SPECIAL: The Best Movies of 2016

5. THE SALESMAN

Image: Amazon Studios

After helming the best movie of 2011 and one of the best of 2013, director Asghar Farhadi defiantly yet delicately proves without a doubt that he is one of the greatest movie directors alive with his brilliant third masterpiece. A devastating look at good people pushed to their limits and the tragic domino effects of honest mistakes, The Salesman follows a husband (Shahab Hosseini) and wife (Taraneh Alidoosti) who are given an apartment by a friend after losing theirs in an earthquake. What seems a mixed blessing turns far worse when as they discover more about the tenant who used to live there. With The Salesman, Farhadi has proven yet again that some of the best films don’t speak a word of English.


4. MIDNIGHT SPECIAL

Image: Warner Bros.

Jeff Nichols, son of legendary director Mike Nichols, is blessed with the talent to have gone toe-to-toe with the brilliance of his father’s films, like 2011’s superb Take Shelter. In one of two movies he directed last year — the other being the Oscar-nominated Loving — Midnight Special follows Roy (Michael Shannon) and his supernaturally gifted son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) as they’re chased by government agents who want to use Alton’s powers and a religious cult who worship the boy. What sounds like the kind of story that could come off kind of dumb is spun into cinematic gold through Nichols’ pitch-perfect direction and always-one-step-ahead-of-you screenplay. Any other year, it would be the greatest sci-fi masterpiece of 2016. (See #2.)


3. KUBO AND
THE TWO STRINGS

Image: Focus Features

Stop-motion studio Laika had made three good movies before 2016, including Coraline and ParaNorman, but none hinted at the storytelling genius and visual ingenuity of Kubo and the Two Strings. (Seriously: it was the first animated movie in 23 years to be nominated for the Best Visual Effects Oscar.) Framing itself as a mythic story in ancient Japan, Kubo’s titular boy (Art Parkinson) is thrust on a quest for his missing father’s enchanted armour, to defend his mother against a magical attack. Joined by the stern Monkey (Charlize Theron) and the gung-ho Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), Kubo faces deadly foes and seemingly insurmountable odds on a dreamy journey that feels like it couldn’t be animated any other way. There are images and moments in Kubo and the Two Strings I will remember for the rest of my life.

(Read my full review here.)


2. ARRIVAL

Image: Paramount Pictures

Gravity. Interstellar. The Martian. Every autumn for three years, a sci-fi opus came out in the waning months and delivered an experience unequalled by almost anything else cinema could offer that year. It happened yet again last fall, with the epic Arrival. Linguistics professor Louise (Amy Adams, deserving of an Oscar nomination) and theoretical physicist Ian (Jeremy Renner) are called in to communicate during humanity’s first contact with alien life, after a dozen spaceships park themselves around the globe. Director Denis Villeneuve, who previously made the masterworks Prisoners and Sicario, once again proves himself one of the greatest current directors. A mystery of the most satisfying order with a whopper of an ending, Arrival is bound to go down as one of the best science-fiction movies of the decade.

(Read my full review here.)


1. LA LA LAND

Image: Lionsgate

No, Moonlight is not the best picture of the year. La La Land is the incredibly rare movie worth every utterance of hype, every award and accolade, every #1 spot it’s already been given on other critics’ Best-of-the-Year list. A musical that dances with one foot in the traiditons of Singin’ in the Rain and one in the modern-day romance of 500 Days of Summer, La La Land films its musical numbers in unbroken shots that leave you breathless in wonder and uses Technicolor the way The Artist used black-and-white. Ryan Gosling is wrenchingly powerful, Emma Stone gives the strongest performance of her career, and together they form a team as perfect as Astaire and Rogers. Writer-director Damien Chazelle (2014’s unforgettable Whiplash) does what no 32-year-old should be capable of: creating conclusive proof of the singular power of cinema. The best movie of 2016 could only be La La Land.

(Read my full review here.)


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