For the second year in a row, I didn’t see 25 movies worthy of inclusion on my best-of-the-year list. Moreover, there are even fewer on this year’s list than last.
(In full disclosure, 2016 was the first year I didn’t have access to practically every movie as the manager of a video store. I did seek out every major acclaimed film of the year, though, and saw all but five: Don’t Think Twice, The Edge of Seventeen, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, O.J.: Made in America, and Silence.)
If the quality of movies keeps dropping like this, it’s entirely possible this list will become a simple Top 10 in a year or two. Then again, 2017 will be bringing new movies from Christopher Nolan, Danny Boyle, and Alexander Payne — not to mention much-anticipated sequels to Guardians of the Galaxy, Blade Runner, and The Force Awakens, among others.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. While there is much to look forward to this year, that’s not to say that weren’t gleaming spots of brilliance last year. These sixteen films stood out as the most bold, original, and self-assured of them. These are the best movies of 2016.
16. DONALD TRUMP’S
THE ART OF THE DEAL:
FunnyOrDie’s loose adaptation of Trump’s 1987 autobiography/self-help book is proof online cinema can do things theatrical just can’t. Depp tackles the role of Trump with utmost dedication, making his childish behavior look all the more ludicrous by playing it straight. With intentional VHS production values, a fantastic cast of comedians, and just enough truth to be really sad, Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal: The Movie does more in 50 minutes than most comedies do in twice that.
15. SING STREET
La La Land got all the attention last year because it was so well-made in every capacity, but as brilliant a jack-of-all-trades as it is, the songs in the third musical from Once director John Carney are even better. The storyline can feel at times a little reminiscent of About a Boy‘s B-plot at times, but when a movie is able to evoke exuberance and ebullience so well, the occasional weakness can be easily overlooked against the brilliance of the excitement it leaves you with.
14. THE WITCH
My belief there’s at least one brilliant horror film every year was reaffirmed by the dark tale of a 17th-century Puritan family who build a settlement in a clearing of New England woods only to find themselves terrorized by supernatural forces. When teenaged daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) becomes the main suspect and her parents resolve she’s a witch, the true horror of her isolated story and the power of doubt comes forward, haunting you long after the shocking finish.
13. GREEN ROOM
Anton Yelchin’s tragic death last year cut an incredibly promising life short, but to the end he gave wonderful performances in great pictures, and Green Room is one of his best. A bloody, claustrophobic thriller about a punk band resorting to a gig at an off-the-grid Nazi clubhouse who witness a murder and find themselves holed up without an escape route, Green Room is unflinchingly bold. If you can bear the tension and stand the violence, it’s the most gripping thriller of 2016.
12. THE BFG
Spielberg made two family fantasies before 2016 — E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and Hook — and his third belongs in the same conversations. While he’s not quite as suited to Roald Dahl’s humour as Fantastic Mr. Fox‘s Wes Anderson was, Spielberg captures whimsy and darkness better than many could. The characters and worlds he conjures in The BFG, combined with the destined-to-be-timeless lead performance of Bridge of Spies‘ Mark Rylance, resulted in the best movie last summer that audiences sadly ignored.
(Read my full review here.)
11. 20th CENTURY WOMEN
Writer-director Mike Mills’ Beginners, a tale of learning to love again inspired by his late father, was the third-greatest movie of 2011. His long-awaited follow-up, 20th Century Women, turns the same lens to his late mother, and it’s another hit. Annette Bening gives one of the greatest performances of her career as a woman who recruits a feminist boarder (Greta Gerwig) and her son’s crush (Elle Fanning) to help raise her fatherless, teenaged son (Lucas Jade Zumann).