2016 featured no shortage of superb cinema. From seasoned veterans dropping new projects to fresh talent debuting incredible material, 2016 was at least a good year for film. Check out the year’s top movies:
Adapting a play into a film remains a challenge, but the Barry Jenkins written and directed “Moonlight” never falters. With a narrative-driven plot, ample subtlety, poignant themes, and masterful cinematography, “Moonlight” is a lesson in film making.
Featuring talent such as Trevante Rhodes, Janelle Monae, Naomie Harris, and Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight” follows protagonist Chiron. Nicknamed Little, Chiron is remarkably shy, and the film follows his progression from childhood to adulthood. Touching on everything from socio-economic issues to sexuality, it’s a simultaneously heartbreaking and hopeful film.
“Rogue One” just might be the best “Star Wars” film aside from “A New Hope” and “The Empire Strikes Back.” Despite debuting in 2016, there’s a 70s vibe from the exquisite costume design to sets. “Rogue One” even features CG versions of Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing), and Princess Leia.
2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” succeeded largely owing to plentiful fan service. There’s still quite a bit of fan service in “Rogue One,” albeit increasingly subtle. Slash Film has an excellent round up of “Rogue One” easter eggs. Overall, it’s a fitting prequel to “A New Hope” that concentrates on an entirely new set of characters and relays a fascinating story that further expands the Star Wars universe.
The superhero genre has had its ups (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “The Dark Knight”) and lows (“Batman vs. Superman,” “Suicide Squad.”). “Deadpool” ushered in a breath of fresh air. As a character, Deadpool deviates from more traditional superhero lore. As such, the 2016 big screen adaptation remains unique within the genre.
A hilarious, tongue in cheek romp, “Deadpool” successfully lampoons the superhero subgenre as well as itself. It’s highly entertaining, and depicts the origin story of a lesser known (outside the comic book world at least) hero.
Like Deadpool, Doctor Strange is decidedly fringe in comparison to heroes such as Iron Man or Captain America in the ranks of non comic book devotees. “Doctor Strange,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular Stephen Strange, arrives as one of Marvel Studios’s finer flicks.
Cumberbatch, not surprisingly, dominates throughout. However co-star Tilda Swinton absolutely steals every scene she’s in. The multi-talented Swinton (I’m still irked she didn’t receive any nominations for “Snowpiercer“) continues to amaze. Plus, “Doctor Strange” is filled with lifelike, hallucinatory visuals that pop offscreen.
Director Fede Alvarez assumed control over the 2013 “Evil Dead” reboot. While not quite as spectacular as the original “The Evil Dead,” or its sequels “The Evil Dead 2” and “Army of Darkness,” the 2013 iteration was nonetheless a fun, terrifying film. Alvarez followed a more straightforward horror approach.
2016’s “Don’t Breathe” is written, directed, and produced by Alvarez. Sam Raimi, director and writer of the 1981 “The Evil Dead,” once again teams up with Alvarez for this frightening film. While it’s definitely got its horror moments, “Don’t Breathe” is a frenetic thriller. Fantastically acted and featuring a brutal, unforgettable climax, “Don’t Breathe” is a true must-watch.
“The Neon Demon”
While “The Neon Demon” is not without its faults, this gorgeous film persists as one of 2016’s finest flicks. The Nicolas Winding Refn directed “The Neon Demon” is unabashedly catered to film fans. With beautiful visuals, exquisite cinematography, and lush lighting, it’s a technically brilliant movie. Even the soundtrack, handled by Cliff Martinez (“Drive”) is truly immersive.
Unfortunately, the plot is rather lacking. It’s as if “The Neon Demon” is an art installation first, and narrative second. Yet the remarkable film making compensates for a shallow story, and “The Neon Demon” ultimately emerges as 2016’s most visually striking film.
“The Girl on the Train”
Adapted from the the Paula Hawkins novel of the same name, “The Girl on the Train” is a taut thriller. Although the plot is engaging, it’s Emily Blunt’s tour de force performance that makes “The Girl on the Train” one of the year’s top flicks. Blunt impressively shows the downward spiral into alcoholism. This may be her best role since 2014’s “Edge of Tomorrow.”
Tate Taylor directs and keeps “The Girl on the Train” loyal enough to the source material while deviating enough to posit the film as its own entity. Taylor tackles a non-linear, meandering narrative perfectly, and even the Danny Elfman soundtrack is on point as always with Elfman scores.
“Arrival” trades the explosions and action for a heady sci-fi experience. Visually compelling and thought-provoking, it’s aligned with the Philip K. Dick and Ray Bradbury school of sci-fi. An ensemble cast of Amy Adams, Forest Whitaker, and Jeremy Renner bolster the strong plot and atmosphere.
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”
When J.K. Rowling concluded the Harry Potter saga, it was far from over. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” is as enchanting as the Harry Potter books, and possibly the best film to spawn from the Potter universe. Following predominantly fresh characters such as Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), “Fantastic Beasts” focuses on the wizarding world in the Unites States.
A truly delightful film, it’s equally as enjoyable for Potterheads as it is for franchise newcomers.
“Eye in the Sky”
Drone warfare evolved into a heated and oft-debated topic. Gavin Hood’s “Eye in the Sky” presents a relatively unbiased portrait of drone warfare. The tense, edge-of-your-seat thriller benefits from an ensemble cast, the likes of which include Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Barkhad Abdi, Pheobe Fox, and the late great Alan Rickman.
Brilliantly acted, relevant, and utterly gripping, “Eye in the Sky” is an absolute must-see.
“The Edge of Seventeen”
“Edge of Seventeen” has garnered comparisons to “Juno,” and for good reason. The quirky coming-of-age drama concentrates on 17-year old Nadine Franklin (Haliee Steinfield), and opens with her explaining to her history teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson) that she is going to kill herself.
From there, “Edge of Seventeen” offers a flashback of how Nadine arrived at that point, before proceeding beyond that moment. “Edge of Seventeen” is an emotional tug of war, side-splittingly hilarious on moment and gut-wrenchingly tragic the next. This dichotomy, as well as inspired performances from Steinfeld, Kyra Sedgwick, and Harrelson make “Edge of Seventeen” a delightful, complex drama.