2016 was a polarizing year for many film fans, and I’ve witnessed a lot of negativity and scorn surrounding certain films. Some justifiably, like Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, and others less deservedly, like Rogue One. I’ve been getting real sick and tired of all this negative movie talk, so here on Story Screen, let’s get positive and talk about my ten favorite movies of the year. I wouldn’t call this list the “best” films of the year, on a technical level. These are the films that affected me the most, both on a technical and emotional level, whether it would be making me belly laugh to the point where I’d be on the floor, tense up in my seat to the point where I’m chewing the skin off my fingers in anxiety, or leaving me teary-eyed and somber. Either way, these are the ten films that stuck with me the most this year, and will continue to do so for years to come.
Non-Pixar Disney films, while they are technically impressive and a good time, never really stick with me besides humming a song or two from the soundtrack on occasion. Zootopia, however, really impressed me because it was a Disney film that had a genuine opinion and took a stance on a real issue. Big studios like to play it safe, and they don’t like to risk alienating audiences, so you don’t generally see such entertainment juggernauts tackling sensitive subjects like racism, profiling, gentrification, and general discrimination often, if at all. Zootopia offers a reflection on the ugly aspects of how we treat our fellow human beings through the lens of anthropomorphic zoo animals. It’s not the subtlest of social commentaries, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s a lesson worth presenting to all ages. At the same time, Zootopia is a terrifically funny film, offering clever jokes at light speed pace with plenty of likeable and well-realized characters that were easy for me to root for. This is the best animated film Disney has put out in years.
9. 10 Cloverfield Lane
Around this time of year, a lot of movie blogs put out lists of their most anticipated films of the coming year. That’s all well and good, but I could never do that, because my most anticipated films are the ones that I don’t expect, like the films that come out of nowhere and blow me the hell away. Films like 10 Cloverfield Lane. It’s a truly claustrophobic rollercoaster of a movie, anchored by a terrifying performance from John Goodman. It’s the kind of performance that keeps you on edge because he’s not immediately a full-blown psycho like Walter in The Big Lebowski. He’s a ticking time bomb, slowly and calmly filling the tiny bomb shelter with suffocating tension. You never feel as though the protagonists are safe at any moment from Goodman’s character, and that tension never lets go in its 90-minute runtime. Hell, I even like the ending! 10 Cloverfield Lane is a promising debut for director Dan Trachtenberg, and I’m excited to see what he does next.
8. The Neon Demon
Nicholas Winding Refn certainly tends to get a rise out of people, doesn’t he? Except for Drive, I guess, discussions of his films are usually split one way or another, and there is never a unanimous agreement on whether his films are good or not. When it comes to The Neon Demon, I lean towards the film being awesome. I was hypnotized by the dreamlike atmosphere presented by Cliff Martinez’ haunting score, and Natasha Brier’s colorful cinematography, as well as its use of symbols and visuals to tell its bonkers story of a teenage girl getting in way over her head into a world she doesn’t fully understand, and then descending into hell. It’s not a film for everyone, but it was definitely for me. The film also has a surprisingly awesome and weird performance by Keanu Reeves, so it gets bonus points for that.
7. The Nice Guys
If Shane Black could turn the amount of pure style that he puts into his films and convert it into a food source, he’d be able to solve world hunger. This is even more apparent in The Nice Guys, a purely concentrated pulpy noir-comedy set in the backdrop of a nostalgic 1970’s Los Angeles. There’s not as much Christmas as you’d expect in a Shane Black film, but there’s more than plenty of quotable banter between the unlikely duo, convoluted mysteries, unpredictability, and just pure tight direction and execution of scenes. You don’t see zippy mid-budget action comedies like this anymore. If this were to come out in the 90’s, Russell Crowe’s character would be played by Bruce Willis and Ryan Gosling’s would be played by…Woody Harrelson maybe? Anyway, I’m glad Shane Black hasn’t lost his style, because he created one of the funniest and exciting films of the year.
6. Hell or High Water
The lesson I get out of these terrific modern day westerns is that “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” You could copy and paste the story of this film and set it in 1856, and I doubt much of Taylor Sheridan’s excellent screenplay would change. However, the film is set in modern day and it feels incredibly relevant. Set in economically desperate small towns of rural Texas, this film shines a light on how the modern day economy has left many small towns in that area desolate and scrambling to get by, and serves as a unique backdrop for our protagonists and antagonists. Speaking of which, what I love about this film is that it smartly doesn’t present the thief protagonists (Chris Pine and Ben Foster), and the State Trooper antagonist as straight good or evil. Both sides have reasonable motivations you can get behind, and no one is really a bad person, so the interpretation of who the protagonists and antagonists really are is up to the viewer. It’s an excellent modern western full of great performances that I would recommend to everyone, and I’m glad it’s getting the award recognition it deserves.
5. The Invitation
Now, admittedly, this isn’t one of the best movies that have come out in the past year on a technical level, but goddamn did this movie leave me devastated. Maybe it’s because I empathize with the subject matter; I’ve witnessed something like this happen first hand, but god damn, did it still hit me hard. It was like an emotional flash bang went off next to my ear. It didn’t hit me in a manipulative way, like a Lifetime movie would try to do. It’s superbly effective at grabbing you by the neck in the very beginning of the movie, slowly tightening its grip as it moves along to the point where you can’t breathe, let’s you go at the very end, and then punches you in the gut. It’s bleak, suspenseful, heart wrenching and a terrific film all around. I don’t really want to mention what it’s about because I believe it will be more effective going in blind. It’s on Netflix and it’s absolutely worth giving a watch, and it absolutely deserves a spot in my top 5.
4. Green Room
If you’re familiar with the programming of Story Screen, you’ll know this is a film that’s been shown in the past, and you know, it could be shown again and again and again, and I would be all for it. Of all the films that are on this list, Green Room is the movie that I’ve watched the most, and it holds up tremendously with each viewing - from the details in the environment that make it feel alive and genuine, to the subtleties of performances from Sir Patrick Stewart, Macon Blair, and the late Anton Yelchin, as well as the film’s powerful use of violence. This is a film that does so much in such a small setting that it would be criminal not to give Jeremy Saulnier and crew the proper credit they deserve. If you wanna know more about what Green Room does so well, read my brother’s article about it on this very website here.
3. The VVitch
This was one of the first movies I remember seeing in the theater in 2016. After walking out as the credits rolled, I knew right then and there that this was going to be a hard movie to top. Holy shit, I could go on and write multiple articles dissecting how much of a miracle this film is. It seems like there’s a lot of A24 films on this list, and that might make it look like I’m biased towards them, but I’m really not. They just happen to fund and produce excellent films! I really have to thank them for taking the chance with first time director Robert Eggers to fund and distribute his film, because he somehow created a horror masterpiece on his first try. What The VVitch gets so right that most horror films get wrong is the consistent sense of paranoia and dread throughout the story. You never know who’s going to turn on who, who’s going to snap first, and if what they’re afraid of is actually real or a product of their hallucinations due to isolation. Much like The Invitation, it grabs you by the throat at the beginning of the film and doesn’t let go until it ends. What sets it above The Invitation, is its high quality of acting across the board, especially from child actors Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger, and Lucas Dawson, as well as its authentic 1630’s New England setting, delivering an eerie and paranoid tone. People have complained that horror has gone downhill in recent years. To that, I say: watch The VVitch; it is probably the best horror film released since The Shining.
I firmly believe Denis Villeneuve is one of the best new filmmakers of the 21st century. Every film he’s directed (Incendies, Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario) has blown my mind in one way or another, and Arrival is no exception. Take a premise that’s as old as filmmaking itself: Aliens visiting Earth, and mix it with a haunting, poetic, and beautiful story about the potential of humanity, and what it can accomplish when it works together to achieve a common goal. Arrival gave me a new outlook on communication and language, what it means to communicate with one another, how we do it, WHY we do it, and it accomplished telling its story with grace and maturity. Its cerebral ideas kept me up at night, while its emotional core – anchored by the layered performances of Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, as well as a chilling score by Johann Johannson – kept me invested and moved by the characters and their actions. Not many films have accomplished both of those at the same time, not even 2001: A Space Odyssey, in my opinion. I recommend Arrival to anyone and everyone. It’s a beautiful film that I’m sure will be referred to as a Science Fiction classic for years to come.
1. Swiss Army Man
I’ve never seen anything quite like Swiss Army Man. While the rest of my Top 10 are tremendous films in their own right, they also fit into their respective genres. The VVitch is a terrific horror film, Arrival is a terrific Sci-Fi drama, The Nice Guys is a terrific Action Comedy, etc. But where should I put Swiss Army Man? Is it a Comedy? Is it Fantasy? Is it a Surrealist film? Is it a Musical? It’s all those genres and best of all, it’s completely original. I’m not giving it high praises just because it’s original, however. I’m giving it high praises because it affected me in so many ways. It made me think about what it means to be alive, and what you can do with your short amount of time on this earth, even if that means just making an impact on one other human being’s life. It brought up excellent points about what it means to be “weird” and strange. Why does society demonize those that just want to be different? Why does being “weird” have to be such a bad thing in the eyes of others? Why can’t we just embrace new ideas? Why does society make you feel so alone for being different? These are all aspects of my own life that I’ve struggled with since I was a little kid obsessed with shows, movies, and other offbeat shit that my peers were perplexed by, and Swiss Army Man emulates those feelings through Hank and Manny so goddamn perfectly. Swiss Army Man made me laugh hysterically, tear up either through joy or sadness, and feel genuine excitement with what was going to happen next. I didn’t want Hank and Manny’s journey to end. Sure, it’s a bit (okay, a lot) different to a lot of people’s sensibilities when it comes to movies, but isn’t that exactly what movies are about? Taking a creative vision and applying it through visuals and sound to create a story? Why can’t a film be about a farting corpse? What rules say that can’t work? In Swiss Army Man’s case, it works perfectly, and it is my favorite film of 2016. If you want to read more about this wonderful film, please read Mike Burdge’s article from a couple months back here.
Jeremy is younger than he looks, and has passionately studied the art and craft of filmmaking for as long as he can remember. He is currently a freelance wedding videographer, and is also heavily involved in Competitive Fighting Games. IG: jeremyko95