10. 20th Century Women
Mike Mills | 119 mins | Comedy/Drama Annette Bening | Elle Fanning | Greta Gerwig | Billy Crudup
Although 2016 was a tough year for women in politics, it was a great year for them in the movies. From Natalie Portman in Jackie to Amy Adams in Arrival to Isabelle Huppert in Elle to Ruth Negga in Loving, many of this year’s best films showed us that women are often much stronger than men. And perhaps no movie demonstrated it better than Mike Mill’s finest film to date, 20th Century Women.
20th Century Women tells the story of Dorothea (Annette Bening), an open-minded single mother who relies on the support of two women around her to raise her teenage son, Jamie. The first is Julie (Elle Fanning), a teenage girl with a rebellious reputation who is Jamie’s closest friend. The second is Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a liberal twenty-something with a passion for music who rents out a room in Dorothea’s house.
Mills, who directed music videos before moving on to motion pictures, manages to transform the story into something more than a simple women’s lib piece. Rather it’s a story about life, from the events that rattle us to the people who shape us, as well as a study about generational differences that reminds us that at our very core, there aren’t many differences at all.
9. The Edge of Seventeen
Kelly Fremon Craig | 104 mins | Comedy/Drama Hailee Steinfeld | Haley Lu Richardson | Blake Jenner | Kyra Sedgwick
With its mid-November release date and minimal marketing, The Edge of Seventeen was never really given a fair chance to reach audiences, which is too bad since it’s every bit as good as Clueless, Mean Girls and nearly every other high school comedy released in the past twenty-five years.
The film works thanks to a very funny script by writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig, and by the strong dual performances of Hailee Steinfeld and Woody Harrelson. Steinfeld (who is as good here as she was in her Oscar-nominated role in True Grit) plays a teenage girl who confides in her teacher (Harrelson) after she loses her best friend to a boy – more specifically her own brother. And as familiar and cliché as that sounds, Edge of Seventeen takes that tired-out formula and turns it into one of the most refreshingly original high school comedies in years.
8. Everybody Wants Some!!
Richard Linklater | 117 mins | Comedy Blake Jenner | Tyler Hoechlin | Ryan Guzman | Zoey Deutch
With all the deserving praise that is given to the Steven Spielberg’s, Clint Eastwood’s and Martin Scorsese’s of the world, no director has proven to be as consistent and volatile through his career as Richard Linklater; he is quite possibly the most underrated director of our time. Just look at the films he’s given us in the 21st century alone: Waking Life, School of Rock, Before Sunset, Before Midnight, Boyhood and now Everybody Wants Some!!
His latest effort tells the story of Jake, a standout high school baseball pitcher who is recruited by a Texas college baseball team, as he moves into the team house as a freshman. Jake spends his first days on the team drinking beer with his teammates, chasing women, and talking a lot about baseball.
Everybody Wants Some has repeatedly been labeled the 80’s version of Dazed and Confused, and although there are similarities, the comparison isn’t entirely accurate. Everybody Wants Some’s characters are more quirky and interesting and the film captures the competitive spirit, simple focus and lifelong friendships of many athletes. Plus, it’s loads of fun. Linklater has hit many home runs in his career, but this one is a grand slam.
Pablo Larraín | 100 mins | Biography/Drama/History Natalie Portman | Peter Sarsgaard | Greta Gerwig | Billy Crudup
It has been said over and over that behind every great man, there’s a woman. For JFK, that great woman was his wife Jackie, which has never been more evident than it is in Pablo Larrain’s heartbreaking study of her first few days as a widow.
Natalie Portman gives a performance as the lead character that surely would have won her an Oscar, had she not recently won for her equally memorizing performance in Black Swan. Portman finds the perfect blend of strength and heartbreak, as we nearly forget that it’s an actress and not the actual Jackie Kennedy who fiercely defends her deceased husband’s honor. By the end of the film, one can’t help but wonder if it was Jackie’s actions, rather than John’s, that made the 35th president of the United States one of the most beloved individuals of the 20th century.
6. Nocturnal Animals
Tom Ford | 116 mins | Drama/Thriller Amy Adams | Jake Gyllenhaal | Michael Shannon | Aaron Taylor-Johnson
At $15 per ticket, it’s getting more difficult each year to justify seeing movies at the theater. Fortunately, with Tom Ford’s wildly entertaining thriller, you can rest easy knowing that you essentially get two films for the price of one!
The first is a character study of a woman (Amy Adams) who is convinced that her ex-husband is seeking vengeance on her past actions, after he writes a revenge novel with some eerie similarities to their own past. The second, more interesting story is the narration of his novel, in which a husband tracks down the murderers of his wife and daughter. Each story keeps viewers on the edge of their seat, but together they make Nocturnal Animals the most beautifully nightmarish puzzle since 2001’s Mulholland Drive.
5. O.J.: Made in America
Ezra Edelman | 467 mins | Documentary/Biography/Crime O.J. Simpson | Kareem Abdul-Jabbar | Mike Albanese | Muhammad Ali
There was never any doubt that Ezra Edelman’s terrific documentary, O.J.: Made in America was worthy of being placed on a ten best movies list – the only question was whether it is eligible to be called a movie. That’s because it gained much of its attention after being aired as a five-part miniseries on ESPN as part of its 30 for 30 series.
However, prior to that, O.J. premiered at the Sundance Film festival and played at a few theaters in Los Angeles to make it eligible for the Best Documentary Oscar, which it was nominated for earlier in the day. But that wasn’t the deciding factor for me on whether or not I should make room for it on my top ten list.
The reason I made room? Simply because Made in America deserves – even needs – to be seen by everyone. Even those who are sick to death of the recent O.J. revival. After all, this is not merely a story about how O.J. allegedly murdered two people and got away with it. That would be much too simple. Rather Edelman uses his documentary as a platform to study how race, money and the media are driving factors in the way the criminal justice system – and America, for that matter – operates. It is not to be missed.
Ava DuVernay | 100 mins | Documentary/Crime/News Melina Abdullah | Michelle Alexander | Cory Booker | Dolores Canales
Just a few months after #OscarsSoWhite dominated Twitter feeds everywhere, Ava DuVernay reminded us that the issues regarding racism extend far beyond the doors of the Dolby Theater, and in areas that are way more crucial to human rights with her powerful documentary, 13th.
The film’s title is a reference to the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in 1865, causing those with money and power to find alternative methods of keeping it. Their solution? To label millions of Americans with minor drug charges as criminals and put them behind bars for the remainder of their lives.
The issues presented in 13th won’t (or at least shouldn’t) surprise many viewers, but the passion, anger, pace and urgency of DuVernay’s direction makes it an incredible viewing experience, and one that should be shown to every student in high school and to every politician in D.C.
Barry Jenkins | 111 mins | Drama Mahershala Ali |Naomie Harris |Trevante Rhodes |Alex R. Hibbert
The marquee at the Uptown Theater described Moonlight as “a Frank Ocean song put into film,” a caption that illustrates the beauty and experience of Barry Jenkins’ beautiful film far better than I ever could. However, even this wonderful description can’t fully portray just how important Moonlight really is.
It’s a film that will likely become a landmark in black cinema for developing characters that have a level of depth and emotion that is rarely seen in the movies, and nearly non-existent in films starring black actors. It’s a film that will likely become a milestone for gay cinema for showing that same-sex love isn’t limited to lonely cowboys. It’s a film that raises important issues regarding the lifelong damage caused by bullying, drug abuse and broken homes. And it’s a film that is breathtaking to look at, thanks to some remarkable cinematography.
But above all, Moonlight is a film that gives us hope. Twenty years ago, Moonlight never would have been made, or even pitched in Hollywood. And twenty years from now, it could very easily be the only movie from 2016 that is still talked about.
2. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
Kenneth Lonergan | 137 mins | Drama Casey Affleck |Michelle Williams |Kyle Chandler |Lucas Hedges
When it comes to movies, I’m a tough guy. While others cried during The Green Mile, I just kept looking at my watch to see if it’d be over soon. But even I couldn’t help from getting a little teary during Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea, which is undoubtedly one of the most heartbreaking films ever made.
So much ink has already been spilled over Casey Affleck’s brilliant performance as a janitor who must confront his past after his deceased brother’s makes him the guardian of his teenage nephew. Likewise, Lonergan’s wonderful story, which manages to blend humor alongside its heartbreak has already claimed nearly every screenplay award in the world.
Yet, not enough praise has been given to Michelle Williams, who is really the core of the film’s most heartbreaking scenes. As the ex-girlfriend of Heath Ledger (and mother of his child), Williams knows a thing or two about loss and she channels all her pain into her performance. The result is a superb performance by a great actress that powers Manchester by the Sea into one of the most emotionally draining films I’ve ever seen.
1. LA LA LAND
Damien Chazelle | 128 mins | Comedy/Drama/Music Ryan Gosling |Emma Stone |Rosemarie DeWitt |J.K. Simmons
Long past are the golden days of the Hollywood musical, a genre that dominated the screens from the invention of the “talkies” until the late 1960s. Since then, you can count on one hand the number of great movie musicals that have been released. Yet none of them have brought back the magic of the movie musical quite as effectively as La La Land, Damien Chazelle’s loving throwback to the films of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire.
Chazelle spent seven years trying convince a studio to invest in La La Land, which likely gave him plenty of time to perfect every aspect of the film. But perhaps the most important detail he got right was casting Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as his leads; they are quite possibly the two most likable people in Hollywood.
Is La La Land the most important film of 2016? Probably not. But for me – like everyone else in the world – it was the most enjoyable film I saw in 2016. And in a year where division has been so evident, La La Land’s universal praise gives us hope that we can still unite.