Top 10 films of 2016

Top 10 films of 2016

These 10 films represent the very best in 2016 cinema.

The great films are not simply stories well told - nor do they simply illicit feelings. The very best films are masterpieces that demand genuine emotional engagement. They are stories that expose the human condition and artistically relate experiences of living and making choices.
When asked why I watch so many films (including dozens of horrifically bad movies) every year, I need only point to these 10 films.

Sidenote: Past #1 overall favorite films of the past 7 yrs: "The Dark Knight" (2008), "The Hurt Locker" (2009), "Inception" (2010), "The Artist" (2011), "Silver Linings Playbook" (2012), "Her" (2013), "Birdman" (2014) and "Ex Machina" (2015).

#10: 'Arrival'

"Arrival" is brilliant science-fiction at its best. It challenges the audience to follow a narrative that is not as straightforward as it appears to be at first glance. Thought-provoking and ambitious, "Arrival" is a heady sci-fi masterpiece.

#9: 'Kubo and the Two Strings'

"Kubo" exemplifies the very best of animation. Animation gets a bad rap because of dreck like "Sing" or "Secret Life of Pets" - but "Kubo" is a wise and profoundly deep work of art. Its visually stunning animation is surpassed only by its rich storytelling. This is a fable brought to life.

#8: 'The Witch'

To give the "The Witch" the broad label of "horror film" simply does not give the sincerely unsettling aspects of this film the credit they deserve. This is exactly the type of nightmarish cautionary tale the Calvanists would tell each other in hushed whispers and petrify any God-loving Puritan.

#7: 'Tower'

"Tower" punctuates the shock and terror everyone should feel when anyone mentions any mass shooting anywhere - be it any one of several dozen that will happen this year or the first one in Austin. This is not merely a documentary about an event - this is a gripping story about survivors. "Tower" succeeds in making the past feel immediate and timely.

#6: 'Cameraperson'

This collage of moments is a masterpiece of editing. Each individual clip could stand on its own - but when woven together, "Cameraperson" is a riveting and powerful work of unconventional storytelling. This mesmerizing documentary bounces through space and time, connecting seemingly unrelated moments to create stirring exploration of trauma and living with the memories.

#5: 'Hell or High Water'

Anchored by a trio of strong performances, "Hell or High Water" is the modern western-thriller that cinema has been missing. Stark and gripping to the very end - and the closing scene ranks among the very best final scenes of any 2016 film (surpassed perhaps only by the best film of 2016). 

#4: 'The Lobster'

Despite its unassuming title, "The Lobster" is a wonderfully odd movie that is equal parts thriller, drama, romance, comedy and science fiction. Like all great science fiction, "The Lobster" simply uses a crazy setup to tell a human story - in this case, a beautiful story about love, companionship and loneliness.

#3: 'Moonlight'

This rich and atmospheric masterpiece not only feels like beautiful literature brought to life, its unflinching and compassionate execution make it one of the very best films of 2016. Every frame of this film is steeped in vulnerability -- a rarity for stories about males in general. Any bravado shown is quickly exposed to be a facade used to survive in the world. There's a soul-baring and raw honesty between the characters that allows them to genuinely connect with each other.

#2: 'Manchester by the Sea'

Emotionally raw and truly haunting, "Manchester" is a wonder of storytelling that resonates deep to the core and stays in the viewer's bones long after the credits role. There simply not many films made that are as genuinely honest and truly heartbreaking as "Manchester by the Sea."

The best film of 2016: 'La La Land'

“La La Land” finds new ways to amaze with each successive musical sequence – from its stunning large-scale song-and-dance numbers to its equally stirring, music-only planetarium sequence. If the intro sequence is an electrifying marvel, then its final sequence is cinematic masterstroke.

The first three-quarters alone cement “La La Land” as one of the great movie musicals of all time – but its breathtaking final act is storytelling brilliance. This incredible sequence somehow hits almost every emotion possible – without requiring a single song lyric. This final chapter elevates the fun and entertaining musical to level of the deeply moving nature of film. Stone dazzles as a struggling actress-barista serving coffee to big Hollywood stars while she runs from one failed audition to the next. Director Damian Chazelle’s screenplay gives Emma Stone a genuine chance to shine with a heartfelt, panged and plucky character who trudges toward her dreams with hope. She has a number of Award Season-caliber moments that are capped with her amazing “The Fools Who Dream” solo.

This is a soaring and exuberant experience that must be enjoyed on the big screen. If ever there was a film that demanded to be experienced in a theater, it is “La La Land.” This is the purest form of substantial and moving escapism the world needs right now (perhaps now more than ever).

“La La Land” is not merely one of the best musicals of the year – it’s one of the very best films in years. Hopes and dreams and love and nostalgia and passion are all wrapped in this valentine to Los Angeles, cinema, jazz & musicals.

2017 Academy Awards predictions: Who should win & who will win

2017 Academy Awards predictions: Who should win & who will win

155 films of 2016 ranked worst to best: #35-#11

155 films of 2016 ranked worst to best: #35-#11