Ladies and gentlemen. Dames et messieurs. The time has come for my annual assessment of the year’s crème de la crème along with Oscar prognostications. 2016 was a year for dreams and aspirations. A year for lovers waltzing in a purple sky high above Griffith Observatory or a bus driver travelling through a poetry-riddled, ethereal New Jersey landscape. I found myself drawn to films that exist in an idealized version of their setting.
In a reality that was filled with nightmares, it was heartening to see so much optimism reflecting from the silver screen. To see people working together, whether they were teaming up with squid-creatures to enhance global communication or sorting out ideological conflicts like adults by, y’know, having a major brawl at an airport.
But, as with all dreams, we’ll eventually have to tear off our collective nightcap in order to make them a reality. Before we do, though, let’s hit that snooze button one more time and revel in the best 2016 had to offer.
10. Everybody Wants Some!!
An effortlessly charming story of collegiate athletes squeezing as much enjoyment out of the few remaining hours before classes officially begin. Its breezy, plotless energy drives what could have been a problematic douchefest. Put simply, it’s Richard Linklater having fun.
It’s the cinematic equivalent of a Sunday afternoon. There’s a refreshing lack of urgency mixed with a touch of melancholy. You don’t watch the movie as much as you feel it. The story doesn’t need to be described. Paterson’s more poetry than prose, anyway.
8. Captain America: Civil War
With a plot shockingly similar to that other movie (which shall go unnamed), Marvel proves once again that they know what they’re doing. The central setpiece of the film, a bonkers fight at an airport, isn’t just the best action scene of the year, it’s the best superhero fight of all time. Thank God the Russo brothers have so much fun playing with their toys.
As Michèle, a French video game exec, Isabelle Huppert gives the best performance of the year. Michèle’s conniving, calculating, and categorically cruel. Ice doesn’t run through her veins so much as solid concrete. Director Paul Verhoeven and Huppert never tell the audience how to feel about the character, who, after a horrific sexual assault, refuses to feel victimized or ashamed. The movie’s all the better for it.
6. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Taika Waititi’s joyful take on childhood. Simultaneously cynical and saccharine, Wilderpeople is the most unrelentingly funny movie of the year. What starts out as a foster home narrative turns into a surreal chase movie and, by the end, an all-out action film. Truly, Ricky Baker speaks for us all when he proclaims, “Shit. Just. Got. Real.”
Once again, Denis Villeneuve proves why he’s one of the best directors working. He takes a complex sci-fi story and, through cinematic language, makes heady concepts incredibly accessible. Amy Adams is nearly flawless as the emotional anchor of the film and the editing is exquisite. If the last fifteen minutes don’t have you bawling, then you might be a heptapod who, as far as I can tell, are free of tear ducts.
4. Hell or High Water
The best script of the year. Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan’s tale of bank-robbing brothers seems like it’s trodding familiar territory, but the story unravels assuredly into something wholly surprising and satisfying. Jeff Bridges, Ben Foster and especially Chris Pine are perfectly cast against a crumbling Texas landscape. Best of all, it manages to inject incisive political commentary into a pulse-pounding Western.
3. The Nice Guys
In Shane Black’s immensely enjoyable ‘70s-set detective flick, Ryan Gosling (who had a hell of a year) and co-star Russell Crowe prove that cops don’t necessarily need to be buddies to be crack wise while busting baddies (that sentence could be in a Chandler novel, right?) Action-comedy is a genre that, when done right, is probably my favorite genre. The Nice Guys does it right.
Logan Lerman astounds as Marcus, a quietly furious student at a small, Midwestern college in the ‘50s. The crux of the movie, a tête-à-tête between Marcus and the dean of his college (the infuriatingly talented Tracy Letts) is the best scene of the year. If I can give anyone a gift this year, it would be to see this criminally underrated gem.
1. La La Land
From the opening car horns to the closing piano refrain, La La Land is a masterpiece. Emma Stone is radiant, Ryan Gosling is swoon-inducing, and Damien Chazelle’s direction is flawless. There’s much to say about why this movie is perfect, but it deserves the top spot because it celebrates what so many people seem to openly despise…the fools who dream.
And lastly, here’s the only Oscar ballot that matters. Look on, ye mighty, and despair.
Will Win: La La Land
Should Win: La La Land
Will Win: Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Should Win: Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Will Win: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Should Win: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Will Win: Emma Stone, La La Land
Should Win: Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Best Supporting Actor:
Will Win: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Should Win: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Best Supporting Actress:
Will Win: Viola Davis, Fences
Should Win: Naomie Harris, Moonlight
Best Original Screenplay:
Will Win: Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Should Win: Taylor Sheridan, Hell or High Water
Best Adapted Screenplay:
Will Win: Eric Heisserer, Arrival
Should Win: Eric Heisserer, Arrival
Best Animated Feature:
Will Win: Kubo and the Two Strings
Should Win: My Life as a Zucchini
Best Animated Short:
Will Win: Pear Cider and Cigarettes
Should Win: Pear Cider and Cigarettes
Will Win: Linus Sandgren, La La Land
Should Win: Linus Sandgren, La La Land
Best Film Editing:
Will Win: Joe Walker, Arrival
Should Win: Joe Walker, Arrival
Best Foreign Language Film
Will Win: Toni Erdmann
Should Win: Land of Mine
Best Documentary Feature:
Will Win: O.J.: Made in America
Should Win: O.J.: Made in America
Best Documentary Short Subject:
Will Win: Watani: My Homeland
Should Win: Watani: My Homeland
Best Production Design:
Will Win: David Wasco, La La Land
Should Win: David Wasco, La La Land
Best Costume Design:
Will Win: Mary Zophres, La La Land
Should Win: Mary Zophres, La La Land
Best Original Score:
Will Win: Justin Hurwitz, La La Land
Should Win: Justin Hurwitz, La La Land
Best Original Song:
Will Win: “City of Stars”, La La Land
Should Win: “City of Stars”, La La Land
Best Live Action Short:
Will Win: La Femme et le TGV
Should Win: La Femme et le TGV
Best Makeup and Hairstyling:
Will Win: Joel Harlow and Richard Alonzo, Star Trek Beyond
Should Win: Joel Harlow and Richard Alonzo, Star Trek Beyond
Best Sound Editing
Will Win: Sylvain Bellemare, Arrival
Should Win: Sylvain Bellemare, Arrival
Best Sound Mixing:
Will Win: Bernard Gariépy Strobl and Claude La Haye, Arrival
Should Win: Bernard Gariépy Strobl and Claude La Haye, Arrival
Best Visual Effects:
Will Win: Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones, and Dan Lemmon, The Jungle Book
Should Win: Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones, and Dan Lemmon, The Jungle Book