I was waiting to do a Top 10 list for 2016 until I had seen more of the critically-acclaimed movies I had gotten around to yet, but seeing as we’re halfway through 2017, and I still haven’t seen Moonlight, I figured I might as well just write this now, and then look back on it with shame when my views are different 10 years from now.
Before we get into the list proper, I figured I’d rattle off some honorable mentions that almost made the cut. If you enjoyed a movie and don’t see it here in the honorable mentions, it’s either: a) on the list, b) I haven’t seen it, or c) I did see it and I’m just a horrible person for not liking it as much as you did.
- Swiss Army Man: directed by “Daniels”; starring Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe
- Zootopia: directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore; starring Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman
- Hidden Figures: directed by Ted Melfi; starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae
- 10 Cloverfield Lane: directed by Dan Trachtenberg; starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, and John Gallagher Jr.
- Other People: directed by Chris Kelly; starring Jesse Plemons and Molly Shannon
- Moana: directed by John Musker and Ron Clements; starring Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, and Jemaine Clement
I’ll keep my opinions on each movie brief. I might get around to doing individual reviews for some of them later.
10. Manchester by the Sea: directed by Kenneth Lonergan; starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, and Lucas Hedges
I didn’t love Affleck’s performance as much as the Academy, but he turned in some good work here, as did Williams (in an all-too-brief role) and relative newcomer Hedges (preivously seen in Moonrise Kingdom). Lonergan’s script does a great job of off-setting the mostly tragic events with occasional moments of levity.
Stand-out scene: Affleck’s confession scene and the immediate aftermath.
9. Doctor Strange: directed by Scott Derrickson; starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, and Tilda Swinton
Cumberbatch is clearly being groomed as the new leader of the MCU once Robert Downey Jr retires. That isn’t a bad thing necessarily. Even though his brand of snark may veer a bit too close to Stark, he’s still a charismatic lead. The MCU’s villain problem continues here as well. However, the effects work is wonderful.
Stand-out scene: The battle between Strange and Kaecilius at the New York sanctum.
8. Captain America: Civil War: directed by The Russo Brothers; starring Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Sebastian Stan, etc.
Despite being scaled down significantly from its comic book source material, the movie is still enjoyable and firmly in the upper third of the MCU. Although it is crowded, everyone gets their moment to shine, particularly the two leads, as well as Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man, and newcomer Spider-Man (I expect he’ll make an appearance in this year’s list).
Stand-out scene: The airport battle, naturally.
7. Deadpool: directed by Tim Miller; starring Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, and Ed Skrein
Ryan Reynolds proves this is the role he was born to play, and if it took low-key illegally releasing test footage to get this movie made, then so be it. Deadpool cleverly sends up many superhero movie cliches (even if it does fall victim to a few itself), and the joke’s are a mile-a-minute.
Stand-out scene: My favorite overall scene is the opening freeway battle underscored by Reynolds’ commentary. The best single gag, in my opinion, is Deadpool driving the Zamboni.
6. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: directed by Gareth Edwards; starring Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, etc.
What could’ve been seen as a cash grab made only to explain a specific plot point turned into a great film in its own right. All the action is very competently filmed, and the ensemble members are all fun to watch, even if some are a bit underdeveloped. Alan Tudyk’s K2SO instantly catapults to the top of the list when it comes to the series’ best droid characters.
Stand-out scene: I don’t know how much of a spoiler it is at this point, but just to be safe, I’ll say scroll to the bottom if you want to find it*
5. Don’t Think Twice: directed by Mike Birbiglia; starring Keegan Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs, Mike Birbiglia, Chris Gethard, Kate Micucci, and Tami Sagher
This is probably the most obscure film on the list, and it’s one that I’d recommend to anyone. Although it’s about the comedy industry, it has its fair share of dramatic moments, and the cast of primarily comedic actors rises to the occasion. Birbiglia’s script is hilarious, informative, and poignant.
Stand-out scene: This is a tough one, since each member of the main ensemble has a scene whee they in particular stand out, but for now, I’m going to go with Jacobs’ solo performance where she pretends to be trapped in the well.
4. Jungle Book: directed by Jon Favreau; starring Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Lupita Nyong’o, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, and Christopher Walken
This is a rare instance of a remake improving upon the original (in my opinion, at least). Favreau continues to prove himself as talented director in almost any genre. Sethi gives a strong performance that is made all the more impressive considering almost all of his surroundings were produced by effects and he had to act as if they were actually there. Speaking of which, the visual effects in this film were incredibly realistic and absolutely deserving of the Oscar.
Stand-out scene: Bill Murray and Christopher Walken are two of my favorite actors, but I’m gonna have to pick the “I Wanna Be Like You” scene over “Bare Necessities”.
3. Sing Street: directed by John Carney; starring Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Lucy Boynton, Jack Reynor, Maria Doyle Kennedy, and Aiden Gillen
John Carney always tells such great stories about music and how it affects people, and this is no exception. Ferdia Walsh-Peelo gives a star-making performance in the lead role. All the other actors are in great form, too, especially Jack Reynor, who successfully wipes away any bad memories of his Transformers role. The film has such a sharp, well-written script, and all of the original music will stick in your head. A perfect coming-of-age film.
Stand-out scene: Brendan’s (Jack Reynor) monologue is some of the best acting I saw all year.
2. La La Land: directed by Damien Chazelle; starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone
One of the most controversial films of the year. Although many think it’s success was undeserved, I happen to be on the pro-La La Land side of the equation. Although the story may not be the most original nor the characters the most developed, the film still earns a lot of points for its technical prowess. Damien Chazelle makes a big leap in scope here, and although I prefer Whiplash, La La Land shows he can handle a film of this size. The film is so well shot and well choreographed, and the original soundtrack by Justin Hurwitz and Pasek & Paul help make the film shine.
Stand-out scene: Either the beginning sequence or the ending sequence.
1. Arrival: directed by Denis Villeneuve; starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, and Michael Stuhlbarg
Arrival reminds us that sci-fi’s primary goal is to use a surreal, out-of-this-world story to make us think about issues affecting us in the real world. In this film, that message is all about the issues of communication and how we have to try and understand outsiders before we attack. It’s also a story about how we should band together as planet, rather than cut ourselves off from our allies during a crisis. This theme of globalization is all too important to remember in the Trump era. Amy Adams turns in one of the best performances of her career as Dr. Louise Banks, and it’s a shame she got snubbed by the Academy. At least the film was recognized for several other aspects, such as Denis Villeneuve’s outstanding direction, as well as the editing, which both help make the non-linear story flow well. It is (I’ll try not to sound pretentious) one of the best “thinking man’s” sci-fi films I’ve ever seen.
Stand-out scene: Louise and Ian’s first interaction with the aliens as they begin to unravel the mystery is fun to watch unfold as you turn and work out the alien language alongside them in the audience.
*For Rogue One, it’s the final Darth Vader scene, hands down.