Joe’s Best Films of 2016

| January 13, 2017

Until recently, I had considered doing something a little different with my list for this year.  For the past two years, I’ve tracked all new movies I’ve seen on twitter with a brief review, so I know every new movie I saw in 2016 and thought it might be interesting to do a list of my favorite ten movies that I saw for the first time in 2016 rather than my favorite movies from 2016.

I wanted to do this because I was worried that I would have difficulty putting together a top ten list this year; not because 2016 was a particularly bad year for film (it wasn’t), but because I didn’t see nearly as many movies this year as I would in an ordinary year.

But, as I started to look at all the 2016 movies I did see, a clear top 15 or so did emerge and I feel pretty good about the top ten I was able to put together below.

Honorable Mention:  Doctor Strange
Dir. Scott Derrickson
Captain America: Civil War is probably my new favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe movie.  It’s super fun, I love the way it introduces new characters while continuing to build the established universe, and it has one of my favorite villains from the MCU so far.  However, I wanted to highlight Doctor Strange which has its flaws (could have done without the origin story), but is visually stunning and thematically the most interesting MCU movie to date for me.  The discussion of life, death, mortality, fate, and religion is fascinating to me, gives the villain a really sinister and relatable motivation, and helps define this cinematic version of Doctor Strange really nicely.  I look forward to seeing the Sorcerer Supreme pop up again in Thor: Ragnarok later this year.

10. The Accountant
Dir. Gavin O’Connor
Ben Affleck da bomb, yo! Other than the film being a little slow in places, I thought it was terrific. Affleck’s portrayal of an assassin with a mental disorder trying to keep everything in balance while coping with unplanned variables was thoroughly enjoyable to me.  J.K. Simmons, Anna Kendrick, and Jon Bernthal also shine.

09. Deepwater Horizon
Dir. Peter Berg
This is the first Peter Berg movie I’ve seen but I’m already a fan and can’t wait to check out Lone Survivor, and Patriot’s Day in the near future. There’s a lot to love here. Berg’s attempt at making a docudrama doesn’t feel manipulative or artificially patriotic; it’s just about characters you care about overcoming impossible obstacles.  The way this film builds tension is masterful, and all of the characters (even ones only on screen for a few seconds) have idiosyncrasies and flares that make them stand out in the audience’e memory.

08. Hacksaw Ridge
Dir. Mel Gibson
I have a lot of problems with Mel Gibson’s personal life, but his work as a director continues to amaze. Hacksaw Ridge is beautiful to look at, inspiring, and a rarely unique war story, which I can get on board with because the genre is a little tired to me. Andrew Garfield is spot on as our lead, and Gibson surrounds him with a great cast to work off of including Vince Vaughn, Teresa Palmer, and Hugo Weaving.

07. La La Land
Dir. Damien Chazelle
After the completely wonderful Whiplash from 2014, I was eager to see what else writer/director Damien Chazelle had up his sleeve, and while his follow up here isn’t as good as Whiplash, it is a wonderful spectacle of a film with lavish musical numbers, charming, well-rounded characters, and a celebration of Hollywood’s larger than life history. I’ll go onto say that I think the first third and last third of the movie are both absolutely perfect and this would be my #1 of the year if it weren’t for the slower middle section. Also, since this is a musical, I could have done with like 3 additional musical numbers in the slower section to keep things moving, but still, this is great.

06. Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made
Dir. Tim Skousen and Jeremy Coon
Probably my favorite genre of film is documentaries about movies that never got made or had a hell of a time getting made. There are only a few of these around, but every one I’ve seen has been amazing, and Raiders! may be my favorite. The story of 3 high school friends trying to make a shot for shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark is fantastic and as someone points out in the film, when you’re watching it, you’re not rooting for Indy to succeed, you’re rooting for these kids to succeed.

05. The Nice Guys
Dir. Shane Black
Shane Black is incredibly hit or miss for me, but Kiss Kiss Bang Bang has to be his best work, and The Nice Guys is a very satisfying spiritual sequel to that film. The way the detective story is structured, the action and comedy, the performances from Crowe and Gosling: all amazing and make for a terrifically fun jaunt into the 1970s Los Angeles porn industry.

04. 10 Cloverfield Lane
Dir. Dan Trachtenberg
This ticks a lot of my boxes for what I’m looking for in a film: a small cast, singular location, ominous threat, and John Goodman. Goodman is always good in everything but he really takes things to a new level with this film, being constantly threatening and imposing while showing a softer side that only gets more threatening and imposing as the film progresses. Plus, you have Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who is an incredible talent and carries the film as a strong, intelligent female lead from start to finish.

03. Deadpool
Dir. Tim Miller
This is maybe the highest a superhero film has ever been on my top ten, and I love superhero films. Deadpool is lightning in a bottle. The way everything came together so perfectly and the devotion of Ryan Reynolds and Tim Miller to get this made is awesome.  Again, I don’t care for superhero origin movies, but this one manages to keep it fresh and interesting by simply mixing up the structure and lacing the origin through the first act while Deadpool is already seeking his revenge on his arch-nemesis Francis.  I’ve seen this film 5 times in the past year and every time is exactly as entertaining as the first, with me chuckling like a hyena at 90% of the jokes.  I’m very worried about the sequel falling flat, but for now we have this arguably perfect and fun superhero action comedy.

02. Hell or High Water
Dir. David Mackenzie
I’ve gotten really into westerns this past year, not to mention become a much bigger Ben Foster fan after seeing this and Alpha Dog shortly after Anton Yelchin’s tragic and sudden death. This modern day western about two brother bank robbers with unclear motivations, and the two police officers tasked with hunting them down, kept me guessing the whole way through and in the end I’m still not sure what motivated Chris Pine’s character to go on a crime spree. Sometimes you don’t get to know these things, and I can’t believe how okay with that I am in this case.

01. Arrival
Dir. Denis Villeneuve
I have to admit, this is the first Villeneuve movie I’ve enjoyed, though I have heard very good things about Sicario. This film is a masterpiece, and could very well feature on my top ten of the decade in a few years.  It’s gorgeous to look at, I like the characters, but my favorite thing about the film is something I shouldn’t go into because I’d be getting too close to spoiler territory.  I can see why people would find this boring.  I certainly have found Villeneuve’s other work boring, but Arrival turned out to be a very satisfying cognitive treat; a film I felt compelled to think about long after the credits rolled and one I will be revisiting regularly once I get the blu-ray.

About the Author:

Joe Sanders Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.
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