Yesterday we counted down the worst films of 2016, and since I don't want to leave you with the worst for very long (we get enough of that from the news right now), I am happy to start your Monday off right with a look at the best. 2016 wasn't my favorite cinematic year (certainly not when compared with 2014 or 2015), but it had a lot to say about grief, life, and the promises of humanity even when it's hard to find them in the real world. Here (alphabetically, not in ranked order) are my ten favorite films of 2016:
Arrival (dir. Denis Villeneuve)
In a world where we regularly celebrate the mass destruction of superheroes and expect to see national monuments explode whenever there's an alien invasion, Denis Vileneuve's film finds all of the wonder of an alien encounter with none of the expected cliche. A marvelous, precise performance by Amy Adams grounds this film about loss, sacrifice, and the benefits of peace. Easily the best film I've seen from Villeneuve.
Everybody Wants Some!!! (dir. Richard Linklater)
I genuinely would have been fine with just a parade of these actors in baseball uniforms, but Richard Linklater doesn't play that way. Everybody Wants Some!!! is the rare movie about nostalgia that isn't steeped in comforting the audience, but truly allowing them to relive the fleeting nature of youth, while never sparing them from the realities of time disappearing. Plus, it does it while being insanely funny and quotable as hell. Linklater continues his nearly impossibly-strong batting average with star-turns from Tyler Hoechlin and Glen Powell.
From Afar (dir. Lorenzo Vigas)
The best mystery film of the year, a wonderfully Hitchcockian creation. Vigas plays with the politics of sex, class, and age in this noir that keeps you guessing right up until the end, and then beyond. Anchored by naturalistic work from Alfredo Castro and Luis Silva, it's a pity that Oscar didn't see the necessity to nominate the year's best foreign-language movie.
Hidden Figures (dir. Theodore Melfi)
What happens when you take three of the most charismatic film stars working, put them in a film that centers around both a story you know (John Glenn circling the globe) and one you don't (the struggles of black women in the space program), have everyone involved running on top cylinders with a sharp eye on character growth, and add in some genuine old-school movie magic? You get my favorite "Academy fare" movie since Argo. This is the rare feel-good film that you won't be hating yourself for loving the next day.
Jackie (dir. Pablo Larrain)
I am not someone you'll find clamoring for a biopic, not least of which about one of the most famous stories of the 20th Century that's been told dozens of times previously. And yet, Pablo Larrain had me from the opening scenes of Jackie, a movie that dares to question our understanding of one of the most famous people on the planet. With a career-best piece of work from Natalie Portman, Jackie is that rare true story that leaves you wanting more once the credits begin to role.
L'Attesa (dir. Piero Messina)
The most obscure film on this list, L'Attesa took the most frequent cinematic subject of 2016 (the death of a family member), and turns it into a claustrophobic character study of two women struggling with grief and regret. Juliette Binoche continues her streak as perhaps the greatest living actor with an intense naturalism, while Lou de Laage is every bit her equal as a young woman trying to understand impossible questions about her boyfriend's mother.
Manchester by the Sea (dir. Kenneth Lonergan)
Kenneth Lonergan knows better than pretty much any other writer in Hollywood the ways to finding the complicated emotions and realities of family, and the bonds that tie them together. Here we are given a marvelous piece-of-work from Casey Affleck, a man who lives as a shell of his former self, failing with emotions that he cannot fully bear to admit to himself. A truly devastating look at the human experience.
A Monster Calls (dir. JA Bayona)
It's rare to find a live-action children's film these days that asks tough questions for all of its audience, while still maintaining a sense of magic and discovery. Never cloying, never false, always classic and straight-forward and intensely felt, JA Bayona's A Monster Calls is a miracle, a movie that towers from start to finish with a sheer appreciation of life, both its delicacies and its strengths.
Moonlight (dir. Barry Jenkins)
The most confident movie I saw this year was oddly about a deeply insecure young man's struggle with finding out who he is. From start to finish, Barry Jenkins' opus shows us identity, both outward and in, and gives us performance after performance of wonderful realism and heart. Stylistically and creatively a triumph to behold.
Silence (dir. Martin Scorsese)
It says something that at the age of 74, Martin Scorsese is not only making movies, but complicated, controversial, and difficult films that still manage to soar with meaning and strength. Part thriller, part religious experience, and part epic, Scorsese shows the trials of faith and man's struggle with coming to terms with God's expectations in this brilliant picture, by my measure his finest since GoodFellas.