Best of 2016: Movies

In All, Movies by Kyu

Welcome one and all to the second annual “Best of”s from all your friends here at We Have Always Lived in the Kraken! Every year we making ridiculous top lists, hand out awards we just made up, and in general celebrate the weird, wild year we all just experienced. Today we’re talking movies.

2016 was terrible in all ways and all things (shut up, sports fans) (Never! You won’t take this from us! – Ed) and no medium was hit harder than movies. From disappointing superhero movies like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and X-Men: Apocalypse to pointless remakes like Ghostbusters, big-budget franchise filmmaking was almost entirely bankrupt. Meanwhile, outside of crappy comedies and bad crime dramas, the sub-$100 million movie has vanished from American screens (actually they all went to television), while indie filmmakers struggle to get distribution sufficient to fill in the gaps. That said, things weren’t all terrible. Disney continued its hot streak with the excellent Star Wars side story Rogue One, there were a bunch of great animated films (particularly Laika’s best entry yet, Kubo and the Two Strings), and the usual glut of good movies in November and December helped to partially make up for the rest of the year. There are good 2016 films; we just had to look a little harder this year. Without further ado, the best of a very bad year…


The 10 Best Movies of the Year… about Donald J. Trump

Time Magazine’s Person of the Year award doesn’t go to the best person but to the most influential, which is why it absolutely had to be Trump. Love him or hate him, the President-Elect’s campaign, electoral victory, and generally meteoric rise to national prominence (wait, don’t meteors fall?) made him the dominant cultural figure of the year. In retrospect, his win seems like the natural conclusion to the long presidential contest; in narrative terms, the person who most embodies the surrounding story gets to be the protagonist. In America, that means the candidate who unites the tenor of the times, and the best movies this year (and many other besides) all seemed to anticipate or reflect Trump in one way or another. This is my top ten list for the moment (still plenty of movies left to see!), but it’s worth looking not only at why they’re good but why they’re important to the cultural conversation and its lightning rod central figure.

  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Big-budget film making has been in crisis for a long time now, particularly if you discount Christopher Nolan’s one-man mission to prove Hollywood’s biggest movies can be as high-quality as they are expensive. Franchising has replaced not just original concepts but smart screenwriting in general, with too many of today’s action blockbusters feeling like extended advertisements for next year’s sequel rather than exciting stories in and of themselves (I’m looking at you, Marvel). That’s why Disney’s venture into reviving Star Wars at the cinema is so thrilling to see. Between The Force Awakens and this year’s “side story” Rogue One, it’s clear that the Mouse is intent on making thrilling, complex, thoughtful additions to George Lucas’ languishing universe. There are big, bold ideas in these movies, as well as a welcome sincerity of emotion. Rogue One is a war movie (set in a sci-fi version of the WWII Pacific theater), a mash note to Episode IV, and a study in hope and faith, but it’s also one of the best dissertations on political activism since The Battle of Algiers. Comparing the limitations and strengths of two very different organizations–the force-choke-happy political jockeying of the Empire’s upper management and the divided but passionate Rebellion–Rogue One argues that the good guys don’t always win, but that you can at least go down fighting and inspiring the next generation. The last scene of the movie is maybe the best thing on film all year, demonstrating with great tension and excitement how dreams (political and cinematic) are ultimately the baton in a relay race, to be passed in desperate effort to the hand we hope is waiting to take it. Every member of the Democratic party, politician and voter alike, should see this movie and take notes: have the courage of your convictions, stand bravely against tyranny, cooperate when possible and fly solo when necessary, act ruthlessly and then make sure it all counts for something in the end. We all know how Rogue One‘s nascent Rebellion turned out; so, too, will the state of progress in America ultimately succeed if we are smart and lucky and ready when the time comes to go rogue.

  • Kubo and the Two Strings

The latest film from stop motion animation studio Laika, Kubo is far and away their best. Not only does it set a new standard for the beauty and intricacy of the form, but it’s also their most inventive and complete story, perfecting the studio’s continual attempts to capture the pain, loneliness, and wonder of childhood. Told through stop-motion animation often inspired by origami, the movie traces a tale inspired by Japanese legends about a family who struggle to remain connected, even when sundered by time and tragedy. The result is gorgeous, sweeping, heartfelt, and one of the best movies of the year. Most interesting beneath the surface is the way the movie reveals information about the backstory in reverse order, mirroring the way children like Kubo learn about what’s happened in the story they’ve just arrived into. That every fantastic sequence and magical sub-quest is ultimately about his parents, his aunts, and his grandfather unify the work, as does what it has to say about the power of storytelling. The conflict here is ultimately about different perceptions of family; while Kubo’s mother believes that family is about love and memory, his grandfather believes that family is a matter of honor and perfection reflected back to his own ego. Taking Kubo’s eyes is about blinding him to the truth, and the crux of the film is which story Kubo’s journey across the sea and into his family history has taught him to be true. Truth and fiction, control and rebellion; this film’s cruel grandfather brings to mind another, which makes the movie’s sweetly empathic conclusion a cathartic dream we sadly won’t get in real life, even after Trump’s presidency comes to “The End.”

  • La La Land

Don’t get me wrong, there’s not a mean bone in La La Land‘s body, but the dialectic between traditionalism and modernity is as present in every moment of the film as it was in the 2016 election, and it’s no secret to which side this loving ode to classical Hollywood cinema’s heart belongs. References both subtle and loud to Tinseltown’s past abound, from Fred and Ginger and Rebel Without a Cause to Vertigo and Casablanca, while the movie takes great pains to walk its stock characters (inhabited brilliantly by Gosling as the struggling Artist and Stone as the naive but determined Ingenue) through the soul-crushing, annoyingly sunny stew of hopeful Los Angeles creatives. Lush, long-take cinematic flourishes and truly excellent songs and score make the film a joy to watch, a triumph of style that charms you off your feet (and sweeps you right past some of the movie’s story flaws). Put simply, the film works, and along the way crafts a number of memorable moments and scenes, from the dance among the stars at the observatory to Gosling’s wistful whistling at the Santa Monica pier to Stone’s gorgeous, indelible final audition, and of course the heartbreaking ending. But La La Land‘s success as a movie does rest on a fundamentally conservative viewpoint–that things used to be better, that past inspirations matter more than the work we do now, that we can either make something new (a job, a family) or live in a paeon to the old (say, a classic jazz club), but not both. #MakeMusicalsGreatAgain?

  • OJ: Made in America

I’ve been hearing great things about ESPN’s 30 for 30 series for years (I think by this point they’re technically up to like 60 for 37, but who’s counting?) but never tuned in until the very high praise doled out for this five part, 7.5 hour documentary that I’m choosing to call a film for the purposes of this list. OJ: Made in America details a classic American rise and fall story about a man who had everything and lost it. As someone who was too young during the trial to experience OJ’s story first hand, I wasn’t familiar with many of the absurd events that went on, but I know enough to appreciate how comprehensive and clear this documentary is in describing them. The film is at once a true crime story, a character study of Simpson himself, and a history of race relations in Los Angeles from the ’70s on, and the way it interweaves all three aspects is super smart. You get the story, you get the theme, and you get the context you need to understand what’s going on. You can also look at the entire narrative as a story about the first modern media event–exhaustively documented, culturally omnipresent, and totally unpredictable. The doc’s stroke of genius is to find people who had one small part to play at one specific moment–a juror at OJ’s criminal trial, or a childhood friend, or a helicopter pilot who captured the slow-motion freeway chase from above–and interview them about every single stage of the story, from Simpson’s lauded football career to his arc’s ignominious conclusion in the Vegas robbery, thus giving us a shifting Greek chorus of people who went from the audience to center stage and then back to mere observers once again. I could call OJ a Trumpian figure, and there’s a certain amount of truth in that in some respects, but the real lesson here as applies to the 2016 election is that Simpson’s story, like everything else in American culture, always, always, always comes back to race.

  • Godzilla Resurgence

If the OJ Simpson trial was the first modern media event, Godzilla Resurgence (or Shin Godzilla) demonstrates how the intervening decades have accelerated the news to the point of inanity. Nobody knows anything anymore, because when something big happens everybody in the world learns about it immediately. That leaves the people in charge of dealing with these events, the government, scrambling to catch up. Directed by Hideaki Anno with all the hyperfast pacing of his monumental anime Evangelion (also about a misguided response to giant monsters, albeit to very different ends), Resurgence essentially reinvents the disaster movie genre by focusing on the real life protagonists–not the unlikely heroes or bystanders on the ground (say, 2012 and The Impossible, respectively) but the bureaucrats responsible for responding to immediate public crises, no matter how unexpected or bizarre. Cutting rapidly between shots of a mysterious giant monster (codenamed “Godzilla”) emerging from Tokyo Bay to wreak havoc on the city and the stressed-out, fast-talking government officials moving from one conference room to the next, the film plays something like a cross between the weirdest episodes of The Thick of It and The West Wing you’ve ever seen. Forget the guy in the rubber suit; this Godzilla is an apt metaphor for any massive, surprising world event where the transfer of information is key and nothing’s more absurd than the political or chain of command shenanigans that take place even in the most dire hours. The movie’s masterstroke? That its giant monster is just so damn silly looking (and yet realistic and horrifying–a combination only Anno could have pulled off). Its great googly eyes and mindless destruction, coupled with the global surprise and scramble to understand it, brings readily to mind the shock, terror, and just plain “how did we not see this coming and what do we do now?” confusion of November 8th, 2016.

  • Swiss Army Man

2016 being a really crap year, we’ve now after only five movies crossed the “line of awesome,” beyond which the rest of my list is still very good but still flawed or limited in one way or another. Swiss Army Man has kind of a lackluster cop out of an ending, but it would take a lot more than that for me to dismiss a film so narrowcasted to my taste that it features a surprise cameo from my indie filmmaking hero, Shane Carruth. Besides, Swiss Army Man is just so damn weird you have to respect it. Essentially it’s a movie about guy lost in the wilderness, Hank (Paul Dano, almost unrecognizable), who must find his way home with the help of his talking, magically versatile pal of a corpse, Manny (Daniel Radcliffe, a long way from Hogwarts). The surreal touch makes Swiss Army Man suis generis, but the story itself does have a few antecedents, most notably Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are, which was also a story about a young male exploring his own psychology out in a literal/symbolic wilderness. (Some of Charlie Kaufman’s work also comes to mind.) Although of course Swiss Army Man isn’t a kid’s movie. Bizarrely enough, the film finds some beautiful philosophy of life in the scatalogy of the human body, connecting farts, poops, erections, etc., and their social acceptability (or lack thereof) to fundamental notions of who we are, what we want, how those change when we’re alone and why we might choose isolation for fear of the rejection of our basic, physical selves. Fast-cut montages, strong acting (particularly Radcliffe, who is hilarious without ever winking), an appealing arts-and-crafts visual aesthetic and what is simply the perfect score for this material make Swiss Army Man a gorgeous and entertaining journey into the self. That said, it falters at the end, first by dithering too long over the pedestrian question of Manny’s reality and then by failing to resolve some of the implicit critiques of Dano’s character. This isn’t remotely a political movie, but if you squint a little, Hank is emblematic of two major problems of the 2016 electorate: so self-centered that he withdraws from the world into the comforting safety of his iPhone earbuds, and so unknowingly wrapped up in social constructions of masculinity that his whole reason for going on living is so that he can find the girl he likes, a total stranger on his bus. Caring matters and so does sexism, and we all should have learned that last year. On the other hand, like Manny, Trump is also a disgusting gasbag with surprising survival skills. So there’s that.

  • Arrival

In the Life in the Kraken podcast episode on this film, I agreed that the parts of Arrival dealing with geopolitics were probably filler compared to the sci-fi shenanigans dominating the character side of things. Part of that’s due to how blatantly broad the message of the international parts really is. But for the next four years we’re going to have to face the fact that, yes, there are plenty of people who still need to learn that communication and diplomacy is usually the smartest option, with military force as the last resort–even if the other guys are, like, gross weird space aliens with seven limbs and creepy egg ships. A thrilling, atmospheric update of 1997’s Contact (with better CGI and stuff), Arrival is about the struggle to bridge social gaps–between different professions, different political persuasions, different nations, different species, different languages, and even across time, and Amy Adams’ enduring confidence in the efficacy of empathy and understanding in healing division is an inspiring and relevant message. On the technical side, Arrival‘s direction is both its greatest strength and greatest weakness, building a sense of moody dread through crisp visuals and strong editing but also allowing for plot ambiguities that seriously hamper the viewer’s ability to react properly to the story’s conclusion. However you want to read the ending, though, it’s undeniable that the film’s themes are visible in every frame, particularly in the design of the aliens, their ships, and their beautiful puzzle of a language. The tricky thing about semiotics is how subjective it really is, and the same goes for this movie. Look at it one way and Arrival is a deeply felt story about a mother’s love; look at it another way, and it’s just as powerful a narrative against war as an easy solution to the problem of communication. Just like the alien ships, this movie looks different–and equally compelling–from every angle.

  • Green Room

“Nazi punks, fuck off!” Green Room is kinda that simple, but that doesn’t make it meaningless. As I wrote in my Killtoberfest review of the film, “Standing up against hate is maybe the only thing that matters in a world where hate has the power to destroy you.” Perhaps the most accidentally timely movie of the year, Green Room is a pitch perfect thriller that cranks the horror movie culture clash up to 11 by pitting the Ain’t Rights, a young traveling punk band, against a terrifying gang of violent NeoNazis (led by a chillingly understated Patrick Stewart). The film takes place almost entirely in the Nazis’ dive bar but you wouldn’t know it from the meal the direction and cinematography makes of the space. The action is not only clear but scarily realistic, with characters constantly making stupid mistakes or taking forced risks and dying swift, bloody deaths as a result. A very strong and excellently-paced script, tight editing, and excellent sound design help to make Green Room extremely tense and effective. If there’s a subtlety to the story, it’s the way that, like Rogue One, the film takes pains to compare and contrast two organizational structures, the skinheads’ highly regimented fanaticism versus the punk band’s do-and-die anarchic passion. Horror movies and thrillers, particularly ones this violent (or this straightforward) rarely receive consideration on the critical end of year lists, but when a film is as well made and, given the resurgence of white supremacy in 2016, as cathartic as Green Room, it’s worth remembering.

  • The Nice Guys

Shane Black’s made a fine career out of mastering the art of the buddy cop movie, a genre he’s stretched from Lethal Weapon to Iron Man 3The Nice Guys, Black’s latest, isn’t quite as strong as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang but hey, at least it isn’t set at Christmas for once. Ryan Gosling (no stranger to sad sack-dom) and Russell Crowe (no stranger to teaming up to solve mysteries in Los Angeles in the past) have never been charming than they are in this ridiculously funny movie. There’s not much substance to the story, although the way the plot sneaks in political commentary about government corruption and looming climate change (themes that are definitely more relevant post-November 8th) is pretty nifty. What really sells here is the style and humor, from the blackly funny opening scene (where a kid’s porno-mag fantasy woman literally crashes into his house dead in her car) to the skewering of genre expectations throughout, particularly in terms of sudden and unexpected violence. Besides some very nice cinematography and vintage ’70s-style casual nudity, the MVP is Angourie Rice (in her first big role) as Gosling’s daughter and the moral center of the film against which both guys measure just how nice they really are. Check out our podcast episode on the film for more discussion, but the takeaway here is simply a very fun, well-made movie with a lot of talent behind the wheel.

  • Sing Street

Practically La La Land for the teen set, Sing Street is 2016’s other nostalgic musical romance about the importance of striving for your dreams and supporting everyone else’s. Written and directed by John Carney (the Once guy), this Irish coming of age story is steeped in the cultural conflicts and musical milieu of the 1980s, an age when music videos exploded onto the scene and being in a band was more about personal style than instrumental talent. A great cast of young talents, some seriously excellent music, and a heartfelt story about love, bullies, family, and what it takes to be brave combine to make Sing Street just plain charming as fuck, despite its occasional roughness. The absolute highlight of the movie is a rousing, complex sequence where lead singer Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) imagines the blockbuster music video for the film’s best anthem, “Drive It Like You Stole It,” in all the glorious choreography and Back to the Future-inspired mise en scene that the song in his heart deserves. A thrilling, yet heartbreaking scene in a film filled with them, it’s all about the inner passion that leads the young and the creative to try to change a world that so often falls short their dreams. One shot even mimics the classic image of Marty McFly falling to his knees in musical ecstasy on stage at the dance, with Conor replacing Michael J. Fox in what struck me as a touching moment of kindly giving the character a taste of the person he wishes he could be. It’s that drive to shorten the distance between what is and what should be that gives the film both its poignancy and its power to inspire. In the wake of Trump (not to mention Brexit and the encroachment of the political far right across the globe), it’s ultimately the younger generation who must become our hope for a brighter, kinder future. Sing Street and all the kids out there who will watch it and learn from it and feel its heart so keenly, that makes me think we’re going to be okay. Rock on, Conor.

Movies that would totally be in my Top 10 but IMDB says they came out in 2015 which means everybody else is CHEATING:

  • The Witch (or The VVitch, if you prefer) is another totally unique movie, an attempt to make the kind of horror film the Puritans would have if they’d had the technology and, you know, didn’t think moving pictures were Satan’s work. The arcane dialogue, sparse cinematography, and matter-of-fact witchery of the piece makes it an absorbing and fascinating film, not least because its buried themes of religious mania, sexual repression, and social response to economic hardship really belong to the 17th century folklore The Witch is adapting. An excellent and, in its own way, beautiful horror movie.
  • A movie about a world where the loveless are forced to pair up or be turned into animals, The Lobster manages to out-surreal Swiss Army Man, which is no mean feat. A phenomenal cast anchored by a beautifully understated Colin Farrell deadpans their way through a low-budget dystopian tale about all the terrible things we do for love. Farrell’s protagonist escapes from a place of socially enforced partnering to a rebellion of equally socially enforced isolationism but finds himself suited for neither. Like Cronenberg’s Crash did for sex, The Lobster removes all familiarity and context from romantic love to allow us to dispassionately examine it, and the result is weird, blackly funny, and destined to be a cult film passed around by those who, like its protagonist, choose neither dog nor cat, but lobster.

Movies that have a good chance of being in my Top 10 once I get around to watching them:

  • Jackie
  • Manchester by the Sea
  • Midnight Special
  • Moonlight
  • The Handmaiden
  • The Love Witch
  • Your Name
  • Silence

Honorable mentions:

  • Woody Allen’s Cafe Society is like a smaller, quirkier version of La La Land, and one of the writer/director’s better entries of late.
  • The dumb, crude, but kinda stupidly brilliant very adult animated movie Sausage Party definitely deserves to be seen, even surrounded by the rest of the year’s excellent animated output.
  • I didn’t think Deadpool was as great as everybody else did, but it’s still a very entertaining movie. Give the sequel more money, please.
  • Based on the first in a great series of dark YA novels by Dan Wells, I Am Not a Serial Killer is a haphazardly paced but ultimately very rewarding coming of age story about a troubled teen who hasn’t killed anybody… yet.
  • Pete’s Dragon and The BFG were both kid’s movies this year that were better than they should have been (and got better after stumbling starts). The former finds a remarkable thematic unity in its gorgeous update of the Disney classic, while Spielberg’s adaptation of one of Dahl’s weirder novels sparks to life whenever it draws parallels between Mark Rylance’s giant and Spielberg himself as gentle dream-makers hoping to enact meaningful change through storytelling.
  • Everybody Wants Some!!, aka “Toxic Masculinity: The Movie” is a pretty good Richard Linklater joint, this time patiently revealing the jokes, pranks, and rituals (both harmful and sweet) associated with those few days of total freedom before college begins.
  • American Honey is gorgeous and hypnotic and very well acted, but its raw depiction of the harshness of American capitalism and psychosexual mores made me more uncomfortable than I liked.

Franchise rundown:

  • Star Trek is in a bad place. All three modern movies have terrible flaws, and Beyond was maybe the worst of the bunch. The cast is great, just hire some actual good writers already.
  • The DC Cinematic Universe is a raging dumpster fire that will never go out. Batman v Superman was one of the worst movies of the year, and even though Suicide Squad was fun it was a technical disaster. They’re still the only game in town truly willing to experiment, so maybe Lego Batman will be worth it, but I don’t expect any of their live action efforts to work out, at least until the Affleck-helmed Batman is released (and if you believe the rumors, not even then).
  • One step forward, two steps back for Marvel, whose Captain America: Civil War was one of their best movies yet (complex but comprehensible, with actual meaningful themes and a villain whose boring nature was kind of on purpose) but who also delivered yet another cookie cutter origin story poorly modeled on the original Iron Man with Doctor Strange. I don’t really see them changing anytime soon, and as the dominant cultural force on the planet I can’t not watch, but at least the main Avengers movies (and I include Civil War) are naturally getting better as the story progresses.
  • Kung Fu Panda 3 closed that trilogy off strong, so good job, Dreamworks.
  • Jason Bourne brought Matt Damon back to his best franchise, but it only proved that this series should have ended with Ultimatum. This entry’s cautionary tale about Big Data being in bed with Big Brother just feels totally irrelevant to the character, whose stories have always been about the excesses of the American military as applies to Bourne’s former career as a wetwork specialist. But I’m convinced the series worked because of Bourne’s amnesia, and now that that’s no longer a story element it’s time for Damon to hang up his gun. Send him back to Mars or something.
  • Ghostbusters is a super bad movie and I hope there is not more Ghostbusters. #notallFemaleLedMovies

The worst movie I saw in 2016:

  • Genius, a failed bit of Oscar bait about the editor who worked with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe. An intensely boring, shamefully pandering bit of trash, Genius suffers from some seriously bad screenwriting phoned in by John Logan, who knows better, and an atrociously awful Southern accent from Jude Law as Wolfe. It’s one thing for a big franchise movie to be bad, those have massive expectations and thousands of moving parts and anxious studio oversight. But Genius is just a little movie with vast pretensions and remarkably few ideas on how to translate the true life, humdrum process of book publishing into a real and exciting story. The truth is apparently much more interesting, even, so how Genius went this wrong is a real mystery. Good thing nobody ever watched it except me.


Atomika’s Best and Worst of 2016

The best:


The blockbuster that nearly never was, this passion project for star Ryan Reynolds not only reinvigorated his flagging career, but showed the world that well-written scripts and bold comedy were still respected. The movie loses a little punch on repeated viewings, and the transphobic joke is unfortunate, but its brashness earns it a spot, and it’s even gotten some awards attention this season. What a weird timeline we live in.

The Witch

First-time director Robert Eggers handles himself like a seasoned pro with this intense, claustrophobic supernatural thriller that is more art-house study in religious paranoia than it is pure horror. The film drips eeriness in every shot, and manages to pull legitimately great performances from its child actors. We need more horror films in this vein–taut, earnest, gauzy period dramas–and I can’t wait to see Eggers’ next.


A film I liked more for the precedent it sets than for its actual content, Zootopia is nevertheless still a fun family comedy with great work from its voice actor leads. Disney, under John Lasseter, has really picked up Pixar’s slack and has regained its mantle as the dominant animation studio for feature films. Also, this film will live forever simply for this real-time reaction shot:

10 Cloverfield Lane

A lot of people ranted about the ending, which is understandable, but wrong; the ending is what sells everything before it. If you’re the type who likes these things, the film’s subtext about a young woman finding agency in her life and gathering the bravery to solve problems instead of running from them will scratch your social activism itch, even if the film says sometimes to get that agency you have to drive straight into a war zone. If you’re the type that just likes taut, economical thrillers, there’s plenty for you here, too.

Captain America: Civil War

Maybe Marvel’s best film to date, Cap 3 not only manages to deftly juggle over a dozen characters and introduce a few new ones, it tells a very personal and yet very timely story about loyalty and political necessity in the modern age, getting great performances from Evans and Downey in the process all while expanding and reinforcing the Marvel house brand. Kevin Feige continues to demonstrate the studio is in very good hands. Oh, also there’s Spider-Man.

Sausage Party

I did not expect to have such a great time with an R-rated cartoon produced by Seth Rogan. I also didn’t expect a very thinly-veiled parable about the need for tolerance and intellectualism in a world where everyone feels entitled to their own ideologies, no matter how irrational or dangerous. I did expect lots of dick jokes. Like the ancient kings of the Orient, the film delivered all three.


Another feather in the cap for John Lasseter’s Disney Animation Studios, Moana breaks from Disney’s traditional princess tales to tell a heroic epic about a young girl who wants to save her people from their own stagnation and fear of change while reclaiming her culture. Dwayne Johnson is great as her sidekick/foil, Maui, self-interested demigod of the seas, and Lin-Manuel Miranda did this film’s soundtrack a solid by being awesome before Hamilton was a thing. Disney made two big steps this year in the direction of both progressive mentality and cinematic quality.

La La Land

I’m confused about the backlash here over what, essentially, is an earnest film that also has the wherewithal to acknowledge its inspirations while not continually needing to remind us of them. The film’s message is about the balance of honoring the past and creating the future, and by mixing a Golden Age-style songbook with more modern camera and story techniques, the aesthetic of the film serves the purpose of its throughline, and that’s pretty genius. Many comparisons have been made with The Artist, but they’re wrong; this isn’t an homage or a recreation or a spoof, this an embrace and a breath of new life into the kind of film we almost forgot how to make. To those whose cynical hearts can’t bear this bright, beautiful, bittersweet film, I can only say: No, Jamal, you be trippin’.

Office Christmas Party

Right? Who would have guessed? Turns out, it’s a smart, heartfelt comedy where the characters are written like real, live, relatable characters in situations anyone could engage with. The movie had every opportunity to indulge in lazy stereotyping–so many of the players are cut from familiar cloth–but it steadfastly refuses to sell itself short. TJ Miller isn’t the idiot you might first take him as, Jennifer Aniston isn’t the heartless bitch she seems like she would have to be, Olivia Munn isn’t the sex-object eye candy she already was in another film this year, and even the crazy hooker-chauffeuring madame is written like she’s got all three dimensions. Outside of Kate McKinnon still doing her one trick showcase, it was a really nice surprise, especially in a year where I was constantly reminded about how little of a shit studios seem to care about screenplays.

Rogue One

Whatever you think about the new Star Wars films, it’s hard to deny Disney knows what the Galaxy, Far, Far Away is supposed to feel like. While George Lucas kept throwing shiny gloss and terrible actors at us to pitiful returns, the new films have that same level of grit and lived-in verisimilitude that the original trilogy of films did way back when. It’s a film that keeps your heart pounding right up through the explosive finale. The 10-year old girl in me was taken back to those days of sitting on my grandmother’s sofa and wearing out my VCR from obsessive watching.

Hail, Caesar!

The Coens strike gold again, and much like when they’re not making big, loud, Awards Season films, people seem to have kinda forgotten about this release, and that’s a shame. They’re missing great comic turns from Ralph Fiennes, George Clooney, Channing Tatum, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, and a breakout performance from the future Han Solo, Alden Ehrenreich, as the guileless cowboy, Hobie Doyle. People don’t seem to find the Coens’ comedies until well after release, so I hope audiences follow suit here and remember this frothy comedic romp more fondly in the years to come.

A Monster Calls

This actually might be the best film of the year. I certainly think it has one of most complete narratives; the movie moves briskly and remembers to cross every “t” on the way out, though not in a repetitive, condescending way. I know lots of people are shying away from this because either it looks too kid friendly or they’re leery of tragedy porn, but those people are really missing out on a surprisingly mature exploration of death, guilt, and coming to terms with grief at an age far too young. The closest I can compare it to is Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are, and there’s some quiet twists and payoffs at the end that really bring everything home; as I was walking out of the theater I could hear nearly everyone in the room quietly sobbing. I’ve given trigger warnings to people interested in seeing this, and I’ll do the same to you. This movie about a kid and his talking tree is some heart-rending cinema, man.

Most disappointing:

“I’ve made a huge mistake, Michael.” “Um, my name is Henry.” “Yup. Huuuuge mistake.”

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

I’m done with Zack Snyder. I should have been a long time ago, but he’s always had this knack for being just barely on the right side of wrong for me, and as long as he’s working from established source material he can be pretty great. It’s hard to argue that 300 was supposed to be made any other way than the way Snyder pulled it off, questionable political subtext aside. Sucker Punch was the first time I really started to worry about the old boy, and from there he just kept doubling down on his half-baked ideas, visual ticks, and narrative deficiencies. He’s reached his nadir with this one; a boring, bland, completely awful film about pop culture’s two biggest superheroes that gets virtually nothing right, from soup to nuts. Jesse Eisenberg has always been hit-or-miss with me, but his Lex Luthor portrayal here deserves an inquiry from The Hague.

yes, zombie Leto, that’s the exact face I made watching this, well done

Suicide Squad

The second film in DC/Warners’ one-two punch this year meant to kick off their Marvel copycat shared universe, it’s hard to fault its utter failure as totally creative–the film was famously hacked apart and reshot at the last minute by writ of the studio chiefs. The result was a dry, humorless film that thinks it’s funny, a grim and sloppy mess that thinks it’s a tense thriller, and a superhero film that forgets to have any superheroes. Possibly worse than Batman v Superman just on its incoherence alone, and definitely worse when you throw in Jared Leto’s legendarily awful “douchebro-meets-Juggalo” take on the Joker. I’d like to think that the planned spin-off featuring Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, and Catwoman will have a better foundation, but I hold zero hope of anything good coming from WB any time soon. Those guys are well and truly lost right now.

pictured: a funny Key & Peele scene not from Keanu


I hated how much I disliked this film. Key & Peele have been one of America’s premier sketch comedy teams for over five years now, providing bold social commentary wrapped around absurdist humor, and this film was just… blah. Jokes that landed soft, situations that didn’t have much comedic dynamism, and basically the same problem so many sketch comics have when transitioning to feature films: having no idea how long-form pacing works. The film is filled with seven or eight funny scenes, and maybe we’d all have been better off if those had instead been worked into their Comedy Central program. There’s not enough material or depth here to maintain itself.

“Before this, I played a Wall Street analyst on HBO!”

X-Men: Apocalypse

A film that manages to be so many different ways of bad, it’s almost an achievement. In one fell swoop, the film is guilty of already retconning away large parts of its (just one film prior) established continuity, having flat and underwritten characters, showcasing pointless sexual objectification, making several jarring tonal switches, a disinterested script, and being just a goddamned bore. Not unlike the staggering quality drop between Skyfall and Spectre–films set in the same world, starring the same characters, played by the same actors, developed by the same creative talent–Apocalypse‘s mediocrity can hardly be believed when judged next to its excellent Days of Future Past precursor.

“Look, I eat when I’m depressed. Don’t you fucking judge me. I’ve seen this film, and–fuck me–is it depressing.”


I’ve already covered this a bit in my review for the film, but the question has yet to be answered: who is this film for? The comedy is lazy slapstick and mugging with little attachment to character, the tone is cartoonish and careless, the villain is an anticlimactic dud, and the garish palette does nothing but give me nausea of the eyes. It’s a tremendous disappointment, especially considering the weight of cinematic history it knew it had to bear–it doesn’t really even look like it tried. Not funny enough to be a comedy, not scary enough to be a horror film, not enough good writing to hold anything else together. It seems like this film was willed into existence by vanity alone. Set the traps, Ray–these chicks are toast.

Me too, Mads. Me too.

Doctor Strange

Unlike Kyu, I love all the Marvel Studios movies, even Norton’s Hulk! Or I did, until this slap-dash pile of somnolence plodded across the screen. At no point does this film justify its singular existence or its inclusion in the Marvel filmography. Clichéd and underwritten, as well as chock-full with casting and character decisions that have rankled those keen on seeing equitable treatment of minority characters, much like the Doctor’s dusty old enchanted cloak, this film throws on the Marvel banner and tries to hide its failures underneath. 

They wear those shrouds to hide their shame. And they should.

Assassin’s Creed

I didn’t make all the way through this one, honestly. It was weaponized badness. Should I be disappointed when yet another video game adaptation turns out to be an utter disaster? Maybe not, but when it reteams Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, and Justin Kurzel–who made one of the best films of last year together–I think I’ve earned some time in the sulking box. I continue to maintain the genre isn’t cursed, but at this point my supposition remains hypothetical.

“I am still processing the notion that I was the most developed and engaging character in this film. This may take a while, meatbag. Pull up a chair.”

Rogue One

Hey, it’s just like last year! Much like with The Force Awakens, I both loved and felt unsatisfied with this year’s entry in the intergalactic franchise. Everyone out there casting shade upon critics who were underwhelmed by the thinness of the characters and plot, or bothered by the inconsistent narrative, or disappointed in the film’s penchant for drowning your nagging qualms in a sea of familiarity… give it a rest. I love Star Wars. It is my favorite of all the things. But I’d be a pretty shitty analyst if I didn’t admit the film has a lot of problems we collectively wouldn’t let slide in almost any other film. This is the Galaxy Far, Far Away’s equivalent of a Thomas Kinkade painting; technical proficiency and aggressive reinforcement of nostalgia creating a picture that imparts almost no narrative depth.

Honorable mentions:

I am Not a Serial Killer

Given his age and overall health, I’m thrilled as hell to see Christopher Lloyd still rocking out great performances. I’m not sure I’d call this movie “horror,” but I don’t know where else it fits. Surprisingly personal performances centered around a character-driven story isn’t really en vogue for the genre these days (or ever, really), so this lo-fi effort’s success deserves acknowledgment.

Green Room

Another film that only fits “horror” loosely, what sets this bottle thriller apart from its goremongering kin is the absolute banality of the antagonists. Nothing about this film seems terribly far-fetched, and watching a film about insular skinheads hurt innocent people for stupid, aimless reasons is frighteningly prescient and scary for what it reminds you really exists. The kids are great–you’ve got the late Anton Yelchin leading the pack with his Fright Night paramour, Imogen Poots, plus Arrested Development‘s underrated Alia Shawkat–but Patrick Stewart steals the show as the dedicated, almost kindly, proprietor of the underground neo-Nazi club/compound who nevertheless is committed to his movement’s ideals.

The Lobster

At times frustratingly mannered and sluggish, this film nevertheless does a great job of filtering an examination of the dangerous social codes and compromises that are part the courtship ritual through the lens of an off-beat sci-fi dystopia. It rails openly at conservative mores that demand greater utility in sexual relationships, jabs at gender and sexual essentialism, and lays bare the ways we all risk giving up part of ourselves to forge meaningful connections with others. Some have railed at the unanswered question at the film’s end, but that’s the whole point–pardon the pun.


David’s Take

2016 was a weird year for a lot of reasons, so it is no surprise that it was a strange year for movies. Part of what hurt 2016 is that 2015 was such a strong year that it would be hard to follow it up in any case. So in that sense it deserves a little slack. Even with that slack, though, man this was a weak year for the most part. Even by normal standards, this year relied upon its prestige season to save it, and the result may be the weakest year for movies since 2011. The low end and medium-level movies were exceptionally bad, or at best average, and so for ten solid months there was just a lot of head shaking and hand wringing. Still, ultimately I think this year also may end up being a bit underrated, for two key reasons. One, the high end prestige films were quite strong, both in terms of depth and overall quality. Two, this was an historically good year for animated movies, only rivaled in recent memory by 2010. Neither of these makes up for the huge amounts of meh we all had to go through, but I do think they are key factors in making this year not a total disaster. All of this is a roundabout way of saying there is still a lot to celebrate this year, so let’s get to talking about the highlights of movies in 2016.

Just Missed the List:

There will be a lot of crying, just embrace it.

A Monster Calls

Atomika has already done a good job explaining the strengths of this film, and I need to save some insights for when I get around to covering it for The Anticipated, but this adaptation of Patrick Ness’s novel (based on the story by Siobhan Dowd) manages to deliver on this great YA novel’s promise. This film is emotionally devastating and strangely uplifting all in one, and I can attest that every person in the theatre was either bawling, fighting back tears, consoling someone that was bawling, or some combination of the three. More surprisingly, this film ended up having some of the most beautiful animation of any film this year, all of it surrounded by great performances from a stellar cast. The film takes a little too long to get going, which is what kept it out of the top ten, but it is a beautiful experience that should be shared by everyone.

Top 10

This year more than any other I feel as though my Top 10 list is split into tiers. Each tier has movies I find clearly better than the films in the tiers below it, but the differences between movies within the tiers is razor thin, and I could easily see myself changing my mind about the order at any time. For now, though, here is where we are at.

Tier IV: Prestige Flicks

10. Hidden Figures

Dance and enjoy!

This was a bit unexpected. I imagined I would enjoy this film, but the way it perfectly handles all the different plates it has to spin is superb. This film is part feel-good story, part historical drama, part comedy, and part chronicle for racial equality. A lot of films like this sanitize the racism of the times so the film can keep stay optimistic in tone, but Hidden Figures refused to do that. It played up the racist and sexist issues that its three main protagonists dealt with, and used those moments to help make their instances of triumph that much more awe-inspiring. There are multiple moments in this movie that make you want to cheer, and for most of them you actually do. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Jaenelle Monae are excellent, and their performances are backed up with solid character work from Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons, and Mahershala Ali.

The greatest achievement of this film is that it figured out how to both praise and condemn the way NASA deals with prejudice. It is very clear that the principles of NASA give no fucks about race or gender, only caring about scientific discovery; but the organization itself is made of people that have their own prejudices and biases. Seeing these two things in conflict is quite affecting, and adds even more depth to what could have been simply a popcorn movie. Theodore Melfi shows unexpected depth as a director, and the score for this movie combines the talents of Hans Zimmer and Pharrell Williams to create a dynamic soundtrack and score combo that helps this film soar.

9. Elle

Don’t mess with Huppert.

This is the Frenchiest French film that ever Frenched. It also proves once again that Paul Verhoeven is one of the more unique and underrated filmmakers alive. His return to Europe a little more than a decade ago seems to have really reinvigorated his artistic touch, and his return to a slightly more mainstream movie with Elle comes at a time when a lot of his earlier work is looking more and more relevant considering the current political climate. Elle is an audacious and confident movie that knows exactly what it is doing. It is also the kind of movie that could never be made in the US outside of the indie scene (and even then, not in this form). This is a slice of life rape film, a set of words I never thought I would say together, let alone in that order. This film doesn’t run away from the horrors of sexual assault, but at the same time it approaches that crime with a strange detachment. Then, as if it weren’t already doing enough, Elle does a fantastic job of portraying female friendship in a way quite unlike many other works. This is a film that treads the line between brilliance and a complete trainwreck. Which is to say it is a Verhoeven film.

What makes this film work above all else is the transcendent performance of Isabelle Huppert. In a year of amazing lead actress performance (I can name eight without even having to think about it), Huppert stands above them all. She marvelously navigates a character through an obstacle course of nuanced emotional turns. She is simply fascinating, and there is nothing quite like her performance in all of cinema. She is the reason this film could never be made in America. Our attitude towards sex in general (without even adding the rape aspects), especially with older women, is, well, terrible, and what makes Huppert stand out is that she gets to play a role that women rarely (if ever) get to play. She carries this movie on her back, and allows Verhoeven to embrace some of his crazier tendencies without it ruining the film. This is an astounding work that makes you yearn to see what would happen if more auteur American directors were willing to build complex movies around actresses like they so often do around their male counterparts.

8. Arrival

Language is a tricky beast.

Denis Villeneuve is one of the greatest working directors today. This year he is ready to jump into the true spotlight with Blade Runner 2049, but before that he got to dip his toe in mainstream waters with Arrival, and he delivered. Arrival is a much more hopeful movie than his past works, but it still feels like a Villeneuve film. The visual style is striking as always, with Bradford Young getting a shot at the Villeneuve cinematography magic, and managing quite well considering he followed Roger fucking Deakins. This film beautifully blends its VFX and cinematography to create a gorgeous visual experience. Villeneuve’s emotion-based directing style then takes it from there as he crafts an emotionally resonant film with a warm, low-fi atmosphere.

None of this would have worked, however, without Amy Adams’s wonderful performance. This entire movie is built around Adams (or at least it tries to be–the sci-fi elements complicate this immensely), and she is the engine that runs it (hmm, I feel like I already praised a movie for doing this that didn’t even need aliens). It is a shame she got snubbed for an Oscar nomination, because she really helps people connect to this movie. She isn’t in the same league as Huppert performance-wise, just to be clear, but Adams is still quite incredible, and benefits from an easier to deal with storyline and fewer French-y pacing issues, which make this film ever so slightly better than Huppert’s. Add on the fact that this film perfectly uses Jeremy Renner in a lightly comedic side role, and you can almost forgive a lot of this movie not making any sense (trust me, don’t think about things too much, it will hurt). Still, this is a film whose plot is secondary to the characters and the emotions it engenders, and it does very well on both accounts.

Tier III: Musical Duo

7. Sing Street

Strike a pose, and drive life like you stole it!

This has turned out to be quite the year for musicals, and music in movies in general. In all the La La Land hype, one casualty is that this movie is constantly overlooked. Sing Street is an amazing film that does tribute to the dreamers of the world (as well as those who support those dreamers), just like La La Land, but also adds in a core about the love between two brothers. This film uses the pedigree of the director of Once, John Carney, to create a musical experience that shows how the music of the 80s can be combined seamlessly into a coming of age story. Each song shows an evolution in main character Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) that helps him figure out who he is and who he wants to be. Meanwhile, Jack Reynor’s turn as Conor’s brother Brendan is an unexpectedly deep role that completely turns the stoner brother trope on its head. It is a deeply personal movie, and it deserves far more attention than it has received from most people.

I must say, however, that this has caused a significant number of people to say this is truly the best musical of the year as a part of the growing backlash against La La Land, and, well, it isn’t. I am not surprised this is happening, though, because Sing Street is the kind of cult film that will likely be much more famous years from now than it is presently. The songs in this film are awesome, with ‘Drive It Like You Stole It’ as the clear highlight. This film manages to tell a compelling story that the music enhances and never feels tacked onto, and more importantly, manages to perfectly utilize nostalgia instead of floundering in it.

6. Moana

Cast off into adventure.

I love Disney, but I also give the studio quite a bit of shit, especially considering how it has in a lot of ways stunted the overall potential of animation as a medium in America (which is kind of hard, considering it also helped pioneer and constantly innovate it). But credit where credit is due: Disney brought its A-Game this year. Releasing two movies in a year can be risky, but Disney made not one, but two classics. Zootopia is quite a feat as well, but Moana ended up being the one that really stuck with me. Moana is both a love letter and repudiation of so much of the Disney formula. Its so-called “princess” doesn’t need a love interest, and the film cleverly makes it clear that she is the true hero the entire time. More importantly, the film solves its key conflict through an act of non-violence. In fact, it makes it clear that the more classical fighting between “good” versus “evil” in most movies is more or less ineffectual here. It is a bold vision, and the kind of thing that Disney has been able to do for years but never did.

But the most enduring takeaway from this film is that for the first time honestly this century, Disney has a movie with start to finish good and memorable music. Frozen had one good song and one good karaoke song, Tangled had a bunch of solid but mostly unmemorable tunes, The Princess and the Frog had one good villain song in ‘Friends from the Other Side,’ and… well, I could go on, but you get the picture. Moana has both memorable and iconic songs, and, more vital, songs that actually tie into the movie and create emotional resonance with the story. Lin-Manuel Miranda obviously gets a lot of credit for this, but he was aided by Opetaia Foa’i, as well as Mark Mancina, who provides the stellar score. The songs in Moana stick in your head and never leave. Add in the fact that this film’s visuals are stunning, and if not for the ridiculousness of Kubo and the Two Strings this film would be the most impressive thing I have seen in quite some time. Moana is a winner.

Tier Two: Oscar Trinity

5. Moonlight

Embrace the visual poetry.

This film is pure cinematic poetry, and man, it is really unlike anything else from this year. It is stunningly beautiful and totally unique. This film is a hard sell, as a movie that is split into three parts chronicling the journey of a homosexual black man in different stages of his life. It is pure emotion-based cinema at some of its finest. This is not a polished film, but it revels in its messiness to create a more authentic experience. Moonlight isn’t full of stars making showy performances (though Naomie Harris does her best), but instead a true ensemble piece full of many great moments and performances. Mahershala Ali has gotten a lot of praise for his performance, and he is amazing, but he is far from the only one. Barry Jenkins crafts a wonderful story that will stick with you for quite some time. He presents a visual filmmaking style that combines with James Laxton’s cinematography and Joi McMillon’s and Nat Sanders’s editing to create a luscious visual experience.

This is the kind of movie Hollywood needs more of–a deeply personal story from a minority filmmaker’s point of view. This allows for a tenderness to exist in this movie that makes it feel natural and never overly maudlin, which is crucial to a film that is as strongly based on emotion as this one is. The score is breathtaking, too. This is definitely going to be one of the films that I remember years from now when thinking about 2016. So why is it only number five on this list? Well, a lot of its strengths also turn into weaknesses. The film’s messiness leads to some iffy pacing, and it struggles at times to maintain its consistency. None of these things are generally problems, but they do matter once we get into comparing some really great films. Still, I will say that deciding between the films in the top two tiers was extremely difficult , and I could easily see myself changing my mind on this order in the future.

4. Manchester by the Sea

Even this still photo oozes emotional devastation.

This film functions in a lot of ways the same way Spotlight did last year. This film is perfect at what it does. It is a exceptionally well-constructed movie. It may honestly be the best movie of the year in terms of pure craft and execution. Kenneth Lonergan is at the top of his game, as after the Margaret debacle he finally gets to have a film looked at in the year it was intended to be released. The writing in this movie is breathtaking, and it is paced marvelously despite being a relatively long film. More importantly, Manchester is not about easy short cuts. There is no happy ending, because life doesn’t always work out how we would like it. Sometimes bad things happen, and people don’t always recover from those bad things in a way that those around them would like. The film’s commitment to being honest about how its characters would deal with these situations is commendable, and really helps it stand out.

Of course, all of this buries the real strength of this movie: Casey Affleck. Though he should never truly be separated from the sexual assault allegations that everyone is trying to push aside, it must be said that Affleck is transcendent here. This is arguably the best performance by any performer this year (Huppert being the other in contention), and possibly even the decade. Affleck is perfect as an everyman whose life is irrevocably destroyed by a mistake on his part that causes unimaginable consequences to befall both himself and those closest to him. His struggle to try and do the right thing even though he is completely hollowed out as a person is fascinating to watch and his heart-wrenching scene with Michelle Williams is one of the most affecting things you will see. This movie revels in its sadness and flourishes because of this.

3. La La Land

Have some fun and dance!

In stark contrast to what I just described, La La Land is in a lot of ways the embodiment of happiness. I have already discussed this film in The Anticipated, so I will keep this short. This film is such a joy to watch, and it has really become a victim of its own success, which even I admit has gotten out of control. That doesn’t change the fact that La La Land is a very good movie with fantastic performances, beautiful visuals, and great music. Some may hate the fact that neither Emma Stone nor Ryan Gosling are the most polished singers, but that just added to the film for me, because this film is really supposed to be about the the struggles that lie underneath the shiny surface this film presents. It uses old Hollywood and modernity to tell a different story about the Hollywood dream. It’s a dream that sounds great, but is a struggle to ever accomplish, and even when you get what you want it may be at the cost of things you never thought you would have to sacrifice. That is what the ending of this film hammers home in all its bittersweet glory. The end of this film is what elevated it above the other two members of this Oscar trinity, because it is an ending that I will be thinking about for years. This is a movie that just wants you to enjoy the ride and all the good and bad that comes with it. It is only held back from being higher by an iffy second act that kind of makes sense for a film that tries to stir bitter sweetness in with all its musical sugar.

Tier One: Asian Cinema is Best Cinema

2. Your Name

Two lives weave into something truly beautiful.

I am still not sure I actually agree with this decision, but one had to be made, so Your Name just misses the top spot. Makoto Shinkai is a marvelous director, and it’s great to see him finally put everything together in a feature length film after years of scratching the surface of greatness with 5 Centimeters Per Second and the too short Garden of Words. Shinkai decided to tell a happier tale here, and it seems that freed him to really do what he wanted. This starts as a somewhat simple tale about a boy and a girl who each find themselves waking up in the other’s body, and then slowly becomes so much more, as it combines fantasy, coming-of-age, and romance into an incredibly affecting tale. Shinkai uses its conceptual simplicity as a base to build a much more complex tale about destiny, true love, and discovering who you are and what you want in life. It is truly a shame that so few people got to see this movie in 2016, and I really do look forward to it getting a more mainstream release in April of this year.

This film both embraces and goes against anime to create a uniquely Japanese experience that still feels universal to all. Much like Moonlight, it is at times a visual poem, and it inspires strong emotions at every turn. I praise La La Land for how it makes you feel, but Your Name for the most part does all of that, only better. Just see this movie. It’s visually stunning and emotionally stirring, the music is awe-inspiring, and it is without question the best animated film of this year–and one of the best movies of this century to date.

1. The Handmaiden

This is all you get. If you want to know more, watch the movie.

How the hell did something beat Your Name? Well, the answer is because it was made by Park Chan-wook. That is really the difference. As great as Shinkai is, Chan-wook is slightly better. The Handmaiden is absurdly entertaining, and features multiple holy shit moments as you process all of the masterful twists and turns in the movie. It is a film that uses twists to enhance the film, but doesn’t make them the foundation, which means there is tons to watch and absorb again and again even once you know what will happen. This film is vintage Chan-wook, and can said to be in the same class as Oldboy. It is suspenseful, hilarious, and action-packed, with superb performances and a unique look. The costuming and production design are amazing, and film is visually stunning. The writing is top notch, and ensures this rather long film is brilliantly paced. This movie is pure fun, and feels uniquely like something only Chan-wook and South Korean cinema could create.

The Handmaiden gives no fucks. It will tell the story it wants to tell and do so with gusto, and that freedom is refreshing. The plotting is brilliant, and you are riveted the entire time you watch it. Like many films on this list, it is a unique cinematic experience, and honestly, it should never have worked as well as it did, considering how fascinated the film is in making so many scenes as uncomfortable as possible. The moral ambiguity of the movie is amazing, and the film manages to even make the vilest person feel real but still menacing. This is a film that may feel like it isn’t for everyone, but you need to watch it, because the film helps you break through this uncomfortable feeling to something amazing. This is an amazing movie, and one that truly deserves its place at the top of my list.

Honorable Mention: Kubo and the Two Strings, Zootopia

Random Thoughts

Biggest Surprise: Zootopia

This was supposed to be a tier two Disney film, and instead ended up being a delightfully clever movie that has proven to be more and more timely. Now it is the film that Disney is backing all the way to Oscar glory.

Biggest Disappointment: Rules Don’t Apply

This should have really been impossible, because I didn’t expect much from this movie. All I wanted was a fun, period romantic comedy with some zany Warren Beatty bits, and, well, I got some of that, and then the Howard Hughes parts of this movie took over and it became an unwatchable mess. I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that Warren Beatty couldn’t resist letting Howard Hughes take over, considering how long Beatty had wanted to play the role. Plus, Beatty did do a marvelous job building up and then completely destroying the myth of Howard Hughes in a way that a film like The Aviator could only dream of, so points for that. The problem is that that is another movie entirely, and it completely ruined what was supposed to be the main storyline. Even the novelty of watching this film completely alone in the theater couldn’t save this film.

Most Underrated: The Nice Guys

Maybe this would be better called the most overlooked, but this film was a gem, and came out early in the year before 2016 unraveled around us, so it’s easy to forget. But this film was a treat, and if we are being honest, Ryan Gosling’s best performance of the year was actually in this, as opposed to La La Land.

Most Overrated: The Red Turtle

Sigh. This isn’t a bad movie, but man, did I see this slow burn coming. It is a Studio Ghibli film, and it has no dialogue, so pretentious film people loved it. It could be argued that no one really knows what this film is, but the fact that in any shape or form it stole the limelight from Your Name is bullshit. But if you force me to pick a more mainstream film as my most overrated, then the answer is Finding Dory, which is a fun movie, but is still Pixar doing a B movie, and possibly a foreshadowing of the studio’s frustrating future of sequels, sequels, sequels.

Best Experience: Watching Your Name at Anime Expo

I’ll admit this likely heavily influenced my love for this movie, but whatever. This was awesome: being in a giant hall full of anime fans to watch a wonderful film. Everyone knew exactly the right times to react, and when to keep quiet. The atmosphere was electric and the fact that director Makoto Shinkai was there to watch the first audience ever to see this great movie was the icing on the cake. This is everything you could want when watching a movie, and a cherished memory forever.

Quick Awards

Favorite Film of the Year: Your Name

Best Comedy: Deadpool

Best Franchise Film: Rogue One

Best Superhero Movie: Deadpool

Best Moment: Umm, for the sake of major spoilers, let’s just say it happens in The Handmaiden

Prettiest Film: Kubo and the Two Strings

Most Obscure Great Movie: My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea (I have no idea when anyone else will be able to see this)

That’s it for 2016 in film. Be sure to check out our other Best Ofs celebrating the best and worst of the year’s entertainment.