No, I’m not a baker, I just happened to come up with 13 when I tallied my favorite movies of 2016. I believe certain genres get short-shrift, so I’ve broken them into three categories: Best Drama, Best Comedy or Musical, and Best Action Movie.
- Hacksaw Ridge – Apart from its graphic violence, this is a refreshingly old-fashioned do-what’s-right movie (a recurring theme in Mel Gibson’s films). Hacksaw tells the true story of a young man whose compassion caused him to exhibit almost superhuman, and possibly miraculous, bravery during the final brutal days of WW2. Mel may be fresh out of bad boy jail, but he’s still a passionate filmmaker.
- Fences – Fences doesn’t fully translate from stage to film—it’s closed in and heavy on dialogue. But the source material, which August Wilson adapted from his own classic play, is deeply moving. And the acting, oh, the acting. Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, and the rest of the cast are consistently amazing.
- Manchester by the Sea – I wasn’t sure I’d like this film. It starts like an all-too-typical indie about an emotionally repressed (i.e. boring) man, but then takes a riveting and emotionally wrenching turn. No pat solutions to the human dilemma here, just shaky hope. You know, like real life.
- Hidden Figures – This true story of brilliant mathematicians (and one engineer) in the early 1960s who made the mistake of being both black and female, is an understated wonder. The ensemble of award-worthy actors—Olivia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson, a delightfully despicable Kirsten Dunst, and many more—is beautifully directed.
- Captain Fantastic – This little-seen dramedy gained most of its attention for its cast of youthful crackpots and their well-meaning anarchist father (Viggo Mortensen). But the screenplay, questionable worldview notwithstanding, and directing are excellent, as well. Simple. Sweet. And wonderfully quirky.
- Arrival – I wrote about this unconventional sci-fi-flick-with-a-brain-and-a-heart in a previous review of underappreciated gems. To fully appreciate it: talk about it!
Best Comedy or Musical
- La La Land – Will La La Land finally bring back the “Hollywood Musical”? Maybe not, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. It’s not a perfect a film. The plot meanders, the lead actors are not real singers (or dancers), and the choreography is solid but, hey, where’s Gene Kelly when you need him? That said, the songs are beautiful, Ryan is good, and Emma is great (her “Audition: The Fools Who Dream” is the rawest musical monologue I’ve seen since Anne Hathaway drug me weeping through “I Dreamed a Dream”). And the last third of the film is unexpectedly moving. Yes, it’ll probably sweep the Oscars. And it’ll almost deserve it.
- Sing Street – I mentioned this relentlessly likeable little comedy-with-music (not a musical, per se) in my gems post.
- Zootopia – Disney/Pixar proves they still have the best story team in the biz. What makes Zootopia work, besides superb animation, is its topnotch storytelling—and heart. Something Universal’s more formulaic Secret Life of Pets and even Pixar’s own Finding Dory fall short of.
Best Action Movie or Thriller
- Kubo and the Two Strings – Two words for two strings: Strikingly. Original. And, yeah, heart. What’s animation without heart?
- The Jungle Book – I also wrote previously about this live-action version of the 60s animated film (if you can call a human kid surrounded by computer-generated animals “live”). Beautifully conceived and paced.
- Captain America: Civil War – Not up there with Spielbergian action classics like Jaws or Raiders of the Lost Arc, but Cap’s got the right stuff and anchors this over-the-top marvel (play on words intended) well. Best popcorn movie of the year.
- Don’t Breathe – I’m not a huge fan of horror-thrillers, but this perfectly paced little nail-biter stands out with its better-than-usual character development and unexpected twists. Solid acting and directing too. Stream it with someone you trust.
Honorable Mentions: Hell or High Water, Moonlight, and Jackie were a little too lacking in dramatic structure for my taste, but were beautifully acted. Rogue One might just beat Captain A. Was it perfect? No. But am I anxious for the next one? Duh. Fantastic Beasts? Liked it, but wanted to love it. Jo Rowling’s first outing as a screenwriter had flaws, but I still love her. Lion and Loving: beautifully acted true stories, limited by predictable outcomes.