Mike's Top 16 Films of 2016
I love “Top Lists.” It may be the opposite of what most film critics and film lovers will say - demeaning the value of some truly great works in vain of others, based entirely on personal opinion, experience and knowledge - just to get to write a little more about the films that made life worth everything over the past year. Yeah, I love that. However, like the act of watching movies itself, it’s hard to know when to stop making your list. I normally never stay at Top 5’s or Top 10’s, but since there’s a 16 in the name, there ya go. “Well, why not a 20??” you may ask then? Don’t push it.
I will say this for 2016: most people seemed to not like it. I didn’t like it too much, but I have to admit I personally have had a great year. I’ve built, I’ve loved, I’ve gained a new family in my friends here at Story Screen, and I’m just getting started. WE'RE just getting started. Of course, obvious things made the year quite rough, but if you were a cinephile, 2016 was a damn good year for movies. Almost too good. There are tons of movies that did not make this list that are very much worth your time. You can find a list of those at the bottom of this article. I hope you enjoy them just as much as I did, maybe even a bit more. And of course, if something isn’t on the list and you JUST CAN’T BELIEVE IT, please let me know about it in the comments section so I can watch it, ya big jerk! Unless it’s Batman v Superman. Then I judge you and I judge your motivations.
16. Kubo and the Two Strings
Everything you can look for in a good ol’ adventure kid’s movie is firmly on display in Kubo. A big movie came out recently that started getting people saying, “They don’t make ‘em like that anymore!” That’s true for Kubo. A fun kid’s movie with deep themes and heart-pounding action, a mythology that feels real, and a lesson in love and confidence that everyone can benefit from. I cannot wait to watch this movie again and again and again.
Probably one of my most anticipated movies of 2016 was the rumored “Competitive Endurance Tickling Documentary,” a lot of my peers were talking about. No one seemed to know if it was real or fake or a combination of the two? But I’m here to tell you it is 100% real, and crazy and silly and hilarious and haunting and dark and twisted and fucking brilliant. A breadcrumb following nail biter that deepens tension with such surgical precision it’s hard to remember that this is all actually happening. It just may also have one of the greatest final scenes in a documentary ever. Watch it.
In a great year for movies, no genre was represented more in terms of quality and originality than Horror, and Hush takes one of the most played out sub-genres, the home invasion, and creates a dazzling new experience by following the rules when it should, and breaking the rules when it can. Unfortunately, like another horror film higher on my list, it’s hard for me to talk about anything pertaining to Hush without giving away the very thing that makes it so special and engaging: what the hell is going to happen next? So I will leave you with simply this: in a genre that is filled to the brim with disposable, stupid victims, Hush transcends cliché by making every single character - from our victims to our hero to our villain - fully capable and competent people, and that just makes it all the scarier for all the right reasons.
Dario Argento would be proud. If you know what that means, you don’t need to read anymore of this. Go watch the damn movie, you sicko. But for the rest of you out there, Krisha is a reality-bending gem that is as hard to watch as it is deeply missed when it ends. Using members of his real family, newcomer director Trey Edward Shults, (awesome name, dude), paints the portrait of an uncomfortable family Thanksgiving and the dark things we carry that we wish we could just leave in the past if it wasn’t for their cruel, tight grip around our necks. It is a rollercoaster of emotion and a masterpiece of filmmaking. I am very excited to see what else Shults has up his sleeve.
12. In a Valley of a Violence
An absolute treat of a surprise, this flick knows what the fuck it is doing. As an homage piece to the older styles of filmmaking of the spaghetti westerns, it works. As a 21st century revenge-western, it works. As a John Travolta movie, surprise, it works. With a very small cast of recognizables, the film walks at its own pace, never falling into the trappings of most homage attempts, and coming out looking like a thief. Director Ti West shakes off the horror tropes (mostly) for a beautiful, innocent good ol’ violent romp through the deserts of the Old West, and delivers one of the most fun times I’ve had watching a movie this year.
While not a perfect film, Joshy executes what it sets out to do perfectly. With an insanely misleading ad campaign that makes it look like The League: The Movie (ouch), Joshy is one of the most touching films and by far the funniest on this list. The actors are all charming, the story is basic enough and the quality in which it was made mirrors the tenacity of its characters. For anyone who hurts, this movie would like to buy you a beer.
10. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Complain all you want about having to wait for another Edgar Wright movie. We’re all chillin’ over here with Taika Waititi and having a blast. A movie that is overflowing with comedy, drama and heart, it is a genuine marvel to watch the balancing act both the director and the actors are performing right before your eyes. It is beautiful and fun and loving. It is majestical.
High-Rise is definitely not for everyone. But it should be. With breathtaking designs and phenomenal performances, not to mention a near-perfect score, the film can seem like an endurance test at times, and that adds to the tension and confusion it breeds. A look at the dangers of too much comfort, from an era that was defined by the modernization of convenience, High-Rise is one of those movies you’ll either love or hate, but you’ll think about regardless for a long, long time. And trust me, it’s going to be considered a neo-classic in twenty years, just like 2013’s Snowpiercer.
8. The Fits
The story and themes at the heart of this movie are enough to entertain, but it is the sheer confidence on display from first time director Anna Rose Holmer that is the highlight of this wild ride, at times heartwarming and encouraging, and other times terrifying to an almost otherworldly level. There is a true artist at play behind every shot of the film, behind every spoken word and beyond every cut. Isolation is the name of the game when you’re a young teenaged girl, and The Fits demonstrates that terror and anxiety with a naturalistic craft that will shock you with its believability.
7. The Lobster
The philosophy of love and relationships. The selfish need we all have, but can never properly speak about. The deception that togetherness is better, that loneliness is failing and that everyone is keeping score. The unavoidable feeling that love, by its very natural purpose, will always be artificial. The Lobster has a lot it wants to discuss with you, and fortunately for you, it’s got tons of laughs and heartbreak to mix things up a bit. Somebody give Rachel Weisz a high-five for me, please?
6. Green Room
Green Room is a miserable movie. It’s angry and violent. I’m fairly certain it has a drinking problem. And it definitely wouldn’t like your punk-ass if you ever met. As far as crowd-pleasing movies go this year, Green Room takes the Alt-Right cake. A healthy follow-up to the directors previous go, Blue Ruin, the film is a 101 lesson in constructing and deconstructing tension with relief and terror. While more of a thriller than a horror, you can still bet your bottoms that after watching Green Room you won’t be looking at a machete the same way anytime soon.
5. Blue Jay
Ho, boy. What a movie. Blue Jay is magic. The style in which the filmmakers chose to approach telling this tale of two old lovers reconnecting over the course of a single night is a controversial one. The mumblecore black and white small movies of the early 2000’s are gone, and for good reason. Many of them didn’t have the longevity needed to transcend the ironies of the time they took place. Many of the film’s own condescension becomes laughable when removed from the immediate now. (Just look at Garden State. LOOK AT IT!) But Blue Jay effortlessly rises above it all and tells the story of a type of connection each and every one of us has felt and know deeply, not because we learned it once but because we continue to learn it everyday.
4. La La Land
I’m a huge sucker for musicals. I fall for them. And this movie is excitingly not disappointing. There is so much at play, and the film successfully juggles many, many different ideas and themes and general reasons for it to exist. Is it a musical? Is it an homage? Is it a critique of modern love? Is it a pep talk to the ones out there who dare to follow their dreams? Is that pep talk a positive or negative one? The outlandish idea that you could make a musical in 2016 that had the secret to enjoying the movie engrained within the dialogue and themes and make it successful? Especially when the secret to its success and your enjoyment of it is to let go of your cynicism and join them in a fantasy that worships hope and joy and creativity? It’s an insane undertaking. Now, before you get all riled up, I’m not saying that if you didn’t enjoy La La Land that makes you overly cynical. I’m saying that being overly cynical is probably why most people won’t. Which is sad because it really is such a joyful film, filled with charm and love and a level of devotion that is normally not seen in film these days. And that is not going overlooked, as the film continues to make a mess of what we think musicals can be.
Across the board, Moonlight is a triumph. While many movies on my list this year touched me, nothing had the impact of the third act of Moonlight. It is so sweet and so vulnerable, as if you could actually unknowingly hurt it as a viewer at any time. The attention to visuals of loneliness and the hard realizations we need to accept and instill in others isn’t just breathtaking, it’s like being stuck underwater. When people talk about certain films as experiences, they are talking about movies like Moonlight. It is a deeply human coming-of-age story that has never been told, and is now available to help heal the world, one screen at a time.
2. The Invitation
It’s quite ironic that The Invitation would center around a dinner party, as the process in which it slowly reveals information, either lifesaving or deadly, works a lot like the courses of a meal. It’s very enjoyable and misleadingly straightforward, and it’s right up there with Green Room on two fronts: expert level tension building, and crowd-pleasing goodness. This is a movie that will shut your friends up. And, like Hush, it’s very difficult to discuss what I love about the film without ruining the whole thing for you. The characters feel real; their relationships seem honest and lived-in, and John Carroll Lynch is still the scariest looking motherfucker in the world, and this movie knows that’s how we feel. If a film is like a dance partner to its audience, The Invitation takes the lead immediately and you won’t even realize you’ve stopped spinning until long after the music has faded.
1. Swiss Army Man
Not often do you come across a film like Swiss Army Man. It’s one of those experiences that sticks with you, from the first time it grabs you, to all the times you may revisit it for the rest of your life, either in memory or reviewing. The film functions on so many levels it's hard to know where to start, or whether some are even worth discussing. Like the obstacles our two heroes face, the metaphors and themes within this film force us to examine what it means to be a human being, and to hopefully overcome these truths, changed for the better. It’s become a staple of mine. I quote it often. I whistle the music. Swiss Army Man is an instant classic, timeless and preserved, and people will be enjoying it just as much as I do, long after I’ve become a farting corpse myself.
Honorable Mentions (seriously, what a year!!): The Neon Demon, The Nice Guys, Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, The VVitch, Captain America: Civil War, Frank and Lola, Manchester By the Sea, Zootopia, Elvis and Nixon, The Shallows, De Palma, Café Society, Don’t Think Twice, Hail, Caesar!, Blair Witch, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, Hell or High Water and I Am Not A Serial Killer.
Founder of and programmer for Story Screen. Lover of stories and pizza in the dark. When he isn't watching movies, you can find him reading things about people watching movies. He lives in Beacon, NY with his cat who is named after Kevin Bacon's character from Friday the 13th.