It's that time of year again! Time to give you my end-of-year movie lists. Before I get to my worst, I'll start here with the best. To preface this, let me say that I did not see every movie this year. I did my best to catch all the major highlights, but there's so many movies that come out each year that it's literally impossible to see them all. Thus I realize that there may be some that I missed that could've made this list, but that's OK. I don't make it a goal to see every single movie ever made. Rather I make it a goal to keep going back to previous years and watching movies that I haven't seen in hopes that I will find more hidden gems that could've made a best of the year list. I also want to point out that 2016 was a phenomenal year for film. Yes, there were a lot of major disappointments, but there were also a lot of great movies that flew under the radar of the general public as well as a lot of great movies that came out in the last few months of the year that made 2016 a year to remember. Consequently, I was forced to leave off a lot of worthy candidates for this list, which made me sad. But after a lot of thought, I feel comfortable with these 10 and thus you can call them the best of the best. My 10 personal favorite movies of 2016. With all that out of the way, let's begin!
10- Doctor Strange
Out of all the end-of-year lists from others that I've seen, most have included "Captain America: Civil War" and/or "Deadpool." Thus I will start off with a major shocker. Neither of those movies made this list. I enjoyed both of them, but it was "Doctor Strange" that won my heart and wins my award for best superhero movie of the year. Personally I've been really impressed at the consistency of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It seems like Marvel is daring themselves with each new movie they make to test their limits of what they can do while still pleasing audiences and it keeps working. Thus it seems they can do no wrong. With "Doctor Strange," they added a new element to their universe. Magic. And man was it fun. The whole second half of the movie felt like "Inception" on steroids with those visuals and I loved every minute of it. But that's not all. This movie reminded me a lot of "Batman Begins." I think Strange's story arc paralleled Bale's Batman in that movie both in terms of specific events that happened as well as in quality. Benedict Cumberbatch hit a home run with this character and immediately inserted himself as an A-list character in the MCU. We even set up a future villain for the franchise that could wind up as one of Marvel's best villains. 9- Loving
We had two major Civil Rights movies hit theaters in December and while "Hidden Figures" did win my heart and is currently owning it at the box office with its January expansion, I'm giving "Loving" the slight edge. For me this was a different approach to the well-covered Civil Rights genre of historical films. Instead of taking the bold, direct route equivalent of a preacher giving a pulpit-thumping sermon in front of a captive audience, this movie was like a good friend quietly entering the back door of your house, sitting down at your table and telling you a simple, yet profound story. Because it did that, this movie ended up speaking louder and more profoundly to my heart that most Civil Rights movies. "Loving" could've chosen to include plenty of powerful speeches or some intense court sequences. But it didn't. The focus here was on telling a beautiful love story between a couple that wanted nothing more than to just be together, raise a family and not bother another soul in the world. Yet because they were an interracial couple at a time and place where that was illegal, they weren't given peace and quiet and that was heart-breaking for me. Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga both gave phenomenal performances and were easily one of the best on-screen duos of the year. 8- Kubo and the Two Strings
Now we get to my favorite animated movie of the year. And believe me, it was extremely hard for me to not include "Zootopia" on this list, which is honestly one of Disney's best and most relevant films. I thought for sure that would make this, but there ended up being just too many great movies this year. Instead we have a genre of animation that is criminally underrated. Stop-motion animation. Laika deserves to be in the discussion as one of the best animation studios in existence right now, but instead each of their movies struggles to get to $50 million because people just won't give stop-motion animation the time of day. Which is an absolute shame. "Kubo" has every emotion imaginable in it tacked onto an action/adventure film. So many great characters. Such a fun story. Several great action sequences. A surprising number of dark, scary sequences. And a ton of heart. And it was all done with clay. One tiny movement at a time. Had this been a 100 percent CGI animation film, the characters and story would've still made this the best animated movie I saw this year. Add in all the time and effort that was put into every scene and every movement and this movie completely blew my mind. If you are one of the millions that skipped "Kubo," fix that. Right now. 7- The Nice Guys
Summer 2016 was a disappointing summer for many people, myself included. We started off on a great note with "Captain America: Civil War," which just barely missed this list, by the way, but then we had blockbuster after blockbuster fall flat on its face. Hidden in May, though, was a summer movie that brought with it a ton of anticipation, but limited box office results. It was like everyone was excited to see it, but then decided to skip it for some reason. Shame on them, because this was easily the best movie of the summer and perhaps the most entertaining theatrical experience I had all year. Like seriously, I looked over all the movies I've seen this year and I couldn't think of one that provided more gust-busting laughter than this movie. There were points in this movie where I was laughing so hard, I had a hard time breathing. And that doesn't happen for me too often. On top of that, the action sequences in the movie were also the best of the year and they didn't stop coming. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe made for a surprisingly fantastic action duo. Add in a surprising amount of heart and emotion, as well as a pretty decent story, and this was one heck of a well-rounded movie. The type of movie that you could watch over and over and be entertained each time.
6- Hell or High Water
We've now moved on from the great movies this year to the heavyweights. Each of these next six movies could make an argument for best of the year in previous years and most of them I have seen as other people's No. 1 film of 2016. And for good reason. We start with a movie that came out nowhere in the middle of August to absolutely blow my socks off. I don't even really know what genre to classify "Hell or High Water" as. It feels like a modern western, action, crime drama, heist movie all wrapped in one giant bow, set in West Texas, an area where I lived for two years, which was kinda cool to see. What I really loved about this movie was that it was a heist movie that gave an equal amount of screen time to both sides of the heist and made you cheer on both sides. It's Jeff Bridges vs. Chris Pine and Ben Foster. There's so much gray area with all three characters, especially our two "villains." All three give Oscar-worthy performances that help the movie build up to an insanely emotional conclusion that left me floored. I didn't think this would be the type of movie that would get a bunch of attention during awards season, but it actually has and that has made me ecstatic.
5- Hacksaw Ridge
Believe it or not, the most spiritual movie experience of the year for me came with Mel Gibson's war movie, "Hacksaw Ridge." Say what you want about Mel Gibson as a person, but he really knows how to direct a movie. There's a lot of war movies that have been made, but few are constructed as well as "Hacksaw Ridge." The first half of the movie is spent solely on setting the stage and is essentially PG-level as we're just telling a story of a man who doesn't want to pick up a gun, but wants to go fight in a war anyways. There's so many well-written characters in here with various amounts of screen time that I honestly cared for everyone. Then we got to the point where we were marching to battle and suddenly it dawned on me that this is a Mel Gibson war movie. Things are about to get crazy. And that they did. The second half of the movie came like a tidal wave. It didn't hold back and it left no time for the audience to breathe. All of this sets the stage perfectly for an inspirational finale led by some crazy acts done by Andrew Garfield's character acting like a true hero, using God as his inspiration to move forward and save one life at a time. It was an amazing performance in an amazing movie that has helped me a lot since I've seen it. Well done, Mel Gibson! 4- Arrival
"Arrival" was the hardest movie to place. There was a point this year where I claimed this as my favorite movie before a certain two movies came out. There was another point while I was organizing this list that I had this as low as No. 8. I couldn't figure out what to do with it. So I had to go watch the movie again and pay extra close attention this time. Here's the thing. On the surface this is an alien invasion movie that moves super slow and doesn't make a lot of sense when you think about certain things. It's intriguing and mysterious with a haunting score and beautiful cinematography, but there's aspects of it that don't hold up upon further viewings. However, it's when you look beneath the surface that this movie shines. If you stop focusing on all of the alien stuff and start focusing on the many themes the movie brings up, this movie is genius. It has so many deep layers to it and when you start breaking down those themes and thinking about them, there's so much to unpack. If I were to scratch the surface a bit, we talk about the importance of communication and unity. The movie is a reflection of the current state of our government and how hypersensitive we can be. We also have interesting ideas about family, time and language presented. Another great movie from Denis Villeneuve. 3- The Witch
Up to this point, I bet all of my choices haven't been too surprising. I'm guessing this is where I throw a major curve ball that catches people off guard. "The Witch" was an independent horror movie released at Sundance in 2015, then finally got it's theatrical release in February of 2016. After I saw it, it immediately became my favorite movie of the year and it stayed that way for most of the year. This is a horror movie done right and as a fan of the horror genre, it was refreshing to see a horror movie that didn't rely on all of the frustrating horror tropes of our day. It was successfully creepy and intense without having any jump scares or over-the-top gore. But that's not why this is so high. This is honestly one of the most fascinating horror movies ever made. Is it a tragedy where an imperfect young girl trying her best to be good ends up embracing witchcraft because her stubborn, 17th Century, protestant parents push her too far away? Or is it a happy movie where an oppressed young female finally makes choices on her own, despite it not being the popular choice? This has led people on all sides of the religious spectrum to endorse this movie, from faithful Christians to Satanic worshipers. Not many horror films can claim that. Fascinating. And it only gets better over time. 2- Manchester by the Sea
You'll find a theme with my top two movies. Real, honest human emotion. Two stories that aren't tied with a pretty Hollywood bow on top, but are rather more representative of the human experience in ways that not many movies today are bold enough to go. When I wrote my review of "Manchester by the Sea," I made sure to stay far away from any spoilers and I will stick to that. If I put it simply, this is a movie about a man that has had a horrific tragedy happen to him and he deals with it in way that many people actually would instead of trying to sugar coat things to appease audiences or present the perfect Oscar-bait movie. That honest human emotion is what I really appreciated and was blown away by. Once you know the secret of what happened to this man, it is like a strong punch in the gut that sends you reeling throughout the whole second half of the movie. And once you've recovered, which might take a while, you are left in awe at the movie that was presented to you. Casey Affleck delivers a staggeringly phenomenal performance as this man that I hope wins him a gold trophy at the Oscars. And of course that performance would be nowhere without the beautiful Michelle Williams. When those two are on screen together, it is cinematic gold. 1- La La Land
Yeah this was easy. Last year I disputed for days in my head as to which movie I would award as my favorite movie and there were three movies that I had a hard time deciding from. This year that decision was essentially made in early November when I saw "La La Land" for the first time. Not only does Damien Chazelle bring back a genre that many of us thought was dead a long time ago, that being the Golden Age musical, but he also managed to make one of the most relevant films for our day. I don't know how Damien did it, but I sat in awe as I watched a movie that was essentially a portrait of my life. I'm not an aspiring actor or an aspiring jazz musician, but I saw myself in both Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. I have dreams and aspirations of my own and I've had a rough go at it. And I'm certain I'm not alone. Life throws a lot of curve balls at you and it's tough trying to figure out how to deal with it. When you are thinking of the greatest movies of all time, there's usually "the scene" in each one that you can point out. "La La Land" has four of those scenes. And when I re-watched the movie last week, two of them turned me into a complete emotional wreck. After taking a close look at each year of this current decade, I couldn't come up with a single movie that I like more than "La La Land." Thus I feel comfortable calling it my favorite movie of the decade.