That time of year is here. The time where I reflect on what I consider to be the best films and performances I've seen all year. For this post, I will discuss what I consider to be the top 15 best films of the year. As I was compiling my list, I was trying to think of the best films that demonstrate how alive filmmaking can be. Whether it'd be how alive the writing, the directing, and/or the performances are, these films help capture the innovative spirit filmmaking should have.
First off, here are a few honorable mentions I wantee to squeeze in but couldn't find room for:
A Bigger Splash
Eye In The Sky
Hello, My Name Is Doris
Henry Gamble's Birthday Party
Kubo And The Two Strings
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Now onto the actual list:
15. 10 Cloverfield Lane: When I first heard about 10 Cloverfield Lane, I only saw snippets from the commercials and was surprised that they made a film within the now Cloverfield canon. So going into this film, I had little expectations. But as it turns out, it is one of the best science fiction films of the year. Its focus on character and atmosphere is rather refreshing in a day and age where science fiction is all about grand spectacle. It also features Mary Elizabeth Winstead as a smart heroine in the vein of Ellen Ripley and John Goodman as a man who may or may not exactly be her captor and Goodman keeps you guessing at every turn what he might do. This film is one of the year's best surprises.
14. The Lobster: If you have ever been on Tinder or a site like Match.com, you might understand how the characters in The Lobster feel. The story about the pressure to find a companion is not too far from what our real world is like. In fact, right after I saw the film, I was thinking about how pressured I feel when I'm on particular dating apps. Writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos manages to depict our real world pressures in a dystopian setting and showcase innovative world building in the process. In my opinion, The Lobster is the most original film to come out this year.
13. Miss Sloane: While its ending may be slightly anti-climactic and while it may have drawn comparisons to political shows like The West Wing and Scandal, I say to heck with that. When you have a dynamite lead performance from Jessica Chastain along with a terrific ensemble (Mark Strong, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Michael Stuhlbarg among others) and snappy Sorkinese writing, it's hard not to be swept along for the adrenaline-fueled ride that this film is. Sadly, it's not making much waves because it's underperforming at the box office and it's caught up in a sea of other great movies this year. But I'm glad I got to catch this film to begin with.
12. The Jungle Book: I wasn't ever that big on the animated Jungle Book film from Disney. But I still had a blast watching the new live-action adaptation of it. It's entertaining while also featuring groundbreaking visual effects and terrific voice performances from the cast. A few standouts were Bill Murray as the sly bear Baloo and Idris Elba as the menacing Bengal Tiger Shere Khan. A special mention should also go to newcomer Neel Sethi as Mowgli. All around great cast in one of the better studio spectacles to come out in 2016.
11. The Witch: 2016 was an amazing year for the horror genre. We saw Blake Lively single-handedly carry shark thriller The Shallows, we had the successful sequel The Conjuring 2, and even Lights Out which had refreshing originality. But out of all the splendid offerings the horror genre had to offer this year, the best has to be The Witch. No other horror film this year had me cringing with fear by the time the credits rolled like The Witch did. Throughout the entire picture, it feels as if horror lurks at every corner. Whether it'd be in the mysterious woods or within the dysfunctional family that makes life hell for our main character Thomasin, played brilliantly by rising star Anya Taylor-Joy, nowhere and nobody is safe.
10. The Nice Guys: The only major flaw for The Nice Guys that I can think of is that nobody saw it. To me, that's a real shame because in a day and age where people cry for originality, they missed out on an original action comedy noir with reliable matinee stars. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe are absolutely GOLDEN together! Gosling proves he has a gift for physical comedy and Crowe shows how underutilized his comedic skills are. Also, Angourie Rice is a scene stealer as the daughter of Gosling's character and more than holds her own against her veteran co-stars. This was an absolute blast to sit through and if you haven't seen it yet, make it your mission to do so.
9. The Fits: In her directing debut, Anna Rose Holmer directs the most underrated film to come out this year. The Fits has different layers to it: It's a coming of age story that depicts gender dynamics with horror elements weaved in. The story deals with a tomboy named Toni, played by newcomer Royalty Hightower, who joins an inner city dance team that slowly suffers from mysterious seizures with little explanation as to why, is shrouded in mystery. Whether it'd be in the script or through the camera that never cuts away from what's happening, you're constantly figuring out what the cause is. Is there something in the water? Is it a weird rite of passage? Is there some weird supernatural force at play? Even if we never get any concrete answers, the movie is still better because of it.
8. Zootopia: Zootopia is the best animated film to come out in 2016. In traditional Disney fashion, it has enough entertainment value for the children that includes the fun banter between main characters Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman, respectively. But aside from that, it says a lot about prejudice and bigotry and it could not have been more timely. The conflict involving prey fearing predators isn't further from the racial and homophobic tensions going on right now with the recent Pulse nightclub shooting, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the hate crimes committed in the name of Donald Trump. While animated films, and films in general, are meant to provide escapism, at the same time, they're meant to make us open our eyes about the world around us.
7. Arrival: Similar to Zootopia, Arrival has also come at a perfect time. It was released right after the results of the election which invoked a lot of fear and riots amongst citizens. But the film reminds us about the power of communication and how words are meant to be a greater tool than missiles and causing destruction. Arrival does what true science fiction is meant to do. It does provide spectacle the way science fiction should but it is also meant to make us not only use our brain but teach us something about the world. For example, Jurassic Park showed us the repercussions of toying with nature and Ex Machina has us asking ourselves what it means to be human while examining the potential dangers of artificial intellingence. In my opinion, Arrival will join the ranks of great science fiction films in the years to come.
6. Captain Fantastic: From the first few minutes of Captain Fantastic, I was immediately hooked. It is largely thanks to the luminous cinematography by Stephane Fontaine and also thanks to writer/director Matt Ross who helps create a visual demonstration of the eccentric community that the main patriarch named Ben Cash, played by Viggo Mortensen, has created for himself and his family. Mortensen gives one of the year's best performances as a survivalist father who's difficult with how he separates his children from the outside world but at the same time is still a loving father. The six actors that play his children are also outstanding and in particular, George MacKay, who plays the eldest son who knows more about learning about books than through common interaction, is a standout and a talent to look out for. The film in general is a demonstration that no matter how difficult, separated, or eccentric family may be, at the end of the day, family is family and it stays with you no matter where you go or no matter who your family may be.
5. Jackie: Natalie Portman gives both the performance of her career and the performance of the year as former First Lady Jackie Kennedy. But despite it depicting the aftermath of the assassination of JFK and how Jackie dealt with handling both his legacy and her personal trauma, it is not necessarily a biopic. It's mostly a portrait of post-traumatic stress disorder and one that feels like it delves into the mind. The misty cinematography by Stephane Fontaine helps capture the feeling of Jackie being trapped in a walking nightmare while the score by Mica Levi aids to that otherworldly feel. Director Pablo Larrain helps redefine how to make a biopic and when making a film about a person's life, one can only hope other filmmakers make a biopic as innovative as Jackie.
4. The Handmaiden: The Handmaiden had me hooked within the first few minutes up until the very end. Almost each scene is pulsating with energy and that is thanks to the direction by Park Chan-Wook who helps make the film seem so alive. Whether it's through the caffeinated editing, the multi-dimensional lead performances by the two lead actresses, the camera work that always follows the actors around, the darkly comedic writing, or the Hitchcockian score, Chan-Wook always comes up with a way to get the audiences fixated on the big screen even when the film doesn't become too easy of a watch because it does have explicit moments. The Handmaiden is sexy, darkly funny, romantic, mysterious, and a feast for the cinephilic eye.
3. Manchester By The Sea: I didn't have a whole lot of expectations going into Manchester By The Sea because when it comes to films with awards hype, I always try to keep my expectations very open. But it turned out to not only be an amazing movie but the most realistic family drama to come out in recent memory that is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. Watching how our two main characters, Lee and Patrick Chandler, played by Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges, respectively, deal with both grief and the need to make it through another day felt so incredibly authentic. That is a huge testament to not just the writing by writer/director Kenneth Lonergan but the performances by both Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges. They are terrific as well as Michelle Williams who makes a brief yet impactful turn as Lee's ex-wife Randi. The story about dealing with loss may be rather simple. But thanks to its complex and naturalistic acting as well as how it has moments of humor to balance out the dramatic heft and make it a bit more accessible, it thrives in its simplicity.
2. La La Land: The hype is real on this one. Normally, I'm not a die hard musical buff. But I am head over heels in love with La La Land. I love it for its nostalgia, I love it for the intoxicating chemistry by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling (who had an amazing year with this and The Nice Guys), I love the musical numbers that still have me singing and dancing, and in general, I just..love this movie!! Director Damien Chazelle proves his Whiplash success wasn't a fluke and in fact, he has me eagerly anticipating what he has in store next and one can only open hope that Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone's third outing together doesn't have to be their last. It may not be a challenging message movie. But it shows us why we love going to the movies. We go to not only escape but to connect or feel inspired and the optimism of La La Land is there to inspire us to follow our hearts. Now, I wanted to put this as my number one but couldn't quite because......
1. Moonlight: I knew after the film was over that there would be nothing that could top this one as my pick for the best of the year. While I appreciate the realism of Manchester By The Sea, admire the intellectual spectacle that is Arrival along with the innovativeness of Jackie, and absolutely adore the inspirational optimism of La La Land, nothing could touch the brilliance of Moonlight. What makes this film so special to me is how it is probably the first film I have seen that is like a portrait of what it was like for me to grow up as a gay youth. I was always called names and was confused about my sexual identity the way the main character Chiron is.
So it's not just a story about what it's like to grow up as African-American or what it's like to grow up poor, but it's a story anyone can connect with. Anyone who has been unsure of their identity or where they feel like they belong in life can connect to this movie and Chiron's struggle. The character of Chiron is amazingly brought to life by the three actors portraying him (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes) while the film boasts the best acting ensemble of the year. It is also aided by its eclectic musical score by Nicholas Britell, the luminous cinematography by James Laxton, the smoothly paced editing by Joi McMillon and Nat Sanders, and most importantly, director Barry Jenkins who helped put this cinematic gift together. Its innovativeness along with how close it is to my own story and its universal themes about identity along with finding your place in the world are all why Moonlight is my pick for the best movie of the year.
Now, I want to know what you guys have in your top 15. Please feel free to share your thoughts on my list and share your own list as well. Thanks for reading!