Mr. Reed’s Metaphysical Neighborhood Presents the Best Technical and Artistic Film Work of 2016


On Tuesday, January 24, the  Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announced the 2017 Oscar nominees. Three days later, I am finally getting around to finishing up my own lists of favorites from last year. I already posted my “best film” and “best acting” lists, so today’s post – about the (often) unsung artists and craftspeople who are essential to the filmmaking process – completes the triptych. Most of the time, the movie’s hyperlink will take you to my review, if one exists (and if not, I have a note explaining where the hyperlink takes you). I also hyperlink the artists’ names, as well (mostly to IMDb, but sometimes to their own personal websites), so you can see what other work they have produced over their careers. In the case of best score, I link to the movies’ soundtracks on Amazon or iTunes, as well.

For each category, I stick to 5 candidates, in alphabetical order. These are the films where I thought that the work in that particular area truly enhanced the quality of the movie. Enjoy, and feel free to leave comments after you look it over!

Best Screenplay (adapted and original, combined):

Best Cinematography:

Best Editing*:

[*2 of these are documentaries – Cameraperson and The Last Man on the Moon – which are among the hardest kinds of films to edit, given the huge amount of material to work with, from which one must, somehow, extract a coherent story.]

Best Production Design:

Best Visual Effects**:

[**Too many people to mention all, so I have simply hyperlinked, next to the title, to the movie’s crew page on IMDb page, where you can look at the multitude of people involved in the many visual-effects teams.]

Best Original Score***:

***plus The Lobster for best choice of previously composed music (particularly Beethoven’s String Quartet in F Major, Op. 18, No. 1, Adagio affettuoso ed appassionato)

Mr. Reed’s Metaphysical Neighborhood Presents the Best and Worst Films of 2016

[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 NailFilm 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):

Best of 2016 Narratives Part 1

Best of 2016 Narratives Part 2

  1. Captain Fantastic
  2. Certain Women
  3. Hell or High Water
  4. La La Land
  5. Loving
  6. Manchester by the Sea
  7. Moonlight
  8. Rams
  9. 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.
  10. 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):

2016 Narrative Runners-Up Part 1

2016 Narrative Runners-Up Part 2

  1. Claire in Motion
  2. The Edge of Seventeen
  3. Fences
  4. 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.
  5. Hunter Gatherer
  6. The Lobster
  7. Miles Ahead
  8. Moana
  9. 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.
  10. Zootopia

Top 10 Documentary Films of 2016 (in alphabetical order):

Best of 2016 Documentaries Part 1

Best of 2016 Documentaries Part 2

  1. Cameraperson
  2. Chicken People
  3. In Pursuit of Silence (linked to my interview with director, which includes a brief capsule review)
  4. The Last Man on the Moon
  5. Newtown
  6. Plaza de la Soledad
  7. Salero
  8. Tower
  9. Under the Sun
  10. Weiner

2016 Documentary Film Runners-Up (in alphabetical order):

2016 Documentary Runners-Up Part 1


  1. Abortion: Stories Women Tell
  2. Almost Sunrise
  3. Audrie & Daisy
  4. The Bandit
  5. The Dwarvenaut
  6. The Eagle Huntress
  7. The If Project
  8. National Bird
  9. Ovarian Psycos
  10. Sonita

Documentary and Narrative Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):

Worst Films of 2016 (in alphabetical order):

Stay tuned for more posts in the week ahead, where I will list my favorite performances and technical achievements of the year, as well.


In “Moana,” Disney Offers a Powerful and Delightful Fantasy of Female Derring-Do

[Note: This review also appeared on Film Festival Today.]


Moana (Ron Clements/Don Hall/John Musker/Chris Williams, 2016)

Moana, the 56th animated feature from the Walt Disney Company, gives us a ravishing musical confection about a young Polynesian woman who must journey far and wide to save not only her people, but the world, battling monsters and demons along the way. The United States of America may not yet be ready for a female leader, but apparently our prime purveyor of coming-of-age fables has no problems shattering the proverbial glass ceiling (here, made of salt water and lava), and has been doing so for quite some time (albeit with minimal personal agency for its earlier princesses). What makes this particular version of a teenager seeking her place in life particularly fresh and engaging is its beautiful visual design, snappy songs (co-written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, of Hamilton fame) and winning cast. Who knew that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (Central Intelligence) could sing?

Johnson voices Maui, a disgraced demigod whose actions in the film’s prologue – stealing the heart of the goddess Te Fiti – begin a slow process of ocean decay that, as the main story begins, has finally brought blight to the island where our heroine, the titular Moana, is but a child. All is good, at first, and the lovely baby – daughter of the chief – frolics in the sand and waves, oblivious of dangers to come. In a blissful moment, she rescues a young sea turtle on its way from nest to surf, and as she does so, the ocean chooses her for greatness by offering her the lost heart of Te Fiti. Which she promptly drops. She is, after all, at that point but a toddler. And so the film goes, mixing profundity with charming humor and crisp performances.

Speaking of charm, Johnson has it to spare. But he’s not alone: newcomer Auli’i Carvalho, as the adolescent Moana, matches him beat for beat. Along for the ride are other actors of Polynesian or Maori descent, including Paula House (Hunt for the Wilderpeople) as Moana’s beloved grandmother and, most notably, a hilarious Jermaine Clement (People Places Things) as a villainous giant crab with a taste for bling. Indeed, the film acts as a gentle corrective to movies past – among them, Disney’s own – that have too often cast white actors in non-European roles (even the otherwise innovative Kubo and the Two Strings came under fire for whitewashing its main characters). Positive and empowering racial and gender politics aside, though, this is a film that deserves to be seen on its many wonderful merits as joyous storytelling, above all else.

I was especially a fan of the gorgeous animation – in 3D for those who choose to see it that way – of both landscapes, seascapes, humans and creatures. The scene where Moana and Maui first meet, in which Johnson struts and sings his stuff, is filled with a wildly imaginative mix of 3D and 2D images within the frame that shows a delightful new level of visual sophistication. Maui, himself, is a work of art, his body covered in tattoos that shift and slide across his body. There are also adorable animal sidekicks, and even a cute army of vicious sentient coconuts that are as funny as they are deadly. As Moana struggles against internal doubt and external foes, with a reluctant Maui as guide and helpmate, we journey alongside her, basking in the giddy glow of a tale well told. Disney has given us a wonderful Thanksgiving present, to be savored by all. I’ll take seconds (and maybe thirds), please!