[For an explanation of my blog post title, check out my “best of” list from 2013.]
Below you will find lists of my favorite films of the year, divided by narrative (fiction) and documentary (nonfiction) formats (I do not separate animated films from either genre, and there are examples of at least one animated film in each category). This is the first time I have broken down my lists in this way, and it largely has to do with the sheer number of documentaries I now watch and review in my position as lead film critic for Hammer to Nail, which makes me want to highlight even more of the great work being done by the 21st century’s exceptional nonfiction filmmakers. As always, the main factor that motivated me to include a film among my favorites is whether or not that film surprised or moved me; was there something in it that reached deep down into my cinematic soul and woke me up as I watched it, even if the film as a whole may have had some flaws (perfection is a subjective reality, anyway).
Not all of the movies mentioned received some kind of theatrical or online release in 2016, though most of them did; a few may still be looking for distributors after making their festival rounds. Where I have previously written reviews of a movie (whether for Hammer to Nail, Film Festival Today or this blog), the title of that movie is hyperlinked to my original review. If I only wrote a brief capsule review of a film after seeing it at a film festival, then I link to that write-up, however short it may be. Where I have not (yet) reviewed a film, I have hyperlinked the title to the movie’s Rotten Tomatoes page and written a (very) short description of it, just to explain what I admire (or don’t).
If a film that you, yourself, saw and liked is nowhere mentioned here, then it is possible that I did not see it (or saw it and liked it, but not enough to include among my favorites, or saw it and, of course, did not like it). As many films as I watch every year, I do not see everything; Swiss Army Man is but one example of a movie I missed. If you have questions about any omissions, feel free to comment and/or send me a note. And really, what separates the “Top 10” from the “runners-up” is very little.
Enjoy! Over the next three weeks or so, as always, I will publish a separate list of the best acting and technical/artistic achievements of the year.
Top 10 Narrative Films of 2016 (in alphabetical order):
- Captain Fantastic
- Certain Women
- Hell or High Water
- La La Land
- Manchester by the Sea
- Toni Erdmann – Perhaps excessively long (perhaps), this delightful German film is nevertheless a profound (and very entertaining) meditation on familial bonds that features one of the best uses of nudity to ever grace the silver screen.
- 20th Century Women – Mike Mills (Beginners) delivers a loving fictional portrait of his mother that is also a tribute to the strength of women, of all ages, everywhere.
2016 Narrative Film Runners-Up (in alphabetical order):
- Claire in Motion
- The Edge of Seventeen
- The Handmaiden – Bound meets Rashomon in this twisted Korean period thriller from Chan-wook Park (Stoker) that offers us a satisfying frisson both sexual and intellectual.
- Hunter Gatherer
- The Lobster
- Miles Ahead
- Silence – An adaptation of Shūsaku Endō’s 1966 novel of the same name, this chronicle of the plight of Portuguese priests in 17th-century Japan is director Martin Scorsese’s best work in years.
Top 10 Documentary Films of 2016 (in alphabetical order):
- Chicken People
- In Pursuit of Silence (linked to my interview with director, which includes a brief capsule review)
- The Last Man on the Moon
- Plaza de la Soledad
- Under the Sun
2016 Documentary Film Runners-Up (in alphabetical order):
- Abortion: Stories Women Tell
- Almost Sunrise
- Audrie & Daisy
- The Bandit
- The Dwarvenaut
- The Eagle Huntress
- The If Project
- National Bird
- Ovarian Psycos
Documentary and Narrative Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):
- City of Gold
- Do Not Resist
- Donald Cried
- Finding Dory
- Hello, My Name Is Doris – 2 words: Sally Field
- Hotel Dallas
- I, Daniel Blake
- Land and Shade
- Landfill Harmonic
- Life, Animated
- A Monster Calls – A moving and beautifully animated (in its fantasy sequences) version of Patrick Ness’ book of the same name that may fall short of the magic of its source text, but is still worth watching.
- Neruda – After the debacle of Jackie (as I see it), it’s good to know that director Pablo Larraín’s experimentation with form can yield more interesting results, as in this fascinating, if flawed, sort-of biopic about the great Chilean national poet, Pablo Neruda.
- Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You
- Orange Sunshine
- The Other Side
- Paterson (my own review, for Film Festival Today, is pending, but here is a review from my editor and colleague at Hammer to Nail, Don Lewis): Nothing like Jim Jarmusch’s earlier work, this meandering, yet engaging, profile of a bus driver/poet played by a wonderfully low-key Adam Driver is a film filled with questions for you to answer, long after the movie is over, whatever those answers may be.
- The Seer
- The Seventh Fire
- Starving the Beast
- A Stray
- A Tale of Love and Darkness
- Theo Who Lived
- Things to Come – Along with Elle, one of two great performances by the magnificent Isabelle Huppert, who her plays a woman suddenly set free when her husband leaves her for a younger woman and her children grow up.
- Train to Busan
- Woman on Fire
Worst Films of 2016 (in alphabetical order):
- Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie
- Allied – A WWII espionage thriller that starts off well and goes quickly down the (London) tube, this is an utter ridiculous exercise in expensive production design.
- American Pastoral
- The BFG
- Café Society
- Hardcore Henry
- Live by Night – A vanity project if there ever was one, this film features writer/director/star Ben Affleck as a noble Prohibition-era gangster. Blah.
- London Has Fallen
- Me Before You
- The Neon Demon
- Nocturnal Animals
- Norm of the North – I thought of reviewing this animated nightmare of a mess, then decided not to. Not worth the effort.
- Passengers – In space, no one can hear you commit assault and have it look sexy …
- Suicide Squad
- Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru
- Triple 9
- Zoolander 2 – Any film that can make the first Zoolander look like a comic masterpiece is trouble.
Stay tuned for more posts in the week ahead, where I will list my favorite performances and technical achievements of the year, as well.