Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: Best of 2016: The 13 Best Films of the Year

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Best of 2016: The 13 Best Films of the Year

by Tony Dayoub

As usual, I'm running late with this. But I had the opportunity to see more films for 2016 than I have for any previous years, so I wanted to be comprehensive in my viewing. Fortunately, I just got this under the wire and am posting my list of last year's top films before the Oscar nominations are announced.

For your consideration, my top films of 2016, followed by the winners of the respective polls I was invited to vote in.

1. Manchester by the Sea, directed by Kenneth Lonergan - Lonergan's comedy-drama has its problems. First of all, it's set in a part of the U.S. that is not the most representative of this country's diversity. Which makes the film's second problem—the fact that star Casey Affleck is hardly facing the same kind of scrutiny that Birth of a Nation's star/director, Nate Parker, faced in the media for a similar assault scandal—seem even more racially biased. So, it is to Manchester's credit—mostly due to the performances of its ensemble anchored by two standout turns by Michelle Williams and, yes, Affleck—that any problematic qualities are quickly forgotten. Former playwright Lonergan's fantastic screenplay is so truthful, that one feels as if they are eavesdropping on real lives coping with various stages of grief and anger.

2. La La Land, dir. Damien Chazelle - Review here. A glorious confection with just enough of an undercurrent of realism to appeal to today's jaded audiences.

3. Moonlight, dir. Barry Jenkins - I grew up in Miami in the 1980s, the time and place so accurately captured by Jenkins in this beautiful film. Focusing on a young gay man at three different stages of his life and the social forces that influence how his life unfolds, the grittiness of Miami's nascent drug scene is finely contrasted with dreamy lyricism of the Magic City.

4. The Witch, dir. Robert Eggers - This eerie feminist tract boasts an intense central performance by Split star, Anya Taylor-Joy. The movie is made infinitely creepier by the alienating period-accurate depiction of traditions and language of the time.

5. 10 Cloverfield Lane, dir. Dan Trachtenberg - John Goodman, John Goodman, John Goodman. He has never been more frightening or more fascinating than he is here as a survivalist trying to convince Mary Elizabeth Winstead that he is holding her hostage in an underground fallout shelter only to save her from an extinction-level event that occurred topside.

6. Jackie, dir. Pablo Larraín - Review here. Larraín deftly applies liberal helpings of Mica Levi's dissonant score to expose the recently widowed Jackie Kennedy's state of mind, allowing the actor playing her, Natalie Portman, to project the outward stoicism we remember her for during the national tragedy of her husband's assassination.

7. Kubo and the Two Strings, dir. Travis Knight - An evocative, stop-motion folk tale that dazzles far beyond anything put out by Disney or Pixar this year.

8.(tie) 13th, dir. Ava DuVernay, I Am Not Your Negro, dir. Raoul Peck, and O.J.: Made in America, dir. Ezra Edelman - Three documentaries that together flesh out the African American experience and the depressing effects of racism blacks still experience to this day. 13th considers the prison industrial complex and how it specifically and disproportionately preys on African Americans. I Am Not Your Negro uses writer/activist James Baldwin's own words, whether spoken by him in archival footage or read aloud by Samuel L. Jackson, to communicate the anger of a race that has never truly been allowed to assimilate into our society, but is now a stranger in the homeland from which our founding fathers forcibly separated them. Lastly, O.J.: Made in America is an 8 hour miniseries created for ESPN's 30 for 30 program that takes a deep dive into the social forces that contributed to O.J. Simpson's rise and fall. Between the granular examination of Simpson's career and that of the L.A. police's contentious relationship with the city's black community, this addictive show doesn't even get to the attention-grabbing Nicole Brown Simpson murder until about 4 hours in. And that's a good thing, because by that time, you will be well-versed in ALL of the circumstances that made the ultimate outcome a virtual fait accompli.

11. Nocturnal Animals, dir. Tom Ford - Review here. Director Tom Ford pulls no punches in illustrating how a romantic opportunist (Amy Adams) finally gets her comeuppance thanks to her ex-husband's harrowing novel and its thinly veiled attack on their loveless marriage.

12. The Neon Demon, dir. Nicolas Winding Refn - I despised Refn's derivative Drive as much as anyone could. But somehow, Refn manages to Frankenstein the shit out of this cautionary horror tale about a up-and-coming naif (Elle Fanning) making her way through L.A.'s modeling world and get the alchemy just right. The Neon Demon is a weird cut-and-paste job made up from leftover Friedkin, Kubrick, Lynch, and Russ Meyer with a fantastic Cliff Martinez score reminiscent of John Carpenter's best.

13. The Founder, dir. John Lee Hancock - Central to Hancock's movie is Michael Keaton's phenomenal performance as a scrappy Ray Kroc, the traveling salesman that impressively franchised McDonald's beyond what even the brothers who founded it could have conceived. The way Hancock gets viewers to buy into Kroc's ascent to success only to subvert the the archetypal underdog story by making the antihero a petty, rapacious monster definitely marks this as a Trump-era allegory.

Honorable Mention: 20th Century Women, Arrival, Café Society, Captain America: Civil War, De Palma, Everybody Wants Some!!, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Fences, Hail, Caesar!, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, The Jungle Book, Lion, The Lobster, Loving, A Monster Calls, Neruda, The Nice Guys, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Silence, Star Trek Beyond, Sully, Toni Erdmann, Weiner, Zero Days

Most Overrated: Deadpool

Most Underrated: Silence

Breakthrough Actor of the Year:
Mahershala Ali (Free State of Jones, Hidden Figures, Kicks, Luke Cage, Moonlight)

Breakthrough Actress of the Year: Janelle Monáe (Hidden Figures, Moonlight)


Winners are in red where my own vote coincides.

Georgia Film Critics Association

Best Picture:
Best Director: Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
Best Actor: Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)
Best Actress: Natalie Portman (Jackie)
Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)
Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis (Fences)
Best Original Screenplay:
La La Land - Damien Chazelle
Best Adapted Screenplay: Moonlight - Barry Jenkins
Best Cinematography: Moonlight - James Laxton
Best Production Design: La La Land - David Wasco, Austin Gorg
Best Original Score: La La Land - Justin Hurwitz
Best Original Song: "City of Stars" - Justin Hurwitz, Pasek and Paul (La La Land)
Best Ensemble:
Best Foreign Film: Elle
Breakthrough Award: Mahershala Ali (Free State of Jones, Hidden Figures, Kicks, Moonlight)
Best Animated Film:
Best Documentary: O.J.: Made in America
Oglethorpe Award for Excellence in Georgia Cinema:
The Nice Guys


Best Film
1. Moonlight
2. Manchester by the Sea
3. La La Land

4. Toni Erdmann
5. O.J.: Made in America
6. Paterson
7. The Handmaiden
8. Arrival
9. Hell or High Water
10. Jackie

Best Director: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Best Actress: Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Best Actor: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Best Supporting Actress:
Lily Gladstone, Certain Women
Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Best Documentary: O.J.: Made in America

Best Undistributed Film:
Best First Feature: The Witch
Best Screenplay: Manchester by the Sea
Best Original Score/Soundtrack: Jackie

Best Cinematography:
Best Editing: Moonlight
Best Overlooked Film: The Fits
Most Anticipated of 2017: Blade Runner 2049

The Southeastern Film Critics Association
Top 10
1. Moonlight
2. Manchester by the Sea
3. La La Land

4. Hell or High Water
5. Loving
6. Arrival
7. (tie) Fences and Jackie
8. Nocturnal Animals

9. Hidden Figures

Best Actor
1. Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

2. Denzel Washington, Fences

Best Actress
1. Natalie Portman, Jackie

2. Ruth Negga, Loving

Best Supporting Actor
1. Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
2. Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water

Best Supporting Actress
1. Viola Davis, Fences

2. Naomie Harris, Moonlight

Best Ensemble
1. Moonlight
2. Manchester by the Sea

Best Director
1. Damien Chazelle, La La Land
2. Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

Best Original Screenplay
1. Manchester by the Sea

2. Hell or High Water

Best Adapted Screenplay
1. Moonlight
2. Arrival

Best Documentary
1. I Am Not Your Negro
2. O.J.: Made in America

Best Foreign Language Film
1. The Handmaiden
2. Elle

Best Animated Film
1. Zootopia
2. Kubo and the Two Strings

Best Cinematography
1. La La Land
2. Moonlight

The Gene Wyatt Award for the Film that Best Evokes the Spirit of the South
1. Loving
2. Moonlight

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