By Logan Sowash
2016 was a hit-and-miss year for films. For every good film we got, we got a Norm of the North and a Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. However, despite the amount of bad films we got last year, we got some absolutely phenomenal films to the point where it would be criminal NOT to talk about them. So after more than a month of pondering, I finally have my 10 favorite films of 2016. Here they are:
#10: Kung Fu Panda 3
I’m just as surprised as you are that this film is on my list. Then again, I’m still surprised that a series about an obese bear that knows kung-fu is as good as it is. It took me until the end of the year to realize that it is my personal choice for the best animated film of 2016. While I think the second film is the best in the trilogy, Kung Fu Panda 3 felt like the most “complete” animated film to come out in 2016. It has hilarious moments, beautiful animation, a fantastic villain performance from J.K. Simmons (paired with a memorable theme), great characters, and an emotional core that is felt all throughout the story. The film even handles themes of fatherhood, teaching, and the importance of finding yourself a lot better than most adult films. While it does have a predictable plot and some jokes that fall flat, Kung Fu Panda 3 is a film that deserves more love than it got in theaters.
I had to think long and hard about this one. 2016 was an odd year for comic book films. DC’s two big entries to their cinematic universe were messes, Marvel’s two films were very well made yet played it too safe, and Fox’s X-Men… well, it could’ve been better. I was originally going to put Captain America: Civil War in this spot because of the great action and performances from the cast, especially Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther. However, after rewatching Civil War over winter break, I realized that film doesn’t do anything for me anymore, unfortunately. However, that is not the case for Deadpool. Despite being a pretty standard superhero origin story, the film does so many things right: the action is exhilarating, the writing (despite being juvenile in the majority of its comedy) is incredibly quotable and hilarious, Junkie XL’s score rocks, and the performances from all of the actors are great. Ryan Reynolds kills it as the “Merc with a Mouth,” throwing out filthy jokes and stylish kills in the best looking superhero costume ever put to film. I could watch the film ten times over and not get tired of it, cementing my thought that Deadpool is the best superhero flick of 2016.
#8: Hell or High Water
When first saw the trailer for this film, I thought it looked mediocre. CBS Films? Alright then. Chris Pine putting on a Southern accent? I’m skeptical. Brothers that rob banks together? I’m pretty sure I’ve seen that before. Thankfully, I was wrong. While the story is predictably straightforward, what makes this movie shine is a combination of the performances and the writing. The writing is interesting in an Aaron Sorkin kind of way, creating conversations and characters that feel real and interesting. These conversations are then strengthened by Chris Pine, Ben Foster, Jeff Bridges, and Gil Birmingham. They bring such a humanity to their characters and their conversations that it doesn’t really matter that you know where the story is going to end up. Add really good cinematography to that mix and you have a drama that is much better than it has any right to be.
#7: Sing Street
Talk about a film that needs more love. 2016 was the year I was introduced to the films of Irish director John Carney. Once was touching and Begin Again wasn’t incredible but very enjoyable. However, one of the biggest surprises of the year for me was Carney’s sleeper hit Sing Street. On a random summer day, I walked into a nearly empty theater expecting to at least have a better time than I did with Warcraft and Independence Day: Resurgence. What I got instead was a fantastic film filled with great performances, emotional moments that hit me to the core, and original music that oozes of the best of the 80’s chart toppers. It’s a coming-of-age tale that, just like Hell or High Water, is a lot better than it has any right to be. As of writing this, Sing Street is on Netflix. Do yourself a favor and watch it as soon as possible.
#6: Swiss Army Man
Wow. What a film. Swiss Army Man is weird, colorful, and unique. There is very little I can say about this film that already hasn’t been said. Paul Dano is great, Daniel Radcliffe is surprisingly lovable as a farting corpse, the score is beautifully whimsical, and the cinematography is phenomenal. While I do think that the finale of the film is the weakest part, it’s such a risky move that I still can’t help but applaud the directors/writers for trying something so bold. It’s a bizarre film that definitely wears the indie badge with pride. I can’t wait to watch it again in the future.
#5: The Witch
Horror films are in a interesting place right now. Blumhouse is constantly pushing out horror film after horror film, consistently making much more money than anyone ever expects. While some of the films they release, such as The Conjuring and Ouija: Origin of Evil, are legitimately well made, they don’t really terrify me the same way that indie darlings like It Follows do. That’s where Robert Eggers’ The Witch comes in. It’s incredibly horrifying without ever having to resort to cheap jump scares or surprising music cues. It’s a New-England folktale that is beautifully drenched in the Puritan lifestyle, creating a horror story that feels real to that era. The film is filled with paranoia, fantastic performances (especially from Anya Taylor-Joy), cinematography that creates beauty out of the lack of color in the frame, and many moments that just made my heart skip a beat each time. Hell, the last ten minutes had my jaw open in horror. It’s a slow-burn horror film that makes all the other 2016 horror films look stale and basic in comparison. I even had a friend that fainted while watching the film. If that doesn’t show you how this film can mess with people, I don’t know what will. If you love horror but you haven’t given it a watch yet, you’re doing yourself a major disservice.
#4: The Nice Guys
Disclaimer: I love Shane Black. I love Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Lethal Weapon, and even Iron Man 3. This guy just knows how to write compelling stories that are emotional and hilarious to the point where it’s not even fair to have someone this good get a bomb at the box office. This leads to what I think is the most criminally underrated film of 2016: The Nice Guys. This film deserved to be a hit. Its writing, characters, humor, and dedication to the 70’s aesthetic create a story that is so typical Shane Black. However, it isn’t a retread of Lethal Weapon or Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Russell Crowe’s Jackson Healy and Ryan Gosling’s Holland March are their own characters that you grow to love and laugh with as they go on this wild adventure involving porn, pollution, and killer bees. This especially applies to Gosling because he absolutely kills it as Holland, creating a role that is personally my favorite of all the characters he’s played throughout his career. It’s a hilarious riot that deserves to be seen by everyone. Please see this! If there was any chance we’d get an 80’s-esque sequel in the near future, I’d take it in a heartbeat.
I had to put this on my list. I wasn’t able to see it until nearly a week ago. I even contemplated not putting it on the list because I technically didn’t see it until 2017. However, this isn’t “Top 10 Films That I Saw in 2016.” This is a list of my favorite films that were RELEASED in 2016, and let me tell you: Moonlight is absolutely one of my favorites. It’s an emotional powerhouse that is beautiful to look at, heart-wrenching at times, and so incredibly acted that I’m angry they can’t nominate every major actor from the film for an Oscar. It’s the type of subtle masterpiece that keeps you glued to your seat well after the film has ended, forcing you to think back on the incredible experience you have just had. It’s a phenomenal story about sexuality and self-discovery that deserves to win Best Picture this year. Despite having a slow pace and moments that’ll just crush your soul, it deserves to be seen by anyone who loves movies.
#2: La La Land
Before I get into this, let me explain: Moonlight and La La Land go back and forth in the rankings all the time in my head. There have been days where Moonlight was #2 on my list. However, whenever I question the placement of these two films, I remember “Another Day of Sun”… and “Someone In the Crowd”… AND “A Lovely Night.” The list goes on. As someone who has Singin’ in the Rain in my Top 10 Films of All Time list, it’s no surprise that La La Land swept me away from the start. It’s a technicolor dream that is beautifully shot, wonderfully acted, and choreographed in a way that’ll make any Gene Kelly fan blush. Is it the best film of the decade? Absolutely not. That being said though, it’s an evolution of the classic studio musical that perfectly balances itself between reality and fiction, creating a film that is self-aware of the pros and cons of what it’s homaging. Damien Chazelle, right off the heels of Whiplash, has created a love letter to old Hollywood that is miles better than The Artist ever was, creating a detailed experience that can be enjoyed by pretty much anyone. It nearly made me cry when I first saw it, pushing me to get the soundtrack minutes after I walked out of the theater. While I want Moonlight to take home the Best Picture Oscar later this month, I personally have a softer spot for La La Land. What can I say? “Another Day of Sun” gets me every time.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been trying to figure out what qualities or factors create a “perfect film” in my head. Nearly five years ago, I thought The Avengers was a perfect movie. Today, it’s not even in my Top 5 Marvel films. In the span of half a decade, it’s incredible to see how much a person can change. It makes me wonder whether or not the films I consider perfect now, like Tarantino’s Jackie Brown or Iñárritu’s Birdman, will follow the same fate. While I can only really guess at how a film is going to change in my mind in another 5 years, what I do know now is this: Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival is the only film that came out in 2016 that I saw that I feel is perfect from top to bottom. The cinematography is gorgeous, the score is poetic, the performances (especially from Amy Adams) are fantastic, and the story is…awesome. It filled me with so much love, sadness, and curiosity that I didn’t want to leave my seat while the credits were rolling. I just wanted to sit there until the next showing, and watch the film again and again. In my personal opinion, it is the best sci-fi film I’ve seen in at least the last four years. It blows big sci-fi films like Interstellar, The Martian, and Gravity out of the water in every category. It’s a film that doesn’t try to be bombastic or colorful or even gripping. It just tries to be the best it can be and it succeeds with flying colors. It’s a masterpiece that reminds me why I love movies so much.