In 2016 I saw 83 movies in theaters, 65 of which were new releases. It was a pretty great year for film. I went to the TCM Film Festival where I was lucky enough to see some classics I had never seen on the big screen. I also crammed in nine movies in the last two weeks of the year. I’m trying to be a little more official with my end of the year highlights, so here are my favorite new releases from the last year.
First, some honorable mentions:
Like I said, it was a great year. I saw a lot of things that I enjoyed, and it was hard to narrow down the list to just ten. Each of these stuck with me afterwards and had some element that really stood out. What separates the top ten from the honorable mentions is that they not only stuck with me, they surprised me in some way. These are my top ten favorite new releases from 2016.
10. Swiss Army Man
This was undoubtedly the most original film I saw all year. It is bizarre and moving in surprising ways, and I’m still not entirely sure I liked it that much. I thought Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe were outstanding. I was amazed that I found myself so emotionally attached to a corpse and the crazy guy carrying him around. I definitely wouldn’t recommend it to everyone but if you’re looking for something unique, you can’t get much better than this film.
9. Hacksaw Ridge
Mel Gibson has made his return to Hollywood loud and clear with this film. I have always been a fan of his style, and I’m a sucker for heroic war stories. I’m also a sucker for Andrew Garfield. I’ve been enamored of him since The Social Network in 2010, and I was excited to see him grow further as an actor in this role. There is so much to appreciate in this film, from the acting and directing to the true story on which it is based. The real story is incredible, and Gibson has done a brilliant job bringing it to the screen.
8. Captain America: Civil War
Captain America: Civil War is proof that the Captain America films have been the best in the Marvel universe at producing quality sequels. I’m an avid fan of the original, and firmly believe that the Captain is the best of the Avengers. I was blown away by Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Civil War was my most anticipated film of 2016. I was very nervous right before its release. I was so happy that it kept up with the tone and quality of the previous film. I was also impressed with how it juggled all of the different character storylines in a way that felt fair to each. I believe that a large part of the success of the Captain America films comes down to perfect casting, especially of the title character. Chris Evans has done great justice to the character and his fellow castmates have followed by stepping up to his level.
7. Manchester by the Sea
It would be hard to say that I really enjoyed this film. It is heartbreaking and hard to watch but it is also incredibly well done. It feels like a very real look into a harsh situation where real, normal people, are just trying to stay afloat as they deal with impossibly tough issues. Everyone is excellent but Casey Affleck shines as an average Joe barely getting by after a plague of personal tragedies. He deserves the Oscar, and I only hope the Academy doesn’t make the same mistake it did with Jake Gyllenhaal in 2014’s Nightcrawler.
6. Eddie the Eagle
Who doesn’t love an underdog sports story? Eddie the Eagle is the uplifting true retelling of Britain’s Olympic ski jumper Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards. This film is just pure happiness. It’s nonstop joy from start to finish. Hugh Jackman and Taron Egerton have great chemistry. Jackman has charisma and oozes charm in every scene he is in. Egerton has great comedic chops but is also surprisingly moving as the very earnest Eddie Edwards, who no one takes very seriously. I watched this again recently, and had such a blast that I want to recommend it to everyone.
This was a science fiction film that ended up being a communication lesson. I don’t think there was any way I wouldn’t end up loving it. I don’t watch enough Sci-Fi considering it is one of my favorite genres. I especially don’t watch enough non-Horror Sci-Fi, which is what this film is. It poses the question of how do we even begin thinking of how to communicate with an entirely new species? Then it answers the question in a variety of ways because there are many ways to communicate. I’m still thinking about this film, and I’m still thinking about what it all means, and how it all ties together. I can’t end this review without mentioning Amy Adams, who carries the film with her performance. Another Oscar contender who deserves the acknowledgement.
4. 10 Cloverfield Lane
Speaking of Sci-Fi Horror films, 10 Cloverfield Lane comes in at my number four spot. Another film carried by performances, in this case the three leads, John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and John Gallagher Jr. I don’t want to say much because I believe people should go into this film not knowing too much. What I will say is this a tense, slow burn that keeps you guessing from start to finish.
3. Hell or High Water
A modern western with yet more outstanding performances from all the leads. Everyone will praise Jeff Bridges and Ben Foster for their performances in this film, as they should because both actors are great but I was personally most impressed by Chris Pine. This film gave him the chance to stretch his acting chops in a subtle, yet effective way. He plays the quieter of two brothers, opposite Foster’s louder more reckless one, set against the law after a series of robberies. This is a thrilling story that pits the downtrodden against the righteous in a tense play for the finish line.
2. La La Land
A musical set in Los Angeles about the entertainment industry, from the writer/director of Whiplash, Damien Chazelle. I think the entertainment gods made this just for me. Okay, maybe not but man, I loved this film. It came very close to being my number one. I love musicals. I love Los Angeles, and films about it. La La Land combined all of those things in a beautiful, sweet homage to the City of Angels, and to the movie musical. The songs are wonderful, the story is endearing, and the leads are beyond charming. Everyone who considers themselves an Angeleno should see this, and everyone who loves movies should also see it.
1. The Nice Guys
I kept going back and forth between my number one and two, and both, perhaps not coincidentally, star Ryan Gosling. They also have the same setting, although several decades apart. I firmly believe that I had a past life that took place in the 1970s in Los Angeles. I love films from the 70s, and I, of course, love Los Angeles. I also love buddy cop films, and private detective characters. The Nice Guys is a Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) creation that combines all those things I love with hilarious antics from the talents of Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. I am so bummed this didn’t do better at the box office because I would love to see these two actors go at it again in these roles. If you have two hours to spare, this is a good, funny, original film that deserves some love.
2016 was a great year at the movies. Here’s hoping 2017 continues the streak.