys hits hard with a dirty mind and a big heart, and I love every last bit of it.
2. GREEN ROOM
I don’t know if Green Room counts as a horror film, but it’s the scariest thing I’ve seen in a long, long time. It’s been on my mind since I first saw it in 2015, so I don’t think this is some flash in the pan opinion.
Jeremy Saulnier really makes you feel for these kids, and he delivers on the threat in heartbreaking ways. But as high as the tension gets, the release of it when the kids starting fighting back is all the more satisfying and cool, a weird word to use for a film this disturbing.
I love Moonlight dearly. I love the cast. I love the way its three primary actors create performances that work well separately but build something bigger when put together. I love the way it displays adversity without falling into misery. I love that it is ultimately an uplifting film, asking nothing more from us than to observe a human story without hitting us over the head with normal dramatic tropes. I love how beautiful it looks and how magnetic and entertaining it feels. I love how energized about movies in general I felt after watching it. It’s the year’s best film, hands down.