Warning! This is not a cinematic safe space! Many of you will disagree vehemently (that means ‘bunches’) with my picks for this years ten best movies. In my opinion, a movie should be entertaining and fun, but tell an emotional story as well. It’s great to have sweeping locations, expensive visual effects, and top shelf talent – all of which have become more and more necessary for a films financial success – but a movie story needs to tug at the heart strings a bit to really stay with us. I’ve put together the ten movies that released this year that had that special combination of fun and feelz. So, without further ado, I present, in ascending order, the top ten movies of 2016.
10. Captain America: Civil War
The combination of Marvel Studios and directors Joe & Anthony Russo have struck lightning twice – once with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and again with Civil War. Big action, a huge cast, and high stakes were undercut by one question: what are the consequences of having superheroes in the world? Civil War gave audiences the biggest superhero action sequence to date with the now famous ‘airport scene,’ but was still able to focus on the smaller, more intimate character moments that really make movies memorable. By the end of this movie, a new status quo is established for the Marvel cinematic universe, and it’s one that promises lots of new faces and challenges. Besides, Civil War brought Spider-Man under the creative umbrella of Marvel Studios, so what’s not to love?
9. Hacksaw Ridge
Every red blooded American needs to see Hacksaw Ridge. Andrew Garfield gave an excellent performance as Desmond Doss, the first and only conscientious objector to ever receive the Medal of Honor. Doss carried 75 of his fellow soldiers to safety during the Battle of Okinawa, all while suffering serious injuries of his own. He never fired a bullet, nor touched a weapon with the intent of harming another human being. Hacksaw Ridge is the story of a man who showed true courage in the face of insurmountable odds. Garfield, one of the few actors on screen today who can do a decent Southern accent, is the reason to see this movie. While he may have got his big break in American film as Spider-Man, Garfield demonstrates range and depth as Pfc. Dross. It seems that Garfield is destined to play heroes, both fictional and actual.
8. Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them
I’ve already given my opinion on Fantastic Beasts, but I’ll say it again: this is the best Harry Potter movie to date. Warner Bros. and director, David Yates, showed us a world gripped in fear by the actions of the dark wizard Grindlewald. Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander is a hero that isn’t in need of education, but rather an adult wizard who can teach and do on his own. And, while it was reported that we can expect four more films in this particular franchise, Fantastic Beasts stands as a closed adventure without any heavy handed reminders that more movies are on the way. Dan Fogle steals the show as Jacob Kowalski, and his onscreen romance with Queenie could have been a wonderful movie all on its own. Fantastic Beasts is proof that Harry Potter is growing up. And, as audiences continue to mature, these films will continue to tackle more and more grown up themes and challenges.
Zootopia surprised me. It had a decidedly un-Disney feel to it, and I wasn’t crazy about the title. It was a treat to watch it unfold into an awesome buddy cop story that actually had something to say. Disney made us think about negative stereotypes, dream jobs, and sacrifice. Could a bunny be a cop? Can you trust a fox? Can people who are diametrically different from one another successfully live with one another in the real world? While the humor is highlighted in the trailers, it’s the story and the brilliant animation that keep you in your seat. A fictitious world of animals are faced with the problems that we, as humans, face every day. It’s very rewarding to see just how much humanity the wizards at the Disney Animation Studio can give an animal just by animating it. Zootopia is a film that asks tough questions, and gives us the answers through a tried and tested Hollywood movie format.
6. Hail, Caesar!
Hail, Caesar! is a movie maker’s movie. Josh Brolin stars as a Hollywood studio producer/fixer who has to keep his studio moving in the face of a kidnapping, a pregnancy scandal, snooping journalists, and unhappy directors. It’s really all in a days work for Brolin’s Eddie Mannix. Hail, Caesar! harkens back to the golden age of Hollywood cinema, taking time to explore most of the more popular genres of yesteryear. A star studded cast, including George Clooney, Channing Tatum, and Scarlett Johansson, really bring the piece together with brilliant performances. The piece-meal structure of the story bounces around from one scandal to another, all the while keeping Brolin at the center of the action. Clever, hilarious, and fun, Hail, Caesar! is another notch in the Coen Brother belt of excellent movies.
Deadpool is an important superhero movie. It proved that a true-to-the-character story can be told on a limited budget, with A-list talent, and perform well in the box office. It should be said though, that this movie would not have happened without Ryan Reynolds’ efforts to get it made the right way. Reynolds was the man from day one, and his collaboration with Fox gave us the winning combination of the right actor in the right role. Deadpool brings the comedy in a big way. It’s raucous, off color, and brilliant. T.J. Miller and Morena Baccarin are wonderful as supporting actors, and the X-Men tie ins helped call back to Deadpool’s comic book roots. Ultimately, Deadpool proves the superhero model works on a smaller scale. It delivered on its promises, and set itself up for future success. In an industry that’s very much saturated with superhero characters and stories, Deadpool stands out easily.
4. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
I love deadpan comedy, and Hunt for the Wilderpeople is chock full of it. Taika Waititi, director of the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok, tells a coming-of-age tale that hits all the right beats. Ricky, played by Julian Dennison, and his unexpecting foster dad, Hec, played by Sam Neill, embrace getting lost in the woods after Hec gets injured while being…lost in the woods. It’s all very smartly done, and the cast comes together expertly. Wilderpeople isn’t a new formula, but it’s done with modern timing, deadpan humor, and smart editing. I cannot recommend this movie enough. Wilderpeople needs to be on your radar. You can thank me later.
We’ve all seen alien movies. They usually devolve into action and flash, but some go a smarter route. Contact was about the technical challenges of communication, and Interstellar is about the race against time. Arrival is about language, humanity, and what it takes to get back up after getting knocked down. Amy Adams delivers an excellent performance as Louise Banks, a linguist contracted by the government to tackle the daunting task of communicating with an extraterrestrial race. And, with as many roles as Adams has taken recently, it’s a true credit that this role stands apart from the crowd. Arrival is gripping from start to finish. I appreciate it because it challenges audiences. It doesn’t serve up action and eye candy, but tries to get audiences talking. Any sci-fi fan worth his salt owes Arrival just shy of two hours worth of viewing time for this instant classic.
I wasn’t expecting to like Moana as much as I did, but it was one of the most rewarding movie experiences I had all year. This is a movie about what it means to be true to yourself, a fairly common theme in film this year. Moana brings high quality music, animation, and vocal talent together to create, what I believe, is an instant Disney classic. Newcomer Auli’i Cravalho is amazing as Moana, and Dwayne Johnson is wildly entertaining as Maui. From the very first moments, Moana starts tugging on the feelz. We’re introduced to Moana as a baby, and we’re taken on her adventure as she journeys out from her island home. Disney sheds the need for a love interest in this film, instead opting to focus entirely on the theme of self discovery. Moana is pure motivation. It summons up the old Disney magic while still managing to stay relevant to the issues of the day. If you haven’t seen Moana, you are missing out.
1. Kubo & the Two Strings
Kubo & the Two Strings is the best movie of the year. There’s no competition. The wizards over at Laika Entertainment have struck gold in the best possible way. I’ve never seen stop motion animation as smooth and fluid as with Kubo. Apart from the look, Kubo’s story hits all the right beats. It’s a touching story about a young boy who loses his parents, and his voyage to find the family connection he’s always dreamt of. A star studded cast including Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, and George Takei, bring each character to life in an amazing way. The relationships between the characters are touching and memorable. Kubo features genuinely scary villains, intense action, imaginative locations, and an emotional through line that resonates with you long after the movie ends. Kubo is one of those characters that you can’t help but cheer for from the first moment he arrives on screen. All this, plus an amazing score, and smart humor, makes Kubo & the Two Strings the most rewarding movie of the year.
So, there your have it folks! Read’em and weep; my top ten picks for 2016’s best movies. You’ll notice I left Rogue One off the list. It barely missed the mark for me, but definitely deserves an honorable mention. Given 2016’s reputation as ‘worst year ever,’ it’s good to know that there are some silver linings to take our minds off things. So what do y’all think? What’s in your top ten? Let us know in the comments!